Georgia – Armenia: Caucasus 2017

20 Aug

Thinking back to our trip in Caucasus this summer it’s like scrolling through all the pictures and still feel a kind of puzzlement of the adventure it became. For two weeks I travelled with Dirk-Jan, who I met on his motorcycle on the steps in Mongolia last year. Adventure was certainly something he sought when driving alone on a motor around the flat lands of Genghis Khan, and adventure was once again a common desire when booking our tickets to an unknown part of the continent. Between Europe and Asia in the Caucasus region the idea was to go on a motorcycle through Armenia. Instead, it became a combined journey from Georgia to Yerevan in rental car. The traffic was one of its kind and the countries were more crowded than initially thought (perhaps subconsciously we thought a “new” isolated Mongolia?). Still, with our vehicle guided by Dirk and his ongoing go-kart instincts it became spontaneous, it became a discovery of border lands.

Once landed in Kutaisi – one of the biggest populated yet very local Georgian cities – we got a flyer for the GEM electronic music festival at the pass control. Never happened before to experience marketing for cultural events in such a context. In this little city we started to notice the great fascination for aerial cable cars, as we jumped on a yellow dangling wagon in the air (probably still in use from Soviet times) taking us to the other site of the river. Later this transporting phenomenon would be seen in Tbilisi, as well as the amusement parks, and somehow: entertainment shows at water fountains (combining music with a light show). The last one was even popular in Armenia. Besides cultural and entertaining curiosities, the Black Sea got our drive once we were in this angle of Georgia. In a way, I was attracted by a sea with so interesting countries and cultures around it. Also, to reach the sea and its winds when possible, lies in the nature of one grown up by the side of a fjord. So, with our little blue four-wheel-drive we drove towards Batumi.

Often it became surprising to enter certain cities and to see the people who already knew them for years, it was like discovering a kind of treasure. People were not from Europe, but rather the bordering countries in this part of the continent. Batumi was one of these towns and stood out as a kind of Russian-influenced holiday resort by the seaside with its particular vibe and style. A really appealing and relaxing urban space to be for some warm, summer days next to the sea, especially in Soviet times. Yerevan on the other hand, would be a capital of which I still do not understand the logic, but it was amazing indeed. It even put the pre-conception of a poor country in a new place. Without going into definitions of what a poor Armenia means or not, it was clear; the country’s cultural heritage was ancient and astonishing. Whereas Yerevan stated an urban fabric with trendy bars, shopping malls, old churches and more. There were a lot of tourists crowding the city from Iran, Russia and USA. The last ones somehow reflecting the diaspora and re-connection with American Armenians visiting for summer?

The Armenian landscapes were more wild and dry than the “tropical” Georgia we met. Such as when driving around with the blue jeep on top of some mountains close to Khulo. (Yes, it never stops fascinating me how growing up in a flat country certainly does something about one’s fascination for high mountains, even hills.) After passing several villages we found a road higher and higher up and finally; a wild spot for camping. In Norway nature is for everyone’s camping desires. With this mind set our brand new Decathlon tent got to shine in the humid hill. For the first and last time. Cause together with the wolf’s howls we discovered that Georgia has a rich animal life, and it isn’t that recommended to camp, especially without speaking with the locals first. Nature became experienced mostly from the car window and nights spent at hotels. (At least till later when we went to Norway and to the Sagvollen cabin by the lake in the forest.)

Driving around unknown Georgian villages, who would have thought that a dead car battery could be a social opening with locals? Well, the blue jeep became a living proof of this “gathering” mechanism. From Batumi’s city centre to lively small villages and even on mountain tops. I think that sudden stop on the top of the green mountain was the most unexpected of them all. Normally the car choose crowded places like in that village when I got to talk with an old lady in Russian. She told me that I should let the men take the task in pushing the car. As a woman I was privileged to sit down and just watch, while listening to her stories of not liking Turkey (this village was close to the border) and excitement of Derek being Dutch. However, on top of that mountain the windows were open and outside the car bad-ass drooling dogs waiting for us. Luckily an old man came out of the only cabin there was and waived us into his little home. While offering us home made vodka, coffee and lots of food, he told us about his pensioned sons (a glimpse of being proud), they lived in Tbilisi and yes, he did have a battery lying under his bed. We were struck of how hospitable and helpful he was, but also how strong he made his vodka.

