Baku to Ganja – this time I took a different route through the hills to avoid the horrendous winds I suffered on the way in over the plains. Good decision hahaha perfect ride in cool conditions around 800m and blue skies. Good 4 lane road for the first 100 km and then 2 lanes winding through the mountains for the next 200 km and then back on the main highway for the last 90 km to Ganja.
I also went for a walk around Ganja, its quite a big town with a water-less river.
Ganja to Baku, good 4 lane road all the way and not much traffic but not a nice ride, very strong gusting winds blowing me all over the place, requiring a real effort to hold the bike in a straight line. Arrived in Baku to the usual chaotic traffic.
Just over 10,100 kilometres later my Eastward journey comes to an end. It wasn’t meant to but the next country in line is Turkmenistan and they don’t like visitors and make it very hard to get a visa. I would have had to hang around for 6 weeks to get one and even then its not guaranteed. Cost of travelling through the country on a tourist visa is US$300 per day because I have to be accompanied by a minder all the time. The Police corruption in the Stan’s is legendary, you have to basically pay a negotiable toll every time one of them sees you, so I am also relieved.
Baku – the city of winds and the name means “wind pounded city”, I can vouch for that. It has a population of 2.4 million and is 28 metres below sea level. Modern and clean with some fantastic buildings. The old town is quite sterile and deserted, looks residential. Only the area near the Double Gates has a few shops and restaurants. The area just outside the old walls has many restaurants and cafe’s and a very nice park. The promenade and park along the coast is a great place for a walk if the wind is not blowing.
Besides a couple of Police motorcycles I have not seen any others in Azerbaijan. Which is probably why I could not get tyres here and the Baku bike shops I contacted said get them in Tbilisi.
First thing I did was get a Baki Card for the metro, you buy it from a ticket machine at one of the stations, easy as they have an English version, cost 1 Euro and every ride after that is 10 cents, cheap. There are only 2 lines and most of the cars are old bangers with open windows so the noise is horrendous hahaha but I rode in one new train and it was silent and air-conditioned. The announcements on the train are also in English.
The National Museum is worth a visit, I had to walk around the block twice to find it hahaha, the sign is inconspicuous.
All the old Mercedes come to retire here and silver is the favourite colour.
The old town, lots of steps.
Hyder Aliyev Centre – Amazing building with a few exhibitions inside.
And my bike got a wash today, about time it was filthy.
Tbilisi, Georgia to Ganja, Azerbaijan, rain predicted so dressed in my full riding suit, left at 0920, Garmin playing up, marked a POI close to the border and got it going in the right direction. Garmin does not have maps for these countries so I am using OSM (Open Street Maps) converted to a Garmin routable format. These maps do not like crossing borders and I had forgotten to mark a POI just inside the border, convoluted road layout just out of Tibilisi had to stop and figure it out and do a go around. No traffic, rolling green hills, arrived at the border at 1015, Georgia side took 5 min then rode on to the Azerbaijan side, got waved to the front each time. The Azerbaijan side had a big wrought iron gate hahaha which they open and close, had to ride through and turn around so the camera could see my number plate and then they gave me a red card and on to the next booth which was, immigration. They took my red card and checked my eVisa which I had printed and stamped my passport and sent me to customs. Where they asked about Green card insurance and I went and got it out, stupid because I know it does not cover Azerbaijan should have just told them that. They recorded everything and gave me a paper with my bike details and said go to the cashier in another building and pay the insurance fee 10 manat which I did. Gave the guy 10 euro and he gave me 4 euro change in coins, stamped the paper, back to customs and they attached another paper and a receipt and gave me a green card. I was asked if I had been to Armenia by another guy who looked in my panniers did not rummage, back on the bike and rode to the exit gate. They checked I had all the right papers and stamps, took the green card off me and I was free, 35 min all up, everyone was very kind and helpful.
Just outside there are taxi’s and money changers, I should have changed a few Euro here because later when I filled up petrol their card reader rejected my cards so I paid them in Euro. Fuel is cheap only 0.64 Euro per litre. Good 2 lane road very little traffic at first and then a steady stream, speed limit 90kph and through the towns 60kph, speed and surveillance cameras every 5 k’s or so and everyone sticking to the speed limit, so I did as well, slow going, some of the Police cars were late model BMW’s. Millions of old Lada’s and other old Soviet era cars crawling along and old trucks belching black smoke. Arrived in Ganja, wide roads but no lanes marked and the usual drive any which way hahaha but not much traffic, got to the hotel at 1315, another new country. I paid for my room with one card and then went out for a walk and withdrew some money from an ATM with my other card, relief my cards work, it started to rain and that was the end of my day.
