A Travellerspoint blog

September 2019

Day twenty-six - on the road

Saturday 21 September 2019

sunny 20 °C

Leaving Yerevan

Although I’d packed the previous evening, I still got up early to have a slow start before the arrival of the apartment’s owner and the driver who would be taking me around the regions. Armed with my Armenian translation - մարմնի լոսյոն - at 9am I walked around the block in a last ditch attempt to get body lotion. There was a pharmacy open close by and the first thing I saw was a range of body butter, and in English, too. Sorted.

The owner of the apartment turned up just before 10am and the driver, a few minutes after that. After a double-check of the apartment, we were on our way. The driver, Karen, speaks good English. Our first stop was Khor Virap, an Armenian monastery close to the Turkish border with great views of Mount Ararat. The road through the Ararat plain to the site is quite new and a dual carriageway, making it a much quicker journey than I remember.

Khor Virap

Khor Virap was heaving, with lots of local, as well as international tourists. Probably because it was Independence Day. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in a ‘pit’ under one of the buildings for 14 years. You can walk down steps to the pit but it was so busy and I’d already done that on a previous visit.


Although It was a bit hazy, there was still a pretty good view of Ararat. If you walk up the small hill behind the monastery there are good views of the valley and the border posts between Turkey and Armenia.



The next stop was Noravank, another Armenian monastery, accessed via a stunningly beautiful and narrow gorge made by the Amaghu River. The nearest town to the monastery is Yeghegnadzor. The red cliffs by the monastery seem to change colour depending on the time of day. We were there in the midday heat and like Khor Virap is was very busy. There is a cave cafe in the gorge that I’ve visited in the past for a coffee and gata - cake. Noravank has narrow steep steps to access the top level of the main church. I haven’t felt brave enough to do it on any of my visits. Plenty of people do though, old and young.


We stopped for a quick lunch at Vayk at a cafeteria type cafe in a food court. This is something new for Armenia, not sure if it’s a particularly good move although the food was Armenian not European fast food. I had a pie and salad which was ok. On previous visits our driver Saro took us to some amazing roadside cafes for brilliant lunches. Karen is first and foremost a driver and not a guide so this is not something we will be doing while we are on the road.

Day’s end at Jermuk

Last stop of the day was Jermuk. My hotel - Grand Resort Jermuk - is the most luxurious in the town. It’s rare that I ever stay in such places. Jermuk is a spa town which was very popular in soviet times. It’s a bit of a one horse town. Once I’d checked in, I had a stroll around and was back in the hotel in a very short space of time. I took advantage of the facilities using the jacuzzi, sauna and pool. They also offer a range of spa treatments. It looked as if the only option for eating was the hotel. It was fine but not that exciting. I don’t think this tour is going to match the culinary experience of my previous visits. After eating, I retired to my room as it had the comfiest sofa ever for relaxing and excellent WiFi. Looking out from my balcony, I was aware how much colder it is in the evenings now that I’m in the mountains. Will need to break out the jacket as the next week will be spent in the mountains.


The clientele of the hotel seems quite mixed. Couples mostly but there was a large group of women, probably in their 50s who I saw at dinner and breakfast. Not sure where they are from as I couldn’t place the language. Apparently, people come and stay for a whole week of spa treatments. Unless there is hiking in the area, I think it would become quite boring. Without tourist information, it’s hard to find out what else is on offer.


Posted by Cath_Greig 06:22 Archived in Armenia Tagged monastery norovank jermuk khor_virap Comments (0)

Day twenty-five - last day in Yerevan before tour

Friday 20 September 2019

sunny 30 °C

The start of a new day

I’ve developed a pattern to my days - get up, take medication, shower, hot water with lemon followed by Armenian coffee. After a lot of faffing around, I finally leave the apartment at about 10.30am.


