Caucasus trip 2019, part 1

Dad (Jon) and I are roughly three weeks into a month-long trip around Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. We started in Armenia, made our way through Georgia, across the Black Sea to Ukraine, through Moldova and now to Kyiv, Ukraine. We have one more stop, Lviv, and then it’s back home to Idaho. I’ll cover our first two weeks(ish) in this post, from the start to the Black Sea ferry.

This trip may sound familiar, as many of our destinations match up with a trip Dad and Phin took in August 2013. They wrote about their trip in several posts:
Dad and I have been interested in Eastern Europe for a long time, so this trip has been a great opportunity to see a lot of new places in the east. A lot of places here are lesser-known to tourists, so they tend to be much less crowded than similar places in Western Europe.

Our group picture in Boise:

The first two weeks we were traveling with my uncle Charlie (my Dad’s brother), and his daughter Azure. We had a lot of people thinking Dad and Charlie were twins, which was interesting considering they’re 10 years apart.

Some funkiness in Los Angeles outside LAX:

We flew from LAX to DOH (Doha, Qatar), which we later discovered is currently the 14th longest flight in the world, at 8,306 miles and about 15 hours! From Qatar we just had another 4 hour flight, and we were in Yerevan, Armenia!

Those were all from our first day in Yerevan. We started off with a bang and walked over 18 miles! A couple days later, we went to Garni:

We got to hike past the amazing “Symphony of Stones”, a collection of basalt columns in Garni Gorge.

We pressed on out of the gorge to Havuts Tar, a ruined 11th to 13th century monastery.

A lot of rebuilt churches and ruins use a jumble of whatever stones they can find, including lots of Khachkars, Armenian cross stones:

A groovy Soviet-era “Writers’ resort”, which is still open as a guesthouse!

We’re always glad to see official, name-brand products in our lodging places:

We took a tour called “Enlinking the Caucasus” from Envoy Hostel in Yerevan to the corresponding hostel in Tbilisi. We stopped at a few monasteries and had lunch at a local family’s house. It was a great way to see cool places on the way, and to experience traditional foods cooked by locals.

This was the woman who cooked the meal for us. She cooks it for the hostel twice a week, every time they run the tour.


Davit Gareja monastery, right on the border of Azerbaijan:

From Tbilisi we flew through the local airline Vanilla Sky on a 17-passenger plane to Mestia in the Svaneti region.

We stayed at the guesthouse “Nanila” (folk music) run by the Pilpani family, whom we’d heard of in a National Geographic article. They’re basically celebrities to our family, thanks to that article and some recordings of them by Aaron Huey, the author of said article. They did a short little concert for us, which was amazing. I recorded the whole thing, and you can find Aaron Huey’s and my recordings here.

The food was, of course, wonderful. Like a feast every day, which was great after all the hiking we’d done.

There were a lot of great views of Mount Ushba, a beautiful peak of nearly 15,500 feet towering over the region.

An old kiln or oven. Something you don’t see on every hike in Idaho.

More Ushba, this time from Guli Pass. We hiked quite a bit on the Transcaucasian Trail. It follows a great route, and it has some great sections of trail. Some were pretty questionable/sketchy, but overall really good hiking.

Horses grazing at 8000 feet:

After Svaneti, we took a marshrutka to Batumi, and left from there on the ferry.

We passed by the beautiful coast and cliffs of Crimea:

Being on the ferry with no internet for almost three days was a great experience. It was a refreshing break in the middle of our trip. For a description of the somewhat Soviet-era experience, I recommend this article on The Calvert Journal. We were even on the same boat, the Greifswald.

So far, this trip has been a blast! There’s a ton to see and do here. Part two will come out sometime in the future, chronicling our last two weeks in Ukraine and Moldova, so stay tuned!


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