It’s December and the mercury is dropping fast. This week I experienced my first morning run in the falling snow, crunching quietly in the pre-dawn blue around the faded grandeur of Victory Park and its empty dilapidated walkways, crumbling statues and rusty fairground rides.
The onset of winter took me back a couple of years to when I first arrived in the Caucasus. I remember vividly crossing from Turkey into Georgia on Christmas Eve 2007, dearly hoping to escape the freezing coastal rain for which the Black Sea is well known. The journey has generated such a wealth of crystal-clear memories. If my brain has cleared things out to make room for them without telling me, I really don’t mind.
(I wasn’t disappointed by the much colder and drier Georgian weather, but I did discover something of my worldly ignorance — the Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on the 6th of January.)
I was lucky enough to make it all the way to Yerevan by mid-January without camping — possible, I’d discovered, only if I wished to spend the entire night awake, shivering uncontrollably as my legs turned to blocks of ice. Temperatures on the mountain roads had been as low as minus thirty at night, and even at midday as I approached Yerevan it was still minus fourteen.
The prospect of spending another winter skidding around the icy Soviet boulevards of Yerevan is made more appetising by a few things. The first is the opportunity to work on website projects from the comfort of my small flat, hopefully earning enough money to spend the majority of 2010 on the road. I won’t pretend it’s particularly riveting stuff, but it beats being unemployed and skint!
The second thing is the prospect of a good old British Isles-style Christmas Day fest with some fellow ex-pats. Fearghal and Simon, two Irish lads, have been pedalling tirelessly round the planet since 2008, and they’re on track to make it to Yerevan for the 25th. I’ve invited them to stay a few days and pump themselves full of turkey, Christmas pudding and whiskey. It’s strange, as I never considered patriotism to be one of my defining characteristics, but I’m feeling a curious urge to indulge in an over-the-top festive expression of national identity. I can only assume this is the product of being away from The Island for too long, and Christmas seems like the perfect platform!
Finally, I’ve long been hoping to organise a winter expedition in Armenia, but have been at a loss for what exactly to do. Originally I wanted to cycle or walk the 80km-or-so length of Lake Sevan on the ice, but apparently it’s quite unusual for the lake to freeze over like it had done when I arrived two years ago, and swimming just doesn’t hold quite the same appeal. Now I’m set on some kind of multi-day trek in a remote and frozen area of the country.
It’s going to be a winter of hard work, good company, a scattering of excursions, and the prospect of a new journey to look forward to, as winter begins to release its grip on the Caucasus and spring colours start to creep from their hiding places.