Once in a lifetime everyone returns to the basics. For
example, by asking oneself how it all began? The Big Bang theory says it all
started from the singularity and in less than a second everything we know today
was created, including such complex organisms as, e.g. the Ministry of Economic
Development and Technology. Some people however doubt about it and, missing
probably the spiritual component of the problem, resort to the age-old
interpretation of the Bible. There the creator fixed everything in six days.
But - surprise, surprise – just a few centuries later, the creator changes his
mind and sends the Flood over his creation. They say that to err is human, but
it is not really fitting for the creator. The thing was ripe for a thorough
investigation, so I went along the path of Noah – to the research path in the
Your lightweight cyclist on a tour again.
Caucasus is an area between the Black and the Caspian
Sea with several countries for which it is unclear whether they belong to
Europe or to Asia. This fundamental question can be partially solved by the
fact that all these countries perform at the Eurovision Song Contest. One of
them even won the contest. It seems, however, that the local people are more
proud of the fact that this area is, from prehistoric times to today, regarded
as "strategically important". I personally think this only brings
problems. After all, each of the countries has a closed border with at least
one neighbor and, as is customary for "strategically important
region", has the history of mutual conflicts and wars, which since
immemorial times draws into the present and promises hot events in the
foreseeable future. So, anthropologically and sociologically extremely interesting
region for a diploma thesis entitled "How we learn from history that we
don't learn anything form history." I mastered this thesis long time ago,
so this time I focused on a leisurely cycling from Erzurum to Yerevan through
Turkey, Georgia and Armenia.
25. June 2016. But all could have ended just at the start, at Ljubljana airport. Indeed, the patronizing stuff at Turkish Airlines reminded me that I was very lucky that they even accepted my luggage – miraculously there was still some room on the plane for my bike, which incidentally weighed only 13.5 kg including the box (and I had an additional charge of 30 euro), whereas the rucksack of the passenger who had checked in before me, showed 19 kg on the scale, and he got away with it. I suspect he carried gold bars. I therefore recommend that airlines begin weighing passengers as well. Not only that it will be financially advantageous for the companies, it would have amazing healing effect on a society as a whole. Passengers will accede to healthy diets, they will feel better, the number of cardiovascular diseases will drop, state health care will save a huge percentage of the gross national income and new jobs for professionals and motivators for dietary movement "you're you when you're hungry" will open.
At the Erzurum airport the bike did not arrive with
other luggage. As an experienced cat I stayed calm: I knew that the loss of
such a large box is not probable. Indeed, it turned out that the bike was
delivered on international rather than domestic terminal. That cost me half an
hour of waiting longer and despite the speedy assembling of the bike I arrived
to Erzurum already in the night.
In the evening I went out to get a taste of the
nightlife. It's quite lively here. There's a big promenade of young men and
women, all of them holding hands. But only if they are of the same sex. It is
more like a pride parade – quite unusual for a Muslim country. The atmosphere
is quite peaceful, although lively. All the youth is in the streets, but there
is no madness, no yelling, perhaps not surprising due to the absence of
alcohol. In the morning the scene is completely different: the city is bleak as
it was contagious, as if Muslims had a hangover in the morning, they did not
appear on the streets before 9:00.
My bike and stuff at the first pass of the journey.
Erzurum is located at an altitude of 2000 m, and in
the next 300 km the road descends to the Black Sea, thus a more leisurely start
could not have been planned. In the morning it was cool but during the day it
became awfully hot, up to 39 degrees. I spent the day partly on land and partly
in the water, using every chance to dip in a stream, river, pond or a lake. I
met a cycling pair from Hungary on their way to India. They were laying in the
shade and despairing over the heat. Except the heat, I had to deal with the
tunnels as well. I counted around 50 of them, about 30 km in total length. They
are quite well lit, but I put on only the rear light, I was too lazy to dig the
front light somewhere deep inside the (otherwise minimalistic) luggage. My
foolishness was not overlooked, though. First I found it strange that in the
middle of the tunnel they turned on ventilation for me, and then they started
to announce something incomprehensible over the speakers. It seemed that they
saw me on cameras and were warning the drivers about the fool who rides through
tunnels without lights.
Road D950 in Turkey.
Artificial lake along D950.
That day I spent less than 1 euro, only for a liter of
Pepsi. I found accommodation between two tunnels, behind the power supply house
and that night I profited from the lack of light pollution, to count the stars.
