Aug 122011

This one might get kind of long – you’ve been warned!

After waking up, we headed up to the top floor of the Sheraton Tbilisi for the breakfast buffet which was included…and huge!  Lots of fresh local fruit – apricots, cherries, etc, and all perfectly in season.  Combined with other food, it was enough to fuel a long morning of walking around Tbilisi.

Headed out of the hotel, and the first stop was the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  Built in 2002, this is one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world.  We were lucky that being Sunday, there was a service going on.  Despite studying in the USSR years ago, I’d never been to an Orthodox church service, and certainly not a Georgian Orthodox one.  It was fascinating to me to spend time in there, and in retrospect I wish we’d stayed a bit longer.  It was just one of those really authentic local moments that I really enjoy when traveling.

After the Cathedral we made our way down to the river, across a bridge, and took a view up the hill/mountain on the south side of the city.  We wandered through Old Tbilisi, and took a look up the hill towards Narkala Fortress which we planned to visit after lunch. Continue reading »

Aug 102011

After getting back to the Park Inn, we had no trouble locating a taxi who would take us to the airport.  Only problem is – we knew how much it should cost based on previous rides, so that’s all the cash we had saved up.  A bit of negotiating in Russian, showing the wallet to prove what we had left, and we were good to go.  Down to the last coin!

Got to the airport around two hours before the flight, and check-in was not yet open.  Baku is not exactly JFK – it seemed like there were very few flights, and the airport really only came to life about 75 minutes before our flight.  Checked-in, got boarding passes and seat assignments (no advance assignments on AZAL, despite the rather hefty one-way fare) and off through immigration and security to the gate area.  No lounges were to be had, and there were no restaurants that would take credit cards, so we sat in the gate area for around 30 minutes waiting for our flight.  About 45 minutes prior they loaded us onto the bus, and out to the plane…which was nowhere in sight despite the airport not being that busy.  We were hoping that the promised ATR wasn’t to be had, but…

Flight J2 225 – Baku to Tbilisi
Seat 3A, ATR-72 – Registration 4K-AZ67 – Manufactured 2008
Departure 23:30 – Arrival 23:50 – 1 hour time change

Honestly not a ton to say about this flight. It was 80% or so full, service, for what it was worth was efficient. I got water, and a better “snack” than any US airline would ever give on a segment of this length:

Landed a few minutes early, and was off to immigration, where despite being the first one to the counter in this ultra-modern airport, I was the LAST one out of 50 or so to be through. Seems my passport was “слишком болшой” – too fat – too fit into their passport scanners. Eventually they gave up, typed the data in manually, and we were good to go. Out to the taxi queue, where we negotiated what seemed a mildly reasonable (although higher than advertised online) rate to the Sheraton. At this hour, I wasn’t about to quibble over $5 or so.

Off to the Sheraton at around 150kph down “George W Bush Highway” – where there were signs – complete with pictures of the former President on them. Obviously, there’s still one place in the world that he’s well liked. Soon, we were at the Sheraton and checked into to what was promised as a “suite.”

The room was quite large – huge living room and kitchen area, with a completely separate bathroom and bedroom area. Only problem was…the room was rather warm. Somewhere around 22-24C would be my guess. Two fans were delivered which made it sleepable (mind you, I’m someone who prefers rooms in the range of 17C to sleep), so we were out cold considering it was past 1am in Azerbaijan, and ready for the next day’s adventures!

Jul 072011

Ok, so first of all, I lied. There, I admit it. I hadn’t planned another trip so soon after the Svalbard adventure, but with a very long weekend in honour of kicking King George out of the country, I decided it was time to check off a few more countries.

Playing around with schedules a bit, I decided to fly into Baku, Azerbaijan (GYD) and back from Yerevan, Armenia (EVN). Sounded like a good plan for a very long weekend, and would allow me to check off two more countries. Just one small problem…I neglected to check how easy it would be to get between them.

Very atypical for me…see, there’s a small problem. These two countries (while not actively shooting at each other at the moment) are still technically at war with each other, and the border is closed. Great. Oh well, I did what any (in)sane country collector would do: traveled between them via a third country! So, in the end, it ended up being three countries in five days, #92, #93, and #94 on my list.

Tickets booked, drivers and hotels set, and it was time to head off! Of course, there’s also a fair amount of drama in this trip, and unfortunately it was worse than the two trips above. When you pack so much into a very tight timeframe, there’s very little room for error should things go tits up, which unfortunately this trip did in a very ugly way. At least I’m trying to get most of the drama out of the way before the big trip in a few more weeks.