A Travellerspoint blog

July 2017

Ararat Brandy - Cheers!

sunny 40 °C

  • You can smell the brandy as soon as you walk through the door of the visitors centre.
  • We have come to the administrative HQ of the Yerevan Brandy Company. They also store 15000 barrels of world renowned Armenian 'cognac' here. The factory compound is massive, a real landmark of the city, located as it is on top of a hill within the city centre.
  • It is only 10 a.m., we have just eaten breakfast and here we are, about to drink brandy.
  • You must book tours of the brandy factory in advance by filling in the online form. You are then allocated a time on the day you have requested. We did not try to change the 10 a.m. slot, reasoning that it at leasts leaves the rest of the day for other activities.
  • The tour lasts around 45 minutes and then you taste 2 or 3 brandies depending on how much you pay. A sample of 2 brandies costs just under 10 euros.
  • Ararat Brandy, the generic trading name of the Yerevan Brandy Company was established in 1887 when Armenia was part of the Russian empire. It became a nationalised industry under Soviet rule and even today, 70% of its production goes to Russia. However ownership has changed and since 1999 it has belonged to the French Pernod Ricard family group.
  • It is perhaps for this reason that the bottle labelling on exports destined to Russia & other former Soviet states still use the term 'cognac' in Russian script. Cognac is a registered trade mark and in its romanised form can only be used for products originating from the cognac region of France. A blind eye is obviously turned to the Russian script version. The French are good at bending rules.
  • We see the Peace Barrel in a display area that is covered with signatures. The barrel contains brandy that was produced in 1994 when Armenia & Azerbaijan signed a Cease Fire Agreement. It will be opened and bottled only when a permanent solution can be found to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. ( See yesterday's entry for details )
  • This is the only public place in Armenia where the Azerbaijan flag is flown.
  • On the subject of flags - the Armenian flag, introduced after independence from Russia, is a tricolore of red, blue & orange. Apparently red represents blood shed by its people, blue stands for calm and peace, and orange symbolises creation of a nation.
  • Back to Ararat Brandy.
  • Heads of State who visit Yerevan are offered a barrel of high quality brandy which will be aged & bottled on site. They will then be sent an annual 'allowance ' from their very own barrel. A single barrel may contain between 400-500 litres. The variation in volume occurs because the barrels are all hand made.
  • Ararat Brandy has 4 factories in Armenia. Six different Armenian grapes are used in its production. Fermentation takes 2 weeks and then there is a process of double distillation and ageing in Armenian oak barrels.
  • The colour of brandy comes from the oak wood of the barrels. The longer it stays in the barrel, the deeper the colour.
  • The smell that hits you when you walk into the storage area of Ararat Brandy, is caused by the evaporation of alcohol from the barrels. About 3-4% of liquid is lost every year. The barrels are opened once a year and topped up with brandy of either a similar age or a blend ( depending on the quality of brandy ) of other age groups. Barrels must be stored full to guarantee the best ageing.
  • Just as in perfume production there is a 'master nose ' responsible for harmony of smells, so there is a master blender at Ararat. He decides how to 'blend' the more expensive brandies.
  • The company stores a quantity of every year's production in what is euphemistically known as 'paradise'. The oldest wine in paradise dates from 1902.
  • One of Ararat's most famous admirers was Sir Winston Churchill.
  • Rumour has it that at the Yalta Conference in 1945, Stalin introduced Churchill to Armenian cognac. He was smitten & he enquired how he could get more. Stalin organised for 12 bottles per month to be sent to him in England. And for several years after his death they kept on arriving, much to the delight of the Churchill family.
  • When asked about the secrets of his longevity ( he died aged 91 years ), Churchill attributed his grand old age to: no sport, never being late, smoking Cuban cigars and drinking Armenian brandy.
  • At the brandy tasting we sample a 3 year & 10 year old Brandy. Our table neighbours let us taste their 20 year old Brandy. It is quite obvious that once your taste buds have been tickled by quality, you cannot consider downscaling back to the first Brandy you tasted.
  • Entirely mellow, we leave the Ararat Brandy factory in search of a taxi, preferably with a meter.
  • We are dropped off outside the large indoor market in the SW area of the city. Colloquially known as Gumi Shuka. We always find it insightful of local cuisine, to see where people come to buy their food.
  • Finally we take a quick look at Surp Grigor Cathedral which was consecrated in 2001. It is located in a somewhat elevated site and is built along traditional lines with distinctly modern twists. The interior is light, airy & peaceful - and modern. After all the ancient churches & monasteries on our agenda of the last 3 days, we are somewhat underwhelmed.
  • It is probably the 40 degree heat suppressing not only our appetite but also our enthusiasm for sightseeing. It's time for lunch and a break from tourism.
  • This evening we are eating at another insider recommendation called Yerevan Village Restaurant. Any day but Monday you should find not only reasonable food but also live Armenian music.
  • Yes Yerevan is a happening place! Best come here too...

