Spitak to Zemo Sarali Georgia 121km
To Tbilisi 64km
It was a gentle, subtle climb out of Yerevan, just enough to let you know that you were going uphill, or have you thinking "Gosh I'm tired". Just another subtle climb, and it continued all day. But I was passing through some lovely countryside, so different to the steep hills and gorges of southern Armenia. I was enjoying the challenge, the fresh air, the views, and being out of the city once again.
I stopped off at a huge cross planted on a hill overlooking several valleys. Im told Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity. This area reminds me of Europe. There are many small villages dotted around the landscape. Most are not on the main road, but linked by metal side roads. It's interesting to see so many people living in this northern region. I'm told there are twelve million Armenians. One million live in Yerevan. Another three million live rurally or in small towns in Armenia. Eight million live in other countries.
I meet another cyclist, a German PE teacher, on a three week circuit of Armenia. Then, a group of teenagers overcome their shyness and come to chat. I've found Armenians reluctant to engage. So different from just over the border in Iran.
So I've cycled 80km, and am considering looking for a camping spot, when I crest a hill, and before me is an amazing, and unexpected, 20km downhill.....woohoo, which takes me to endless cabbage fields, with no where to camp. But then there is Spitak, and a funny hotel, resembling an old hospital, where the residents argue about who will help me stow my gear. $12, for a broken but warm shower, a very comfortable bed, and a great nights sleep.....I'm happy.
Morning and out the door by 7am. The town is totally asleep. Armenia doesn't open until 10am. A very short climb, and I'm at the head of a narrow valley above a bubbling stream and a railway line. For 100km I follow this beautiful valley downhill. I had contemplated another option, climbing over a reputedly beautiful pass, but when I awoke to low cloud and cool temperatures, I opted for the river, and what an amazing choice. Beautiful autumn colours, often swirling through mist and fog, bubbling river, growing ever larger, derelict ancient industrial sites, old churches and monasteries poking through the mist..... a really delightful ride, and unbelievably, downhill.
I stopped for a bite and drink, and met David, from Oxford, walking to India, and Beccy and Rob, cycling from Central Asia to Turkey, but via Azerbaijan. Perhaps I will see them again in Turkey, as they head back towards the UK. Also coming up the hill are two young Swiss. They're heading home as well, for their military training. And suddenly I'm at the Georgian border. Talk about easy..... "Hello", Stamp, from the Armenian officials. "Welcome", Stamp, from the Georgians. Quickest and easiest border ever.
I cycle through the gates and stop to check my map. A guy wanders over from his fruit stall, and hands me half a dozen oranges. Another guy comes over with another six. "Welcome to Georgia". An American and his Thai partner, on a BMW stop to chat. They're jealous of my trip into Iran, but it seems as if the regulations are relaxing. They hope so. It takes 10km to find a secluded campsite, but what a brilliant day of cycling.
Only 64km into Tbilisi, the capital, and I find a hostel really easily. Tbilisi looks very "old" European. Old castles, churches, and monasteries sit above the city. Cobbled streets, narrow and windy, and many with oneway traffic. Not too much of a problem on a bike, until you get to the foot of stairs. Oh I love this stuff. The hostel is in what looks like a rundown building, with lots of other "homes" attached, but is very homely, inviting and comfortable. Now all I need to do is find a bar to watch the RWC semi final...... Go the ABs.