Places with photo galleries in Europe
Lake Ritsa is a pretty mountain lake with green water located at the end of a deep canyon. Apparently, Stalin had a summer cottage up here. The only way to reach Lake Ritsa is either with your own vehicle or on a (Russian) tour. In high season (July and August) a tour can be a very touristic affair with endless stops at honey and wine stands and tying ribbons at sacred waterfalls, but consider it as a part of the experience.
The capital of Abkhazia has a strong post war feel about it. Every second building is abandoned and the rest are mostly in a very neglected state with crooked balconies and what looks like bullet holes. Most of the smaller streets are in bad condition, and even the waterfront, which attracts so many Russian tourists in high season, is dilapidated and worn. But don't be put off by all this neglect, for it's actually the charm and attraction of Sukhumi - and Abkhazia too, for that matter.
Since imposing Mt. Ararat (5,137 m) rises in the horizon behind the Turkish border, Armenia's highest mountain is the beautiful little sister Mt. Aragats (4,090 m). It is a volcano with four peaks and the beautiful green foothills are dotted with tent camps of Yezidi Kurd herders along with their livestock. An old Soviet observatory Byurakan is located at 3,200 m and is the reason why there is a road all the way up to the alpine Lake Kari that forms during spring. The southern peak can be reached by scrambling (not just trekking) while the northern peak (the highest) needs gear to be summited.
The Noraduz cemetery has the largest collection of cross stones, called khachkars. There should be almost a thousand cross stones (though we didn't count them) spread out over the green hill, all finely ornamented. The oldest cross stone dates back to the 13th century, though most are from the 16-17th centuries when the cross stone tradition boomed. A cross stone normally depicted, besides crosses, the life story of the deceased, what he/she did and how he/she died. So a cross stone for a fisherman will have a fish on it and if he died from a serpent bite, a carved snake will zigzag across the stone. There are also tombstones, again, with fine carvings, for example, one showing how a wedding party got raided by foreign warriors.
© John Smith
Republic of Artsakh (previously known as Nagorno-Karabakh) is one of those republics not recognised by many. It lies inside Azerbaijan but is "occupied" by Armenians - the Armenians have always lived in Artsakh, but the region was given to Azerbaijan during the Soviet times. When USSR dissolved, the conflict reemerged with fierce fighting going on in 1991-1994 which left many towns shattered or totally demolished. Today it is possible to visit Republic of Artsakh, but only from Armenia - you will not be able to enter Azerbaijan later on if your passport shows proof of any trip to Artsakh. There are a handful of interesting historical sites, but the main reason for any Artsakh trip should be to witness first handed this troubled slice of land.
Disclaimer: We are not political here on Globe Spots, so the reason why there is a Artsakh guide under Armenia is because you can only enter the region through Armenia.
Sevan monastery, Sevanavank, consists of two churches which were both built during the 9th century. It was located on the top of an island, which today is a peninsula, in Sevan Lake. The view across the lake is magnificent though the sight of abandoned Soviet buildings might spoil the magic a bit. Throughout the history, the place has been plundered by various invading armies and it was totally abandoned during Soviet times where stones from the big church, Astvatsatsin, even got used to build a new house in Sevan city. Astvatsatsin church has since be reconstructed and the courtyard holds a fine collection of cross stones, called khachkars.
Yerevan is a strange mix of drab Soviet-era apartment blocks, imposing Stalinist masterpieces and new-but-not-finished real estate projects. Even though it is one of the longest inhabited cities in the world, not many buildings pre-20th-century remain, due to the extensive city reconstruction that happened during the Soviet years and which was not fully implemented until recently with the finishing of the Northern Avenue. But this being Armenia, and not Eastern Europe, the street scene is extremely lively with a never-ending range of cafes, some very flamboyant with outdoor couches. Central Yerevan is small and walkable, so you can see the major sights within a day or two. The main sights are Cascade (Soviet monument turned not-completed contemporary art museum), Republic Square (former Lenin Square), Opera House and the surrounding cafe area and Vernissage Market during the weekends... oh, and the majestic views of Mt. Ararat on clear days from the top of Cascade.
© John Smith
Republic of Artsakh (previously known as Nagorno-Karabakh) is a republic recognised by few, and definitely not by Azerbaijan. It lies inside Azerbaijan but is "occupied" by Armenians - the Armenians have always lived in Artsakh, but the region was given to Azerbaijan during the Soviet times. When the USSR dissolved, the conflict reemerged with fierce fighting going on in 1991-1994 which left Artsakh wartorn. Today, it is possible to visit Republic of Artsakh - but only from Armenia. You will be denied entry to Azerbaijan if they find any proof (souvenirs, photos, visa) that you have been to Artsakh.
Disclaimer: We are not political here on Globe Spots, we are just presenting things from a traveller's point of view.
Baku is city full of contrast. It emerge as an urban oasis on the barren coastline of the Caspian Sea, which otherwise is dominated by oil plants, industry, and dust. Modern condos mixed with Soviet-era apartment blocks make up most of the drab suburbs, but the city center and waterfront is a totally different story and a testimony to what oil money can buy. Wild and crazy architecture, like the Flame Towers (190 m) and Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, dot the city - and more are under construction. But Baku has also some historic and elegant areas. The fine, but touristic, UNESCO-listed Old City is walled with narrow alleys. Right outside its walls lies a charming neighborhood with tree-lined streets and fine boutiques, not unlike Paris, which extend to the classy shopping streets near Fountain Square. So Baku can either be dreadfully dull or overly exciting, it depends where you explore.
Brest is a lively town on the border with Poland with more hustle and bustle than other towns in Belarus. The northern part of the town is more grim than the rest, and is home to the characterful central market covered by a massive dome, which must hold some kind of record regarding size. The streets are buzzing with people where street vendors sell the usual Eastern Bloc selection of underwear and tablecloth. The main attraction in Brest is of course the Brest Fortress, a Soviet monument for WWII which is within walking distance from downtown. Other points of interest are the mandatory Lenin statue, a couple of beautiful Orthodox churches with shiny cupolas, and the newer Resurrection Church, the biggest church in Belarus.