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Day thirty-three - last day in Yerevan

Saturday 28 September 2019

rain 22 °C

Shopping mission

My last full day in Armenia was going to be focused on shopping. I’d seen a craft fair advertised by the Cascades so headed there after breakfast. The stalls had lovely handmade goods made by the variety of different craftspeople. I priced things up so that I could withdraw enough cash, I didn’t want lots of drams on my hands just as I was about to leave.

The Fem library

Close to the Cascades is the Fem library where my niece volunteered. Having met two women on my travels who had strong connections with it, I really wanted to visit and say hello. To ensure it remains a safe space, the place is not signposted but I managed to find it and was shown around by one of the women who uses the space. As well as the library of feminist fiction and non-fiction, there is a meeting space, kitchen and chill out area where they’d just been running a yoga class. A very calm and safe space.

Downpours

It was threatening rain so I walked back to the hotel, and had a rest whilst sheltering from what became an incredibly heavy downpour. When it stopped, I had a late lunch at Eat:Fit. Totally delicious roasted quinoa salad which would not go amiss at a Bristol hipster cafe. Always good to have a respite from starchy carbs. I wandered back to the craft fair prepared to make my purchases and the whole thing had been disbanded. The gazebos probably couldn’t cope with such heavy rain.

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Vernissage

Vernissage, the street market close to Republic Square, has more stalls at the weekend. In amongst the usual touristy stuff there is some lovely handcrafted crafts and artwork. For a change I took a different route walking east past the Yerevan puppet theatre until the end of Sayat Nova, then through the circular park until I reached the market. As I got there people were starting to pack things away. Not sure where the day had gone but I had managed to achieve very little. My plans to do shopping were unravelling but I didn’t want to panic buy so decided to buy gifts elsewhere on my travels.

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Getting ready to leave

Back at the hotel, I packed up my bag before heading out to Byblos, a Lebanese restaurant around the corner from the hotel. Had a delicious eggplant in tahini cold dish, as recommended by the waiter, with tabouleh salad and mint tea. A very nice last meal.

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As I had to be up early at 2.30am, I had an early night in the hope that I could a few hours sleep before my very early morning flight to Istanbul.

Posted by Cath_Greig 05:42 Archived in Armenia Tagged markets cascades yerevan armenia Comments (0)

Day thirty-two - last day on the road....for now

Friday 27 September 2019

sunny 29 °C

The road to Yerevan

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The distance to Yerevan is about 144 km and dependent on traffic, should take about two hours. We had three short stops en route. I was definitely beginning to have tour overload as I was tempted to scotch the plan and head straight back to Yerevan. There are a lot of roadworks as the M1 is being improved. Eventually it will be a dual carriageway linking the Black Sea area of Georgia to Iran. It has been funded by a Chinese company. Roads in general have improved but I can’t help thinking it’s so that the big tour buses can access previously inaccessible sites. Karen is a careful driver but even then, the type of driving needed to cope with the road conditions, can be particularly hair raising. Where tarmac is missing, cars swerve to avoid them so that from afar it looks like some mad bumper car rally.

Amberd Fortress

The first stop was Amberd Fortress. I’d been 9 years previously when we were the only tourists with a rough pathway to the fortress. The only way to get to the top was via a steep scree slope which I didn’t do. Now there is a pathway with information signs and steps - albeit quite rough and steep - up to the fortress entrance. It’s an impressive place built atop a ridge made by the confluence of two rivers. On one side walls had weren’t needed because the steep gorge made it unassailable. As we made our way back down the twisty road, We passed a Soviet era observatory which is still in use - Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. There is a guesthouse on site and guided tours can be arranged.

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The last two monasteries of the tour

Next stop was Saghmosavank, most notable personally as it was the first monastery I had ever visited in Armenia and where my sister and I were blessed by the priest. Poor man didn’t realise that his blessings were wasted on us. Like Amberd, last time there were no tourists about but that has changed. The building is perched on the edge of the Kasagh Gorge with stunning views towards Mount Aragat’s.

