The Caucasus trip for 2015 has concluded and votes are in…

Best cuisine

3 – Georgia, 2 – Armenia, 1 – Azerbaijan

With the widest variety and highest quality of dishes, Georgia is awarded 3 votes.  The barbequed meat was fresh and juicy, khachapuris never failed to impress and the homemade khinkalis were a good vegetarian option – and of course the Georgian wine was a welcome addition to (almost) every meal. Armenia, in particular Yerevan comes in second position, with some nice homemade dolmades, the restaurants in Yerevan and apple vodka (60%).  Finally, Azerbaijan, who did themselves proud with their sweets, is awarded one vote.

Khachapuri (Tibilisi, Georgia)
Khachapuri (Tibilisi, Georgia)

An honourable mention to Schuchmann Winery in Telavi, Georgia, who presented me with the below chocolate cake and ice cream and a dishonourable mention to Azerbaijan, for their dish Piti, essentially a mug of lamb fat and chick peas mashed together.

Chocolate cake (Telavi, Georgia)
Chocolate cake (Telavi, Georgia)

Best city

3 – Yerevan, Armenia, 2 – Baku, Azerbaijan, 1 – Tbilisi, Georgia

Yerevan takes the 3 votes, partly because of the amount of time spent there, but also the commemorations of the 1915 genocide and associated festivities, including the System of a Down concert, which was the catalyst for the entire trip, as well as excellent museums, decent weather and the magnificent Republic Square. Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku is an extremely impressive city, with amazing modern infrastructure and our Ukrainian couchsurfing hosts showed us a great time. Tbilisi receives one vote, mainly because of the brief amount of time spent there.  We were able to fit in all the major sights within 24 hours and moved on to other parts of Georgia, still a wonderful city though.

Republic Square (Yerevan, Armenia)
Republic Square (Yerevan, Armenia)

Most dangerous driving

3 – Baku, Azerbaijan, 2 – Georgian Military Highway, Georgia, 1 – Alaverdi, Armenia

Anytime you enter a car, anywhere in the Caucasus, it’s a gamble.  While the driving in Alaverdi was, for the most part, respectful of the terrain, the acuteness of the sheer drops on the Debed Canyon roads was enough to make walking seem a good idea, one vote.

Two votes are awarded to the journey from Tbilisi to Kazbegi up the Georgian Military Highway.  A road closure at Gudauri lasted three hours while the snow was plougher from the road.  When it reopened, our driver, who had been keeping himself warm with shots of homemade vodka, was keen to make up for lost time.  The combination of his old van, dislike for wheel chains, icy roads, cliff edges, impatience and level of intoxication ensured a nervous journey.

On the Georgian Military Highway (Georgia)
On the Georgian Military Highway (Georgia)

However, the 3 votes are awarded unanimously to our driver in Baku, who reached speeds of 170km/h when returning from Qobustan, luckily, he was driving a BMW and not a Lada.

Best view

3 – Kazbegi, Georgia, 2 – Davit Gareja, Georgia, 1 – Alaverdi, Armenia

An honourable mention to Baku at night, although even with flame towers it’s hard to beat nature.

Three votes are awarded to Kazbegi, for the below spectacular view, two for Davit Gareja (on the border with Azerbaijan) and one vote for the Haghpat monastery views in Alaverdi, Armenia.

Kazbegi, Georgia
Kazbegi, Georgia

 

Davit Gareja, Georgia
Davit Gareja, Georgia
Haghpat Monastery (Alaverdi, Armenia)
Haghpat Monastery (Alaverdi, Armenia)

Most interesting disruption to a night’s sleep

3 – Baku, Azerbaijan, 2 – Telavi, Georgia, 1 – Yerevan, Armenia

Starting with the one vote – our first night in Yerevan and we returned to the ‘backpacker scene’ after staying in guesthouses and home stays.  At Envoy Hostel, in our dormitory room, a symphony of zips, plastic bags, whispering, mobile phones, both ringing and on vibrate, blocked nostrils, drunks rolling in at 3am, opening and closing of doors and the occasional fart made the previous two nights at Alaverdi seem a distant memory.  Two votes are awarded to Telavi, Georgia, where homeless dogs barked at screeching cars that honked at each other throughout the night.

The 3 votes, another unanimous decision, are awarded to Baku, Azerbaijan – our only night on the trip couchsurfing.  Our couch was a fold out, in the lounge room / bedroom of a three room apartment.  In the middle of the night we awoke to a slapping sound coming from the kitchen.  The slapping was soon followed by loud moaning and then screaming.  Our host’s girlfriend was visiting for the night and spending some quality time in a very small and uncomfortable kitchen.

Best & worst ‘free breakfasts’

Best – Baku, Azerbaijan

A spread including yoghurt, hard boiled eggs, fruit, homemade jams, various deli meats, cream cheese and fresh bread with either coffee or tea at the Altstadt Hotel in Baku was an impressive start to the trip.

Worst – Telavi, Georgia & Yerevan, Armenia

Tying for the worst ‘free breakfast,’ Telavi’s Tushishvili Guesthouse offered day old bread, an overly tomato omelette (which on one day was cold) and homemade yoghurt / mayonnaise with a funky skin on top.  The Envoy Hostel in Yerevan served tea & coffee (which was free anyway) and a Soviet inspired rationed breakfast of 4 cuts of bread, 2 slices of cream cheese, a small dish of jam and a funny little pastry thing.  There is a fruit shop across the road.

Most attractive women (and men, as voted by Laura)

3 – Armenia, to quote George Costanza, ‘She’s got a little Marissa Tomei thing going on,’

2 – Azerbaijan, Laura is still glowing after being given the phone number of the passport control officer, if she ever returns you will know why…

1 – Georgia, the only country where it was still snowing, perhaps all the good looking people were hibernating…

World’s worst…

Cable car – Alaverdi, Armenia

Cable car in Alaverdi, Armenia
Cable car in Alaverdi, Armenia

Pier – Lake Sevan, Armenia

Lake Sevan, Armenia
Lake Sevan, Armenia

Children’s playground – Quba, Azerbaijan

Quba, Azerbaijan
Quba, Azerbaijan

…And to finish on a high, some of the best bits

Azerbaijan – Mud volcanoes & Flame Towers

Mud volcanoes (Qobustan, Azerbaijan)
Mud volcanoes (Qobustan, Azerbaijan)
Flame Towers (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Flame Towers (Baku, Azerbaijan)

Georgia – Kazbegi Mountains

Kazbegi, Georgia
Kazbegi, Georgia

Armenia – SOAD concert

System of a Down @ Republic Square (Yerevan, Armenia)
System of a Down @ Republic Square (Yerevan, Armenia)

 

 

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