AG in Front  of Ararat  Brandy Factory - Real Landmark in the Physical & Spiritual Meaning!

AG in Front of Ararat Brandy Factory - Real Landmark in the Physical & Spiritual Meaning!

Barrels of Brandy Ageing Before Bottling

Barrels of Brandy Ageing Before Bottling

Peace Barrel at Ararat Brandy Factory

Peace Barrel at Ararat Brandy Factory

1902 Ararat Brandy - the Oldest in the Factory

1902 Ararat Brandy - the Oldest in the Factory

Shows an Unfinished Barrel.

Shows an Unfinished Barrel.

Visiting Heads of State Are Given a Barrel of Ararat Best Brandy

Visiting Heads of State Are Given a Barrel of Ararat Best Brandy

The Door to Paradise is Very Secure

The Door to Paradise is Very Secure

Bottles for Export to Russia Use the Word Cognac in Russian Script

Bottles for Export to Russia Use the Word Cognac in Russian Script

Brandy Tasting Session at End of Tour

Brandy Tasting Session at End of Tour

Tulip Shaped Brandy Glasses Filled to Perfection

Tulip Shaped Brandy Glasses Filled to Perfection

Showing the Regions  of Armenia, Even the Disputed Territory of Nagorno Karabakh

Showing the Regions of Armenia, Even the Disputed Territory of Nagorno Karabakh

Armenian Flag 1918-21 & Re-Adopted in 1990

Armenian Flag 1918-21 & Re-Adopted in 1990

Master Butcher in Yerevan Shuka

Master Butcher in Yerevan Shuka

Very Large Cherries & Piled So High

Very Large Cherries & Piled So High

Hazelnuts in Their Husks @ Yerevan Shuka ( Market )

Hazelnuts in Their Husks @ Yerevan Shuka ( Market )

Sweet Armenian Specialities Filled With Walnut Paste

Sweet Armenian Specialities Filled With Walnut Paste

Surp Grigor Lusavorich Cathedral Consacrated in 2001

Surp Grigor Lusavorich Cathedral Consacrated in 2001

Posted by sagbucks 21:25 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

The Armenian Question

sunny 40 °C

Day 39
Sunday July 2 2017

  • Our hotel is opposite the park where every weekend the Yerevan Vernissage is held. Basically a market selling souvenirs and Armenian artefacts. As we exit the hotel, the various stalls are already opening up ready for Sunday shoppers. We will check it out later in the day.
  • Its already too hot to walk far.

For the first time on our trip we decide to use local taxis. AG does not wish to move the truck so conveniently parked outside the hotel. In any case rest days are just that, especially for drivers.

