Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Caucasus. Armenia, Georgia & Azerbaijan.

Tatev Monastery, Armenia.  (Photo by Alexander Naumov)
Atrip to the Caucasus was something that my Central Asian travel partner, Pat, and I had talked quite a bit about when we were traveling through those countries this past spring.  Like me, she has a love for going to places that are off the beaten tourist path and most certainly, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan fit that bill to a tee.

Both Pat and I will be busy for the next couple of months but starting mid October, we'll be hunkering down and planning out the details of this trip which is slated to happen early next year, 2016.

After I got back from Central Asia, I reflected on our trip there.  We had done a custom tour, working with a local Uzbek agency called Advantour.   In lieu of a full time tour guide, we were basically taken around by a series of local guides and drivers - a total of 24 in all!  Advantour did an absolutely phenomenal job of putting that trip together for us - coordinating all the guides and drivers was no small feat given our complex itinerary.

Baku, Azerbaijan (Photo by Urek Meniashvili)
Surprisingly, we didn't feel the absence of a full time tour guide shepherding us around. So, although for this trip, we will once again reach out to Advantour to see what they offer in terms of travel to the Caucusus, we will also explore the option of going on our own and hiring a local guide and driver for each of the three countries.   We will have to make our own way between the three countries and there are some challenges there e.g., the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is closed,  it's nothing that cannot be easily overcome.  Of course, these ideas were just thoughts in my head.  As I had expected when I ran them by Pat, she was all up for the independent travel.  She has the traveler's spirit!

And as with our trip to Central Asia, we will be getting acquainted with Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan before we leave.  Pat and I know virtually nothing about the three Caucasus countries so we have a LOT of reading to do!  Luckily, I do have a former work colleague who is from Armenia who is more than ready to help me with suggestions on places to go, things to do, etc.

But reading isn't all that we will be doing.  In early October, Pat and I will be attending a  performance by the Sukhishvili National Ballet of Georgia at Lincoln Center in New York City.  For Central Asia, we had tried hard to see a dance performance, either in the US or in any of the five Central Asian countries, but there was nothing available.  Pat subscribes to e-newsletters from International Concerts and it was through one of those emails that she found out about the performance.  It was such an early announcement that initially she could only reserve tickets. 

At first, Pat wasn't too convinced it was worth going but then I sent her the link to a YouTube video of a performance.  That's all it took to turn her around!  When it came to actually purchasing the tickets, we opted to get really good seats.  No point, going through all this effort and not being able to properly appreciate the performance.  I'm really looking forward to this!



Of course, since Pat and I are both foodies, we have to try out some Caucasian cuisine.  No better place than in NYC where it seems there is a restaurant dishing up cuisine from any of the 200+ countries around the world!  There are definitely places for us to go to - just have to figure out which one's best!

Georgian khachapuri (Photo from The Caucasian Challenge)

Time to learn more about the history, landscape, culture and people of the Caucusus!