Narek Aleksanyan

My Winter Hitchhike: To Georgia and Back (Pt 1)

Narek Aleksanyan

Before hitting the road for a few days of winter travel, you understand that wherever you go it will be colder than you are now. You prepare yourself. But, lo and behold, just when the city disappears behind a mountain or two, the sun magically appears and you don’t even feel like wearing sunglasses. You just want to soak up its warming rays. 

I’ve done my share of hitchhiking, with friends, and for work. This time, I left on my own.

My first winter trip. I planned to travel around 500 kilometers, to Georgia and back via Gyumri.

It took me 26 cars to reach my destination. It was a place I had only seen in the photos taken by friends last summer.

The same gloomy winter awaited me on my return to Yerevan. It even felt colder. I felt the icy chill even before entering the city. Near Ashtarak, a sign said that Yerevan was 25 kilometers away; Tehran, 1,171 kilometers. My desire to take a hot shower at home overcame the attraction to visit the warm towns of Iran.

This is still in central Yerevan. I would have to reach the major roadway leaving the city to start hitchhiking.

This holiday-decorated minivan would take me to Yerevan’s 16th district.

Urban scenes from my window.

The start of the road leading to the north and northwest – Gyumri, Aparan and Vanadzor.

My first car ride, taking me a bit outside Yerevan.

First stop – USSR (it’s for sale).

Fork in the road. Aparan and Vanadzor to the right. I went straight, towards Gyumri.

In the summer, these stalls near Ashtarak resemble a wine, fruits and berry festival. This time of year, homemade vodka is on the menu.

A few more villages down the road, you’ll meet the sun escaping Yerevan.

Things take on a golden hue from this side of tinted windows.

Turns out it’s the same from the other side as well.

Ararat is where it should be. There’s a joke making the rounds of Facebook that the mountain won’t be there once the fog lifts in Yerevan.

The cars that stop only take me a short distance. I have time to admire the scenery.

The sign inviting travelers to the village of Ashnak. But my sights are on Gyumri.

This Zhiguli took me to Talin.

It’s slowly getting dark.

The next car took me to Mastara.

Met Artak on the outskirts of the village while I was trying to flag down a car. He remembered me from the time Hetq took photos of the school a few weeks ago.

I waited quite a while for a car. Artak stood guard until one stopped. He then telephoned and wished me a safe journey.

That car took me to Gyumri.

Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city.

I had called ahead to spend the night here. There was no one at Rob’s Home. They brought the key, lit the heater, and left.

Found a potato to roast.

Decorated bedroom.

Had to take public transportation to the road leaving town.

A passing car took me to the next village.

I got lucky. A driver stopped, and took me all the way to Ninotsminda, Georgia.

Bavra – Last stop before the Georgian border.


The village of Gorelovka. Doukhobors (Spirit-wrestlers), a group of Russian religious dissidents, founded it in the mid-19th century. Only a few families remain.

Cleaning the road.

Ninotsminda, or Bogdanovka, as the locals call it.

Street art

Pink Ninotsminda

Mimino -  a 1977 Soviet comedy film starring Vakhtang Kikabidze and Mher ‘Frunzik’ Mkrtchyan.

Sun, cheese and the Georgian pooree bread. Behind me is the police building, with glass walls. I forgot to take a picture.

Akhalkalak – I hope that Djivan didn’t win the election.

Looks like the guy who fashioned the roof drew inspiration from the mountain in the distance

Made a reservation to spend the night here. Thanks Mourad

Ararat never tires from playing.

Leaving Akhalkalak, I make my way to the cave monastery at Vardzia, 42 kilometers distant.

I hope to get there and return before it gets dark. 

Counted at least 100 bales of hay…

Paravani River. Still waiting for a ride.

Finally, a car took me half the way.

The Georgian driver was surprised I wasn’t carrying a bottle of Armenian cognac. He offered me some homemade chacha (Georgian grappa), and I gifted him a pack of Ararat cigarettes.
To be continued