Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Community > Trip Reports
Reload this Page >

A Week in the Caucasus: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia

A Week in the Caucasus: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia

Old Nov 18, 18, 8:35 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
A Week in the Caucasus: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia

Welcome to my latest trip report, this time I'm headed out to the Caucasus region to visit Azerbaijan and Armenia for a day each and a few days in Georgia! We'll visit the city of Baku and Tbilisi, the mountains of the Kazbegi region in Northern Georgia, and three 10th century monasteries in Northern Armenia.



Previous reports:
A Landscape Photography Trip to Oregon

A Trip to Nigeria

A Trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona

A Trip to the Azores.

One Week in India: Mumbai, Amritsar, Agra/Taj Mahal, Jaipur and Delhi CX and EY J

A Snowstorm in Tokyo and Volcanoes in the Philippines

New Year’s in Seoul, South Korea Delta A350 Suite

Keeping it Domestic: Grand Teton National Park

9 Days in Asia: Taipei, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Shanghai

Two Weeks in South Africa and Namibia: Joburg, Cape Town, Sossusvlei and Kruger

ˇBienvenido a Cuba!
ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 18, 18, 8:36 pm
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
Off to Georgia; and not the state! This trip takes me to three new countries in a region of the world I haven't been too, the three Caucuses states of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. The trip would start with a short weekend in the Netherlands (enroute to Azerbaijan) followed by a full day in Baku, Azerbaijan. I'll then go on to spend a few days in Georgia and a day tour to Armenia. Quite an exciting trip to a part of the world not quite as visited as it should be.




Day 1




The trip started with an early release from work and a quick flight up to New York. Thankfully, flights looked pretty good to Amsterdam and I got on no problem.
Today's routing to the Netherlands.



The Delta A330 taking me to Amsterdam from New York.



The familiar Delta One seat.



Dinner enroute to Amsterdam.




Day 2



Welcome to Amsterdam.



Having been to Amsterdam and Rotterdam many times in the past, I decided to spend the next day and a half in the Hague, which is just of Amsterdam. I hopped on the train at Schiphol Airport and was in the Hague about a half hour later.



I used my soon to expire IHG Free Night Certificate and stayed at the Hotel Indigo The Hague. I would've preferred using it at the Intercontinental in Amsterdam, but it wasn't available. The Hotel Indigo is rather new to IHG and was converted from an old bank. It certainly felt more 'boutiqey' than normal.



The large safe in the room was actually used to house the coffee maker, the actual safe and the mini fridge. Interesting concept.



I took a nap for a few hours before heading out for an afternoon walk around the Hague.



The Hague.



Walking around.



De Vintage.



Bench.



I grabbed a sandwich for dinner before heading out for sunset as sunset was rather late (around 9:30PM).



Canal.



I jumped on a bus for about 20-minutes and headed down to the Scheveningen Pier.



I found myself a spot on the beach and waited for sunset.



I continued to wait through blue hour.





Day 3




I had big plans for this day, but ended up cutting them. I wanted to get up for sunrise to shoot the windmills and Kinderdijk, but I realized just how long my day was going to be. My flight to Azerbaijan was scheduled to leave at 3PM and included a short midnight layover in Moscow, followed by a 4AM arrival in Baku. In the end, I'm glad I slept in that day. I went out for a short walk around noon.



I walked around the Binnenhof and visited the Ridderzaal. The complex is the meeting place of some of the Dutch Government along with the Prime Minister's office.



I jumped on the train back up to the airport around 1PM to catch my first flight of the day, an Aeroflot A321 to Moscow. I didn't take any pictures during the flights as I was in economy and the flights were packed.



The route for the next ~9 hours.



We landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport around 11PM, which seemed rather deserted.



An Aeroflot A320 was my next plane onward to Baku, Azerbaijan. Country #46 .


roadwarrier likes this.
ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 18, 18, 8:37 pm
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246

Day 4


After a pleasant couple of flights, welcome to Baku. At 3:30AM. After landing and disembarking at the new terminal, which was quite modern, I started to devise a plan for the day. I knew the hotel was not going to check me in (and they infact did not), so I planned on just dropping my bag at the hotel and hitting the city full force in an attempt to keep myself awake. I attempted to take Uber from the airport, but for the life of me could not find any of the drivers in the mess of taxi drivers outside.



