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Goris

sunny 27 °C

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I had great hopes for Goris. Like Sisian, it seemed like a good place to stay for a few days to explore the area, but it sounded a lot less functional and more attractive. As the Mashrutka slowly wound its way down the valley, I was surprised to see the town was much bigger than I expected. We were set off in the town centre and yet I had the stupidly optimistic idea that it would be nice to find a cafe, have some much needed breakfast and get our bearings before we looked for somewhere to stay. As it was we eventually found a shop and sat on the disused fountain in the square to eat and drink and try and make sense of the, so far, useless map. As we were sitting there eating and looking around in mild disappointment, a fellow traveller passed by and stopped to talk to us. "Bit of a disappointment isn't it?" He said. I was loath to give immediate judgement, but my heart sank. However, he was staying in one of the hostels we were hoping to find and offered to take us there. We followed him and ended up in one of my favourite places to stay in Armenia. The hostess was a warm, friendly woman called Nadia, who lived in another part of the house with her family. It was connected to the two guest rooms by a spacious wooden veranda which was dominated by a large wooden table. After settling in we dashed off with our new friend, who wanted to see "Old Goris" before he was taking a taxi to a monastery another town later that day.

Its a funny thing when you are travelling, you make friends so quickly, spend a bit of time doing things with them and then realise you sometimes don't even know (or can't remember) their names but you know their nationality! This man was English, but had lived in Canada for a long time, and seemed to be trying to break some rapid travel record. None of us actually knew what Old Goris was going to be like and were expecting it just to be an older part of the town, which it was at first until we crossed the bridge and were faced with an impressive area of "Fairy Chimneys" and caves very similar to those in Cappadocia, Turkey, but here the surrounding hills were higher and a lot greener. I had just intended to have a quick look at the area and then come back later in the day when the light would be better for photos, but we were drawn upwards by the winding path into the hills. We came to a point where the path where you could either go off into the hill or climb up a steep hill that overlooked the town. The speedy man decided that he had time to run up the hill before going back to meet his taxi. I, however had something much more important to do as I'd seen my first Armenian goats!

When I was an 18 year old, flamboyantly dressed hippy, someone told me that I reminded him of an Armenian goatherd. I didn't have any idea, nor did he, of what one looked like, but it stuck at the back of my mind all those years. When the idea came up to travel there, I jumped at the chance to check it out. The only trouble was that I was several days in and I still hadn't seen a goat, even through a bus window. So when I spotted a herd, there was only one thing to do and that was to get some photographic evidence! It involved climbing over fences and down rocks to get to the goats and running then around like Heidi (in MY mind I was), while Rob tried to run round the other way and catch the moment in camera. Unfortunately, I never did find any goatherds to photograph compare them to, but I think it was pretty clear that I bore very little resemblance to one. I dealt with the disappointment - eventually.

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Having annoyed the goats enough, we went back to the path and met up with our puzzled-looking English friend coming down - I just felt that it might be better not trying to explain, and we carried on up to the top of the hill. The view over the town was very impressive, as were the hills behind who were luring me to continue walking into them.

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We went back up to that area a few more times while we were there. After leaving the road, the path wound through a cemetery before going into the hills. One day as we were coming back down we were spotted by some workmen sitting down amongst the graves, eating a late lunch. They waived us over and insisted that we should join them. There was hot chicken stew, salads, freshly made flat bread and local cheese. It was delicious, as was the home-made fruit vodka which they were drinking. In case you're new to my blogs, I should point out here that I'm not much of a drinker and don't like the taste of most alcohol. I do usually, however, have an impressive ability to knock back neat shots of vodka, which I learnt when travelling through Central Asia and improved on in the Caucasus. The first large shot, which toasted Armenia was nicely warming, the second toasted the England and was pretty poky. One of the workers was, surprisingly, from Azerbaijan, and given the conflict between the two countries, it would have been very rude not to toast his country as well. After that one I sat there in a state of near hallucination, while the workmen gathered up their industrial power tools, minus any protective clothing and proceeded to work on the tombstones. I waited a few minutes till the world stopped warping in and out and staggered back to the house.

