Researching Armenia’s Most Comprehensive Travel Guidebook – By Bicycle

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There’s another purpose to my in-depth bicycle tour of Armenia, which is also a nice development for my occasional career as an author:

I’ve been greatly honoured with the task of researching and writing the next edition of the Bradt Travel Guide to Armenia.

This British publication is the only dedicated English-language guidebook to Armenia currently in print. The original book was put together by a husband-and-wife team who first came to Armenia in 2001 and have been revising and updating it for three further editions since. But Bradt needed a new author for the 5th edition, and the commissioning editor just happened to be in the audience for my lecture at the RGS last February.

The current edition of the book is impressively thorough and meticulously researched, particularly on the many historical sites embedded in the mountains of Armenia. My task is to broaden out its appeal to include all that’s new in terms of outdoor & adventure tourism (and that’s a lot of things), while delicately maintaining the book’s heritage.

Given the tight schedule – the book will be on the shelves in December – this will certainly be a challenge! But it’s proving be a fantastic way to continue my mission to showcase Armenia, especially in the wake of the globally reported Velvet Revolution, which yesterday took a second big step forward when the leader of the movement, Nikol Pashinyan, was elected Prime Minister of Armenia by a 59–42 parliamentary majority – an incredible display of the power of direct action, given that most seats belong to the party targeted by the protest movement.

What’s nice about the role of a guidebook author and updater is that it magically opens doors.

A random tourist might not be able to easily secure meetings with the directors of National Parks, town mayors, ecotourism NGO directors, volunteers in far-flung villages, etc; nor might they want to. But all that is now part of the journey, and it’s making the ride all the more interesting – not least because of the industry’s still-embryonic status and the consequent enthusiasm for anything that might help drag it out of obscurity.

So my increasingly weathered copy of the current edition of the Bradt Travel Guide to Armenia* now counts for a good 50% of the weight of my bar-bag; I’ve got a half-decent shirt and a stack of business cards so I can just about make myself look professional; and the stories that come out of these encounters will also form part of the narrative of this increasingly unusual bike trip.

Follow the ride on Instagram (and stay tuned for step three of Armenia’s Velvet Revolution).

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10 responses to “Researching Armenia’s Most Comprehensive Travel Guidebook – By Bicycle”

  1. Hi Tom, It’s an old one but I was looking for a guy that was updating a Bradt Armenia guide I met while I staying in Alaverdi. I’m Ewa, a Polish woman on a bicycle and you gave me great tips on roads to take. I am working on my book (yep, so many years but with looong breaks) hence looking back. I do enjoy all your posts, writing style, information, things you do in Armenia a lot and it makes me miss this wonderful country even more now.

    1. Hey Ewa! Yes, that was me 🙂 I think we were staying at Parisis Hostel in Alaverdi if I’m not mistaken? Very good to hear from you and happy to hear about your book project – I found the process to be long but fulfilling, and it definitely doesn’t matter how long it takes!

      1. Yes, Parisis hostel, a flat on the last floor of a soviet style block of flats… Thanks for your words of motivation! Will follow.

  2. Bruce Logan avatar
    Bruce Logan

    Good to know that you have been asked to update the Bradt guide. I first rode in Armenia & Nagorno Karabagh 10 years or so ago. I wrote to Deirdre thereafter with some info and comments and she asked me to add a cyclists’ section for the next edition but I was too diffident and didn’t do it. The side trip to NK was a quite bit exciting. You will know that once you are there you have to register at the “foreign office” and get a slip of paper indicating where you can ride. Well, I ignored that and rode east on a forbidden road towards the border. The road was quite rough and there were clearly a number of minefields on either side. At one point I was conscious of a large noise coming from behind me and turned round to see a line of tanks & APCs coming towards me accompanied by lorries full of soldiers in full battle gear. I rode on, only to be confronted by a couple of squaddies toting AKs, so I decided that the sensible thing was to turn back. On another occasion the 2 of us were riding along the east side of Lake Sevan with no where to sleep. A shepherd took us in, which didn’t seem to please his wife. In the middle of the night there was a tremendous “domestic” with pans and crockery being thrown all over the place. She wouldn’t take any money for their liberal hospitality but we tucked some notes under the pillow when we left. We had such a good time that we overstayed our Armenian visas and got stopped at Immigration as we were leaving and had to buy another visa just so we could leave the country.

    1. Great anecdotes! I would certainly not recommend anyone go to any off-limits ares of Nagorno-Karabagh, though – the war is no joke. 

      Incidentally, the new edition of the guide is already out and includes a complete new section on cycling 🙂

  3. Bernard Gogarty avatar
    Bernard Gogarty

    Where can I buy the book.I hope to go cycle touring in Armenia next September.

    1. All good bookstores should have it in their travel section, or you could try the usual online retailers eg: Amazon*.

  4. Christopher Culver avatar
    Christopher Culver

    I am curious what control you as the author have over the prose style. I prefer my travel guides to be rather detached and dispassionate, and not afraid to say some things are crap, which is what used to set Bradt apart from LP. I was very disappointed however by the recent Bradt guide to Senegal that just gushes enthusiastically about everything, as if trying to sell the country to people who have already decided to go there. I hope that isn’t an intentional editorial decision that Bradt management is requiring of all authors from now on.

    1. Hi Christopher – I can only speak for the book I’m updating, and in this case my brief was to retain the original author’s voice as much as possible while adding as much new content as I felt appropriate and updating what was already there where necessary. The book is extremely detailed, given the size of the country, and much of it is there to help people travelling the country interpret what they experience, rather than telling them where to go and what to think. There are inevitably some areas of subjectivity, particularly when choosing which of a large number of hotels and restaurants to include in listings, and of course there are assumptions about what the majority of readers will be glad to be made aware of, but I think this is all inevitable for the sake of making the book practical. I’m not sure which other Bradt guides you’ve read, but I think it’s worth remembering that they are different books written by different authors (and for different reasons).

      1. Christopher Culver avatar
        Christopher Culver

        Thanks, Tom. If you have been charged with retaining the original voice of that Armenia guide (which is a style I like), then it certainly restores my faith in Bradt and I’ll just write off that recent Senegal guide as the author’s mistaken choice, instead of some sinister intentions on the part of the publisher to ape Lonely Planet.

Something to add?