Last stop was the 7th century Karmavor Church - the name means reddish hue. It was a tiny little church and the only one on this tour that I hadn’t seen before. A party of school children, who looked about 5 years old, were around the church careering about and generally causing havoc.

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Busy, busy Yerevan

Finally we arrived in Yerevan, hitting busy traffic as we entered the city. This time I was staying at the Diamond House Hotel on Aram Street, two doors up from the first restaurant that I ate at - Fit-Eat and close to the other favourite - Amar on the other side of the Kond pedestrian tunnel. The room at the hotel was pretty good although I didn’t have a balcony. I enquired about laundry but it would have cost me a small fortune to get a few items cleaned.

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After settling in I thought that I’d eat lunch at Amar as it’s better to walk through the tunnel during the day. I had the zucchini rissoles that had been recommended on my last visit there, together with a salad. After this, I walked around the Kond area, a very old part of the city that feels very different from the rest of Yerevan. It’s like finding a village in the middle of a city. The streets are narrow and winding with access mostly via steps and just a few roads in.

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Dancing Fountains

Once I got back I had an Apricot ale at Dargett Craft beers which was about four doors down from my hotel - this really is the street to be on. I decided that tonight was the night for visiting the Dancing/Singing fountains in Republic Square so needed to have a little siesta after the beer.

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The fountains don’t start until 9pm so I had plenty of time to have a rest. The fountains are quite an institution. They are accompanied by a light show and music nightly and there are always lots of families down there and tons of hawkers selling stuff for kids - exactly the sort of things sold at festivals etc. The fountains are in the background when when Armenia relay their votes for the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s pretty cheesy but I think that something that brings everyone out and together is great.

After an hour I decided to walk back and happened on Shrivan’s as recommended by my niece so popped in for a bit of food. The menu was pretty meat orientated so had fries and soup - a bit of a strange combo but pretty good all the same. My culinary choices haven’t necessarily fitted with my ‘avoid starchy carb’ regime on this holiday but I am sure I can reverse the anticipated weight gain once I get home.

Posted by Cath_Greig 22:16 Archived in Armenia Tagged monastery yerevan armenia saghmosavank amberd amar dargett Comments (0)

Day twenty-nine - back into Armenia

Tuesday 24 September 2019

sunny 23 °C

Monastery overload

Our itinerary for the day included visits to two monasteries - Dadivank and Gandzasar but before first we stopped at the statues that have become the symbols of the region Papik Tatik - named ‘We are our mountains’. Reading the information it seems to be a celebration of elders and particularly centenarians of which there are a high proportion in Artsakh, apparently

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Gandzasar was our first stop - it’s near a really eccentric village called Vank. Apparently, Levon, who was born in the village, but is now based in Russia (and obviously very rich) has been a patron of the town and has managed to create a very bizarre place. He is obsessed by lions - I think that’s what Levon means - from the statues as you enter the town, the yellow and green colours of the school and sports ground to the roaring giant lion’s head, built into the rock. There are also very kitsch hotels - one is shaped like a boat - personally, I love it and if I ever come back, I want to stay there to appreciate the full experience.

The monastery is interesting but as I’d seen it before, I just had a quick walk around before going to the Matenadaran - the repository of manuscripts and books from the region. I had a guide to show me around. Some of the earliest manuscripts were the most beautiful and especially colourful. It really highlighted how the introduction of printing made everything much duller aesthetically but more practical, for obvious reasons.

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Next stop was Dadivank - this used to be a tricky place to get to as the road was unmetalled and best reached using a 4x4 but it’s been improved greatly like many of the other roads going to religious and historical sites. It’s yet another beautiful building in a beautiful setting but having been to all of them before, I was beginning to tire of monasteries! They were cooking Jengylov hats by the church so bought one for lunch. Apparently Karen has never eaten one, which amazes me. The french group were also at the site and were also having them for their lunch. Their guide couldn’t persuade Karen to try them either.