Such an opportunity is rarely offered to urban man, however I was a bit
disappointed because due to short-sightedness I finished counting at 67. I was
slightly more amazed by my neighbor, a small creature that walked twice past me.
At first I thought it was a scorpion, but after subsequent research, I found
that it was a camel spider, which holds a terrifying legend that it chews its
sleeping victims still alive, after it nubs them with its poison.
One of the many tunnels on D950
In the morning I started before five o'clock. Driving
early in the morning is refreshing, and there's not much traffic in the
tunnels. There were 25 of them today, they lasted until the Georgian border,
but they did not irritate me today because I finally fitted the front light. It
also closed the mouth of the tunnel speakers. Descent to the Black Sea was
short, only about 12 km, and before that another 400 meter climb at the top of
which I was totally soaked with sweat. I swam twice in the sea, once on the
Turkish, and once on the Georgian side. There was not big difference, even on
the Turkish side there were some girls in bikinis. Border crossing could not be
quicker and less problematic, especially if you have a bike everything is
29. June 2016. Driving culture in Georgia is quite different from
Turkey, much more wild, with lot of horn blowing and driving on the opposite
side. Total chaos, there are even cows on the road in the middle of the city.
But it is true that the roads are in a poor state and slalom between the holes
is necessary to master. My cycling buddies from Hungary will probably be
satisfied. Regarding their concerns about Indian visas, the state of the roads
here, the general hygienic appearance and cows on the road, they won't need to
go to India – they have it here in Georgia.
Next morning I said goodbye to the Black Sea and
started a climb towards the Goderdzi pass at 2025 m. About 35 km from the
summit the sky darkens, thunder begins and to my luck just before the rain a
small hotel with a restaurant appears. My lucky star or a rational decision not
to push into the unknown.
Cows on the road in Georgia.
They say that people drive in traffic like they live.
For Georgians I initially thought this was not true: motorists seemed like
savages, but outside cars they were quiet and friendly. Here in the hotel
restaurant however, they started to riot, probably encouraged by a couple of
beers. Luckily, or because of it, the tables are separated by wooden walls. It
seems that the booths have to be devised so that people got a chance to enjoy some
peace in privacy and not to fall in quarrels after a few glasses of beer, while
seated on a common bench. Thus, there is none ofthose common collective festivities so
indicative of the Alpine region. The most laud of all was the bar's housewife.
The torrent of words flew out of her, as if she was possessed by the demon of
the Elm Street. Thankfully, I did not understand anything. If I understood,
what a torture it would have been! That's the charm of travelling, indeed the
greatest charm: understanding nothing is the greatest possible disconnection
from everyday trivialities.
It has to be mercedes.
Otherwise, I have to report an inconvenience. My
lateral ligaments in the knees began to ache. In the first two days, I again
made a beginner's mistake and pushed too hard. Or maybe I'm just too old for
these things. I now have to ride very slowly, to finish in the early afternoon,
then sit down, raise my legs and rest. Well, that is not so uncomfortable.
Asphalt finished already 100 meters behind the hotel
and in the next 30 km to the summit of the pass, I struggled with stones and
mud. Not to mention the 20 km descent which, on such a surface, is more tedious
than the ascent. I have to admit that the road bike is not the best choice for
this situation. But you have to suffer for elegance, my mother already said
that when she had to endure various hairdressing harassments because the
fashion of her time requested it. I came to the town of Akhaltsikhe in the
afternoon, just in time for rest and dinner. I bought bread and mayonnaise at
the market. Some mayonnaise was left in the tube and it showed to be a good
lubricant for my sore back side.
The next day I went to Vardzia. It was a pleasant
ride, slowly up and down on a - curiously enough - very smooth road along the
river Mtkvari. At the halfway to Vardzia I stopped for a breakfast, bread and
tomato salad. What an amazing delicacy it was! I don't envy Georgians the
quality of their roads or the general standard of living, but because of the
delicious salads I will consider again whether I would apply for Georgian
citizenship. I can not remember such a strong flavor of parsley even from the
times of my childhood, let alone of modern times, when we feed from
supermarkets. Even the bread is good and in Georgia it has particularly lovely
form, it looks like a big baguette, run over by a tractor.
Vardzia. Church cut into the stone.
