The border crossing into Iran

The border crossing into Iran

Crossing into Iran

While Yuri is being ushered in by one of the many men at the border, I am waiting in the van. I’m the only woman who is currently making the crossing and therefore get quite a lot of attention. I also look a bit too cheerfully dressed for the occasion, but at least they’ve something to share when they get home. 

The Armenian border

And so do we.

Let’s start at the beginning. The beginning; the Armenian border. And I write that while there is a lot of shouting behind me, men trying to show off their masculinity I pressume. It’s a border for trucks, that’s for sure. Thus, we stand out. Dutch people in a much too old van with much too cheerful clothes who don’t speak Russian or Farsi. That doesn’t happen everyday.

Anyways the start. So Armenia. The end actually, of a very long and happy time in a very beautiful country. And Armenia knows how to say goodbye, with the most beautiful peaks and greenest valley. But, all good things come to an end.

So, the first check. Passport, carregistration certificate, medical insurance, vaccination, PCR test. We have everything ready and think it’s easy to get through. Wrong. It also takes extra long because everyone starts a conversation with us. “Where do you come from?” “America?” “No Holland!” And immediately we make friends. The Netherlands is a very popular country it seems. 

Preparing for a border crossing

To cross a border, even with a Dutch passport, is always a hassle. In Europe we aren’t well prepared for borders and try our luck because we don’t need visa’s. We do need PCR tests (before being fully vaccinated) and sometimes borders are so small only locals are allowed to use them. But outside of Europe it’s better to be prepared. So, we always check what type of documents we need and arrange everything beforehand. Insurances, visa, Covid-19 regulations, car papers and so on. What do you need? Contact the countries embassy and you’ll always have the right information. 

A deserted customs

We drive on, another check. Again the same papers are requested and again we have everything ready. Still no stamp in the passport. I am asked to continue walking through some kind of border control, while Yuri can go back to the van. I end up in a hall whithout a single soul present. The border post is deserted, so I guess no stamp for me here. I walk around a bit in search of someone but no one is present. After a few minutes a young man walks in, in his jeans and simple T-shirt he takes a seat in a booth and asks for my passport with a smile. He blows some puffs of smoke through the cigarette that is still slanting in his mouth, the ash falls on my papers. He wipes it away like it doesn’t matter. And I think of all those people who have a passport that takes them nowhere and this passport with the coat of arms of the Netherlands at the front that takes me everywhere I want to go. And he’s so casual about it.

He looks at me again, smiles and gestures for me to continue walking. Meanwhile, Yuri has to empty almost the entire van and run it through a scanner. I wait for him for a moment and then Yuri and Alexine come through the gate. We are out of Armenia! At least we think so.

Out of Armenia

Well, we have one more check to go. Will we get a stamp this time? Yes! Again we hand over all the papers and bam, a stamp. Finally! Whoops, wrong stamp in my passport and so the officer places another stamp on top. It looks a bit like a drunken officer loving to stamp got a hold of my passport but whatever, we’re out of Armenia. Then we are checked again.

“Do you have alcohol? pork? Old money?” We answer no to everything. Not that they check anything. “You are from Holland, it’s okay” he says. What a privilege. Because we come from the Netherlands you can apparently trust us. Of course there are no bad people living in beautiful flat Holland. Right?

Anyway, we are out of Armenia. We’re half way through. Now, we’ve got the Iranian customs to go through. 

I put the headscarf a little tighter around my head, make sure I wear long sleeves and we’re ready.

And into Iran

Here we go. On the bridge crossing the natural border between Armenia and Iran, we are stopped again for a check. Oncoming traffic shouts happily at us “welcome to Iran” and take a picture of the van. That is of course not allowed but not that anyone really cares.

We are not yet in Iran, we still have a lot of stops to go, but we don’t know that yet. We drive onto the bridge, and then we end up in a traffic jam of trucks. “Where are you from?” everyone asks us. Our license plates do not show where we come from (they are old dark blue Dutch plates), so everyone looks up in surprise. They think the car is beautiful, and the sight of those two crazy Dutch people who take this border crossing is hilarious, apparently. They also find it surprising that we don’t speak Farsi. However, I do hear a hint of Turkish which surprises me.

We have arrived at the next checkpoint. Park the car and want to give our papers, but we are directed to the passenger hall. Three men are standing here talking to each other. They look up when we enter, but that’s about it. We look sheepishly at each other. “Passport, stamp, visa” I say. Sometimes I downgrade my English to a list of words in the hope that someone will understand what I want. It works. One of the men takes my passport, another watches the PCR test and yet another interferes with both. They discuss something and then return all the papers. “Insurance?” says one. I show that too. But it’s not enough. For Iran we need local insurance we are told. I don’t believe any of it, which I tell them. Our ANWB has clearly put “including Iran and Turkmenistan” on our papers. But he doesn’t want to listen, so we just do what we’re told. The insurance we have to buy extra costs €6 per person for one month. We get a nice pass and if I understand it correctly it has 1 million Rial on it. I am probably wrong, but it sounds like we won the lottery.

