Eastbound, to the Stans

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Boarder06, Dec 25, 2013.

  1. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    I made a beeline for Safranbolu, a nice Ottoman era town.

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    When I got there I found it all a bit too touristy and crowded.

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    So I just had something to eat and kept going

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    until I found a good spot to camp for the night.

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    After getting up early and a quick stop for supplies I continuied on the back roads

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    Eventually, I reached the coast

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    where I stayed at a small campground near Sinop.

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    I spend a couple of nights in Yusufeli, enough time to go rafting again.

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    Yusufeli has changed quite a bit since 2009. The guesthouse was once a nice green place on the outskirts of the town. Now it's wedged in between ugly apartment blocks.

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    I had to stop for some blasting. While waiting I noticed that my rear tire looked kind of flat. Sure enough, a huge piece of wire was sticking out. With plenty of people waiting there with me it was pretty easy to prop the bike up and fix the flat right then and there. I got it done just before the blasting was over. So didn't even lose any time.

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    The dam building continues in that area. Villages disappear into the water and new roads are being put in higher up.

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    Along the way was a little Georgian church

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    After one more night of wild camping a few km from the border, I crossed early, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to hand over my guns.

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    SmilinJoe likes this.
  2. C-Stain

    C-Stain Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    14,359
    Location:
    Canoodia
    :lurk

    :clap

    Loving this. Your photography is stunning...
  3. Thumpermeister

    Thumpermeister roost maker

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2009
    Oddometer:
    4,296
    Location:
    Frosbite Falls
    Great report!
  4. zandesiro

    zandesiro In rust we trust....

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2010
    Oddometer:
    877
    Location:
    Polygyros, Greece...
  5. KTM 950S

    KTM 950S Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2012
    Oddometer:
    116
    Location:
    Greece....
  6. jackalsour

    jackalsour Dreamer

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    920
    Location:
    Classified
    RRs like this make me yearn to be out exploring foreign lands right now... Also I ordered some IMZ badges :D
  7. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    Crossing the border was quick and easy. First port of call was Akhaltsikhe for money, fuel, food, and a SIM card. All done in no time at all with minimal fuss. I like Georgia. Things are easy.

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    I took a short post lunch nap under a tree by a little stream and got woken up by an old farmer. We made some small talk in a mix of Russian and sign language. He asked me where I was from and I told him "Germany", to which he replied with a big smile "Heil Hilter", raised arm and everything. Oh well, what do you do? Just grin and continued to make small talk. I guess he wanted to be friendly and greet me in German.

    A short dirt road ride out of town is the Sapara Monstary
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    My destination for today was Vardzia. The Khertvisi fortress is on the way and well worth a stop.

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    Vardzia is a cave monestary, hewn into the side of Erusheti Mountain on the bank of the Mtkvari River.

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    I checked into a basic hotel just across the Mtkvari river from the monastery. Another biker, who I had breakfast with before crossing the border from Turkey, also stayed there and we went to a little restaurant, where we joined a fun group of Australian and Canadian expats living in Tiblissi. Well, the food was great, the drink was great and plentiful. As the evening progressed we exchanged toasted with an extended Georgian family getting drunk at the next table over. One of the little girls was wearing an incredibly inappropriate t-shirt. I don't think the parents knew what was written on it.

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    When the restaurant closed we relocated to the bar in our hotel and had a few more drinks. Here is Hans Peter, who entertained us with his bike riding stories from Afghanistan, just before the Russian invasion. I wish he would write a report on here. Truly epic.

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    Well, needless to say we all had a killer hangover the next morning, except Hans Peter who got up and left bright and early. I decided to take a "rest day" and just lay under a tree by the river.

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    Eventually I did get moving and explored the area a little.

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    StefAr and SmilinJoe like this.
  8. InTheMuck

    InTheMuck So it goes...

    Joined:
    May 4, 2012
    Oddometer:
    440
    Location:
    Amongst the has beens & the addicts (Verona, WI)
    Gorgeous!
  9. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    Sorry for the lack of posts. What can I say, I have just been exceptionally busy at work in the last few weeks.

    Where were we? Right, Georgia.

    I decided to hop across the border to Armenia first before seeing more of Georgia.