Coffee and cafe toilets

My goal for the day, apart from packing, was to buy some handmade soap, body lotion and if time, explore Kond a bit more. Started with a walk down Amiryan Street as I hadn’t been down there since I’d arrived 6 days ago. Stopped at Tap Station for coffee, it’s a cafe attached to the Republican Hotel. There seemed to be a helluva lot of noise - a woman shouting like a fish wife and children’s voices. I then realised the cafe was next door to a school and the waiter’s station looked straight into one of the classrooms. The kids seemed to be very boisterous - the waiter shook his head resignedly when I asked him about it. Anyway, I had to use the hotel toilets - they were very plush. In fact the hotel itself looks really nice. Talking of toilets, I’ve found, like Cyprus, the upmarket cafes have really classy toilets. Santafe cafe from yesterday and Amar from the day before also had very clean and toilets with stylish decor. On the other end of the scale are the squatter toilets found at roadside cafes. Functional but definitely not aesthetically pleasing.


Shopping spree

From there I walked to Republic Square and then Abovyan Street for a spending spree. Began by buying things that weren’t on the list: a scarf for wearing when I go to religious sites - will be particularly good when I go to Istanbul and a bag, On Abovyan Street before reaching the circular park found Adele’s where I bought some bars of handmade soap.


Jengylov Hats

It was now lunchtime and realised I was near the cafe that sold Jengylov hats - a flat bread stuffed with herbs and greens. The sign for the place is in Armenian but I recognised it from when I went with Hasmik 9 years ago. It’s very popular and does a brisk business. There is no menu as that’s all they sell. I ordered two, one to eat and one to take away. They are pretty filling. I’ll definitely buy one from the market in Stepanakert when I’m there. Apparently that’s their regional dish.


A walk in the park

Walked through Poplavok Park which is part of the circular park that stretches from the cascades in the north of the city to st Gregory the Illuminator in the south. There is a small man made lake with pedalos and amusement park. Schools finish around 1pm so there were already families taking advantage of the amenities.


It was Independence Day the next day and flags were appearing everywhere around the town.


Body lotion purchase fail

Walked back along Mashtots in a fruitless search for body lotion. All the labels are in Armenian or Russian and not all shop assistants can speak English. Thought I’d look up the Armenian words for body lotion and try again over the next few days. Too tired to traipse around Kond, I settled in for the night, particularly as I had to pack. Being in an apartment has meant that my belongings are all over the place so I needed to take time to make sure that nothing is missed.

Posted by Cath_Greig 20:58 Archived in Armenia Tagged parks shopping coffee yerevan Comments (0)

Day twenty-four - visiting friends

Thursday 20 September 2019

sunny 30 °C

Planning my route

I’d been invited to lunch by a friend who lives north of Yerevan’s Victory Park. I was going to get a taxi but looking at the map, her apartment looked as if it was within walking distance if taken in stages. It was going to be another hot day so thought I’d take my time. First stop was the Santafe cafe near the Cascade Complex for a coffee and violet lemonade. Although I always carry water it‘s good to keep the fluids up.


The price of coffee

On the subject of coffee - I have found the prices range widely from 350 to 1,200 drams. The cheapest so far has been at Marilda’s, a locals cafe, with the Marriott being the most expensive. The cafes near the tourist attractions are generally around 800-900 dram.

The Cascades Monument

I chickened out of walking up the Cascades and took the escalators so that I only had to walk a short distance to the top. It was already 26C and I still had quite a lot of walking to do. There is a walkway at the top of the completed cascades that leads to the Charles Aznavour museum,. And from there, you can walk up the road to another viewing platform and monument. Between the Cascades and this viewpoint, unfinished building works can be seen which, I assume, have halted due to lack of funds.


There is a much better view of the city from the platform - I’m not sure why I’ve never been up to it before. Next to the monument there’s a building which has no signage but Armenian writing on it. Apparently it’s a memorial to those who died during the Stalin years. Close by was a group of strange statues/artwork - not sure how to describe them. They look as if they might be scenes from children’s stories but they are quite random and verging on the bizarre.


Victory Park

I’d been worried about crossing the road to get to Victory Park but there was an underground pedestrian way right by the gates. Last time I came here was 9 years ago when we went on the Ferris Wheel and rowed round the lake. It’s a sizeable amusement park - lots of children’s rides - too numerous to mention. There are also a lot of minion themed attractions like the bouncy castle and inflatable slides so they must be big here, too.


