Georgia and Armenia: The Wrong Time Of The Year To Visit The Caucasus!

Armenia, Georgia, Turkey

Kar means snow in Turkish, and the north-eastern Turkish city of Kars certainly lives up to its name. The residents here are super-friendly and the kindness of Turkish and Kurdish people can be compared to nowhere else. The Turkey-Georgia border close to Posof is very remote indeed!

The border is somewhere in these mountains!

The border is somewhere in these mountains!

I don’t like borders because of political reasons and also because when I travel alone I always have problems. For some reason, a lone female hitchhiker whose passport is almost full with stamps raises suspicion. The Georgian border is no exception, and I am made to wait whilst everyone else is ushered through. The border guard makes a phone call about me before finally letting me into the country.

Being in Kars has restored my faith in men, and I ride from Turkey to Georgia with five men in a white van, with four of us in the back. They are gentlemen to me and I am feeling happy again. But then in Georgia we stop for a cup of tea at a cafe, with a sign aimed at Turkish truck drivers. The ‘cafe’ is actually a house and I naively say, “tea in here? But it’s someone’s home!” We walk in. The light is dim, the walls are pink, the curtains and chairs are a red velvet. A woman in a tiny skirt and lots of makeup on greets us. My Turkish is too terrible to understand the conversation, but the name Marina and mentions of $50 are repeated. My faith plummets again.

I am SO happy that I visited Georgia before, in the summer time. I have memories of a country of amazing beauty, and of deep shades of green absolutely everywhere. Although it is still beautiful in the winter, it is now a dull brown colour. It could almost be a different country. But Tbilisi remains the same vibrant, cool place it was when I last visited, one and a half years ago.

Borjomi in Georgia in the winter...very different to the summer!

Borjomi in Georgia in the winter…very different to the summer!

Super-cool Tbilisi

Super-cool Tbilisi

I get a free bus ride in Georgia with these two Azeri people: so kind-hearted

I get a free bus ride in Georgia with these two Azeri people: so kind-hearted

Hitchhiking in Georgia with these Armenian guys. Note the bottle of vodka next to the wheel of the car. We have a break for five minutes and they polish off the whole bottle! (Luckily the driver is sensible and only has one drink!)

Hitchhiking in Georgia with these Armenian guys. Note the bottle of vodka next to the wheel of the car. We have a break for five minutes and they polish off the whole bottle! (Luckily the driver is sensible and only has one drink!)

Whilst walking in Avlabari, the best district in Tbilisi, I am asked for money by an old, old woman. I look at her and decide that she must be around eighty years old. I give her 2.50€. She starts to cry and hugs me tightly, kissing me again and again and thanking me. It is at that moment that I realise that I know nothing about Georgia; I don’t understand just how poor many people are and how difficult life must be for them. How vacuous my life drinking chacha (Georgian alcohol) here has been.

Avlabari in Tbilisi

Avlabari in Tbilisi

For some unjustified reason, I have low expectations of Armenia, and I am only heading there to visit my friend, Jo. But Armenia is stunning! The road between the Georgian border and Yerevan runs through a gorge and is breathtaking. Miraculously, I hitchhike an expensive looking taxi from the Georgian border to Yerevan, a four hour drive. The young driver with Ray Bans and leather jacket has just dropped a woman off and is heading back to the capital. Great news! But it’s not so great when he asks me if he can see me again, buys me a bottle of champagne and drives us to Lake Sevan to drink it. I refuse the alcohol. When we are close to Yerevan, I call Jo to find out where to meet her. The driver wants to speak to her. “What’s your address?” he asks her. I panic, yelling, “no no no, don’t give him the address, Jo!” and I snatch the phone out of his hand. He is upset with me: “you think I would come to your address? I wouldn’t. Don’t you trust me, Lisa?” He is a kind man, but sadly, recent hitchhiking experiences have made me paranoid.

When exploring Yerevan, Jo gives me some important advice: “don’t smile at strangers. In ex-Soviet countries it means that you are laughing at someone if you smile at them”. “Really?!?!” “Yes. Drink Don’t Smile”. This advice helps me to enjoy Yerevan. Everyone stares at me with a cold, straight face. But with Jo’s wise words, I know that it is not because they are miserable! In fact, I really like Yerevan, meet lovely locals, go to some cool bars and take many photos:

The police are hard at work in Yerevan...

The police are hard at work in Yerevan…

Yes, this really does exist in a park in Yerevan!!!

Yes, this really does exist in a park in Yerevan!!!

The biggest dog I have seen in my life, unhappily locked in a cage :(

The biggest dog I have seen in my life, unhappily locked in a cage 😦

The most beautiful sight in Yerevan is actually an Iranian mosque!