A few miles out of Goris, was a village called Khazdzoresk, where there was another area of caves. Nadia, our hostess, had a friend who lived there and also arranged a cheap taxi to drop us off at her house. As we drove over the hills to the village in the beautiful early morning sunlight, the elderly driver had on a mixed selection of traditional and modern Armenian music. I happily sat there thinking how much more special it was when you heard local music as you travelled along .... "Yo, yo f..k you beeatch" suddenly blared out of the speakers as we neared the village, reminding me not to be too precious! In England, we quantify music quite a lot, label it and expect it to be listened to by certain groups of people, but I've noticed that this isn't necessarily the case in many other countries, especially those with Soviet connections. I've seen old ladies (not just me), tapping their feet to rap and teenagers doing traditional Kyrgyz dances to Russian techno, just because they like the beat.

We arrived at an amazingly small wooden house which Nadia's friend shared with quite a lot of family. Although we'd eaten breakfast, she sat us down and made us Armenian coffee, walnuts, sweets and popcorn. Her sister-in-law arrived and we all sat around trying to communicate in the usual hotch-potch way. They had so little but they were determined to show us as much hospitality as they could and I was reminded of the sisters-in-law who had been so kind in Azerbaijan. After an hour, we took our leave and she pointed out the road to the caves, which turned out to be quite a lot further and harder to get to than I thought they would be. They looked magnificent from the road and spanned quite a distance on either side of a valley, but there were a lot of sheer drops and rock cliffs and it took a while to find a path down. Eventually one became clear and we set off down into the valley.

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Caves at Khazdzoresk

Caves at Khazdzoresk

The caves nearer the bottom of the valley were used for animal food storage and in the distance, I could see a man riding down the steep path on his horse. After a while, he came back up the hill to talk to us. He told us he was 78 and that he lived quite far away and came every day to check on his cows. I was so impressed by his agility - obviously he knew the paths around there so well, but they certainly weren't easy walking for an old man. We "chatted" for a while and then he carried on looking after his animals, meeting us at the bottom to show us his horse, which he then leaped on and rode off into the hills.

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Once the old man had gone, we were left to ourselves in the valley which rose steeply on the other side. The lower parts of the valley were full of the cave houses, a lot of them were in obvious use for animals. They carried on up the hill, petering out towards the top. There was an obvious path on that side and a stream running down the middle. I'm not sure why we started walking on the other side of the stream to the path, I think we just got lured by the houses and just kept seeing more interesting ones just a bit further ahead. Eventually I found my dream house, with a two good sized rooms and a nice bit of lawn in the front and considered moving in. By this time the sun was beating down and we were halfway up the hill, albeit the easiest part. The path in the distance looked fairly easy but the stream had etched out a deep chasm and there was no way across. It was hard to see if there was a possible way up from where we were and there were some pretty imposing sheer rock faces that I certainly wasn't going near. We now had to decide whether to carry on and hopefully find a path or to go back down, cross the stream and find the obvious path on the other side. Stubbornness and my strong dislike of going down steep hills won and we carried on up in a route that was becoming more bizarre and hopeless looking and I started to remember some of those TV programmes where stupid, unprepared people get lost or fall off cliffs in remote areas. We had water but no food and my legs were becoming wobbly from low blood sugar, heat and the seemingly inevitability of going back down the way we came. Just as we were deciding on this, a small hunched figure with a stick and a large sack on his back seemed to appear out of nowhere, if I had been in Ireland I would have seriously suspected that he was a Leprechaun! We all sat down on the grass and he pointed out that he was going up to the top and would show us the way. He opened the sack and produced some freshly picked walnuts, we provided some water and cigarettes and soon all was well with the world. Our saviour was in his eighties and I've never seen such a sprightly old man. So much so, that when he stood up and indicated that it was time to carry on, we were both struggling to keep with him - even Rob, who often annoyed me so much by his ability to walk up the steepest slopes without appearing to get out of breath. After a couple of cunning twists and turns, the steep path up the hill became obvious and the old man turned and waived, adjusted his sack and disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. Maybe there is an Armenian type of Leprechaun......

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While we were at Nadia's house, a large group arrived from Yerevan to stay. They worked for an Armenian bank and came down every year for work. I was expecting a sedate bunch, having experienced the Armenian ability to be solemn and thinking bankers would be very serious people, but I was completely taken aback by their friendliness. They were hilarious, swept me into their group and showered me with hospitality. They all spoke fluent English and were able to explain to me so much about life in Armenia as they experienced it. They talked about politics; the problems with Azerbaijan, the economy and relationships with Turkey. They hoped that the border would open, which they felt could happen if Turkey admitted to its past faults. While we were talking, one of the men started crying and sat there with tears rolling down his face. "He always does this when we talk about the genocide" I was reassured "His grandparents were killed and it makes him sad, don't worry." Sure enough after a couple of minutes he stopped and carried on as before.

