Where am I?

Created this blog to document my travels, experiences & thoughts thru Central & South America but hell plan to blog my travels to where ever. Goofy harmless Free Spirit hoping to spend most of my time with locals & enjoy the world! So hang on as I travel, drink cervezas, raise a little hell, maybe piss off a few people & hopefully not give Canadians a bad reputation! Of course don't do these things on purpose but while having a good time well "Shit Happens"!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Decided to go to Georgia, then Armenia, Azerbaijan & Nagorno-Karabakh. May not get into them all but so what; plus hell with trying to get Iran visa!

Pictures of Tbilsi the capital city of Georgia. Its a contradiction of a modern and old city as it's a work in progress!

Batumi a city in south west Georgia near the Turkish border. Stayed there a night as first town came across in Georgia

3 Turkish guys who I met in Trabzon but work in Batumi, Georgia on a ship. They met me in Batumi and showed me the city. There is this big ass ferris wheel in Batumi which goes super slow but it is for visitors to Batumi to ride to view the city. So got some awesome views of the city!

Decided to head toGeorgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan & Nagorno-Karabakh. But if I don’t get into all of them well that’s fine but thought the hell with trying to get a Visa to Iran!

Took a 3 hr bus ride from Trabzon to the border of Georgia and they just stamped my passport & got in no problem. I just hope it'll be like that to get into Armenia too! But will need a visa to Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh! So you're probably wondering what the hell are those 2 countries, right? Well Azebaijan became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union (along with Georgia & Armenia). But Nagorno-Karabakh is an ancient area that is now a disputed area as it has separated from Azerbaijan. Therefore it's like Israel and Arab countries so I have to go to Nagorno-Karabakh after I go to Azerbaijan cus if I have a Nagorno-Karabakh stamp in my passport then I can't enter Azerbaijan. So I either go to Nagorno-Karabakh or get their stamp on another piece of paper! Shit wouldn't it be great if people just all got along and had their freedom? I guess it's sounds simple and easy for a person from a Western country who's never thought about these things all their lives! But to many in the world they are trapped in an area which is suppressed or in among people who are either different origin, religion or culture so they want their own separate identity (country) to be free among their own kind! But in places like Canada we are a mixture of everything and everyone so we all get along somehow most of the time as Canadians (this is the same in the US, Australia, New Zealand and to European countries to a degree).

Yeah the bus I took from Trabzon in Turkey took me straight to Batumi in Georgia as it waited for 2 of us as we were the only ones going all the way to Georgia! I’ve taken 2 buses in Turkey and so far have gone the entire length where the bus went so just want to get my money’s worth I guess!

My first impression of Georgia was that it’s nice and not much different than Turkey except of course that it isn’t Muslim! But I’ve traveled in Muslim countries for so long that I don’t even think of the religious part of a country as I find all countries interesting regardless of their political or religious ways.

I had no problems with the border of Georgia as I got my passport stamped and didn’t even have to pay for a visa which was a nice thing. One thing I noticed was there were a lot of Georgian people returning home from shopping in Turkey. So the customs agent in Georgia were more interested in these people than a traveler from Canada. I felt welcome in Georgia and except for a few stares they have no trouble accepting Canadians and I’m sure people from other Western countries.

Batumi is a small to medium size city which is a funny mixture. I guess all of Georgia is similar since they became independent from the Soviet domination in the 90’s. They still have a bit of Soviet mentality! They fix their downtown or touristy area to be very modern but the other parts are very old and decrepit! There were so many people selling goods from tables and whatever on the sidewalks of the city. Hell like Africa I couldn’t\ even walk on the sidewalks but on the streets. But except for the main downtown core the streets were a broken up gravel street. I’m not sure but it seems they maybe getting around to repairing the streets as time permits- enshallah!!!

The bus station was a joke as it was hard to figure out what bus was going where. So got off and got some USD exchanged at a money changer which can be found all over. The going rate of exchange seemed to be $1 USD = 1.79 Georgian Liat or GE plus about 2.25 GED for 1 Euro. I knew of a cheap hotel I wanted to stay but didn’t have a map but still decided to walk as thought it was close from a crude map of the city I had. But then I got confused but it was hard getting directions or figure out where I was in the city but as usual I found my way to the Iloce Hotel. This hotel was small and in a courtyard and the house number of the hotel wasn’t displayed on the outside which made it hard to find. I got a room for about 25 GED or $12 as accommodations aren’t cheap in Georgia and Armenia.

I had met this Turkish guy in Trabzon who gave me his number as he worked on the ships that worked the Black Sea so he was stationed in Batumi. But I’m kind of telephone challenged so have trouble figuring out and using phones so don’t use phones much in foreign countries and back home. So I paid the guy in the hotel to phone this guy for me. So this Turkish guy (think his name is Gilray or something but never figured it out) came to meet me and brought 2 friends who worked with him. So they took me around to show me the downtown area. It was a complete contradiction from the rest of the city (which I found later is common in Georgia and Armenia). Heck we had to walk over broken sidewalks, grave, dirt or around street vendors on the sidewalk and the streets were a combination of dirt, water puddles and pot holes. But as soon as we got downtown the area became nice streets, sidewalks and tree lined. They had nice parks with momuments and new buildings. My take on all this is it’s a mentality that is a leftover from the Soviet days. Give visitors an impression that the city and country is beautiful and modern. But having walked the streets I knew that this wasn’t completely true.