Vardzia is a monastery beehive, hollowed and carved in
the bedrock in which in the 12th century about 500 monks meditated
in their holes. An impressive thing, especially the few 100-meter long tunnel,
which connects several floors in the interior of the mountain and in which you
get the claustrophobic panic. The entire complex is not much different from
modern homes. The logic is the same, today the residential blocks are made on
the basis of a honeycomb, just geometrically simplified. However, even this is
changing, architects look for new aesthetic solutions and in them they
unconsciously return millennia back.
Monk cells in Vardzia.
After seeing the sights I take a long rest. My mood
about this travel is changing from hot to cold and back again. Few days ago I
was moaning about the pain in the legs and cursing bad roads, but currently,
for example, it seems to me that touring around the world in such a leisure
pace would be quite enjoyable. You only don't have to be too upset and not to
fall for unreasonably high goals or performances. You should go around the
world with tolerance of the circumstances and people, grin and bear it, and
with lot of will, which is still to be learned. And in the meantime sing a
In Vardzia I stayed at a hotel, in the dormitory which
I had for myself for 4 Euros. In the morning the housekeeper was sleeping,
having locked the hotel, so I had to discover the hidden side exit and to climb
the locked fence. Due to pain in the knees I cancelled the way to Tbilisi and
took a shortcut to Armenia. Before the border I stopped in Ninotsminda, a
village which undoubtedly holds the world record for the number of pharmacies
per capita and in absolute terms it is also close to the top.
Vardzia. Monastery beehive.
Slalom between potholes has to be mastered in Georgia.
Mostly barren land at around 2000 m altitude in Armenia.
2. July 2016. Border crossing seems to be forgotten by God. On the
Armenian side you must make an effort to find the outpost where they will put
in the passport stamp. Roads in Armenia look slightly better than in Georgia,
at least they are trying to patch the holes. But poverty appears to be somewhat
higher. I move around 2000 m all the time, the landscape is bare and slightly
wavy, passes are long, straight and not too steep, just as descends, in short
quite favorable conditions. At the end of the day, before Vanadzor, I find
refuge in a resort, where I get accommodation in a little house on two floors
and a great dinner with cheese, salad, pork shashlik and spicy sauce. Thank
God, the Armenians just as Georgians appreciate good food. Beside the house
there is a dog on a chain, but he too mostly lies in his cabin and meditates.
When I arrived he barked a bit, but we soon got used to each other. His
situation looks considerably more pitifully than mine, his freedom is limited
to two-meter chain, unlike me, who can move freely. But freedom is mainly in
the head and it looks like the dog has cleared everything in his own long ago.
Seller of cooked corn.
There was not much more to Yerevan. After Gyumri and
Vanadzor there is another pass at 1900 m, then incredibly long descent to
Dilijan, along the river where fumes from the grill fill the air at every 100
m. Armenians are obviously great gourmets and picnics lovers, and today is
Sunday which promises a great party. After Dilijan I again climb over 2100
meters. The rain caught me, I wait out the greatest downpour under the umbrella
of one of the many vendors of cooked corn, which were spread along the ascent,
then I continue on the wet road and in extremely pleasant circumstances I reach
the tunnel at the top. What difference is to easily ride up the hill in the
freshness after the rain or to sweat under the scorching sun! On the other side
of the tunnel it was like I entered into different movie: clear sky, the road
is dry and smooth and leads down to the Sevan Lake. It's a big lake, long about
75 km at an altitude of 1900 m is a true Armenian Riviera, there's as much
people here as on Copacabana, security guards struggle to control the chaos of
vehicles, thick smoke and smells fly from the grills, clarinet, accordion and
tarabuka are playing oriental rhythms, water scooters are chasing on the lake
and above them the screaming gulls. In short, an incredible party.
Lake Sevan has a sea feel.
Sunday lunch at Lake Sevan.
From Sevan to Yerevan it is about 80 km along the main
four-lane highway, so the last day of serious riding passed in the 1000 m drop
to the capital city of Armenia.On the
hilltop before Yerevan the view opens down to the endless city, which initially
seems unmanageable. Through the summer haze you can have a glimpse of the snowy
mass of Ararat (5165 m), where Noah's Ark ran aground and thus launched a new
colonization of the world. I descended into the valley, and there in the
southern suburbs of Erebuni, I found a great hotel, where I base myself for the
next four days. That represents a base for day trips to the city center and a
little further, to some Armenian sights, mostly religious in nature: the
monastery of Khor Virap and Geghard and the ancient Greek temple in Garni.
