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I woke up at 7 on my last day in Georgia and went to get a huge breakfast of lasagna-style Katchapuri and Kudbari (bread with ground meat in it).  Then I took a taxi to the bus station to head down to Yerevan, Armenia. On the bus I met a really nice American couple and it was refreshing to be able to speak fluent, non-broken English. I’m pretty sure my own language skills have been degenerating as I constantly try to speak in a tense-less manner that people can understand.

The border stop was uneventful except for the extremely friendly Georgian woman that gave me my exit stamp.  After a total of about 6 hours we arrived in Yerevan and I was actually shocked by how beautiful it was.  It seemed much more developed than Tbilisi with nice architecture, statues, fountains, and modern, trendy shops.  My hotel was upstairs from an Armenian carpet shop and the family that ran it was really nice. Somehow they knew I was jewish right away, and they let me know that they love jewish people because we are both ancient people that have gone through a lot of tragedies.  Over the next few days, I had a lot of great talks with the family over  Armenian (NOT Turkish!) coffee and breakfast in the carpet shop while they taught me some of the language and history.

There are….I knew I was going to have to take some taxis to get around and see some of the sights outside of the town and since the weather was clear, I took the first taxi to the farthest point: Khor Virap. It was about 60km out of town but the far was still only about $10.

Khor Virap is a monastery that overlooks the iconic Mount Ararat which is the mountain where Noah supposedly landed the ark. Awesome bit of trivia: It is also the mountain on which the last level of Diablo II takes place. The mountain and the story of Noah are very big symbols for the Armenian people who consider themselves descendants of Noah’s son. The mountain is now within Turkey’s borders, but Khor Virap is right on the edge and has great views over the mountain. In the late 200′s, St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned underneath the church in a pit of snakes by the pagan king. Then finally the King had a vision, released him and converted Armenia into the first Christian country in 301. You can climb down a ladder through a narrow rocky passage way (my backpack kept getting stuck) check out the old snake pit. I met a family of Armenians there from LA that were really happy that I was in their country.

From Khor Virap, my next stop, Garni, was on the other side of Yerevan and roughly 100km away. I got a taxi to take me there and to another stop for $25. Garni is a temple that basically looks like a (slightly) smaller version of Greece’s Acropolis. It is situated on a beautiful green hill in between a few other rolling mountains and valleys. Since, I had been traveling so far with this taxi driver, I had been practicing some Armenian with him, and I let him know that I was getting pretty hungry. So when we left Garni, we pulled up next to an old looking house. The driver’s friend, Armenian George Clooney, took us into the back of his house where he had a huge orchard of cherry trees. He climbed up the ladder, filled up a big plastic bag full, and handed me several bunches to eat. Gotta love it!

I thought that was all we were going to eat, but after we left, we went to a restaurant which also had a big orchard. As we walked in, the owner was carrying a huge bucket of fresh peaches and he handed me two. Then he cooked me up an awesome Khorvat (BBQ) plate. The Armenians have been doing BBQ meats for roughly 2000 years, and they have it down pretty damn well. The get a huge sword, put a bunch of meat on it, cook it perfectly over coals in what looks like a pizza oven, then wrap it up in lavash (flat bread) with some veggies to basically make a BBQ Armenian burrito. And it is awesome.

The final stop of the day was Geghard was I think was the most impressive of all. It is a monastery that is built into the side of a cliff. It’s sort of like Petra, and even though it’s smaller it’s nice because you can go in and explore all the different intricately carved cave rooms that make up the church. Some of them have holes in the ceilings to allow beams of light to stream though. And there is one special room, where chanting would take place, where the acoustics are so perfect that I could talk and it would literally echo for five full seconds afterward. This room had tunnels that lead to all of the other rooms so the clerics could spread their music around the whole church.

I paid the driver a bit extra to take me back to Yerevan, then we hung out at a cafe for a while and sipped some coffee.  After we said our goodbyes, I went back to the hotel for a bit, then went for a walk to a cafe where I had some Cognac, Armenian wine and a pork chop. The food was great when I was walking back, through the open air pavilions, surrounded by dozens of cafes, fountains, statues, and people out for strolls, I realized just how much I really like this city. It’s one of only a handful that I have visited that I could see myself setting up residence.

