Greetings from a Georgian Military Road!
This is going to be long, so lean back and relax… 🙂
Armenia to Georgia:
On Friday I left hotel around 11. Weather was hot already at that time, but I knew it would get cooler as soon as I would get out of Yerevan.
On the outskirts of Yerevan I stopped to take a photo of Mount Ararat, looked really good, even air was not really clear.
Also noticed that I am not the only biker in Armenia, saw one other biker there, so bikers really exist in Armenia 🙂
This time I took road towards north towards Vanadzor. Road was ok and surrounded by green hills.
Tried to have lunch in the same restaurant where I had late lunch when I arrived to Armenia. This time I had to turn away because I was few minutes too late there (bussload of tourists were walking to the restaurant when I arrived to the front yard). So, decided to have one chocolate bar for lunch and then continue forward.
This time I saw signs to Haghpat monstery and decided to visit this place. Saw there another bike, this bike had license plate from Tsech, unfortunately owner of the bike did not speak a single word of english. I think Haghpat was more interesting than Sanahin.
Border crossing on both borders (Armenia and Georgia) worked really smoothly and fast. So, no reason to fear Armenian border 🙂
One remark, remember to change Armenian currency to Georgian Lari in Armenia. You cannot change it in Georgian side of the border (well you can do it in some money exchange places in Tbilisi).
Was short ride to Tbilisi. Immediately someone almost hit my bike ( I guess he was also tying his shoelace while driving). Just heard tires screaming behind me and car flying pass me from the right side. Maybe I was lucky again… At this rate my luck is going to run out soon…
Went back to Green Stairs hostel to check if they would have room available. Nope, did not have, but luckily there was one room available in the next hostel. Room was small, but big enough for me. Price was only 20 lari which fitted to my budget really well!
Shower was quite interesting, could not figure out the logic behind hot and cold water, but average was ok.
For dinner I had beer and excellent local food called Khinkali. Whole dinner cost was only 2,5 lari!
Morning target was to find a place where to exchange Armenian currency. I think fourth exchange point agreed to change it. Hostel had some problems with the water, so did not want to leave surprise to their toilet 😉 So, went to McDonalds and had breakfast over there and used their rest room 🙂
Green Stairs hostel owner warned me about Azerbaijan, he said police will give easily really big fines over there. He also warned me about Russia. He said I should camp only next to police stations, because it is not safe to camp near villages. On May Japanese rider was killed in Russia (actually this was done in Siberia).
I asked him if it´s safe to pass Grozny in Russia. He said that it is most probably one of the safest places in Russia at the moment due to lot of safety forces, but it can explode at any point…
Left Tbilisi again and this time my target was to find hostel which was recommended by David (german guy I met some days earlier).
I had this hostel on my gps. When it said I had arrived to the hostel, I was actually at the gate to the monastery. Asked locals where I could find this hostel and got as many answers as there was locals 🙂
I got overal direction and head to search this place. I knew there was gravel road leading to the hostel, but could not find this place… I was bouncing up and down with my bike on local gravel roads, it was fun, but did not get me any closer to find a place to stay over night.
I went to Sighnaghi tourist office to ask directions to the hostel. Once again I rode around, but did not see anything that would even remotely look like hostel.
Finally I called the hostel and heard that they were closed at the moment! Well, spent around 3 hours riding around searching this place, but it was lot of fun 🙂
Plan B was to find hostel from Sighnaghi. Checked several places, but all of them were full. Finally I found a place, but room had really stronge scent of cat pee. Well, it was best there was, so I just had to cope with the smell and the price was only 15€ with breakfast.
By Sunday morning I had already got used to the smell, so decided to stay one more day there.
Breakfast consisted only from really salty bread kind of thingy and a cup of tee. Did not finish my bread thingy…
Spent Sunday by going through photos, editing video from Turkey (still need some work) and just walking around.
For the dinner I had excellent soup and more these Georgian specialities, Khinkales.
Left hostel early in the morning. Did not wait for the breakfast, because knew what it would be.
My original plan was to cross to Azerbaijan by using southern border, but after checking the map, I decided to use northern border.
Just before the border I had to make u-turn and take a photo of the sign which said “Azerbaijan – Good Luck” 🙂
Georgian border was easy again, border official knew Mika Häkkinen was Finnish formula1 driver 🙂
Had some fears about Azerbaijan border, but soon realized they were only fears. I had to wait for a little while in a queue (I was guided to the front of the queue) but only around 5 minutes. When I got the to border itself, I was asked if I had been in Armenia, if I had any material from Armenia and if I had any Armenian money. I answered truthfully: yes, no and no. Got stamp to my passport and next counter was customs.
After a minute or two, I was invited to the airconditioned room, was offered couple handfulls of peanuts and just chatted around 30 minutes.
Everything went really nicely and smoothly.
I was smiling inside my helmet, now I was in Azerbaijan!
First 100km was quite small nice road. Nice villages here and there, people smiling and waving hands to me. Nice!
