A Travellerspoint blog

Day Nine - Sissian to Yerevan

Tues 8 June 2010

sunny 86 °F

Saro joined us for breakfast - he had been staying at his uncle's house in Goris. We had a good night's sleep at the hotel - it was very quiet and a lot cooler than in other places that we have stayed at. I had felt chilly for the first time the previous evening when we had gone for a stroll. I asked Saro if he knew where I could buy bean seeds - the beans we have been eating are very different than English beans. Although we were too late to buy them in a shop, Nina who works at the hotel had some seeds which she gave to me. I was so pleased to get them - they are really tasty beans - much nicer than runner beans. Can't wait to grow them - if I'm not too late.

Our plan for the day was to head back to Yerevan with a few stops on the way - Karahunj and Khor Virap monastery. As the journey was just a few hours long, we decided to eat lunch when we got to Yerevan rather than on the road. Armenia is quite a small country and most places are quite a short distance from Yerevan - what slows journeys down are the roads which can be really difficult in places.

Karahunj is compared to Stonehenge in the information but it is really quite different and more comparable to places like Avebury and other smaller scale ancient sites. There was a bit of erroneous information about this at the site. The stones aren't very big but are arranged in a circle and one long line. Some of them have holes in them but no-one can agree what these were used for. It could be astronomical or for worship. There are some burial mounds there - the site was very peaceful and the wildflowers around the site were very beautiful. From here we retraced the journey we had taken on the way to Goris - through the Voratan Pass and the fisherman by the side of the reservoir and along the dramatic gorge to Vaik. All along the river there are picnic places and cafes which look very tempting. One cafe has built platforms over the river so the diners have the river rushing underneath them as they eat. I like the private dining idea - lots of space instead of a crowded restaurant with lots of tables pushed close together. We bypassed Yeghegnadzor where we had stayed a few nights before, past the turn off to the lovely cave cafe - that is where we departed from the road that we were familiar with. Instead of going back north to the Selim pass we headed west towards the Tukh Manuk pass. When we went through a place called Areni it looked as if all the street vendors at the side of the road were selling huge containers of coca cola. Apparently the contents aren't coke at all but the local wine. The reason for the coke bottles is to allow Iranian lorry drivers and day trippers to buy it so they can take it back over the border to 'dry' Iran. Everyone seems to know about this so I'm surprised they aren't all confiscated at the border.

We crossed the whole of the Vayots Dzor province without stopping and soon we were rolling down towards the Ararat Valley. This was the first bit of lowland that we have come across apart from the narrow gorge bottoms. It seemed very dry and dusty down in the valley - although a lot of vegetables and fruit are grown in the area. There are fish ponds in the area which attract storks which nest on the telegraph poles and electricity pylons. This is the area which has had cases of malaria but going though it in the day we were fine. At Khor Virap monastery we were very close to Ararat - apparently its about 20 miles from there to the top of the mountain. Someone was trying to sell us a dove to send to Mount Ararat with a wish. As it's probably a homing pigeon it's quite a good business as the dove flies straight back to the owner to sell onto another gullible tourist.

Before we had hit the valley we were quite close to the closed Azerbajian border and from Khor Virap we could see the River Arax which marks the border with Turkey - also closed. There are watch towers on each side making sure no-one tries to cross over. The road started to improve as we got closer to Yerevan and soon we were back in the city and back to our homestay. After a short rest we had lunch at the Caucausus as they do the best dolma - peppers stuffed with either carrot or cabbage - very good. Not so easy to get veggie dolma in the restaurants and because we can't speak Armenian it isn't so easy to make it clear that we don't get meat - particularly when chicken is not considered to be meat! After a very tasty lunch we spent some time in the dark and dingy internet place round the corner from where we were staying. What we would have really liked to do was find a park and lounge around reading our books but the parks don't have nice grass like we do in the UK so we decided to lounge about on our beds instead waiting for it to cool down before going out to the Club restaurant as recommended by Saro. We had the best Baba ganoush ever there - really tasty! I expect people will be thinking that we are twice the size when we come back to the UK as we do quite a lot of eating here! However, the food we are eating is very healthy (if you don't count the ice-cream and baklava!) and according to everyone is all organic.

