Part 6 (6 May - 25 June) Georgia and Armenia




We had little idea what to expect from Georgia. We had heard it was a pretty laid-back place with friendly people and excellent food and of course the insane driving style already described in our Turkey blog. Imagine only 8% of the Georgian population has car insurance. Consequence is that 1/3 of all Georgian cars lack a front or rear bumper and almost all of the cars have some sort of damage. As Georgian drivers take no official rules into consideration, ‘might has right’ is what counts. Luckily for us we have a huge car J. 

Georgia was one of the republics of the Soviet Union, has had some recent issues with Russia over their break-away province South-Ossetia and their previous prime-minister Saakashvili is married to a Dutch lady. So much for the trivia, let`s see how it really is!

Border formalities were again without any hassle, mainly because of our strategy; Nicolette sits behind the wheel smiling at the border officials and Jeroen does an enthusiastic show-and-tell of the car in case of any questions about our cargo. We managed to enter Georgia in a record-breaking 15 minutes.






When we drove to our first stop in Georgia, the coastal resort of Batumi, it became clear we had entered the former Soviet union. Remnants of border fortifications were visible in the landscape and ugly gray Soviet-style flats appeared in view when we approached the city outskirts. 


We reached the lovely guesthouse ‘Old Boulevard’ in the city center run by a young lady, who was captivated by our car and our travels. After being offered a room with the size of Jeroens house in Haarlem at a bargain price, we were pointed to a great restaurant where we ordered the national dumpling-dish ‘Kinkhali’ for the first time. 



A brief explanation from the waitress: you eat a little (of the outside) than you drink [the juices inside], then you eat (inside+outside), but don`t eat the top, which is just for holding it! It was so good it immediately became Jeroens new favorite food. 



Batumi is a very nice city, with beaches, restaurants and weird architecture (for example a Vegas-like hotel with a ferris-wheel slapped on the side at 100m height! 


In the summer Batumi turns into the Georgian equivalent of Ibiza and is flooded with rich Georgians and Russians coming here to party all night long.


As we took a stroll along the coast we came across a little harbor where we were offered, in Russian, to take a boat ride along the coast. We thought it would just be fun to see the city from the Black Sea so after haggling down the price we got on board. Well, apparently we got on board of a dolphin-watching expedition and pretty soon after we left the harbor the first dolphins were starting to appear (all the while the English version of ‘Suzanne’ from Dutch band ‘VOF de Kunst’ blaring out of the on-board speaker system). Check out our dashcam video of Georgia which includes some dolphin action.



Since we didn`t really prepare for Georgia we just thought we`d head for the capital Tbilisi with 1 stopover in Kutaisi, a small city that doesn`t get many tourists. Here we found the new meaning of hospitality, for which Georgia is so famous. While sitting in the living room of our guesthouse after dinner, a good friend of the owner came in, actor, poet and all-round nice guy Giorgi Zanguri, with 2 Russian friends, Andrei and Theodore. After chatting with us for 10 minutes, Giorgi invited us to join in on a Georgian Supra (a feast in which drinks and food are shared among new and old friends), expressing his wish to share food, drinks, stories and love with us (yes these were his exact words).

The Supra went on until 4am with loads of good food and even better home-made wine, and with many stories told. Supras are especially famous for their endless toasts made by the host also called “the toast master” and this is what happened, Giorgi made around 20 toasts over the duration of the evening with beautiful words we as down-to-earth Dutchies would only say to our friends when we are drunk or somewhat emotionally unstable.  Never have we made friends as fast as this before, we exchanged contact details, took group photos and made plans to see each other again in Tbilisi. So far, we love Georgia! But wait, there is more! J

Walking through the streets of Kutaisi we saw a beautiful opera building which we wanted to see from the inside. We noticed a banner of a band playing at that very moment, so we decided to try to get in. We knocked on the closed door, it opened but these people only spoke Georgian and Russian.

So we explained in our best sign-language that we would love to see the concert. They invited us in and without having to pay for anything we were pointed to true opera house seats and were able to see the entire concert for free. It was pretty good Georgian pop music with some covers of western music (including: “Alice” of Peter Koelewijn translated into a mix of English and Georgian). Since the hall was half-empty and there was no entrance-fee, we figured it was a try-out band playing for friends and family. After asking our host at the guest house it turned out to be the 20 year anniversary of a famous Georgian pop band. Boy, were we wrong J

Churchill (GB), Roosevelt (USA), Stalin (USSR)
Churchill (GB), Roosevelt (USA), Stalin (USSR)



