‘Blue Sky; winter; who’d a thought!’ Scott’s Mancunian twang woke me up. I looked out at a square of sunlight geometrically inching its way across a washing filled courtyard. Lisbon! Guidebooks are always going on about washing in Lisbon and here it was! We skipped into town, under-dressed in the chilly morning air. We had packed like the ultimate British holiday maker stereotype going to the ‘continent’, confusing sunshine for heat, and shivering valiantly on deserted beaches whilst local people are wearing gloves and waiting for spring. Sunglasses in winter is a joyous oxymoron that eclipses all else.
After the anarchic New Year’s Eve experience I slowly got better. A trip to Vabali Spa and some homeopathic doses of sparkling wine and I was right as rain. I decided to become a vegan. Well, I decided to think about becoming a vegan and to take some steps towards it. I also made Scott promise he would become a full vegetarian as opposed to a flexitarian. He said he would, as soon as he had eaten a huge steak and smoked a cigar with Zach. I think in Scott’s mind being a vegetarian has little to do with vegetables, and more to do with chip barms – Manchester food… it’s even in Wikipedia…
In parts of North West England and Yorkshire, a barm or barm cake is a common term for a soft, floury bread roll: menus in chip shops offer chip barms consisting of chips in a bread roll, these are also known as “chip butties” in some areas.
Due to a rather ill-judged decision to throw a New Year’s Eve Eve ‘get together’ I woke up sick on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t so much a hangover as a violent case of poisoning. I think perhaps we were too liberal with the Angostura Bitters in our sloppily made Champagne Cocktails. Chuck in a bit of sugar, dowse it in bitters, mix it all with cooking brandy and fill it up to the top with cheap Sekt. Repeat dozens of times… A metaphor for Silvester, I now think. By the early evening I knew I would not be donning PVC and prancing at the Kitkat club that night. But I didn’t want to miss the party completely, as I have had a habit of having shitty New Year’s Eves all my life. I was in Berlin, where it’s so famous it’s got it’s own special name, and who knows where I would be next year?
We got up early to start the last of the hair-raising journeys through Armenia, this time towards Yerevan. A local guy called Hayk collected us from the eco-resort in his clapped out car to take us to Goris, from where we could get a mini-bus.
I peered around the little net curtain in our Goldilocks wooden cabin and looked down on clouds and into the distance far across a valley. We had woken up in the sky! There were other fairytale log cabins dotted around us and squat round cabins shaped like enormous beer barrels. Little paths tottered down the hillside between them, leading to the ‘resort,’ I assumed. We were going to have a few days resting in the stillness and visit Tatev Monastery.
My faith in resorts wavered pretty quickly trying to have a shower. It either burnt me or froze me. Scott said I was to relax and leave it to him and he disappeared into the little bathroom from which all sorts of water and pipe noises could be heard. He emerged twenty minutes later in a cloud of steam and said it was ready for me. ‘Don’t touch anything!’ he cautioned and I gingerly stepped into the bathroom where the toilet was open, the sink taps were full on and splashing everything, the shower was directed somewhere above my head and there was a loud squeaking noise of complaint from the whole plumbing system. Still, using what he likes to knowingly call ‘Manc Skills’, a shower was had and enjoyed. Now I was all set for breakfast – and a resort breakfast means a buffet and some good quality coffee – the last I remembered had been in Tbilisi.
Being new to blogging, I didn’t know what The Liebster Award was until a couple of weeks ago. It is such a great idea, as it is passed on by fellow travellers and bloggers, as a way to recognise and help give exposure to new blogs, and to share good content. Whoever thought of it (I couldn’t find out who) started a great chain!
My site is really a travelogue with pictures, and not necessarily as popular a form of blog as some, so I am very appreciative to Veggie Vagabonds. They promote vegan and sustainable living, which is very close to my heart as a vegetarian often travelling in the meatier places of the world. Their lively travel stories and recent article on how to go fully vegan have really inspired me. Read about their adventures, like how they nearly got caught in a wildfire in Portugal, and check out some great recipes!
This was it! Leaving Tbilisi, we were finally in a mini-van on the way to Armenia – all Scott could have wished for his 40th birthday celebrations. The windscreen had a river of cracked tributaries, and the driver allowed his seatbelt to rest undone somewhere near his belly, as though this token gesture to safety was the same as safety. He talked on his phone with his right hand and smoked a cigarette with the other. He still somehow managed to steer us wildly around corners onto oncoming traffic and hold a conversation with the woman next to him. Would Scott reach 41?