Close by the Ferris wheel is the Mother Armenia monument. It’s a pretty impressive statue with a military museum at the bottom and tanks and other military stuff outside - none of which has any interest for me. There are also great views over the city from this vantage point but it was far too hazy to see Ararat.


To get my bearings, I walked down to the lake as I hoped there would be an exit onto Azatutyan street as I needed to walk up there to meet my friend Hasmik. It was time to rehydrate so stopped at the Venice cafe near the lake to rest in the shade and enjoyed a refreshing mint and thyme tea. I gave myself 20 minutes to walk up the hill. By this time it was over 30C so quite a slog. I’d under-estimated the time needed to get to the meeting place. it was hot and the road on a slight incline. I had to quicken the pace but as I neared our meeting point, I felt a tap on my shoulder a& there was Hasmik.


Time with friends

I spent a fun afternoon with Hasmik’s family. Her sister, who had organised our last two visits for us, was there with her three children - all of whom are under four. They are quite a handful, bursting with energy. Hasmik had made some great food. She is experimenting with different dishes and her sweet/sour plums with cheese were delicious. Boiled eggs stuffed with walnuts, eggplant salad as well as red pepper and parsley salad together with bread. Needless to say, there was also cake - Armenians like desserts. Fruit, too. We also had a couple of glasses of Armenian muscat wine which made me sleepy as I don’t normally drink in the day.


The entrance to the apartment is quite shabby, like most Armenian blocks. However, inside it was very spacious and light. Hasmik herself had redesigned the layout and decor. She’s done a good job.

Wending my way back home

As evening came Hasmik had to go to work so she gave me a lift to the top of the Cascades. I don’t know how anyone can drive in the city - it’s like a race track with a dog eat dog mentality. Driving around cities like London feels like a walk in the park in comparison. It was nice strolling back as the air cooled. Although it was a silhouette, Ararat looked particularly close in the fading light. I walked back via Moskovyan then cut down Aram Street, through the park. Lots of families out and about, watching the water fountains and enjoying the cooler air.

Although I wasn’t particularly hungry, I ate a few leftovers, had a beer and carried on reading my historical novel, by C J Samson. I can’t help thinking that UK remainers could take a leaf out of the Kett uprising in Norwich and organise something similar. I’m trying not to get too depressed about what is happening in the UK at the moment, otherwise I just won’t be able to sleep.

Posted by Cath_Greig 07:52 Archived in Armenia Tagged food friends coffee cascades yerevan Comments (0)

Day twenty-three - Soviet Yerevan

Wednesday 18 September 2019

28 °C

Soviet Yerevan tour

The tour started at 9am from the Envoy Hostel on the corner of Pushkin and Ghazar Parpetsi Street. People are asked to arrive earlier to make payment. It’s close to my apartment so I arrived in good time. There were eight of us altogether, six of the people were staying at the Envoy Hostel. Apparently it’s good with a mix of ages and nationalities. I’m not averse to staying in hostels when on the move but for a longer stay it’s been nice being in an apartment. One other person was from the UK. James was staying with a friend in Yerevan and about to travel on to Georgia. Tiago was from Brazil but has lived in the UK for several years & spoke better English than some of our UK natives. Lee was Australian, a farm boy who preferred cities and the other four were from Belgium, and part of a larger group of 12 travelling together. They were genuinely puzzled by BREXIT - they are not alone on this.

Lenin Square

The trip involved an old marshrutka and metro travel and started with a stop at Republic Square. All of the grand buildings enclosing the square were commandeered by the Russians and that was known as Lenin Square with a huge statue of him in the Centre. After Armenia gained independence the statue was taken down and the square renamed. There are rumours that the statue is in the basement of the museum, but the museum denies this. The Singing fountains were out of commission for many years until Jacques Chirac gave money to have them renovated - apparently France was the first European country to recognise the genocide.


Soviet snacks

Back on the bus and the next port of call was the railway station. When I’d arrived on the 14th I was tired and didn’t hang around but it was good to have a better look at it. It’s a beautiful building but so underused as there are very few trains running in Armenia. Apparently in Soviet times the line that I was on, continued into Russia - it no longer does that. Constructed by the Soviet regime but designed by an Armenian, although obviously Soviet there are also touches of Armenia such as the white interior and the fact that it is built almost like a church.