Surrounded by trucks and men

Ok, PCR test approved, insurance arranged (being double insured is never wrong), now we just need the stamp. We go to the next booth where they again inspect our visa (the same guys who did that 10 minutes ago). The stamp is put on our visa form and not in our passport. Pretty nice! Then we return to Alexine. A man asks for our passport and where we come from. Something that happens very often and I never understand. The passport is not clear enough I guess.

We can go on. But we’re not there yet. Alexine is surrounded by trucks and we almost die of exhaust fumes. Groups of men crowd around Alexine and I sit quietly while Yuri starts a conversation with the only person at this border crossing who speaks English. Finally, we are also asked for the Carnet de Passage, a document that we received 1 day before departure from Germany. Again we are allowed to drive a few meters further, where men start fighting each other because we are not let through. Or at least, that’s how it looks like when you’ve got men with too much testosterone. We drive on and Yuri is asked to go to the office, with the Carnet de Passage. Apparently we must have an Iranian number plate, but of course the workshop is closed. A man rushes to us “I can arrange something” and that’s our first encounter with the Iranian mentality. We have heard and read a lot about it, but in Iran (almost) everything is possible. In the meantime, I’m trying to get used to long sleeves, pants and a headscarf while it’s warm. Fortunately not sunny but still warm.

Two hours later and we are in Iran but not yet through the bureaucracy. Despite the fact that we have all the papers with us, it is still a hassle. Our passports obviously help a lot, despite the fact that we have a lot of stamps which makes them frown at occasionaly. But we are happy that we have arranged everything properly. They didn’t even check the van. 

After ten minutes of waiting we are allowed to continue driving, without license plates. Unfortunately we can’t get through another gate again because a stamp is missing. However, we have already made some friends and so after some shouting, laughter and ‘jallah’ we can continue.

2.5 hours later and we are in Iran! Even with the right papers it takes quite a long time. But “welcome to Iran”.

Love, Milene & Yuri

 

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Ready for part two

Ready for part two

Ready for part two

 

After being sick for four days, not eating at all, and having to go to the garage with Alexine we are finally ready for part two of the Silk Road Advanture. A good start is half the beginning, but so is a bad start, innit?

 

The abandoned textile factory

While I park the van, Yuri is on the phone with a guy called Karen. His father owns a textile factory in the village we are and we would like to visit it. You might think, why would you want to visit a textile factory? Well, this factory opened in 1976 (the year Alexine got built) and closed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ever since it has been abandoned. And as most, we love untouched things. So we made a deal with Karen and not long after we met his father Hayk in Yeghegnadzor. 

The factory has never been opened again after closing. It didn’t have anything to do with the quality of clothes they were producing here but mostly with the wars (like Nagorno-Karabach) following the fall of the Soviet. Money was used to buy weapons not clothes. In the factory things have been left as if no years have passed since then, except for the dust and spider threads. Pictures of naked women adorn the insides of closets, books about Lenin are filling otherwise empty bookshelves and the hammer and sickle is drawn on one of the machines. The ground floor is filled with machines that once produced very cute children’s clothes, while the first floor is less packed. Here women clothes, like gloves, were made. They also produced protective clothing for a possible nuclear war in this factory. Thirty plus years ago they prepared for a nuclear war, we might need those clothes in the near future. 

After a small tour by Hayk we had coffee and ponchik (delicious Armenian deep-fried piece of dough shaped into a flattened sphere and filled with confiture or other sweet filling) and talked about his children and grandchildren, talking different languages and good music (he plays Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Rolling Stones on piano!). We had a wonderful time together and recommend everyone to do this “tour”.

Soviet Armenia

In late 1920, local communists came to power following an invasion of Armenia by the Soviet Red Army, and in 1922, Armenia became part of the Trans-Caucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1936, it became the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. Russia to this day stays an important ally to Armenia.

From Yeghegnadzor we drive about half an hour to Vernashen, not because it is so far away but because the road is in a bad shape.

Holes in the road made us zigzagging to the next village but Alexine doesn’t seem to mind, she’s found her power back, and so did I.

Let’s hike, cause when life gives you mountains you put on your boots and hike.

Hiking to Spitakavor church

I am here at a super cute church after walking for 1.5 hours and climbing quite a few meters. The view from here is magnificent, although the mountains hide behind a somewhat hazy weather, it is no less beautiful. The little church behind me is lucky with its view. Perhaps the reason that the monks once built it here. The birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing, unfortunately the sun has just disappeared behind the mountain and so I am shrouded in shadow. But it does not matter because after about 8 km of walking, of which the majority was quite steep up, it is nice to relax here.

And how lucky I am that I can go to places like this. That I have the ability and the heart to embark on an adventure like this.

After days of not moving it is so nice to walk again. Pumping my heart rate up, feeling the pain in my legs and shortness of breath from the exertion. It is wonderful to exhaust my body again, to be active and to switch off my thoughts. What a wealth this is. And it went very well, even after four days of not eating anything, almost not knowing where to look from dehydration and having slept for hours. I went like a mountain goat so quick, and felt almost as light as a feather. Once again my condition did not let me down.

