Armenia / Caucasus

Around Yerevan. Armenians on duty.

So you know that Yerevan didn’t do it for us. It’s true. However… if you travel a bit farther outside the city, I have a good news for you – here is were the magic happens. You don’t need to close your eyes to find yourself in the middle of a fairy tale. Wait, not a fairy tale. Fairy tales are for kids. I mean a real LEGEND. Think ancient civilization and amazing monasteries! Armenia’s sacred arts will blow your mind. It was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity after all.

Christianity as a religion is a very important element of Armenia’s identity. Faith helped people to go through periods of oppression and exile. Even today orthodox churches of Yerevan are always full of people lighting candles and offering prayers. 

Armenia is home to some of the most spectacular monasteries. What’s so special about them? Their unforgettable locations. Built into the living rock, set beside spectacular gorges, under the shadow of Mount Ararat, on the shore of azure blue lake Sevan – you name it. Each of those places hides a wildest tale for you!

David the Reliable.

Have you read my first post from Armenia? If not, please do it here, if yes, you already know David – the guy who approached us on the street and turned out to be the most amazing of all the Caucasian species – the so called guardian angel. We are on day 2 of our trip now. Today I’ll take you to Echmiadzin cathedral, Geghard and Garni and we’ll have a fantastic Caucasian feast including some local spirits and homemade oven baked lamb. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

If you plan to visit Armenia, do yourself a favour and rent a car. My best friend is a terrible driver and so am I. We also tend to panic a lot so we had no other option than count on our new friends.

David and Abkar pick us up in the morning. We start our day visiting Echmiadzin – Armenia’s answer to the Vatican, the seat of the Armenian Catholicos – the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Being the spiritual capital of Armenia, you’ll find churches and monasteries in abundance in the town.

The main cathedral of Echmiadzin it’s the symbol of Armenian faith. Faith which is still pretty much alive nowadays, the faith the Armenians are willing to defend from their old time enemies the Azeri and the Turks. To spice things up it’s also where The Holy Lance, a spear that pierced Jesus’s side as he hung on the cross, has been conserved.

Armenia is home to some of the most spectacular monasteries.
Leave the city as soon as possible to breathe the freshest air ever!
Entrance to the cathedral.
Inside the cathedral – so beautiful!
During the reconstruction of the cathedral one of the artists found a scorpion on the wall and having nothing but polish on hand, painted scorpion leaving him on the holy walls of the cathedral. Try to spot it when you visit!
Just look at those details, ornaments and embroidery!

The guy who was our driver suddenly tells us he has to go back to work. It’s not even midday and without a car we will be stuck in Yerevan. Fortunately David the Reliable is with us. One phone call and he tell us that his friend/brother/cousin (the Caucasus is one big family) who also happens to be a TOUR GUIDE!!! is free and he wants to take over the “TWO POLISH TOURISTS” operation.

Tigran.

We are in a rush as we want to continue sightseeing but there’s no such thing as “rush” in the Caucasus. We “lose” a good hour chatting and drinking tea before we finally hop on Tigran’s car. It’s like traveling back in time. Waaay back in time as the Geghard monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Armenia, said to have been founded in the 4th century. When you say something is “old” in Armenia, it’s like really old. Don’t even try to compare the oldest European churches with those in Armenia – it’s a blasphemy!

Afternoon tea the Caucasus style at Tigran’s.

Geghard monastery is awesome. Honestly. Part of it backs into the rock-carved cave, filled with intricate carvings and khachkars, lined with pillars and caverns where manmade blends into the living rock. The monastery is still used today, and the scent of incense hangs in the air. Such a beautiful place could easily convict anyone to become catholic (perhaps I should take my fiance on a trip to Armenia!).

The Geghard Monastery began only as a small cave chapel, which Gregory declared held a sacred spring in the 4th century. 
Main entrance to the monastery.
There is no artificial light inside the monastery just the light from the candles.
The carved interior at Geghard is a mix of elegant Armenian stonework and carved crosses juxtaposed with bare cave chapels.
Partially carved out of the rocks on all sides of it, the stone monastery melds beautifully with its surroundings and stands out among the outcroppings above.
Geghard is a derivative of an Armenian word meaning Monastery of the Spear. The complex was named after the spear used to wound Jesus during the Crucifixion. 
Carved khachkars, also known as an Armenian cross-stone are memorial stele bearing a cross, and often with additional motifs such as rosettes or interlaces are typical for Armenia.