It is safe to say that we were the only non- Armenians out of the six passengers, who consisted of two heavily made up middle-aged women with large plastic bags, and two heavily made up younger women with small fake designer handbags and carefully tousled hair. All four women had the most extraordinary faces; proud romanesque noses, large almond eyes and high cheekbones. I whispered knowingly to Scott that the most beautiful of them had had ‘work’. I was proven wrong by the end of the week as she looked like all Armenian women – vividly real and imaginary at the same time. I tried to take a few surreptitious pictures of her but she was always a little out of shot or too far away. She got out of the car to be sick at one point at the side of the road, and it felt a bit mean to snap her then.
We had to travel via Georgia as the border between Turkey and Armenia is permanently closed. It was Scott’s turn to organise transport so he took on the challenge and got online the night before, in the miserable hotel in Kars. There were two borders where we could cross, and the nearest was a few hours away high up on the plain near a village called Posof. There was no public transport but we could try to find a Marshrutka, which is a large shared mini-bus with no timetable, to take us to there, and then hitchhike over the border. It had all seemed possible and now it didn’t. No wonder no one goes into Georgia via this route. Scott was hoping to prove himself, as he was still smarting over the rip off in the taxi in Istanbul – for a Mancunian, not being ripped off is a matter of honour. The hotel receptionist had been decidedly unhelpful when we checked in and told him that, no, we were not in Kars to see the famous Ani ruins, but to leave again as fast as we could.
We had a breakfast of strings of tasteless white fibres which I think was cheese, and turkish tea, as we prepared to get the hell out. I was imagining the glass of wine that awaited me at the other end of the journey in Tbilisi, 395 kilometres away and about 6 hours in a car if one had one. Despite the traveller posts of doom and gloom about the Tolkeinesque impossibility of the journey, it was a doddle in the end, which I let Scott take credit for. The receptionist had recovered from our snub, and told us about his mate who was driving in a mini bus to Georgia that very day and did we want him to give him a call. Less than an hour later and down by approximately 25 euros for both of us we were speeding away from the grimy streets and cow carcasses into the green plains and climbing high up into pockets of snow from last winter. It was bright and bleak, dotted with coloured houses, strings of electricity cables and distant peaks. The minibus driver drove at breakneck speed and I bashed my head on the window trying to take photographs. Now and then we stopped for a lone elderly man to hop on – heaven knows where he could be going as there was nothing up there.
The train station in Ankara is a 1930’s looking building with curving brass door handles and glass-paned doors. The brand spanking new high speed terminal next to it is not – it is huge and shiny with western shops and escalators. No trains were arriving or leaving from anywhere else however, so for our non ‘high-speed’ train we had to wait for a replacement bus, UK -style. No one knew how long we would have to wait, only that our sleeper train left from some country station an hour or so from Ankara. As a result, we just hung around not going to a supermarket for fear of missing the bus. We had half a carton of orange juice, the chewy bread, the sheep’s cheese and the cucumbers. Several hours later we arrived at a lonely platform and waited in the dark and starry night with about 30 other passengers, standing on the tracks. Eventually, a train slowly rolled along the platform and we all dragged our luggage up the steep steps into the carriages. It was the Dogu Express. Our fellow passengers seemed to be mostly elderly men with knitted striped hats holding prayer beads. They had large plastic bags with some kind of produce that they were bringing from the west to the east. They had round bellies and kindly worn faces. Other passengers clambering up onto the train were elderly couples, or the odd single traveller with a scrappy briefcase. There were no tourists except us, and few people made for the the 7th and last carriage; the one with beds. The train slowly left the empty station and headed off east into the misty night, on its 26 hour journey. Continue reading “October 2017 Turkey, Georgia, Armenia. Part 2: Turkey, The Dogu Express”
How did we end up on a train trundling through Turkey’s Anatolian Plateau in late October ? There were certainly no other tourists…
Scott was turning 40 and we wanted to mark it with a trip. An adventure. So we watched the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest in May to help us make up our minds where to go. There were three categories in our plan. And we both wore outfits.
1. Who we thought would actually win according to Eurovision judges;
2. Who we thought was the best and should really win but probably wouldn’t;
3. Which acts made their country look like somewhere we really should go.
The third list ended up with 5 contenders including Hungary and Azerbaijan. But in the end we agreed on Armenia for Artsvik’s heady mix of exotic, sweet and cool.
You can watch the entry here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g373Libigw8
Incidentally, our categories 1 and 2 were amazingly, for Eurovision, the same. But that’s another story…