A Travellerspoint blog

Elbistan - a Culinary Highlight

sunny 35 °C

Day 47 Monday July 10 2017
Nemrut Dagi to Elbistan / 205 Km plus detour to Levent

  • We decide not to revisit Namrut Dagi at dawn. If you are a keen photographer it will probably be brilliant. The East terrace will be bathed in sunlight. And you should have the place almost to yourself. But the prospect of such an early start ( at this time of year 4 a.m. ) does not appeal, especially since we have one planned a few days later in Goreme.
  • Breakfast at Gunes Motel is very simple and somewhat sparse. There is nothing to take for our picnic lunch. We will have to eat the yogurt, bananas and honey that we have as reserve in the truck.
  • A quick mention about our accommodation - basic but clean & quiet. No aircon. However at night the temperatures drop, cooled to some extent by the nearby cascade of mountain water.
  • SG discovers that she has lost her earplugs & eye blind. Or rather left behind in a hotel bedroom, probably in Elazig. Since she does the final room check, it is absolutely her responsibility. Still over 6 weeks into the trip and that is all that has been forgotten. Not bad really. But earplugs and eye blinds, although not valuable are really precious. Must remember to pack a spare set next time. Just in case!
  • The message from people like Huseiyn, the motel owner is to please come to Turkey once more. Many areas that are dependent on tourism are suffering greatly from adverse publicity in the western media about risks of travel. See the photo of the map illustrating areas that are considered risky by the Foreign Office. It is a relatively small part of this vast country & that still leaves many regions that are trouble free, hospitable and desperate for the return of tourists.
  • We retrace our route back to the Malatya main road. Encountering drama by the roadside - a truck of grain must have shed some of its load. The villagers are clearing up.
  • Further down the road we stop to take a photo of roadside apricot trees, still heavily laden with fruit. From nowhere appear a couple of curious lads - they must have seen our truck pull up and decided to come and take a look. We are equally curious and follow them into the grove of trees, under which members of their family are sorting through the picked apricots.
  • They dearly wish to give us a whole bucket of apricots to take with us. Can you get apricot poisoning?! We tactfully take as many as our hands can hold.
  • Our only sightseeing today, after much deliberation with Huseiyn over the map, is Levent. A gorge famous for funambulism ( tight rope walking ) and a glass viewing platform, presumably to better watch the crazy skywalkers. It's a detour of some 13 km, into a valley of rock caves, which are no longer such an attraction after all we have seen in Georgia & Armenia. We never make it to the glass lookout ( navigator misses the turning!) but we get an idea of the rocky gorge scenery. It's ok, but it's not worth making it the highlight of your day unless there is a funambulist in action.
  • We reach Elbistan mid afternoon. Entering a hotel which chooses to use power stations as its logo is a bit concerning! Apparently there is large power plant some 20 km outside of town. The manager says the hotel has 90% occupancy. It is full of business men. So something does go on in Elbistan after all.
  • Having said that the surrounding scenery has been lovely - vast expanses of wheat fields, vegetable cultivation and swathes of sunflowers. The town may not be much to look at, but the countryside around is a pleasure to drive through.
  • In the end the Elbistan Park Hotel proves to be a good choice - cool, quiet room ( SG changes only once ) a subterranean swimming pool which she has all to herself. and a great local restaurant just around the corner. The type we have been hoping to find in all of the obscure places we have visited in Turkey.
  • The hotel manager recommends a local restaurant just round the corner. The type we have been looking for in all the obscure Turkish places so far visited: clean, friendly service, freshly prepared food and high turnover of clientèle. Elbistan is our first success.
  • The restaurant has a great formula: standard appetiser dishes are brought immediately to the table, similarly so with bottles of water and a jug of chilled lassi ( a yogurt / milky type of liquid ). We then select our kebabs grilled freshly to order. It's delicious and not even 5£ a head. It is one of the rare occasions that we are able to eat more than enough.
  • There may be no sightseeing in Elbistan but it ticks all the other boxes.

