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Can't Get Enough Of .... Mt Ararat

sunny 38 °C

Day 38, Saturday July 1 2017
Yeghegnadzor to Yerevan / 133 km

  • It's getting really hot now in this part of the world. We reckon around 40 C by the early afternoon. It feels almost middle eastern.
  • We are heading to Yerevan, Armenia's capital city a day ahead of our original schedule. We are really happy to be spending 3 nights there and most importantly to have an extra day of sightseeing. In such heat we need to take regular rests indoors.
  • If you are planning a trip to Yerevan, be aware that Mondays are never very productive here because most museums & galleries are closed. Even on a Sunday, opening hours may be curtailed. Originally our main day of sightseeing was planned for a Monday. So you can understand why our change of schedule has been a good idea.
  • Our first sightseeing stop of today is an Armenian winery at Areni, some 10 kilometres down the road from Yeghegnadzor. There is a grape variety called areni which grows well in this area.
  • Along our route there are roadside stalls selling Coca Cola bottles full of the local red 'plonk'. Although it's only 9 a.m. SG tries a sip that is offered to her - It is a combination of semi sweet and dry wine that mellows the normal sharp taste. We are not talking fine quality here. The bottles will be purchased by truck drivers en route to the Iranian border where they will be smuggled across as Coca Cola. It is probably not a particularly sophisticated market in terms of wine degustation.
  • SG samples some bottled wine at the winery. AG does not participate, he's driving. He is not missing much - the quality of Areni wine produced here is not that impressive. As well as oak barrels and dusty wine bottles in the cellar, we also see that they have filled plastic Cola bottles. There can only be one reason . The Areni winery is also complicit in the illegal export of wine into Iran.
  • The highlight of our visit to the winery is not actually the wine. During a snoop around the backyard we come across another type of production - dried apricots. Several ladies are involved in the process - the apricots have been halved and are being laid out on an aluminium tray in the sun. Here they will stay for 5 hours or so before being slow baked in a special oven.
  • Apricots are currently in season. We know this because we are served them morning, noon & night.
  • SG is reminded of the time when she used to sun dry her own tomatoes using a similar procedure. We were living in Oman at the time, Delia Smith was including them in many of her recipes and none of the local supermarkets stocked her 'trendy' ingredient. How times have changed.
  • We continue our journey to Ararat where we hope to view this famous and contested mountain from the Khor Virap monastery complex.
  • Actually there are two Ararats, standing side by side. Both are dormant volcanoes and both are now in modern day Turkey. But Mt Ararat was formerly Historic Armenia's highest mountain. The mountain has not moved. Borders have. It has been officially recognised as Turkish territory only since 1921.
  • Naturally the Armenians are not particularly happy with this enforced geopolitical reality. It's like France losing Mont Blanc to Italy. To add insult to injury, from Yerevan, the capital city, Mt Ararat is clearly visible on clear days - a constant reminder of what used to be.
  • Mt Ararat is generally believed by Christians to be the final resting place of Noah's Ark. Genesis 8:7 -17 includes the words: "And God remembered Noah and every living thing.... And the ark rested in the seventh month on the seventeenth day of the month upon the mountains of Ar'arat"
  • The Armenians consider Mt Ararat to be a sacred & special place. It is an icon of their culture, a national symbol and together with an image of the ark, forms part of the country's coat of arms ( see photo ). It has also featured heavily in Armenian literature and art down the centuries. So you can see why a Turkish Mt Ararat might be such a bone of contention between the two nations.
  • But if the Mt Ararat situation is contentious, the dispute with Azerbaijan over the Artsakh region is even more provocative. Reference will be made to the Nagorno- Karabakh war in later entries of the Yerevan section of our journey.
  • We are fortunate once more - the weather is clear & sunny and we get the opportunity to see both Ararats many times and well before Khor Virap. The views are absolutely stunning.
  • It is the weekend and Khor Virap is busy with visitors. It's a challenge to get that special photo without it being spoilt by some tourist with a selfie stick.
  • Khor Virap monastery complex has been here in one form or another since 6C.
  • But there is a pit below the small chapel in the SW corner that dates back mto at least 3C . According to Armenian Christian thought, St Gregory was imprisoned here for 13 years by the pagan King of Armenia. His crime was proselytism. The King became ill and legend has it that he was cured by St Gregory. In gratitude he converted to Christianity and in 301 AD ordered that the whole country do likewise. This was how Armenia became the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
  • Many Armenians make the pilgrimage to Khor Virap Monastery ( which means 'deep pit ' ) not only to see the views but also to descend down into the 6m x 4 m underground hole that was St Gregory's cell for so long. If you have time to join the queue, make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear.
  • The weekend is a hectic time for priests at the monastery. Armenians regard it as a special place to be baptised or married. Lady Luck is still with us - in the church of St Astvatsatsin there is a service being conducted. The priest is consecrating the bread and wine and so presumably it is a communion service. There is beautiful chanting by a conductor led choir, accompanied by an organ. The priest also has a great voice. SG wonders whether good singing ability is a prerequisite of priesthood. So far their talent has impressed!
  • Yerevan is now a mere 30 kms north. Navigator has to work harder in big cities. Yerevan has a population of over a million; about a third of Armenians live in its capital city. Its outskirts are not particularly attractive. There are many abandoned old soviet buildings. But central Yerevan is unexpectedly impressive: attractive stone buildings, large squares with fountains and memorials and tree lined streets and park areas.
  • We are so glad that Yerevan is timetabled at the end of our Armenian experience. By the time we leave Armenia in 3 days time, back into Georgia, we will have driven through 9 of its 11 regions. ( Lori, Tavush, Geghartkunik, Vayotsdzor, Ararat, Kotayk, Aragatsotn, Shirak & Yerevan) That's not to say we've 'done' Armenia, just to imply we have sampled a good cross section!
