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Published: June 21st 2016
YerevanDay 149 Wednesday 15th June 2016 – Yerevan to Tatev
Big Mt Ararat on a clear day
Early start today as we are off on a long organised tour to South Eastern Armenia. Like a lot of places in this corner of the world, breakfast doesn’t start till 8.30, and we needed to be out of there by then, but we went down to the kitchen anyway where we can get tea and coffee 24 hours a day. The woman working the kitchen saw us and at least was able to put out some cupcakes for us so we got a small feed. Walked the 15 minutes up the road and got settled into our bus for the tour today. Unlike the last tour this one was on a minibus and there were 15 others with us. When we got underway at 9 our guide went round asking where everyone was from, and it turned out to be a regular UN meeting with people from the Philippines to Argentina, the USA to Australia. Our guide Archy was good but he did waffle on a lot in a monotone voice that just about sent us to sleep, but if you could stay awake he
Holy Treasury - Echmiadzin
The Holy Lance - Spear of Destiny
did have some interesting information about Armenian history.
We battled out of Yerevan and as we headed through the countryside we were greeted by the most amazing view of Mt Ararat so they stopped the van so we could get some great photos. Our guide claimed that a clear view of Ararat is rare and that it only occurs a few times a year, and if that is true we are very lucky. To gaze upon the mount where Noah was supposed to have landed his ark for us was pretty amazing, there is something incredible about holy mountains. From a distance you do feel as if it would be an easy climb and that if you headed off early you would be back before supper, but this is one monster of a mountain and there is no easy ascent. As for Noah, most modern scholars believe that the stories of the great deluge are about when the Bosporus broke open flooding the low lying land around the Black Sea. Recent underwater surveys have discovered prehistoric towns underwater in the black sea that adds weight to this theory. As for the story about Noah, maybe he was
just a fisherman that packed up his wife, kids and the family pets into a row boat ahead of the floods and like all good fisherman his story just got exaggerated to all living animals into a boat the size of the Queen Mary. For Armenians Mount Ararat is their heart and soul despite it being 40 km within Turkey, which is as a result of Lenin giving it and a huge slice of Armenia to Turkey in 1922. After the genocide of 1915 the robbing of this land was like rubbing salt into an open wound. 100 years later and Armenia is still rightfully angry for the theft of their heartland and unfortunately for them there is little sign of this injustice being righted.
First stop today was at the church complex of Noravank, 90 minutes from Yerevan. The main church here is Surp Astvatsatsin which was constructed in 1339 and is unusual in that it has two levels. Discovered that the majority of Armenian churches are unadorned inside with very few icons or frescoes, with the view that you are there to pray to God and not to look at pretty pictures. Sort of a
Passing the other carriage
bit like how bosses don’t like their office workers to have windows. The churches at Noravank are really lovely and the location is fabulous with the red sandstone cliffs behind, a real treasure.
From here it was a long drive to our next destination which was the town Halidzor, and along the way our guide tried to give us the Armenian version of the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh. This area is a large area that Armenia claims as their own despite it being recognised as being part of neighbouring Azerbaijan. The war over this region has been simmering for the last twenty years and I cannot and will not say who is right and wrong other than it is annoying that the UN and other international bodies set up to mediate cannot seem to resolve this problem and only just last month fighting erupted again. The guide gave us a bit of the Armenian side of the story mainly because where we our heading was within spitting distance of the disputed region.
The main reason for our tour today was to visit the monastery of Tatev, and to get there we were going by
ropeway/cablecar, but before doing this we stopped to have lunch at the adjoining restaurant. The food we were served was perhaps the worst rubbish we have ever had the displeasure to chew on, and would have rather eaten from a can of PAL. To make the situation worse it was also the most expensive feed we have had to pay for in Armenia. It was so bad two other couples sent their food back and everyone complained loudly. After that disaster we all boarded the cable car which is regarded as the world’s longest, as it travels for 5.7km across two valleys. A fantastic trip with some spectacular views over the adjoining countryside.
The Tatev Monastery is a set of churches and monk residences sitting on the lip of the Vorotan Gorge surrounded by a defensive wall. The churches were utterly destroyed in the 1930’s by an Earthquake, roughly put back together by the Soviets and are now undergoing extensive, and expensive restoration. The main church is the Surp Poghos-Petros, built in the 9th
Century, which is almost completely unadorned inside and yet feels more like a place of worship than many of the gold encrusted churches
The Surp Karapet Church
we have visited. The site also contains an 8m high Octagonal column called a Khatchkar, which was built in the 9th
century to detect Earthquakes. Apparently it moves in the event of an earthquake, I would find it more incredible if it didn’t move in a earthquake. How exactly this helped them I have no idea but today it is all trussed up with steel bands to keep it from falling apart. Just outside the monastery walls there is an oil press that has been thoroughly restored and it once supplied the entire region with all their vegetable oil needs. The churches were incredible, the history amazing but what makes Tatev special is the location and it was well worth the long drive to get here.
