Bike touring Northern Armenia and how we end up in a Lada

Bike touring Northern Armenia and how we end up in a Lada

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We are on our way to the east, to South Korea,  which might take us a couple more years,   if we can make it at all. But right  now, reaching this small landlocked   country in the Southern Caucasus is  an extraordinary achievement for us,   because this is where I was born in the last days  of the then Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. We’re entering country number 8 on our Amazing World Bike Tour. About one year earlier we set out on our first proper bicycle ride. 

Since then we’ve cycled over 6000 kms total,   crossing borders physically,  mentally and of course actually. -Woohoo…We are in Armenia! We made it! Unfortunately riding bicycles  is not yet a big thing here,   and eventually we end up in a classic  Lada, so let’s see how this goes! Welcome to Armenia! *in Armenian We made it to the other side. There was a little rain. It’s already after 7 PM. The challenge now is to find a dry spot for the tent. Arev asked the woman working in the shop if she knew a place for our tent for the night. Yes, she was so kind.

We relaxed here and now we’ll sleep. At least if they stop cleaning cars. The first night in the tent after crossing  a border is always a bit of a thrill,   as we still have to figure out how people react to our presence.

Armenian is Arev’s mother tongue,   so that obviously makes things a lot easier. Are you comfortable? Very!  You know where the shop is… the toilet is behind the shop. Have a good rest.

Thank you! If you need anything we are here. Ah, at the gas station? Yes. Okay. Thanks a lot! Hello! Hello.*in Armenian Good morning. Our first night was not very good.

Even though it was dry here, which was great. Because it rained again in the night. But it was very loud. Loads of cars, trucks, motor cyclists, people here at the cafe chatting… Little children coming to check what’s going on here, “Hello, hello!” while we’re trying to sleep.

Good morning you two! Good morning. Are you doing well? Aham… Keep it up! Stay well. Well, at least the rain has stopped  and the air is clean and fresh,   perfect for a long day in the saddle. Mhhm. Very tasty.

Very tasty peach. It didn’t take very long. We cycled about 10 kms and they  were like “Stop, stop, stop!” So, they wanted to give us a whole  bucket of peaches, but we’re like “No,  thanks, we can have one.” It’s very tasty and juicy, amazing! In Greece there are many homeless dogs as well. 

It was a little bit difficult, as there were many  and sometimes they would fight with each other.  Natella, stand beautifully, he is filming. He is filming? Film darling, film! Have a look what we’ve got. These great peaches! This is Hrant. We are in Hrant’s wonderful garden. Yes, he has everything. Peaches,   kiwis, black pepper, have a look.  They look good.

Very delicious! *in Armenian Every tree is like one child. See  how many children we take care of. Hrant says, each tree is like a child. So you have to take care of each tree like a child and he has many children.  Okay, apparently we have a traffic jam here.  Maybe it’s road works, hopefully no accident. Hello. *in Armenian Hahaha! See, you’re always faster with a bicycle. Always!

Hello! *in Armenian Hi. We found this nice rusty umbrella for our break.  Let’s see, what do we have to eat, Mathias? Bread and then some vegetable stew, Matzoon,  which is sour yoghurt, … Oh, and a cucumber! After a little lunch break under  this beautiful Soviet steel umbrella,   we continue our way on the M6  road along the Debed river. Very nice valley, almost a canyon. Very narrow.  Steep angles on both sides. On the other side of  the river runs the train line that connects Tbilisi with Yerevan. Not a lot of traffic,  but I think there are one or two trains a day which you can take,   and I think it is a nice train ride. Beautiful landscape.

If you’re like me and you like rusty  stuff, rusty old stuff, any former Soviet Union country is a great place to visit, because they have a lot of old rusty stuff standing around. We’re approaching a town that has an industrial history. We are in Alaverdi. At the end of the 19th century, the region flourished through the growing Russian and  French investments.

