Gallipoli, two people’s views

Gallipoli and Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) are words etched in the Australian psyche for over 100 years since those fateful events in faraway Turkey between 25 April 1915 and 16 January 1916. Each year on the 25th of April (ANZAC Day) Australians and New Zealanders gather before dawn at the time of the first landings for a ‘Dawn Service’ to remember the sacrifices made on our behalf by the ANZACS and those who have served since. While I have attended the Dawn Service over the years, as have growing numbers of Australians, I have never been to the actual battlefields in Turkey. I have a personal connection as my maternal Grandfather was with the British forces and was wounded here.

Anne has been to Gallipoli previously in 2005 on ANZAC Day as a member of the Australian Prime Minister’s party, but that is her story and I will let her tell it. She has wanted me to experience the place and will act as my guide.

We are staying about 10km / 6 miles South of ANZAC Cove where the landings took place and the main Australian and New Zealand remembrance service is held on 25 April each year. We get up at the crack of dawn as Anne wants me to see the location in the early morning light. We ride in the cool morning air with the scent of the pine trees in the air following the coast road with no other traffic in sight until Anne says ‘here it is’.

Arriving at Anzac Cove, Turkey


A low wall and a grassy area distinguish ANZAC Cove from the surrounding area which is thick with trees and shrubs. I am drawn to the imposing hill called “The Sphinx” which dominates the landscape and must have seemed almost impossible to climb to those first soldiers ashore. I am struck by the simplicity of the the location, just a couple of low walls and some plaques describing the events. I have only ever seen it on television filled with people for the dawn service. We are lucky to have the location to ourselves, not a person in sight.

ANZAC Cove, Turkey


At ANZAC Cove, Turkey


We rode on up the hills, climbing and climbing till we arrived at the Lone Pine Memorial and cemetery. We ride down a gravel track with views overlooking the landing beaches and the Thracian sea. Again we are alone as we walk along the rows of headstones, so many and so young, messages from anguished loved ones carved on the headstones. Many say that they think the person is buried here and the dates of death have a range, they were not sure when they died. I think that all political leaders should spend time visiting such places to understand the consequences of committing troops to war. At certain times war may be inevitable, but our leaders should explore other options fully.

Soldier buried at Lone Pine, Turkey

Soldier buried at Lone Pine, Turkey

We also visit the memorial to the Turkish 57th Infantry regiment which suffered over 1,800 causalities during the campaign. A statue of one of the last survivors and his granddaughter looks over the plaques recalling the names of the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives.

The last Turkish survivor and his grand-daughter, 57th Infantry Regiment memorial, Turkey


Turkish soldier killed at Gallipoli, Turkey


We are lucky today that there is a strong bond between Australians and Turks over this 100 year old event, that helped define both nations by the actions of those who fought and gave their lives here. I was privileged to have been able to visit Gallipoli.

– Anthony

Having attended an ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) commemoration at Anzac Cove in 2005 without Anthony, I was keen to return with him for two reasons. I wanted Anthony to feel the impact of seeing the cliffs that the poor soldiers faced as they attempted an assault on Turkey on 25 April 1915, mistakingly landing in the wrong place, with terrible consequences, total carnage! The service had started in the darkness of the night then just before dawn, the cliffs behind us were suddenly lit up showing the impossible cliffs facing the soldiers – they had no chance. It was so shocking, moving, overwhelming …

The other reason was that I felt I had been unable to ‘properly’ reflect and pay my respects. I had organised an Aboriginal art exhibition in Istanbul to coiincide with the ANZAC 90th anniversary and was invited to join John Howard’s party to the commemorations, together with his entourage, the Australian press contingent and many world leaders. I attended every ceremony that day on the Peninsular, for the Australians, British, French and Turks of course too. Yet, because of the dignitaries, press, and especially the service men and women, I was more concerned about being in the wrong place and not intruding.

