Saturday, June 23, 2018

Blog South Caucuses

June 23, 2018

Blog from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, New York City

Dear Family and Friends,

We just returned from a wonderful trip to the South Caucuses and New York.  We did not have access to a computer or wifi much of the time so writing a blog was impossible.

On May 29th, 2018, we left on a journey to visit the South Caucuses – Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, three former Soviet countries. It took 33 hours and three planes to reach Baku, Azerbaijan.  Were we tired?  You betcha!!

Baku is an extremely modern – 21stcentury – clean, avant garde architecture, along with ancient structures.  It is very wealthy because of the abundance of oil. The most elegant and pricey stores, cars, fashion are all in Baku. People call the expensive fashions and jewelry, Baku Bling.

Azerbaijani is very close to Turkish, and many people there do speak Turkish, and so do we so communication was pretty easy. 

One of the first things we had to address was getting Peter some insulin, Hinda forgot to take his from home.  We went to the pharmacy asked for insulin and they sold us the very same insulin he buys at home but at a fraction of the cost and no scrip needed.

Azerbaijan is about 99% Muslim but few head scarves to be seen. People were extremely friendly and hospitable, anxious to help even wanted to take us places rather than just give directions.  There are many park and fountains, lots of places where pedestrians only were allowed. 

There is lots of animosity between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians so mentioning one to the other was a no no. We visited a moving monument to the Azerbaijanis killed the 1918 massacre by Armenians and Bolsheviks.

One of the most interesting sights was the mud volcanoes, a couple of hours outside of Baku.  These are low gurgling holes in the ground spewing mud.  Extremely sticky slippery mud.  We drove a long time and then left our fancy Mercedes van for a 20 year old Lada for the ride to the volcanoes.  We slipped and got stuck due to rain the night before.  When we arrived, Peter proceeded to try to walk up to one of the volcanoes to get a good photo, but he kept sliding backwards, so the driver and our pretty guide Elnara were holding him up.  On the way down Elnara had to hold tight to him so he would not land in the mud. What an adventure! Hinda was taking photos but laughing so hard she almost dropped the camera.

We visited a small mountain village where Jews used to live as well as visited a couple of synagogues. There are 7000 Jews still in Azerbaijan all the rest have left for Israel or the states.  Oil wells dot the landscape with many of them in the front yard of people’s homes. We watched kids playing ball around the wells. We drove to a remote village, 7700 feet high in the mountains.  Visited an ancient Mosque. Peter was invited to the home of the caretaker’s house for tea.  At another high mountain village, Lihac, the river flooded the road and we had to be ferried across in a very old 4-wheel drive van.  On the way there the road was blocked with sheep, goats and cowboys herding them to high mountain pastures.

Would we go back to Baku? You bet we would!

After 6 days we left for the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia.  We were dropped at the border by our driver and guide.  They neglected to tell us the walk to Georgia was about half a mile uphill in the 90-degree heat.  We walked, carrying out heavy luggage, Peter cursing all the way.  We finally crossed in to Georgia and were met by our next delightful guide.  After cooling off and making sure the AC in the car was at MAX we recovered.

Georgia is about 99% Orthodox with ancient monasteries and churches nearly everywhere.  

One of our first stops there was a visit to a winery built into a long tunnel originally made for the military, it was so cold in there we had to wear blankets.  Just as we entered, we were entertained by a Georgian Folk Orchestra dressed in traditional clothing.  

We visited a summer house in Erekle, home to a Georgian King, and also a residence of the Rothschild family.  While we were touring the palace, Peter wanted to sit and rest, but it wasn’t permitted so the guide found a chair for him and moved it from room to room.  

The next morning, we found that we had slept a nearly 6.0 earthquake.  I guess we are heavy sleepers.

Georgia has the best tomatoes, beautiful mountains and scenery. Tbilisi, the capital is more of what we expected a capital city in the Caucuses to look like – older building, winding streets, old castles and churches, and also some very modern building.

As we drive through the country, we discovered that in some places close to the Russian border, sometimes someone went to sleep in Georgia and woke up in Russia because the border was moved a few feet or meters during the night.  But Georgia did not protest very much because they did not want to engage the Russians.

In all three countries, there was still a lot of nostalgia among older people for Soviet times when there was always enough food, work, medical, etc.  But this was not shared by the youth.  All three countries were extremely clean; gays are illegal, but neither are they open and accepted; and lots and lots of smoking, especially by men.  And the food in all three countries was beyond delicious.

On to Armenia, where you can see Mt. Ararat from Yerevan, but alas, it is entirely in Turkey.  It is about 20,000 high.

We were so lucky to find the mountainsides in Armenia, blooming with the most beautiful wildflowers of every type and color.  

In all three countries we saw cowboys and sheepdogs herding sheep, goats and cattle.

Yerevan, like Tbilisi has a mix of old castles and churches as well as modern building, but not nearly as modern as Baku.

People everywhere were friendly and helpful. Armenia is Apostolic.

It was moving to visit the memorials and museums to the Armenia genocide where about 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Young Turks in the early part of the 20thcentury.

So, now we are going to retrace our long journey, and go to New York City to celebrate Peter’s 80thbirthday.  We arrived in NYC a few days before his birthday and spent time visiting some of our favorite places. As we were checking in to our hotel, they asked if we were celebrating anything and we told them we were.  They upgraded us to a beautiful suite on the 11thfloor with a view of Manhattan.  We also went to see the Alvin Ailey dance group at Lincoln Center, that was a real treat, they were wonderful.  We spent one day at the NY Botanical Gardens in the Bronx where there was an exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe paintings.  We took a bus up there and Hinda reminisced about the places she had grown up and remembered family outings and friends.  On June 19th, Peter’s birthday, we were getting ready to go out to breakfast early in the morning there was a knock on the door of our hotel room and in walked Seth and his wife Kathryn.  SURPRISE DAD!!!  Boy were we surprised, and it was such wonderful surprise, they best birthday present anyone could have gotten. Later that day, Peter’s oldest and closest friend, Joseph came to meet us for lunch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Really nice to see him. A day later Saul called and said he was in NY on business, could we meet.  We met him with Seth and Kathryn for pizza before we went to the theater.  

Spent the next few days with Seth and Kathryn enjoying NYC. It is always fun to be back home in NY. But especially when we can show it off to someone, Kathryn who has never seen it before.

Finally headed for home after 25 days on the road. Tired but happy!!!

Best to all,
Peter and Hinda


Blogger bk said...

a lovely trip - a delightful read!

2:38 PM  

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