Dry River Bed - On Way Down from Nemrut Dagi to Malatya

Dry River Bed - On Way Down from Nemrut Dagi to Malatya

Turks Like Selfies Too

Turks Like Selfies Too

Sorting Apricots Near Malatya

Sorting Apricots Near Malatya

SG with Apricot Farmer

SG with Apricot Farmer

Farmer in Apricot Grove

Farmer in Apricot Grove

Juicy & Ripe Apricots

Juicy & Ripe Apricots

On Road Back Down to Malatya - Apricot Groves

On Road Back Down to Malatya - Apricot Groves

Map To Show Turkey's No Go Areas

Map To Show Turkey's No Go Areas

Logo of Elbistan Hotel - Power Stations

Logo of Elbistan Hotel - Power Stations

Posted by sagbucks 22:48 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

In the Middle of Turkey

sunny 30 °C

Day 45 Saturday July 8 2017
Tatvan to Elazig 331km

  • It seems there is a sleep conspiracy against us. Our room is cool and we hear no early morning call to prayer. But we are disturbed several times by rowdy guests along the corridor. Both of us on separate occasions get up to shout down the corridor. How does one get rowdy on Turkish tea? We also detect the tell tale effects of MSG food additive. Our supper did taste very salty.
  • The breakfast spread is however a treat. We eat only the fresh and unprocessed foods on offer - then we can be sure of avoiding another MSG hangover. Cheese, olives, water melon, tomatoes and cucumber, yogurt and real honeycomb honey. We sit on the outdoor balcony and enjoy our breakfast all fresco.
  • Today is significant on our journey because we are finally beginning to head west, back to our chilly and politically gloomy homeland. It's a drive that will take us 2.5 weeks. But our adventures are hopefully not yet over. Our route across Turkey has been chosen to avoid repetition and to bypass the south eastern areas that the Foreign Office has designated as 'no go' zones.
  • The problem with today & the last 2 days is that we are travelling to reach places that have little to offer once we get there. Tonight's destination, Elazig is not mentioned at all in LP. We have no option, there is nothing else around. Western tourism avoids these places for good reason.
  • The day starts with disappointment as we follow yet another LP red herring. We do a short 'voluntary' detour to Bitlis just SW of Tatvan. A place LP describes as having 'one of highest concentrations of restored historic buildings in Eastern Anatolia, many of them EU sponsored projects.'
  • Do we, the citizens of EU realise how much of our money is being spent by the EU on vanity projects in countries that do not even belong within the EU, now or in the near future?
  • On our travels we have seen many examples of EU generosity and often wondered why. Here in Bitlis we see little evidence of money being well spent. But then again we see no EU flag nor signage. So maybe LP got their facts wrong.
  • LP encourages the traveller to go off the beaten track. Of course you must do your own research. But without wifi when you are actually on the move, hunting out their recommendations, & without even basic Turkish language (SG would suggest few westerners do ) LP is too vague in its references. There is not even a rough sketch to help orientation. The tourist office, which according to LP is very helpful and has maps, is closed on Saturdays. Our love hate relationship with the Lonely Planet publication team continues.
  • If you happen to stay in Tatvan, go instead up Mt Nemrut and see the crater lakes. A similar length detour as to Bitlis but probably well worth your trouble.
  • So a long hot drive across Central Turkey. The roads continue to impress greatly. Building infrastructure is clearly a major part of the Turkish economy. Good on them. Shame on us.
  • Just outside Tavan and then again at a town called Mus, there are police road checks and our vehicle is searched. There are intimidating armoured police vehicles parked adjacent and a row of riot shields stand ready for use. Yes, there are definitely ongoing & unresolved issues in Turkish politics .
  • During the afternoon we encounter several more random road checks and vehicle searches.
  • We are passing through one of Turkey's grain belts - sadly not a wine belt. Judging by the burnt fields in places, and the tractors still in action in others, harvest time is nearly over.
  • Roads may be good in Turkey, but roadside facilities in this part of the country are non existent. Choosing a lunchtime picnic spot in the shade is never easy. Today's choice happens to be near a war memorial of some kind. It is in the middle of nowhere. There are photos of fallen Turkish soldiers, all of them tragically young and all of them killed on May 24 1993. SG later googles the date ( no Wikipedia is allowed in Turkey ) - it transpires it was the date of a brutal attack on Turkish soldiers by the PKK. We are driving relatively close to one of their current strongholds in Diyarbakir. It is the reason why the Foreign Office classify SE Turkey as dangerous for British travellers. To the south of Diyarbakir lies Syria & Iraq. PKK problems can flare up at any time.
  • We arrive in Elazig mid afternoon. It is baking. We retreat to our hotel room for a couple of hours of chilling. Except the room is not particularly cool - the aircon system is only turned on when we arrive.
  • AG has a migraine and naturally is not in the best of moods. Good job there is no sightseeing on the agenda. Nurse SG analyses the situation: a long hot drive, insufficient use of aircon ( in order to protect the truck engine at altitude ) only intermittent wearing of sunglasses & obviously too little fluid intake. Rest is prescribed.
  • Its a struggle to find somewhere to eat in Elazig. The hotel restaurant does not appeal - at all. In fact it looks as if it is being prepared for wedding celebrations. On Trip Advisor there are only a few places with reviews, mostly in Turkish. We opt for Garnish Brasserie, a 10 minute taxi ride away. Food is 'fusion ' Turkish & Western. Or maybe just confused. The chef has been poached from the Sheraton in Istanbul and it shows in the artistic display of his dishes but nothing else. But the Campari soda cocktail is refreshing and the fruit chocolate fondu for dessert delicious.
  • Back to the hotel for an early and hopefully peaceful night. AG must recover from his migraine or else SG will have to drive. An incentive if ever there was one. Yes, driving across the middle of this vast country is indeed tough.

