A Travellerspoint blog

'You have loud feet'

sunny 32 °C

That's what our guest house owner told us the other night and for a moment we thought we had been walking around noisely. But what she meant was that when we arrived there was no one staying here, but since we arrived more and more people have too. The tourists have been listening and following our loud feet.

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We are back in Georgia and have been enjoying a few days of relaxing and drinking wine in Kakheti, the lush, fruit tree rich, wine region of the country. After close to two weeks in Hayastan. That's right, we got one more Stan than we had bargained on, Hayastan aka Armenia.

Armenia was great. We didn't see all of the country, but concentrated our time in the capital and the northeast, a hilly, forested very rural part of the country. Arriving in Yerevan we were struck by how Turkish/Arab the people looked, quite a different look to the Georgians. The country has had a rough history, often occupied by one of its neighbours, as well as the genocide of Armenians living in what is now Eastern Turkey back in 1918, and hence there is a strong hatred for the Turks. But so many similarities between them, for example their looks, their music and particularly the food - plates of herbs are a common addition to both countries meals, and 'Turkish coffee' becomes 'Armenian coffee' - espresso sized cups with the coffee grains creating a think sediment in the bottom. Even similar attitudes - we met an Armenian (Christian man) who said he 'won't let' his wife work because some men might see her and talk to her - not so unlike his Muslim neighbours who have their women cover themselves so men don't have to deal with always being aroused.

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Meanwhile, beautiful scenery. Some camping by a river which was freezing but still worth a dip in, many a scenically located monastry - Armenia was the first country to take on Christianity in the 3rd century. While sitting around a small town apparently looking like tourists who like hiking, we were approached by Ando who has a fledgling hiking business based just out of Ijevan. He sold us on a 2 day hike with him, after first staying at his guest house with magical views of the mountains. We walked in intense heat for 2 days, mostly uphill and mostly through grassland covered in wild flowers. The highlights were our encounters with shepherds who take their herds into the hills for the summer to feed on said rich grasslands. We were endlessly invited into their shacks for food, given a pot of fresh hot milk for breakfast, and while staying in one of these little encampments one night were kept awake by ceaseless mooing.

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Generally the weather has been hot and clear, roughly 30 degrees, but we have had some really great and intense storms, with crashing thunder, much lightning, and one where the hail stones were as big as golf balls, falling like crazy for at least half an hour, turning the street white and making a racket on the corrugated iron roof. The guest house owner was so excited he came running up to our room yelling, 'New Zealand New Zealand, look!' with several hail stones in his hand.

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Today we are off to Lagodeki in northeast Georgia for some hiking with lakes and waterfalls, which I hope we get to swim. Then we head to Azerbaijan, a country for which we had to pay for a ridiculous expensive process to get the visa - hope it's good!

I have added a few extra photos in the photo gallery. I haven't quite figured out how to get the captions to carry over into the blog yet, so if you want to know what's going on in a photo, the gallery is the place where you can read the captions.

Posted by chrisgulik 00:10 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

Don't go to Georgia if you're on a diet!

sunny 27 °C

Whoa! It's been ages, you may have been forgiven for thinking we were kidnapped by the PKK, being held to ransom, which Dan has strong principles against paying, and hence we have been lost for eternity. But do not fret, that is not the case.

In fact we decided not to head to South East Turkey as we had originally planned because the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party, who have been fighting for an autonomous region for Kurds in the East of Turkey for 30 odd years) had very recently declared their intent to resume indiscriminate attacks. We only really made this decision in Istanbul and it kind of left us at a bit of a loose end, frantically reading the guide book to figure out where to go instead. It seemed in our timetabling we had seriously underestimated the amount of time it would take to get across Turkey - she's a big one. We decided to head south, to Egirdir, with its immense lake and massive mountains for a backdrop, and spent time sitting on a terrace overlooking the shifting clouds and resulting changing colours of the lake. We cycled around, through endless blooming orchards, and did a few days hiking on the St Paul's Way. A few other stops and we made our way east east. Overnight train, first class all the way, had our own fridge (!) and it cost 50quid for the two of us. Boom! And ridiculous hospitality from the other passengers on our carriage, who kept on barging into our cabin with tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, bread, home baking. So generous and interested.
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Georgia has been a treat. The first country we have really had time to explore, after high-tailing it across Europe, and I much prefer this pace of travel. We were there for three weeks, so in an attempt to cover some highlights I am going to revert to bullet points.

  • The feasts of food have been ridiculous, it seems they show their hospitality in the quantities of food they serve. I could write an entire blog about their bread, which is superb.

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  • The Caucasus mountain range is totally spectacular and absolutely massive. We have done some great hikes with a few scary side-effects - encountering the ferocious sheep dogs, protecting their flocks against wolves and casual passers-by and walking along a particularly muddy which had the unfortunate effect of accentuating all the bear prints, clear evidence of just how many bears there are in the park!

