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
I was recently invited to be a guest on the YouTube channel of the media project Russia Beyond.
In an interview with the host, the Moscow-based journalist and radio presenter Tim Kirby, I talked about my experiences in Russia over the last 16 years. … More Studying, working and travelling in Russia, and unravelling the Russian soul: A chat with Russia Beyond
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
In the wilderness of south-east Kazakhstan, between the Tien Shan mountains and the steppe, is Charyn Canyon – one of Central Asia’s most spectacular natural wonders. … More Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan
More than any of its sights, smells and sounds, what hits you most when you arrive in Baku is how the city makes you feel. Azerbaijan’s capital is a discombobulating place: a mix of the ultra-modern and the very-old, where the country’s Turkish, Russian, Persian and European identities collide on every street. Even in its calm moments the city will find ways to confuse you: as you stroll along its promenade on the shores of the Caspian Sea, you are actually 28 metres below sea level. So as you explore the biggest city in the Caucasus, here are the experiences that will give you a feel for Baku’s awesome oddness… … More Highlights of Baku, Azerbaijan – for Lonely Planet
The lady from the whisky company had told me to go to Shymbulak ski resort, in the mountains above Almaty. But I didn’t make it: I got on the wrong marshrutka bus on Al Farabi street and ended up 30km away, in the bedlam of the Altyn Orda bazaar… … More A meeting with Kazakhstan – for Open Central Asia magazine