The most beautiful sight in Yerevan is actually an Iranian mosque!

A cliche photo of an ex-Soviet country!

A cliche photo of an ex-Soviet country!

Jo, Hrach and a guy whose name may or may not be Alan. I tell them to look Soviet...this is the result!

Jo, Hrach and a guy whose name may or may not be Alan. I tell them to look Soviet…this is the result!

I THINK this cafe sells Coca-Cola....

I THINK this cafe sells Coca-Cola….

Heading down to the metro...

Heading down to the metro…

A random sheep-skull on the road.

A random sheep-skull on the road.

Books books and more books in a subway underneath a road. In England the subway would be empty and stink of piss.

Books books and more books in a subway underneath a road. In England the subway would be empty and stink of piss.

In the metro station...

In the metro station…

There are Santa Clauses everywhere we look. "I think the kids are going to get suspicious", says Jo.

There are Santa Clauses everywhere we look. “I think the kids are going to get suspicious”, says Jo.

Metro

Metro

The bear makes himself at home in the supermarket

The bear makes himself at home in the supermarket

The Armenian Genocide Memorial

The Armenian Genocide Memorial

This is definitely the wrong time of year to visit Armenia. The heaviest snow I have ever seen means that I can not really explore the many mountains and gorges. As I leave, I am already thinking about a return trip to this beautiful country.

Jo at Garni Gorge, Armenia

Jo at Garni Gorge

A shopkeeper in Garni

A shopkeeper in Garni

Local house in Garni

Local house in Garni

Jo and I, braving the cold

Jo and I, braving the cold

Beautiful Armenia

Beautiful Armenia

Local house in Garni

Local house in Garni

Rock formation in Garni, proudly labelled the Symphony of Stones by the tourist board!

Rock formation in Garni, proudly labelled the Symphony of Stones by the tourist board!

The Armenians' beloved Mount Ararat, which is now in Turkey. In Christian Mythology, Noah's Ark came to rest on Ararat.

The Armenians’ beloved Mount Ararat, which is now in Turkey. In Christian Mythology, Noah’s Ark came to rest on Ararat.

Hitchhiking in Armenia: oh my god, there are other travellers!

Hitchhiking in Armenia: oh my god, there are other travellers!

Travelling through Armenia...all is white.

Travelling through Armenia…all is white.

I hitch back through Georgia to Kars, Turkey, and then get a bus from Erzurum to the south coast, and for the third time in two weeks, my bus is stopped by either the military or the police, both heavily armed. Our identities are checked and the buses searched. The buses have gone through the Kurdish region, and this is the only reason that I can think of for the armed-searches. Turkey is not the perfect postcard tourist destination that most might believe. But in my last days here, I try to take everything in: the rocks, the mountains, the smells, the redness of the earth…because I may not come back to this country, which evokes such mixed emotions in me, for a very long time.

The Turkish mountains

The Turkish mountains

12 thoughts on “Georgia and Armenia: The Wrong Time Of The Year To Visit The Caucasus!

  1. Awwww, how funny to read this and see my ruddy cold face so soon after you have left us! I am still over two months behind on my blog. Better get writing on my shiny new laptop which just arrived today.

    That picture of us “looking Soviet” creased me up. I can’t even remember that happening!

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  2. Totally disagree with you that winter is not the good moment to visit Armenia… I loved Aremenia soooo much in winter (as well as Turkey, especially the kurdish part and Wan (Van) under the snow. But maybe it is because I truely love the cold and the snow. Maybe more than any summer sun.

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  3. like yourself i have travelled half way round the world and back, and seen many beautiful sights, but it seems to me that i have yet to find anything yet that compares to Scotland!!!

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  4. Sad to hear about what you witnessed at the roadside “cafe.” The story about your encounter with an old woman moved me. What do you think €2.50 means to an average local? How much does a meal at a mid-ranged restaurant cost, for example?

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    1. thanks for the comment 🙂 I don’t know what the price of food is in a restaurant, as I am usually travelling on a really tight budget 😀 In Georgia, i tend to eat a lot of bean pasties, which are probably about 20 cents each. The old lady was trying to sell sunflower seeds, and i didn’t want them, but she insisted on giving me a load after i gave her the money.
      Although I have been to Georgia twice, I still know very little about the culture or any hardships…my first visit was clouded by chacha (Georgian alcohol) and the second visit was sober but all too brief.
      But I would realllly recommend a visit to beautiful Georgia!

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  5. Hehe! I’m somehow glad to see we are not the only ones wondering how did we think of hitchhiking in this part of the world in the wrong time of the year…my eyes think that the white scenery is worth the cold, my frozen feet do not agree. Happy travels!

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