  • Before we get a feel for value, we are definitely ripped off by taxi drivers. They do not seem to operate meters. Nor do they have functioning rear seat belts - just like in China, except here traffic flow is frighteningly fast.
  • We head up to the top of Cafesjian Hill to see Mother Armenia and the Military War Museum which is located literally at her feet, within the pedestal. The green space around is known as Victory Park.
  • It was opened in 1950 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of glorious Soviet rule. Originally there was a statue of Stalin but he was removed in 1962, a process that resulted in 1 death and many injured people. It was grimly claimed that Stalin was able to kill even from beyond his grave.
  • Stalin was replaced by the Mother Armenia statue designed by Armenian sculptor Ara Harutunyan. She is made of copper, stands 22 m tall and holds a sword 11m in length. Including the pedestal the whole monument is an impressive 51m.
  • Mother Armenia is positioned to face Mts Ararat & countries beyond such as Turkey & Iran, sword ready in her hand. A protector of her country, what message might she symbolise? How's about: No more persecution of my people, no more destruction of our cultural heritage and no more loss of our territory. As Mrs May said recently: Enough is enough.
  • Entrance to the War Museum is free of charge. The staff may try and obtain 500 AMD as a voluntary contribution or fee for taking photos. It probably goes straight into their pockets so it's up to you whether you oblige them or not.
  • Most of the museum is dedicated to the conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno - Karabakh, known in Armenia as the War of Artsakh.
  • The region in question has long had a large ethnic majority of Armenians. The modern conflict has its roots in decisions made by Joseph Stalin in 1920's when both countries were under Soviet control. In order to placate Turkey, ( which he hoped might espouse communism ) the Soviet Union agreed to a division under which the region, whilst being independent would be under the ultimate authority of Azerbaijan. Under strong Soviet control, the conflict abated for several decades.
  • But once Soviet influence started to decline, regional tensions surfaced once again, particularly between 1988-94 when Armenia & Azerbaijan both gained independence from Russia.
  • Azerbaijan has not tried to exert any direct political authority over the region since 1988 but nor does it wish to cede this territory to Armenia. This is the actual wish of the vast majority of people who live there.
  • How futile is a civil war to solve difficult issues: during the time of active hostilities, it is estimated that about 20,000 people were killed, 60,000 wounded, with close to a million refugees being displaced. The absurdity is that the disputed territory itself only had a population of about 200,000. Refugee numbers were increased by Armenians fleeing other parts of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis displaced from Armenia.
  • So a political impasse exists, a tentative ceasefire holds since 1994 ( negotiated by Russia ) but even as recently as 2016 there have been worrying flare ups between the two countries.
  • Only some of the exhibits have English translation but you will get the gist of the story, bearing in mind that it is Armenian evidence on display.
  • We now hail another taxi to take us to the Genocide Memorial & museum. This place should definitely be on your list of 'must do stuff' if you come to Yerevan. You can visit the Memorial any day of the week but the museum is closed Mondays. It would be a shame to miss it.
  • The 'Reborn Armenia' memorial and the Sanctuary of the Eternal Flame were finally completed in 1967. It commemorates the 1.5 million Armenians who perished during their persecution by the Turks in the first genocide of the 20C.
  • For a long time under Soviet rule, no national ideology was permitted. Eventually in the mid 60's, as a result of huge pressure from outside and demonstrations and protest from within Communist Armenia, concessions were made and the Armenian Genocide Memorial was built. The museum was later added in 1995.
  • Every year on April 24, which is a National holiday in Armenia, special commemorations are made here and masses of people with Armenian heritage come from all over the world. The date has been chosen because it was on this day in 1915 that Armenian intellectuals, artists and professionals were forcibly deported from Constantinople - modern day Istanbul.
  • Indeed it is apparent from signage along the alley of trees that visiting Heads of State also take time to plant a diplomatic tree - as you do!
  • The whole area exudes symbolism on the most poignant of scale. There is the Memorial Wall where the names of desecrated towns & villages are engraved - whole communities were wiped out or deported or both.
  • The Reborn Armenia column is 44m high and is partly split vertically by a deep crevice. This artistic feature is only visible from certain angles, so make sure you walk all around and look up!
  • The architect's explanation is that it represents the survival and rebirth of Armenia - like a plant with a new shoot. To SG it also looks remarkably like a Greater and Lesser Mt Ararat - but hey the artist knows best!
  • The Sanctuary containing the Eternal Flame consists of 12 inward leaning slabs of stones that are reminiscent of that oldest of art form, the Armenian Khachkars. ( already mentioned in Friday June 30 entry ). There is no roof. It is said that the slabs are bowed in mourning & that the number 12 represents the former Armenian provinces, now lost to modern day Turkey.
  • The Eternal Flame burns at a depth of 1.5 m below the ground representing the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed during the period of genocide against them.
  • Even AG spends two full hours walking around the museum.
  • Signage is in Armenian, English & Russian. The exhibition is very detailed and harrowing. Of course it is the Armenian side of the story. But evidence is frankly irrefutable that terrible, inhuman acts were perpetrated against the Armenian people on orders of the Turkish authorities. Genocide is of course a heinous crime, but the lack of response and action by Western powers was also morally despicable.
  • The same mistake was made some 20 years later when Hitler rose to power and started the second genocide of the 20C. Indeed he learnt much from the terrible example set by the Turks.
  • But in the late 19 and early 20C many countries, including Great Britain, harboured fears and aspirations that dominated their political alliances & actions. It's called national self interest and it seems that sadly nothing has changed.
  • European history at this time is oh so complicated - take a look at Wikipedia and allow yourself a few hours/ days of study!
  • What did the Turks have against the Armenians? Towards the end of the 19C the mighty Ottoman Empire was finally in real decline. This continued into the beginning of the 20C and culminated with an 'unholy' alliance in World War 1 between Germany, Austria, Hungary and Turkey.
  • If anything it was its significant Armenian population that helped the Ottoman Empire to survive beyond its due expiry date. They were an educated, motivated, creative people who excelled in art, culture, medicine, law, banking and administration. They also embraced modern technology in contrast to the Sultan and his entourage.
  • Like all regimes in trouble, a scapegoat had to be found - the Armenians, the Infidels.
  • One of the first events of a long period of persecution against the Armenians were the Massacres of Hamidian 1894-6. It was the age of the telegraph communication system and the atrocities were reported in the Western media. Another massacre occurred in the city of Adana in 1909 when between 20-30000 Armenians were exterminated by the Turks. There is photographic evidence.
  • In the end it is estimated that over 1.5 million Armenians perished and many more were displaced from their homes and dispossessed of their wealth, assets & belongings. It was a terrible time to be Armenian.
  • And after World War 1 ? Turkey was on the losing side. According to the Peace Treaty of Sevres 1920 much of its former territory in Eastern Turkey was to be returned to Armenia (- Erzurum, Van, Kars for example ) and it was also to be given land access to the Black Sea. But much of the treaty was never put into action and it led to yet another war in the region - this time between Turkey & Armenia. Guess who won...
  • Towards the end of the exhibition you will see a feature about Aurora Mardiganian. She is the Anne Frank figure of the Armenian Genocide. But she miraculously survived, fled to America and wrote about her terrible experiences. She also starred herself in the silent movie Auction of Souls made in 1919 from her book.
  • Come here and you will learn much & despair greatly. Man is capable of inflicting such cruelty on fellow human beings. History is teaching us nothing, at least not those in power, and we seem to be repeating the same mistakes, generation after generation. We leave feeling very pessimistic about current world affairs.
  • Time for some respite and lunch.
  • Finally we flag down a taxi with a working meter. Surprise, surprise it is the cheapest ride of the day.
  • Late afternoon we walk around the Vernissage bric à brac market in the park opposite our hotel. There is much kitsch for sale - jewellery, woodwork, ceramics, amateur artwork, imported counterfeit designer clothing and souvenir merchandise - perhaps also the odd gem at a bargain price. On the periphery there are also many rugs & carpets for sale - astonishingly left out in the intense sun throughout the weekend. A very good reason not to buy here.
  • This evening we walk to an Armenian restaurant that has been recommended by several different sources - Dolmama. One of its many signature dishes is dolma stuffed with tender beef. Established in 1998 it is one of Yerevan's most famous local restaurants. Flying Ostrich in Dilijan is owned by the same Armenian American. ( See Thursday 29 June entry ). It's worth going to both!

