A Travellerspoint blog

Armenia

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)

It's Armenia Day

semi-overcast 30 °C

Day 35 Wednesday 28 June 2017
Tbilisi to Dzoroget, Armenia / Border Day

  • So we leave Tbilisi. Put it on your list of cities to visit. It has come a long way since 2003 when the so called Rose Revolution brought to an end the post soviet era Shevardnadze government. It still has significantly further to go. But the transformation is very much a work in active progress.
  • Perhaps allow a good week / 10 days to visit Georgia & get a proper feel for the place. Change & transformation is happening rapidly. International hotel chains are opening up, small boutique hotels and backpacker hostels are getting in on the tourist act too, particularly in Tbilisi. Once air access improves ( currently only a few European airlines fly here - Lufthansa for example ) it will surely become the next tourist hot spot. So come now & be ahead of the crowd.
  • Regrets? We have a few .... Not having time to go for a Hamam experience in the sulphur baths is one. ' Tbili ' means warm in the Georgian language. And the natural hot springs that flow through the Hamams are the reason for the city's name. Local advice is to book a private room or try Baths 5. Don't count on a mellow asian massage experience, expect a full on Russian one!
  • We've done our best to catch up on our wasted first day's walk. But now it's time to move on to our next destination - Armenia.
  • Just as the day is starting well and we are about to set off, we open up the truck, stationary for the last 2 days in the the underground carpark. There is a strange buzzing noise inside. The fridge playing up again? No, the water pump has been left on - no doubt by SG - for 48 + hours. Although the truck starts, the control panel indicates the main battery is at a dangerously low level. Fingers crossed the battery can still be recharged by a decent bout of usage. If not, a new battery may have to be at the top of our Armenian agenda. Self inflicted injury & problems are all the more annoying. SG is sent to the naughty step - again!
  • It's a 75 km drive to the Armenian border. We are crossing at Sadakhlo.
  • It's getting hotter. Barely 11 o' clock and already the truck gauge is showing 30C.
  • For some reason, which we have yet to ascertain, as we approach the border, stalls on either side of the road sell cleaning products. Bags of the stuff and in large quantity. Is there a P&G factory nearby we wonder?
  • At the border, driver & vehicle passenger(s) must separate. SG joins the queue for pedestrians and hopes she has the correct paperwork. The master file is with AG who has to stay with the truck while it is searched. In the pedestrian queue there is much rank pulling - people push in ahead with their minders and this seems to be tolerated by the rest of us. SG chooses to bite her tongue. The whole process lasts about an hour and is relatively painless. It does have a cost because we have the truck - Insurance costs $10 and vehicle road tax $40. Expensive for 6 nights.
  • Why oh why, can't we enforce the same financial fees for short term use of our British roads by foreign cars ? It must be possible. After all we are an island and that should facilitate border control ( for vehicles at least ) .
  • Before arriving at our hotel in Dzorget located on the bank of River Debed, we visit three notable medieval churches & monastery complexes:

1. Akhtala, which lies 18 km NE of Alaverdi, built in 13C, located high up on a promontory overlooking the valley below. Alaverdi is a real rust pot of a city, a legacy from the Soviet era, and dated by Russian standards. Neither the church nor Alaverdi appear to have been embellished since their creation. The church of course is beautiful, even in its neglected state, the town much less so. Akhtala is famous for its stunning 13C frescoes - they also look completely untouched for centuries. You get the powerful feeling that you are peaking at truly original art.

2. Haghpat monastery is a World Heritage listed building - selected as a fine example of Armenia's medieval cultural heritage & ecclesiastical style of architecture. It was founded here in 10C and expanded in size during the following three centuries. Walking around the site we do wonder whether any money has actually flowed from World Heritage funds to the organisation responsible for its care and protection.

3. Sanahin Monastery is also a World Heritage site. By the way, there is no longer any cable car access from Alaverdi, despite what tourist books may say. It's hard to imagine there ever was.

  • This monastery complex is also in a very 'natural', unrestored state. It is a sombre place, a collection of arches, tomb stones, study halls. Apart from the stone carvings on the massive pillars and around doorways, there is little decoration. But the acoustics are superb. It's our lucky time again - there is a priest chanting his prayers. Hardly visible in the dark interior his beautiful voice resonates up & out. His voice is hauntingly beautiful. We are told he has come from Yerevan to pray in this special place and in this unique way.
  • May you be as fortunate and have a similar experience on your travels in Armenia.
  • Late afternoon we arrive at our hotel, the Dzoroget Tufenkian. It is the inspiration of James Tufenkian, an American of Armenian background who came to Armenia and decided to start a business. He currently has at least two on the go - one producing hand made carpets in traditional Armenian design and now employing over a 1000 people. The other is a chain of boutique hotels in heritage buildings or ones built to reflect Armenian design & culture. His aim is to develop regional tourism within Armenia. Besides Dzoroget, there are also Tufenkian hotels in Dilijan & Yerevan. We will be staying in all three whilst in Armenia.
  • A cursory look in the dining room and the sight of a long, fully laid up table, suggests we are an hour or so ahead of a large coach group. We decide to eat before the crowd arrives. We dine outside in the warm evening sunshine and eat a delicious local chicken stew.
  • This gives us plenty of time to work on a change of plan. Our Day 2 schedule has been thwarted by road closure. Just like that!

Lots of Cleaning Stuff For Sale Near Armenian Border

Lots of Cleaning Stuff For Sale Near Armenian Border

Akhtala Monastery Exterior

Akhtala Monastery Exterior

13C Ceiling Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

13C Ceiling Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

13C Wall Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

13C Wall Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

Haghpat Monastery Exterior

Haghpat Monastery Exterior

Polished Stone Floors, Centuries Old @ Haghpat Monastery

Polished Stone Floors, Centuries Old @ Haghpat Monastery

Haghpat Monastery

Haghpat Monastery

Sanahin Monastery Complex

Sanahin Monastery Complex

Stone Engraving at Sanahin Monastery

Stone Engraving at Sanahin Monastery

Sanahin Monastery 10-12C

Sanahin Monastery 10-12C

Alaverdi - Sadly An Old Russian Rust Pot of a Place

Alaverdi - Sadly An Old Russian Rust Pot of a Place

Hotel Tufenkian Dzoroget

Hotel Tufenkian Dzoroget

Appartment Block Opposite Hotel &#38; Lada Car

Appartment Block Opposite Hotel &#38; Lada Car

Two Small Armenian Boys Welcome Us To Dzoroget

Two Small Armenian Boys Welcome Us To Dzoroget

The Reason We Change Our Plans

The Reason We Change Our Plans

Posted by sagbucks 11:55 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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