This is where we took the metro to a place called Paradise. First of all we had some Soviet snacks in one of the underground cafes - Potato in a doughnut like pastry and a sweet version with a custard like filling. They weren’t bad but carb heavy as ever!



We were only going one stop to Gortsaranayin. The guide told us it was called Paradise. It is one of the industrial areas of Yerevan which is mostly abandoned Soviet factories. Apparently the only industry now is coffee roasting but none of us could smell it. The minibus picked us up and took us to an even bleaker area - an abandoned rubber factory. Something was happening in the next building but we were warned not to go near as the guard had a rather ferocious dog. On cue the guard came out and gave us a long hard stare as did the dog. No one seems to know what goes on in the building. Very cloak and dagger.



Next stop was the agricultural market in an area called Bangladesh. A real locals market. It was full of traders, some selling a variety of fruit or others who just had one type of goods. There certainly isn’t a cauliflower shortage here. They were huge, three times as big as ones at home. Our guide bought some sujukh - walnuts dipped in grape juice - to try before getting back on the bus. Apparently sellers come from as far away as Lake Sevan. There is a story that the area became known as Bangladesh when someone complained that he’d been housed so far from the centre, he was in Bangladesh. Sounds like an urban myth to me.



Back on the bus to an area of the city with a massive estate of Soviet housing blocks. Apparently, the plan was to build the blocks to form the letters CCCP to greet the soviet leader as he flew over. However, this didn’t quite work out and only one of the Cs was completed. Although the blocks are a bit grim on the outside apparently they are quite spacious inside. Also, the areas in between the blocks have parks and Children’s Play areas that don’t seem to suffer from urban blight like UK estates. There are also shops and other facilities at the bottom level of the blocks. Before getting on the bus, we were given a CCCP ice cream, a choc ice on a stick covered in quite unpleasant chocolate. The Belgian contingent were suitably unimpressed!


The only one

Lastly, we stopped in one of the back streets typical of the ones that lie in between major streets. Here was the head of Lenin, reputedly created by a sculptor who lived in one of the houses. The head has been nicknamed the ‘only one’. As we returned to Envoy Hostel I asked our guide about the children’s railway and the best way to get there. She explained that one pedestrian tunnel is open but not to use it after dark. As we were a street away, it made sense to go there after the tour


The Children’s Railway

The tunnel to the railway looks abandoned and well dodgy but operational. There is lighting and you can see to the end as you enter. It takes about five minutes to walk through. There were a few people who passed me going the other way. It felt safe enough. At the end of the tunnel and over the road, there was a nice looking cafe called Amar (Summer). I was going to go straight down to the trains but decided to have lunch first. This is another cafe with nice decor. They also have really nice toilets. I ordered omelette with herbs, Armenian salad and a cucumber and mint lemonade which tasted great and was also a work of art! The waitress was lovely and a budding filmmaker. She has made films for the feminist library that my niece volunteered at, so there’s a chance that they might have met.


The children’s railway was built in 1937 and is one of several throughout soviet Russia. The little station, although run down, is delightful and there’s a guy there selling snacks who, by all accounts, has been there forever. There are some very old trains with carriages outside the station and abandoned looking rolling stock nearby. Not sure when it stopped working - people have written about it in 2017. It’s hard to find current information. I might come back to see if it really does ever work as I did read another blog from September 2019 saying that it operates from May to October.


There is an amusement park near the station with lots of rides for small children. There were several families wandering about. I found another way back along Dzorapi street and onto Paronyan Street where I’d walked the previous evening, past the Parajanov museum and home. I bought a few beers on the way back to have in the evening.

Keeping in touch with home

My son and sister were visiting my mother so we connected via a WhatsApp video call. The wonders of technology. It was lovely to catch up - the weather looks amazing in the UK. The sky was as bright and blue as Yerevan.

I spent the evening in and finished the salads that I’d had in the fridge, together with the bread that I didn’t manage to eat at lunchtime but which I took away in a ‘doggy bag’. Thoroughly enjoyed the beer, too.

Posted by Cath_Greig 07:21 Archived in Armenia Tagged markets soviet cccp yerevan childrens_railway envoy_tours Comments (0)

Day twenty-two - Where are the post boxes?

