TOUR DE ARMENIA
By Raffi Youredjian
Self-published on Amazon Createspace 2016
Available in Paperback and Kindle
ISBN-10: 1500890960 ISBN-13: 978-1500890964
If Armenia is a closed book to you, then you are not in a minority; if cycling there is not on your radar, then you would be amongst the vast majority of its residents. Raffi Youredjian is both a cyclist and an Armenian, but, in common with 80% of Armenians, he does not live there (though he is a frequent visitor). This book is about a cycle tour around his rugged ancestral homeland, a true voyage of discovery for author and reader. It is also about matrimonial prospects, his grandmother's advice and the ability to cycle over wondefully rugged terrain after indulging in Armenian hospitality.
A principle of cycle touring adhered to by the author is to take your time and to meet people. The latter usually seemed to involve either hefty vodka consumption, feasting or friendly chats over coffee. His laden mountain bike - many roads leave more than a little to be desired for the dedicated roadie - brings curious stares and friendly enquiries. there must be bikes in Armenia, but they seem to be a rarity. The culture and outlook of modern day Armenia emerges from his conversations.
REVIEWED BY STEVE DYSTER
Most Armenians the author comes across seem to see cycling as a way of making life harder than it need be. Armenia, once a flourishing kingdom at the heart of ancient Christianity, has suffered; genocide at the hands of the Ottomans during the Great War, earthquakes, the impact of Soviet rule and its disastrous decline, massive depopulation. Yet, what they have people willingly give, and though one finishes the book with a picture of a people facing much hardship, it is also one of a warm, friendly nation (though there's still sniping across the border with Azerbaijan), proud of its past and hopeful ....
Wry observations and a straight-forward honesty about what he sees and feels - on cycling, finding places to stay, getting invited to village parties and being introduced to eligible young ladies, how to perform traditional Armenian dances when under the influence of more vodka than strictly necessary - mix with national and family history and the wonderful things that happen to cycle tourists.
It is a story with passion - there are occasional descriptions of the desperate plight of the people during the Armenian genocide (the outhor heaps his wrath not on individual Turks, but on cowardly politicians and bureacrats who deny that it happened). It is also the story of a cycle tour full of joy and friendship, revealing an often beautiful country and leaving the feeling that - if you are prepared for a few mad drivers, occasioanl packs of wild dogs and poisonous snakes impaled on sticks by farmers (and are we not always prepared?) - is a place where a cyclist on tour will feel welcome.
I enjoyed this cycling travelogue immensely. At a hundred and nine pages it kept me out of the pub on a Friday night, and was well worth the abstinence. Mind you, if you are off to Armenia take note of the authors advice on the balance of training on the road and at the bar! Recommended reading.
For more information go to http://www.tourdearmenia.com The book has no pictures, but you can find some on the site and even more at https://www.flickr.com/photos/62487011@N08/collections/72157631793423098/
REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED MARCH 2016