Mother Armenia Statue

Mother Armenia Statue

Mother Armenia's View of Mt Ararat

Mother Armenia's View of Mt Ararat

Eternal Flame and Some of 12 Stone Khachars

Eternal Flame and Some of 12 Stone Khachars

Reborn Armenia Memorial - Note the Deep Crevice At the Top

Reborn Armenia Memorial - Note the Deep Crevice At the Top

AG in front of Reborn Armenia Memorial

AG in front of Reborn Armenia Memorial

Aurora Mardiganian - the Anne Frank figure of the Armenian Genocide

Aurora Mardiganian - the Anne Frank figure of the Armenian Genocide

Sultan Abdul Hamid 2, leader responsible for the Hamidian Massacres 1894-6 against the Armenian People Living in Turkey

Sultan Abdul Hamid 2, leader responsible for the Hamidian Massacres 1894-6 against the Armenian People Living in Turkey

Pomegranates Feature Much in Armenian Artwork & Cuisine

Pomegranates Feature Much in Armenian Artwork & Cuisine

Carpets for Sale in Vernissage, A Weekend Market in Yerevan

Carpets for Sale in Vernissage, A Weekend Market in Yerevan

An Obscure Entrance to the Famous Yerevan Restaurant of Dolmama

An Obscure Entrance to the Famous Yerevan Restaurant of Dolmama

Posted by sagbucks 04:47 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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

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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 Comments (0)

