I just returned from an amazing trip to the countries of the Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Snuggled between mountains and seas, this small area made a huge impression on my heart. There was a bunch of surprises:
– it is way easier than we expected. Navigating the road, crossing multiple borders, avoiding disputed territories, everything was smooth and hassle-free. Admittedly I did navigate us straight through a tiny disputed exclave of Azerbaijan while driving near the Iranian border in southern Armenia. And we got within a hair’s breadth of various regions marked ‘no-go’ red on the Dutch government travel advisory website. I blame Google maps.
– the food is amazing. We had both anxiously packed muesli bars, imagining the only vegetarian option to be lard-filled gluten. We left all these at our last AirBnb in Tbilisi: the whole journey was a culinary delight; incredible fresh, locally grown herbs and vegetables, homemade cheese, jam, yoghurt, and bread. Also
– the wine is delish. Flying into a Muslim country, we stocked up on duty free gin in Baku, Azerbaijan, totally unnecessarily. The wine we supped in all three countries was yummy. Georgia has done a nice line in natural wines for centuries, way before it was embraced by hipsters. Even the homemade cognac we bought from some bloke at a stall by a caravanserai in central Armenia was fly.
– the people are delightful. Roadtripping through remote areas put us in touch with a different pace of life to that in the capital cities. Often, between our lack of the local dialect and Russian, it was down to sign language, Google and giggles to communicate, and generally this was ample to feel a sense of connection.
– these countries have complex histories, and relations remain complex today. Along the way we read Wikipedia entries and the Economist articles, as well as (where appropriate) chatting to locals to try to get a vibe for how things currently stand. Appreciating their opposing views, as well as the varying circumstances, beliefs and histories of all three geographically tiny countries, provided life lessons in the very human challenge of overcoming conflict and finding hope.
All these lessons? They sifted into place during the weekend I spent in Istanbul after farewelling my travel partner in crime in Tbilisi. Meditating for hours in a mosque close to the Grand Bazar reminded me of Vipassana: all these ideas and realizations that had been stimulated by my travels settled quietly into place. It was divine.
Five post-travel key words, aka, what did I bring home:
Traveling this summer too? What are your five key words?
Been to the Caucasus? What did you love about it most?