Thinking back to our trip in Caucasus this summer it’s like scrolling through the different moments and feel a new kind of adventure spirit. With Dirk-Jan. Ten days where way too short for all the places to explore between Georgia and Armenia, and additional border lands. I wish there was a word for that post-travel sensation one gets when landing back in the every day life after an intense travel. Step by step one tries to understand it all, gather the impressions into a story or response when people ask you what you saw, how it was? It’s one of those travels where it takes ages to pakke ut and put the backpack in its shelf againperhaps cause inside me I still wish I was there and not here?

 

 

 

 

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Photo time!

15 Sep

In an attempt to choose some of many epic moments.
Mongolia and China MMXVI.
Wordpress made them in a tiled mosaic,
and you know I prefer it fragmented.

China

6 Sep

It became so easy to walk away time in Beijing, the distances were too big to be grasped by the eye when looking at the map. So much noise and spetakkel! With cars honking continuously, people shouting and talking endlessly (which we experienced especially on our train ride to Chengde); China became so crowded and noisy compared to Mongolia, but it didn’t really seem like the menneskehav, an ocean of people. The Chinese’ must be complimented for their well-developed skills in managing cities and big crowds. We walked away time when we visited various parks and their temples.

Somehow in China tourist attractions and cultural heritage sites have to give you a feeling of an amusement park. Next to for instance the temple itself atmospheric music will be played, if possible there is a beautiful, well-kept garden or park, and wait if you’re thirsty or want to buy something a shop is always around the corner, but also with costumes for taking pictures, or even spots or play grounds for children (such as at the Great Wall we encountered surprisingly a funny down hill slide). Back in Mongolia at the old monastery in Kharkorin, Valerie (our travelling French friend who lives in Shangai) pointed this already out to us, thus the authenticity of the Erdene Zuu monastery that lacked the Chinese shiny, restored self with all the service experience facilities around. We just didn’t really understand it before we actually saw and lived it.

In China it seems that everything can be bargained except for food. The taxi, a drink or a beer, shopping at the market, even the water bottles… Perhaps their traditions of being merchants on the Silk Road are still present? At least it didn’t take long before we learnt most of the tricks to get those convenient deals. Like when we went to the seaside in Shanhaiguan and needed to get a taxi in a hurry to the bus station for the last transport back to our hostel in Chengde. In the beginning the idea was to stay at a hotel in Shanhaiguan, but what we discovered was that no hotels were for foreigners, only “Mainland Chinese Citizens” and we felt discriminated for the first time. Even in Beijing we stopped by a karaoke bar urging to sing and enjoy the last night, only to discover again that the bar was for “Mainland Chinese”. Perhaps there were a lot of good reasons in doing this, only that we ourselves started to feel like aliens, which at times is the word used for foreigners. Valerie who works in Shanghai holds a “Working Permit for Aliens”, despite of her Chinese origins and fluent level of the language. In the Culture Ethnic Park (another example of a wanna-be-amusement-park), which presents the 56 minorities in China by showing their traditions in houses, clothing and more, we walked from ethnic village to village diving into the life styles of the different minorities. Impressing indeed is it that China houses so many minorities on their own, and without going into discussions of freeing some of them, one might understand why China put so much emphasis on the Chinese Mainland aspect, unifying all of their groups instead of dividing. Although as a foreigner it doesn’t give a very welcoming impression when privileges are given exclusively to Chinese Mainland Citizense. Luckily it is only felt on a political and formal level, cause the Chinese we got to know were so warm to us. Even in our first meeting we got a really nice gift of a friend’s friend who wanted to show us around Beijing (such a contrast to the Norwegian cold culture that would never come up with something like that). With a hospitable and warm feeling around us, we really thought it was a pity that we couldn’t communicate on a deep level due to the language barrier.

On our trip to the Great Wall we got lost with the bus and randomly found an English description on how to get there on a sign from McDonalds. Sticking to that explanation we asked various people about help (pointing at the Chinese signs we had captured on the phone) in order to take the right bus. I will never forget that lady in the suburbs of Beijing in the so-called Beifang, she stood out in the street peeling nuts and gave us two chairs to sit on while waiting for the transport. Every time a bus would come she would tell us if it was right or not; a moment in which we really trusted this stranger, and it gave a motherly feeling. She was so helpful and sweet to us, eventually the bus came and thanks to her we finally reached Mutianyu, an epic spot of the Great Wall, which is really a true wonder of China.

Mongolian Times

31 Aug

Once we came out of UB we met the real Mongolia. How can you describe those endless steps and such an immense nature to be in? Being out in the steps in Inner Asia and you understand why The Eternal Blue Sky was the Mongols’ shamanistic God before Buddhism arrived. The sky is humongous, immense, present everywhere and looks down at the Nomadic people spread out in the country herding their animals. On the road it became a daily sight to see them in action on horses with great flocks of sheep, goats, yaks or camels. In Mongolia you don’t use fences and animals walk freely around, well-supervised by their herders who live with and by them. A nomad’s greeting is often to ask how the animals are doing and bring wishes about them being well fed. Cause the animals are the nomads’ wealth, if they are well fed so is their life stock.

During our last two weeks we have lived with various nomadic families traveling around in the central and southern part of the country by horse and car. Especially on our riding trip to the Naiman Nuur Lakes we left our heart with one of them. From the first moment we were offered ayrag, the fermented mare’s milk (that might get you tipsy if not drunk wisely) as often is the ritual. If not ayrag, other dairy products or tea are welcoming you into the colorful ger. However, this family was in high routine of cutting up a sheep’s inner parts when we entered. While they cut up the organs, we sat down with the ayrag and tried to communicate with our flourishing Mongol skills that grew together with our horse guide Bagi, who didn’t speak any English. Our family had a row of medals stating the high status of their horses’ victory in racing.

Although we couldn’t speak profoundly with them, we understood that the family liked us by their ‘glimt’ in their warm eyes towards us. Eating, drinking and preparing the meat from the sheep, it was all done at the same time as Bagi turned on the CD player and we discovered that Modern Talking wasn’t only popular with our Russian-speaking driver, but also here in the countryside within the nomads’ gers.

When living inside the gers it was incredible to think that their way of being built spans from before Genghis Khan’s time. For almost a thousand years this white-colored and well-isolated tent have covered so characteristically the Mongolian steps and landscapes. In UB it became such a contrast to see the same gers in an underdeveloped and crowded city, especially when they fitted so elegantly out there in the steps.

Although these immense landscapes might seem to not have been lived by humans, it’s far away from the truth. In Genghis’ time the steps were filled with tribes that killed and terrorized each other, one of many reasons for him to create peace by conquering and gathering all of them into one Mongol state. Without going to deeply into all the stories circulating Genghis’ I must say it’s fascinating how his Empire spun out of the traditional life of his people of herders and nomads, nonetheless by moving on horseback. The horses are considered to be noble creatures and carry such a high symbolic place in Mongolian culture, still, they don’t give them names. Of all the horses we met they were all without ones. In Khugnu Tarni, the first place we got to ride, I named my horse Timo (meaning ‘yes’ in Mongol) with whom the vibe and speed were as amazing as the never-ending, free landscapes around us.

Even in Mongolian music the horses are present by rhythms resembling them running together with trashy, soft sounds. A music that would follow us both on the bus, in car and even with Bagi on horseback, who would sing lively the tunes of Orkhan; the horse music trash king (who has by now achieved a great place in both me and Sigrid’s playlist). After we left Central Mongolia and went towards South, Orkhan would soon pop up in Gobi as when we went out for dinner in a restaurant filled with plastic threes looking like a tropical forest. In Gobi we would book a driver who took us around the dry steps, to the flaming cliffs (with Mongolian pancakes for breakfast) and the sand dunes. A Dutch motorcycle adventurer would follow us on our tour, realizing that going alone in Gobi is something you just don’t do. At the sand dunes we would climb up on the top meeting a tremendous wind, but also an incredible view over the desert. We felt like camels when we were moving slowly from side to side in the climbing, with sand getting in all directions.

Under The Eternal Blue Sky we discovered the nomads’ home, in the immense steps that lead towards the desert in South. Our introduction to Mongolian culture was only a fraction of everything it offers and our time was far from enough, The Eternal Blue Sky will soon look down at us again.

The eagle arrives

4 Aug

There was no direct flight to Ulaanbaatar from Oslo and in order to get here we needed to criss-cross two continents. We went down and up in Europe and in and out of China. We flew above Russia, a kind of feeling of looking down at the Transiberian railway following it from the sky. With strange illuminated lights from small Siberian cities, and the Chinese Great Wall proudly below us surrounded by beautiful green nature. Once getting within Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar rised as a colorful cluster of buildings in the middle of nowhere. Our hearts stopped a second when we saw some white traditional gers.

