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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 40.7471, 44.8726
I've written all this once before, saving it as a draft email in the absence of wifi to send it and in trying to copy and paste it managed to delete it all..
So when last we spoke I had arrived in the pleasant hotel in Goris, yummy honey at breakfast, and been to see the Tatev monastery without being able to take the cable car..
Next day, Saturday, we headed back North with a first stop at the Armenian Stonehenge, as they call it. Well stonehenge it isn't but it is an impressive collection of standing stones in an oval with intersecting arc and other standing stones some with holes in the top which they claim means it was a prehistoric observatory, some armenian professor has even done a study and written a book 'proving' it. Be that as it may it is an impressive collection of standing stones. Then a short ride into the nearby town (all Soviet style apartment blocks) to take pictures of the sheep shaped gravestones, they could do with some real sheep to keep them company and eat the grass as they don't seem to get round to cutting it.
Off then up
to a 2400 metre mountain pass and stopping just short of the top to see Selim Caravanserai, built in 1332 to provide overnight accommodation for the people and animals taking goods along one of the branches of the Silk Road that goes this way. A minibus of Germans, lots of Germans here, stopped - for all of a minute.
Back in the car to go over the pass and down to Lake Sevan. A big lake with a troubled recent history, in Soviet times the government decided to reduce the level of the lake by deepening the river running out of it. This, and other subsequent improvements proved to be a disaster, and the government are now raising the level again, so the water will cover the houses, hotels, roads etc that have been built in the meantime.
Our first stop was at Noratus to see the field of kachkars, kachkars are beautifully carved stones used as gravestones but sometimes as markers for other events. There are 800 of them. That used to be the second largest collection, the largest being in Ngarno Karabagh but the Azerbaijan army destroyed that one in one of the wars so now this is the
biggest. Gregor went off to see a mate of his in the town while I walked round and I was quickly besieged by girls selling stuff, so the woolen beanie in Armenian colours is for you, Kes, and one appointed herself my guide - for someone not much over 12 she had remarkable English, and she led me to one stone with lots of carving and she pointed out the bride and groom and other things and finally the mongol warrior on horseback who, she said, had killed the bride and groom who were buried together right there. Two monasteries to look at on the edge of the lake, Sevanavank and Hayrivank, I won't bother you with the detail - except by now even I had spotted that 'vank' means monastery, and we could see the presidential summer palace down the hill and beyond a big fence. I gave him a shout, Serge by name, to see if we could drop in for dinner, but I guess he wasn't In.
So off we went to our guest house in Dillijan, turned out that the owners were a doctor, I think he said urologist, and his wife, but his wife did all
the work while he sat there and smoked like a chimney. When I questioned him about a doctor smoking so much he told me he already had open heart surgery! The room I had was lovely, big enough for the bed, sofa and day bed, lots of windows with drapy net curtains snd huge balcony. But they are enlarging the place and he showed me the new building stuffed full of design elements taken from Venice and mural paintings of Venice too, I had to explain to Gregor the expression 'bad taste'!
The next day, being Sunday, we had a fairly lazy day, only two monasteries to see, Haghartsine and Goshavank, but Gregor responded to a comment of mine that tourism in Armenia risked becoming a monastery tour, had laid on a treat. He organised a driver and 4x4 (a Russian built Lada 4x4, of an uncertain but advanced age) to take us up a steep, rocky or if not rocky then extremely muddy track to a lovely little lake surrounded by forest and resonating to the sound of frogs. There was a group of about 5 blokes there preparing barbecue (not your wimpy little barbecue like ours, the guy
was putting fist sized lumps of pork onto huge skewers. They invited us to drink vodka and I thought it impolite to refuse. Turned out they were builders from Yerevan who worked together and play together. I asked them where their wives were and they looked at me as if I were mental, barbecues are clearly men's pastime in Armenia. Well three vodkas, two small glasses of beer and a few mouthfuls of bread, cheese, cucumber and tomato later we rejoined the driver of the Lada 4x4 for the precipitous drive back down the mountain. Monday was to involve an early start and two last armenian monasteries on the way to Tbilisi. But I will leave that for the next report.
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