I was a bit taken aback when one man told me he was completely shocked as he'd heard that English people could insult each others parents. I wasn't sure what he meant but said that maybe close friends would joke about it, knowing it wasn't meant. "If anyone said anything bad about my mother, even as a joke, I would have to kill them!" I was told seriously. "Not just fight, but kill. We Armenians love blood too much!" Luckily I managed not to insult anyone's family and we left on the best of terms.

Far from disappointing me, Goris had become better and better as I'd got to know it. Sure there were the usual ugly soviet buildings, but I hardly noticed them any more, but did see the beautiful old buildings and autumn trees and had met some friendly, interesting people. We left Goris for a couple of days to go to a small town in the south called Tatev. There was a famous monastery there and a cable car to it had just opened, which was claimed to be the longest cable car in the world. After that we would return to Goris and carry on to the Nagorno Karabach, the country which officially doesn't exist.

Posted by sue deegan 06:33 Archived in Armenia Tagged landscapes mountains bridges buildings trees village caves backpacking ancient armenia caucusus cave_cities Comments (0)

Sissian and how to get there

Armenian Stonehenge

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We got up at a unpleasantly early time to take the only Mashrutka back to my favourite town of Vayk, then quickly catch another south to a town called Sissian. We'd become spoilt in the last few days by being brought breakfast in our warm sitting room. These breakfast were so large and diverse that we'd saved them for lunch too. We got to the only bus stop in town early and waited in the cold rain for the bus, which was late. A taxi driver came up and told us we were at the wrong place, the right one was miles away, but he could take us there for a large sum of money and if we hurried we would catch it. I was pretty unimpressed, cold, wet and bored with all the slyness we'd met so far. When the Mashrutka came it soon filled up with equally grumpy passengers.

What a difference arriving back in Vayk this time! Instead of being dusty, late and uninspiring, it was wet, early and uninspiring! I know I'm being unfair to the town as I only saw a tiny part of it, I'm sure if I'd spent time there I would have started to know and like the people.

But what I did see this time, was different cafe next to the Mashrutka stop, run by a cheerful, friendly woman who plied us with hot Sorch at the correct price and we chatted about our lives, not an easy task with my limited Russian and Armenian and her limited English, often using scraps of paper to illustrate. Meanwhile taxi drivers hovered around outside like wasps. She tried to explain the transport system there, which seems obvious now, but then it just seemed so confusing, though it gradually began to sink in. Basically, a lot arrived there from the capital, Yerevan, in the north, hovered outside tantalisingly for a few minutes, turned round and went back again. Some didn't turn round but were already totally and utterly full and were mainly going to Stepanakert, the capital of a country that officially doesn't exist, which I'll tell you about in a future blog. We wanted to go to a town a few miles off the main road, so there weren't many buses going there. The map I'd looked at didn't make it clear that it was so far off the main road, which added to the confusion. Don't worry, she said/mimed someone will tell us when one gets here, maybe one hour.

We spent several hours there. The rain eased and I went outside to find a French couple we'd met in Yerevan cycling along the road and chatted for a while. There were a couple of make-shift stall around with people selling phone credit, fruit and veg and the ubiquitous seeds. Seeds aren't something that we do in England, but they are common in so many other countries and I learned how to eat them in China. They are toasted, salted and are usually sunflower, pumpkin or melon. The knack that works for me is :- hold them sideways up, point inwards, between the teeth and push them slowly into your mouth as you give three or four gentle cracks along the sides with your teeth. The third or fourth time it should open enough for you to hook your tongue inside and scoop out the whole kernel, leaving the empty case in your hand. The best ones pop into your mouth by themselves and the worst just disintegrate into a mixture of shell and seed. Its a fantastic way to pass the time, waiting for a bus, sitting on one, or just contemplating life in general. Crack, crack, crack, scoops, eat, crack, crack, crack, scoop, spit, eat and so on. Squatting while you eat them makes them taste better even better. Squatting is something that's not done a lot of in England either and although I've got a lot better at it, especially when my feet are pointing downhill, after a few minutes my legs start to hurt and I have to stand up and pretend to be interested in something else.