Lone Pine, Turkey


Lone Pine, Turkey


Being there, at ANZAC Cove, Lone Pine and Ataturk’s memorial, just the two of us, Anthony and I, at dawn, I was able to truly pay my respects, give my gratitude for the sacrifice of those who fought for our freedom. Then I was suddenly overwhelmed with great sadness, thinking of what these men went through, so many very young ones, what their families went through too and wondering what we had learned. How many have ended up dying or being scared for life because of the egos and intolerance of a few in various recent wars?…

Over the past few months, travelling as we have, our planet has seemed so small and us, as human beings, so insignificant in our vast universe and at the same time, we as people are so similar across the world despite our borders. We all basically strive for the same things, food, shelter, family, health and happiness. And there is an inate desire within us as human beings to connect with and help others. We have seen this throughout every country we have travelled through. It has been great to experience the spirit of forgiveness and friendship here in Turkey, often being invited for a cup of tea and a being told we are welcome in their country. It is heartwarming.

An unofficial truce occurred when a Turk returned a wounded British soldier to his side of the battlefield, Gallipoli, Turkey

Revisiting ANZAC Cove and the many memorials, I was able to give thanks and remember those who fought for us all.

– Anne

Turkish Delights

As we entered Turkey a week ago, we also started a new phase on this trip on many levels. We now have 4 weeks left to cross Turkey (about 2,500kms/1560miles), and make our way through Europe to get back to the UK the first week of October (we have no idea of our route yet, so no mileage for that). Our focus now is to make the distance and keep a few days up our sleeve in case of bad weather as we get to western Europe. Because of this, no longer can we afford to meander, not too much anyway or spend days in one place or spend too much time sightseeing – we have to be very selective. We even missed out on catching up with a couple of friends by a few days. We try and plan our day so that we can sightsee after a day’s ride or first thing in the morning – it is still pretty hot in this part of the world making riding and sightseeing in the heat of the day a bit much at times. More on the places we stopped at later. This new phase also marks our leaving Asia and the Great Silk Route to enter Europe.

There have been so many “firsts” on this trip this past week!

It is the first time we have planned more than an day ahead. In fact we even planned 7 days ahead in Turkey and booked accommodation for most days, mixing long riding days and visiting some important sights. It is the first time we have stayed at rather luxurious hotels, 4 star hotels – why not at Euro 40 a night?!

We are now in an undoubtedly Muslim country. The first mosque was just around the corner once we entered the country, then it felt like there was another literally a few meters down the road up to Trabzon. As we travelled through the smallest village, there would always be at least two, if not more. When we were in Sivas, on the top terrace of our (luxury) hotel, it was wonderful to hear the call echoeing gently across town. I first experienced this in Jeddah and I have to say, it is rather magical. All the ones we have heard here to date as we ride through towns and villages have been gentle and melodic calls, unlike many I have heard in the UAE.

Suddenly, being in Turkey, I feel I cannot communicate with people: no more Russian here and no English. I have not used Google translate as much in the past 5 months as I have in the last week in Turkey. It is such a pity as the Turks are so friendly.

We have seen so many road signs in Turkey. We must have seen more warning signs, orange cones, road narrows signs, lane disappears signs, traffic arrows than we have in the past 5 months altogether. I have to say though that traffic and driving style here nearly warrants its own blog. Thank goodness the road surfaces are good throughout the country so far. Even the smallest country road is in pristine condition!! What a dream you might think. Yes, certainly, it has been a great change after Kazakhstan roads especially, if it wasn’t for the drivers… They are such bad drivers, never seem to be able to go round bends without cutting the corner. Even on a double-lane- each-way road, with a wide safety centre lane, they drive in this safety lane and still cut the corner over into our lane. We just ride as if there will always be a car in our lane as we come around the corner. “Needs our lane” is what we tell each other as a warning. You would think we’d be used to this after all the time we’ve spent on the road! The difference here is that they now have more powerful cars, so they drive extremely fast, but still can’t control them. I miss the friendly hello hoot and wave which has been changed to get out of my way hoot and flashing lights. It is odd because, they are so friendly out of their cars!! I burst out laughing today as a vehicle 3 cars behind me hooted even before the lights had gone to orange before going green!!! And this evening, as we are riding onto a ferry and being directed by ferry staff on the deck, a car behind me tried to overtake me!! He was promptly stopped by the ferry staff, but what was he thinking, we’re all on the same ferry!!