Posted by Cath_Greig 13:11 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Day Eight - Tatev

Monday 7th June

sunny 84 °F

My turn to write a bit fortunately Cath has kept notes as I'd have no idea what we did on day 8, I must admit I haven't really had anything to do with the planning of this trip so spend most days in the back of the car with very little idea of where we are heading. I could get used to having my own personal driver and having a daily itinerary typed out for me, well maybe not, but for this visit it has been great.
It seems like our driver Saro is on a mission to make sure we have as good a time as possible; he turned up in the morning very chipper having spent the night with Iranian relatives and friends{Goris is where he went to school after leaving Iran}
Saro seems to have raided his Uncle's home for BBQ equipment, we are pleased about this as anyone who knows us will know we BBQ at a drop of a hat, we then went off to the local market to buy vegetables, fruit, lavash bread and drinks, cost about 2 quid in total.
Then we went off saw a few more caves from a scenic spot in Goris probably took some more photos then headed up towards Tatev to the sounds of 2010 Eurovision. Cath and me love Eurovision but rarely hear a song from it ever again, apart from the winner who sings at the start of the next year's comp, however this year my head is awash with the songs as Saro has downloaded his favorites, can't help but notice he hasn't got our entry!
As I said I usually sit slumped in the back but shortly after we are on the road Cath asks me to swop, the hair-pin bends, avoiding pot-holes by swerving towards the cliff edge is clearly getting to her nerves. I happily comply to avoid her putting Saro off his stride and causing him to plummet into a very deep valley.
Anyway we finally arrived at the Tatev monastery in one piece , we did pass a chair lift in construction, Cath says she will take that next time. Interestingly we both talk about the next time we visit, quite frequently,now I realise this isn't going to be a once in a lifetime trip to our homeland. We probably will come back in Sept/Oct next time when Lake Sevan has warmed up. It has been strange being in a land-locked country but Armenia did used to stretch from the Caspian to the Black sea, and all I can say is give us our damn land back!
Anyway where was I Tatev, well it's like a fortress and is really big. Seems we must have spent most of our time looking out for possible attackers, but then again I suppose most places did- Cath has written a lot of details in her notes but let's just say they were pretty self sufficient, can't imagine coming up that mountain very frequently especially in the freezing winter. Talking of which everyday I think thank goodness we didn't do this on a bike, we wouldn't have lasted half a day.
Better move this along....next stop after an exhilarating drive down the mountainside we got to the Devils Bridge where Cath and me sat doing nothing whilst Saro did all the cooking, as I said earlier I could get used to this. Not sure how he did it but within a very short time he had got the coals all white and then shortly after he was presenting us with BBq'd potato wedges, he then skinned all the veg and the chopped it all up and we put it in the lavash and it was delicious. For pudding we had cherries followed by Armenian coffee, water boiled on the fire.
A bit more lazing about then down to the hot springs for a dip, one of the pools had fizzy water how this is as it is was explained but there is only so much information you can take in isn't there? It did feel great on the skin though and I think if only for a brief spell we were rejuvenated. The only thing that marred the experience was in the picnic area there was lots of litter and up to then I'd been really impressed with that on the whole Armenia is quite litter free. Maybe a big SITA van was on it's way up that mountainside though I kind of doubt it could have negotiated all those bends.
We then were driven to Sission and to the Hotel Dino an old style Soviet era hotel, complete with a stuffed bear in reception, nice! Really lovely staff though gave Cath bean seeds for her allotment and cherries off the tree! Ready for bed after a very nice tea and a stroll round the town, first time we needed another layer, as don't know if it has been mentioned but it is hot, though cooler in the shade so you get some respite.
I see you can comment on the photos but I advise you not to!

Posted by Cath_Greig 06:37 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Day Seven - Jermuk & the cave village

Sunday 6 June 2010

sunny 80 °F

After a rather hot night we woke up to yet another lovely breakfast. You would think that we are going to return to the UK twice the size but the food is very healthy so we should be OK. Haven't seen a set of scales yet but I don't feel any different! Breakfast in Armenia mainly consists of bread, different types of cheeses, yoghurt and some sort of egg dish. Today it was an omelette with potato. We also had a rather delicious cherry preserve which went well with the yoghurt.

Due to our change in plans we decided to head straight for Goris to have lunch before going off to explore Old Khndzoresk - the cave village.

As we drove we saw a sign to Jermuk - this is where much of Armenia's bottled water comes from. This wasn't in our itinerary but we made a spur of the moment decision to divert and visit the town. We were so glad that we did - its a rather attractive spa town which was very popular in the Soviet era but has seen less visitors. Some of the old Sanitoria have been refurbished and look like good places to stay. There is a tremendous waterfall which tumbles down to the gorge - dipping our hands into the water - it feels like very soft water.