Already in 1903, the copper produced in the Alaverdi region made up about 13%   of the entire Russian Empire's output and it didn't stop there. During the Soviet rule the  mining and smelting operations were extended and Alaverdi grew to a city. Eventually even  a cable car was built to connect the newer parts  of the city with the workplaces down in the gorge. Until a few years ago, the city of Alaverdi and its surrounding landscape left the impression of a bleak settlement after a nuclear catastrophe. The gigantic copper-mining operation had transformed  the area into a swamp of toxic waste that enveloped everything into a veil of smog and ash.

Since the plant ceded its operations in 2017 due to bankruptcy, the natural environment has reawakened. Alaverdi is in fact a historical and architectural gem that offers many tantalising  sites for visitors interested in Soviet urban development, industrialization and engineering. As we’re in Armenia, the first country to  adopt christianity as a state religion,   the whole country is stuffed with old and beautiful churches. Therefore we decide to climb out of the steep gorge towards Odzun, which has a famous church - The Church of Odzun. We almost made it up to  Odzun, which is over there.   Woah, steep. 

If there was water here, I would absolutely  put the tent here. I am so tired and I can’t….  But maybe if we’re lucky  we can camp at the church…  What? He’s talking to the cow: “Where are you going? Where are you going?!” Really?! We just met Samvel just next to the canyon. Okay!  We are also interested in travelling. We’ve travelled all of Armenia with my family. And he also invited us to stay at his place, but we’ll first check out  the church.

That could be nice too, they have an  important church here. So we’ll check the church,   but he gave us his number, and in case that’s  not possible we can stay at his home as well. Expecting a rather quiet and small village church,   where we could rest after a long day in the  saddle we’re in for a proper surprise. This Armenian apostolic basilica was finished  in the 8th century, and it’s quite busy.

We made it to the church of Odzun. Churches are usually fairly quiet places. I don’t know. Not in Armenia. Churches are places for picnics, for playing and have a look at this. Oh my God! How many days did it take you?  We are cycling towards Yerevan. We started in Germany. 

Holy moly. How long did it take you? From Germany?  5 and a half months. Yes. You are on the road for 5.5 months from Germany!? Yes. Since winter!? Yes. How is that possible? Holy moly!

Do you have something with you to stay in? Yes, we sleep in a tent. This our clothes, our tent. So you stop and make breaks.  Yes of course! … Our kitchen,  our food… Our home is here. You are travelling…very nice!  And where will you go after Yerevan? After Yerevan we want to cycle to Iran. 

All by bicycle?! Yes! And later we want to... Do you have a YouTube channel? Yes, we have a channel. Here have some stickers.

Cool. Give me a sticker. The kids don’t matter!  This is a sticker. You can  stick it in your notebooks. Thank you. I guess we found many customers  for our stickers today. Hello! Children, slowly! Back off! Can I get one? Can I get one? Give one to them, and that’s enough! You already got one! He didn’t get one. He as well!  That's enough! Okay, go away! One to that nice girl and that’s it! Finish! We’re closed! No no, that’s enough!  That's enough.

That's it. I don’t have any left! Finish! There is nothing left! Okay, we survived the church. At one moment they just abandoned me with about 30 kids that asked me many questions (in Armenian).  That was funny.

This is Anahit. We met Anahit, Samvels daughter. Now his daughter is leading us to their home. We’re on a little road trip  with Samvel and his kids. Good morning! *in Armenian  Good morning! Hello! *in Armenian Yes, we’re riding a very typical car,  that you can see a lot in Armenia. It’s an 07. What’s the company? Is it a Lada? 

Yes! Lada 07, classic car! The second stop of our little  Lada road trip is Saint Nshan, a small chapel at the cliff from where we have a wonderful view over the Debed canyon. It belongs to the Horomayr monastery down in the gorge. Now we’re going to another  place, so the tour got extended. Bless you! *in Armenian Thanks a lot! Can you drive this road with a BMW? Maybe you can do it once, and then you’ll have to call a tow truck. Mathias, can you do this kind of road with a BMW? Well, it depends on the model.