At the end of the route we were invited to a farmer for some coffee. There was also food and of course a much too strong alcoholic drink. My throat was immediately on fire. It looked like the farmer himself already drank a few of them. The calves and bulls looked at us curiously while we ate the delicious cheese with bread and honey. A welcome feast after that big climb. It was a pleasant stop, but we decided to continue anyway, because we still have to reach the church.

And so we got there. Super cute, very small, old, with very nice details, like most Armenian churches. The view is the cherry on top of the cake. Although the mountains are somewhat poorly visible, the contours leave room for imagination.

It’s half past seven and we still have to go back. So after Yuri has recovered from hitting his head (nothing new) we start our way back. It is said that it takes us along a river and waterfalls. We still have 1.5 hours before dark. A race against the clock? Or a beautiful relaxing walk back? This time we are prepared: we did bring lights for the way back, we didn’t bring enough water for the way up. But we are getting there, slowly slowly 😉

The way back

From the church we decided to head another way back. One through the valley and gorge. We made the right choice. The route took us alongside the small river and it was so incredibly beautiful! All was green with little trees filled with white blossom, the rippling water, birds singing. No humans, just nature, views and a setting sun. As it was all downhill we went quite fast and even though the hiking route should be about 6 hours we did it a lot quicker. Though we took our time taking photos, video’s and enjoy the scenery.

Normally my knees would tell me to slow down but again, I felt as light as a feather. I guess the foodpoisening did me some good 😉 We walked through the gorge like we never stopped exploring, like we didn’t spend the last six months in the Netherlands. There is one difference, we do appreciate everything a lot more now. The fact that we can do this, that we can explore areas like this, that we are able to live like this. Even if it’s just for six months.

And so, we inhale the fresh air, take a deep breath and realise no one can take this away from us. Like mountain goats we jumped up and down the river stream, hiked past the deep gorge, over stones back to Alexine. Where we celebrate our first long (15km) hike with a beer and some snacks. Ready for more!

Check the slider below for some impressions of the hike.

Love, Milene & Yuri

 

Information

Where

Yeghegnadzor & Vernashen

The abandoned factory is in Yeghegnadzor and the hike to Spitakavor starts in Vernashen.

When

Not in winter

The factory you can actually visit in any time but best on a sunny day for the light. The hike is best from spring to fall. 

Who

Karen & Hayk

To visit the factory contact Karen (send message for contactdetails) he is the son of Hayk and speaks English. Hayk only speaks Armenian, Russing and a bit of German. 

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Bakkie Fleuâh

Bakkie Fleuâh

The Dutch have many names and stereotypes. From being tall wearing clogs with tulips in our hands to having a head of cheese while smoking weed in orange clothes. But we are never called coffee addicts or caffeinators whereas we are one of the biggest coffee drinking nations on earth. We drink an average of 2.4 cups of coffee a day and on average we consume 8.4 kilograms of coffee a year. That’s more than the Italians, even more than the Finnish, hell it’s more than any other country on earth (statistics from Statista 1st of October 2020).

Nonetheless, no one thinks of coffee when they think of the Dutch, or the other way around. In The Netherlands I’m sure that The Hague is the capital of coffee. It’s the only city where the traditional coffee houses are still standing. Traditional coffee houses are tiny homes, often not more than a shed, on the side of the road where workers come to drink a coffee and have some bread. I even made a book about this Dutch phenomenon (Bakkie Pleuâh). But this time I’m not showing you this coffee house, I’m gonna show you a place where we go every week to get one of the best coffees of The Hague.

Bij Fleur

Around the corner of our home is ‘Bij Fleur’, a small very cute coffee house feeling like home. Besides wonderful coffee (from Roast Coffee) Fleur also sells the most delicious home made cakes. Oh and breakfast, lunch and even beer from The Hague. So, before going on this trip to the other side of the world we of course went to have our last cup of coffee at Fleur.

Fleur dreamed of owning her own coffee house. What attracts Fleur the most about owning a coffee house is that it is so much more than just a place where you get coffee. It’s a meeting place where people relax, work, maintain friendships. Besides, it is the stories behind the people who come to get that cup of coffee and you honestly get to know each other. Whenever we go to Fleur we always have a chat and she is very interested in the stories of everyone. That’s why people keep coming day in day out, week in week out. Fleur, and of course her employees, do make this a place not only to get coffee & cake but also a place to share emotions, stories and whatever you want to share.

Especially during the covid-19 lockdown, people are stuck in their homes and often see no one except Fleur. She has become an outing, getting a cup of coffee, talking to someone, having a social connection. It is very important and Fleur is always there and in for a little chat. She sees it when people are feeling a bit down, when someone needs some attention, when a person is emotionally drained. Thus, Fleur’s coffee house becomes a very important place.

Something I really love about Fleur is that she is using products from local businesses. The coffee is from Roast Coffee which is not only a friend of us but honestly does serve the best coffee of the city. The bread is from Lekker Brood, tea from Kali Tengah and cheese from Ed Boele, all local organisations. Fleur takes ‘keep it local’ to a next level. I love that!

Whenever you are in The Hague, do visit Fleur: Van Bylandtstraat 92, 2562 GL Den Haag

Along the road we will visit many coffee houses and will describe them here.