Iconic Armenia

sunny 30 °C

Day 37, Friday June 30 2017
Dilijan to Yeghegnadzor / 162 KM

  • SG is devastated - the draft file on her iPad has just disappeared along with all her notes for 3 days of experience in Armenia. Even AG cannot retrieve.
  • SG's system of daily diary writing is to type in thoughts, experiences & events throughout the day and then to later edit it into something more readable. It is an ongoing process and she is currently about 3 days behind 'real time '. She also takes photos of local information signs that may enhance her recall. Anyway for today & tomorrow's blog, the notes have all gone. Just like that. They have disappeared completely from both the IPad and hotmail. AG 's first suspicion is that SG has inadvertently pressed a delete button. But that is definitely not the case.
  • So everything must now be re-written. Many moments have passed and may never be included. This is exactly why a diary is being written - to remind where we have been and what we have seen. The pace of our trip is such, that without a record of some kind, our memories would be just a haze.
  • How wonderful technology is - and how it can really mess life up when it malfunctions.
  • So SG is not in the best of moods. Hopefully the accompanying photos will tell a happier story.
  • The scenery of today's drive promises to be spectacular - we are driving via the Selim Pass to Lake Sevan and beyond to Yeghegnadzor.
  • We start climbing more or less immediately. It is just after 9 a.m. and Armenians are already lighting up roadside BBQ's. We are curious whether they are starting weekend celebrations early. But no, they are taking up position for a day's work - selling food to passing drivers.
  • We've just had breakfast so we decline the huge corn on cob that Erik is cooking. But he is happy to have his photo taken, and is a very proud owner of a white Lada car.
  • As in the other Caucasus countries, Armenia is also Lada land. Especially in rural areas. When they try and overtake us, we know we have a potentially tricky situation ahead. They are not the fastest of cars any more. Nor do their owners seem to be the best of drivers.
  • We have a few tunnels to negotiate - the word is chosen with care. The lighting is very poor within and pedestrians seem to walk through as well. But there are no pavements. It's very hazardous for all concerned.
  • We leave behind the trees and abundant vegetation of Dilijan and emerge on the other side and at altitude where the scenery is completely different. See photos.
  • Selim Pass is at 2410 m. Apart from photogenic scenery, we also want to take a quick look at the Orbelian Caravanserai which sits just below the highest point of the pass. It is the best preserved Caravanserai in the whole of Armenia. Although it cannot compare with some of the Caravanserai we have seen in Kyrgyzstan & Iran a few years ago, it is nevertheless worth visiting.
  • Caravanserai were basically places of rest for weary travellers and traders on their journeys along the numerous trade routes that crisscrossed this part of Central Asia. Remember much is spoken about the Silk Route, as if it was one busy thoroughfare. But actually there were many different routes. The clientele who stayed in places such as Selim were essentially the forefathers of our modern day Truckie.
  • This particular Caravaserai was built in 1332 on the order of Prince Orbelian, the ruling family in the Kingdom of Armenia at that time. There is only one entrance and the carvings above the doorway are the only decorations to an otherwise plain but functional building. The animals and their loads would have rested either side of the arched hall. Travellers would have slept together in one designated room at the end of the hall.
  • After mountain scenery we now have lake scenery. We drive down to Lake Sevan, which by the way looks far more beautiful from a distance than at the water's edge. This has nothing to do with Mother Nature. No, it is thanks to poor quality and ugly man made structures, many of them unfinished and abandoned.
  • 'Drive down' is somewhat of a misnomer. At 1900 m Lake Sevan is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the world. It is well known for its excellent trout & crayfish.
  • Nowadays Lake Sevan is also a holiday playground for Russians & Armenians on a limited budget. The more wealthy head to the Black Sea Coast or further afield. Facilities all around the lake are in need of upgrade.
  • One of the iconic photos of Armenia ( and there are many ) is of the monastery of Hayravank set on a promontory overlooking Lake Sevan. The complex was built between the 9-12C . The best photo would be taken from the water. Impossible for us to do today.
  • It is here that SG notices Armenian visitors leaving the church walking backwards. It's the first time she has observed this method of departure from a religious place. But it is a characteristic of the Armenian style of worship. You cannot turn your back on God, represented by the cross and paintings at the altar. In a large building, with old uneven stone floors, this is not necessarily an easy way out.
  • Next stop is Noratus Cemetery, just inland from Lake Sevan but still with pleasant lake views. It is headlined in Lonely Planet as 'one of the most extraordinary cultural sights' in the country. We are becoming accustomed to LP hype. But if you are in the area, it is definitely worth taking a look. It has the largest collection of medieval Khachars in Armenia; there was once an even larger site but that is now in Azerbaijan territory and has apparently been destroyed.
  • What are Armenian Khachkars? They are stone slabs, often in shape of cross, but not exclusively so, that are embellished with carvings. It became an artform for which Armenian craftsmen were considered the best. Khachkars acted as memorial stones or focal points for worship. During our visits to Armenian medieval churches we see many variations. Unesco has placed Armenian Khachkars on its list of World Cultural Heritage. They should be preserved for posterity, not destroyed or vandalised...
  • The oldest examples in the cemetery date back to late 10C. The Khachars are spread over an area of 17 acres and there are more than 800. Of course we don't count them but that's what the signage says! They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some lie flat and some are upright and the stone carvings vary enormously. Some are religious in theme whilst others depict secular images such as hunting, farm & work life & community celebrations.
  • After a quick picnic lunch beside a river, we navigate into Yeghegnadzor, where we are overnighting. Sadly not at a Tufenkian heritage hotel. Although surrounded by beautiful rural scenery, the town itself is not very appealing. Nor is there much to do here. We stay at Hotel Arpa which is centrally located and where the staff are friendly & helpful, even though our only means of communication is sign language. As usual SG checks the room for quietness and functioning aircon.
  • The plan is to drive 20 km or so and enjoy the spectacular Noravank monastery complex in the light of the setting sun. LP also rates a restaurant on site. Sounds perfect.
  • Except the sun is not cooperating for the moment.
  • And the restaurant is empty, has no chef and no menu to show us.
  • But Noravank is spectacular and if you are lucky with the weather you will get a photo of another iconic Armenian Monastery. Like in Georgia, the earliest churches and monasteries in Armenia were built in the most incredibly glorious settings. Even if you do not appreciate the fine ecclesiastical architecture or the spiritual heritage of Armenian Christianity, it is still worth visiting some of Armenia's most famous old churches. Even by today's standards Noravank is isolated - it is now connected by a 8 km road that leads off the main highway but in the era that it was built it would have been in the middle of nowhere.
  • The complex consists of 13C Surp Karapet Church which is built adjoining an even older little chapel which you can just about see in the photo. The main church with cantilever steps is called Surp Astvatsatsin and was constructed in early part of 14C. The famous Armenian architect & sculptor, known as Momik, is credited with the magnificent stone carvings above the entrances and with some of the Khachkars that are found in the grounds.
  • The sun does emerge fleetingly to highlight the beautiful colours of the stonework of the monastery and the surrounding cliffs. Armenian craftsmen built churches in a way that used the varied hues of local stone to great aesthetic effect. It is a technique that is replicated even today in modern civic buildings, in Yerevan for example.
  • We abandon plans to eat in the restaurant. Instead we eat on site but use up some more of the camping provisions we brought from England.
  • The portion sizes are inadequate to fill us up until morning. We need something else. We return to Yeghegnadzor prepared to eat local. We wander around town, follow the crowds and the noise but find nothing. Many of the residents seem to be congregating in the park - they are watching a junior boxing competition - between teenage girls. In between bouts, there is a 'pop' dance display to keep the audience entertained.
  • Back at our hotel, a Swiss coach party has just arrived and we end up eating what is on their menu: chicken broth, tomato & cucumber salad and stuffed dolma. At least we don't go to bed hungry and the chef is a charming Armenian lady who is proud to be serving us her home cooked food.