In a one small village I heard scream of a girl and saw bunch of guys behind bus stop. Do not know if the scream came behind the busstop, but it bothered me for a long time.
I stopped in a middle of nowhere to have a dring and just strech my legs when suddenly 4 kids appeared from nowhere. They were shy and did not said anything to me. I saw that one of them had similar phone as I have so pulled mine out from my pocket and showed it to the kids, then they started to smile 🙂
After this 100km started straight, flat, boring road. Nothing special to see, so just aiming to get to Baku.
Stopped for a drink on front of one roadside restaurant. One guy approaches me and just keep talking and talking and talking even I talk finnish to him 🙂 He invites me for lunch, but I do not feel hungry so politely refuse. He does not even want to hear negative answer from my side and insists that I at least have tea with him. So, had to agree for a cup of tea. We walked to the back room and there he introduced me to everyone, felt a bit embarrassed…
Traffic got more crazy closer I got to Baku. People were passing cars even there was other cars coming from opposite direction.
Wind also really picked up on a last 100km. It was trying to rip my head off from my shoulders, luckily no success. I was really leaning with the bike towards the wind, bike swerved quite badly every time I passed a truck.
Shore of the Caspian sea had lot of constructions ongoing. Bigger and nicer mansions one after another are being built there at the moment.
After reaching Baku, first thing what I did was park close to the shore and tried to find hotel from my GPS. No hotels were listed in my GPS, so it was going to be totally random which hotel I would pick.
While I was trying to figure out which hotel I go first, one French guy with a motorcycle stopped next to me and gave me an address of one hostel. He said all hotels were really expensive in Baku. I told him that I would check few hotels and then go to the hostel if could not find any.
He was in a hurry for ferry to Turkmenistan, so could not chat with him any longer.
I checked one hostel close to the area where I stopped and price was whopping 180 manat (roughly same in euro) for one night!
They said there is cheaper hotel close by and gave me directions. I never found this hotel and decided to spend my night in the hostel.
Getting in to that hostel was quite hard because traffic was totally crazy and several roads were blocked due to road construction. It took me roughly 1 hour to ride 1,5km…
I shared a room with 4 other travellers in hostel Caspian.
Other travellers were really nice group of people. Most of them were either waiting a visa or ferry.
French guy also came back to the hostel, because he had missed his ferry.
Need to mention here that ferries do not run as you would normally think. Nobody seems to know if ferry goes, what time it leaves and if there is room anymore, not even personnel in the ticket counter… You really need good luck here to get out.
Baku is extremely expensive place, so you do not want to get stuck here for extended period of time. Small grocery stores do not have prices visible, this way they can charge “tourist price” and “normal price”.
Late in that evening one team from Mongol Rally also appeared to the hostel.
Got up and went for a walk to the shore. Well, it is not shore, but walkway next to the sea. Place looked almost unreal, everything was clean and looked really nice, three glass towers raised in the middle of the scenery. Shops were only selling designer stuff, cars were new and expensive (of course there was also old smoky and noisy cars) but people just did not seemed to know traffic rules…
Walked also around the old city, nothing special cought my eye, mainly shops for tourists. There I met french cyclist, he had been riding his bicycle from France to Baku for four months! Wow, he was really a tough guy. He was searcing same hostel where I spent my night so I guided him there. While we were walking I asked where he was going, answer was “China, but after that I do not know where I will continue” ☺
At the hostel I was listening other travellers worries, no-one seemed to know when ferries are going to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Police at the ferry terminal had suggested them to go to the ferry terminal every morning at eight to wait and see if there is a ferry. Tickets are sold only around one hour before departure, so it is really uncontrolled chaos to get out of there.
Once you get in to the ferry, you never know when it will get to Turkmenistan, sometimes there might be 48 hour wait close to the harbour!
I was really happy about my travel plan, not depended on unclear ferry schedule.
Left Baku around two in the afternoon.
On the motorway I started thinking that this place is like a wild west, there are lot of oil and gas, but only few are getting rich. Well, not rich but filthy rich. Prices are getting higher because everyone wants to get their share. Of course, then there are poor people and contrast between rich and poor is huge.
This time I also noticed huge amount of oil rigs in the Caspian sea, black gold was coming up all the time…
Need to warn you about the traffic, even you are driving on a motorway, follow other traffic carefully, sometimes trucks are going 120km/h, some cars are driving motorway to a wrong direction, cows might cross the road etc etc. No time to relax on a road!
It was quite norm that police next to the road waved hand to me (like many others). Couple times I was not sure if they wanted me to stop or if they were just waving hand. This thing bothered me a bit while I was searching hotel from Ganja. It was already eight in the evening, so decided to spent night in the good hotel. Luckily I picked hotel with good internet connection, because I had received an email from the company who is renting me server space. There had been some problems and my blog page was offline.
Spent the whole evening finding and fixing the problem. Got to bed after two a clock in the morning.
Original plan was to leave early in the next morning, but because I had been working so late, I decided to leave hotel around noon.
While I was packing I noticed that I had lost one of the riding socks. Searched and searched but couldn´t find it.