The seeds are usually incredibly cheap and usually the street vendors are pretty poor. I bought some from an old lady, who cried as I bought them, and said something long and rambling in Armenian, probably about the plight of seed sellers, and we hugged each other. After that people became a lot friendlier and actively started to help out with Mashrutka situation. Armenian has its own writing, but as I already knew Arabic and most of the Russian letters and had recently learnt the Georgian alphabet, I'd decided not to strain my poor brain with learning yet another - especially as we were only spending three weeks there. However, I couldn't resist pulling out the dog-eared paper with the alphabet on and trying to decipher the destination boards on the Mashrutka windscreens. If I'd be hoping to impress any of the locals, I was sadly disappointed, but I had great fun working them out and cheered myself every time I got one. Eventually I read one that said Sissian, which belonged to an incredibly full Mashrutka and managed to persuade the driver to let us on, the whole town must have been fed up with me by this time and probably begged him to take us away!

I realised, after the last blog, that you, dear readers, mostly get to read the edited highlights. This of course is right, You don't often need to know the details of what I ate for breakfast, the boring times, the details of the haggling, hassling, delays, total incomprehension or any really personal stuff. But, just this once, to give a slightly closer idea of the reality of travel, I've forced you to stick around with me, in a bad mood in boring Vayk while I ramble on about seeds and Mashrutkas.

Anyway after two hours of uncomfortable travel with some friendly people, passing through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery, we arrived in Sissian. We spent some time looking for the cheap hotel only to find it was the big relatively impressive one we'd passed. We asked for one of the cheap rooms which had a balcony and looked out onto the fountain and rose-beds, the helpful English speaker manager came back from her shopping to explain how to walk to Carahunge, or Stone-Henge a few miles away, which was one of the reason we'd come there.

We walked quite a lot of the several kilometres towards Carahunge until a man in an expensive car stopped and insisted on giving us a lift. The majority of Armenians I met don't really see the point of walking for pleasure, so he was quite insistent. We'd had a long day so far, and so we got in. He told us he owned the big hotel, which he pointed to in the distance, spoke perfect English and didn't seem at all worried about driving his car over the bumpy track that led to the site. "Any problems at all, just contact me", he told us as he dropped us off at the entrance.

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What an impressive site! The sheer number of stones is what hit me first - they seemed to stretch on forever. They varied in size between small child and a large adult, some of them had holes in them at a variety of angles, some pointing at the sky and some at the horizon. Some of the stones were set straight and others were leaning in different directions, maybe having been placed that way or had settled there over the hundreds of years. They seemed to be arranged in a circular pattern, which I walked around taking in the atmosphere and inspecting the separate stones.

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Even without the stones, the scenery would have been beautiful. It's granite cragginess, which I hadn't seen before in the Caucasus, reminded me of Ireland. It was greener than most of the areas I'd seen around, which were mostly parched and yellowish after the long summer, fairly high up and surrounded by mountains, some of which had the start of the winter's snow on their peaks.

We had the place to ourselves, except for small shop and were free to wander wherever we wished. As the sun was getting ready to set, it rained a little, producing a rainbow that stretched over the hillsides. I'd been thinking about a close friend of mine and how much she would have loved it there. She'd had so many misfortunes over the last two years, but was getting married the next day in England. As I watched the rainbow I wished them both better times and a happy marriage.

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We went into the shop before we left, which sold a few postcards and had a small collection of books and was run by a young man. He made us welcome and told us his friend was coming to pick him up soon and we could have a lift back into the town. I looked at the diverse books, some of which were in English. Apparently Carahunge or Zorats Karer, is about 7 hectares in and consists of hundreds of standing stones and over 200 stone tombs around the area. I mentioned the stones with holes in and these are thought to have been made to take readings of the movement and positions of the sun, moon and stars. Its been estimated that its at least 7,500 years old, predating our own Stonehenge. There was even a claim that Ancient Britains originated from Armenia and built Stonehenge using their ancient knowledge. A lot was mentioned about it being the point of a special sort of triangle, to do with ratios, between Stonehenge and The Pyramids. The jumble of claims and theories became harder to understand and so I sat and looked at the pictures and chatted to the man in the shop. Soon his friend arrived and we headed back into the town.

Posted by sue deegan 01:54 Archived in Armenia Tagged mountains village sites backpacking ancient armenia carahunge Comments (1)

Jermuk

Taking the waters soviet style

sunny 14 °C

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After a relatively short Mashrutka trip past the glorious view of the twin peaks Mount Ararat across the border in Turkey, through some very red hills, some bare mountains, and a pocket of rich farmland, we arrived in our first planned stop. As the distances are so short in Armenia, we'd left in the afternoon and there was about an hour of daylight left.