Posted by sagbucks 05:40 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Tatvan - Reaching Parts of Turkey Few Western Tourists Visit

sunny 30 °C

Day 44 July 7 2017
Igdir to Tavan / 318 km

  • SG is woken, despite earplugs, by one of the many mullahs who call to prayer at the crack of dawn. Currently before 4 a.m. She asks again the question - do Muslims really get up & pray at this time? Or is it just a legacy from a previous era?
  • Of course it's not the only religion that should evolve to better suit the needs & demands of the 21C. The Catholic Church & the Church of England both come to mind here.
  • The other impediment to a good night's sleep is room temperature. It would seem that to economise, the hotel management control the minimum temperature obtainable in any room. So be it. But SG was also disturbed in the middle of the night by a further rise in temperature. She suspects that in order to save money, management raise the minimum temperature by a couple of degrees for a few hours during the night, assuming that guests are fast asleep and won't notice. Yes, you're right she is very precious about bedroom conditions.
  • 'Open the windows' you say - but then the noise from the mosques will be even louder!
  • Breakfast is a pleasant surprise. Yogurt, honey, cheese, olives, fresh fruit , eggs and bread. Enough to eat now and for lunch. Sadly no coffee. Whilst eating we are entertained by the happenings in a storks'nest built on top of a nearby mosque. Stork watching will never lose its appeal.
  • We leave by 8.30 a.m. and it's already 26C.
  • We are travelling first to Dogubayazit, South of Igdir. We stayed overnight here on our London to Sydney trip. It is a heavily garrisoned town, and a major access point for entry into Iran. We fill up at the same BP filling station as we did 3 years previously. Memories come flooding back.
  • Mtn Ararat still rises up majestically to the East. Another sight that we will never tire of. Especially in summer, when the upper slopes still covered with snow, are such a contrast to the scorched countryside all around.
  • After Dogubayazit we turn off South in the direction of Lake Van. It is finally time to bid farewell to Mt Ararat.
  • We are stopped for a vehicle check by local police. They don't take long. Perhaps with an army base here, there are plenty of personnel to keep busy.
  • For the next 30 km we admire the view and the empty roads. But there is good reason - just as we climb to an altitude of 2500m we come to the end of the road. For now it is impassable. Navigator checks the maps me app for alternative minor roads. There are none. Annoyingly there have been no signs, not even in Turkish, to warn of the road closure ahead. Our only option is to return to Dogubayazit and do a huge detour via Agri to reach Ercis and Lake Van. What was going to be a long hot day has just got longer.
  • So unexpectedly it's hello Mt Ararat once more.
  • We knew Turkey would be a tough section of our trip - the hot climate, the difficulty of finding decent restaurants in obscure places and of course language difficulties. We are scheduled to spend another 10 days in Turkey. Some will be brief overnight stays in places that we will be eager to leave. But a couple are well known tourist destinations ( Goreme & Pammukkale). Food & accommodation here should be of a reasonable quality.
  • Roads in Turkey are noticeably better than in the Caucasus countries. The country's infrastructure is already impressive and new projects are ongoing as we drive - the UK sadly does not compare, either with quality or coverage.
  • At 315 km and after 4.5 hours of driving we finally rejoin the route we originally planned via Ercis on Lake Van. Fortunately the roads we chose as our detour have been generally good and traffic light.
  • The drive around Lake Van is mainly about scenery, it is blissfully uncommercialised. Just azure blue water and a mountainous backdrop which today is sadly a bit hazy for photographs. The lake is the result of a volcano eruption which closed off the flow of mountain rivers. It stretches over 3000 sq km and sits at an altitude of around 1600 m.
  • We stop briefly in Ahlat some 45 km before Tatvan. There is a vast Seljuk Cemetary here with tall headstones intricately carved on both sides. They date from 11C onwards. After days of Armenian Khachars, AG declares that he has had enough of visiting cemeteries. He has a point.
  • As we come in for 'landing' at Tatvan it's blowing up a gale, a warm one at 30 C. We abandon plans to drive up Nemrut Dagi 3050 m from where there are excellent views of Lake Van and also of Crater Lakes within the inactive volcano. This afternoon, views would be limited.
  • SG makes the usual room requests at check in and all seems ok. We spend a couple of hours chilling and catching up with emails whilst the wind and dust storm outside abate.
  • Early evening, it's time to stretch our legs. We stroll along the pedestrianised street outside our hotel and down to the lake. The promenade is closed to traffic - we do not know if this happens every evening, just in summer or only at weekends. Families are out and about and groups of either men or women sit and chat.

