Life today in Armenia

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September 29th 2017
Published: September 30th 2017
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Other trips have started better. Due to a"serious incident", the M3 is closed by the police and Winchester is gridlocked. Our coach to Heathrow cannot get in to pick us up! Luckily, a knight in shining armour (Julius) offered us a lift and, after walking the High Street to get out of the gridlock, we arrived at Heathrow on time. Thanks, Julius.

Armenia is a complicated place. Their history is one of occupation, always a small country between super powers. Even today, Armenia is at war with Azerbaijan, a stalemate war, and the border to Turkey is also closed. Two borders are open, from Iran and from Georgia where we enter. A large Russian army base protects against NATO aggression. Russian influence ensured that Armenia joined the Soviet free trade area rather than the EU.

Armenia is a mountainous country, Mount Ararat sits on the Turkish border. Roads snake up and down from high plateau to river gorge. It is spectacular scenery. We walk the Gami gorge where hexagonal basalt columns line the 100 metre high sides. Some curve like pleats on a swirling skirt while others are ram-rod straight from valley floor to plateau edge. Curious blue winged crickets scatter at our feet and a eagle soars overhead.

There is a lot of evidence of Soviet times, grey industry decaying on the outskirts of towns; grey Kruschov apartment blocks crumbling . The rural towns are poor. Industry has declined since the Soviet era. The chimneys have stopped polluting the air but the money has gone too. Much of the money now comes from Armenians working abroad. The country has a population of 4 million but another 12 million Armenians live abroad.

But there is also a lot of local culture. Small villages of wooden houses; fields of grass and maize; orchards of plum, peach and apple trees. The small holdings and community farms produce delicious fruit and vegetables and, therefore, the food is great. Lots of fresh vegetables all tasting just picked; baskets of fresh fruit and bottles of, potentially lethal, fruit based alcohol.

Yerevan, the capital, is different. No haystacks and wooden houses here, it's coffee shops and an opera house. Yerevan was a planned city so it has wide boulevards and large squares. Fountains dance to music; people eat and drink on restaurant terraces; traffic hoots impatiently. It feels prosperous, unlike the rural towns, but there is a lot of Soviet grey behind the new facades.

Armenia is very proud of is Orthodox church. The country is liberally dotted with old churches, monasteries, hermitages and even a pagan temple. We slowly understand the cruciform layouts, the delicate carvings, the iconography. And we discover that monks and hermits get the best views.

We will cross the northern border again today, back into Georgia.

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