28.06.2017 - 28.06.2017 30 °C
Day 35 Wednesday 28 June 2017
Tbilisi to Dzoroget, Armenia / Border Day
- So we leave Tbilisi. Put it on your list of cities to visit. It has come a long way since 2003 when the so called Rose Revolution brought to an end the post soviet era Shevardnadze government. It still has significantly further to go. But the transformation is very much a work in active progress.
- Perhaps allow a good week / 10 days to visit Georgia & get a proper feel for the place. Change & transformation is happening rapidly. International hotel chains are opening up, small boutique hotels and backpacker hostels are getting in on the tourist act too, particularly in Tbilisi. Once air access improves ( currently only a few European airlines fly here - Lufthansa for example ) it will surely become the next tourist hot spot. So come now & be ahead of the crowd.
- Regrets? We have a few .... Not having time to go for a Hamam experience in the sulphur baths is one. ' Tbili ' means warm in the Georgian language. And the natural hot springs that flow through the Hamams are the reason for the city's name. Local advice is to book a private room or try Baths 5. Don't count on a mellow asian massage experience, expect a full on Russian one!
- We've done our best to catch up on our wasted first day's walk. But now it's time to move on to our next destination - Armenia.
- Just as the day is starting well and we are about to set off, we open up the truck, stationary for the last 2 days in the the underground carpark. There is a strange buzzing noise inside. The fridge playing up again? No, the water pump has been left on - no doubt by SG - for 48 + hours. Although the truck starts, the control panel indicates the main battery is at a dangerously low level. Fingers crossed the battery can still be recharged by a decent bout of usage. If not, a new battery may have to be at the top of our Armenian agenda. Self inflicted injury & problems are all the more annoying. SG is sent to the naughty step - again!
- It's a 75 km drive to the Armenian border. We are crossing at Sadakhlo.
- It's getting hotter. Barely 11 o' clock and already the truck gauge is showing 30C.
- For some reason, which we have yet to ascertain, as we approach the border, stalls on either side of the road sell cleaning products. Bags of the stuff and in large quantity. Is there a P&G factory nearby we wonder?
- At the border, driver & vehicle passenger(s) must separate. SG joins the queue for pedestrians and hopes she has the correct paperwork. The master file is with AG who has to stay with the truck while it is searched. In the pedestrian queue there is much rank pulling - people push in ahead with their minders and this seems to be tolerated by the rest of us. SG chooses to bite her tongue. The whole process lasts about an hour and is relatively painless. It does have a cost because we have the truck - Insurance costs $10 and vehicle road tax $40. Expensive for 6 nights.
- Why oh why, can't we enforce the same financial fees for short term use of our British roads by foreign cars ? It must be possible. After all we are an island and that should facilitate border control ( for vehicles at least ) .
- Before arriving at our hotel in Dzorget located on the bank of River Debed, we visit three notable medieval churches & monastery complexes:
1. Akhtala, which lies 18 km NE of Alaverdi, built in 13C, located high up on a promontory overlooking the valley below. Alaverdi is a real rust pot of a city, a legacy from the Soviet era, and dated by Russian standards. Neither the church nor Alaverdi appear to have been embellished since their creation. The church of course is beautiful, even in its neglected state, the town much less so. Akhtala is famous for its stunning 13C frescoes - they also look completely untouched for centuries. You get the powerful feeling that you are peaking at truly original art.
2. Haghpat monastery is a World Heritage listed building - selected as a fine example of Armenia's medieval cultural heritage & ecclesiastical style of architecture. It was founded here in 10C and expanded in size during the following three centuries. Walking around the site we do wonder whether any money has actually flowed from World Heritage funds to the organisation responsible for its care and protection.
3. Sanahin Monastery is also a World Heritage site. By the way, there is no longer any cable car access from Alaverdi, despite what tourist books may say. It's hard to imagine there ever was.
- This monastery complex is also in a very 'natural', unrestored state. It is a sombre place, a collection of arches, tomb stones, study halls. Apart from the stone carvings on the massive pillars and around doorways, there is little decoration. But the acoustics are superb. It's our lucky time again - there is a priest chanting his prayers. Hardly visible in the dark interior his beautiful voice resonates up & out. His voice is hauntingly beautiful. We are told he has come from Yerevan to pray in this special place and in this unique way.
- May you be as fortunate and have a similar experience on your travels in Armenia.
- Late afternoon we arrive at our hotel, the Dzoroget Tufenkian. It is the inspiration of James Tufenkian, an American of Armenian background who came to Armenia and decided to start a business. He currently has at least two on the go - one producing hand made carpets in traditional Armenian design and now employing over a 1000 people. The other is a chain of boutique hotels in heritage buildings or ones built to reflect Armenian design & culture. His aim is to develop regional tourism within Armenia. Besides Dzoroget, there are also Tufenkian hotels in Dilijan & Yerevan. We will be staying in all three whilst in Armenia.
- A cursory look in the dining room and the sight of a long, fully laid up table, suggests we are an hour or so ahead of a large coach group. We decide to eat before the crowd arrives. We dine outside in the warm evening sunshine and eat a delicious local chicken stew.
- This gives us plenty of time to work on a change of plan. Our Day 2 schedule has been thwarted by road closure. Just like that!