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Terrifying tunnel

From there we were meant to go to the hot springs. We went over a dodgy bridge that looked like it might collapse any minute and then an even more terrifying tunnel with no lights and no room to pass an oncoming car. The road was unmetalled and as there was a distance of about ten miles to go, which we would have to do at a snail’s pace, I decided that this could be better left for another visit and with a 4 x 4. The gorge we travelled through on our way to the border was pretty amazing though. Towering mountains of rock. So imposing it made me feel very small in comparison.

We then started to head back to Armenia via the check point which is on the road to Vardenis on the other side of the border. Going through the border was quick. All they needed was a document that Karen had to carry while we were in

On the road we encountered what I can only describe as Armenia’s dirty secret - huge piles of mining spoil. I have to say it was quite horrific as it just sits there like something from an alien landscape.

Soon after going through Vardenis we started to skirt Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus and at 1900m above sea level, one of the largest high altitude, freshwater lakes in the world. When I’ve been before, we’ve approached it from Dilijan. This time, I was going to do it the other way round. I was starting to feel very tired. It’s amazing how travel - even when you are a passenger, is very tiring. Couldn’t wait to get to the guesthouse, Gites au moulin in Nerkin Getashen to have a snooze.

Eco guest house

When we arrived it took a while to get through the gate as no-one seemed to be around. The sons of the owners had been out but when they strolled back they let us in and showed us to our rooms. The guesthouse is simply but tastefully decorated with natural products as far as possible. I had a balcony overlooking their cottage garden with a flour mill and mill stream. I thought that instead of sleeping, I’d have wander and the younger son joined me. Although he can’t speak English, we communicated in the international language of gestures. He showed me the mill and around the garden, picking tomatoes for me to taste. From what I can see, they grow potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and cabbages.

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A field of Khachkars

We then walked up to the church behind the house accessed by a steep and narrow path. Beyond the church there is a large field of Khachkars (stone crosses) - not as big as the cemetery in Noratus by Lake Sevan but impressive all the same. Some had holes like the standing stones at Karahunj.

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We then made our way back through the village and back to the guesthouse. I don’t know many teenage boys in the UK who would take the initiative and act as a guide to a total stranger. However, it was clear that this was a family business and everyone had their part to play.

The meal in the evening was just how I remembered previous stays at guest houses with delicious home cooking using fresh ingredients, mostly from the garden. I had huge amounts of food put on the table which I couldn’t possibly eat. The french group seemed to have the same amount between five of them. I joined them for a mulberry vodka. They were going to go for an evening walk to the cemetery and do some Armenian dancing. I declined - by now exhaustion had hit and I was in bed by 9pm. It was very soothing to hear the mill stream outside - I like the sound of a river or sea when I’m going to sleep.

Posted by Cath_Greig 21:01 Archived in Armenia Tagged monastery armenia khachkars nagorno-karabagh Comments (0)

Day twenty-seven - the road to Goris

Sunday 22 September 2019

overcast 16 °C

Mermaid Falls

Breakfast at the hotel wasn’t awe-inspiring. The bread was stale and the fruit wasn’t very fresh. Despite that, I made sure I had a good feed up as food on the road is a bit haphazard. I really appreciated the hotel lift although I know that Karen, my driver would carry my case for me if needed. Although we left at 10am, there was still quite a chill in the air as the sun hadn’t warmed things up yet.

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The first stop was Mermaid Falls in Jermuk As the water runs down the rocks, it looks like Mermaid’s hair. There’s a story of a princess who fell in love with a shepherd, her father put a curse on her and she changed into a mermaid. You know the sort of thing! There was a lovely guy setting up the stall who took my photo for me. It was very chilly in the gorge as the sun hadn’t quite made it above the trees. At the top of the gorge there is a formidable looking building of rather imposing and austere looking architecture favoured by the soviets. It almost had CCCP stamped on it. Apparently, it was a popular hotel in soviet times but has been shut for a long time.

