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Published: June 17th 2016
Geghard MonasteryDay 144 Friday 10th June 2016 – Tbilisi to Yerevan
Surp Astvatsatsin Church vestibule "Beam me up Scotty"
A new morning, a new country and a new adventure. Before getting to the new country we needed to exit the old one, and today was to be one of the fastest exits we have ever had. The alarm went off at 6.30 and we did our now very professional and fast pack and check out and were out the front of our hotel hailing a taxi by 7.15. The taxi driver couldn’t speak English but we had the bus terminal written down in Georgian so he knew where to take us and quoted us a reasonable 5 Lari to get there. As always we prepare ourselves for the inevitable argument at the other end about the price but today the guy was happy for his 5 Lari and we were able to get onto the next part of the trip. As soon as we paid our taxi driver, a guy came over and asked us “Yerevan?” Why yes, that is exactly where we want to go, how did you know? He walked us through the chaos of the Tbilisi bus station and got us to
Mt Ararat a bit closer no ark to be seen
a minivan where we had our bags stuffed into the back and was shuffled into the seats behind the driver. There were only 5 other passengers in the small van and thankfully Shelley got the seat next to the door so this was perfect and we had to pay 70 lari ($40 AUD), which was only 10 lari more than the Lonely Planet reckons. Within minutes of sitting down we were underway and on the outskirts of Tbilisi I noticed it was 7.40, so only 70 minutes previously I was fast asleep in my bed, things today were running like clockwork, despite the fact that it was still raining.
Today’s driver was an agro bastard and seemed content to argue with everyone on the bus whilst speeding (in the wet), whilst texting on his phone and playing with the stereo at the same time. It is only an hour from Tbilisi to the border and the road is lined with stores selling of all things - laundry detergent in bulk. We have no idea why there is stall after stall selling 10kg bags of the stuff other than maybe detergent is very expensive in Armenia, but our
Republic Square in the afternoon with a storm approaching
driver stopped to buy two lots of it.
Getting stamped out of Georgia was straight forward with us all piling out of the van and walking through the border control building, getting our exit stamp and meeting the driver on the other side. In Armenia we went through the same process but before we could get stamped in we had to get a Visa, which was in another building on the other side of the road. As we were the only “internationals” on the bus we were the only ones that needed to get a visa, so we didn’t want to hold the others up, so we ran over to get this done as quick as possible. The guy running the visa office wasn’t the nicest person we have ever met, well in fact he was just an officious arsehole. Got there and he threw a couple of forms at us and then went off on a break. Stood there by the window waiting for him for 15 minutes while a cleaning lady who could see us kept calling out to him. Eventually he came back with a smile on his face as if he was pleased
Entrance to temple
to keep us waiting and then sat down in front of us to do other paperwork rather than serve us. There was no one else around and I sort of guessed we would be his only customers all day, but he was getting his jollys on making us wait. Finally processed our paperwork and then got the shits with us because we couldn’t pay in Armenian Drams and he would not accept US dollars – sorry haven’t got into your country yet so why would I have your currency? He begrudgingly took the last of our Georgian Lari, and we were very thankful that we hadn’t spent it all.
Delayed our fellow travelers by half an hour so felt really guilty, and when we got back to the van our driver wanted to see our visa in our passport as he hadn’t seen one and never knew we needed one. Back on the road we travelled through some great mountain scenery before finally hitting the outskirts of Yerevan, and that is basically where we got dropped off. We were supposed to be dropped at the bus terminal near the centre of town but instead was dropped 8
On the road from Geghard Monastery
The oven used to make Lavash Bread
kilometres away, which not only pissed us off but the other passengers as well. As stated we didn’t have any local currency and a couple of nearby ATM’s didn’t work so had to walk about 500 metres before we could find one that would give us some cash. Another country and another currency, and now we have 1 AUD = to 352 AMD (Armenian Dram), and as always you try and figure out a quick calculator and the best we have is that 1000 drams = 3 AUD, which works pretty well. With money in our pocket we hailed a taxi who was one of the best taxi drivers we have ever had. Couldn’t speak English but was able to use our GPS and got us to our hotel for 1000 dram ($3 AUD). At the hotel we only had 10000 dram notes and the driver didn’t have change but the doorman at the hotel came out and paid for our fare (we paid him back later + a tip) and straight away we felt that this hotel, city, country was great.
