Armenia or Azerbaijan?

What do we have to expect in Armenia?

Frankly, it was more or less just a transit country for us to get to the Iran. But soon we figured out we could easily stay in Armenia for three weeks. Not because the driving in this mountain country is so much fun (mountains = curves = fun) also because people are incredibly friendly and there are so many places to visit. We know that since we met Wolfgang at Dreamriders garage who is in Armenia for 2 weeks and recommended tons of places to visit and a place to stay close to Yerewan. A camp spot in Goght, founded by a wonderful Dutch couple 4 years ago. As we were eager to visit most of the recommended spots we only stayed one night and headed to lake Sevan. Some churches from 1st to 4th century on the way made us stop a couple of times before we finally stopped at a beautiful spot at the lake.

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Actually we just wanted to snack our watermelon, but the sun, the lake, the 170 km we covered that day made us set up our tent to stay overnight. 10 degrees that night surprised us a bit, but we were ready for the border crossing. Already Iran? No, we approached the border of the Republic of Bergkarabach or Artsakh, which claims to be independent. Mostly Armenians live here and the region is functioning as a part of Armenia. Azerbaijan still does not accept the fact and the conflict is still ongoing. The regions close to the border show the leftovers of the military actions of the younger past. Aware of the history, we enjoyed the beautiful roads uphill, downhill, alongside a riverbank and the first gravel road since we geared our bikes with our off-road tires. Good choice. We walked into the Art Cafe in Stepanakert, the capital of Bergkarabach, to grab some food and luckily they also offered rooms for a fair rate. Great Armenian food and some preparations for the the next border crossing into Iran kept us busy that evening. The uncertainty, if we can enter the Iran was caused by a released message from ADAC earlier last week, that motorbikes of American brand and over 250cc are not allowed to be brought into the country anymore. Let’s give it a shot! The 260km down to the Iranian border took us longer than we expected but rewarded us with the most beautiful ride of the trip so far. Maybe you get a picture of it.

The last Dram (currency Armenia) were spend for gas and Kinder Bueno (haven’t had that since we started in May). We gave the wine we got from Koba in Georgia to the guys at the gas station (Sorry for that Koba) and put the book „Couchsurfing in Iran“ in the trash bin (sorry Stephan Orth, the book is really helpful) as it could cause trouble when entering Iran and then we were ready to go. Checking out from Armenia wasn’t a big deal, but entering Iran an adventure.

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So close but so different – Georgia

We’ve already crossed some borders during our tour. Most of them used to be ones and are nowadays just theoretical lines on a map. Cultural differences are often marginal. Sure the languages differ, architecture varies and cuisine changes. In the Baltic’s that happened but not in a way we experienced from Russia to Georgia now. The words don’t sound so harsh to us anymore, a little bit scratchy, but more melodic. The food changed to more diverse dishes with more and different herbs and flavors. The music has an oriental touch. And the letters are completely different. It’s nice when there is the translation stated right away…

Dill, used everywhere in Russia, changed to coriander, Pelmeni are Khinkali, and nobody orders his food just for himself. If only one person orders, everybody at the table gets a plate and the dish is placed in the middle for sharing. Taxis drive as bad/fast as in Moscow, but people are even (almost not possible) a little bit more helpful and friendly than in Russia. Everyone seems to be up for a chat. Everyone is caring.

Apart from the above observations we got to enjoy three days in picturesque Tiflis, Georgia’s capital which is surrounded by mountains and can be visited by a cable car. Its old town with the wooden houses and old buildings is very charming.

Jens and Andre from the Black Forest in Southwest Germany validated these impressions to be true. We met them at the Russian border drove side by side to Tiflis and met them for watching football together.

They are traveling on their Yamaha Teneres and started their trip almost at the same day we did. They plan outstanding things with their bikes, so please check out their website as well. See ya in India 🙂

We are not heading further South now as we both interrupt our trip. Our bikes are parked in a garage in Tiflis. Another proof of the Georgian hospitality, in this case from Slava and his team of KTM Georgia. This break wouldn’t be possible without their kindness and help which is not a matter of course.

In three weeks we’re both returning to Tiflis and keep going on our route through Armenia and Iran in direction of India. We’ll try to keep you entertained with some videos of the recent 8 weeks and more than entertained after we returned on our bikes. Thanks for reading our blog.

