The Caucasus – Hits and Misses

Posted by Pat on October 6, 2018 in Travel |

September 2018

Of all the 84 countries I have traveled in the past 46 years, I have to admit to knowing the least about the countries of the Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. Little is written about this area beyond snippets of information, a few news flashes, and, if you know an Armenian, possibly you are aware of the atrocious genocide of the twentieth century. When I informed my credit card of my travels, I had to spell Azerbaijan for them (after memorizing how to spell it myself) and inform them that Georgia was a country by Russia, not a state near Florida.

After a full and busy 22 days, I have experienced a big learning curve. My daily experiences and reactions are found in my blogs. For this piece, my roomy Kathy and I sat in Yerevan’s Republic Square to discuss our thoughts about the “hits and misses” of the countries of the Caucasus. We probably will miss more than hit, but after a couple of beers, this is what we remember:

Azerbaijan Hits

Heydar Aliyev Center

Baku’s Old city is historically and architecturally a hit. Mostly pedestrian, there is plenty to do. The cafes and parks were relaxing and pleasant places to unwind. The people were wonderful and probably a little less “jaded” than those of the more modern sections of Baku City.

Baku’s new, modern architecture and LED light shows at night are wonderful. Especially beautiful are the Flame Towers and Heydar Aliyev Centre. The Towers and other buildings are lit at night and provide a modern contrast to the Old City.

The Caspian Sea is at Baku’s doorstep and the 3+ miles of seaside promenade, cafes, restaurants and entertainments are a great place to spend one’s evenings. 

I noticed in Baku, and everywhere in the Caucasus, there is a visible presence of police and all cars leave their roof bar lights running at all times. Can’t miss them as they drive around the city or direct traffic. A flashing car is never far away.

Azerbaijan Misses

The food is generally well prepared and tasty. And cheap, as is the beer. However, the culinary philosophy of “if a drop of oil is good, a tablespoon will be even better” is tough on the digestion.

The traffic, wide streets, lack of pedestrian crossings, and speedy formula-one wannabes are a challenge. It is one of the few places in the world I refused to cross a street unless a stop light specifically allowed me to do so. 

I was disappointed in what appeared to be the taking advantage of tourists. Even if something was marked with a price, I was asked to pay more. Unless questioned on price, the marketing strategy is “whatever the traffic will bear.”

Georgia Hits

Tile mosaic of Tbilisi

“Welcome to Georgia” was a wonderful musical play which depicted the cuisine, dance and music of Georgia. It’s entertaining and informative.

Georgian dancing is excellent. Women float as if on air but the men do energetic kicking and jumping that is entertaining and skillfully executed. 

The mountains in the north, especially between Ananuri Fortress and Kazbeki, are spectacular. I would imagine the skiing in winter would be wonderful. The mountain bulwarks, rearing rocky and bare, and gorges plunging deep and ruggedly below, are masterpieces of geology all over this part of the Caucasus.

The food, unique Georgian wine, and Georgian beer are excellent. Meals involve numerous dishes, in no particular order, lots of food and the expectation that you should never have an empty plate.

Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, is wonderful. The Old Town is full of cafes, pedestrian areas, restaurants, riverside walks, and interesting architecture. 

The Georgian countryside offers many parks, camping areas, and protected forests. The Greater Caucasus are impressive. 

Churchkhela is a traditional Georgian candle-shaped candy. The main ingredients are grape juice, nuts and flour. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnut and chocolate and sometimes raisins are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened grape juice or fruit juices and dried in the shape of a sausage. The traditional technology of churchkhela in the Kakheti region was inscribed on the 2015 Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia list. Not to be preferred over baklava, but still pretty good.

Georgia Misses

While the food is delicious and varied, the meals are huge. Overeating is a constant threat. Order a beer, and it might come in a two-liter bottle. 

Squat toilets are always a possibility. And in some hotels, the tub shower was very deep and quite a challenge. 

Armenia Hits.

Mount Ararat and Mount Sis

Marco Polo slept here and called it the “Switzerland of Armenia.” He was pretty spot on. 

The northeast Lesser Caucasus and gorges are beautiful. Topping over Sevan Pass from thick forests to bare meadows affords a wide range of interesting topography. 

Seeing Mt. Ararat was exciting. It’s snow-capped peak could be seen great distances. At the same time, the constant haze obscured what could have been an incredible view.

The cave church of St. Astvatsatsin at Geghard Monastery was special after seeing so many monasteries. 

I loved the Armenian propensity to build their churches with permanence. There is a massive feel to them because of their use of huge blocks of stone and central iron chandeliers.

Gorgeous are the colors of Armenia: black, ocher and reds. The sky is brilliant blue. 

You gotta love a place that for breakfast I can eat olives, cheese, fruits from figs to raspberries and watermelon, waffles and maple syrup, Nutella, cereal with sunflower and squash seeds, smoked salmon and top it off with Baklava. 

Beer – good all over the Caucasus 

Armenia Misses 

Though Republic Square is fun, there is no old city in Yerevan.

Roads are terrible but much building of infrastructure is occurring and this will change, hopefully. 

People have a long way to go in preventing litter. And a better program needs to be developed to handle the mass of stray dogs.

Steps abound! Everything worth seeing is UP.

 

The Caucasus were new and exciting, beautiful and challenging. Perhaps too tiring? Waiting in line for boarding my flight home, a gentleman offered his seat to this senior, almost insisting I rest my weary bones. And yet, I am only at the start of my journey home.

Perhaps this is just a gesture of recognition that I have enjoyed a wonderful trip. I deserve a rest. Short and sweet.

Then, it will be off to another destination on our globe.

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