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    There is an interesting bridge, made of an old train wagon, near Akhalkalaki

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    Car wreck fence or piece of art?
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    Coming up to the border

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    The border crossing was reasonably quick. There are insurance sales booths right at the exit of the border complex and it was reasonably cheap. I went ahead and bought insurance, not sure if it would have done me any good. I made the mistake of trying to buy a SIM card with 1 GB of data at the same place. We tried to get the Internet working for a while, but I had to admit defeat.

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    It's a pretty desolate border crossing, not all that much is happening

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    On the way to the Marmashen Monastery I rode right through a military base. The soldiers didn't seem to care all that much and even opened the gate for me.

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    The monastery was a great place to hang out and have a nap. Locals were queuing up to have a picture taken with my bike.

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    Stop for the night was Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, which suffered very serious and still very visible damage in the 1988 earthquake.

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    While looking for a hotel I ran into Graham Field and we joined forces. The hotel we met at turned kind of funny on us and we decided to go search for something else, which took a while and we got some funny looks when we tried to get rooms at a brothel (looked nice from the outside).

    There was some sort of festivity going on in town with a free concert, preceded by a speech from the prime minister. Everyone turned up in their Sunday best and I felt a bit under dressed. We finished the night with a few drinks.
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    Despite all the problems people are rebuilding the cathedral. Take that as an example Christchurch!.

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  10. 00-SEB-00

    00-SEB-00 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2011
    Oddometer:
    243
    Location:
    from Belgium to the Canary Islands
    Oh man, you still have a long RR ahead of you.... :D
  11. cristiano

    cristiano Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2013
    Oddometer:
    321
    Location:
    Italy
    We thought of you when we read the news!
    Congratulations!

    Now we are waiting for the rest of your report!
  12. Redkrouge

    Redkrouge Independent

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2013
    Oddometer:
    393
    Location:
    Carouge, CH
    I am leaving this Saturday, March 29 with four of my friends to the Stans and beyond.
    I will take your information as secure. I'm waiting for more.
    I have already taken those of "Germany to Iran and back" :D

    Great RR :clap
    Bravo
  13. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    Have a fantastic adventure. It's such an awesome area to explore.

  14. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    My laptop started acting up in the morning. I knew I had to open it up and thus spend the morning looking for a small Torx screwdriver , SIM card and USB charger. This was surprisingly easy.

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    Merc and Lada

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    Local H&M branch

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    Armenian Road

    First stop was Harischavank, dating back to the 13th centuary.

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    Leaving the monastery, I got stopped by two cops for speeding. The speed limit sign was right there and they had a video of me. So it was all legit (although there was no reason for a speed limit in that particular spot). They were nice and one even called his wife so she could explain the situation to me. The fine was $10 or $15. He had the ticket written and I was ready to pay. Just as he was about to hand the ticket over, he saw the little Turkish flag on the back of my bike. I knew immediately that this would be trouble. He got pretty upset and made it pretty clear that there was no sympathy lost for Armenia's neighbor. Well, luckily I had some picture from Ani, the medieval Armenian capital (now in Turkey), that I had visited a few years back. So I just kept chatting in Russian and English while showing him the pictures. That calmed him down. In the end he even tore up the ticket and let me off without a fine. Well, maybe one day Armenia and Turkey can be on better terms. I think there is some hope. If Germany and France can get along after the atrocities of WWI and WWII. Can't we all just get along?

    By lucky coincidence I found one of the B&Bs in Yerevan right away. I had jotted down a few addresses in the morning. Great place with save parking. The proprietors little brother, on school break from the US, was running the place.
    I found Yerevan to be a great city. If you are into art, the cities museums and public places are treasure trove. Lot's to see and do.

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    I was having a stroll near the Art museum one evening and I was wondering why there are so many people out and about. All of the sudden a Charles Aznavour song started playing and fountains erupted all around me.

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    I guess everyone, except me, knew this was going to happen. The crowd got really into it, singing and dancing along. It lasted for more than an hour.

    I replaced the faulty RAM in my laptop. The first shop, 10 minutes from where I stayed had the exact type I needed. I also managed to break my beloved wide angle lens. It's my favorite and had been a bit dodgy for a while. The owner of the B&B pointed me to the Armenian version of Ebay where, to my amazement, I found the exact same lens. He made a phone call for me and 20 minutes later I had a replacement for a reasonable price.