To be continued…

From the sea to the summit

We wanted to stay in Sochi for a bit of leisure and relaxing with a beach day or two. Also we were hoping for a nice match in the Fisht-Stadium. But for some reason not much is relaxed though. We had to stay in the hostel more or less for half a day because heavy rain forced us to before going to explore the city and watch Brazil being sent home by the brilliantly performing team from Belgium later that day. Melting hot temperatures replaced the refreshing rain in the afternoon and not the Brazilians filled the streets with sadness and disappointment but the little number of Argentinians celebrated the elimination of the Selecao more than a victory of their own squad. What a rivalry!

Daniel visited Sochi 10 years ago, before the Olympics and the World Cup and nothing but the train station and the old port remind of the city from 2008. Condominiums, hotels, parks, malls, cafes everywhere and a modern infrastructure (Some busses from 1970 are still on duty, but these were already old 10 years ago).

The Olympic Park with most of the Olympic facilities, the stadium and the Formula 1 racetrack are not even in Sochi and a 45 minutes train ride out of the city to the premises of Adler town, but are really breathtaking without a doubt.

The match Russia vs. Croatia really brought us close to a heart attack but was worth every penny and for us the final match we think we deserved to watch! 😉

The relaxing part shouldn’t be missed out and we decided to leave Sochi for another place along the black sea coast before we go around the Caucasus Mountains into Georgia. Dederkoy was the village of our choice and two days at the beach really gave us what we craved for.

The Shashlik (always tasty, always keep it in mind when you only get a Russian menu somewhere and don’t have any clue what is on there) with the homemade wine and bread was simple, but Arun, Sergey and Levan showed their amazing hospitality, thanks for that slight headache the next day guys.

The next three days are pretty easy summarized. Stand up, sweat, drive, sweat, refuel, sweat, drink, drink, drink, sweat, drive, eat, sweat, sleep, sweat. Three times and we arrived in Vladikavkas the last town before entering Georgia.

Two encounters are relevant to be mentioned. Natalia, a 55 year old woman, born in Münster, who works in the gas station near Armavir who still travels to Germany twice a year to visit her son Daniel and her granddaughter Anna-Maria. She was filled with joy and super happy to speak a few words in German with us. And Nikolai from the Krim, we passed him on his Yamaha WR450 from ancient times and met him at a break short after. He’s on his way to Batumi in Georgia in his two weeks holiday. Approximately 3000 kilometers round trip. Even we felt overequipped in that moment…

We almost forgot, that we entered the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. This region has a pretty turbulent history in the recent 30 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Republic and before, but still belongs to Russia. Passport control, armed soldiers around, but no bad feeling at all. The way to Vladikavkas was an easy one and left us about 30 kilometers to the border. Shouldn’t take longer than an hour unless cars line up for more than 3 kilometers – Shit, we might have gotten up earlier. It didn’t take long until the driver of the car with Georgian licence plate and „Fliesenleger Harder“ printed on his rear window insinuated that we can pass the line on the right. We weren’t sure and started to go until we reached an police officer who also gave us a sign to go on. It still took us more than an hour to go through customs and passport control, but it would have taken us literally a day if we hadn’t passed all cars. The whole process ran surprisingly smooth. No questions about registration, no speed violations no bag check, this was it – this was Russia.

What can we expect from the Georgian immigration? Another hour or two, vehicle checkpoint, customs? 10 minutes later we had our stamp and were ready to go. Finally we were able to enjoy the stunning environment of the Caucasian Mountains around us and couldn’t wait to relish the ride and the view in Georgia. What a beautiful windy road it is!

This is our route to the capital city of Georgia, Tiflis or Tbilisi.

Our World Cup is over – Watch what we watched!

Sochi was supposed to be our last stop in Russia unless there’s no ferry from here to Trabzon (Turkey) or Batumi (Georgia). It’s not and costs us a detour of 1000 kilometers to the next open border to Georgia. No big deal. We don’t mind staying in Russia a bit longer. What is definitely over for us is the World Cup 2018. We had tickets for 7 games in 5 cities in 6 different stadiums. Here are our impressions:

Russians rock, drivers suck!

Check out the route before start reading todays post. You’ll see that we were on the road for quite a while getting to watch all the matches we have tickets for. You’ll also see that more or less for the first time we really visit places apart from the two most famous and biggest cities of Russia.