Already thought that this was first item what I am loosing during the trip. Sounds funny, but when you have very little things and only most important items packed, missing one can be surprisingly big thing. I carry few set of socks, but these were “special ones” ☺
While packing the bike I noticed my missing sock was in the middle of the garage floor! I have no idea how it got there, but was happy to find it. Maybe it had been hiding inside my hair? I have not had such a long hair for close to ten years, so might be that it had been there 😉
When I left the hotel, previous evening worry came back to my head. Of course in the first police check point they were waving me to stop…
Police came and asked my papers, gave them to him. After few minutes one of them asked me to come inside with him.
Police did not speak english so I talked finnish and english to him.
He was saying that I had been going really fast, photo had been taken and now I need to pay 300€ fine!!!
I knew that I had not been speeding and they could not show any photos to me… So this was it, bastards are trying to rob me!
I denied and said I was riding 90km/h and 50km/h in the towns, but nothing helped.
Then I started telling him that I do not have money because I am on a long trip.
Finally price went down to around 120€. Bastard in the police uniform did not give me any receipt, he just put the money to his pocket! Thief!
After 10-15 minutes discussion, I was now allowed to leave… I was cursing this corrupted place and it´s corrupted people. Just wanted to get the hell out of here.
People were waving their hands to me, but I did not feel like waving back. Keep your shitty country!
Maybe around 30 minutes later I started to calm down. There was no reason to blame all the people and the country for one bastard cop, so I started to wave my hand to the people again.
Also thought that it was partly my fault. I broke my own rule not to carry more than 20-30€ worth of money in my wallet. I had put Georgian money there in the morning at the hotel… Damn stupid me!
Close to the border I filled tank with cheap Kazakhstan fuel (price is around 50-60cent/l). Noticed at the same time that my fuel gauge is starting to fail (fuel light had been on for some time already, but I was able to put only 22l in)
There was really long queue of cars at the border, I think close to one kilometer. I just wanted to get the hell out of this country, so passed all the cars all the way to the front.
One guy in the queue did not like it and started to complaint. I just told him that I do not have a clue what he says and stayed there. Border guard (young guy) was also pissed, he waved his hand to me to go back to the end of the line, but same thing, told him that I do not understand what he says and did not move an inch.
Guy was really pissed… Other people started to gather around and with them I had normal discussions. Told them about the bike and my trip. They also tried to tell to the guard to let me go, but he refused. He just waved other cars and trucks to pass me.
I thought that I have all the time in the world, but I would not move my bike. If needed, I could even sleep there.
I think after around 30-45 minutes of waiting he finally let me go to the border.
At the border things went quite fast.
Now when I look back Azerbaijan, I want to highlight that normal people were really friendly and nice as in everywhere.
Felt really good to be back in Georgia, but I also realised that now the real adventure starts to kick in. Border crossings will take time, people/police want to get bribes so I just need to adjust my thinking and be more aware of it.
So, it was over all a good wakeup for me.
Passed Tbilisi again, but this time without stopping. My target was to get close to the Russian border.
Some point at the south side of the Military Road I noticed parked motorcycle next to the road. Stopped to discuss with the guy. He was russian biker going to Batumi and from there to Ukraine.
Just before I continued, he wanted to give me keyring with Russian flag in it ☺
Biker mentioned that road is in bad shape and it took around 2,5 hours for him to ride from Kazbeki to the place where we met.
Military Road had quite good surface and I was waiting when this bad part will start.
If you ignore houses and focus only to scenery, then you cannot tell that you are in Georgia, looked same as passes in Austria and Switzerland.
After the skiing center started this bad strech of road. It was gravel road with big holes in it. Nothing really bad, just needed to slow down and swerve around the holes.
It felt a bit like downhill skiing, this time I was just going around holes, cars and trucks.
Bad road was only 12km long and then good pavement continued. Took me around 1-1,5 hours to ride all the way to Russian border. Yes, Russian border! I had missed town called Kazbeki!
Could not go to Russia, because visa was not valid yet, only on the next day.
Had to ride back around 10 kilometers and then I came to Stepadsminda. I was told that Kazbeki is just after Stepadsminda, but there was no towns or villages between it and the border.
I was confused and asked few people. Answer was that Kazbeki is a monastery at the mountain and I was actually in the Kazbeki…
I had one suggestion of the guest house here, but could not find it.
Hotel was too expensive so went to a smaller hotel to ask if they could recommend me a cheaper place to stay.
Guy at the reception made few calls and I got a shared room from a hostel for reasonable price.
Today morning I decided to stay here one more day.
Removed all the luggage from my bike and went for few hours morning ride.
Had excellent morning and really enjoyed riding with empty bike in the gravel roads! I climed up to one monastery with the bike by following really rough 4WD track. Was really sweet to ride in more demanding terrain.
Day has been quite slow pace, eating and typing this blog update. Have had network problems today, so update has taken time.
Tomorrow I will cross the border to Russia and from there on this trip will really start!