We got the cablecar back to our bus and then 90 minutes down the road we stopped at the last site for the day, the mysterious standing stones of Karahunj. This site is referred to as the Armenian Stonehenge and is conjectured to be a prehistoric astronomical observation post. There are 223 stones with 47 having carved holes in them, most have fallen over but they appear to be in a
Looks like a face
rough circle pattern and having two long rows emanating from the circle. The earlier findings describing it as an astronomical observatory has come under fire in recent years as none of the stones seem to predict any major astrological events such as the solstice, Lunistice or the passing of Venus, and the making of the holes do not appear to be prehistoric. However no explanation has yet been accepted as to the true purpose of the stones other than creating yet another stop for tourists on their travels through Armenia.
From here we had a long 4 hour drive back to Yerevan with only one stop at a winery so everyone could go to the toilet and taste some wine. By this stage we both just wanted to go home and didn’t partake in the wine tasting as it may have required yet another toilet stop. We finally arrived back at Yerevan at 10.20pm to our great relief. Both really loved the tour today and seeing some incredible Armenian countryside and taking in all that history and faith, but I (antisocial Scott) struggled with being in a tour group and 13 hours was a very long day.
Surp Poghos - Petros (ST Paul & ST Peter)
On the walk home we stopped at a small local pizza joint for a feed and a beer. Didn’t have much for breakfast, even less for lunch so it was nice to get something in our bellies. Got home at 12.30 and crashed into bed. Day 150 Thursday 16th June 2016 – Yerevan
Another day and yet another bloody tour. It seemed like such a good idea to see Armenia by tour rather than shifting towns every second day, but today we wished we hadn’t bothered booking so many tours. At least todays didn’t head off till 10 so we could sleep in a bit after our late night last night.
Today we were going by minivan but instead of it being full we only had 4 others, so it was a bit more comfortable. First stop today was at the church of Surp Hripsime, which was the second church built in Armenia. Armenia is reputed to be the first country in the world to adopt Christianity in about 301AD. Today’s church was built in 618 on the spot where the female Christian Hripsime was
The shaking Khatchkar tower
stoned to death rather than being forced to marry first the Roman Emperor Diocletian and then the local King Trdat III. We were able to walk down to the crypt to see where Hripsime lays beneath a marble slab and next to her in a glass case is a pile of rocks that were supposed to have been used to kill her. Found the whole thing a bit weird that they would have the rocks sitting next to her, could you imagine the bullet that killed JFK sitting in a glass case next to his grave – very strange. Anyway, there is no proof these are the stones or that this is her in the crypt or if this is the spot where she was stoned, I guess that’s why they call it faith.
When Hripsime fled Diocletian to seek shelter in Armenia she took with her 32 virtuous maidens, (I personally would have taken 32 well armed legions), one of the maidens was Gayanne. Like Hripsime, Gayanne was tortured and murdered and on the spot where this supposedly happened in now a church dedicated to the woman who is now an Armenian saint. The church was
Looking down on the deserted nuns convent in the valley
built in 630 AD and rebuilt again in 1630, and like the others is of simple and modest construction and unadorned inside. At around this time the clouds that had hovered over us all morning turned black and we were starting to see flashes of lightening. By the time we left it was starting to spit rain, and at our next destination umbrellas were being handed out.
Today’s number one attraction was the Holy Echmiadzin which is the Vatican of the Armenian church. Speaking of which, next week Pope Francis is dropping in for a visit as the Catholic church is good friends with the Arminian church and the whole place was getting spruced up. The Holy Echmiadzin is a large precinct with lots of Admin buildings, museums, monk’s Accommodation and of course the main Cathedral. The Echmiadzin Cathedral was covered on the outside and inside with scaffold but the interior stuff was being stripped in preparation for his holiness next week. It was sort of funny watching the scaffolders slowly stripping the scaffold behind the altar doing it very carefully not to damage anything and it almost looked like a religious service. St Davo passing the
holy sacrament (ie scaffold plank) to St Bazza whilst chanting holy profanity and filling the church with the holy scent of frankincense, myrrh and unwashed socks.
Whilst here a local student priest got to chatting up Michele, and discussed his theological dilemma of whether he will marry or not. As a priest in the Armenian church he can marry but he will not be able to rise to the highest rank within the church, but if he refrains he can go all the way to the top. Personally I think he was just using the whole thing as a pick up line and I moved away as I thought I might have been cramping his style. Despite being tempted by a man in a skirt and a holy life in Armenia, Shelley decided to stick with her grumpy Aussie – better luck with the next girl Romeo. Have to say really love “the vibe” of Armenian churches, there is no gold, no pictures of saints being martyred and a lovely casualness about the rules and regulations. In Georgia the monks would give you death stares and follow you around like the KGB (I guess this is where
Little and Big Mt Ararat
Stalin was born), but in Armenia the monks/priests come up for a chat (or a chat up) and want to know about you and not arm twist you into a confession or conversion- as a religious experience they get a big tick.
