Packed in a (t)rusty Russian saloon with their old reliable driver, Albert, Susan and Jill venture off into the wild mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Head on over to 2 Girls 1 Country (per day) – an Adventure in Pinge and Wang. on Facebook to catch up with all of the hot visual action.
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.
Our driver to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albert, arrived bright and early and we said Goodbye to our cheerful little hostel room. Albert was an elderly gent (80 if he was a day) and our carriage for the next couple of days was a battered and drafty old Russian saloon. Albert was from Karabakh and couldn’t speak any English, so we couldn’t really communicate (other than our bits of chut chut Ruski), but he did however understand our needs and wants and stopped at all the roadside shops saying “Piva (beer), toilette (toilet)” and taking photos of us with any particularly stunning vistas.
We had come well prepared with our packed lunch, leftover dinner (from the restaurant the previous night) and a selection of alcoholic beverages for the long drive ahead. As we drove out of the city and up into the mountains the weather got continually worse, starting with a sprinkling of snow and ending up in a total white out blizzard by the time we got to the highest point! It was pretty scary, especially as the roads were so potholed it was impossible to drive on your correct side of the road all the time (and Albert didn’t much seem to care about such formalities as lanes anyway) and there were a few times swerving to avoid oncoming wagons by a hair’s breadth, we really did think we were goners! We stopped off at a little service station right in the mountains, full of truck drivers huddled around a little gas heater. We bought Albert a coffee, replenished our beers and got told off by the truckers for wandering around outside in the snow taking photos because we’d get sick.