We had a short stroll around by the sanitorium and then continued on our journey. The scenery was very impressive - steep gorges and interesting rock formations. Once we hit the main road we were back on our way to Goris. The roads are so bad in some places it looks as if the cars are waltzing along as they swerve from one side of the road to the other. Apparently road conditions are a result of extreme cold and snow in winter followed by extremely high temperatures in winter. There are places where the tarmac looks buckled and other places where the tarmac has gone completely. The road to Goris is also the road that the Iranian lorries take. We saw a lot of them going north to Yerevan. The crossing point is at the border near a town called Meghri which is the southernmost town in the Syunik region.

The border between the districts of Vyats Dzor and Syunik is marked by two stone edifices on either side of the road. There is also a spring there. We have been drinking roadside spring water to no ill effect - it tastes so pure - no nasty chemicals that we have to endure in the UK. We wound down yet another impressive mountain pass - Voratan Pass - at one point where the tarmac disappeared a car got completely stuck but refused Saro's offer of help. There is a reservoir at the bottom with a lot of fisherman around and in it.

Goris is a very pretty place surrounded by craggy hillsides. Apparently the town was designed by a German architect - certainly from the road above you can see the layout of the town - a very organised grid system. The houses are mostly two storey and built of stone with balconies. We had lunch at the Pheasant hotel - not sure what the armenian name is. We had another spur of the moment change of plan, deciding to spend one night in the hotel rather than two in Sissian. We had a fantastically big room with two king sized double beds. Very luxurious!

After lunch we made our way to Khndzoresk - yet another bumpy ride - shock absorbers must have to be changed very regularly in Armenia. There is a picnic place at the end of the road and a party was in full swing - not sure what they were celebrating but they seemed to be having a good time. To get to the village we had to walk down into the valley and then up the other side. It must have been a huge settlement - some of the cave dwellings had no way of accessing them but Saro thinks it may have been because of earthquakes. There was one in 1931. At the bottom of the valley a woman was cultivating beans and potatoes - she must have had a long walk from her house but Saro thinks she may use a donkey The new village is at the top of the gorge so quite a climb. I can now appreciate how close my allotment is. After we had explored a bit - we made our way back to the car. The heat was making what would normally be a casual walk quite tiring. Back along the bumpy road we went slowly enough to be able to take in the beautiful wild flowers growing in the fields. Some familiar ones like poppies and vetch plus others that we couldn't identify. We are lucky that we have been able to catch the flowers before the hot summer dries everything up.

Back to Goris and our lovely big hotel room. For some reason we had to order our food at least 1 1/2 hours ahead. We discovered that the good thing about this was when we came down at 8pm the food appeared almost instantly. Luckily the hotel had a good computer and fairly fast internet connection so could get some photos up on the blog but I'm still trying to catch up... Saro was brought up in Goris so he stayed with his uncle and caught up with old school friends so we had an evening to ourselves.

Posted by Cath_Greig 04:57 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Day Six - Lake Sevan and beyond

Saturday 5 June 2010

sunny 90 °F

Another lazy start to the day. I definitely could get used to this. While we were waiting to leave Dilijian, a group of rather shifty looking men arrived to look around the building with Razmik. Apparently they are a film crew who are going to make a new tv series - one that we will never see!

On the road to Sevan, we climbed up a mountain on a twisty road. On each bend there was a stall - apparently they were selling sweetcorn which they boiled in very large pots that were bubbling away over a fire. There must have been at least ten different sellers along the way. We didn't stop as we had just had breakfast - tempting as it was. At the top of the mountain we went through a long tunnel. This was the first one that we had been through which was lit. All the others have been pitch black and quite dangerous as there are pot holes in the tunnels too. Once out of the tunnel we were in completely different terrain. Gone were the green and lush forests - just green fields - it wasn't long before we were close to Lake Sevan. Along the road, men signalled to us by putting their hands out as if to show the size of something. Apparently they were selling fish. Pretty big ones if the distance between their hands could be believed!

Lake Sevan looked amazing- we realised how much we had missed seeing stretches of water (not swift flowing rivers). When we climbed up to see Sevanank monastery the lake looked great and we could see pedaloes down below. We saw Ginny and Arthur - we knew they were a bit ahead of us so had been looking out for them. We couldn't leave without at least dipping our toes in the water so we drove down to the edge and had a paddle. The lake has been tinkered with over the years - first of all it was being slowly drained - Sevanank used to be on an island only reached by boat but now you can walk up. Now they are trying to fill it up again but can't go to the original levels as it would mean flooding all the buildings that have been put up in the meantime.