The little town of Vayk had sounded quite attractive, but in reality it seemed little more than a dusty street containing a few shops and cafes and the promised beautiful surrounding hills looked very uninspiring. As we got off, we were immediately harassed by taxi drivers, who seemed bemused by our decision to stay the night in the town and having spotted a shop/cafe, we sat escaped there for coffee and to decide what to do next. The woman in the shop was very pleased to see us and rushed to make us some strong Armenian coffee - known as Sorch. I looked up and down the street, wondering where the welcoming homestays were that we'd been told about and thinking how different it felt there, not only from Georgia and Azerbaijan, but from Yerevan. One of the taxi drivers came over and tried to communicate with us the stupidity of staying in the town, saying that we should let him drive us to another town in the mountain where we had intended to go the next day. We'd heard that one before! Taxi drivers always tell you that there is no bus, the last one is gone, the hotel you want is closed, whatever it takes to get some custom! In the end he phoned an English speaking friend, who repeated the advice and in we eventually struck a surprisingly reasonable deal for him to drive us to the 20 km up the mountain. This definitely put me in a better frame of mind - until the nice cafe woman tried to charge some ridiculous amount for the coffee. Its so easy to forget the basic rules of travel when you are tired or distracted: always ask the price first, especially if you've just arrived in a place, and especially if they smile a lot!! And don't always mistrust taxi drivers, but do be very careful!

The village or small town we arrived in that evening turned out to be a good decision, the good old taxi driver went out of his way to find us a bargain, which, as it was just out of season, definitely was a bargain! There were 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and sitting room where we had a massive breakfast brought to us in the morning. It had all seen better days, of course, but the best of all was the ancient but effective central heating to protect us from the cold mountain evening. All for considerably less than a cramped room in Yerevan, though without the friendliness of our one is previous hostess.

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What a strange place Jermuk was. Its about 2,000m above sea level and surrounded by wooded mountains, which looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine. Its famous for its water, and quite rightly so. People have been coming there since ancient times to "take the waters" and now it's bottled and sold all over the world. In the 1940's it started to become a popular Soviet health resort. There's a lake surrounded by woods and hills. Next to this lake is a building called the "Gallery of Waters", which consisted of an arched wall with a series of taps, from which water from the hot springs flowed into stone basins. Each tap has water of different temperature, ranging from warm to "drink it straight from the tap if you think you're hard enough"! The temperature of each water was written next it and they were all meant to have different therapeutic properties. There was a constant stream of people coming to drink the water, some had special cups that the brought there every visit. The water tasted faintly metallic but quite nice.

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Around that area are a few stalls selling some natural cures, mainly herbs and fruits and around the lake are some large modern hotels/health spas and a deserted one that had obviously been pretty impressive in its hey-day. There was also a new one being built, right in the way of the beautiful views! The rest of the town consisted of some pretty dilapidated old soviet blocks of flats and house another disused, massive hotel. There were no cafes around so we had to make use of the (very) minimally equipped kitchen, but the shopping in Russian and about three words of Armenian was great fun. I was puzzled, though, as to why a lot of the shops seemed to be selling 80's sports wear as well as food.

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It was interesting to walk around the area and to see the old Soviet remains and the new building that were going up, which also had the feel of the new Soviet era. Its funny that years ago the stereotype Russian woman (mainly from James Bond films I suspect) was built like a shot putter and had very few feminine qualities about her, I'm trying to be correct here, but we are talking about stereotypes! Nowadays Russian women are usually portrayed as beautiful blonde man-eaters, waiting to trick men into marriage at the first opportunity. The fashions of architecture are equally changing and the austere soviet buildings are now being replaced by a newer, slightly more welcoming ones, but still intimidating for us feeble westerners.

And so it seemed with the health spas, which were in the new soviet-style hotels. Of course, how could I be in a health spa town without trying out the goods, especially at out of season prices. Rob bravely decided to come too and thus became the only man under 60 they had probably seen in a long time! Though I don't think he quite got the idea that you were meant to enjoy it, afterwards I realised he might have had a point. The hotel we chose definitely had the new soviet veneer and once we passed the forbidding grey exterior.