En route to Tbilisi we wanted to visit the city of Gori, where Joseph Vissarionovich Jughashvili was born and raised. You may know him as Josef Stalin. He was the leader of the Soviet Union responsible for defeating the Nazi`s and the rise of the Soviet Union as a superpower. He was also a paranoid madman and killed about 20 million of his own people in Siberian gulags (labour camps). Gori is quite proud of the man and has a Stalin museum which we decided to visit. Unfortunately most of the texts in the museum are in Georgian and Russian and have not yet been translated into English, so we couldn’t get the full experience, but it did give us a good impression of his rise to power. As Churchill put it; he took the Soviet Union with the plow and left it with nuclear weapons…



Next up is Georgia`s wonderful capital, Tbilisi! This city is a must see for everyone visiting Georgia. It is busy, but there are many quiet areas to relax, sightsee and enjoy great Georgian food. Highlight of our Tbilisi visit was having dinner with our Russian friends we met in Kutaisi. We started with just the 4 of us and ended up with a group of 15 people of 7 different countries, including 2 Dutch guys on an internship at the Dutch embassy.


The next day visited the Tbilisi market and took an hour to relax in one of the natural sulfurous hot springs, just as travelers into the east have been doing for 500 years. Very nice and very hot! After all the driving we did over the last few weeks our bodies really appreciated this.



Time to leave the car behind for a couple of days and head into the mountains on a horse riding trip. We booked a 3 day tour with an English speaking guide named Vazha and two horses called Johny and Argento. Vazha trained these horses to respond to voice commands ‘Hatsjoe’ for forward and ‘Drrrrrrr’ for stopping, a reverse was not implemented. So you can imagine Jeroen and Nicolette on horses, constantly yelling ‘Hatsjoe’ to get them going. Eventually we got the hang of it and were able to make an amazing trip through the wild Lower Caucasus mountain range, along steep muddy tracks where the horses kept slipping and sliding. Since this was the 4th time Jeroen was on a horse he had some hair raising moments (is this possible for him?) as his horse loved to walk right at the edges of steep cliffs.

Our guide was a camp fire expert and made a nice fire every day so we could cook great meals and drink tea made from local herbs. We slept on wooden bunk beds in mountain cabins which are open to everyone and the first night we met a nice group of people. Jeroen took out the whisky, Vazha his own home made Georgian wine, and a Russian couple brought cognac. Very helpful when spending the night at 1500 meters altitude J




Vazha was a great guide to us and he always kept us safe. He`s also pretty traditional which means women are considered ‘flowers’ and under no circumstances should they be burdened with hard labor such as collecting firewood or carrying their own backpack. Nicolette wouldn`t have any of this so after a hard fight she was allowed to carry firewood (but only very small pieces), see the picture to the left. After that story Jeroen nicknamed Nicolette ‘Delicate flower ’ at every possible opportunity J  




This is what happened with the horses after 2 hard days of riding.


No they didn`t die, they just wanted to scratch their backs on the grass :)



Before leaving Georgia we wanted to visit two more sites we had seen in the guide books. They were both in the South of Georgia, near the Armenian border around the city of Akhaltsikhe. At the guesthouse we were surprised by a Chinese girl, whom we met the days before at the mountain cabin, she coincidentally booked a room in the same guesthouse. Fang (her name) was travelling solo through Central Asia for 3 months, very brave! We invited her to come along sightseeing with us, which was a great opportunity for us to test out the jump seat intended for our future Chinese guide.  Conclusion; if the guide is the same petite size as Fang, he/she will probably survive 20 days through China`s bumpy roads, but he won`t be very happy J


On the way to cave city of Vardzia we visited a monastery build in an impossible location with an access road so insanely steep our car stalled. Ok this will get a bit technical; if somebody knows if you can safely put a HZJ75 in low gear (4L) without engaging the free-wheeling hubs when driving on tarmac, please let us know! So safe to say we failed miserably to go up by car (we forgot our dashcam chip that day, so no blooper footage available, lucky us ;-) ). As punishment we had to walk up, but we could definitely use the exercise and we were rewarded with some spectacular views.  Our destination Vardzia was a huge cave city build in the mountains that once housed 2000 people. Nowadays there are still monks living there, but the empty houses are opened to tourists. Check out the photos of Vardzia.





The border of Armenia was like a scene out of a Charley Chaplin movie. The road to the entrance of the border was full of deep potholes; we needed our 4WD to get through. First the Georgian exit border: some standard questions, paper work and car checks and a very friendly ‘have a good journey’ to send us on our way. Very easy. To get to the Armenian border we had to drive through a construction site with no signs (or clue) on where to go. After a couple of tries driving around in ‘no man’s land’ between Georgia and Armenia we found the road to the Armenian border. 

