435 instead of 33...
Dawn at the day of our departure from Armenia. A country that felt so familiar ... A country that we all have to say the best comments... We left the city of Gyumri wandering in some of the main roads that cross the historic center. Large and imposing buildings, with excellent facades adorn the boulevard Garegin Njdeh, the most famous street in the city. Specific buildings -as in more- building material used was local stone with a characteristic red or black color, derived from volcanic ash. Among the several collapsed buildings, remnants of the great earthquake of 1988.
The borders were from Gyumri around 50 km, shortly after the border village of Bavra. The trail crosses a plateau starting at 1500m and reaches 2150m. Open turns make our riding enjoyable. The small villages that we met showed us that farming was the main activity of the locals. The fact that in none of them there is a gas station may represent the level of development of the region. For us -nevertheless - is the cause that we still hold Armenian currency...
Once we passed Bavra, we are on the border, reconstruction work was carried out. This border is the most western in Armenia and is the shortest route for those wishing to enter Turkey. You need to go around 70km in Georgia, until we reach the eastern Georgian-Turkish border outpost next to Kartsakhi Lake. At least this what we thought... We crossed the border at an altitude of 2150m without delays and inconvenience. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that is not well known and therefore have little traffic.
So again in Georgian territory where once again we were in a large plateau. In our course we reach the Lake Madatapa and one greater the Lake Khanchali, which give you the feeling that it is more of wetlands. The road was in very good condition, although it is not wide. There were a few villages on our way up to the town of Akhalkalaki (40 km), the entrance of which we find the intersection Tagged «Turkish borders».
The trip to the border is magnificent. It is almost deserted -from traffic- crosses an area with herbaceous vegetation alternating with clusters of trees, mostly firs and pines. It was really enjoyable. After 30km it appears in front of us the Lake Kartsakhi, which half belongs to Georgia and the rest in neighboring Turkey. Its size is a little smaller than that of Lake Kastoria (North Greece) and the most impressive element is that it is located at an altitude of 1800m. Near its banks are the facilities of the border station.
So we approached the border, but a closed bar stopped our plans. A guard appears from an adjacent building and asks us where we wanted to go. As if it is not obvious... "Turkey" we said and replied to us that the borders do not work due to renovation! What if we protest that the signs encountered 30km earlier sent us here, he was impetuous... “On a deaf’s door, knock as much as you can” a popular Greek saying. The truth is that we knew that crossing through this border post was not guaranteed. It was really new station and reports of crossing we did not find anywhere. But the huge brand new signs we encountered in Akhalkalaki make us believe that the borders have opened.
So we move to our next plan: we return to Akhalkalaki (35km) and then we will head to the Akhaltsikhe (75km), 25km away where the borders are of which we had entered Georgia 12 days ago. But the largest issue is that with this change of routing we were missing the opportunity to visit some mountain routes in Turkey, around the lake Cildir.
So we took the way back to the Akhalkalaki. Plus additional miles have been added to this day and we should be stricter on time, as we wanted to catch on time and to visit the archaeological site of Ani. However, a stop for an improvised coffee and some cookies was necessary... So, a few kilometers further, in an oblong clump, we stopped to enjoy our coffee, lying on the pine needles and the shade of tall pines, in 1860m altitude.
Again on the road and heads down, after appr 100km., was a known to us route, we reached the Turkish border of Turkgozu, with a stop to refuel in Akhaltsikhe. Border procedures, and on 2 sides, is still simple and short. The staff friendly and willing to help and even the Turkish outpost clerk from a handful of fresh peanuts treats everyone. We wish «gule-gule» (good journey) and so we entered Turkey for the second time on this trip.
We followed the path to Damal leaded us to the mountains. We made a short stop for a rest, at the point of the passage Ilgardagi Gecidi at 2550m, enjoying the view. The weather is not with our site. The sky has blackened for good and soon forced us to wear raincoats. Fortunately the rain did not last long and its intensity was small. After the junction for Ardahan, we continued straight towards the Kars, which is 70 km away. The road became easier and with less traffic, which made us move faster.
At 5.30pm we arrived just before Kars, which is the junction to the archaeological site of the city Ani (40km). Although it was likely to encounter bad weather in that direction and also on our return will be already dark, looking each other through the helmets, we quickly took the decision saying yes as we all wanted to see this site. Followed now an easy route to an eastern course, we wew at the imposing gate of the ancient city, which is located right next to the border between Turkey and Armenia line.
