Saturday, November 3, 2012

Latest trip

Kansas. It's what we call the country to the south of Georgia that begins and ends with 'A'. We use the nickname because the country is a mortal enemy of the one in which we live, and the lack of freedom of speech here looms large.

After a short stay in charming Tbilisi (above), where we tried out the fun new cable car that goes from the riverside near the old city up to the old fort at the top of the hill.

A three hour taxi ride took us southward and over the border, after which the scenery started heading into  gorgeous  as we entered the Debed Canyon.  Picturesque river at the base of steep surrounding hills,  just about every other one studded with an atmospheric 10th century church.

seen in the local supermarket

I read in a local guide book, "Later, Greeks from the Ottoman Empire founded settlements in Ar..nia and Georgia." How is it to live surrounded by enemies?  Maniacally, the first few bars of the Azeri national anthem keep popping into my brain.  I catch myself before referring to "Turkish coffee," which is of course "Ar...nian coffee." That morning, in Georgia, it had been "Turkish coffee," as it is in the two other neighboring countries.

The wonderful guesthouse proprietor

view of the mine area from cable car
We stay in a comfortable guesthouse in Alaverdi, with an absolutely lovely couple. Well into dinner, we notice a framed photo of a young man in a prominent place in the dining room. It is the son they have lost "on the border."

English is limited but the woman tells us she preferred Soviet Union days, with free education and health care, and when her salary as a musician and teacher of music was good. Now the nearby copper mine functions  at a fraction of the former output, and their daughter makes only $100 a month as a piano teacher.
Akhtala church

Later, in a packed Marshrutka (shared van) headed to Yerevan (someone's carrying fish :-( ) I realize too late that our suitcase, blocking the aisle, has a bright red Turkish Airlines tag on it.

The area around the capital city is not as beautiful as the northern canyon, but when the sky is clear Mt. Ararat towers on the horizon. I comment on the lack of trees on the hillsides to a nice young soldier on the van who has befriended us (he wants to join the US army). He says there are no trees because in 1992 after the Soviet Union broke up there was no electricity and people cut the trees for firewood.

Downtown Yerevan is comfortable, walkable, not flashy. We have only two nights, and have rented an apartment from a nice gentleman who lives half the year in Australia.

We tour the Noy/Ararat winery/brandy factory (formerly Yerevan Brandy Factory), where brandy has famously been made for over 100 years. Noy = Noah, they say, came down from Mt. Ararat and planted the first grapes in Armenia. In 1912, the Russian owner of the factory sent a sample of his brandy to a brandy competition in France. It was sent unmarked, because he was sure it would not be a serious contender. The sample won the "gran prix" and then they had to figure out where it had come from.  It was labeled "cognac," the first and only time that a foreign made brandy achieved that status.

We took the tour with three young Iranian men, one of whom lives in the city. We had very little shared language but I think I managed to apologize for what my country is doing to theirs, and they made it clear they were no fans of Ahmedinejad or Khomeini.  One said he is a DJ.  One shared his FB name and asked to friend us.  Wow.

at a site 45 min from Yerevan

Geghard Monastery, not far from Yerevan

great live music at Yerevan restaurant

It was a great magical mystery tour of 4 or 5 days.  Rain threatened but didn't happen, and more than once people just appeared when we needed help.  On the way out of town, heading back to Georgia, we are treated to Mt. Ararat, a view that had been hidden in cloud. It rises dramatically over a wide plain, and has a large cleft into which it is easy to picture a large boat getting stuck once 40 days/nights of  torrential rain had dissipated.
Welcome to Georgia