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  • The country has a really interesting history. Having fallen under the rule of gangsters after the collapse of the USSR, under the current president there has been quite a lot of reforms to get rid of corruption and develop the economy. But it seems to be taking place a bit haphazardly and with extremes. There is a massive construction boom going on in many places we have been to. Similar to Turkish rail, they dont do it in stages, all at once. Batumi had no footpaths, having all been ripped up and not yet replaced, and few sealed roads. So many hotels being built, although I am not sure where the money is coming from for all this, nor where the tourists will come to fill up all the hotels. And in stark contrast there are the small towns and villages. Incredibly rural and poor. Riding horseback through mud lanes of the villages. Cows, pigs and chickens roaming freely. Large gardens at each home, living, seemingly, totally off the land.

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  • There have been countless churches, so many 'nice spots', often with churches at their peak, or beers consumed in order for us to really have the time I frame of mind to appreciate them.

Below are some other pictures to give you a sense of a few things we have been up to and seen. Although they are mostly our 'nature' pics as I haven't got around to downloading the pics from the little camera which seems to be our 'urban' one. In order to keep up with the times we have purchased a netbook (as nowhere has computers these days, just Wi-Fi, kinda useless without a computer, and was becoming a bit of a hassle). Which means I reckon we should get better at postings, and for sure it will be easier to put up photos, everyone's favourite!

Finally, a smart friend shared his insights on a comment in our previous blog about the Dutch having big windows with no curtains which I thought I would pass on - 'It's a Calvinist thing about having nothing to hide and showing off that your normal, they've even got a funky word for it; Gezelligheid.'

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Posted by chrisgulik 01:34 Archived in Armenia Comments (3)

Settling in to a travellers pace

sunny 23 °C

Welcome to Bulgaria! Not somewhere we intended to stop, but then plans are made to broken aren't they? We were headed straight for Turkey from Bucharest, Romania, when we found out that Turkey is doing massive rail works so there is absolutely no rail link into the country, nor out of Istanbul, for 2 years. 2 years! Doesn't seem like the best planning to me, but I'm hardly a Town Planner, just a traveller, who notes that it is rather disruptive. So instead of taking the rather gruelling option of getting off the train at 1am to be shuttled onto a bus for the last 6 hours of the journey, we got off in Veliko Tranovo. Where it is sunny, mostly friendly, moutainous and lush. Thanks Turkey.

2 and a half weeks in and it is slowly slowly starting to feel like a 'big trip'. At first, it just felt like a nice wee jaunt around western Europe visiting friends - which is precisely what it was. We were gratefully fed up on their generous hospitality - much cheese and wine, comfortable beds and no need to wear jandals in the shower. And then, after a night train from Munich to Budapest, we were out on our own.

The beauty of the slow incremental pace of overland travel has been apparent from the start. The small changes you notice as you inch from one nation to the next. The Dutch have massive windows, and hardly ever draw their curtains, particularly noticeable travelling through towns by train at night. The Germans have very strict train attendants who like to enforce rules which have no good purpose, Hungarian train attendants on the other hand have been rather jovial. The difference in the extent of development between Budapest and Bucharest, both ex-communist for the same amount of time, was interesting. Budapest clearly has put more energy and money into restoring their beautiful old buildings, although you only need to go one or two streets back off the main roads to start to see the crumbling old facades. Bucharest seems to be developing at a much slower and haphazard pace. In one street you will see a delapidated old building falling down, a glass fronted office high rise, a restored old villa, and my favourites, old crumbling building for the top few floors - broken windows and abandoned - nicely done up shop front on the ground floor. Bucharest also seemed to be the city of stolen electricity - countless wires coming off every power pole, some dangerously swinging low or dangling on the ground.

I had a wee panic while in Germany, that we had set off too early and it would be cold and wet for months. That we didn't have enough warm clothes. But, just yesterday we posted our winter coats home! Horay! The further East we go, the warmer it gets. So warm in fact, that yesterday we took the day off from sightseeing to laze around, catch up on some reading, and drink a beer in the sunshine. We're on holiday!

Off to Istanbul tonight. On the night bus. Not exactly going to be a fun journey, but that's what ear plugs and eye masks are for. And when we get there we can feast on baklava, cacjik and other delicious turkish delights.

Hope all is well with you. xxx Chris and Dan.

Posted by chrisgulik 23:44 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (5)

Welcome to our travels

And the many tales that will ensue

overcast 7 °C

Well, I certainly wouldn't want to be known as a girl who is all talk and no action.... so here is the travel blog I promised. Kicking off from Kiel, Northern Germany on Easter Monday 2012.

Dan and I went to a talk a few weeks ago 'On being a 21st Century traveller'. One thing in particular I took away from it was a new definition of Exploring. That to Explore requires two things, adventure and the sharing of said adventures. And I liked that definition. Sharing our tales was something we weren't particularly good at on our last trip, something I am keen to put a little more effort into this time. So welcome to our blog, let's go exploring!

You can see our map of our proposed itinerary. Let us know if any of those places tickles your fancy and you care to join us at some stage. Or if you have anything else you might like to share, perhaps something interesting about one of the countries we are going to visit, maybe a relevant book you can recommend etc.

Instalment one, check. More to follow.

Posted by chrisgulik 11:17 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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