Tea is the main drink on offer. Plus the usual canned soft drinks. There are no lakeside restaurants of any kind. Men sit at low tables, smoke & drink tea out of small glass cups. It's an evening highlight. We see no women doing likewise. It seems to be an exclusive male activity on male territory.

  • Its such a shame that language prevents us from finding out more about modern Turkish society.

We do our diplomatic best: we pose for their photos, we smile, we wave acknowledgement. We stand out from the promenade crowds - our dress, our skin colour - just being in Tatvan we are an oddity - not many western tourists come here. Why would they? The lake water is cold, the hospitality industry is basic and no alcohol is served.

  • We are continually offered tea, now and at other times : at local shops, at petrol stations, at hotel reception desk. Neither of us like Turkish tea. It is strong & bitter which is why they add so many sugar lumps.
  • There is no obvious alternative to eating at the hotel restaurant on the 8th floor. It has panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The freshly squeezed orange juice is delicious, the staff kind and helpful, shame about the food.

Our View Over Breakfast

Our View Over Breakfast

Mt Ararat Graciously Shows Herself Again

Mt Ararat Graciously Shows Herself Again

At Dogubayazit We Are Very Close to Iranian Border

At Dogubayazit We Are Very Close to Iranian Border

Road Ahead Closed for Indefinite Miles & Indefinite Time

Road Ahead Closed for Indefinite Miles & Indefinite Time

Beautiful Colours of Lake Van

Beautiful Colours of Lake Van

AG in a T Shirt SG Wishes to Burn! Terrible Colour.

AG in a T Shirt SG Wishes to Burn! Terrible Colour.