5. July 2016. Yerevan is quite large and elegant city. Tourists are
skinned in boutique cafés at high prices, they even have mannequins on road
bikes, hipsters on single-speeds and perhaps even on fixies. All this is
sufficient proof that Armenia definitely belongs to Europe. The city is much
the opposite of the Armenian countryside, where everything is rather poor. This
is a common occurrence. The concentration of money and business in a big city
is much higher and this must show somehow. In fact, the city is the state in
the state and probably functions much better then a state infrastructure. Quite
recently I heard someone musing about how cities are more important than states
or empires - those rise and decay, large cities remain eternal.
Yerevan. Lada and melons.
Yerevan is undoubtedly great and eternal city. Proof
of this is clear: already 782 years BC on a hill above today's Erebuni suburb
the town was overlooked by the court of the king Argishti I. Of course, I did
not invent it. The owner of the hotel where I stayed told me all of this. Our
dialogue was otherwise somewhat uneven. My understanding of Russian on a scale
from 1 to 10 is about 0.6, and the ability to speak around 0. Therefore, the
dialogue was more like a dialogue between enthusiastic historian and dedicated
patriot on the one hand, and the mute and partly deaf on the other. They say,
however, that verbal communication accounts for only 10% of the relevant
content. All the rest is a body language. Waving arms and kicking with legs.
Well, after 1,100 kilometers of cycling, I felt more at home in that regard. My
host sensed it and he drove me in his SUV to see the ruins of the 2,800-year-old
kingdom. I'll be perfectly honest: I do not know what impressed me more, the
camera in his car, which showed what was happening behind the car, or the large
cuneiform stone in the middle of the ruins of the ancient city.
At the end of the sightseeing Armen - it was his name
- bought me a ticket for a museum of the ancient kingdom of Erebuni. I was
pleasantly, but in a way also unpleasantly surprised. His hospitality put in
the question my misanthropic view that there is no solution for humanity, in a
personal or interpersonal way. My cynicism was somewhat restored due to the
unfortunate combination of circumstances. The story with the museum ultimately
ended in the style of Radio Yerevan:
Question: Is it true that a Slovenian citizen, I.K.,
moved into a super modern villa, keys of which were handed to him by the
President of the Republic of Armenia personally?
Answer: In principle, this is true. However, those
were not the keys of a super modern villa but a ticket to the museum. Moreover,
the ticket was not handed by a head of the state but by the owner of the hotel
in the suburbs of Yerevan. And finally, Slovenian citizen I.K. did not move
into the villa, but he missed the opening hours of the museum and so he
couldn't use the ticket.
In the end I was left with only one task: to get the
bike back home. I rode to the airport in the afternoon and I had plenty of time
until the flight next morning at five. Event at Ljubljana airport sowed a grain
of worry. What if they refuse to take the bike on the plane? At the airport I
saw a post office. More for fun then seriously I asked whether I could send the
bike by mail. The clerks calculated that it would cost $ 300, although they
admitted that they haven't had such a case yet. Of course, I had a plan B. In
fact, it was the plan A. I brought two rolls of food-wrapping foil, 30 m and 20
m. I intended to wrap the bike with it, which has been my standard job for
years. My 4 mm Allen key broke right at the start, which made it slightly more
difficult to disassemble the bike, but I still managed to create a beautiful
"wrap" which was envied even by the official luggage wrappers at the
airport. The professional product impressed also the staff at check-in. They
didn't have arguments about the packaging, and even the starting fares of 60
Euros was lowered to 35 because I had no other luggage beside the bike. It was
a happy end of a pleasant journey.
Monastery Khor Virap with Ararat (5165 m) in the hazy background.
But my journey also got a more modern note. Now, when
the number of people killed in terrorist attacks is on the news daily (and if
not, the media void is filled with an accident of some bus in Pakistan), I felt
like a fifth horseman of the Apocalypse. In the temporal waves that were left
behind my bike, some strange things occurred. Four days after I landed at Istanbul
airport, there was a terrorist attack. Two weeks later a military coup. A week
after I left Yerevan, mentioned the last time more then 40 years ago in the
Soviet Union because of its famous radio, the city finally underwent the
world's media fame with a report on some hostages in a police station. Journey
therefore gained a broader, metaphysical dimension. I think I know what was the
reason: the metaphysical supernatural forces, for the existence of which I have
now accumulated substantial evidence material, were trying to make up for the
overcast weather that prevented me to make beautiful shots of the Great and
Little Ararat in the background of the Armenian monastery of Khor Virap.