The birthplace of wine and the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion is Armenia. An intriguing place that I almost didn’t visit. But as I pedalled south from Tblisi at short notice, I felt that, although hurried, I had recently discovered just enough about it to have a desire to see some of it. I’m pleased I did.
On arrival, gold-toothed ladies selling fruit, yards from the border, probably got a good deal from me. I can tell when this happens because often sellers belatedly give you a few free bits as the realisation that they have just shafted an Englishman starts to play on their conscience. No, maybe not. I like to think that what they chat about with their mates around them is that this harmless cyclist could do with some extra energy. So as I rode off to cries of laughter behind me, I took it is a positive first interaction and felt welcome. My target was a bar with some rooms and a TV, so that I could watch England play football. I was foiled yet again, they had no TVs, or doors.
When I woke, pointlessly sulky as I was alone, I soon realised that I would be following the enormous green Debed river canyon for the day as it grew deeper and darker. Soviet mines, cranes and gargantuan structures that I did not know the purpose of, loomed over me like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. I was excited to see a chair-lift, to what is probably a good viewpoint over the valleys, but it was closed. So I continued to pedal further south towards Turkey, only to find out that I had not done my hurried research very well at all before I left Georgia, as there has been no border between Armenia and Turkey for decades.
I won’t get into politics, suffice to say, there is a lot going on in this part of the world and they are not on friendly terms. To my east the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continued between Armenia and another neighbour, Azerbaijan. Totally stumped, I re-routed in Vanadzor so that I could get into Turkey after going north-west back into Georgia. This process of figuring out the situation and riding all had to happen pretty quickly, or I’d be stuck on a hillside somewhere near a border, riding eagerly in a circle, knowing that I had a flight to catch at the end of the tour. Adding to this unusually confusing tour section, is that Armenia is not recognised as a country by some of its neighbours. This means that any local currency I had at the time, had no value outside and cannot be exchanged. So I decided that there was only one course of action; to have steak and wine for dinner for the last few nights. Any other memories have been rather blurred.
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(Cover photo: Looking towards Turkey and Mt Ararat, Armenia)