ARMENIA & GEORGIA
with Michele Burgess & Mehmet Ozbalci
September 16-30, 2017
ARMENIA is a hidden jewel, one of the cradles of civilization located at a religious, cultural, and historical intersection. It offers boundless landscape beauty with its mountains, lakes, and waterfalls, and great architecture with its temples and numerous impressive churches and monasteries that are over 1,500 years old. Mt. Ararat looks even more impressive in the background of the modern city of Yerevan. Outstanding Tatev Monastery built on top of a high cliff, 8000-year-old Armenian Stonehenge, thousand-year-old graveyards with lacework-like tombstones, and warm Armenian hospitality make Armenia a great destination for photographers.
GEORGIA is another hidden jewel for photography, offering great landscapes, cities with character, unique tower villages nearly a thousand years old, and very friendly people. It’s the location of the amazingly beautiful Caucasus Mountains with peaks over 16,000 feet high. A journey to the land of the Caucasus is a trip into cultures that date back to the beginning of civilization, as well as to proud people who have a great history and are the most gracious hosts. Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is one of the must-see cities in the world with its mixture of art deco and old castles and churches. The countryside offers breathtaking landscapes and the unique tower villages the Caucasus is known for.
MEHMET OZBALCI is one of the first photographers to escort photo tours to Armenia and Georgia. His itineraries are designed specifically for photographers to help them create iconic images. He puts photographers in the right place, at the right time, and introduces them to local people, small villages, and behind-the-scene spots for the best images. Mehmet is always happy to share his knowledge of photography, including shooting and Photoshop techniques.
SAT, SEP 16 — DEPART NEW YORK
The adventure begins today as we depart New York on Lufthansa, bound for Munich.
SUN, SEP 17 — MUNICH-TBILISI
We arrive in Munich this morning, with day rooms at an airport hotel before boarding a late-night flight to Tbilisi, Georgia, arriving very early the next morning.
MON, SEP 18 — TBILISI
Our hotel is located in the heart of the old city, in a fascinating neighborhood of narrow streets, religious and secular architecture, houses with multicolored wood balconies, churches, synagogues, mosques, the impressive Narikala Castle, and more. The day is at leisure to rest up from the long flights and explore on your own. Welcome dinner this evening.
Hotel Tiflis Palace (BD)
TUE, SEP 19 — TBILISI
Early this morning we photograph Narikala Castle (built in the 4th century) with the city in the background, and the old sulfur baths with numerous domes that made a great impression on writers such as Pushkin, Lermontov, and Dumas. We return to the hotel for breakfast, then photograph the colorful frescos of Sioni Church, built in the 7th century. Great photography of the light beams inside the church if there is a service with incense burning. The 6th-century Metekhi Church on the River Mtkvari is our next stop. The royal palace was built near this church and was used as a jail under Russian rule. We also enjoy a photo walk along Rustaveli Avenue, laid out by the Russians in the 19th century and lined with elegant buildings. This afternoon we stroll through the colorful market, an ideal place to photograph people. Later, we visit Sameba Cathedral which looks like a tower with its interesting architectural style. Also known as the Church of Trinity, it’s the third tallest Eastern Orthodox Church.
Hotel Tiflis Palace (BLD)
WED, SEP 20 — ANCIENT CHOLCHIS / KUTAISI
First thing this morning, we photograph the River Mtkvari with Metekhi Church and reflections, then have breakfast and leave for Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia. Kutaisi is located in the area of Cholchis from Greek mythology, which was the final destination of the Argonauts searching for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, we stop at Jvari to photograph the rivers Aragvi and Kura coming together to form an interesting and photogenic shape with the old city of Mtskheta in the background. After driving by Gori, birthplace of Stalin, we stop at Uplistsikhe, “God’s Castle,” a monastic cave settlement totally carved into the rock formations. Katskhi Pillar is another unique image, a 120-foot-high natural monolith with a single monk’s cell on the top. We photograph this interesting structure from a spot where we can see beautiful mountains in the background. Upon arrival in Kutaisi, we photograph the beautifully lit 11th-century Bagrati Cathedral just after sunset to catch the twilight blue in the sky.