The 3 Turkish guys took me thru this beautiful park to this gigantic ferris wheel. Now I’m not into ridding ferris wheels and roller coasters, etc cus I get motion sick from them. But this ferris wheel was for the visitors to see the city so it went so slow that it was hard to tell it was operating. But we got a beautiful view of the city and Black Sea. Then we checked out a man made lake in the city but passed on the small aquariam and zoo as it knew it was only for Show!!! But we did visit this old Orthodox Church one of probably hundreds that visitors to these Caucasan countries (refers to the Causcasn mtn countries) are famous for! Then the guys treated me to a nice meal at a Turkish restaurant! Then they told me they had 3 days off and were going to Tbilisi the capital of Georgia. I was going to the same place so they invited me to join them. Now I wasn’t keen to go with them cus we could hardly speak as I like to free lance but didn’t want to say no.

I arranged with the hotel to leave my backpack at the hotel for 2 weeks as I would come back to pick it up but only take a cheap day pack I bought in Turkey. So the next morning they were to come and meet me at 7 30am but I waited till 8:30 but they didn’t show or call. So I called them and a guy answered and said only the ship crew could go and they had already left. I wasn’t really upset except ti would have been nice if they would have at least called to tell me. But figured that maybe they were kind of embarrassed to tell me. So I went down to the crazy bus station and got a mini bus (marshrutka in Georgia & marshrutny in Armenian). It only cost me 20 GED or $12 for a 6 hour ride covering about 385 km. The bus was fairly full but managed to get a seat behind 2 other travelers. They were interesting to talk to as Andre (German and French guy) and Yaris a Greek guy. Andre was very knowledgeable with info as he had been to these countries a few times as he did some of his internship in Armenia and been there before.

Boy the driver of our marshrutka must have thought he was in a F1 driver cus he must have been going 110 kph over some bumpy hwys with a good share of curves! I was starting to feel a bit of motion sickness after a while but luckily we had a break to eat or I should say so the driver could eat. The place we stopped had a few marshrutkas and buses pull in to have a break! I wanted to get a bottle of water but they were hard to find but beers, vodka and other drinks were readily available. The food they were selling was probably OK but full meals so just grabbed a homemade bread or pita which is probably Georgian junk food!

Tbilisi the capital is a nice beautiful city with nice old bldls mostly in great condition,with a good share of churches, etc. Also like Batumi it was a good contradiction of a beautiful show of modernization in the downtown area and old broken down sidewalks and streets in the outlying area. There is a 2 line Metro underground from the marshrutka station (next to the train station) so we hopped on that to get to a budget hotel I saw in the guide book.

The Metro / underground trains in Tbilisi (and Yerevan the capital of Armenia) is a leftover from the Soviet construction. You have to take a long escalator down far to the subway. Then none of the signs are written in the English alphabets but Georgian characters (in Yerevan the capital of Armenia it is in Latin characters which makes it easier to read but there is only one line so no big deal ) so it was hard to figure out which direction to go, which of 2 lines to take and which station to get off. But hey with a bit of luck we managed to get to the stop to these budget hotels we wanted to go to Dodo's Homsestay. Dodo was a sweet woman who could speak English and tried so hard to help us out! The downside was it cost 30 GED which was a little more than this other homestay place. Unfortunately there was no one home at the other cheaper place and I was only staying 1 night so it didn't matter. So Andre (the German) and I stayed in this homestay. Yaris the Greek guy I think didn't care for cheaper accommodations so he checked into a 40 Euro hotel in the old city plus he was only travelling for 3 weeks so price didn't seem to be as much of an issue with him.

So the 3 of us went out to see Tbilsi and were quite impressed with how nice it was at least downtown (typical of these countries that the downtown looks great while the rest of the city is a Work in Progress!). There were a lot of nice old buildings in the Old City as the other 2 liked old old blgs while I didn't mind seeing them too but old bldgs to me are like 50 yrs old not like 300 years!! Tbilisi is really nice down by the river with a lot of tree lined streets and coffee shops and bars to have a drink! There were also a lot of nice statues and remants of the Soviet occupation of Georgia. We must have spent about 4 hrs looking and taking pics so think I've got a good idea of the city. We then stopped for a bite to eat and a beer outside until about midnight!

I thought since it was Fri and the Azerbiajan embassy would be closed I decided to go to Armenia first and come back the next week to get my visa for Azerbiajan. So the next day Andre and I took a marshrutka to Yerevan the capital of Armenia a 6 hrs trip by mini bus for about 30 GED. It was good to go with Andre as he had been to Armenia 4 times and took his internship there so he knew a hell of a lot about the country so he was a good guide for the trip!

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