Tuesday, October 27, 2009

tbilisi, georgia

we spent a couple more days in armenia, staying in the town of vanadzor in a soviet-era hotel which smelled strongly of smoke and we had to request the water and water heater be turnedvon when we wanted it. we took a day trip to debed canyon to visit sanahin and haghpats monestaries. we tried to take public transportation and walk, so we wouldn't have to pay lots of money to a taxi driver for the day. worked out for the most part mostly by luck. we took a train to and from alaverdi, instead of a bus, since the schedules in the lonely planet were completely wrong.

saw the monesteries, had a nice hike and made it back. got lost a couple times and had to wait a few hours for the train but it all worked out.

took a marshrutka (mini van) here to Tbilisi yesterday. we wanted to head to kazbegi today to see the mountains but the weather is cold and rainy. we decided to stay here another day and see the town then head towards turkey somehow. problem is it is supposed to rain everywhere for the next week so we don't know where to go.

armenia was quite a bit poorer than we expected, especially the rural areas. it was difficult to get around since there is virtually no tourist infrastructure anywhere. knowing Russian was very useful to communicate and get around. it is a nice country with quite a bit to offer but still has a ways to go before becoming a good place to travel.

so far georgia seems to be a bit better to get around and seems to be a bit better off. unlike Armenia though they've seemed to distance themselves from their soviet past, not surprising given their relationship with russia.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


we decided to take the bus from tehran to yerevan (armenia). ended up being a 22 hour bus ride with the border crossing timed so it happened at 2 to 5 AM at night. nice. no problems getting out of iran or into armenia, fortunately.

the iranians and armenians on the bus were really nice and helpful, without us even asking. a few helped us fill out the iran departure tax forms which were all in farsi (though ended up we didn't need to fill it out), people bought us tea, helped us figure out exchanging money, etc. the highlight though was we met an 89 year old man, giovanni, who is iranian by birth, lived in the US for many years, and now lives in yerevan.

he befriended us, took us back to his apartment in yerevan, let us stay, fed us, took us on a day trip to see the temple in garni and geghard monestary (~30 km from yerevan), let us do laundry, and wouldn't let us pay for anything. he treated us like family (said we were like his grandkids). when we left yerevan yesterday he asked when we're going back and he'd keep the room made up for us. had to tell him we weren't going to go back.

such amazing hospitality, you always read about stuff like that but never expect it. it's amazing that he's in such good health and living by himself, if i were his child or grandchild, i'd be very worried about him. this will probably end up being one of the highlights of our trip!

now we're in dilijan, about 1 1/2 hours north of yerevan. we went for a nice hike today to a monestary, it's nice being in a place with mountains, blue sky and fresh air again, even if it is a bit cold. we'll make out way to georgia then to turkey to meet erick's ex-roommate matt, in cappadocia in a week and a half...

out of iran

after spending 15 days in iran, we made it to armenia.

the tour was good, just the two of us. guides varied but for the most part they were all good and helpful. we went to lots of big cities (tehran, shiraz, esfahan, yadz, kerman, mashad) and saw many mosques, old houses, gardens, cultural, and historical sites. won't go into that, the pictures (when i get around to posting them) will speak for themselves.

first off, everyone we met there was extremely nice. very curious about tourists, we always had people coming up to us and asking where we're from. many were surprised we were americans, only because they see so few. we had some good, interesting conversations with many, it was a bit surprising how honest and critical some were about the government and revolution. only one somewhat negative reaction when we said we were american, and he wasn't rude, just kind of ended the conversation and walked away.

school girls were really curious about us, always coming up and asking to take pictures. one funny incident is a 4 year old boy who came up to me for no reason and started kicking me in the shin. left a little scab. otherwise, we really enjoyed meeting and talking with people.

in the cities, traffic is horrendous. takes forever to go anywhere and it doesn't seem like driver follow traffic laws, usually red lights but not always. so car rides were a bit nerve wracking, since 2 lanes were usually used as 4 or more lanes.

pollution in the cities and highways was really bad, as bad or worse than china. probably due to the cheap gas (40 cents/gallon with a gas card, $1/gallon without card), so there are many cars with no pollution control.

i think we both are glad we went to iran, it was an interesting and good experience, but we were also ready to leave at the end...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

esfahan and yazd

after spending a couple days in shiraz, we headed to esfahan, with a stop at persepolis (old palace complex built ~2500 years ago by darius the great). very impressive ruins. also stopped at some other ruins at pasargad (built by cyrus the great) but they weren't in as good of conditions.

spent a few days in esfahan, with a day trip to see an old persian village of Abyaneh (people still speak and dress in the old style) and the town of Kashan, where there are old 19th century big houses and nice gardens.

we're here in yazd for a couple days, saw an old zoroastrian fire temple with a flame that's been burning for 1000+ years and the towers of silence, where the zoarastrians used to leave the bodies of the dead to be eaten by vultures.

we'll spend another night here, then head to the desert, then to kerman with a day trip to bam, to see the earthquake damaged citadel.

trips been good so far, very interesting, though tiring being on a tour. everyone we've met has been very friendly and curious about tourists (even americans).

Thursday, October 08, 2009

in iran...

after spending erick's bday in dubai, we spent the next day flying to iran, via bahrain.

dubai was pretty crazy, one night was enough. we were fortuante that we went right after the metro (unmanned) was opened so getting around from place to place was really easy. even went to see ski dubai, which is pretty far from the main area. lots of construction everywhere, very hot, lots of people of different ethnicities. good to see but for a day.

we made it into iran with a little hassle at immigration. finally let us in with fingerprints. spent a couple days in tehran sightseeing, crazy city with lots of traffic. we're the only ones on this "tour" so we have our own guides. flew to shiraz last night, had a morning tour, will have another tour this afternoon, then will see persepolis and drive to esfahan tomorrow afternoon.

people have been really friendly (lots of questions and curiosity), we're given a surprising amount of freedom even though we're american, we have the evenings free to wander around and explore. very, very few tourists, which is quite different and nice.

don't know if when i'll have interweb next but will update when i can. we decided to go out into armenia and spend a week there and in georgia (near tblisi) before flying to istanbul...