This was obviously not a border used by many tourists. After the regular passport and car check, we had to get out of the car and were pointed towards the first desk called “customs”. There the hassle began. They didn’t speak English and tried to explain what we needed to do. Although all the desks were within 20 meters of each other and we were the only customers, they didn`t feel like pointing out the right desk. Instead they kept repeating the command ‘Go to the next desk’ for about 10 times with increasingly raised voices switching between Armenian, Georgian and Russian (we think). ‘Next desk’ was the Customs Broker who handles the import of the car. To pay him we needed Armenian DRAM`s (the money, not the computer memory) which we could get at the bank located at the ‘next desk’. So in the confusion we ended up changing dollars at the ‘office’ were you can buy a SIM card making the SIM card salesman very happy. Last thing to do was to buy car insurance from a guy who set up shop in a very simple looking shed of 6m2 which included a desk and his bed, check out the picture on the left!

This border took us 2,5 hours, 110 dollars for customs, car insurance and probably some other things we couldn’t figure out, and many forms with stamps of different officials from 5 different desks. 

We were happy to finally enter Armenia, but the difference between the easy borders of Georgia and the difficult Armenian border already made us appreciate Georgia more. After our border-adventures we tried to find a wild camp spot in a nature reserve close to the border. We found one, but apparently the spot we found had some kind of military importance. Oblivious to this we were busy cooking dinner when out of nowhere 2 seriously looking guys in uniform approached us and started asking us all kinds of questions. 


After a photo-shoot of us with our passports and calling their superior asking what to do with us, they left with a friendly smile and a thank you in Russian. We continued with preparing dinner when they came back for a second visit, including a third guy without uniform. Some more questions and photos of our passports and of us followed, maybe we didn`t smile enough during the first session J. Then in their best English told us not to take any photos of the artificial dam behind us. Well, that explains why they came to see us! 

The next day we left for Yerevan, the capital of Armenia to make our visa arrangements for Iran. Driving to Yerevan we took the motor highway M1, expecting to do 80 to 100kph on asphalted roads. Wrong! The beginning of the M1 was a dirt road so full of potholes that dodging them became like a video game. The second part was asphalt with even deeper and more worrying very sharp-edged potholes. 

After some intense focusing not to destroy the car in a pothole we finally reached normal roads where we managed to drive 60-something kph, not noticing the signs telling you the limit was only 50. That`s when we got pulled over by the police who proceeded with telling us we drove 72kph. The fine would be 33.000 DRAM, about 63 euro. So Nicolette put on her innocent girly face and tried to smile her way out of the fine.

Then to our surprise the police officer asked: ‘How much would you like to pay?’ and handed Nicolette a pen and some paper. WTF? Nicolette wrote ‘0 DRAM’ which was a bit too low for the cop, so after some haggling we settled at 10.000 DRAM, or 19 euro. We had to pay cash and put the money between the papers he was holding and drove off. After re-thinking what had just happened, we came to the conclusion we had just lost out corruption-virginity J

Let`s say so far Armenia doesn`t agree with us. Continuing our trip towards Yerevan a thunderstorm started and the heavens literally opened up, throwing such severe hail and rain showers at us that our car snorkel saw its first action! Check out the dashcam video of Armenia.

On Thursday morning in Yerevan we went to the Iranian consulate for our visa, but it turned out that the needed information for our visa request did not yet arrive at the consulate. Bad timing, because Iran has its weekend on Thursday and Friday and Armenia on Saturday and Sunday, so we were stuck in Yerevan for at least 5 days. We didn’t really mind as we had a nice guest house and this gave us a very necessary break from the continuous travelling we had done so far. Yerevan as a city was nice but not particularly interesting like Tbilisi or Istanbul. We did manage to find an English spoken movie at a nice Cinema and we had our leaky air conditioning system fixed by a very helpful mechanic.  

Luckily the documentation for our visa arrived on Monday so we could pick up our visa the next day. To escape the city we headed for a night of bush camping at lake Sevan at 2000 meters altitude. The lake had a lot of exotic birds for Jeroen to photograph and we even had a pretty good internet connection to call friends and hear what we have been missing back home. 

The next day with our Iranian visa finally in our possession we left Armenia and headed for Iran. 


Because we didn`t want to cross the semi-warzone of Nagorno Kharabakh we took the secondary road to the border, which was a very scenic mountain dirt road, again full of potholes, which took us 2 hours to cover 30 km. Check out the dashcam video for footage of this challenging but also beautiful last leg of our journey through Armenia! 

Although at times very relaxing and beautiful, Armenia has not quite been the experience we were hoping for and we figure we should have consulted an Armenian friend of ours for some advice on where to go and how to deal with the officials here.  

We are looking forward to Iran now! 

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Commentaren: 1
  • #1

    Erik (woensdag, 20 juli 2016 12:46)

    Not always a comment, but read every blog and watched every cam compilation. Really great and another perspective from Iran.. Scarlett recommended me to watch 'Reizen met Weas'. The episode of Iran was great too.. nice to watch for you guys too..
    Looking forward to the next episode of your amazing trip! Time went fast.. the results are very big with such a lot of km's..

    See ya! Erik



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