In the clean white carpeted foyers people were hanging around in 80's style sports wear whilst waiting for there various treatments. People often come here for a week of tow of treatment, seemingly either from Yerevan or Russia. There is a long history of soviet health tourism, which I saw remnants of in Kyrgyzstan. We had opted for a day's series of treatments and swim and I had visions of soft white toweling robes and towels and being pampered and pummeled and stuff happening with clay and oils, though I wasn't quite sure what.

Our first port of call was the doctor, apparently for a medical check-up, but in actuality seemed more concerned with what we were prepared to pay. The nice lady from reception, who spoke English and had promised us a day package had miraculously disappeared but we negotiated the same price, minus the swim. It never ceases to surprise me, coming from NHS Britain, not that you have to pay for treatment, but how often the doctors, therapists etc. get involved in haggling prices beforehand. Anyway, we were pronounced fit enough for the treatment and were prescribed a hot spa bath, a gum massage, an oxygen drink and a normal massage.

My first port of call was the gum massage room. Images of what it could mean flashed before my mind as I was efficiently rushed to the room. Looking at the rows of old-fashioned sinks lining the walls, I was again struck by the modern veneer put on the old soviet systems. I was sat at a sink and given a tube that was hanging from a leaking mineral- greened tap. Probably nothing could look new for long with this water running through it constantly, but I was glad when I was also handed a plastic mouthpiece. I then had to sit over the sink, a plastic bib tucked around me while I moved the mouthpiece around my teeth. "Keep moving it" I was sternly warned, and so I expected some pretty gum-tingling pressure. It was mildly invigorating, but maybe the mineral content was doing unseen things to the health of my mouth.

After about 15 minutes, my personal nurse came back and brusquely rushed me to the mineral bath. Again this looked like something from some old Russian film! There were cubicles of baths, divided by curtains, everything was green and the hot spa water continuously ran into old-fashioned bath-tub and out of the overflow. I was told to get undressed and get in the bath, handed a timer and told " 10 minutes only, keep heart out of water!" and a timer was placed on the grubby rack over the bath. "Whatever!" I thought, maturely, and proceeded to sink right into the lovely hot bath English-style for a wonderful 20 minute metallic smelling mineral soak. After 2 rounds of the giant egg-timer my nurse hurried me to a white sofa-ed waiting area, where I was soon joined by an equally bemused Rob. I felt a bit like a bag lady in my odd assortment of light clothes and bags of warm clothes for outside - so much for my idea of soft white toweling robes! We adjourned to the coffee bar upstairs to wait for round two.

Again, the imagined pummeling massage from the old shot-putter style Russian turned out to be a disappointingly light rub-down by a slight blonde and then it was time for the intriguingly named oxygen cocktail. I was led to a small sitting area where the oxygen machine was run by the first, and only, smiling woman of the day. She took a glass containing a coloured sugar solution and pumped it full of oxygen from a tap on the machine. It tasted like a sugar solution with air pumped into it, but was told the oxygen would counter the effects of the high (all of 2,000 m) altitude. And that was it - an interesting, but not impressively healthy health spa.

After a day of rain we headed back early in the morning in the only Mashrutka of the day to Vayk, where we intended to catch another one onto to the town of Sissian, about 40 km away.

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Posted by sue deegan 10:21 Archived in Armenia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains people water springs village hot mineral armenia Comments (0)

Quba to the Georgian border

At last I get to stay in a Caravanserai

sunny 27 °C

Although the next village we wanted to go to was only a days walk over the mountains we opted for the easy life and caught buses. This was only easier in the "not walking for several hours over high mountains with heavy bags" sense, as it involved going all the way back to Baku and then catching another bus to Ismayilli and a taxi on a bumpy road to Lahic, incorporating the usual bargaining and waiting. We arrived in the evening and decided to stay at a pension on the edge of the village that had a private 320 year old hamam. The house was in an orchard and the setting was very beautiful. The hamam was great - it smelled a bit musty, but it was amazing to have it all to ourselves whenever we wanted. After our brief day in the warm lowlands it felt very cold there and so it was very welcome.

The village of Lahic is famous for its coppersmiths and its cobbled street contain a lot of workshops. Unfortunately a lot of these were closed when we were there as the summer season was pretty much over. I had been really looking forward to coming here, but after our stay in Xinalig just a couple of days before, I felt a bit disappointed in it. I found it all a bit too manicured and it reminded me a bit of Poundbury near Dorchester (Prince Charles's upmarket housing estate). Its got a large influx of tourists from Baku, (which has had a similar treatment). Thats not to say it wasn't a very pretty village and the people there were also quietly friendly. Apparently their ancestors had come from Persia hundreds of years ago and they speak a language close to Farsi (Iranian/ Persian).

