Armenia has some proper history and it’s a shame we can’t see it. It’s one of the oldest countries on the planet. I’ll come back here again, I’ll leave it for next time. The country runs away to the south but we want to exit to the north tomorrow so we ask our host for some recommendations and head south to Khor Virap monastery overlooking Mt Ararat where Noah supposedly disembarked.
Getting out of Yerevan we go to get fuel. Little place by the side of a main road. More like a kiosk than a petrol station. This bloke put the hose in the bike, pulled the handle, lit a fag. Amazing..
Out at Khor Virap its a beautiful place but a bitch of a climb up in leathers and 40 odd degrees. By the time I get to the top I can just about see a blurry Ararat through my sweaty eyeballs. Can’t see any lamas though.. or hippos.. or push-me-pull-yous. Its a bloody long walk to Africa from here.. especially with those little hippo legs …
Nothing gets wasted out here. If horses could be powered by natural gas they would go round with LPG canisters strapped to their backs too.
From Khor Virap we ride round to Noravank. Another monastery hidden in the mountains. The roads are surprisingly good and pretty empty too. Loads of trucks pushing out smoke like they’re vaping with liquorice. Greta Thunberg would have a shit fit out here ..
Tonight’s bed is at a ‘resort’ on the lake at Sevan. We find the place and ride along the beach. I think it’s a weight watchers retreat .. no food and a fucking long walk to anywhere .. we eventually track down a cafe with a very short menu .. bread … cheese ..
We’re heading north and out towards Tbilisi, passing through little towns. Taking it really slowly to avoid being pulled. If you stop for a few minutes you’ll see the same policeman go up… down.. up… down
I spot an open door out the corner of my eye so I turn around… see the same policeman ..again.. and see an old bloke sitting in a chair in a small room, just looking out watching the world go by. I go up and ask if I can take his picture.. he doesn’t move .. I think he’s dead ..a display model .. but he slowly raises his hand in assent and I take a few pics. Go to shake his hand.. very carefully. It’s like holding a piece of balsa wood, it’s almost weightless. I think somebody just opens his door in the morning and he sits there all day.. he’s probably still there. I hope so anyway.
We have 2 borders to choose from, so we choose the one with the wiggly line. Get to the border and we’re the only ones here again, what are the odds? Get through the border and we see why we’re the only ones there. The road is an award winning shitter of a road, all under dark trees, big deep muddy puddles, rocks and holes, sand and gravel.. all good practice.
Get to Tblisi in good time and go for a wander. Nice place. Stupid hot though and I have to rest the Bitch for a while before launching an assault up the hills to the hotel.
Our hotel is in the old town. All stupid narrow and stupid steep streets. Even with the lungs of the Bitch she can’t do a hill start here, the road is too steep and too slippery. I’m following a Grade A twat up the hill and he’s doing 1mph. I’m shouting and screaming expletives and blowing my horn but he’s oblivious, unlike the surrounding people who are listening to my swearathon in stunned silence – a couple of them hold up 10s… Scooter riders have to get off half way up this hill and push it’s that steep. There are as many cars going backwards as forwards, lining up for another go.
I go for a walk round the slightly less steep streets, I’m looking about at the buildings .. WTF? All the buildings are slowly loosing a fight against gravity and falling down the hill towards the river. The windows and doors are all to cock and have they have huge cracks running all through them. They look close to collapse to me and I’m fucked if I’d go inside one.
So.. I go inside one for a massage… go into a cubicle and walk in to get undressed and nearly fall down a fucking great hole in the floor where something has just given way. And I mean a FUCKING great hole .. The masseuse comes in and starts .. and cannot do my left leg .. because they can’t stand on the floor by my left leg.. because there is a FUCKING great hole in the floor .. then I smack my head on the way out because the door frame is all to cock ..
So I go looking for a shave. I’ve walked for miles and can’t find anywhere then I see a little hole in the wall, see mirrors, walk in. There is a large Nigerian lady inside and a little boy playing on the floor. I ask if they do shaves and she points to the chair. So far so good…
She calls her husband in. He goes to the drawer and gets out a safety razor. ‘Nope – I want a cut throat razor please’.. they both look at each other.. “a cut throat” ..”you’ve only ever done one of those before..and that didn’t go well…what was it .. 60 stitches?” .. “but we need the money” .. “well, he looks like he has a tough neck .. give it a go.. you’re a fast runner” .. “Ohhh K’ then”…
He dabs some foam on and starts picking away at my face.. I can smell piss .. it might be me .. at my age weeing isn’t always voluntary.. but I think it’s him.. I think he’s scared he’s going to kill me .. and I agree. He’s just taking small dabs at me from a distance .. like someone petting a dangerous dog .. By the time he’s ‘finished’it looks like I’ve just had a bag of rats put over my head and they’ve had a feeding frenzy. I don’t care.. I’m just happy to get out of there with only 40 stitches ..