The archaeological site of Ani, a few years ago, was visited only with special permission that someone took from the local Turkish police, as it was in a militarized area. Now, however, is open to the public and indeed is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the country.
The city in ancient times was the capital of Armenia and was built along the river Akhurian (Armenian name Arpa), and was known as "the city of 1000 churches +1". It was founded 1600 years ago and its location made it famous soon as it was at the crossroads of several trade routes. This led to a rapid growth in order to reach the 11th century is a fortified town, which lived more than 100,000 inhabitants. Over the centuries was the target of many conquerors, as the Byzantine, Ottoman Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Georgians, Russians...
After 1300 AD, the city of Ani has experienced a sharp decline and completely abandoned by 1700 AD and after. In the 19th century was a small period of prosperity, when First World War ended, was combined with subsequent events between Armenian-Turkish. Due to the fact, that for a long time, it had been militarized region, being essentially "gray zone" between Turks and Armenians, the city was left to decline. The ruins collapsed at the hands of various looters and vandals but also from "pointless" archaeological interventions.
After paying the entrance fee (5,50€, with time until 7pm), we entered through the imposing gate in the giant walls, which are covered with rocks from basalt. We wandered to the main attractions: the Church of St. Gregory, the Church of the Savior and the impressive Cathedral of Ani, in which it was under maintenance. From the top, we could enjoy the view of "snaky" river Arpa, which marks the boundaries of the two states also the remains of the old bridge.
The sun started going down and was giving us the best colors of the stone ruins of Ani. The scenery is very charming and nostalgic...
During our visit in the area, we had the opportunity for a brief conversation with a motorcyclist who cames across. Gigi is Italian, hailing from Bari, who traveled from Milan to Nafplio to attend a wedding. Then he began a trip to Turkey in order to arrive in Georgia and Armenia.
By the time we met, Gigi finishes his visit to the archaeological site and he was walkingto the area we parked our bikes. His plan was after Ani, to continue to the Georgian border and to stay overnight anywhere he finds. We brief him, however, that the area is sparsely populated and that the little villages there had no tourist infrastructure. Therefore, he would surely find accommodation only in Georgian town Akhaltsikhe. We suggested him, then, to stay overnight in nearby Kars and if he wants to come with us. He pleased us saying that he will think about it and he walked to the parking lot, while we continued our visit.
Finishing the visit, the sun has set ... The weather getting nasty again and at the Kars the sky was so cloudy. Arriving in the parking lot, we found Gigi who has decided to follow us to Kars. I switched on the GPS and checked to find directions for the hotel that we had checked through the internet. The first thing that it showed me is the previous nights hotel, which is just 33 km away from where we stand, and we had to go around 430km to get up here. How sad that some lines on the map instead of joining areas, making them hundreds of miles away.
We wore again our raisuits and started to the final destination of this day... The city of Kars is one of the most remote border towns of Turkey. «Kar» in Turkish means "snow", thus indicating that the winters in the area is difficult. Reached Kars, we headed towards the center where the hotel found in the internet was located. There was no movement as the time is near 9pm and most shops have closed or are in closing process.
The hotel Kent Ani is a small renovated hotel in the center of the commercial area of the city. We asked for a room and we offered to Gigi if he wanted to share with us a 4-bed. He accepted immediately, he gave us the impression that he was happy that we included him in our decision. How else it could be done? The helpful staff was trying to accommodate our bikes on the sidewalk, in front of the hotel, assuring us that the area is monitored by cameras overnight. The rooms were small but clean with modern decor. Comfort was the last thing that interests us at this time. We took a quick shower and we begun to search a place to eat.
Eventually the food searching proved to be a difficult task. After some time, accidentally we managed to find a restaurant that stayed overnight. Besides soups, it has cooked meat so it suits us fine. Obviously tonight’s chatting was between Italy-Greece-Turkey...
We returned to the hotel where the conversation continued... We took out maps and begun to discuss the routes we had done in Georgia and Armenia, countries who Gigi wanted to visit after. The funny thing was that while initially he didn’t have a map with him, he was found to posses maps with marked trails and sights! Once we told him to keep them, he thanked us 100 times... These are the moments when you feel the greatness of motorcycling... It's the moments when you feel that you discover the essence of the journey, the essence of life, essence of brotherhood...