View From Dilijan Hotel - Very Pleasant

View From Dilijan Hotel - Very Pleasant

Tufenkian Heritage Hotel, Dilijan - 19C Stone Buildings Converted into Rooms

Tufenkian Heritage Hotel, Dilijan - 19C Stone Buildings Converted into Rooms

Erik & his Lada

Erik & his Lada

Mountain Scenery @ Around 2400 m

Mountain Scenery @ Around 2400 m

Our Trusty Truck High Up on Selim Pass

Our Trusty Truck High Up on Selim Pass

AG Enjoying - Getting the Truck to the Top

AG Enjoying - Getting the Truck to the Top

It's Poppy Season Up on Selim Pass Too

It's Poppy Season Up on Selim Pass Too

Orbelian Caravanserai

Orbelian Caravanserai

The Only Entrance to Caravanserai & the Only Decorative Carving

The Only Entrance to Caravanserai & the Only Decorative Carving

Main Hallway Inside Caravanserai - Only Natural Light

Main Hallway Inside Caravanserai - Only Natural Light

Lake Sevan - a Gorgeous Blue

Lake Sevan - a Gorgeous Blue

Hayravank Monastery, Lake Sevan

Hayravank Monastery, Lake Sevan

To Keep the Trout in Sellable Condition in the Summer Heat, They Are Lightly Smoked

To Keep the Trout in Sellable Condition in the Summer Heat, They Are Lightly Smoked

I'll Have That One Please!

I'll Have That One Please!

