We are about to leave for our next trip, the first of two journeys into the South Caucasus. We start with Azerbaijan and Georgia, lots of variation and lots of things to discover.
Years ago, whilst we were traveling by car through Eastern Turkey, we decided, on a whim, to cross into Armenia. We didn’t get much further than an army base on the border, where a friendly commander explained that the border was, in fact, closed. A little further on we could have crossed into Georgia, but everybody around us advised against this. It was just after the break-up of the Soviet Union; criminal and corrupt, this was no place to enter with your Turkish registered vehicle, or so we were told.
More recently we intended to start our ‘Stans’ journey, following the Central Asian part of the Silk Road, from Baku in Azerbaijan. But crossing the Caspian by boat combined with the vagaries of a Turkmenistan transit visa would have introduced too much time uncertainty at the beginning of this trip, which resulted in reducing the adventure content of the trip by skipping Baku altogether.
Regrets, regrets. In order to rectify that, we have changed our approach. No longer as a side issue of another trip, the Southern Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia – is now the subject of a full blown journey in its own right. Well, two journeys in fact, because time limitations force us to split our exploration in half. In the next three-and-a-half weeks we will be traveling from Baku in Azerbaijan to the Tbilisi in Georgia, by the usual means of buses, taxis and trains – whatever we find available -, after which we will rent a car to drive into some of the mountainous areas of Georgia. Next year in spring we plan to return, to travel through Armenia and the remainder of Georgia, and, who knows, even break-away republic Abkhazia.
And what on earth are we going to do, in the Caucasus? (A question I have been asked more than once, in the past few weeks.) Well, Baku is a sprawling, modern oil city with futuristic architecture, whilst I expect that an hour outside town, at the mud volcanoes of Qobustan, or the mountain villages around Quba – aren’t those fabulous names in their own right? – we will be back in the Middle Ages. Via Azerbaijani palaces and castles, really from the Middle Ages, to Georgia’s wine growing area around Talevi, where wine has been a way of life already much further back: the oldest traces apparently date back to some 6000 years ago. Good quality, too, so that needs to be sampled in some detail. Tbilisi is an attractive town combining an old centre with modern cafes and restaurants, serving some of the best Caucasian food. We pack in some churches, cathedrals and monasteries, and then we drive into the Saveti Range, which sports some of the highest peaks in the Caucasus – with more than ten 5000m+ peaks, quite a bit higher than the Alps, for instance. Oh, and we go and see the Stalin Museum. Really!
Enough to keep us going for a while, and enough variation not to get bored too quickly. If time permits, I’ll be writing and posting the blog during the trip, but otherwise you’ll find the adventures back later on the site. Well before the second part of our trip, of course, about which more next year.
but first: a little history