I think if I had spent more time in this village I would have come to appreciate it more. I do prefer to travel slowly, to go to less places and to see more of them, but our Azeri visa were running out. Its not that I want places to stay picturesquely in the past, so I can come along and visit them (I hope) but it felt to me that this village had been sand-blasted into a tourist version of its previous self. Also, we both quite disliked the rather arrogant man who was running the guest house, who was quite dismissive once he realised we weren't going to shell out for any expensive day trips needing guides. Travelling for longer periods of time does mean that you really have to ration these although you might want to support the local economy. But I can understand why the people you stay with might think you are being stingy compared to people who come for a brief holiday. A few times we've stayed somewhere we don't particularly like but are too lazy to move to a different place, which is a shame as the other places in the village were very friendly.

We spent a couple of days here, looking around and then caught a mashrutka (see earlier blog) early the next morning back to the town. When we got on it looked already pretty full, but the people made room for us and our bags. A few others got on, but at the next village, nearly half a school of teenagers was waiting for it. I'm still amazed that so many managed people managed to fit in such a small space in such a good natured manner!

A few journeys later, one of which was on the prettiest oldest, slowest bus I've been on, we arrived in the town of Sheki. It was lovely and warm and the people there were immediately incredibly friendly. We caught a town Mashrutka to the hotel of my dreams - a converted Caravanserai. It surpassed my hopes. The entrance was through a narrow door set in a massive old wooden door and led into a stone domed building with a fountain in . Off this was a large rectangular courtyard surrounded by a two storied multi-arched builing. Behind each arch was a set of rooms. These consist of a small sitting room, a bedroom behind it and a very old fashioned, but functioning bathroom in between. The walls were rough stone, with a small arched window, and it was easy to imagine how it would have been when it had been a functioning caravanserai.

Caravanserais are common all along the Silk Roads and neighbouring areas and is where merchants would be able to stop with camels caravans and do a spot of business. Behind you could see the rolling green hills that surrounded the town. Not only that, but it was half the price of a bed in a crowded dorm room in Baku! I've always fancied staying in one so at this point all my high-minded desires for ethnic travelling suddenly disappeared and I wanted to stay here for ever in the luxury I have always wanted to become accustomed to! (Though in reality it isn't really luxurious, it just seemed that way to me, but that's good enough!) We had originally intended to stay here for one or two nights and then either go to a homestay or go on to the next town, nearer to the border, but chances like this don't come along very often and so we stayed for longer and went straight to the border from there. It also helped that the town was very pleasant and the people the friendliest I've come across in Azerbaijan.

Karavansary, Sheki, Azerbaijan

Karavansary, Sheki, Azerbaijan

Karavansar..rbaijan.jpg

Karavansar..baijan_.jpg

Up the road from here was the Palace of the Khan, a tiny palace with the most amazingly painted walls and stained glass windows set in wooden frames. Outside was an old man with a cloth covered object. Once you agreed on a price he lifted up the cloth to reveal the only wolf I will probably get to see in the Caucasus. Not only was it moth eaten and stuffed, with a sewn up mouth, but the piece de resistance was when he dramatically waived his hand and its eyes lit up! Brilliant!

Old_man_wi..rbaijan.jpg 295164Wooden_fra..rbaijan.jpg

We also went to a village a few miles away where there was an ancient church (remember this is a Moslem country) from the times of the Christian Causaian Alabanian nation. This is not to be confused with the other Albania. In the church were a lot of information boards, one of which described the theory that the Norwegian royal family originally descended from the Caucasian Azeris!

Caucasian Albanian Church,, Kish, nr Sheki,  Azerbaijan

Caucasian Albanian Church,, Kish, nr Sheki, Azerbaijan

Sadly, we left Sheki to go to the border, pausing only to eat in the border town and argue with a bus driver who insisted we hadn't paid - we had, but I think it actually might have got a bit mixed up with other peoples fares - they just get handed over when you get off. A bit of a sad ending to a brilliant month in Azerbaijan. At the border the officials carefully searched our visas for inconsistencies and finding we had left on the last day possible, Azerbaijan spat us out back to Georgia.

Posted by sue deegan 07:37 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged mountains churches village border georgia azerbaijan caravanserai sheki lahic coppersmiths Comments (0)

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