    I also got a slow leak in my rear fixed. I guess my repair job in Turkey wasn't up to scratch. The tire repair shop was someone's garage down the road. I left a couple of dollars poorer and with a handful of tire patches and well wishes from everyone around.

    Everything just seemed to work out in Yerevan! I even listened to Radio Yerevan :D

    SmilinJoe likes this.
  15. RoninMoto

    RoninMoto Wanderer

    Joined:
    May 12, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,732
    Location:
    In the mountains?
    I was in Georgia for 4 months last winter/spring and I never made it into Armenia. I need to go back and explore some more!

    Looking forward to the rest of your RR. You are off to a great start :deal

    :clap:clap:clap
  16. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    I went on a few day trips with my bike while I was based in Yerevan.

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    Oh yeah, monument to the Shocker

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    I'm usually not a fan of big cities but I really did like Yerevan a lot. Lot's to see, friendly people, great public transport and fantastic restaurants and bars.

    SmilinJoe likes this.
  17. hardwaregrrl

    hardwaregrrl ignore list

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2006
    Oddometer:
    9,170
    Location:
    Atlanta
    Awesome write ups and photos!!! This one looks like HDR.


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    Thanks again!!!
  18. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    All good things must come to an end and so it was time to leave Yerevan. I decided to explore Nagorno-Karabakh.

    On the way I stopped to see Khor Virap, an Apostolic monastery with the spectacular backdrop of Mount Ararat.

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    In 2009 I had a similarly spectacular view of Mount Ararat from the Iranian side.


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    Nagorno-Karabak is a de-facto independent country that is not recognized by any other country. There is a long and fascinating history. In short, open fighting broke out in the early 90s and many lost their lifes. Despite a cease fire agreement in 1994, the situation remains mostly unresolved.

    In practical terms, there was only one road in and out. The "border guards" were about as friendly as East German border guards in the 80s. They checked my passport and gave me the address of a place in Stepanakert were I had to get my "visa". That's right, you first enter and then you get a visa. However, the guy at the visa place was exceptionally friendly and full of good advise. It was all done in 15 minutes. My little Canon point and shot, which I mostly use while on the go, was out of commission and I tried to fix it in Stepanakert with the help of two very friendly shop owners. I got lots of cookies and coffee, but couldn't actually fix the camera.

    SmilinJoe likes this.
  19. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    I made it to the village of Vank on a mostly OK road. The village is home to the Eclectica Hotel, a.k.a. Titanic Hotel.

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    This is the strangest of places and Vank village is very different from the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh. The hotel was a bit too eclectic for my taste and I decided to head up to Gandzasar monstery to find a place to camp.


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    Well, what do you know. There was a group of very friendly hikers from Armenia camping in the church yard. I got talking to one of their leaders and she assured me it would be very much OK to pitch my tent next to them.

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    This was followed by an invitation to dinner, along with a few drinks. The evening ended with all of us playing Charades and someone successfully pantomiming "Hitler only had one testicle". Seriously impessed!

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    The next morning I rode to Dadivank, at the other end of Nagorno-Karabakh. The roads were non existent for large parts and this was a very enjoyable adventure.

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    The signs of recent armed conflict are still visible everywhere.

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    There is only one way in and out of Nagorno-Karabakh and I had to backtrack from Dadivank, via Stepanakert


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    all the way to the crossing back into Armenia. I ended up in lovely Goris for the night. The town has few very decent hotels and an excellent restaurant.

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    SmilinJoe likes this.
  20. Boarder06

    Boarder06 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    298
    Location:
    Christchurch, NZ
    The next day I was one of those "throw buckets of water at everyone" days. Not sure what the particular occasion was but I definitely had to be on the lookout and pack my cameras away.

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    Not far from Goris is Carahunge (a.k.a. Karahunj, a.k.a.Zorats Karer), oftenbilled as the "Armenian Stonehenge.

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    More recent research by Munich University indicates that the site was probably a necropolis from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

    Nearby is a modern art installation

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    I found an old caravansary at the side of the road

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    In the end I got sick and tired of the hordes of drunk drivers on the road on Sunday and I found myself a nice quiet camping spot on the east shore of Lake Sevan.

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    StefAr and SmilinJoe like this.