Seljuk Tombstones in Ahlat

Seljuk Tombstones in Ahlat

Seljuk Tombstones in Ahlat

Seljuk Tombstones in Ahlat

Men Only, Tea Only

Men Only, Tea Only

Tatvan Memorial

Tatvan Memorial

Ladies Out For a Stroll Around Lake Tatvan

Ladies Out For a Stroll Around Lake Tatvan

Tea is the Highlight of the Evening

Tea is the Highlight of the Evening

Lakeside Corner

Lakeside Corner

SG by Lake Van

SG by Lake Van

Turkish Selfie by Lake Van

Turkish Selfie by Lake Van

Posted by sagbucks 07:47 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Ten More Days In Turkey

overcast 20 °C

Day 43 Thursday July 6 2017
Vardzia to Igdir / 354 km / Border Crossing Georgia to Turkey

  • SG has said it before: what a difference a day makes. It is cloudy and cool this morning in Vardzia. A mere 19C; as soon as we get to Turkey this will change. We leave after a late breakfast. The hotel does not start serving until 9 a.m. - late even by Georgian standards.
  • We retrace our route to Achalkalaki before heading west to the border crossing with Turkey at a place called Aktas / Cildir. The territorial line is actually drawn through Aktas Lake. A geo- political border if ever there was one.
  • Georgian border country is sparsely populated, roads are potholed and the wild flowers very beautiful. We regularly check our altitude. We are driving at around 1850 meters - incredibly high considering the lack of mountain summits. As in Armenia we are crossing wide expanses of high altitude plateau.
  • Shortly before the actual border we see the last Georgian church, a simple, single storey shack built in 1990, the year of independence from Russia.
  • We are relieved to see the odd HGV coming in the opposite direction. We conclude that the border is definitely open.
  • It opened end 2015 and still does not seem to be widely used. Once again we are the only foreigners.
  • The passports with the Armenian stamps are safely out of sight. Passing through into Turkey is not a problem.
  • The facilities suggest that in the future a greater volume of traffic is expected. Exceedingly tall flag poles fly the national flags of Georgia, Turkey & the EU.
  • Many of our border conversations with officials develop along the following line:

Where are you from? England.
Have you driven all the way? Yes.
I like Manchester ....

This is the cue for AG to talk football. Manchester Utd is arguably UK's most famous export.

  • The Turkish border is no exception.
  • Our re entry into Turkey marks a turning point of our journey. We are not yet back on a westerly trajectory but we have left the Caucasus region, the main destination of our 2 month trip. We are spending another 10 days in Turkey and our itinerary does include some sightseeing - it's not a matter of just driving west. At least Ramadan is over for another year, no more Iftah suppers, just lots of minarets with loud speakers.
  • Our route around the east side of Lake Cildir reveals very pleasant scenery, mainly at an altitude of around 2000m. The lake remains undeveloped commercially which makes our drive all the more special. By the water's edge a herd of cows gather on the shingle beach, not tourists. In winter it freezes over completely.
  • After leaving Lake Cildir we cross over a railway line that is being upgraded significantly. See photo. We believe that this is part of the Baku Tbilisi Kars railway project that will continue to Istanbul and then on to other Western European destinations.
  • Heat and altitude combine to make today's journey very tiring. 20 km or so before Igdir, and over to our east is the magnificent Mt Ararat, just visible through the clouds. Continue over the summit further east and you would get to Khor Virap in Armenia ( see Iconic Armenia entry )
  • On arrival at our city hotel, the Star Royal, the only one SG could find with aircon, we note that there is a mosque very close by.
  • SG checks the room before giving approval for the luggage to be taken up. It has a back view, so that's ok . But the aircon is off and has been since the last occupant vacated. It takes a good couple of hours for the room temperature to sink to a 24/5C level. We use the time to go for walk about town and find a place to eat.
  • Not many tourists come to Igdir and even fewer write restaurant reviews. It's not easy - lots of tea houses and coffee shops but very few restaurants except kebab and shawarma bars. This does not appeal to SG. We end up at, horror oh horror, Dominos Pizza. Thank goodness they have one in down town Igdir. Otherwise we might have dined at Burger King.
  • Fortunately on the plus side, whilst wandering around town, we manage to stock up again on Turkish delight. A favourite treat of ours during the day, especially in the absence of bars of fruit & nut chocolate.