I decided to shoot sunrise at the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, which is an architectural masterpiece designed by Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid. This was the first time I've ever been given real trouble over taking pictures before (outside of the standard, "hey, don't take pictures here.") I had three different security guards approach me throughout the shoot (which lasted maybe 35-45 minutes) grilling me as to why I was there and what I was doing. They all let me continue after realizing I wasn't shooting video, which seemed a bit odd. Nonetheless, I got the pictures I wanted.



Lines.



Lines.



Backside of the Heydar Aliyev Center.



Architecture.



Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center.



Reflection.



I hopped in an Uber and headed down to the waterfront next, the Baku Boulevard.



Baku Boulevard on a nice Sunday morning.



Baku Boulevard.



Taking a stroll along the Caspian Sea.



Found this spot with a view of the Flame Towers, which I'd return to for sunset/blue hour.



The next stop was Baku's Old City, which includes Maiden Tower, built in the 12th century.



A good view of Baku's Flame Towers.



Walking to the Old City.



Old City, Baku.



Old City, Baku.



An old Lada.



I climbed up to the top of Maiden Tower for a nice view of the city.



I then moved on to lunch where I started off with some dumplings.



Lamb for the main.



I was finally able to get a room around 2PM, where a shower and a nap were greatly needed after 30+ hours of no proper sleep.



After a few hours of sleep, I headed off to the Flame Towers.


ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 18, 18, 8:37 pm
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
Right next to the Flame Towers is Martyr's Lane, a memorial for those killed during the Black January by the Soviet Union. It's also there to commemorate those killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh War.



Martyr's Lane.



The eternal flame at Martyr's Lane.



Looking down on Baku.



Flame Towers.



I then took a stroll through Fountain Square, which was quite busy on this Sunday evening.



I then started the trek back to the spot I picked out earlier for sunset. On the way, I came across a crew filming a music video with some rather professional equipment (Red cameras on full sliders, etc), so I'm guessing these two are decently important. If anyone knows, let me know in a comment! They had several security guards blocking people from walking in the shot as well.



The Flame Towers are lined in LEDs that light up in various themes during the evening, including the colors of the Azerbaijan flag.



And of course, flames.



A quick chicken and rice dish for dinner.




Day 5



After a great day in Baku, it was time to head off to the next destination, Tbilisi, Georgia, where I'd be meeting up with a friend for the remainder of the trip. I hopped in an Uber to the airport around 6:00AM for the 8:00AM flight on Buta Airways to Tbilisi.



Welcome to Tbilisi, Georgia.



After meeting up at the hotel, the first stop was lunch. I started with some mushroom soup (but mostly herbs).



For the main, we split some Georgian Khinkalis, which were excellent.



We had the remainder of the day to roam around Tbilisi, which I had heard great things about. We started with exploring the Dry Bridge Market, which is an open-air flea market of pretty substantial size.



Dry Bridge Market.



It seemed like all of the vendors would roll up in their loaded up Lada's to set up shop in the morning.



Lots and lots of Soviet memorabilia on display, which is always fun.



The Kura River that flows through Tbilisi.



Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. It's the third tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world.



An old Soviet GAZ.



Street art in Tbilisi.



For sunset, we head up to the Narikala Fortress via the cable car. Super cheap too.



Mother of Georgia Statue.



Tbilisi seen from the Narikala Fortress.



Narikala Fortress.



After sunset, we headed out for dinner. I picked a random place off of another person's trip report and went there. We didn't really know what to order, so the older lady that was serving us simply decided what we were going to get. It ended up being a ton of food and only cost about $7 total, which is awesome.

She started us off with a mix of Georgian Lemonade (which I'm now addicted to) along with some Georgian Kebabs.



For the main, we had the Garlic Chicken. We also had a salad to start and a dessert (not pictured).





Day 6



We got up quite early to pick up our rental car from Enterprise and started our trek north to the Kazbegi region of Georgia, up in the mountains. The drive ended up taking us about 5 hours as we stopped for viewpoints and food a few times. Driving in Georgia is insane, drivers seem to drive on the incorrect side of the road more often than not and the speed limit is absolutely not followed.

The drive to Kazbegi.



We stopped for breakfast at a random hostel along the route. A herd of cattle walked by as we were eating.



Georgian Tarragon lemonade.



Khachapuri Adjaruli, which is baked bread stuffed with cheese and topped with dollops of butter and egg yolks. Delicious, but it's enough to land a lactose intolerant friend in the ER.



