Tag Archives: mountains

Santiago de Compostela for Softies

Northern Spain by Rail

FEVE Station Bilbao

FEVE Station Bilbao

As you realise I have a thing about travel by train so the thought of the narrow gauge trains which go along the north coast of Spain appealed.

I joined a tour run by Explore, an UK travel company for 12 days travel, we were 2 other couples and a fantastic Basque guide John.

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Bmpermie Why?

Archie holding Brenda

Archie holding Brenda

I write this blog about my travels, food and gardens. The name bmpermie says it all really,”bm”” is Blue Mountains west of Sydney where I live and “permie”is short for permaculture which is the design principles by which I try to live.

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New Zealand’s Northern Explorer

Northern Explorer

Northern Explorer

If you are into excellent customer service this is the trip for you. I travelled on the Northern Explorer from Auckland to National Park, about half way to Wellington, on the central plateau and then from Wellington to Auckland on this great journey.
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Georgia

Not on your mind but the country the size of Denmark, with a population of 5 million, and said to have been the originator of wine in 6000 BC. A tradition they still seem to be keeping.

The first thing one notices when entering Georgia is that the road is full of boy racers who take little notice of speed limit signs, pass on blind corners and totally ignore pedestrian crossings of which there are many. This is very different from Armenia.

The capital, Tbilisi has a population of 1.5 million. The old town is being revived with cafes in the narrow streets blocked off to traffic, the old timber houses are protected and new buildings designed by international architects are being added to the bank of the river.

Pedestrian bridge and new theatre  as part of a river bank redevelopment

Pedestrian bridge and new theatre as part of a river bank redevelopment

Neighbours

Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. It has borders with Armenia, Turkey, the Black Sea, Russia and Azerbaijan. In 2008 there was a war with South Ossetia which seems to be a rectangle shaped region with 3 sides bordering Georgia and one side as a border with Russia. South Ossetia wanted independence, supported by Russia. This is still unresolved. Georgia has close ties with the United States, the border with Russia is closed for Georgians but trucks from Armenia go to Russia via Georgia.

Georgia has lots of churches and mountains. We stayed in a ski village Gudaei about 1 hour 30 minutes from the capital with our driver.
We went along a terrifying unsealed road which was being repaired and had drops at the side for ever. This road was also used by trucks from Armenia to Russia.
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We went to the village of Gergeti which is 25 km from the Russian border to see the Gergeti Trinity Church, one of the most important Churches/monasteries in Georgia.

Village of Gergeti

Village of Gergeti

Snow must cut off the village in the winter. It is 87 Km to the capital of North Ossetia in Russia and 187 km to Tbilisi however since the border with Russia has been closed they are unable to access their houses, and supplies from Russia.

View from Gergeti

View from Gergeti

This road trip was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Our intrepid guide turned pale when our van had to pass a bus.

There is still a monument from the past to recall the relationship with Russia.

Monument  on the relationship between Georgia and Russia - from a previous time.

Monument on the relationship between Georgia and Russia – from a previous time.

The mural shows Russia as the fond mother with Georgia in her arms as a small child.

There was an elderly woman selling the usual handscrafts and dried fruit sweets here packing up while a young man in a late model BMW waited for her.

A couple of enduring memories of Georgia was the number of elderly, mostly women begging and the number of elderly people, again mostly women bent double. The guide said there was a very high unemployment rate and men were seeking work in Greece and Italy. We saw lots of men waiting by the side of the road waiting for day hire.

Cows on the road

Cows on the road

Another common sight was cows on the road, often being driven and mostly just grazing even on the side of major highways.

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Armenia

We walked across the bridge between Iran and Armenia pulling our suitcases and removing our headscarves. There was a duty free shop full of alcohol and a young women who worked there in a very short dress.

The Armenian guide immediately made a joke about having barbecue pork for lunch which we did with Armenian beer.

The narrow steep valley was the same
But in Armenia there were cows instead of sheep as in Iran.

Meghri Pass 2450 m above sea level.

Meghri Pass 2450 m above sea level.

Facts and Figures

Armenia is now 75% mountains. The population of Armenia is 3 million with a diaspora of 12 million. You are quickly told that it was the first country to adopt Christianity in the 3rd century, that the design for the churches of Europe originated in Armenia and that much of Armenia’s land is now controlled by other countries especially Turkey.

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Churches and monasteries on hilltops and rocky outcrops are very much part of the landscape and history.

Church
Sisian Plateau has possibly the oldest settled area at 4000 BC.

Carahunge Armenia's Stonehenge

Carahunge Armenia’s Stonehenge

About 200km from Yerevan, near the Sisian River, stands Carahunge – a seven-hectare astronomical observatory complex consisting of 204 stones, ‘sitting on the hill like soldiers, huddled in formation’. Referred to as ‘Armenia’s Stonehenge’,

For more information download… Carahunge

Armenian Cross

Armenian Cross

Neighbours
Armenia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. It has since had a war with Azerbaijan over disputed territory, there is now a cease fire. Armenians require visas to enter this territory. The border with Turkey is closed because Turkey refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide in 1915-17.
Armenia has close ties with Russia. Russia helps manage the border with Iran, has a nuclear power plant in Armenia which is staffed by Armenians and supplies natural gas to Armenia. The guide used the word Armenian “independence” in inverted commas.

There are many deserted Soviet factories in Armenia which ceased to operate when the Soviets withdrew which was also the time of the war.

Monument to the 1.5 million Armenians killed in the genocide by Turkey.

Monument to the 1.5 million Armenians killed in the genocide by Turkey.

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Leaving China

Farm stay at Sary Tash

Farm stay at Sary Tash

Kashgar is 250 km from the border with Krygzstan but they are rebuilding the road. Not before time, so driving at about 20 km an hour it took us 8 hours.

The road was incredibly bumpy. There were 3 stops for immigration and border but all were uneventful. The last 50km was through a military zone so no photographs.  Here there are some new villages where the local nomadic people are being encouraged to settle.

We passed quite a few trucks but at the final border there were over a hundred large trucks waiting to cross into China.   We picked up a Japanese student at the first border post who had been travelling around Indo China and who could only cross the border in a vehicle.
Our van dropped us at the final post and we had to walk about 500m into Krygizstan, it was freezing, snowing at an altitude of 4000m.  Blackheath is a bit over 1000m.
Apparently if you are crossing into China you are required to dragged your luggage for a couple of kilometres up a rough steep hill.  We were driven down this hill.
We were picked up by the next guide and driven to Sary Tash a small village with spectacular views of the Pamir Mountains, all snow covered.  These mountains have some of the highest peaks after Everest.   This village is at 2800m and the temperature was minus 3.

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3 days ago in Turpan it was too hot to sleep.
Yurt where we ate dinner

Yurt where we ate dinner

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