Funnily, we have not understood the speed limits or roundabout rules in this country. Anthony reckons the speed limits must be in miles instead of kms. Despite 50 speed limits through towns and villages, everyone does at least 90!! Give way or stop signs mean nothing especially on roundabouts so we just follow what the locals do. And who came up with this speed limit?

82?!! Speed limits, Turkey


So many road signs and markings in Turkey

We have also seen many police armoured cars with machine guns, police with sub-machine guns at the numerous road blocks and checks on the roads. Even police directing traffic at the occasional road construction carry sub-machine guns. But we have not sensed any tension in the streets or seen much security in the tourist spots.

Traffic police with sub-machine guns, Turkey


New gas pipeline from Russia, Zara, Turkey

Using wifi, we have found many of our common sites censored. No wikipedia on anything whatsoever (not even on Ephesus) and no access to my usual hotel booking site – I wonder what they have done to upset the authorities here.

Since we arrived here, we have been eating so well!!! No more boiled mantis – dumplings with dubious animal mince! Even the simplest chicken kebab is absolutely delicious and always comes with a fresh lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad and with a basket of bread! Yes, you don’t get a slice but always a massive basket of bread. Better be careful not to put too much weight on!! Talking about the luxury of great food, cheap luxury hotels, my list of firsts wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the luxury of finding toilet paper in restaurants, hotels and public toilets. And you are allowed to throw the paper down the toilet instead of placing it in an open bin… ahh the joys of travel and what you take for granted!!!

So what have we seen of Turkey this past week? We enjoyed the wild grand mountains around the Sumela monastery, the raw and humbling beauty of nature, the sound of water, the greenery. The monastery was closed for renovation, but spending time near it awe inspiring.

Sumela monastery, Turkey

Sumela monastery, Turkey


How fabulous is that patch of green, near Sumela monastery


Lovely spot for lunch on our way to Erzincan

Kizilay roundabout with actual pouring water

Water fountain stop, Erzincan- Sivas road

Erzincan- Sivas road


Wonderful to see some water, Imranli Resevoir


The scenery after Sivas I found stunningly beautiful, in a very gentle way. The golden harvested fields with scattered poplars took me back to my childhood in northern France where I used to ride around on my pushbike first, then later on my moped. We just didn’t have the mountains in the background of course!

West of Sivas, Turkey

We had a few places we intended to visit here: Goreme, with its famous “fairy chimney” rock formations and hot air balloons, the 8th century rock-cut monastery of Selime, the ancient Roman spa “sacred city” of Hierapolis and the nearby Pamukkale thermal pools, Konya’s 13th century Sultanhani caravanseray, the 10 century BC Greek city of Ephesus. Well, we saw most of those, but missed out on Selime – we missed the turnoff and when we realised, we had gone so far, and it was so hot, we simply could not be bothered – terrible isn’t it?! Reflects how tired we are at times!! Same with the caravanseray, touring outdoors in the heat of the day is too hard. What we did get to see has been spectacular.

Goreme, Turkey


Goreme, Turkey

Goreme, Turkey – notice the stairs up

Check out Anthony’s video – press the arrow to play:

Hierapolis, Turkey

Hierapolis, Turkey

Hierapolis in the background, Turkey

Pamukkale travertine, Turkey

Pamukkale travertine, Turkey

Walking down the Pamukkale travertine, Turkey

The Great Theatre, Ephesus, Turkey

The Library, Ephesus, Turkey

Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus, Turkey

Nike, Goddess of Victory, Ephesus, Turkey

Terrace house, Ephesus, Turkey

Terrace house, Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus, Turkey

The oldest advert? “This way to the brothel” – Ephesus, Turkey

What is common with everywhere we’ve been is that people are very friendly and love Australians. So often, on telling people we are from Australia, they tell us what a good country Australia is and how we are friends. One guy we met in a restaurant told us his grandfather died at Gallipoli, he sleeps there now he tells us. Anthony mentioned his grandfather had been there too. “They are both sleeping together” he said, assuming he had died there too but there was no point in correcting him. The intent of his statement genuinely welcoming, despite our past fighting.