Border Country Georgia / Turkey

Border Country Georgia / Turkey

Wild Flowers Seen Near Georgia / Turkey Border

Wild Flowers Seen Near Georgia / Turkey Border

Last Church in Georgia Before Turkey

Last Church in Georgia Before Turkey

Cows Enjoy Cildir Lake Not Tourists

Cows Enjoy Cildir Lake Not Tourists

Turkish Herdsman Brings His Cows to Bathe in Lake

Turkish Herdsman Brings His Cows to Bathe in Lake

Baku Tbilisi Kars Railway is being Upgraded Considerably

Baku Tbilisi Kars Railway is being Upgraded Considerably

Garlic for Sale in Igdir

Garlic for Sale in Igdir

Tailor Advertises His Services in Igdir

Tailor Advertises His Services in Igdir

Posted by sagbucks 07:46 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Farewell Armenia, Hello Georgia ( Again )

sunny 40 °C

Day 41 Tuesday 4 July 2017 Yerevan to Vardzia
Border Crossing Armenia / Georgia 255 km

  • It's time to leave Armenia. We have learnt so much about this fascinating country which in terms of current size and wealth, is a fraction of its historic self. As the first Nation in the world to convert to Christianity, it is also significant to our European culture & heritage.
  • Rich & famous Armenians do not tend to live here. They belong to the extensive Armenian diaspora. There are nearly 1 million living in Los Angeles alone. St Petersburg is another significant base. Cher, Charles Aznavour, Alain Prost, Andre Agassi, Anoushka, and the Kardashian clan all have Armenian blood.
  • The truck has been idle for 3 days. As we climb back in and start her up, SG gets that feeling of of impending adventure. New places, different food, climate, scenery & people. On our truck trips we experience such sentiment every few days, sometimes every day. It is deliciously addictive.
  • It's 8.45 a.m. and the rush hour has begun. We generally try and avoid them in big cities whenever possible. Several policemen are overriding traffic lights on the major junction that lies directly below the Ararat Brandy factory. Our experience is that human intervention of this kind is rarely successful - it just makes congestion even worse!
  • Anyway Yerevan is a relatively small capital city and we are soon headed out of town towards Gyumri, Armenia's second city and to the Georgian border beyond at a place called Bavra.
  • A dual carriageway lasts until Astarak and then the roads revert to their usual inferior quality of potholes and subsidence. The going is slow and not so smooth.
  • Gyumri is not worth stopping for. Even LP gets that right! The crimes of intellectual copyright persist - we see, and not for the first time in Armenia, a petrol station brand called Chevroni with a prancing Ferrari horse as its logo. Essentially a copyright hybrid.
  • In all but the larger towns, gas pipes in urban areas of Armenia are exposed above ground as in Georgia. It must be a Soviet way of doing things.
  • Storks come to Armenia too. We are passing by an area dotted with small lakes which naturally provides instant take away food. We never tire of seeing these magnificent birds. The nests are currently looking a bit overcrowded. Their young are growing rapidly and must be near to take off themselves.
  • The scenery of frontier Armenia is gorgeous; wide open vistas of high altitude pastureland ( 2100m ) and wild flowers. In the distance, mountain summits still have remnants of snow.
  • It is a poor agricultural area. You can always tell. Drying cow dung to provide fuel is part of the local economy. We are not sure whether it smells of manure when being burnt but during the drying process it certainly does.
  • The Bavra border point between Armenia & Georgia ( 2100 m ) is the smallest and most basic that we have encountered on this trip. There's certainly no duty free. Yet. There's a chance that our crossing will be amazingly quick because there are no queues. But equally, there is a possibility that the border police have such a huge amount of time on their hands, that a middle aged couple in their own Landcruiser truck becomes an oddity worth investigating.
  • Driver & passenger must separate. Remember we are juggling passports to avoid using a passport into Turkey that carries an Armenian entry / exit stamp. Our Georgian entry stamp must therefore go into the Turkey neutral passport.
  • The Georgian border official is at first confused why SG has no exit stamp from Armenia evident in the passport that she hands over. He calls a supervisor and then another. At this point SG decides to volunteer the fact she has 2 passports, not always seen as a positive thing at tricky borders. In the end they oblige and stamp the entry visa into the passport we will use to enter back into Turkey. Confused? Well, just be aware, that unless relationships improve dramatically, you must be careful when travelling between Turkey and the Caucasus nations. It is too easy to offend.
  • Apart from the stamp issue, our crossing is quick. Times are changing, at least on the Georgian side. Impressive new facilities are being built and some time soon you'll even be able to do some duty free shopping. Currently the Armenian side is lagging seriously behind.