But let’s start with leaving Moscow. A great time and the longest stop on our route so far was over and our bikes also got some rest for one week. All four of us exited to hit the road again decided to start slow, get out of the city and concentrate on the big chunk of the route to Volgograd the day after. Good idea, as we experienced a very uncommon and rare phenomenon on our trip. When we rested in our beautiful Russian Motel room with the „special taste“ bedsheets, it rained 😉

Not too hot, cloudy and dry, perfect conditions the next day for the 550 km in the direction of Volgograd. Time to drop some words about the things we deal with on the bikes during the long hours driving.

Actually there is one rule to follow: Always expect everything to happen! Parts of broken cars, burst tires, holes, bumps, dead animals, strong wind, cyclists, people walking in the middle of nowhere, cars overtaking left and right, with or without cars on the opposite lane, trucks driving 120km/h, speed cameras, and never slow down on roadworks sites, it’ll jeopardize yourself more if you do so.

On the other hand there is much to see actually. It seems as if there are certain areas or villages where one sort of goods are being sold. These things don’t seem to be originated in that particular region. Why should you sell popcorn and Russian bread in a village named Electric? Why are pickled beans, peas, peppers, carrots, pretty normal stuff being sold out of cars on a stretch of 30km and then never again? Why are in whole Russia Cafès, gas stations and little restaurants along the street, selling coffee and tea and all of a sudden there is one village with approximately 30 little booths selling tea and coffee out of the traditional Samowar? Apple juice, fur boots and vests, carpets, garden gnomes, stuffed animals, squirrels and we probably forgot something exceptional that was being sold at some points.

The Russians are a very proud folk and remember the latest history. That mirrors in war memorial statues and sculptures in dozens of places along the route. Sometimes it’s just a tank or a fighter jet, sometimes an individual piece of art. The most stunning monument of course is the Mamaev Kurgan statue in Volgograd. The woman with the sword in her hand measures 87 meters and encourages her sons to defend their homeland. It also commemorates the battle of Stalingrad (later renamed to Volgograd) and the 30.000 soldiers who lost their lifes on that hill.

Before we got to see this statue, we detoured approximately 250km eastbound to meet an old friend Daniel has a special relation to. 10 years ago Daniel and his brother travelled to this more remote region of Russia. Reason was to find out where his grandfather was born as Wolga German. A coincident brought the brothers together with Artur Kaiser, whose parents shared a similar past as Daniels grandparents. Artur not only hosted them, he also drove them around in his Lada. Far away from smartphones and internet they hadn’t have contact for ten years. We found Artur and family in good health and we couldn’t deny to stay at their place for the night. We can’t say how thankful we are for such friendliness as a matter of course. They don’t live in wealth with good office jobs and social security services, with foodora, shopping malls and Netflix. But they were as happy as we were that google translate also works offline 😉 We generally experienced that in Russia. Russians sometimes come across as a bit fierce and very serious. But once the ice is broken we had fun and help everywhere.

We looked forward to see Volgograd, though we just had two nights here. We liked it very much but bottom line the following things happened. It was 38 degrees on both days, what simply restricted us to do things outside between 12 and 4pm. We walked to the fan fest to find out that they show Mexico-Schweden 10 minutes before kick off. Met Andi and his squad to watch in a nearby hotel Germany get eliminated from the World Cup.

The next days match Japan vs. Poland in the new Volgograd arena was less interesting and less atmospheric than all the games we’ve seen so far. Though we had sympathies for Japan before, we wanted Columbia to draw their game against Senegal and England to win against Belgium for our round of 16 game in Rostov to be more exciting. Nothing of it happened. Now we watch two teams playing we already watched. „No-atmosphere-Japan“ against „Let’s-be-polite-and-just-score-3-goals-Belgium“. We decided not to watch England vs. Columbia in TV 😉 Last but not least the morning of departure we figured out that the battery of Jendrik’s BMW was empty. Then again everyone went way beyond to help. Russlan, the parking guard and Andrey who was just passing by helped pushing the bike, organise a starter cable and even a battery starter for us to get it started. It worked, however took 1,5 hours and destroyed our plan to escape the heat of 39 degrees at noon on the way to Rostov. We expected these temperatures in India but now we know how it’s gonna be…