Delicious Smoked Trout

Delicious Smoked Trout

Upright Khachars in Noratus Cemetery

Upright Khachars in Noratus Cemetery

Noratus Cemetery - A Huge Graveyard of over 800 Khachkars

Noratus Cemetery - A Huge Graveyard of over 800 Khachkars

Khachkars Come in Lots of Different Shapes & Sizes and Decoration Evolved Down the Centures

Khachkars Come in Lots of Different Shapes & Sizes and Decoration Evolved Down the Centures

Noravank Monastery Founded in 1105 and Built in the Remotest of Places

Noravank Monastery Founded in 1105 and Built in the Remotest of Places

Surp Astvatsatsin Church Noravank

Surp Astvatsatsin Church Noravank

Surp Karapet Church @ Noravank Designed by Momik

Surp Karapet Church @ Noravank Designed by Momik

Momik's Stunning Stone Carving @ Noravank

Momik's Stunning Stone Carving @ Noravank

Cantilever Steps of Surp Astvatsatsin Church & Beautiful Stone Carvings by Momik

Cantilever Steps of Surp Astvatsatsin Church & Beautiful Stone Carvings by Momik

Entrance Door to 14C Surp Astvatsatsin Church

Entrance Door to 14C Surp Astvatsatsin Church

Window Detail at Noravank

Window Detail at Noravank

Surp Astvatsatsin Church @ Noravank

Surp Astvatsatsin Church @ Noravank

Cross Stone @ Noravank by Famous Sculptor Momik

Cross Stone @ Noravank by Famous Sculptor Momik

Posted by sagbucks 05:14 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Getting to Know Armenia

sunny 30 °C

Day 36 Thursday 29 June 2017
Dzoraget to Dilijan via Odzun & Vanadzor

  • The road closure (extensive reconstruction of tarmac surface ) means that we cannot explore further into the Debed Canyon nor visit Dsegh. We decide to leave Dzoroget on Thursday, bring forward all subsequent hotel reservations by one day and spend three nights in Yerevan instead of two. There will be enough to do in Armenia's capital city to justify the extra time. As you can imagine this takes some organisation. It is fortunate that we are staying all except one night with the Tufenkian hotel group. We do not have to pay any late cancellation charges.
  • A few things we need to remember about Armenia as we travel around:
  • Today it is the smallest & poorest of the three Caucasus countries we visit. It has a population of about 3.5 million and that number is fairly static. It is estimated that the Armenian diaspora living all over the world is about 10 million.
  • It is landlocked by 4 countries - Turkey, Georgia, Iran & Azerbaijan. For political reasons, only its borders with Georgia and Iran are open. The long term dispute with Azerbaijan about the Nagorno-Karabakh region is unresolved and bitter. Although there has been a cease fire since 1994, it is feared the troubles could flare up again at the slightest provocation by one side or another. Turkey naturally supports its fellow Muslim and Turkic speaking ally, Azerbaijan. So both borders remain closed. This inevitably means Armenia's economic growth is adversely affected.
  • Armenia's geographic position should mean that it benefits from the region's trade and commerce but it has been deliberately sidelined by Turkey & Azerbaijan in several major 21C projects- the oil (BTC) and gas pipelines (SCP) that run from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. Similarly the Baku Tbilisi Kars railway, which has just been completed. This allows a freight train to travel from South Korea to Istanbul in just 15 days. Armenia has been bypassed and not included.
  • But how times have changed. Historic Armenia was a massive, rich Kingdom. Inevitably empires rise and empires fall. This happened to Armenia, sitting as it did on the Eurasian crossroads of trade & power. In the early centuries of the 1st Millenium AD it became a buffer between the Greeks & Romans from the West and the Persians & Arabs from the East. Gradually Great Armenia's territory was reduced and occupied. Then along came the Ottomans with aspirations against the Persians ( 16C onwards ) and then the Russians ( 18C onwards ) with their territorial ambitions against the Ottomans. It's complicated and you may be interested in checking out for yourself just how and when Great Armenia became the small country it is today.
  • As for the 21C, while Azerbaijan develops, thanks to its rich natural resources & while Georgia benefits from its politically more neutral status and its crucial geographical position, poor old Armenia is still recovering from the Soviet era.
  • Armenia, although independent from Russia since 1990's, has opted to look to Russia rather than West for support & protection. The war against Azerbaijan has left Armenia economically isolated. More than 20% of its exports go to Russia, it is a member of EEU ( Eurasian Economic Zone which is Russian led) and it has contracted to buy its fuel only from Russia. This is no doubt as a safeguard against any future troubles with Turkey & Azerbaijan.
  • Unfortunately the Russian economy has its own huge problems and is not the source of subsidies that the EU is to Georgia. Add to that the systemic corruption within government, a President ( Serzh Sargsyan ) who at times uses democratic tools to reinforce and perpetuate his power and you get the formula for poverty and lack of social justice.
  • The bottom line of this history lesson is that Armenia is poor. And this will be obvious from the photos. According to IMF its GDP ranking in 2011 was 122 out 185 countries.
  • Anyway back to the trip.
  • Actually the enforced detour may not be a bad thing. We must drive up out of the Debed Gorge onto an extensive plateau area ( 1500-1800 m ) via Odzun to Vanadzor where we pick up our intended route. The countryside is lush & green with beautiful wild flowers in full bloom.
  • At Odzun we stop to visit the Church of St Astvatsatsin Church. Legend has it that St Thomas buried Christ's swaddling clothes here during 1C AD. Some of the building we see dates from 5C.
  • Restoration work has started at this monastery complex - there is no evidence of who is funding the project. To attract tourism to Armenia, its churches & monasteries do require some TLC. But let's hope that this is done sympathetically and in a way that allows the imperfections of old age to remain!
  • At Vanadzor we visit the local food market and buy some provisions for a picnic lunch. A fair few stalls are selling coffee beans. The Armenians enjoy drinking coffee too. We have already been offered a cup several times today. It is a sign of hospitality.
  • After 150 km or so we arrive at Dilijan and check in early to our Tukenkian Hotel. Because we have changed dates we wish to ensure we have a room. The bedrooms have been converted from original houses that lined the old street of Dilijan before the road was built. Views of the valley are very pleasant. In case we have time on hands the hotel has a small museum, craft workshops and of course several souvenir stalls on site. We don't.
  • We of course have another monastery to visit. We drive 20 km or so from Dilijan to Haghartsin where we see an example of a fully restored 10-13C church complex. Apparently it has been funded entirely by the Sheikh of Sharjah ( not sure what his connection is or why ). It is perhaps also an example of renovation work that is too pristine. There are even electric lights in the old refrectory. It makes us appreciate, retrospectively, Akhtala, Haghpat & Sanahin that we visited yesterday.
  • Opposite the hotel an enterprising young Armenian girl has opened up a coffee shop called Caffeine. It sells coffee freshly ground to order, herbal teas and delicious carrot muffins. Wifi signal is good and the music chilled. On our return from Haghartsin we refuel our batteries.
  • By the way the truck battery has started recharging. SG is allowed off the naughty step.
  • For supper we decide to walk 1 km or so to the Flying Ostrich restaurant owned by the same Armenian American as the famous Dolmama in Yerevan. Jirair Avanian happens to be here on site this evening and he plans our menu and recommends our wine. We are in good hands and his choice is delicious. He explains that here in Dilijan he has developed a farmhouse style of menu whereas in Yerevan it is more sophisticated. By the way there is ostrich on the menu and it is locally reared.