At the back of this church is the treasury room and we were given a half hour tour through all the treasures, which included bits of the bones from saints, a chunk of Noah’s Ark, pieces of the true cross and the spear of destiny. Don’t believe for a minute any of this stuff is genuine, other than now being genuine antiques, but it was amazing to gaze upon stuff that has been venerated for centuries. Once again it is people having faith that something is real and wanting to believe. From here we had half an hour to wander the church and outside but the rain which was getting heavier made us retreat back to the minivan early.
Last stop for the day was Zvartnots Cathedral which was constructed in 641 and was considered one of the most beautiful churches in the world till the whole thing crashed to the ground
in 930. Apparently they are unsure if Arab invaders destroyed it or it came down in an earthquake although despite Armenians having great pride in how well it was built the earthquake theory seems the most plausible. The dome used to sit 45m off the ground but today nothing sits more than about 5m high and in the centre of the church is a sunken pool where people used to be baptised. At this stage in the day we were all being baptised in a heavy rain and despite being given more time to wander around we were happy to get out of the wet and into a dry van. Got driven back into town and dropped off at the tour company office where it was only a 15 minute walk home. Along the way the rain got heavier again so we had to seek shelter in a bar – damn. Only stayed for a couple before the rain eased (damn) and we made it home. For dinner we returned to the bar which had a fairly good menu and got a good feed for a good price, tonight was one of the few times we haven’t been diddled on
Circle of stones
the bill so it was a win win situation. As it was still early we opted to pick up a bottle of wine from the supermarket and have a few drinks on our balcony. At the supermarket we got talking to a local and he talked us into buying a bottle of Pomegranate wine, and god knows why but did. It is perhaps some of the weirdest “wine” we have ever tried and is sort of like they squeezed pomegranate juice into a bottle of methylated spirits. The taste is sort of okay but the smell is vile. Day 151 Friday 17th June 2016 – Yerevan
After the last two days it is nice to be able to sleep in and not having to rush out the door for a tour. Lucky for us we drank less than half the bottle of pomegranate wine otherwise we may have woken up in the Yerevan morgue. Slow start to the day after our breakfast and then headed off to the Yerevan city museum which covers 3 floors but is still really small. Only cost 1000 AMD ($3) for both of us so
The girl herself in the crypt
it a was a bargain to wander back through the cities past. Highlight was a huge model of what the town used to look like in the 19th
century. Yerevan is a very old city dating back to 782 BC although finds along the caves in the river bank prove that this area was settled back in the prehistoric era. For such an old city it is sort of surprising that there are so few old buildings but then I guess the Soviets like reinventing their towns in concrete and marble.
The museum was my (Scott’s) idea so Shelley had to then inflict upon me several hours of shoe shopping (Shelley - what an exaggeration it was only half an hour), but thankfully she did in the end buy a pair so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. To rectify the injustice, I managed to entice her into a couple of beers in the park, before heading home to catch up on some long overdue blogging. It was once again spitting rain so it was an easy choice to be in doors for a few hours. For dinner we headed back to the outdoor tavern where
we ate last night which is directly opposite Republic Square and where a large stage is being erected for the Pope’s visit next week. We both sort of wish we were sticking around to see the festivities although the whole thing might be a bit of a crush. Ended the night on our balcony with a glass of Pomegranate wine, whilst holding our noses and have given it a second and last chance. Day 152 Saturday 18th June 2016 – Yerevan
Another easy day, sleeping in till 9 which feels so decedent. Shelley had a bit of a dodgy stomach, which she blamed on the pomegranate wine, which I think was a fair call. Slow start with calls back home before hitting the streets. Very overcast day with lots of black clouds floating around so we just spent a few hours back at the flea market. Lots of things we were tempted on but that lack of English (or more appropriately, our lack of Armenian) means it is very hard to haggle and to find out details on items we were interested in. Ended up leaving empty handed and walked
Holy Treasury - Echmiadzin
Piece of the Holy Cross in the very centre
up the Yerevan mall for a stop at a café. Soon discovered that all the cafes in the mall area were charging double what we were paying down around the park areas. You do need to be on your guard with the cafes in the parks as they do make “mistakes” with your bill and change but they are far cheaper than in the malls and around the Opera House. By this stage thunder was starting to rattle the city so we headed back to our room. Day 153 Sunday 19th June 2016 – Yerevan
Last breakfast at the hotel and I have to say it has been great every morning with lots of choices and two lovely ladies who make sure there is something for everyone. Today we walked around the city doing nothing in particular just enjoying our last day here. Had an early dinner and returned sadly to pack and hopefully get a few hours sleep before heading to the airport. Tomorrow we leave Asia and move onto Europe, looking forward to a change of pace but perhaps not the change in prices.
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