The foyer of the Kantar hotel is located on the 7th floor of a block
Water feature at the Cascades
of old units. The 8th
floor is a hostel, the 9th
floor is a hotel and the 10th
is long lease apartments. We are on the 9th
floor with a little balcony and it is a great room. The hotel is very noisy though and doesn’t have much sound proofing but it is a good choice. As always with our arrival, we just dropped off our bags and hit the streets. Along our walk we came across a hairdresser and Shelley who hasn’t had her hair done since our friend Traudy did it before leaving Australia felt the time was now. Managed to get straight in so while she had that done I did some shopping and then waited for her at a nearby bar – better than waiting at the hairdressers. Shelley came out looking like a Goddess, although maybe that was the beer affect, as she wasn’t overly happy with the result. (No I am not, you know that brownie red colour old men insist on dyeing their hair well that is me, I look like Bert Newton). It was late now so we went looking for a feed, and because we are in the heart of the
Surp Grigor Lusavorich Cathedral 2001
city the choice was either really expensive or cheap and nasty so of course we went cheap and nasty.
Cheap and nasty was basically sitting under umbrellas in the park next to a fountain, but it was fabulous. The beer was cheap, the food was pretty good, with Shelley declaring the best Greek Salad on the trip and the atmosphere was terrific. This was far better than enduring the cigar stink around the Marriott hotel restaurant. Both really felt stuffed after the day we had so it was easy to go home early and crashed into our bed. Day 145 Saturday 11th June 2016 – Yerevan
Our hotel is extra, extra noisy. There is next to no soundproofing in the hotel and combined with wooden floors and screaming guests this place is perhaps the noisiest we have had to endure. Just don’t understand why people want to have LOUD conversations at midnight and 6am in the corridors- should have bought that taser in Paraguay. Managed to sleep in till 9, which was fine as the breakfast didn’t start till 8.30. After our feed we hit
The Opera House
the streets and our first destination was the weekend flea markets a couple of blocks away and what a fantastic markets they were. The place was full of locals selling their handicrafts and fabulous junk. Lots of souvenir stuff, artwork, antiques, clothing, crockery, just about anything you could imagine. This would be one of the best markets we have ever been to but surprisingly we didn’t buy a single thing. Saw heaps of stuff we were tempted on, but maybe because we have travelled so much we just couldn’t find that “something” that we would want to cart home. The house is filled with dust collectors and we have both got a bit jaded with buying souvenirs – maybe we will come back tomorrow. Made our way up the road to a local tour company and investigated doing some tours around Armenia. Had planned on moving to a few different towns but the country is so small most sights can be easily done as a day trip from the capital so we have changed our plans and doing the lazy thing of doing tours.
From here we did a long walk through the centre of town doing
Surp Astvatsatsin Church vestibule with a ray of light
window shopping till we reached the “cascades”. The cascade is a huge set of stairs that was started by the Soviets in 1971 to connect downtown Yerevan to the huge Soviet monument on the hill. Twenty years later and the thing had hardly got anywhere and stopped. In 2001 a millionaire art collector took it over and rebuilt the stairs to house his artwork, but unfortunately his money dried up as well and the stairs are still not completed. The stairs are almost continuous from bottom to top but there are 5 platforms along the way that show off some of the more important sculptures. Great idea and some great art pieces including our favourite artist Botero, and an incredible sculpture of a lion made from car tyres, but to us the whole thing is a bit of a monstrosity. It is one huge piece of over blown Soviet marbled architecture and it is way too jarring for us, just hope if they ever complete it that they try and soften the whole thing somehow. We did manage to climb to the top which gave us great views over the city and to distant Mt Ararat (5165m) and Little Mt
Rabbit sculpture at the Cascades
Ararat (3925m). Both mountains used to be within Armenian territory but Lenin gave up the land to Turkey in 1922. A bit hazy today so you couldn’t see them perfectly but both happy to gaze upon the legendary peak.
Wandered back through the parklands of Yerevan till we found a café for a small bite to eat and then scampered home as a storm descended upon the town. It had been a lovely 25 degrees all day but after the storm the wind picked up and the temperature dropped to around 9 degrees. Well today is Michele’s (Bert) birthday and back home it is winter and it always seemed to be the coldest night of the year when we went out to celebrate, so she was a bit annoyed to be in a country in summertime and get the exact same weather. So much for dressing up in our summer skirts instead it was jumpers and jackets. We braved the cold winds trying to find somewhere to eat but because it is a Saturday night all the good looking restaurants were full so we ended up back at the park. At least the food was great.
Yerevan Day 146 Sunday 12th June 2016 – Yerevan
Lion sculptured from used tyres
Another great sleep in today and another great breakfast at the hotel, really good food and good staff running the place. Decided to take it easy today with the only real task to book some tours from the Hyur Service office we visited yesterday. Got that done and wandered back past the flea market and then a walk out to the Surp Grigor Lusavorich Cathedral. Seen this structure from our hotel balcony and we both marveled at how ugly it looked and up close it was even uglier. Next to this abomination of concrete and stone was a large park that had lots of small cafes situated around a pond so we decided to take a break and have some lunch. It was really lovely sitting there watching the families paddle boats around the lake and feeding the ducks and could have sat there all day except, you guessed it a storm blew in. Made a dash for home and nearly made it but got drowned in the last 50 metres sprint.
