The Animals went in 2 by 2....

Trip Start Apr 30, 2010
Trip End Jan 20, 2012

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Flag of Armenia  ,
Friday, July 9, 2010

After what can only be described as a journey from hell, we arrived in picturesque Saki, up in the Caucasus Mountains in northern Azerbaijan. To put the journey into context we arrived at Baku bus station having been reassured that there were buses every hour to Saki, we ended up doing a Tom Hanks in 'Terminal' – we literally couldn’t escape. Not speaking either Azeri, Rusky, German or indeed from what I could gather English, we couldn’t get a straight answer as to where and what time the bus would depart. Anyway, all I can say is the 11 hour journey was worth it!

The place itself is set in a valley, with the snow capped Caucasus Mountains teaming with bears and wolves overlook the town. The town of Saki was on the ancient travellers route, many hundreds of years ago, not exactly on the Silk route, but the hotel was an old coaching house known locally as a Caravanserai, the pictures don’t do it justice, but we felt very much part of the ancient travellers scene! One evening whilst eating in the restaurant we had a couple of rogue sheep being chased by the waiters as they weaved in and out of the tables... a somewhat amusing addition to the ambiance of the rose garden setting!

One of the main tourist attractions (in addition to the mountain hiking) is The Khans Palace, each room of this two storey mansion being individually decorated – some of the most beautiful interior designs we have ever seen. To top all of this, just after leaving the place, we came across the ‘wolf man’, Tim had spotted this old bloke sitting on the floor with some sort of cloth covering what he thought was a statue. Oh no, his party piece was to unveil a stuffed wolf, ok, we thought, let’s take a picture, until he started to wave his arms to stop me, he then fiddles with the animals undercarriage, and whoa, the eyes light up just like a Christmas tree! All very weird, but another enterprising way to get the equivalent of 1 off you to take photos. Make you mind up yourself what you think!

Having lunch in one of the local restaurants we saw that ‘stuffing whatever animals you could’ was the ‘norm’ here, although when we weren’t understood in the restaurant the waiter brought out a live chicken and dangled it in front of us to confirm whether we wanted one or two portions?!

We left Azerbaijan via road back to Georgia, and then connected through to Armenia, the last country of our Caucasus trio and the capital city of Yerevan.....

I know some have been commenting on our route through the Caucuses looking a little odd and not entirely logical so without boring you Tim has contributed the following. The Caucasus', much like the Balkans to miss quote Winston Churchill has just a little too much history. Some countries get on and some do not, if they do not get on it is impossible to cross the border, generally ‘not get on’ tends to mean a state of war or impending war. So Georgia gets on with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan but not with Russia who currently occupies a big chunk of the country. Azerbaijan gets on with every one apart from Armenia who occupies a big chunk of Azerbaijan. Armenia gets on with Georgia and Russia but not at all with Turkey or Azerbaijan. This meant we would always have to begin with Georgia and do some backtracking! Now you must be really confused!

Yerevan is a city on the change! It’s becoming more westernised, massive skyscrapers going up and this city loves their caffeine fix. They have a mother to compete with Georgia – Mother Armenia looking over the city – holding a protective sword on one side. However the dominant feature of Yerevan is the imposing backdrop of Mount Ararat – even with it being some 40km into Turkey the huge mountain with its snow capped peak looks every bit intimidating to all around. Too far away for us to confirm biblical legend and detect any trace of Noah or indeed his Ark!

Armenia's famous export is brandy. The brandy factory tour we did had some interesting stats - it appears any head of state or foreign dignitary who visits Yerevan finds a VIP tour of the brandy factory to be a mandatory part of their visit. Rather sweetly each dignitary leaves with their body weight in the finest Armenian brandy. It did not take many guesses to figure out that Boris Yeltsin would turn out to be by far and away the biggest winner under this condition! One has to assume he drank the lot himself!

The hotel we stayed in had the added benefit of having a pool; somewhere we just chilled for a few hours around 6pm when the sun wasn’t as strong, the hotel itself was built in remembrance of the hotel owners’ wife, Regineh, who died in 2002. Tim bumped into the bloke in reception – a pleasant old guy, who spent 6 months in Yerevan and 6 months in Chiswick! The hotel in parts a little spooky – a shrine to his beloved wife, with pictures, marble statues and even her 1950’s wedding dress on display in the foyer. Tim thought it all odd, I thought romance!

From here we catch a flight to Moscow to check out the sights again before embarking on the ‘one and only’ Trans Siberian train, our experience taking us through to Vladivostok.
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