Kars to Tbilisi, I started out with just a long sleeve shirt on, no jacket, temp was 19c and I expected it to warm up as the day progressed, guess again, altitude rose to over 2,000 metres and it got colder down to 16c and after 30 minutes of freezing I stopped and put my jacket on hahaha, the 4 lane road was replaced by a bumpy 2 lane road winding through the mountains great ride, no time to fall asleep. Arrived at the border and there were only a few buildings with immigration just a shack and there was no one else there so I got my passport stamped straight away, rode to Customs and one guy ahead of me, again my papers were checked and I was through to Georgia in 15 minutes, what a change from the last border crossing. Georgia took slightly longer, immigration 5 minutes and then the Customs guys were standing right there out in the open and asked me if I had any drugs hahaha. I opened up my panniers and top box and they looked at what was on the top without touching anything or rummaging around and said Go. Next stop was the Insurance shack at the LUK Oil Service station about 500m up the road, visible from the Border crossing to buy Insurance for a month, cost 35 Lari, 15 days is the minimum, all up I was on the road again after about 45 minutes.
From here the road is 2 lanes and follows a river until about 130 km from Tbilisi when it becomes a new 4 lane concrete freeway.
Tbilisi – a city of contrasts, an old town, modern buildings and buildings left over from the communist era. The Metro feels like you are back in Moscow buried deep underground with escalators going 90 mph. Taxis are very cheap here (no meters) about 2 lari per kilometre so you can travel anywhere in the tourist area for less than 10 lari or 2 euro (usually only 5 lari). The metro and busses cost 0.50 lari a ride. Get a Metromoney card from any Metro station for 2 lari and load it with some credit. You will need it for the cable car ride (2.5 lari) to the castle on the hill other wise you will have to wait in a long queue to buy a ticket, with the card you walk straight through the gate. Wifi is provided by the city in most tourist areas and is free, most restaurants have wifi as well.
I visited the Georgian National Museum and it was very well laid out. A short walk away is Liberty Square and the Galleria Shopping Mall. From there I took the Metro to Avlabari station and walked up the hill to the Sameba Cathedral.
I went on a wine tour which turned out to be more of a sightseeing tour, cost 60 lari. There was 6 of us in a mini van and we travelled as far as Sighnaghi starting at 1025 and returning to Tblisi at 2130, a distance of 280 km. It was supposed to be an English tour but the driver only spoke 3 words of English.
First stop Kakhetian wine factory, where a big group was taken around the stainless steel vats and given a taste of raw wine from them. Next a village cheese and bread stop where bread was made in a Naan like oven, very interesting and they also had home made cheese. Then on to St.Nino’s monastery for 30 min, had a Georgian coffee there, church closed for renovation good views then back to Sighnaghi to have a look at the castle walls, its up on a hill. Also stopped there for lunch and had chicken with a garlic sauce, very good, left there for a short wander around the town square. Then we drove to Tsinandali where a Prince in the past had vineyards and a winery still making famous Georgian wines, big house and gardens, paid 7 lira for a museum tour and access to the park and a glass of white wine, The museum was a tour of the house. Next to Telavi to see the 900 year old Plane tree and then headed for home over the mountains. A long day.
Today I went for a ride on the cable car to the top of the hill overlooking Tbilisi and walked back down. If you don’t want to wait in a long queue go there at 10 am with a Mertomoney card.
Tatvan to Kars via Dogubayazit, first along the shores of Lake Van which is over 1,600 metres next past Mount Ararat, it really stands out among the other mountains and is visible from a long way off. After that a narrow bumpy 2 lane road on a high plateau with coloured mountains and amazing landscapes, all the way to Kars, absolutely brilliant ride.
Ride Elevation Graph
Kars Museum, free entry, very small but well laid out and it has English translations.
Zakho to Tatvan, crossing one border which I thought would be a breeze as I already had Turkish Bike Insurance and I only came through this place yesterday hahaha. Today was the day when Murphy had his way. Getting through the Kurdish side took about 20 minutes and some of the Kurds actually speak English whereas there was only one guy on the Turkish side that spoke English. Two hours later, my bike getting X-rayed and I had to empty my panniers before they could do it and then repack after they had finished and riding around in circles, everyone in the Customs area including all the truck drivers probably knew who I was by the time I left hahaha.
I actually started this ride dehydrated, discouraged and feeling mentally drained after going through the Turkish wringer. Well Murphy had not finished with me yet, a few road closures and wrong turns kept me on my toes hahaha. Finally onto the scorching highway felt good with a hot wind to keep me company.
My first stop was Hasankeyf another ancient place, did not do too much, too hot, took a few photo’s and had a Doner, a Magnum and a litre of cold water and I was on my way again.
After Hasankeyf I passed through the metropolis of Batman, quite a big city. The best part of the ride was after this through the mountains, some rough and some smooth roads, very little traffic as has been the case throughout Turkey. Then I reached my destination Tatvan and checked into my hotel and Murphy said Chris has been having too much fun, time to let him know who is Boss. When I arrived after 8 hours in the saddle it was 41c and my room was not air-conditioned even though the room description on Hotels.com said it was and no one in the hotel spoke English. I got on the phone to Hotels.com and after 90 minutes and speaking to 4 different people, no result. The hotel does not have any air-conditioned rooms at all and it was too late to organise another one and the best they could do was give me a fan.