Armenia 2018 Books

Researching Armenia’s Most Comprehensive Travel Guidebook – By Bicycle

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).

Armenia 2018

Revolutionary Armenia: Travelling By Bicycle Through The New Republic

Until now, I feel like I’ve done a pretty bad job of telling tales of travel and adventure in the Republic of Armenia.

This feels counterintuitive, as Armenia is one of the countries in which I’ve spent the most time on the road, to where I have returned most often (those who’ve seen or read Janapar will know why), and thus about which I have the most to share.

I’ve written about being a digital nomad in Yerevan, and why you might come cycling here, but travel writing per se? Pretty much nothing.

I’m hoping to remedy this situation today by kicking off a season of Armenia-focused cycling adventures.

You might say it’s an interesting time to do this, politically speaking. Armenia has made headlines these last couple of weeks for becoming the second nation in the Caucasus to peacefully overthrow its despotic Soviet-generation leadership, echoing neighbour Georgia’s Rose Revolution of 2003. (Two down, one to go, some are saying.)

Indeed, I was myself one of the estimated 100,000-strong crowd in Republic Square on Monday, when Serzh Sargsyan announced his resignation in the biggest political upheaval since the 1991 independence. ‘Electrifying’ doesn’t even begin to do the atmosphere justice.

The provocation that started it all? Spending the maximum 10 year term as President before rewriting the constitution and moving seamlessly into the new role of Prime Minister. He lasted all of six days. Doubtless Serzh had thought this a particularly clever manoeuvre in the face of mounting unpopularity, but it was a step too far for a newly empowered generation of Armenians – and he now looks set to bring down the entire establishment with him.

But this is not just a loud minority in Yerevan. It’s a truly national movement; one of those all-too-rare unifying forces that seems to have encompassed all. And while it would be fascinating to stay and experience how things play out in the capital, it’ll be equally fascinating to see how the rest of the country feels about it all – and I’ll be doing so from the seat of a bicycle.

I know, I know, it’s a tiny little country, smaller than Belgium and with a population comparable to Birmingham. But I think of Armenia’s diminutive size as an advantage. Rather than spreading myself thinly across a vast area, I can instead go deep, really getting under the skin of the place and satisfying lots of other travel clichés. As with my escapades in neighbouring Iran, speaking the language is bound to help with this.

The journey starts right now. Like, today. It’s going to be a bloody interesting ride – I don’t know why I haven’t done this before!

Tales from the road will appear here on every week, as has become customary. I’ll share daily images and snippets on Twitter and Instagram (which will also go through to my least favourite social media platform). There might even be the occasional video, too.

With the kind and generous support of the Awesome Foundation’s Yerevan chapter, I’ll be sharing the best of the routes I ride, as well as writing up a spread of background information on cycling in Armenia on a dedicated new website, on which more details soon.

Rather than this being just another ‘look at me’ exercise, then, the legacy should be a collection of road-tested routes all over Armenia – routes that you can incorporate into your own rides if (when?) you finally make it over here…

Because you are planning a bike trip to the new and revolutionary Republic of Armenia, aren’t you?