  • We are welcomed into Georgia by the national flag and that of the EU. Affiliation with the EU is very important to Georgia.
  • Now we drive towards Achalkalaki and Vardzia beyond. Through a narrow gorge, beside the River Paravani we find a picnic stop beside an unusual bridge. ( See photo ).
  • A bit further on, high above the confluence of Rivers Paravani and Mtkvari ( the latter flows through Tbilisi) stands Khertvisi Fortress, ( 10-14 C). Impressive from a distance. Whilst SG gets out to take photo, AG plays a mean trick. Fortunately SG spies his manoeuvre out of the corner of her eye and is forewarned. Although she has no idea of what he is up to. SG hates snakes and cannot bear to touch them. Neither of us have ever seen the like ever before. Enough clues - see photo.
  • Just after the fortress we turn off the main road down Vardzia valley. We pass the village of Tmogvi and the ruins of its castle high up on the craggy hill on the opposite side of the river. Incidentally, there are numerous guest houses in this area that would also be convenient for exploring the monastery cave village of Vardzia.
  • We are staying further down the valley that leads nowhere. Our hotel, the Vardzia Resort, is first class in terms of location with views across the valley. The lobby furnishings and rooms are comfortable & stylish. However service and food are very poor. It's a real disappointment because there are few alternatives. The menu really does not inspire and we eat out of necessity rather than pleasure. Fortunately we survive. And its location is superb.
  • Were it not for temperatures touching 40 in the afternoon sun, we would walk the 4km or so from the hotel to the Vardzia Cave Monastery. Unsurprisingly we don't. In any case we first drive an additional 3 km up the valley to the Vardzia nunnery which is still active. AG is curious why there is an odd job man parked up in the compound.
  • One of the nuns kindly opens up the tiny church for us. Ancient inside, with a modern roof and old carved pillars at the entrance, there are very faded wall paintings inside. It is 6 p.m. This seems to be a special hour in the life of a priest, monk or nun. As in Udabno at the same hour, the nun lights all the candles within the tiny church and stands beside a lectern with a large bible. She starts to chant her prayers - sadly not as impressively as we have heard elsewhere . But that does not detract from the beauty of our experience. As 6 o clock passes, one by one, more nuns come to join her in the evening prayers.
  • We leave them to it and head down the road to the cave monastery proper. It shuts at 7 pm. Our plan is to climb up now in the relative cool ( no longer in full sun ) and then return the following morning to take a photo of the caves bathed in sunshine.
  • Vardzia is the third cave monastery of our trip. It is the biggest but the oldest. You can come to Vardzia on a day trip from Akhaltsikhe ( our entry point to Georgia, Day 18 / June 11 ) or you can choose to linger a bit longer and enjoy this gorgeous valley after the day trippers have left. In cooler weather there will be some lovely hiking.
  • Vardzia began life as a place of fortification built in the 12C by King Giorgi 3. His daughter, the revered Queen Tamar established a monastery here. It grew into a holy city that accommodated around 2000 monks. It became known as a spiritual bastion of Georgia and Christendom's eastern frontier. The cave dwellings extend over 13 different levels and are interconnected through a series of tunnels & stone steps. Although we do not count to confirm, there are meant to be over 400 rooms, 13 churches & 25 wine cellars. As has been mentioned before, monks enjoyed their wine!
  • At the heart of the complex is the Church of Assumption - the facade has disappeared, probably in the 1283 earthquake. But the interior, dug deep into the cave, is still remarkable. See photos. It is presumed that the frescoes, which portray many New Testament scenes, were painted at the time of its construction 1184-6. To the left of the entrance is another smaller door that leads to a tunnel and interior flights of steps. Walk up & along and you will emerge well above the church, in another part of the monastery neighbourhood.
  • At Vardzia there is obvious work in progress to make the site more accessible and safer for visitors. We are a bit concerned that when finished, this may detract from its original beauty. There seems to be a lot of concrete being used and a crude renovation of stone.
  • Signage is poor and audio guides non existent. It may be worth hiring a guide if this is your first & only visit to a monastery cave.
  • Another long day ends. We head back to our hotel for supper. SG makes a very bad choice of river trout. It is teeny weeny - not at all like the delicious trout we bought at Lake Sevan, a few days earlier. Stick to pasta, is better advice.