And like always too, some of the best moments for us are the simpler times, sitting at a roadside cafe, walking around a local market and being offered a piece of kelek, a fruit that tastes like a cucumber and is cut up in pieces by the market seller so you can snack on them, listening to a group of musicians and watching others enjoying the music, being invited for tea and a chat even though we don’t understand each other, chatting with people at traffic lights which happens so often, it doesn’t matter, it is all about sharing humanity. And of course, we love the quiet moments, in the middle of nowhere, enjoying the scenery, together.

Musicians in Sivas

No excuse not to recycle, Sivas

Dr Halil Uluer, owner of Anatolian Balloons and Eray Bora – Discovery Balloons chief pilot, Goreme, Turkey

Our time on the road is running out fast, but we still treasure the time we have to experience as many new places and people as we can.

On our way to Kilitbahir, Turkey

Next stop Gallipoli…

– Anne

Storm needs a mechanic

Three hours riding down the Black Sea coast in Turkey in morning sunshine on a dual highway is such a pleasure and Storm is behaving itself, although stops and engine off are kept to a minimum. We are heading to Dinamik Oto (BMW Motorrad Service Centre) outside Trabzon. We negotiated the border crossing without a hitch, the insurance kiosk just meters beyond the combined Customs and Immigration kiosk is happy to sell us Motorcycle Insurance, although a three month minimum for €35 each. We have insurance and are in Turkey finally.

Breakfast overlooking the Black Sea, a cute restaurant bunny is photographed and uploaded to Instagram with the #cutebunny, first time we have tried that, but it gets a number of likes, probably the last “cutebunny” we will see and photgraph. The start and finish of our hashtag career…

#cutebunny, at the restaurant


My careful GPS location based on the BMW Motorrad Website map come to naught. Not at this location. Time and again, when we rely on map data, it turns out to be inaccurate or just plain wrong. How about a little data validation guys, probably a forlorn request given the growth in map data worldwide.

A phone call with the help of a Turkish speaker and we are only 7km from the correct location. We arrive and meet the wonderful Iko, who after checking Storm in, invites us to the staff kitchen where a cook has prepared an excellent Turkish lunch – please note other BMW Motorrad dealers.

Lovely Iko and Sevdegül, Dinamik Oto, Trabzon

Turkish Delight à la BMW – Anne ate every single one!

The main business of the motorcycle side of the service department seems to be working on Traffic Police motorcycles. They have great sirens and cool flying fish stickers, can we have some please? It will take a few hours to run the diagnostic checks, so they offer to take us to our hotel on the other side of town, which is very kind considering the distance.

Outside our hotel, Trabzon

We get a message the next day that Storm is fixed. Our hotel is 20 km on the western side of Trabzon, Streak and Storm are 20 km on the Eastern side. We have heard that taxis are extremely expensive for such a distance, so we will travel by bus. There is a novelty for us. The highways are full of small white minibuses, each with a route board on the front, although we have no idea where the places are. We will need multiple bus journeys, to the centre of Trabzon, onto the airport, then finally further east to the BMW Motorrad service centre.

The first bus is easy, get on the main highway next to the hotel and we are on a bus to town. Bus stops are basically where anyone is standing waiting, sometimes only 20 meters / 60 feet apart, the rest of time we wiz along, speed limit humm….. We stop at the western terminus and then start walking in the direction indicated by our driver.

Fresh fish market on our way to the second bus

Another bus driver hooted as were were walking, we look, then bus stops, he is going somewhere different, but when we say where we are going, he invites us onboard, we understand his route will take us closer to where we will get the next bus. Into the centre of town, still travelling in the right direction, all passengers get off, one gets on and he hands me a phone, with an english speaker on the other end, ‘Are we looking for a taxi?’ She asks. ‘No’ we want to take the bus, taxis are too expensive, as the conversation continues I realise the driver is offering to change his route, by some 20km / 12 miles for a fee. Great, we negotiate a price and we are off, with the extra passenger on board! We have rented a bus en-route, and you thought Uber was good, this is the next level. Hire a London bus en-route to take you directly to your destination? We arrive in style at Dinamik Oto, causing much laughter by the staff when they realise what we had done. An enterprising driver and willing customers, we will be trying this on future bus journeys.

Not sure what the lone customer thought but our driver enjoyed calling his mates about the “English”!


Where our taxi bus normally goes

Our rented mini bus driver, Trabzon

Storm has a new battery and everything else is good, we are getting ready to go. When Streak hesitates on startup, the mechanics are onto Streak straightaway, a quick voltage check and the voltage drops to less then 6v during startup. Another battery please, yes in stock, probably for the traffic police. The batteries have lasted four and a half years, been started probably thousands of times, not bad really.

The team that got Streak and Storm on the road again, Dinamik Oto, Trabzon

The helpful Dinamik Oto staff in Trabzon

It is now 5pm, too late for us to leave Trabzon today so we make another booking at the hotel we stayed last night and will move on tomorrow.

– Anthony

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again

Writers block, hence the delay in this blog entry and the subsequent one.

Dusk is falling as I follow two men in spirited discussion as I head back from dinner in Akhaltsikhe. The failing light brings a different kind of perspective of the town to me that is so different to the harsh light of day. Shopfronts across the road, now backlit, reveal their purpose, that I did not divine when I passed previously in bright sunlight, bakeries, hardware stores all come into focus. I notice people sitting outside their homes passing greetings to groups of men, women and children that wander along the streets heading out for the evening. Dusk is a time of day for me which I really enjoy as the world changes from work to leisure mode for many.

You may have noticed that when I started this narrative, I refer to myself, singular: Anne is sick today, we think some food poisoning which has delayed our ride to the border by a day. We started in Yerevan in Armenia with our destination Akhaltsikhe, a small town that is the perfect jumping off point to enter Turkey. The border crossing is quick and uneventful, the road between the two border posts has been resurfaced, unusual at most border crossings where neither side seems to take responsibility for the gap in the middle. On the Georgian side a new impressive Immigration and Customs building is under construction. We contrast this work with the state of the road or should I say potholes on the Georgian side to the first village. It is offset by beautiful scenery – we are at 2000 metres or 6,600 feet.

Heading to the Georgian border

Armenia countryside – truck parked on a bend while workers repaint road markers


Anyone for vodka for the journey?


Armenia countryside


Nesting storks in Zhdanovakani


At Akhalkalaki we follow the Paravani River on the E691 to Akhaltsikhe which turns out to be one of the most enjoyable and beautiful roads we have ridden for a while. Stopping for lunch alongside the river is very pleasant, Storm not restarting is not. With my great mechanical skills, not, I think we have a battery problem, we will continue on until Turkey and get the problem diagnosed there.

Summer is over and the harvest is in.


“Indestructible Friendship” written on a wall outside an abandoned residential area


Old railway carriage used as a bridge.

E691 Rural Georgia

E691, Rural Georgia


Majestic castle in Southern Georgia


Rich browns with the harvest in


Rabati Castle which dominates the western skyline was originally constructed in the 13th Century. In August 2012 it reopened after a restoration which incorporated a hotel and restaurants in the design. I think it is always a challenge when restoring a building to balance authenticity with viability. Would this restoration have happened without the commercial benefits? We enjoyed the spectacular views and being able to visit all parts of the castle, except sadly the museum which may have shed some light on the restored vs the original. I have to say on balance I approve of the work they have done. While the dinner we had there was delicious, this is where Anne picked up gastro we think.

Sunset over Akhaltsikhe from Rabati Castle


Rabati Castle, Akhaltsikhe


Rabati Castle, Akhaltsikhe


Excellent dinner. Rabati Castle, Akhaltsikhe


We stayed at the “Guest House Akhaltsikhe”, where we met the family whose grandfather owned the guest house. They kindly drove us to the castle and picked us up afterwards. We spent time talking to his teenage granddaughters who spoke excellent english and were visiting from Tbilisi. Its great to be able to converse with local people.

Our hosts family in Akhaltsikhe


As the border crossing at Vale is a 24 hour a day operation we leave at sunrise to beat the queues later in the day. It is about 14 degrees celsius, our first cool morning in months, a taste of what is to come. Georgian Customs and Immigration are 5 minutes and we gain an hour crossing into Turkey, so that took -55 minutes, time travel. Turkish Immigration about the same. We need to buy insurance, which normally happens after Customs but as we move westwards more rules and regulations apply. We need insurance first, but we are told they do not open till 08:00, about an hour and a half wait, should have stayed in bed. We pass the time watching local dogs play, Anne chatting to French speaking Turks and eating a few snacks.

We have no motorcycle Insurance today!


“No Motorcycle Insurance” not why, just “No”. They will do car but not motorcycle insurance. No Insurance, no entry into Turkey. Anne contacts our EU Green card insurance provider, whose Turkish insurers say we can buy at the border. Well no, we cannot. A conundrum, all we can do is go back to Georgia and head for the Black Sea crossing at Sarp a 300 km. / 190 mile detour. First we have to register the motorcycles with Turkish Customs so they can then remove them from the system, go figure. Anyway some six hours after we arrived at the border, we are back in Georgia making the long detour for the coast. We wend our way, first north, then west. It’s frustrating but in reality not that much on an inconvenience. A friend of ours recently lost his passport containing all his visas for the next few countries; he handled it very well, restructured his journey and had different adventures – our setback was a mere blip by comparison.

Fresh bread on sale


Sign says it all


We plan to get as close to the Turkish border as possible, but black clouds block our way, what are clouds again? It has been so long since we have seen one, blue sky all the way. We find a hotel for the night. Wind and rain batter the hotel all night and next morning. We are not on the top floor, but the ceiling drips water, that is probably why there was no passageway carpet. Time to leave in the rain, our first ride in the wet. Cannot get Storm to start, battery goes flat and even with a push from other guests, no luck. We eventually get Storm jump-started from Streak, but we are both sodden, Turkey will have to wait another day.

Down comes part of the ceiling plaster 30 seconds after we got up


Wet and wild from our hotel window


Our hotel with Soviet era ‘Greek statue”


On the black sea, which did look blue?


Sunet after the storm on the Black Sea


Are we ever destined to get there or is this an omen? A day spent drying everything out and we will go again tomorrow, so there you go, try try again….

– Anthony

From Georgia to Armenia

Our priority this morning, after our lovely relaxing anniversary dinner in Tbilisi last night – yes the Georgian white wine we had last night was delicious and and no it didn’t give me a headache as many wines do – and after our equally relaxing breakfast in the garden this morning, is to do some standard bike maintenance – tighten the chains, add some air in the tyres, check the bikes for any loose bolts etc. All good.

This afternoon, my tour of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital of over a million people, includes a rather long walk past a fabulous mixture of art nouveau architecture, soviet era sculptures, 18th century churches and hike up several hundred steps to take in a panamoric view of the city. Anthony enjoys some of those more than others but always willingly comes along with me.

Freedom Square, Tbilisi with a golden Statue of St George slaying the dragon

Bank at 3 Pushkin St, Tbilisi

Ceiling of bank at 3 Pushkin St, Tbilisi

Old books for sale in Tbilisi

Soviet era mural, Tbilisi

Betlemi historic centre, awaiting restoration but still lived in, Tbilisi

Betlemi Church and Tbilisi city

As we reach the top, we can finally admire Kartlis Deda, or “Mother of a Georgian”, a 20m aluminium figure of a woman in Georgian national dress. She symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies. (Wikipedia)

Kartlis Deda – “Mother of a Georgian”, Tbilisi, Georgia

From the top, we get a great view of a helicopter water-bombing a bush fire on the outskirts of the city. Their efforts continued for over two hours. It was strange to feel the water spray from the water blown off the top of the bucket well after it had flown past us.

Bush fire being water bombed, Tbilisi

After our streneous walk up to the top of the hill, we are rewarded with not only a fabulous view but the option of taking the cable car back down which we took. Great to meet some Iranian tourists. A walk across the Peace Bridge and back into the maze of cobblestone streets of the old town.

Peace bridge, Tbilisi

Tbilisi

Unusual Georgian sweet – strings of nuts covered in something rubbery and sweet

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral

What a mixture of art and culture in this half day!! Sometimes it feels like we can only take in so many new sights and history and experiences and need time to digest it all before we can take more in. So on our second day, we only went to see the old sulphur baths – no uphill, just an easy stroll, stopping at a few churches and sculptures and then lunch. It seemed important to go and see the origin of the city’s name: it derives from the Old Georgian word “Tpili”, meaning warm. The name Tbili or Tbilisi (“warm location”) therefore was given to the city because of the area’s numerous sulfuric hot springs, which are still heavily exploited, notably for public baths (thank you wikipedia). The reviews I read on the baths were very mixed and we decided not to give them a go – mostly because we could not wait to get away from the area. That’s when we realised how we had now arrived back into ‘civilisation’ and tourist-land: this is the first time in months that we see lots of tourists. Not just local tourists, but lots of Europeans. And not just tour groups as we would see occasionally in the Stans, but lots of independent travellers with their kids. And many many green people: those were mostly in groups, nearly all male with paunches. They were Irish football supporters who appeared to take over various cafes and pubs in the old part of Tbilisi, over to watch the Ireland-Georgia World Cup football qualifier match here Saturday evening. What must the locals think of ‘us’? Anthony and I can’t wait to get away from those crowds!!

Sulfur baths area, old Tbilisi

The Irish have invaded Tbilisi this week end

The next morning, we leave at 6:30am, destination Yerevan, 290kms away. On this trip, we have tended to leave large cities at the crack of dawn to avoid the mad traffic. Even though it is Sunday morning so traffic should be light, we are not taking chances – Georgia driving style is the one we’ve liked the least (a combination of Indian style with more aggression in cars more powerful than their driving ability can cope with!), and they have very strange one way systems in Tbilisi. Plus it could be a long day as we have a border crossing and what looks like scenic and therefore slow roads.

The short 80km ride to the border was thought provoking. Near Marneuli, I notice an airfield with cleverly disguised hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) in the middle of a harvested field but surrounded by barbed wire. We have been travelling through a region that has gone through a lot of turmoil – reading this article which lists so many towns we have travelled through is rather sobering… https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/georgia-2008-bomb.htm

Marneuli air base, Georgia

Then as we approached the border, why so many stalls all selling the same huge washing powder containers?! We must have seen 40 or 50 such stalls. And then several stalls selling huge painted plaster cast animals and cartoon characters?! Is there a market for all those in Armenia?!

Washing powder for sale, Georgia

More washing detergent, Georgia

Georgian apartments

The Georgia/Armenia border crossing was a world record for us: 30 minutes!! (Documented in our Visas and border section https://2slowspeeds.com/visas-and-admin/ ).

As I write this and do a little research on Armenia for this blog, I am reminded of the still current tense situation in this region: I am currently in Turkey but cannot find historical information on Armenia, all articles on wikipedia have been censored…

It doesn’t take long after crossing the border into Armenia to notice how much poorer this country is. The farms are smaller, the housing more derelict, the roads have more patches than original tar. As we have seen since entering the Stans, we ride past so many sad, abandonned factories, apartment blocks, whole villages sometimes and many incomplete new projects – post Soviet collapse relics.

Northern Armenia

Northern Armenia – an old smelter? – using the mountain as a new chimney stack

Cemetery along the side of the road, Armenia

Typical Armenian village with exposed gas pipes

Northern Armenia farmland

And then we get to a 60kms section of road construction through a mountain pass with hair pin bends: the surface is covered in rock and gravel, in various stages of being crushed and compressed, they do love river pebbles too!!, and often only one lane wide. Drivers do not always think and will drive straight at you even though there is nowhere for us to go. At one point, we had to stop and gesture for the car to stop and reverse as they entered the single lane before we had finished!! Which they did. And then suddenly we get to pristine brand new smooth tar!! Woohoo, that feels good. But within a couple of minutes, a police car overtakes me and pulls Anthony over. What?! We were not speeding!! This is the first time we have been pulled over on this trip which is remarkable considering how corrupt the Kazak and Uzbek police are reported to be, but we have been careful to always keep within the speed limit. One couple we met got pulled over 14 times in Uzbekistan!! Anyway, it turns out we were speeding as the new tar was deemed to still be ‘road works’. After much discussion, we told them we now understood and will stick to the 40km/hr limit and they let us go without a fine. We understood why it was still 40kms as the road works continued. Not for too long this time thankfully. It was interesting as, although we would not have chosen to ride this section, we were glad we did as we coped better than we used to. We are finally improving!! It felt good. And Streak and Storm performed perfectly too, especially considering the terrain we took them over today.

Even the tunnel had road construction blocking lanes, Armenia

After a lucky pick of a restaurant for lunch and a huge meal of chicken and potatoes, the rest of the ride to Yerevan was quite unremarkable, luckily avoiding a couple of rain clouds.

On our way to Yerevan, Armenia

First clouds we have seen in weeks!

Yerevan traffic is full of the usual ‘big city testorone charged crazy drivers’ and confusing intersections. Anthony does a fantastic job as always of navigating us to our hotel. We are releaved to get there, hot sweaty and very very dusty from today’s ride.

What I have seen of Yerevan on our way in leaves me cold and it takes me a while to motivate myself, after a shower, rest and change, to go out and visit the city centre before the sun sets.

After an absolutely fantastic and inspiring evening, I am reminded of the book and its covers expression. Never judge too soon. The city was so alive!! People, mostly locals and their kids, out for a walk, a meal, enjoying street music, enjoying the various fountains, enjoying each other’s company. What a fantastic job Yerevan city have done. They must have reclaimed a whole suburb to build the Cascade alone. There are hundreds of steps up but for those of us too lazy or tired to climb all the way up, there is a covered escalator, with dozens of sculptures to admire as you are whisked up.

The Cascade, giant stairway, Yerevan

Botello sculpture in the sculpture garden Yerevan

Sculpture garden, Yerevan

Yerevan Cascade

The Cascade elevator, Yervan

Yerevan Cascade

Young and old enjoying water squirts, Yerevan

Yerevan’s musical fountain is million times better than the famed Las Vegas Belagio fountain. Truly!! I loved it. They played classical, ballet, rock, contemporary music. Listening to the music, watching the fountains, and the crowds, everyone entranced and visibly enjoying the spectacle. I think everyone was smiling. Some spontaneously danced. It was wonderful. On the walk back to the hotel, we walk past a number of small private musical acts in the pedestrian area including groups of older men quietly playing traditional Armenian tunes on the accordeon and other instruments.

Musical fountain, Yerevan

Swan Lake, musical fountain, Yerevan

Enjoy Anthony’s video compilation of this evening’s fountains – press the arrow in the middle of the photo below to play the video:

This evening’s experience was a great reminder not to judge anything or anywhere when you are tired and that every place has its gems and can provide special memories if you take the time to immerse yourself in the local life. We are certainly glad we decided to make the detour to briefly visit Armenia. I had originally planned on visiting some of the numerous memorials to the Armenian genocide but our bad road delayed our arrival into Yerovan and we have a long day back north the next morning. Our time on the road is running out fast suddenly.

– Anne