On Tuesday, the museums were open again, so I decided to spend the day walking around town checking out some of the cultural sights. I noticed that the museums didn’t open until 11… but the brandy factory opened at 9!  I took a taxi there and learned that there would would only be one tour and it was at noon. So I walked back through town to the Matenadaran or manuscript museum.  Old written works are extremely important to Armenians and they have one of the worlds largest collections of ancient illuminated (illustrated) manuscripts. I saw ancient bibles, Egyptian papyrus, a several hundred year old torah, some old arabic geometry books, and even a Japanese book illustrated by Hokusai (whose museum we had gone to in Obuse, Japan!).

It was all very interesting but noon was approaching it was time to get to boozin’ at the Noy Brandy Factory! The tour was through a museum, instead of the typical cellar tours that you usually get at wineries. They showed recreations of some of the offices from the 1800′s and told us about how it was the only Brandy to be given the honorary name “Cognac” from the French (this no longer applies though). It was also apparently Winston Churchill’s favorite and Stalin regularly sent him shipments. One day, Churchill noticed that the quality had deteriorated considerably and he asked Stalin why. They learned that the original brandy maker had been shipped off to the gulags! Stalin promptly ordered him to return to work and so they say Churchill saved not only the man’s life, but the reputation of the brandy company!

I also met a really interesting guy  from Georgia (the state) who is a computer security expert (hacker) who was currently living in Yerevan with his girlfriend who worked for the UN. We had some great conversations and a good time at the tastings. The first thing that they poured was an 88 (!) year old madera wine. They very rarely sell it (and when they do it goes for $2500 and up per bottle. But they keep it on end to serve to guests and they have enough left to last another 100 years! Then the poured a 10 year and a 20 year brandy with a huge platter of fresh fruit and chocolate and they were magnificent!  Sitting next to me was an Iranian family and and I guess they all gave their glasses to the dad. He was so happy (when I learned that we were American) that he planted a wet kiss on my cheek and kept kissing my shirt and saying “America and Iran” and smiling. He kept saying Komeni’s name too and making an angry face and I think he was trying to say how much he doesn’t like him. I heard later that a lot of Iranians come up to Armenia for vacation where they can party freely.

Now, I had a tight schedule to keep and I had to get to the famous Genocide museum before it closed, but as we were leaving, my new friend told me that the brandy factory across the street, Ararat, had a tasting that was just about to begin! I couldn’t let myself go the rest of my life without knowing which was better so of course I went along! The second tour focused more on the manufacturing process of the brandies. Here they poured a 3, 10, and 20 year. So much for museums today, haha.

After six glasses of brandy, I decided it was time to go back to the hotel and take a nap. Later, I walked over to the Cascade, which I think I can honestly say is the most impressive man-made monument I have ever seen. It is basically a huge ( I don’t know how big but a least a few hundred feet high) mountain-sized stone staircase. Every few dozen feet, there is a flat part where statues, fountains, flowers, and benches are carved out of it and at night the entire thing is illuminated. From the top (there are escalators underneath on the sides), you can see the entire city. The monument was started during Soviet times and was only recently completed.

The after a long night out with my new friends, I woke up, said bye to the nice ladies at the guesthouse and got in a cab to the Marshurtka station.  I had to ride to Tbilisi with a one legged lady who got in a screaming match with the driver.  And thus ends part I.

  • Khor Virap
  • Khor Virap and Mt. Ararat
  • Khor Virap Door
  • Climbing out of the Snake Pit in Khor Virap
  • Snake Pit In Khor Virap
  • Garni
  • Woman Cleaning Garni Temple
  • Cleaning Woman at Garni Temple
  • Garni Temple
  • Geghard Monastery
  • Geghard Monastery
  • In the Light At Geghard Monastery
  • Geghard Monastery
  • In the Light At Geghard Monastery
  • Ancient Column in Geghard Monastery
  • Geghard Monastery
  • Geghard Monastery
  • Great Teacher at the Matenadaran
  • Old Wine Barrels
  • 1924 Wine
  • Drinking Cognac With My Iranian Friend
  • To Be Opened When Peace is Obtained
  • The Cascade
  • Fountain at the Cascade
  • Statues at the Cascade
  • View from the Cascade in Yerevan
  • David Bowie
  • Lion at the Cascade
  • Statue at the Cascade
  • Cascade at Night
  • Carpet Shop Beneath My Hotel

Posted: August 3, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Armenia, Blog, Continents, Europe

+1 Comment
  1. I am Armenian myself. Just want to say that, the most of the visitors or tourists however you call them, after being in Yerevan once they think about going back there for holiday again. I had a chat with Europians, Australians, Americans. Some of them already got houses in Yerevan or nearby.
    My wife Audrey is English, we married almost 15 ears but every year she wants to be there…
    Even Soviet Union time that city had a similar charm to anybody. Kind regards

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