We went to a restaurant we
Lion made of tyres at the Cascades
had seen earlier in the day, it looked like more a local place with a takeaway section at the side. By now the rain had eased so sat outside and ordered our food when to our horror a bus load of tourists turned up, damn a tourist trap. The food was OK but a bit dumbed down with little spice and herbs but it filled the hole. Day 147 Monday 13th June 2016 – Yerevan-Garni-Geghard Monastery
Our new neighbours moved in at 4.30am and decided to have a conversation in the corridor I said to Scott in a normal speaking voice “I wished they would shut up” and they did, that is how thin the walls are. The other morning I thought that there was someone in our bathroom flushing the toilet, it was so clear I had to double check there was not some stranger in there. It is a shame because it is a great hotel with friendly staff and in a good location. Anyway enough of that we are doing a day trip today that starts at 10.00am but for some reason we both got confused with
Us at the Cascades
another tour we are doing and were getting ready for a 9.00am tour. Before we left we checked so we were not standing on the street cursing “where is our bus?” We actually got the tour from their offices so they would have probably just given us one of those looks and sat us in the corner.
Today is beautiful and clear so not far out of Yerevan we stopped to get some photos of Mt Ararat then went onto Garni. This complex consists of a rebuilt Hellenic temple (77AD) for the sun god Mitra, only about 30%!o(MISSING)f the stones are original but amongst these are some with interesting carvings. When Armenia became Christian in the early 4th
century the area became a summer palace for Tiridate III’s sister Khosrovidukht complete with a Roman bathhouse. There is enough of the bathhouse to get an idea what it was like and in the dressing room section there is a badly damaged mosaic. Also on the grounds there are foundations of a 7th
century church and the small palace.
The temple collapsed in an earthquake in 1679 and a lot of the stones were scattered
Side view Garni Temple
with some used in other buildings around the area, it was reconstructed between 1969 to 1975.
Back on the bus and 9km down the road to Geghard Monastery which is named after the lance that pierced Christ’s side while on the cross, it was kept here till 1805 then moved to Tbilisi by the Russians before coming back to Armenia. Please note there are four countries that claim to have the lance – Echmiadzin Armenia, Krakow Poland, Vienna Austria and Rome, the guide claims that all four lances have tested for age and the Armenian one is the oldest from around the time of Christ, so this is the real one??? The monastery complex is amazing, the Surp Astvatsatsin Church was built in 1215 and a vestibule was finished in 1225. Two doorways on the side of the vestibule led to chapels that have been carved out of the rock. In the first chapel is a flow of spring water that is meant to be magical and maybe the fountain of youth, well I splashed some on my face but have not seen any difference, so may have to resort to botox. Up some steps at the
The flea markets
side of the church is another chapel that also carved out of solid rock as we entered here one of the monks was singing showing off the incredible accoustics.
The last stop was at a local restaurant to watch Lavash bread being made which would have been interesting but the guide had said that we could sample the bread and locally made cheese for free. Well you would have thought they were giving out money it was a scrum with people pushing and shoving and then another tour group turned up and it was impossible to see anything. If you want to cause a riot just say you are giving out free bread. It ended in a feeding frenzy with people grabbing wads of bread and cheese and stuffing it down their faces so they could go back for more, a few us wandered over to the shade and waited and went without.
Got back at 3.00pm it had been a really good tour except the last bit and the guide was very interesting and easy to hear. Took it easy before going out for some dinner and we did not order bread.
Yerevan Day 148 Tuesday 14th June 2016 – Yerevan
Botero's Roman Warrior at the cascades
Nice slow day, walked a few blocks to the State Museum of Armenian History it is well laid out. You start at the third floor and work your way down through history with your usual stone axes and broken pottery but this one has a 5,500 year old women’s shoe, which is supposedly the world’s oldest, pity there is only one as it looks comfy. The last floor was almost exclusively on the history of rug making in Armenia and the rooms were filled with dozens and dozens of ancient well worn, moth eaten rugs. If nothing else it made me appreciate broken pottery. It took a good 2 hours to wander through the museum and for most of it there were no crowds, only the occasional group running passed, maybe most people had been warned about the broken pottery and rugs.
For dinner we went to yet another outdoor bar/restaurant in the park. Been trying a different one every night mainly because nearly everyone we have been too has ripped us off on the bill. Tonight’s was the third
we have patronised and it is the third that we have been done on the bill, nothing huge but enough to be annoyed about and in fact we have found the tourist sucker tax appears to be a bit of a national sport in Armenian restaurants so far, but I guess it is a touristy area. Glad we had a bit of an easy day today ass tomorrow we have a long 13 hour tour to the Eastern frontier of Armenia.
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