North, up through the gorgeous Georgian mountains. People had told me Georgia was a beautiful place, and here it is. Beauty by the bucket load.. big buckets too ..
Get to the Russian border in the mountains. Get to the guard, takes our passports .. and doesn’t give them back.. “wait over there”.. 2 hours later and he comes back to us .. “interview.. come this way”.. we’re taken to a little room along with a couple of small Thai girls.. hello .. what’s going on .. is this some sort of “welcome to Russia” gift? No, of course it isn’t. We are all being interviewed separately to state our intentions in Russia.. and have our phone IDs recorded.. This is a sensitive area and we were warned when we were getting our visas. Following directly east to west we would go through Chechnya but we’ve decided to loop over to the north instead to spend a few more days here. Interviews over we’re sent outside to wait..again.. 4 hours after arriving we’re through, insured, and on our way in to Vladikavkaz.
Vladikavkaz is like stepping back in time, and it’s all the better for it. Ride down a few miles of dual carriageway on the way in and there are big statues every 100m.. no traffic at all .. the only things I overtake are a herd of cows. It sees to be a really sleepy little town. Get to the Hotel Vladikavkaz – any hotel in Russia that is named after the place it’s in is always in the very centre – a fact to amaze your friends with – and this is right on the river.
Did I say sleepy .. well they apparently don’t sleep in Vladikavkaz… or they sleep in the day. The road outside the hotel doubles as a drag strip by night and all the local spend until 3am ragging the tits of their metal steeds. They’ve got to get their kicks somehow I guess.
From Vladikavkaz we trek up to Rostov-On-Don. Why Rostov? I’m beginning to wonder after the 5th hour of blank flat land roads, heat and wind. Perhaps the local famouses thought the same thing. Read any Chekov, Pushkin or Tolstoy and your laughing muscles are unlikely to get any exercise .. Russia is the same all over .. nothing.. nothing .. fuck all .. wilderness .. FUCKING GREAT CITY … repeat until border ..
Rostov to Volgograd .. see above .. but Volgograd is a lot lot nicer.
Take a wander down to the river in the sunshine among the beautiful people.
Next morning we’re on our way out of town to visit Mother Russia. When in Rome and all that . We’re riding out of town in the morning rush, dodging and weaving through the traffic on the dual carriageway. My travel buddy is riding behind a old twin axle transit van.. looking to skip through. Suddenly there is bang and the left rear axle just collapses. The outside wheel comes off and starts racing through the traffic alone, the inside wheel jams in the wheel arch and sends the van slewing over the road until it hits the central reservation. Russians are used to this and they just skip round it without looking. We ride skip through and ride alongside the speeding wheel until it bounces onto the pavement looking for someone to kill..
You can see statue from a distance but you can’t really get an idea of scale. Drive up, park, walk.. and … fuck .. just FUCK.. That status absolutely fecking massive. It’s covered in scaffold and the air is thick with the sounds of workmen tending to her gently…with hammers. I bought the drone up, I want to give it a fly but I’m concerned I’m going to be arrested. Truth is .. nobody cares .. excellent..
Go in and see the eternal flame and the list of the fallen.. its a long list .. its a very very very long list.
Out of Volgograd and its bleak and cold and raining and I’m happy just to let my pores close for a while and give my sweat glands a break.
The relief is short lived though and the heat returns with a vengeance as we get closer to Astrakhan. It’s secret location of a huge Russian tottie factory. I think the bordwalk in front our hotel is at the end of the protection line…. amazing ..
Nice city too. Big Kremlin .. big square .. girls on horseback .. I’m thinking of staying.. We go for dinner at a place by the square, there is a woman there with her husband and a couple of small kids. I’m guessing by the she way she slowly and gracefully stretches her long leg out and points at the menu with the tip of her outstretched toe that she is a ballet dancer… not that I’m studying her you understand. Her husband looks like he punches through walls and makes sandwiches with the bricks…
Its a shame we’re leaving Russia, but where we’re going is Russia by proxy anyway. We ride out towards the border, towards a door, a door I’ve not been through before. I know it’s shit on the other side.. but I’m going to open it anyway ..