The first official stop of the day was about an hour north of Tbilisi, Ananuri Castle. It was built during the 13th century.



Ananuri Castle.



Georgia has a ton of stray dogs.



As we got closer to the Russian border, the scenery changed dramatically and the roads become windier.



View from the same spot as above, but the other way.



Driving towards Kazbegi.



We stopped at the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument. It's located on the Georgian Military Highway (the main road we've been following from Tbilisi to the border).



Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument.



The view from the monument was fantastic as well.



View from the monument area.



The rental car en route to Kazbegi. We stopped really quick as we saw some sheep traversing one of the mountains.



Single file lines.



Once we reached Stepmantsminda (the main town in Kazbegi), we checked into the Anano Guest House for the night and hit the road once again to explore Kazbegi.



We decided to go for a quick hike to the Gveleti Waterfalls nearby.



Beautiful day for a hike.



Gveleti Waterfalls.


ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 18, 18, 8:38 pm
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
Hiking back down.



A line of Russian trucks waiting to cross the border into Russia.



Dariali Monastery, located near the Russian border.



Looking north towards Russia.



Inside the monastery.



That line of trucks waiting to cross the border again.



Excellent road conditions.



We headed back to the guest house to drop the car as the next stop was taking a 4x4 up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. We stopped at this viewpoint on the way back.



After some price negotiation, we were on our way up to the top of the mountain to see the Gergeti Trinity Church. The ride up was best described as... rough. Very rough.



The 4x4 vans up at the top.



There were several horses in the area nearby.



This must've been my first time seeing a wild Husky. Just not something you're used to considering how expensive those dogs are here in the U.S.



We hiked up the short hill behind the church and got this vantage point. We made it just in time too as the sun slowly dipped below the mountains behind, resulting in the church not being lit.



Only a few minutes later a cloud moved in and the light disappeared.



The massive Mt. Kazbek seen from the Gergeti Trinity Church.



After heading back down the mountain, we walked through the small town of Stepantsminda.



Oddly enough, even though it was only ~8PM, most restaurants were already closed. We happened to find one place open where I got some rice, mushroom soup and bread. Georgian Lemonade of course as well.





Day 7



This is another example of a day where you should always get up even though the weather prediction is bad. When we went to bed, the weather the next morning was predicted to be overcast (and potentially raining). I set the alarm anyway and when I looked out the window in the morning, well..... it wasn't overcast. We hopped in the car to drive a bit further up the hill the guest house was on and got this view. Phenomenal.



After a quick shower, it was time for another helping of delicious Khachapuri. The plan for the remainder of the day was a 21km hike and to drive back down to Tbilisi.



We had a couple hours to kill before we wanted to start the hike, so we drove east to the town of Juta to find a viewpoint I had seen on Google Maps. The gravel road was along the edge of a cliff and was interesting to drive along.



The small village of Juta. It appeared to be a big starting point for multi-day trekkers in the area.



We walked along the road in the direction of the point I marked on Google Maps.



Beautiful scenery.



About a mile in, we stopped to take a picture of this old Lada. The owner popped out of nowhere (he was right of this image) and tried to help us find what we were looking for as he spoke decent English. He didn't really know where the view was we were looking for but he did warn us that about a kilometer later and we'd be entering Russian territory and he told us to be ready to be questioned by the military. Needless to say, we turned around. We had run out of time anyway and needed to move on to the big hike.



The road back down from Juta.



We then embarked on our 1 hour drive to the Trusso Valley to start the 21km hike. We stopped here for a quick picture of Mt. Kazbek (behind the clouds) and the valley.



After a nervewracking drive over rocks with the Corolla, we were finally able to start the hike through the Trusso Valley.



Livestock on the road.



Much of the hike was along this flat gravel road, though we didn't see any vehicles throughout the hike.



Cow.



Some waterfalls down in the valley. Would've been nice to have been able to have gotten down there.



Hiking through the Trusso Valley.



The valley opened up about halfway through the hike.



About halfway through the hike, we stopped at the small "cafe". It was more like a small shack that was selling peanuts and bags of chips.



Our interesting concoction of bread, Nutella and gold fish.



After a few more kilometers, we came across this guy. He trotted alongside of us for a while before heading his own way.



Stunningly beautiful day to go for a hike.



The hike took us through the ruins of an abandoned village, which was an interesting change of scenery.



Abandoned truck.



Wild horse. The fortress on the top of the hill in the background is the final destination (this is a roundtrip hike).



