Armenia, Central Anatolia and Istanbul again

I am gathering the willpower to get up and head for the Harem bus terminal as we speak, but coffee and prosaic aspirations currently deter yours truly from actually doing so. Tonight I will arrive in Ankara, having found a place to stay for the night in the graciously offered house of the parents of a dude I met yesterday on the bus. Tomorrow the train to Tehran departs, which will arrive there sometime on Friday evening. I am hoping there is food, power sockets, internet and a lack of snoring people on board.

I last left you, my spellbound listeners, in a small village in the Georgian mountains. Since then I have continued my motorcycle-powered journey to the capital Tbilisi (gorgeous, fun city) where me and Diamantis (Greek sailor and my motorcycle driver) said goodbye to Russian travel companions Ilya and Marina, and onwards into Armenia. The poverty and the Soviet legacy struck me foremost when we got into the country; the smaller cities and towns, once thriving on heavy industry but now dilapidated and largely abandoned, stand out as an eyesore in the otherwise beautiful Armenian landscape. Luckily, the priced matched the appearance: I was able to get a couple of cartons into Turkey, selling them off in Istanbul. In complete contrast to this all were a couple of 4th century churches on the mountainous plateau which harbours sporadic ancient villages.

The capital, Yerevan, is, as is often the case with capitals, a hub for the well-endowed and the Westernised. Amazing food, friendly people, the Cantaloupe pub where I played for free drinks one night, leading the cheerful crowd into one familiar sing-along after the other, and the shots I got there: vodka, lemon extract, tabasco, black pepper and a green olive. Unlike modern Tbilisi, Yerevan is a bit behind times, but at least possesses a charm that a big part of the country lacks.

After a few days we embarked on the long trek back to the west, hampered by the fact that Diamantis noticed that driving slower saves fuel, turning him from a speedy, keen driver into a content doing-ninety-on-the-right-lane kinda guy. Luckily I have my phone to help me with the endless rolling plains of inland Anatolia, so I spent time reading Nietzsche and Hosseini to while the time away. Bland nights in cheap hotels were spent reading, drinking and skyping with my love as we slowly but steadily crawled back towards the West. Amazing how much time ponder you have on a motorcycle, having only the rushing wind and the slowly changing landscape as your companions for most of the day.

Around the Kapadokya area, which is justly famous for its houses dug out of the rock and the stunning landscapes, there are also some less famous gems to behold, such as the underground city we stumbled upon. Built well before Alexander the Great started poking his nose into world affairs, these multi-layered underground cave-like towns are well preserved ancient dwellings complete with trapdoors and huge disc-shaped boulders to roll into place against invaders.

Diamantis, headed for his home on the island of Chios, left me on a Sunday morning on the highway near Afyonkarahisar, from where it took me a spectacular eighteen hours to hitch back to Istanbul. I got picked up after a few hours by some well-meaning guys who would put me on the Ankara highway in three hours. Excellent plan, poor execution. They did not drop me on the highway (putting me around the centre instead) and it did not take them three hours (six, rather).
Racing against dusk and the near-certainty of not getting a ride, I reached the highway with half an hour of sunlight to go. Just before the sun went under I was saved by a trucker who would take me to Istanbul.

Alas, poor execution was to be my fate again. He went to Izmit instead, still a solid 100km from Istanbul, and he dodged the highway doing 60 on the provincial road, which meant I was begging for rides at 1am at Mc Donalds. A cute couple picked me up, and after an hour of moody guitar playing in the back of the car the girl started convincing her hubby to take this poor stranded guitarist to his home, saving me a 6 hour hike through nightly Istanbul.

Since then I have had a great last week in multifaceted Istanbul, getting my Iranian visa, chilling out with the expatriate community and spending a boozy weekend at the campus of Bogazici university with locals and Erasmus students alike. On Friday evening I will reach Tehran, which marks the beginning of a month in Iran. After I will (providence providing) fly over Pakistan to reach Kathmandu, where I will meet up (again, providence providing) with my love for the fourth time.

Kolay Gelsin to all of you for whom summer and its leisurely pace have passed to quickly again. Next stop Iran!

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