Freitag, 16. August 2013

Day 61 - 69: Armenia, cradle of Christianity

From Kazbegi we took the same route back and stayed for one more night in Tbilisi, after which we crossed the border to Armenia.100€ poorer, but also a rediculously cheap sim card richer we looked for a place to stay over night. (Tip: don't buy beeline at the border, wait for vivacell, same price, but vivacell covers even high passes and rural areas with 3G to H) We ended up in a little field near the garbage dump of a nearby village - how beautiful! But as it was late, getting dark and just started to rain we did not care much. Immediately 2 young guys came by our car, we asked if it is OK to stay here over night but one of them told us something involving a “football stadium”, ”we speak”,  “come, come” and “sit down”…as he tried to climb on the driver seat we could stop him to turn the key, but still did not really understand. In the end we drove him to the “football stadium” of the village, which admittedly was a quite long way if you have to walk in the rain. He was enthusiastically welcome by some other half grown and got the chance to show off with his foreign friends. Not what we needed, we politely waved goodbye and went back to our first place.

caution, opposing traffic

building material from natural source


Kalimero seemed to have catched a cold in the mountains

Early the next morning we started to mount Aragats (not to be mixed up with Ararat). A road leads up to 3200m to a lake, which is a good starting point for a tour to the summit. We drove by the ruins of a passenger bus – which was obviously given a second life as target for a well-hidden shooting range - , a lot of cows of course and some shepherds camps until we arrived at the “Hotel and Restaurant Aragats” . Up there, Andi and Franks DAF Leyland truck parked in front. We knew them already from Göreme, had met them again in Tbilisi and we knew they had planned almost the same route as we did. So this was a nice coincidence and we strolled around together a bit, curious about the strange buildings scattered around the mountain. Some looked like huge parking garages, others rather reminded of starlings boxes with tons of cables coming out. Later we found an article about this old soviet cosmic ray research center (  and learned that over 100 astropysicist worked here in the late 80s to explore the universe.  

parking garage?
starlings nest box?

inside one of the buildings


the observatory


After a sleepless night at this height, we started very early to get to one of the summits. Aragats is an old volcano and if the weather allows you can see the impressive crater with its surrounding rim. We were lucky only for about 10 minutes to see the crater but when we arrived at the second summitcross clouds covered everything and it was freezing cold. Nevertheless we were a bit proud of our first 4000m hike on this trip.

As the two truckers wanted to get back to Georgia and we did not have plans for the next days, we decided to go to the nearby lake Sevan together, but before we needed to refill our water tanks. Usually in Armenia, like in Turkey (sorry if I mention both countries in one sentence), you can find drinking water wells very frequently near the roads. We stopped at such well next to a restaurant. Professional Caucasus region travelers will know what happened next. Katha was waved inside by two men,  just having a late afternoon feast. Michi and the truckers followed and at least the two non-drivers were made tipsy in an instant. One of the guys was a singer and sang us several songs about Karabach and Ararat. We were honestly impressed by his voice and passion. When we learned that the Lada niva in front of the restaurant belonged to them, Katha was allowed to drive up a hill and back and will never forget this day again. 

latterly many vehicles go on gas

eating and drinking with our singing hosts


When Andi and Michi finally managed to make us leave again, we continued our way to the lake and found a nice place to stay directly at the bank. Our party continued a bit and as Sevan was supposed to be the touristic center of the lake we took a taxi to get us to a discotheque at about 12pm. He showed us around some dark streets with nobody on it and finally and unsuccessfully brought us back to our camp.    

We stayed at the lake the whole next day, together with about 500 cows and two cowboys before we stopped by the Sevanavank monastery built in the 10th century by Armenian Christians struggling against Arab rule. The monastery lies on a peninsular in lake Sevan, which during Stalins era was lowered by 20 meters exposing new land. You could tell by the number of souvenir shops that the monastery is one of the mostly visited sights in Armenia, but the general shape told something different. Katha showed respect for this religious place by wearing headscarf and long skirt while others littered and peed behind the church.

spare wheel cowyer

Sevanavank monastery


Close to Yerevan we found a very nice guesthouse in Djrvezh a 15min taxi ride from the center of Yerevan. We badly needed a washing machine and a decent shower and wanted to clean out Kalimero a bit. The guesthouse had a big garden with trees and very nice and helpful owners, so we enjoyed our stay and even the grooming and doing the laundry. To be honest, we did not do too much sightseeing in Yerevan, exept for several banks, because we needed to withdraw and change money for Iran. There are nice cafes in the center and a lot to see if you are interested in arts. We only had a short look at the cascades, a stairway with exhibitions on every floor leading to a viewpoint overlooking the city. 

the cascades and visitors

armenian tuesday afternoon dressing

Near Yerevan lies the old monastery of Geghard, a complex founded in the 4th century. The main chapel is carved into a cave in the 13th century to keep the sword the romans poked Jesus with on the cross, to see if he is still alive. The sword (and numerous others, which are of course fake! Only this one is real!) is kept in another place nowadays, but we were still impressed by the pillars and the ceiling caved out our one big rock. As we wanted to make headway to the Iranian border we just stopped a one other monastery, the monastery of Tatev, an UNESCO world heritage sight. It is connected by the "longest air tram" with a place called Halidzor. The air tram is 5.7km long and takes its passengers in 300m hight over a gorge. The air tram station was built, in contrast to usual central european expectations, in the middle of nowhere. As we realized with a mixture of delight and hunger. To get some food we drove back to the previous village and had some great, authentic and cheap armenian barbique. After that we took an air tram ride and visited the monastery and its medieval oil mill. Especially the view over the gorge and the knowledge that it was built over 1000 years ago and hosted one of the first medieval universities made this visit very impressive again. So concluding we can confirm what we read before:  Armenia is oldest churches in front of impressive landscape. 

Geghard monastery

South Armenia

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