We took the road around the lake to Noratus and the field of Khachkars - which are gravestones. The road had been flooded and we had a take a rather uncomfortable and bumpy road until we could get back on the original road. When we got to the cemetery it was very, very hot. There were some elderly village women trying to sell us woolly hats that they had knitted. Not quite the weather for it. One of the women was spinning the fleece with her own hand spinner. The graves were interesting but we were ready for lunch so headed off to a place called Martuni.

Saro knows the good places to eat - apparently he has gained this knowledge through experience. We had our own private room in which to enjoy our food. Again it was rather delicious. Fried courgettes, a delicious omelette with unidentifiable green stalks with lovely salads and the best yogurt so far. I drank tan - a type of lassi drink - yogurt with salt.

Our next stop was the Selim caravanserai at the top of the Selim pass - an amazing building with an even more amazing view. Every time we think we have seen the most beautiful and dramatic scenery, Armenia surprises us and surpasses itself. We made a decision as we stood looking at the view that we would rejig the next few days. We were due to do a long walk the next day over the mountain but we decided that the idea of walking for 4 hours in high temperatures with no shade was probably insane so went to where the walk ended so that we could see where we would have been. We also crossed yet another fast moving river to see the Jewish cemetery underneath a dramatic cliff. We bumped into the french tourists who we have seen regularly since we visited Amberd fortress. We also decided to visit Noravank monastery which we weren't due to do until Tuesday. On the way we had a cool drink in a cafe inside a cave. Very cool! Noravank is my favourite monastery so far.

Finally we arrived at our homestay in Yeghednadzor. We had a great meal again cooked by our host. I managed to get onto the internet there but it was very slow.... A hot night but we managed to sleep eventually.

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:36 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Day Five - around Dillijian

The perfect setting

85 °F

After a leisurely breakfast we set off to see the first of two monasteries - Hagartsin. We are finding the later starts in the morning very agreeable. The pace of life here is slower, probably because of the heat, and we are trying to match it. The Belgian people were leaving as they were hoping to get to Georgia if their driver could sort out a visa. The journey was interrupted by cows in the road as we made our way up a wooded valley. We passed an out of order chair lift - a lot of things from the Soviet era don't work anymore. Hagartsin is being renovated after a donation from a middle eastern shah - not sure which. We were allowed to walk through the building works - something we would never be allowed to do in UK. Health and Safety seemed to be a bit slack. After this we went to Goshavank - another beautiful setting close to a small village. We sat in the new hotel having a cold drink as the temperatures started to rise. Luckily its dry heat here, not humid so far so we are able to cope - just. 85F in the car.

We had a quick visit to the centre of Dilijian but there was nothing there to particularly grab us. The boating lake had no boats so that was disappointing. We had our lunch at the Gatep Complex nearby. We had our own private table by the river - this arrangement seems to be quite common - separate places dotted around where people can eat.

When we got back to Razmik's place we had our usual after 5pm rest - reading and generally lazing around. We had decided to walk up to the nearby monastery Jukhtakvank. By 6.30pm it had cooled down a lot so we made our way up the hill. We passed several abandoned sanitariums from the Soviet era. Again, there was something rather sinister about these places just left to fall apart slowly. Along the road there were picnic places where a large family had gathered to have an evening bbq. The long table was groaning with food - very impressive. There are lots of picnic places dotted around in Armenia - particularly close to rivers where its cooler. They usually consist of a table and benches that have a cover over them to shade them from the sun. A great idea.

Along the way we saw a horse, then a boy wandering in the woods and suddenly the boy was riding the horse bareback through the trees. It was pleasant having a stroll in the evening - coming back to our homestay we could really appreciate how beautiful Razmik's home is. Ginny and Arthur were already eating their food when we got back but we joined them for a beer before having our evening meal which was fantastic as ever. Saro has gone vegetarian, too so we shared some very special dishes. I would love to be able to collect these recipes - this may be my retirement project but I will have to learn Armenian first. Three English women arrived as we were eating. We got talking to them as the evening progressed - they were good fun. They were all retired civil servants who had worked together for years, one being the former DG of the H&S executive. High powered indeed. They wanted to follow the Silk route but because they couldn't go to Iran or Azerbajian, they had settled on Armenia. Their driver had a Lada 4x4 which kept shedding bits on the way. This is no surprise as some of the roads are diabolical! The road to Razmik's was the worst so far. The women were particularly impressed with how their driver could smoke, talk on the phone whilst driving on roads with hairpin bends and sheer drops. We are pleased that Saro doesn't smoke!

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:07 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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