The main purpose of the road/trail is for this monastery up in the mountains. It remains active, though I can't imagine it sees a lot of traffic.



We finally reached the Zakagori Fortress after ~2.5 hours.



We decided to walk up the side of the hill, which ended up being significantly more tiring than expected due to the ~8k feet altitude.



Not entirely sure how they ended up in this predicament.



The fortress is as far as you can go before you need to get a permit. This is due to that fact that Russia controls much of this territory.



Ruins of the Zakagori Fortress.



We then turned around and started the 10.5km trek back to the car. We stopped to visit the horses once more as well.



Our buddy returned as well.


bitterproffit, lb8001 and nequine like this.
ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 18, 18, 8:38 pm
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
Trusso Valley.



Hiking back to the car.



A farmer's pigs attacked us.



This poor guy followed us for the last half a mile and stared at us this way when we were getting in the car.



About halfway to Tbilisi, we stopped for dinner and got some pizza. The drive was a bit hectic with Georgian/Russian drivers and considering it was dark out. We ended up reaching Tbilisi around 11PM. Up next, Armenia.





Day 8




We turned in the rental car from the last two days at 8AM and met up with our driver we had arranged to take us on a tour of some monasteries in Northern Armenia. He met up with us with his 90s Mercedes C-Class and we headed out for Armenia.



We reached the Georgia-Armenia border about an hour after leaving Tbilisi. Getting through was a breeze, minus me forgetting my debit card at the ATM. Oops.



Welcome to country #49 , Armenia! We had three monasteries on the list along with lunch for the rest of the day.



The first stop was the Akhtala Monastery.



Akhtala Monastery.



Inside Akhtala Monastery.



Inside Akhtala Monastery.



Inside Akhtala Monastery.



Armenian flags.



View of the valley on the way to the next monastery.



Our diesel C-Class for the day.



The next stop was the Sanahin Monastery, founded in the 10th century.



The ceiling inside Sanahin Monastery.



Inside Sanahin Monastery.



The next stop was lunch, but of course, a viewpoint first. We saw several cable cars (and cables for them) along the drive, but the driver said they've all been inactive for at least a decade. Interesting.



We started off with this salad, which was really good.



Followed by some kebab wraps, which were excellent.



The restaurant we visited for lunch. I thought it was a bit touristy at first when we arrived, but the staff were amazing and the food was excellent, so no complaints.



The final stop was the Haghpat Monastery, assumed to have been founded in 976, a bit earlier than Sanahin.



After about two hours of driving, we were back in Tbilisi. I had the driver drop us off at the Dry Bridge Market as we had some gifts we needed to gather for friends back home. Came across this guy selling all this old camera equipment.



Right before sunset, we stopped at the Holy Trinity Church of Tbilisi where I took this 2-minute exposure.



After sunset, we stopped by the Peace Bridge for a quick picture. This is one of the more popular tourist attractions for pictures in Tbilisi.





Day 9



Well, the last day of the trip has arrived (last non-travel day at least). To end the trip, we had about a half day in Tbilisi. Unfortunately, I had come down with a nasty head cold (thanks to the lack of sleep over the last week) but that didn't stop me from getting up for one last sunrise. After a quick Uber ride and a 10-minute walk, we reached this random location I found on Google Maps recommended by another photographer off of IG.



My friend had to depart right after sunrise to catch his flight, but I still had a few hours. I decided to get some more sleep and find some cold medicine to help me make it through the rest of the day since I'd be flying. I got to the airport around noon for the first leg to Moscow.



The routing back to Amsterdam.



Tbilisi Airport.



The final leg of the journey was on KLM to Amsterdam from Moscow.



I landed in Amsterdam around 8PM and crashed at the hotel once I arrived. I got a good night's sleep at the Ibis Schiphol Airport.





Day 10



Time to head home. Lucky me, the Delta A350 was open in business class, which was a great way to end the vacation. First stop, Detroit.



The final few flights back home.



The Delta One A350 Suite.



See ya Amsterdam.



Stuffed chicken for lunch on the way to Detroit.



Welcome back to the United States.




I'll save you the time and cut the trip report here as the flight down to Tampa was pretty routine. Overall, I had a fantastic time in the Caucasus region, especially in Georgia. I personally think Georgia will eventually boom as a tourist destination, but for now, it's a cheap and fun place to visit. I'd love to revisit Armenia one day and have a day in Yerevan (which was originally the plan) as well.