Moscow: Colorful, friendly, state of the art – frankly, not as expected…

St. Petersburg, stated to be the most European of all Russian cities became smaller in our rear mirrors when we hit the motorway towards the Russian capital city. Almost hit the motorway to be more precise. A huge puddle in the curve leading onto the motorway was hidden behind the crash barrier and unavoidable when visible. The bike slipped away under Daniel and both him and the Tenere slid 20 meters on the asphalt. Fortunately no irreparable damages on man and machine were caused by this crash. We don’t have any explanation how this incredibly huge amount of oil got on the street and most likely remained there for quite some time. What is clear, that it needs more attention every single minute from both of us. We kept going but were happy to get off the bikes in the evening in Valdai. Spoiled by St. Petersburg, Valdai is probably a small town which is more representative for most of the small to midsize towns in the Russian countryside. Damaged roads, crumbling house facades, less fashionable clothes, dirt – an obvious difference to what we experienced a day before. Luckily we witnessed some kind of anniversary of the town which was celebrated with a small public festival. We didn’t expect the Hamburger Dom, but small monkeys, snakes, camels and reindeers, plus laser tag and 15 inflatable jumping castles are a little bit unusual.

Another daytrip to Twer left us just a short distance to Moscow, our home for the next 7 days. A cosy Airbnb apartment from Danila in a Northern outskirt of Moscow was the perfect base for several day trips to the stadiums and the inner city of the 12 million inhabitants metropolis.

Despite the 20 kilometers to the city center it doesn’t take long to get there at all. Busses operate in a 7 minutes interval, trains departing every 3 minutes and less – on every of the 20 lines, wow! I don’t have to mention, that Wi-Fi is everywhere: subway, restaurants, shopping mall, you name it. You want to buy a ticket for the train, a coffee, a bun or just a bottle of water in the smallest grocery store ever and you don’t have cash on you? No problem, take your credit card and pay contactless. By the way it’s probably open 24/7.

Before live match #two of the world cup for us we got off at the closest metro station to the Iranian embassy. We still had no visa for the Islamic Republic of Iran one of the future stops on our route. We got an idea of the distances of this huge city. It was quite a walk. We handed in all documents, information and fingerprints (like a criminal in the 80ties with a inkpad and paper) and hoped that it would be granted until Friday.

Next stop was the Spartak stadium for Poland’s opening match against Senegal. The support of the Polish fans was incredible and they outnumbered the Senegal follower by far.

Though the Africans showed more creativity in appearance and performance. They really danced and clapped their hands throughout the whole game without stopping for a second.

What seems to be a big advantage could turn into a disadvantage if you don’t deliver as expected. The Polish crowd whistled and shouted against their team with no mercy after Senegals second goal.

The next day we already got to see the stadium where the final game will be. Luschniki, a huge 78.000 capacity bowl hosted Portugal vs. Morocco that day.

Morocco really played well and deserved to at least equalize Ronaldo’s early header, but was instead send home after a poor performance of the European Champion.

Sightseeing was scheduled for Wednesday and of course the way to the red square and the Kreml was mandatory.

So we walked there around 12 o’clock, expecting to line up a bit. We decided not to get in. An estimated waiting time was 2 hours – for getting a ticket! Then another two for getting in to the Kreml. We visited Poklonnaya Hill instead a huge war memorial for all victims of WWII in Moscow and the fan fest at university.

Also a magnificent building with surrounding park area. As we already discovered in St. Petersburg: Everything is way bigger than in all European cities we have seen. All areas are clean and everything is well organized. Even though it’s hard to understand the language, we get along pretty well and not only in the vibrant world cup hot spots in town. A big „spasiba“ to Moscow that gave us a stunning last day for good bye. Belgium vs. Tunesia 5:2 in Spartak stadium again, top notch seats right behind the goal and Germany’s breathtaking last minute victory over Sweden at the fan fest again.

We even got a decent tan from 30 degrees sunshine weather over 3 consecutive days.

Now we’re facing the next big stretch of road in the next 3 days. 970 kilometers to Volgograd. Let’s go and follow us on our route.

I like to move it!

Driving with two different navigation systems never guides us to our destination on the same roads. Choose an exciting route or switch on the adventure mode don’t neccessarily mean the same thing. Though we’re generally seeking for thrilling challenges and for improving our driving skills the unpaved gravel- or kilometerlong cobblestone paths are not always what we’re looking for when we need to cover distance. Enjoy this short summary of Polands streets and environment.