Hotel Bagrati 1003 (BLD)
THU, SEP 21 — CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS
Today we drive to Mestia, located in the beautiful Caucusus Mountains. The journey offers great landscape photo opportunities: deep canyons, snow-capped mountains, and unique “tower villages” that look like castles. The towers attached to village houses were built 800 years ago for defensive purposes. Upon arrival in Mestia, we photograph this quaint mountain town with the impressive Caucusus Mountains in the background.
Hotel Tetnuldi (BLD)
FRI, SEP 22 — CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS
It’s an early departure this morning in 4x4 vehicles to drive the mountain roads of the Caucasus. The trip takes us to Ushguli, a community of tower villages located at an elevation of over 7,000 feet, at the foot of impressive Mount Skhara (17,000 feet), offering breathtaking views. Here, we enjoy a photo session with local people in traditional Georgian dress and beautiful scenery in the background before returning to Mestia in late afternoon.
Hotel Tetnuldi (BLD)
SAT, SEP 23 — AKHALTSIKHE
Today we travel to Akhaltsikhe, crossing Georgia from north to south via a scenic road. In Akhaltsikhe, we photograph the beautifully lit 13th-century castle of Rabath, which was recently restored. The castle was developed under the influence of different cultures and this is reflected in its architecture. Within the complex are a church, synagogue, and mosque.
Hotel Gino Wellness Rabath (BLD)
SUN, SEP 24 — YEREVAN
This morning we depart for Armenia. After crossing the border, we photograph the Cathedral in Etchmiadzin, spiritual and administrative center of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the ruins of Zvartnots Temple (built in the 7th century) with biblical Mount Ararat in the background, before arriving in the capital city of Yerevan.
Hotel Republica (BLD)
MON, SEP 25 — YEREVAN
Early this morning we climb “Cascade,” a 400-step stairway built on the side of a hill, to photograph the two peaks of Mount Ararat with Yerevan in the foreground. We return to the hotel for breakfast, then visit the Genocide Museum. In the afternoon, we drive to Garni to photograph its 1st-century Greco-Roman style temple. Here, there’s a possibility of seeing women making the famous Armenian lavash bread, and also a duduk player. The duduk is a national Armenian flute. We photograph the amazing basalt rock formations in Garni Gorge called “Symphony of Stones.” Our last stop today is Geghard Monastery, “Monastery of the Spear,” originating from the spear that wounded Jesus at His crucifixion. Dinner tonight is in a restaurant with Armenian folk dance and music.
Hotel Republica (BLD)
TUE, SEP 26 — TATEV / GORIS
This morning we photograph the Church of Khor Virap at the foot of Mount Ararat, one of the most important churches for the whole Armenian world as it was built at the site where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned. In the afternoon, we visit Tatev, a very impressive monastery located atop a high cliff, looking like an eagle’s nest. We cross two canyons to get to Tatev via the longest cableway ever built, to facilitate the trip of visitors and pilgrims. Overnight in the mountain town of Goris.
Hotel Diana (BLD)
WED, SEP 27 — LAKE SEVAN
Today we see the interesting stones with holes at Carahunge, called the “Armenian Stonehenge.” It’s believed they were erected in 6000 BC and used for astronomical observations. We visit Shaki, the largest waterfall in Armenia, where basalt lava flows have solidified to form a ledge 60 feet high from which the waterfall cascades down. The ancient Noraduz (Noratus) Cemetery with its almost 1,000-year-old khachkars, tombstones with crosses beautifully carved out, is another great spot to photograph. We continue on to scenic Lake Sevan and visit Sevan Monastery.
Best Western Bohemian (BLD)
THU, SEP 28 — TBILISI
This morning we depart for Tbilisi with a stop at Dilijan, one of the most beautiful towns in Armenia, surrounded by scenic mountains. We photograph a cute little street with restored houses in the old part of Dilijan, then drive to Haghpat Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hotel Tiflis Palace (BLD)
FRI, SEP 29 — TBILISI
The entire day is at leisure to explore this fascinating city on your own before our farewell dinner in a restaurant with Georgian music and folk dances.
Hotel Tiflis Palace (BD)
SAT, SEP 30 — TBILISI-NEW YORK
Our Armenia and Georgia adventure comes to an end very early this morning as we transfer to the airport for our flight to Munich, connecting with a flight to New York that arrives mid-afternoon.
Note: Included meals are indicated by B, L, and D for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.