Armenia is a country of contrasts. On one hand, you'll enjoy some of the most awe inspiring nature to be found between the Mediterranean and the Himalayas. On the other hand, Armenia is a country that is still escaping the shackles of its brutal history. One cannot visit Armenia without delving deep into it's past, and uncovering the atrocities of the early 1900s genocide.
If you mentioned genocide to me 1 year ago, Nazi Germany and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge would immediately spring to mind. Little were we taught about the Armenian genocide in the Australian schooling system. However, a little reading prior to our arrival, and one of the most moving museum visits of my short life, have forever changed my view of the late Ottoman Empire. With that in mind, you need to understand the countries past before you can understand where it is today.
Darkness aside, and with cycling in mind, Armenia greeted us with some of the most leg shaking, knee shattering, cycling of our trip to date. But don't let that put you off, because cycling in Armenia is a gift to your inner masochist.
So after cycling 664km in 11 days, and a further 10 spent resting, learning about the culture and apply for visas, here's our rough guide to cycling in Armenia.
Cost of living:
After 21 days in Armenia, we worked through 400 euros of our hard earned cash, which averages out at 9.50 a day.
However, we were cycling in winter, with night time temperatures hovering between -5 and -10. And unfortunately my sleeping bag is only rated to +5 degrees. So we did stay in hotels a lot more often than usual. A trip in summer time, or with a quality sleeping bag, and you could easily spend half that.
- Hotels/hostels were around 4-5 euros per person per night.
- Cheap restaurants were hard to find, but you can find a meal for 3-4 euros.
- Fresh food was hard to find in winter, but you can live off bread and halva (sweet goodness with 0 nutritional value) for 1 euro a meal.
The Armenians are people with fluid borders and homelands. From the first caravans crossing the Silk Road, they've been respected as some of the craftiest businessmen between Asia and Europe. As such, Armenia traders have set up communities across the continent for centuries. On top of this, they've long been considered as some of the finest craftsmen around. The work of Armenian artisans can be found at Istanbul and Samarkand, as well as everywhere in between.
As a result, the Armenian cuisine is a melting pot of European and Central Asian dishes. You'll find Kebabs done Iranian style, Georgian kachapuri, and all kinds of Turkish delicacies. Keep in mind though, all proud Armenians will happily call the dishes their own.
In Yerevan you'll find some of the trendiest cafes, bars and restaurants east of Istanbul. The Armenian government is actively encouraging the millions of Armenia diaspora to return to the motherland. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of Armenians recently returning from overseas, and they're starting up some brilliant businesses. We especially recommend the live music and sweet patisseries of Yerevan. Though it's easy to blow your hobo cyclist budget on the latter.
Straddling the Caucasus mountains, and with an ageing soviet road network, Armenia offered up the most challenging riding to date. Cycling between the Georgian and Iranian borders for 11 days, we were lucky enough to find flat roads for only 1 of these.
If you love endless switchbacks, dodging potholes that could swallow your dog and multiple 2000m plus passes in one day, then Armenia is your cycling paradise. For mere mortals like us, be prepared for your legs and lungs to pass pain thresholds never seen before. However, the Armenia truck drivers are a friendly bunch and hitching was particularly easy. We've only met one slightly crazy cyclist who insisted on cycling the whole way.
On the upside, mountains also bring beautiful views. Not an hour went by without us stopping to take in the serenity. We particularly recommend taking the old road from Dilijan to Lake Sevan, one of the best days of our trip, and there's a supermarket size bakery after you reach the top.
Wild camping is splendidly easy in Armenia. With few big cities, you won't struggle to find a spot with sweeping mountain views at the end of your day. We even pitched our tent in the city park one evening, and no one seemed to mind at all.
All in all, superman cyclists and history buffs will definitely enjoy their time in Armenia. For everyone else, don't be afraid to put your ego aside and stick out your thumb on the tough days. But more importantly, a trip to Armenia is well worth the eye opening experience as you learn about the troubled history of these proud people.