  • We know from our travels that Yerevan is not typical of rural Armenia. It is a capital city that is coming of age, it has class, history, culture, sophistication and traffic problems. But old Lada cars are a rare sight here.
  • It is also expensive for the average Armenian. Foreign money has been invested, particularly from the well meaning diaspora who wish to help Armenia realise its future potential. But this also increases prices、makes property less affordable to the ordinary Armenian earning an average salary. Had we not seen the rural poverty of the last few days, the poor quality roads, the sparsely stocked shops, the national monastery treasures left unkempt and neglected, we would never know that Yerevan is the exception to the current rule of life in Armenia.
  • The one way traffic system makes our arrival at the Tufenkian hotel a bit tricky, but we manage in the end. It is noticeable how quickly traffic flows and in relatively high volume. After nearly 4 weeks of roads to ourselves, It is a shock to our system.
  • The Yerevan hotel is the flagship of the Tufenkian group of 4 - the others being located in Dzoroget, Dilijan and Sevan. We park right outside and change rooms, twice, before finally settling in.
  • After a quick lunch of seasonal soup in the hotel's cafe we head out to the National History museum . Sadly no photographs are allowed. But it is well worth a visit - it draws together the various threads of Armenia's history and culture. There is a section dedicated to Ani ( former Armenian city now abandoned and in Turkish territory ); we observe the oldest leather shoe in the world ( 5500 years old ) that was found in a cave near Noravank monastery ( we were there just yesterday ). We see artefacts that illustrate how advanced the civilisation of Historic Armenia was at the turn of the first millenium. This was a very sophisticated part of the world.
  • The National Art Gallery is located on the upper floors of the same building. An extra ticket charge applies however. There is no air conditioning and hot air rises! The artwork on display ( Armenian, Russian & some minor European ) is frankly underwhelming. It is probably a better idea to visit some of the smaller art galleries around town that are dedicated to individual Armenian artists.
  • The National History museum is located on Republic Square, impressive to see day or night. Until 1990 it was named Lenin Square. The mainly municipal buildings around the square are constructed in distinctive Armenian stone in neo classical style. It's an attractive place and one where Armenians like to gather on summer evenings to enjoy for free the light, sound & water display that happens after sunset.
  • Time to walk back to the Tufenkian hotel for a shower and change of clothing. We fear with only hand washing for the last 4 weeks , our clothes are beginning to smell, well, a bit musty...
  • A shower refreshes & we head back out into the city, this time by public transport. We venture down into the Yerevan metro to travel one stop to the Cafesjian area. A few comments to make about the underground system here:
  • As in Tbilisi it was a soviet era project completed in the early 1980's. It has 1 line & only 10 stations, which makes it easy to navigate, even though phonetic names of stations are not immediately noticeable. The Armenian language has its own unique alphabet ( created by a monk in 5C ) which leaves us none the wiser of where we are.
  • It is also a very discreet network. You can see it marked up on the tourist maps, but locating the actual entrance points is a challenge. Each station may only have one or two entrances, often set back from the street.
  • Although not as deep as in Tbilisi, it is nevertheless wonderfully cool. ( What is it about the construction of London's underground that makes it so airless ?)
  • Finally it is very cheap. Around 15p for a single ride. One stop or 10, you pay the same money. It keeps transactions simple. And at such a price why quibble?
  • Even on a Saturday, early evening, the system is not overloaded with passengers. Apparently usage has declined since the introduction of a mini bus service above ground. Of course as road congestion gets worse, this may well change in the future. The metro will come of age once again.
  • Our last visit before supper at Wine Republic restaurant is the Cafesjian Art Gallery. The layout only makes real sense when you see it for yourself. It's difficult to understand from guide book descriptions. Perhaps you'll have the same problem with SG's attempt.
  • Finished finally in 2009, Cafesjian is now one of the highlights of any visit to Yerevan. It consists of many outdoor art exhibits that you can enjoy free of charge at any time. To do so walk in the park at ground level or climb the astonishingly long flights of steps that lead up from the park. This gigantic outdoor staircase is known as the Yerevan Cascade.
  • Built into the hillside are additional indoor exhibition halls that you pay to enter and which have more restrictive opening hours. There are a series of internal escalators that you can also access free of charge and from where you can see additional quirky works of art. At each escalator level there is access to a garden & fountain area ( from where you can enjoy fab city views ) and of course the Cascade steps that run up the entire length of the Cafesjian hill.
  • At each level there is more art on display. ( cost free & any time of the day & evening ) In the intense early evening heat we choose to forgo the opportunity for exercise and ride the escalator indoors.
  • The views from the top of the Yerevan Cascade are amazing : the city skyline with Mt Ararat beyond. Simply iconic.
  • By the way from the top of Cafesjian you can continue to walk through a pleasant park area and access the Mother Armenia statue and the Military museum that is built into her pedestal. But more about that tomorrow.
  • For now we've had enough of sightseeing. We head back down to the park where there is an open air stage in position ready for tonight's free performance - a jazz orchestra from America. After supper we walk by to listen for a while. Small children are dancing uninhibited in front of the stage, in their own little rhythmic bubble - it's the same the world over, a human instinct - let's dance!
  • Back on the underground it is even quieter now. We exit at Republic Square and linger to listen and watch the musical fountain display. The square is packed with Armenian families enjoying another free performance in beautiful surroundings. It's just before 10 p.m. It's the final display of the evening. Absurdly Rule Britannia resonates around the square.
  • It's been another exhausting but exhilarating day. This is what our road trips are all about!