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Armenian Stonehenge

Jermuk is at a dead end so to get anywhere you have to return on the same road to reach the main route towards Meghri and The Iranian border. Although there is a lot of travelling by car on this trip, in Armenia it isn’t really about the destination but the amazing scenery in between.

Once back on the main road, we headed towards Karahunj - the Armenian Stonehenge. It’s a very peaceful place made even more interesting by the birds of prey that are soaring overhead. Apparently, Karahunj means speaking stones and there is a theory that the holes help to make the whistling sound. I’ve seen plenty of eagles but there are other birds that I can’t identify although I think I have seen some falcons. Apparently, there are plenty of species of birds in Armenia and its a popular place for bird watchers.

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Spectacular Tatev

Our next stop was Tatev Monastery. The road there is at quite a high altitude so suddenly we were in fog or low clouds - not sure which. Anyway, we could hardly see a thing. I was so pleased that it wasn’t me driving in these conditions.

At one time Tatev was very isolated sitting as it does on a plateau overlooking a spectacular gorge. At one time it could only be reached by rutted, unmetalled roads with sheer drops on one side into a gorge and no barriers. That was my first experience in 2010. I hate those sorts of roads and even though I trusted our driver, it was still scary. In 2012, the cable car that was being constructed, was completed and the road down to the bottom of the gorge had been improved. Now, as well as the cable car, the road down to the bottom of the gorge and up to Tatev have tarmac. The roadway is still full of hairpin bends but there are barriers and feels 100% safer.

Karen thought that it wouldn’t be good to go on the cable car if foggy as I wouldn’t see anything. I didn’t fancy going on the road either, knowing how many hair pin bends there were. Luckily the fog/clouds cleared before we arrived at the cable car station.

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Sometimes there’s a long wait for due to queues but luckily one was due in 10 minutes with space so I paid my 5,000 AMD for a one way ticket and joined the line to get on. Queuing isn’t really a thing here and people barge past you with impunity! Karen was going to drive to Tatev so that we could do the journey back by car. I love cable cars and the views over the gorge are amazing. It’s also the longest cable car in the world. There is a lot of restoration work taking place at Tatev so I couldn’t access the fortress walls but there were still very good views towards the gorge and beyond. It was chilly though and so I had to have several layers on to keep warm.

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Karen was waiting for me outside the monastery so we made our way down the gorge. I couldn’t believe how much quicker it was now. We didn’t stop at the bottom by Devil’s Bridge as I’d been there twice before and it was also very busy. There are two thermal pools so worth a stop for a dip if it’s your first visit. It’s also quite dramatic as two sides of the gorge butt up against each other.

Last stop - Goris

Apparently the road to Goris can be foggy at this time of year but luckily we didn’t encounter any more and soon we were making our way down the valley into the town. Goris is quite attractive with houses built of stone in a grid. It feels very poor now and although some of the houses have been restored, many are very run down. My hotel was the Mirhav, and it was my third visit there. It’s probably the best in town and has a good restaurant. An annex has been built since I last came which is where I was placed - in the Penthouse suite. Not quite as glamorous as it sounds but a lovely big room with a Juliet balcony. The only access was via a lift and I realised that the only route out in the event of a fire was a ladder on the outside of the building. It’s lucky that I’m reasonably fit and agile!

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I changed into trousers and layered up to go and explore the town and look for somewhere to have lunch. I’d read that the Deluxe Lounge cafe was quite good and it seemed that it might actually be the only option anyway. I had a good tomato and pepper omelette, and what I thought were chips turned out to be crisps. Quite a strange combo.

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When I got back to the hotel I had a bit of a siesta and caught up on reading etc. I wanted to also make the most of my room. There were lots of groups staying at the hotel of many nationalities - French, Swiss, Spanish, Italian - I seem to be the only British person! I ate at the hotel - it has a good menu but I just opted for soup and salad with a glass of local wine which - just the right amount for me. The evening was chilly outside so I cosied up in my room to finish Tombland, my CJ Sansom book.

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:57 Archived in Armenia Tagged armenia tatev karahunj 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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