Tuesday 17 September 2019

28 °C

Envoy city tours

The previous day, I’d sent a request to Envoy Hostel & tours to book onto their Soviet Yerevan tour for Wednesday. I just thought it would be fun to do an organised trip around the city. I got an email confirming a place. The cost of the tour is 9,900 AMD to be paid on arrival.

The search for a postbox

I’d written a few postcards but so far hadn’t actually seen a postbox. I didn’t even really know what they looked like. This was my main mission for the day. There was very little information online to steer me in the right direction so I thought I’d walk along Saryan Street to the Main post office. I’d been there before on previous visits. Going in, I still couldn’t see a post box either in or outside the building. It also felt very run down. There were very few people queuing but the transactions were going at a snail’s pace. After waiting for ten minutes and after staff gradually disappeared from view, I gave up.

The supersize pancake stack

Continuing along Saryan Street there are lots of inviting looking cafes. At the junction of Tumanyan Street, Saryan then becomes Moskovyan Street. At this point there is a museum dedicated to Hovhannes Tumanyan, considered to be the National poet of Armenia. I decided to have my second coffee of the day at this point and found an attractive bar called 1880. The building next door was covered in an amazing mosaic - it must have taken forever to create.



I decided to have breakfast for a change and ordered pancakes expecting them to be a bit like the Georgian ones. What I got was a stack of American style pancakes, with banana, chocolate and ice-cream. This was not going to do my waist line any favours but I managed to eat it all, although it was a bit of a struggle.


Culture, innit

From there I carried on until I reached the opera house. It was very hot at this point and I sought some shade whilst listening to a singer rehearsing. I’m not a fan of opera but even if I was, I wouldn’t know what was on the programme as all the posters for cultural events are in Armenian. I haven’t been able to find any listings online in English. My brother and I had a crazy experience when we went to see Gayane by Katchaturian in 2012. We went to the wrong venue, had to get a taxi that took us to a housing estate not a theatre and even though we eventually arrived about 10 minutes late, it still hadn’t started. It was quite an experience.


Finally, a post box

All the while I’d been continuing to look out for post boxes to no avail. I’d used a website which located postboxes when I had the same issue in Tbilisi. It located a postbox on Nalbandyan Street. Pounding the streets in the heat means that I have to stop regularly to rehydrate. Although I carry water with me at all times, it’s nice to stop and have a cup of tea or cold drink. This time, as I was close by, I stopped at Artbridge on Abovyan Street, an old favourite from my last visit. After a refreshing mint tea, I headed for Nalbandyan which was close by. When I got there I found that it was just another post office with no sign of a box outside. I went in and found a small postbox on the wall. It seems that posting has to be done at the Post Office itself. I had almost lost hope of ever being able to send any of the cards that I’d bought and written. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to arrive in people’s letter boxes. Apparently a card I posted to my mother three weeks ago from Georgia, still hasn’t arrived.


Dust storm

After a refresh and a snack I thought I’d wander around the Kond area which is close to the Parajanov museum. I also wanted to scope out the road to the Children’s railway which I still wanted to see. I discovered that there is an easier way to get to the Parajanov museum. Each time, I’ve gone through a maze of confusing back streets but by going on Paronyan Street and turning left onto Dzoragyugh 1st Street, the museum was right there.


I walked further up the road skirting the gorge and looking over to the Hrazdan football stadium. Suddenly huge gusts of winds blew up, kicking up sand into my eyes. It was just like a dust storm and very unpleasant. There’s a lot of building work going on at the moment creating a lot of construction dust exacerbated by the dry conditions. Every car is covered in the stuff.



By now I was beginning to feel a little hungry so thought I’d try out one of the cafes close to the apartment. I settled on Wine Time because it had nice decor and a simple menu. I ordered red wine but got white which was fine but it hadn’t been chilled enough. To accompany it, I ordered bruschetta which was good. This was my first alcoholic drink since I’d arrived in Armenia. One glass was enough and it was good only being two minutes away from my apartment.


Posted by Cath_Greig 04:52 Archived in Armenia Tagged yerevan armenia haypost Comments (0)

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