Saying goodbye to Armenia

The next day he drove me south, to Tatev monastery: on the way he gave me time on my own, to explore and contemplate at Khor Virap, climb up the wall of Noravank monastery, and wander through the Zorats Karer stones. These places fascinated me – but more than that, the journey was breathtaking. I am still mesmerised by how the towns of Yeghegnadzor and Vayk felt, and the landscapes we passed between Areni and Tatev. … More Saying goodbye to Armenia

Armenia’s Ancient Zorats Karer Stones – for OCA Magazine

The two provinces in the south of Armenia, Vayots Dzor and Syunik, are a spectacular strip of land at the very bottom of the Caucasus. The highway that runs through them, between the towns of Yeraskh and Meghri, passes over the mountains that separate the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the east from the Azeri enclave of Nakhchivan to the west.

The journey is breathtaking, and takes in some of Armenia’s cultural treasures: the monasteries of Noravank and Tatev and the wine-making town of Areni are all on the road to Meghri.

The most unusual place in Syunik province is the Zorats Karer stone formation, near the settlement of Sisian – 223 giant boulders that are described, inevitably, as the ‘Armenian Stonehenge’. But unlike the stones in Wiltshire, Zorats Karer still stands in the middle of wild nature: you can wander between the rocks, touch and photograph them. … More Armenia’s Ancient Zorats Karer Stones – for OCA Magazine

Getting drunk on my own in the former Soviet republics: Confessions of an alcohol analyst

It’s long past midnight in a rugged little town high up in the Caucasus Mountains, and I’m lying on my back in the middle of an icy street, gazing up at the stars. There is freezing air in my lungs, a mountain climb in my legs, and half a bottle of chacha in my veins. I am so happy I can’t move.

I arrived in northern Georgia from Tbilisi the night before, and booked a room in a guesthouse in Stepantsminda (also called Kazbegi), to make the trek up to Gergeti Trinity Church – one of the most beautiful places in the Caucasus.  … More Getting drunk on my own in the former Soviet republics: Confessions of an alcohol analyst

A day in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)

Artsakh is the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed territory between it and Azerbaijan. The two nations have been at war over Karabakh for over 30 years. Both feel that the territory belongs to them: the land became part of Soviet Azerbaijan during Stalin’s era, but most of the people living there are still Armenian. The conflict has killed tens of thousands on both sides, with no resolution in sight. … More A day in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)

Photo essay: Armenia’s sorrow (Yerevan to Gyumri by train)

I arrive at Yerevan’s train station just after dawn, and buy coffee and bread from the underpass between platforms – fuel for the four-hour journey to Gyumri, Armenia’s second city.

The train is dusty and dilapidated; it has hard seats and filthy windows. It goes slowly, bumpily, its wheels making soothing clunks on the rusted tracks.

The journey is haunting. The landscape of western Armenia looks abandoned, left for dead. But this isn’t so. This rocky corner of the Caucasus is far from an unwanted wasteland: it is one of the most emotionally charged places on earth. … More Photo essay: Armenia’s sorrow (Yerevan to Gyumri by train)