We leave Geghard behind, driving to Garni. The Garni temple dates back to first century AD and has been fantastically preserved. It is believed to have been funded by Roman Emperor Nero and is perhaps the eastern-most Greek temple in the world. The temple was originally erected for the worship of the Greek gods although this changed after Armenia adopted Christianity in 301 AD. It’s a reconstruction as it has been completely destroyed during one of the severe earthquakes.

The Garni Temple is not my cup of tea. However it makes me think of how old the Armenian civilization is. It’s incredible!

What I like the most about Garni was the Goght River which carves through this beautiful, eye-catching gorge.

The Garni temple.
The beautiful gorge.

On our way to Yerevan we stop at butcher’s.

Buying meat in the Caucasus is pure art. If the buyers don’t know how to play it, or worse, if the buyers are vulnerable, unconscious tourists, they will “enjoy” the most dry piece of lamb on their plate. Good luck with that!

Tigran speaks to the butcher. He carefully looks at the piece of dead meat hanging from the roof, he gropes it, smells it and comes back to the car with nothing. We are about to leave when the butcher approaches the car, they speak for a moment, then Tigran follows him and after 5 minutes he is back with a big chunk of meat wrapped in a newspaper. (I told you it was a real spectacle!) Fresh lavash, some organic veggies and herbs and we are ready for our Armenian feast.

Tigran lives in the suburbs of Yerevan. In ugly post soviet blocks of flats. We go to the kitchen and while he is preparing the meat we are in charge of the green stuff. A salad. So simple, yet we managed to screw up – how the hell we were supposed to know that tiny pepper was so spicy?! An hour later, the comforting smell of oven baked lamb starts infesting the air! Tigran’s brother pops in. His new baby has just arrived so he is carrying a big bottle of delicious home-made wine. Let’s celebrate!

We were eating, drinking and talking for a good couple of hours. It was the perfect opportunity to ask them about everything we wanted to know about Armenia – from history and politics, through celebs, to the most intriguing man-woman things. I learnt a lot about the country and the Armenians that night.

The Armenians, as a nation, are pretty conservative if it comes to relationships. 

We were under the impression (based on data collected through the whole trip) that it was a strongly patriarchal society and women are still considered the weaker sex. For the record, we didn’t have the same feeling in Georgia. Many times during that night we were shocked or we disagreed with our interlocutors, but I will tell you one thing. A simple conversation with the locals is worth more than years of travelling. It’s a real challenge not to judge other people’s thinking or their lifestyle. Not to have that unconscious bias about everything you see or hear just coz it’s different to what you are used to. It’s the most precious lesson I’ve taken from my travels.

Tigran’s neighbourhood in Yerevan – huge blocks of flats don’t look too nice but see the mountains behind them!
One of many neighbourhoods in Yerevan.
Old men playing black gammon – quite common view in Yerevan’s parks. 

That dinner at Tigran’s was something amazing. The disappearing quality of wonderful, selfless hospitality, seemed to blossom among the ugly blocks of flats in Yerevan. I finally find courage to ask David – “Hey why do you care about us so much? Why you are helping us?”. His reply was my inspiration to write this post.

“Because you came to my country and this is the right thing to do, it’s my duty.”

Speaking about duties. What’s yours?

We’ve never met David again, yet we won’t ever forget him.


After the dinner David sees us to the taxi rank. On the way he asks about our plans for the rest of the trip. We tell him we are going south next morning. He stops and looks at us. For a second I swear I could see fear in his eyes.

You are going South? he asked. – Just be careful coz you know girls, the men there are hmmm… how to say it… 

FAMISHED.

Who cannot wait for the next wildest tale?? 🙂

Women selling local sweets close to the Geghard monastery.
The secret of the perfect bread lies in her hands!
I will write more about the Armenian cuisine soon – the food there was delicious.
Small stall next to the Garni Temple – they are selling “gata” – traditional Armenian cake.  
This is the local butcher. On the left there is a small barnyard with live stock. Lamb is the most popular meat in the Caucasus. Here you can see Tigran negotiating the price.
Wonderful view somewhere on the way from Garni to Yerevan.