Armenian Herdsman Near Odzun

Armenian Herdsman Near Odzun

High Altitude Plateau Scenery Above Debed Canyon

High Altitude Plateau Scenery Above Debed Canyon

Church of St Astvatsatsin, Odzun In Process of Being Renovated

Church of St Astvatsatsin, Odzun In Process of Being Renovated

Poppy Field Near Odzun

Poppy Field Near Odzun

Bakery & Food Store Near Odzun

Bakery & Food Store Near Odzun

Bread Ovens in Bakery Near Odzun

Bread Ovens in Bakery Near Odzun

Shop in Vanadzor - No Retail Therapy Necessary Here

Shop in Vanadzor - No Retail Therapy Necessary Here

Cherries For Lunch - Vanadzor Market

Cherries For Lunch - Vanadzor Market

Haghartsin Monastery - Classic 10-13C Armenian Architecture

Haghartsin Monastery - Classic 10-13C Armenian Architecture

Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin Monastery

Khachkar @ Haghartsin Monastery

Khachkar @ Haghartsin Monastery

Herbs &#38; Dried Flowers For Sale at Market in  Vanadzor <br />[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/896073/30225B7AEAE847E283003B28A7E3C358.jpg thumb=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/896073/thumb_30225B7AEAE847E283003B28A7E3C358.jpg caption=Kitchen @ Flying Ostrich

Herbs &#38; Dried Flowers For Sale at Market in Vanadzor
[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/896073/30225B7AEAE847E283003B28A7E3C358.jpg thumb=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/896073/thumb_30225B7AEAE847E283003B28A7E3C358.jpg caption=Kitchen @ Flying Ostrich

AG Enjoying Armenian Supper @ Flying Ostrich

AG Enjoying Armenian Supper @ Flying Ostrich

Armenian Olive Selection

Armenian Olive Selection

Armenian Salad of Tomato &#38; Cucumber &#38; Herbs @ Flying Ostrich

Armenian Salad of Tomato &#38; Cucumber &#38; Herbs @ Flying Ostrich

Posted by sagbucks 04:58 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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