07.04.2008 - 10.04.2008
Courtesy 9C, Kulosaari Secondary School, Helsinki
Sheki is a 100.000 inhabitant city in Azerbaidjan on the foothills of the Eastern part of the Greater Caucasus. Because Internet places are getting rarer all the time, here is a summary of the last four days since Telawi, where we started to explore Kakheti and the Alazani valley plain, main wine growing region of Georgia with several ancient monasteries, such as Alawerdi and Ikalto. Writing from the oil country Azerbaijan, it is even easier to understand the economic difficulties of Georgia, but wine production is a growing business even despite the (now lifted) Russian boycott of Georgian wine. In Kraveli we had a good wine tasting session of the most renowned produces and they even let us taste their cognac from the oldest oak barrel. The vinyards aren't that spectacular in spring time of course.
The same day (Tue, Apr 4) in the castle complex near Gremi we finally met the German group that is cycling from Athens to Peking on a very similar route (www.athen-peking.de). Mit Helm und kurzen Hosen, it was a very beautiful spring day (with summer-like temperatures of close to 30 C), but we have had several rainy nights recently, too. The nearby mountains make the weather very unstable and quickly changing.
Close to the Georgian-Azerbaijan border some of us had a long (most others, including me, only a short) visit to the Lagodekhi natural reserve, which in fact continues on the other side of the border. For the Georgian part, its development is a major investment into the touristcal infrastructure of the area, tourism being the only other growth sector alongside wine production.
Wednesday (Apr 9) was border crossing day to Azerbaijan. With all the bureaucracy linked to our Polish support vehicle it took us a full three hours to be able to start exploring a new country. So for the few hours of the remaining day, an Azeri police patrol 'helped' us with money exchange and finding a good, but expensive dinner place. So here some observations about Azerbaijan after two days: people are just so much more open, betraying that the Azeri people are not only linguistically relatives of the Turks. Where it was tea in Turkey and vodka in Georgia, it's now tea again. To be sure, the Soviet legacy has left behind traces also in the food and drink culture and Russian language is just as common as in Georgia, but we're happy to see the local language written in Latin letters!
Thursday was an exploration of the old road linking the towns of Zagatala and Sheki. Exploration, because it has partly been destroyed by mountain river flooding. So the Caucasus springs not only provide good mineral water but flow down into the plain in braided streams that are difficult to control during snow melting and heavy rain periods. But at this season only small streams flow across the vast gravel river beds and and it took us some stubbornness to ignore the advice of locals to avoid the most damaged part of the road and take a rather long detour. So here is then what we had to do in order to get across:
Track data are uploaded later. The travel map on this blog is also imprecise because it is quite difficult to identify place names for which several spellings exist. Anyway, I hope to write more from Baku.