Above Us is only the Sky

We are in Armenia. Somehow we had quite the scare the night before, for whatever reason. There are three border crossings from Georgia. We chose the main transit route in the very East, the border crossing Bagratashen – Sadakhlo which is very busy, but is supposed to have the best road.

Armenia is as big as 7.1 billion ping pong tables, has many 3000m peaks and in addition the border Ararat (5167m) in Turkey. Ninety percent of Armenia is more than 1000m above sea level.
We get out of Tbilisi well and without incidents by aggressive dogs. Thirty kilometers out of town we suddenly see two touring cyclists. Crazy! There are more other guys besides us: Angus from Scotland and Moritz from Germany. The two have met in Georgia and they are already here since last year. We exchange ideas about different bike routes through Turkey – both already mastered this. Angus heads for the same campsite as we do – but never gets there.

Nice chat next to the highway: Moritz, Angus and Astrid
Georgian drug store on the highway
Border station Georgia – Armenia

Campsites are rare. Our place is located above a magnificent gorge, on a high plateau, 35 kilometers behind the border to Armenia. The last 3.5 kilometers go up with 7% and cost once again our last grains. Now we discover the Small Caucasus. The climb is worth it. An idyll.

View from the campsite into the beautiful Debed Gorge which we cross almost completely
One of the cozy seating areas at the campsite

Getting food in the village? Another 150 meters of altitude. Martin, proud owner of the campsite, says the path is very close. Only twenty minutes by foot, steeply uphill. While Rolf puts up the tent, I choose the bike after all. Without luggage I might still make it. The people greet all friendly. I feel like in another world. In the small store of Haghpat, a village of 800 souls, I do not know what to buy. In the end I leave with six eggs, the only piece of butter, one of three salamis, four beers and two small yogurts. That is all there was. We still have some pasta, tomato paste and a small cucumber that we got as a gift today.
It starts raining hard now. It is pouring.
Freshly showered, we drink another beer, postpone the meal to the next morning and snuggle into our tent.

Haghpat Monastery, UNESCO World Heritage from 10th century, completely preserved

Due to the bad weather forecast – rain and cold – we leave the campsite after two days and ride further south to Armenia’s most up-and-coming city, the resort town of Dilijan. It has 18,000 inhabitants and was already a resort in former Soviet times. A little outside we book a room with Madam Susann in her hotel with a beautiful garden.


In the morning and in the evening there are surprise dinners. It tastes like at home. We bring our own beer. The payment with credit card in the small stores is always a lottery. This time it does not seem to work after several attempts and we pay cash. Back at the hotel Susann is already very excited. Someone from the store called to ask if she was hosting two tourists. The credit card was charged. We would like to pick up the double paid money. In the store the cash is already ready in a small bag: 6,15€. Armenians are honest people.

It is only a few steps to the mostly forested Dilijan National Park (NP). In the morning we see the mountains covered with powdered snow. At night the wolves and coyotes howl. There is a state of the art tourist center with plenty of young staff and ‘working space’ on the upper floor. Information material is unfortunately out. Tents are able to be rented for wild camping in the NP. Apart from picnic areas there is not much infrastructure. The Transcaucasian Trail runs there and we hike almost 30 kilometers on it. Hiking is too much to say. The inclines, the declines and the muddy ground require our highest concentration. Nevertheless, they have taken the trouble to paint hiking and biking signs on the trees. We would like to see the one who is able to ride here. But the landscape is magnificent and above us is only the sky.

Wild rhubarb

Wild rhubarb, lilac, mushrooms, wood, mix pickles, coleslaw and the like are plentiful here. People collect everything in nature and sell it on the roadside.

Mace, and the one who is freezing can buy the fur
Grilled corn on the cob
Who knows what is in it. We do not taste it.
Red wine from Areni, the best in Armenia – who does not go blind from it
Advertising extra emphatic.

Trip to the monastery Hagharzin. As always, a kilometer-long scramble.

A family of eight just got out of this car to visit the monastery which is worth seeing. Later, the family overtakes us again happily honking.

Temperatures continue to be cold and we look forward to warmer weather. After a starry night, even colder than the five days before, the sky shines blue in the morning. Farewell to Susann who has accommodated us so well.

Ahead of us are eighty kilometers, one thousand meters of altitude on the first thirteen kilometers. The ascent is wonderful. Adrenaline is released. A touring cyclist comes to meet us. Rarity value.

On the last five kilometers uphill we ride the old pass road while all the car traffic goes through the tunnel. Above us is only the sky. It is incredibly, framed by white mountains, immeasurably beautiful. Yes, you read correctly, snow covered mountains wherever you look, North, South, East, West. At the top a small village and then the view of Lake Sevan, 1900m above sea level and again these mountains.

Pass reached with a view of Lake Sevan.
The dog has faithfully accompanied us since the last village and enjoys the rest with us.
We also get a hoopoe in front of the lens

Incredible natural beauty. We cycle along the western shore of Lake Sevan and enjoy the panorama to the fullest.
We spend the night with Tigran and Liliana in the family hotel Oazis near Noratus. Here lies the “Field of Cross Stones”. With 800 cross stones from 9th to 17th century, it is the largest preserved collection.

In 2005, the military of Azerbaijan destroyed the largest collection of 2500 cross stones in Djulfa (ethnic cleansing). One cannot think of anything more.

The next day we continue our high alpine panoramic ride along the lake in best weather. On a free stretch of road, an Armenian delivery truck suddenly slows us down. The driver gets out, wordlessly hands us two ice cream cones and drives on. Overwhelmed, we look after the Armenian Bofrost driver and enjoy the ice cream.

Towards the snow covered mountains

On the road we can just about return the greetings of the cars. So many wave and honk exuberantly. Two days at more than 2000m altitude. Here is now actually spring and the meadows are blooming. Quite a few locals drive up by car, tie on aprons and collect herbs, such as fresh oregano, coriander and many things that we do not know or recognize.

We spend two nights in Svetlana’s camping paradise. It is great to sleep in our own bed (our tent) again. There are probably only a handful of campsites in the whole of Armenia. Thanks to Park4Night they are easy to find and offer European comfort and luxury in the middle of Armenia’s natural paradise.

Coffee with Nutella rolls
Today a tour without luggage into the mountains – Do you see the cyclist ?
We visit Tanahat Monastery

A huge monk welcomes us into the church. A very old woman sits in front of the altar, lovingly attended by her grandson. A mother sits in the back with her child and we are also welcomed into the circle and light candles. It is a very contemplative moment.

To close the day we listen to ‘Du lässt Dich gehn’ by Charles Aznavour. Charles Aznavour is an Armenian-French artist and singer and was Armenian ambassador to Switzerland and Armenia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0hIK4mgHmg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *