Tour Director Clive Porter recently visited Georgia and Armenia. He shares his impressions and photos with us below.
Travel provides new – and frequently surprising – knowledge. The Caucasus are higher than the Alps. Armenia was the first country officially to adopt Christianity and Georgia was the third. (Constantinople comes in between them).
Maybe, then, it is not so surprising that the main features of a visit to these countries are the old churches and monasteries built in the most dramatic of locations. Attractive domed buildings stand amidst wild flowers of all colors, beside placid blue lakes, on green slopes and wooded hillsides or on the edge of a deep valley, stark against the snow capped peaks beyond.
Inside they can be bare, some cut directly into sombre black rock, or decorated with frescoes and mosaics. Intricate stone carvings abound. Often there are relics of the holy men of these nations’ long history. In Tbilisi there is a brand new cathedral which, like its older counterparts, is bustling on a Sunday morning as the people of these devout countries practise their faith in time-honored ways.
The capital cities of Yerevan and Tbilisi have modern sections though their once fast growing economies have slowed in recent years. Nevertheless, smart shops offer western promise while the cafes are busy and, particularly in Georgia, there are many good restaurants offering the excellent national cuisine and the local wines which prove to be another very pleasant surprise for the visitor.
For centuries numerous peoples have followed the Silk Road through these lands, each making their mark as borders have ebbed and flowed. (Although it is a backdrop to the city of Yerevan, Mount Ararat is now in Turkey but was once far inside Armenia). Politics in the last century – particularly the fall of the Soviet Union – added to the confusion and uncertainties. Surprisingly, however, the modern visitor will find the most welcoming of people living in a settled atmosphere and will return home with an enhanced appreciation of the complexities, both ancient and modern, of the region. And memories of its unexpectedly magnificent scenery.