But I guess most cars from Germany  would have a slight problem here,   Because the suspensions are way too  stiff. I mean, look at the road… According to the legend there was a big snake attacking the village, and the snake killed 7 villagers. But then Hovhan of the village Odzun managed to kill the snake with his walking stick.  Over time the snake turned to stone and started to give healing water. Which I’ll give you now, you can drink it.

So, let’s see. The holy healing water from Odzun. I took the water from the belly button of the snake. Wait dear, I'm coming. That’s one of the better ones I have to say. Hey there! *in Armenian Next we head to the edge of the cliff again,  where we give the 07 and our drone a good spin. What a sight, right?! Obviously I’m  talking about Samvel’s Lada 2107,  also nicknamed Zhiguli, like the whole bunch of Fiat 124-based models introduced back in 1979 in the Soviet Union.

The now iconic car is omnipresent in the countryside of Armenia and many other former Soviet countries,  even though its production ended in 2012. It is the world's third best selling,  single generation automobile platform, after the Volkswagen Beetle and the Ford Model T  and one of the longest production run platforms. A lovable little rickety box that is  virtually unstoppable in remote areas with bad roads, thanks to its rear-wheel drive  and simple, easily repairable technology.

What are you gathering? Snails.  What will you do with it? I’ll feed the chicken.  Do they like eating them? Yes. Next we collect snail shells for Samvel’s chicken and a little further south we oversee even more ruins of another  monastery, before our little excursion ends. If I see it right his wife already prepared lunch,   so we’ll likely stay for lunch and then head on. Even though they are trying to make us stay for another night, but we have to keep going every day a little bit, so… Home cooked food in Armenia is fantastic, with  loads of variety, even more so in the countryside.  

Everything on the table is homegrown and made by  Samvel and his wife or relatives in the village.  Armenians, like most of their neighbours, are very hospitable and no matter how little they might have, they will not stop bringing more food to the table until you’re literally stuffed.  Having been to Armenia many times before I learned  how important the tradition of toasting is,   so I give my best to be a good guest, eating  loads of the tasty food and giving a toast. … "so your aims and dreams can come true." Good  people should prosper and they are  quiet obviously very good people.  Thank you very much! You are very welcome!   Before heading on we pass by the cathedral  again, and the yard is still full of children.

So, we’re leaving Odzun, this  beautiful village with great memories.  Goodbye kids! Goodbye. Thanks a lot!  Bye. Have a safe trip! Join us again next time, as we meet other  long distance cyclists on great adventures,  and reach our first huge milestone, my  hometown Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Hey, we Arev and Mathias, amateur filmmakers on an unsupported journey around our planet.

In late 2021 we sold our belongings and set out to explore,   grow and show the world as we see it, in the hope to inspire some people, too. If you like what we do, it would be great  if you could help us out. Editing this type of unscripted and spontaneous documentaries takes a huge amount of time and effort, which is why roughly 50% of our rapidly shrinking budget goes into this channel. On average we receive about 30 Euros from Youtube ads per month, which helps, but is only a fraction of what we actually spend on creating a single episode. We can’t continue this much longer, and well, maybe we shouldn’t.

Maybe we just suck at this and that’s fair enough, but if you think otherwise and want to give us more time, here is what you can do: This is crucial for small creators like us. Subscribe if you haven’t already, activate all notifications, watch each episode to the very end, and of course like, comment and share them. This will make our content visible to more people and therefore it might become sustainable at some point. 

In the meantime you can also join our amazing  contributors on  Through buymeacoffee you can support our content  creation by topping up our budget. We have several additional terabytes of material and we can tell  you with confidence, the best is yet to come!  Anyhow, thanks for watching! Until next  time, and may the wind be in your back!

2024-02-22 00:10

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