Gers would become the building we would see everywhere in Mongolia’s high accelerating capital. They would be in front of the parliament, in the district in the hills close to the monasteries and even decorated ones (a sense of trash) made by flowers. According to Bilguun Ulaanbaatar doesn’t resemble the Nomadic spirit of the Mongols. They were never used to the thought of settling down and in the city buildings are now constructed close to each other, stretching up to the sky as skyscrapers trying to copy other Asian big cities. Mongols always ride a horse and not cars, so the result is a confusing, aggressive traffic. A big contrast in the city are the old monasteries, or the few of them that were left after Stalin’s terror in the 30s. We were walking around them and understanding piece by piece the different layers in the Mongolian-Russian relationship. Although, their monks and monasteries were destroyed, the Russians also helped a lot to develop the country.

Bilguun showed us amazing pictures of Mongolian landscapes and the Khazakh Eagle Hunters. In the evening we went up to the beautiful top, the so-called “Montmartre” of the city and by luck we met a Khazakh boy with an eagle enthusiastic to share him. Our travel to Mongolia started on a plane exploring the territory and its surrounding neighboring countries from an eagle perspective. Now we even held this majestic, strong bird on our arm, we felt like lucky children and this was only the beginning. Tomorrow the real adventure towards the steps, the heart of Mongolia, would begin.

Mongolia:tomorrow!

1 Aug

 

Tomorrow it will happen. Me and my cousin Sigrid will start our epic adventure towards the East in which we will travel around Mongolia and China for one month. I started this blog more than four years ago when I went to New Zealand and Australia, now my blog will be alive again with some Mongolian and Chinese times!IMG_6222

Mongolia from a Norwegian countryside perspective – wondering how it will be?

Milano.

18 Jun

The other weekend I went to Turin, I couldn’t grasp the city, despite of my frequently party visits the last year. Elettra made a remark that Turin has no fish and no meat, as a way to tell that the city is far away from the sea, her Trieste and the ‘meat’ probably refering to a deeper saying out of my own cultural understanding? Still, in Turin I couldn’t grasp the city, I couldn’t define it properly, something that I realized during my 26- hours-long-stay. My post about Milan starts with Turin. Cause in the beginning, when you first arrive in a new city you see the differences, you sense something else until you walk within the city’s contures of everyday life. When touching the outside and not living the inside it is easier to define. I still need to do that for the city I am currently living in; Milano.

In the beginning I did like everybody else who never lived in Milan. I perceived and thought about the city through the big eyes of prejudices. Cause simply if one doesn’t really take the time to visit the city, it doesn’t really seem beautiful, and it rains a lot. (Rain that so often gives that grey appearance.) The Italian concept of ‘beauty’ has its standards, the whole country swims in cultural heritage, contrasts of past and present. In Milan the streets are big and linear with high, grey buildings. Sometimes and quite out of nothing the churches give the impression of being the ones strongly kept in tidens tann; out of time. They make that history; its beauty emerges when all the other streets have a tendency to hide it away. Beauty is to be found in Milan, but you need to look for it. It is not like Rome or the other cities where it is so omnipresent, like forests and pine trees in Norway.

Milano. I came here first of all due to a very convincing internship offer. Working for Iperborea – the publishing house that translates and promotes Nordic literature and  culture in Italy – became a company I could easily fit into. In a way, the fact that I found an interesting internship in this city, and not in Bologna or the rest of the country, demonstrates how Milano is that hub of more opportunities. I’ve already met so many who applied for jobs and where did they end up to find one? Milano e Milano.
Besides actually having a reasonable job, life around you like moving around with the metro or going out with a friend for dinner is not that bad. Actually Rome’s terrible metro lines (with that undefinable swetty smell I’ve never met anywhere else) seem so far away and distant. Sometimes I get the feeling that the people who live Milan are all softened up by a more comfortable life. We move around from a job that makes sense, to amazing restaurants if we want to and around us there is a cultural life that never sleeps. Although the streets are big and linear with high, grey buildings, the exhibitions and festivals are everywhere, a flowing creativity  is now put into an organized angle of Italy, it’s different, it is even trendy, being the centre of fashion and design.

I’ve probably entered Milan’s contures of everyday life. In the beginning I remember that among my impressions was my amusement of living so continentally to the other European countries, somehow it made Milan different (can it even explain on a deeper level their organizational skills as opposed to other Italian cities? Perhaps as a result with this part of the country’s different history as influenced by a closeness to their neighbouring countries?).
As in that fresh, first observation of the city I should probably have digged more into that thought, but I didn’t and now I’ve entered within the contures of that typical, habit cultivating everyday life, still I must say: Milan you are vibrant.