Day 42 Wednesday July 5 2017

  • A rare day of rest in the Vardzia Valley spent mostly at our hotel. No sightseeing except a quick drive to view the Monastery Caves in full sunlight.
  • It's an admin day ( stuff happens at home even when you are away and stop the post) and a washing day. Thankfully we have a small balcony and the clothes will dry within a few hours.
  • SG concludes that modern hotel bathrooms are not designed for drying clothes. They are often too small or do not have sufficient hooks to hang the washing line. It often takes great ingenuity to work out how.
  • The food does not improve. Since it is our last day in Georgia, we indulge one final time in a Khatchapuri - the cheese filled bread that is Geirgia's signature snack. Actually 'snack' is a misnomer because it is a meal in itself and very filling. It sure beats river trout.
  • We are amazed how quickly the day passes just chilling. We must do it more often!

Chevroni Petrol Station w Ferrari Logo

Chevroni Petrol Station w Ferrari Logo

Armenian / Georgia Border

Armenian / Georgia Border

Swathes of Daisies & Other Flowers, Armenia Near Goergian Border

Swathes of Daisies & Other Flowers, Armenia Near Goergian Border

Armenia / Georgia Border - the Smallest & Quietest We Have Encountered to Date

Armenia / Georgia Border - the Smallest & Quietest We Have Encountered to Date

5956DD049DDEF60CFA799632497D600A.jpgCows Have Right of Way

Cows Have Right of Way

We Love Stork Watching

We Love Stork Watching

This is Where the Nest was Built

This is Where the Nest was Built

Georgian Man is Happy to Pose for a Photo with his Lada

Georgian Man is Happy to Pose for a Photo with his Lada

A Strange Bridge Over River Paravani

A Strange Bridge Over River Paravani

Strange Bridge Over River Paravani

Strange Bridge Over River Paravani

Khertvisi Fortess Near to Vardzia

Khertvisi Fortess Near to Vardzia

AG's Snake Trick

AG's Snake Trick

Church at Vardzia Nunnery

Church at Vardzia Nunnery

The New Roof to Church @ Nunnery Deceives. This is Entrance

The New Roof to Church @ Nunnery Deceives. This is Entrance

Church Bells That Are Rung To Call to 6 o' clock Prayer @ Vardzia Nunnery

Church Bells That Are Rung To Call to 6 o' clock Prayer @ Vardzia Nunnery

A Nun Rushes to 6 o' clock Prayers in the Church

A Nun Rushes to 6 o' clock Prayers in the Church

Vardzia Monastery Caves

Vardzia Monastery Caves

Arches Were Carved Into The Rock Face @ Vardzia Monastery Caves

Arches Were Carved Into The Rock Face @ Vardzia Monastery Caves

Vardzia Monastery Caves

Vardzia Monastery Caves

AG in Old  Refectory @ Vardzia Cave Monastery

AG in Old Refectory @ Vardzia Cave Monastery

13C Frescoes, Church of Assumption, Vardzia

13C Frescoes, Church of Assumption, Vardzia

Vardzia Monastery Caves

Vardzia Monastery Caves

Restoration of Vardzia Caves - Good or Bad?

Restoration of Vardzia Caves - Good or Bad?

SG In Front of Vardzia Monastery Caves

SG In Front of Vardzia Monastery Caves

AG Relaxing on Terrace Overlooking Monastery Caves

AG Relaxing on Terrace Overlooking Monastery Caves

Posted by sagbucks 20:34 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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