Still bearing the disappointment of turning up to a building site instead of the Titanic Hotel in Vank and then not finding any dodgy old men bars in Stepanakert yesterday, upon going out onto the balcony of our new hotel we were happy to find that the previous night’s heavy fog had lifted and we could enjoy our lovely mountain view in all its full glory. We were actually awake in time for breakfast for once, so had something to eat and slyly made up a packed lunch of cheese sandwiches before Albert appeared in the lobby to collect us. Our first stop of the day was Shushi, an historical walled city not far from Stepanakert that was the scene of one of the most bloody battles during the Karabakh war. We had a wander round there and visited the fortifications and famous Ghazanchetsots Cathedral before starting the long drive back over the mountains. Upon reaching the border we stopped off at the Nagorno-Karabakh entrance monument which is perched on a plateau overlooking the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of the region. Also enjoying the view was a family having a picnic and one of them came over as we were taking photos to give us some of their lunch – how nice? Susan even had to pretend to eat the meat in it as she didn’t want to appear rude by not accepting it.
En route back to Yerevan we had planned a stop off at the village of Halidzor (back in Armenia) to have a ride on the “Wings of Tatev” – the worlds longest (5.7km) non-stop double track cable car which takes you up to the spectacular 9th century Tatev Monastery, that sits high in the mountains, at the edge of a cliff and looks like High Hrothgar (so we hoped we would meet some Greybeards and get to learn some new thumes). Albert dropped us off at the cable car and told us to try and be back by 3pm as he was wanting to get back to Yerevan before it got too late (and we had a suspicion that his car didn’t have any headlights), so off we skipped. The cable car was great fun – it’s quite new so everything is very modern and shiny, and a recording of a very posh BBC World Service RP accented man (“The Monastery of Taaaaaaahtev”) provided us with a commentary on the view as we ascended to some nice classical music.
The monastery was impressive – it was a lovely clear day (indeed we nearly got taken out a few times by the massive chunks of melting snow sliding off the church roof) so the view was spectacular and we got some good photos of us exploring the various buildings and posing pretending to forge weapons for Photoshopping later. And as if by magic they are complete so behold them in all their glory!
We heard the beeping noise that signified the cable car would be going back down soon, so did our best to clamber back up to the platform to catch it, just in time to see it depart without us. The next one wasn’t for another hour, so we were getting a bit stressed that Albert would be a) worried about us b) angry that we weren’t back when we said we would be and c) The Pickwick Papers. Luckily we had Albert’s number written on a post-it from the lady at the Karabakh embassy, so one of the cable car staff (a nice girl who spoke good English) gave him a ring to explain what had happened and came back to tell us “don’t worry – he is not angry!”. So we popped into the little café for a cuppa (no beer unfortunately) and the lovely little old woman tried to feed us cupcakes.
As we were waiting for the next cable car, a mass of threatening clouds had gathered above and by the time we got into the car it had started to snow. The cable car took ages to depart as they were waiting for some missing people from one of the tour groups (cheers like! You didn’t wait for us the last time!) and we were getting concerned that we might end up stranded up the mountain as the snow was getting heavier and the wind getting up. Thankfully we made it down, although the journey was considerably less smooth than the way up, with the car getting buffeted about in the wind. Albert met us at the bottom and bundled us back into the car (after our apologies for being so late back) and we set off back to Yerevan. The snow stopped once we got back over the mountains, and we had a nice scenic drive the rest of the way enjoying the view of the sun setting behind Mount Ararat, that we could see as we were so close to the Turkish/Iranian borders.
We arrived back in Yerevan shortly after dark, and called by the train station on the off chance that we could get a night train to Tbilisi. We had read that the night train ran every other day but actual schedule information was quite hard to come by! Alice at the Travellers Hostel had said that she didn’t think it was running that day, but we thought it was worth a try to pop by anyway since it was on the way back into town, and if there was no train we’d just stay in the Travellers Hostel again and get the night train tomorrow. Typically, she was right, and when we got back to the hostel our lovely little private twin room was already occupied but we got a bed in a dorm, sharing with a couple of German lads (who we congratulated on being the first tourists we’d seen all trip!), one of whom we needed to apologise to as we’d accidentally taken his bottle of pomegranate juice from the fridge when we left the other morning, assuming it was ours as we’d put all our road trip supplies on the bottom shelf! Apparently he hadn’t stopped banging on about it for the last couple of days, so we went out and bought him another one to keep him happy. On the way back we came across a comic book shop called DiscWorld that reminded us that 2016’s death of our trip (there’s always 1 big one, Michael Jackson the 1st year, Rick Mayall one year) was the amazing Terry Pratchett, so vowed to have a few drinks for him that evening.
We were quite knackered from our long day exploring monasteries, so even though we weren’t due to be up early the next day (our only commitment was getting the night train at 10.30pm), we weren’t in the mood for a crazy night out and decided to find a nice chilled out bar for a few drinks and maybe type up some of our blog. We asked the Germans if they knew anywhere that fit this criteria and they pointed us in a direction of a suitable pub and said they might see us there later on. Their directions were quite vague and we couldn’t remember the name of their suggested pub, so when we came across the Buddha Café (which looked like just the kind of place we were looking for) we settled on going there instead. We had a lovely evening, chatting over numerous vodka and juices and didn’t even get any blogging done as we were just enjoying talking rubbish. We weren’t that hungry but the food looked really nice, so Susan got her trusty Caprese salad and Jill got some tuna sashimi and it was all lovely.
After finishing the second bottle of vodka, we decided to stagger back to the hostel but got waylaid chatting to random people on the street. The first was a bloke who initially seemed nice and chatty, but then launched into a bit of a racist tirade against Muslims when we mentioned the countries we had visited so far on the trip.
“Why you go there? They are all Muslim people!”
“What’s wrong with Muslim people?”
“They are idiots! Idiot Muslims! We are Christians here!” (while grabbing his crucifix and shoving it in our faces)
And we couldn’t get anything else out of him other than “idiot Muslims!” after that, and didn’t fancy sharing our opinion that all followers of organised religions are idiots so made an exit stage right and wandered along until we bumped into our next new friends – a lovely couple of lads who wanted us to go for a drink with them. We said we didn’t really want to go to a club or anywhere git loud and horrible as we were having a nice chat, but somehow managed to end up with them in a dodgy little cellar nightclub bumping and grinding to some hip hop with the locals. Jill’s comments on this place from the notebook:
Hoot. Big man loved Susan. Lebanese Ron Jeremy. Dancing like nobs.”
Sums it up well! We have no idea what time we got back to the hostel as we can’t remember it. So much for a quiet night, eh?