Iranian Cola for Sale

Iranian Cola for Sale

Areni Winery

Areni Winery

Cola Bottles Found in Wine Cellar

Cola Bottles Found in Wine Cellar

The First Stage of apricot Drying Process - Half a Day in the Hot Sun

The First Stage of apricot Drying Process - Half a Day in the Hot Sun

Apricot Oven for Slow Bakec

Apricot Oven for Slow Bakec

The First of Many Sightings of Mts. Ararat - Impossible to Have Too Many

The First of Many Sightings of Mts. Ararat - Impossible to Have Too Many

Apricots Drying in Sun

Apricots Drying in Sun

Ararat Selfie

Ararat Selfie

AG & Mt Ararats

AG & Mt Ararats

Mt Ararat, Greater & Lesser - Ararat Region Produces Great Wines

Mt Ararat, Greater & Lesser - Ararat Region Produces Great Wines

Khor Virap Monastery in Far Right of Photo

Khor Virap Monastery in Far Right of Photo

Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery

Beautiful Armenian Stone Work - St Astvatsatsin Church

Beautiful Armenian Stone Work - St Astvatsatsin Church

Communion Service @ Surp Astvatsatsin Church, Khor Virap

Communion Service @ Surp Astvatsatsin Church, Khor Virap

image

image

Doves for Sale @ Khor Virap - From Noah's Ark?

Doves for Sale @ Khor Virap - From Noah's Ark?


Armenia's Coat of Arms

Armenia's Coat of Arms

Yerevan Underground

Yerevan Underground

Yerevan Underground Saturday Early Evening

Yerevan Underground Saturday Early Evening

AG, Cityscape & Mts Ararat - View from Top of Yerevan Cascade

AG, Cityscape & Mts Ararat - View from Top of Yerevan Cascade

Quirky Art Work  in Cafesjian Outdoor Gallery - by British Artist David Martin Entitled 'Divers'

Quirky Art Work in Cafesjian Outdoor Gallery - by British Artist David Martin Entitled 'Divers'

Republic Square Yerevan

Republic Square Yerevan

Music Fountain & Light Display, Republic Square

Music Fountain & Light Display, Republic Square

Posted by sagbucks 04:53 Archived in Armenia

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