Up next, Panama City, Panama.
bitterproffit and nequine like this.
ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 18, 18, 9:27 pm
  #7  
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 61
Thanks for the great trip report. What's the deal with the Georgian lemonade exactly? I tried googling, but there didn't seem to be a clear description of what it was exactly.
netllama is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 2:51 am
  #8  
Moderator: Trip Reports
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: Dubai
Posts: 3,299
A great few days in the Caucasus. Some amazing views of the Georgian landscape, and the tasty Khinkali too.
Originally Posted by ChiefNWA View Post
He didn't really know where the view was we were looking for but he did warn us that about a kilometer later and we'd be entering Russian territory and he told us to be ready to be questioned by the military.
I guess thats South Ossetia?
DanielW is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 3:10 am
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: 🇸🇬 🇭🇰 🇫🇷
Programs: Many
Posts: 4,735
Phenomenal report. Beautiful pictures. Thanks a lot for sharing.
bodory is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 8:13 am
  #10  
Four Seasons 5+ BadgeSPG 5+ Badge
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Germany
Programs: Some
Posts: 8,746
Great pictures! I guess I couldn´t have stand the Kangal.....
offerendum is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 8:27 am
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
Originally Posted by netllama View Post
Thanks for the great trip report. What's the deal with the Georgian lemonade exactly? I tried googling, but there didn't seem to be a clear description of what it was exactly.
It's really more like a soda than a lemonade, though they do have a lemon variant. They had other flavors like vanilla, pear and the famous tarragon as well. More info here. I found someone selling them on Amazon but they were out of stock. One day I will import it lol.

Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
A great few days in the Caucasus. Some amazing views of the Georgian landscape, and the tasty Khinkali too.
I guess thats South Ossetia?
Thanks, indeed, a fantastic week or so, would love to return. That area (near Juta) is actually the official Russian border, but I feel like that's more of a rough line than not. The long hike (later that day) which required a permit to go further was due to the further point being in South Ossetia.

Originally Posted by bodory View Post
Phenomenal report. Beautiful pictures. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Thanks!

Originally Posted by offerendum View Post
Great pictures! I guess I couldn´t have stand the Kangal.....
Thanks! I hear ya, couldn't risk losing GE though with bringing home a stray Georgian dog...
ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 10:08 am
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jul 2018
Programs: Alaska, United, American, Singapore
Posts: 23
Great report! the picture quality up in the mountains is crazy! Any issues flying in and out of Russia?
anthonyparkersd is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 12:18 pm
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Luxembourg
Programs: KLM/AF Platinum for life, IHG Platinum, Accor Platinum
Posts: 1,007
Flying via SVO is not an issue. I also went to TBS via SVO this year and usually transit once or twice a year via Moscow. Follow transit signs to transit desk. Get onward boarding pass. Immigration will review your passport (you are NOT entering Russia!) and then you go through security. Done. Usually takes about 15min all together. Can be a bit longer if the middle of the night or such as some of the staff are sleeping in the back room or such.
bankops is offline  
Old Nov 19, 18, 1:53 pm
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: TPA
Programs: DL Diamond, HH Diamond, IHG Plat, Marriott Gold
Posts: 1,246
Originally Posted by anthonyparkersd View Post
Great report! the picture quality up in the mountains is crazy! Any issues flying in and out of Russia?
No issues at all. On the way to GYD, I was the only one going through transit, so I was back airside within a few minutes of getting off the bus (we arrived at a remote date). Coming back from TBS took about 45 minutes as I got stuck waiting for an agent to print my KLM boarding pass plus I got stuck behind a PEK flight where everyone was transiting.

Originally Posted by bankops View Post
Flying via SVO is not an issue. I also went to TBS via SVO this year and usually transit once or twice a year via Moscow. Follow transit signs to transit desk. Get onward boarding pass. Immigration will review your passport (you are NOT entering Russia!) and then you go through security. Done. Usually takes about 15min all together. Can be a bit longer if the middle of the night or such as some of the staff are sleeping in the back room or such.
Agreed, similar sentiments.
ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Nov 20, 18, 3:25 am
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: JNB
Programs: Flying Blue, Miles and Smiles, Hhonors, ICHotels
Posts: 1,201
Great report, thank you. I used to visit Georgia several times in the past, and always remember the hospitable Immigration officials, something that one does not experience in many countries. Lovely Country and friendly people - I really want to visit again.
roadwarrier is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search Engine: