Kar means snow in Turkish, and the north-eastern Turkish city of Kars certainly lives up to its name. The residents here are super-friendly and the kindness of Turkish and Kurdish people can be compared to nowhere else. The Turkey-Georgia border close to Posof is very remote indeed!
I don’t like borders because of political reasons and also because when I travel alone I always have problems. For some reason, a lone female hitchhiker whose passport is almost full with stamps raises suspicion. The Georgian border is no exception, and I am made to wait whilst everyone else is ushered through. The border guard makes a phone call about me before finally letting me into the country.
Being in Kars has restored my faith in men, and I ride from Turkey to Georgia with five men in a white van, with four of us in the back. They are gentlemen to me and I am feeling happy again. But then in Georgia we stop for a cup of tea at a cafe, with a sign aimed at Turkish truck drivers. The ‘cafe’ is actually a house and I naively say, “tea in here? But it’s someone’s home!” We walk in. The light is dim, the walls are pink, the curtains and chairs are a red velvet. A woman in a tiny skirt and lots of makeup on greets us. My Turkish is too terrible to understand the conversation, but the name Marina and mentions of $50 are repeated. My faith plummets again.
I am SO happy that I visited Georgia before, in the summer time. I have memories of a country of amazing beauty, and of deep shades of green absolutely everywhere. Although it is still beautiful in the winter, it is now a dull brown colour. It could almost be a different country. But Tbilisi remains the same vibrant, cool place it was when I last visited, one and a half years ago.
Whilst walking in Avlabari, the best district in Tbilisi, I am asked for money by an old, old woman. I look at her and decide that she must be around eighty years old. I give her 2.50€. She starts to cry and hugs me tightly, kissing me again and again and thanking me. It is at that moment that I realise that I know nothing about Georgia; I don’t understand just how poor many people are and how difficult life must be for them. How vacuous my life drinking chacha (Georgian alcohol) here has been.
For some unjustified reason, I have low expectations of Armenia, and I am only heading there to visit my friend, Jo. But Armenia is stunning! The road between the Georgian border and Yerevan runs through a gorge and is breathtaking. Miraculously, I hitchhike an expensive looking taxi from the Georgian border to Yerevan, a four hour drive. The young driver with Ray Bans and leather jacket has just dropped a woman off and is heading back to the capital. Great news! But it’s not so great when he asks me if he can see me again, buys me a bottle of champagne and drives us to Lake Sevan to drink it. I refuse the alcohol. When we are close to Yerevan, I call Jo to find out where to meet her. The driver wants to speak to her. “What’s your address?” he asks her. I panic, yelling, “no no no, don’t give him the address, Jo!” and I snatch the phone out of his hand. He is upset with me: “you think I would come to your address? I wouldn’t. Don’t you trust me, Lisa?” He is a kind man, but sadly, recent hitchhiking experiences have made me paranoid.
When exploring Yerevan, Jo gives me some important advice: “don’t smile at strangers. In ex-Soviet countries it means that you are laughing at someone if you smile at them”. “Really?!?!” “Yes. Drink Don’t Smile”. This advice helps me to enjoy Yerevan. Everyone stares at me with a cold, straight face. But with Jo’s wise words, I know that it is not because they are miserable! In fact, I really like Yerevan, meet lovely locals, go to some cool bars and take many photos:
This is definitely the wrong time of year to visit Armenia. The heaviest snow I have ever seen means that I can not really explore the many mountains and gorges. As I leave, I am already thinking about a return trip to this beautiful country.
I hitch back through Georgia to Kars, Turkey, and then get a bus from Erzurum to the south coast, and for the third time in two weeks, my bus is stopped by either the military or the police, both heavily armed. Our identities are checked and the buses searched. The buses have gone through the Kurdish region, and this is the only reason that I can think of for the armed-searches. Turkey is not the perfect postcard tourist destination that most might believe. But in my last days here, I try to take everything in: the rocks, the mountains, the smells, the redness of the earth…because I may not come back to this country, which evokes such mixed emotions in me, for a very long time.
12 thoughts on “Georgia and Armenia: The Wrong Time Of The Year To Visit The Caucasus!”
Awwww, how funny to read this and see my ruddy cold face so soon after you have left us! I am still over two months behind on my blog. Better get writing on my shiny new laptop which just arrived today.
That picture of us “looking Soviet” creased me up. I can’t even remember that happening!
Fine to read of you…. It was a lot of time since… Last year in Ardeche !
I wish you a lot of sun, either in the country and in your hearth….
Amazingly interesting photos from Yerevan!!!
And ohhhhh, how it touches my heart to see photos with both you and Jo on them 😀 Love you both!!!
Totally disagree with you that winter is not the good moment to visit Armenia… I loved Aremenia soooo much in winter (as well as Turkey, especially the kurdish part and Wan (Van) under the snow. But maybe it is because I truely love the cold and the snow. Maybe more than any summer sun.
like yourself i have travelled half way round the world and back, and seen many beautiful sights, but it seems to me that i have yet to find anything yet that compares to Scotland!!!
Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. The only thing better than the traveling is the friendship.
Sad to hear about what you witnessed at the roadside “cafe.” The story about your encounter with an old woman moved me. What do you think €2.50 means to an average local? How much does a meal at a mid-ranged restaurant cost, for example?
thanks for the comment 🙂 I don’t know what the price of food is in a restaurant, as I am usually travelling on a really tight budget 😀 In Georgia, i tend to eat a lot of bean pasties, which are probably about 20 cents each. The old lady was trying to sell sunflower seeds, and i didn’t want them, but she insisted on giving me a load after i gave her the money.
Although I have been to Georgia twice, I still know very little about the culture or any hardships…my first visit was clouded by chacha (Georgian alcohol) and the second visit was sober but all too brief.
But I would realllly recommend a visit to beautiful Georgia!
From now on, “Georgia on My Mind,” so to speak. 😉
Hehe! I’m somehow glad to see we are not the only ones wondering how did we think of hitchhiking in this part of the world in the wrong time of the year…my eyes think that the white scenery is worth the cold, my frozen feet do not agree. Happy travels!
Armenia really beautiful, I had been in Tbilisi, Batumi, Qobuleti and I have thinked that Georgia is the best countries one.