Armenia in Style

I recently did a several day excursion down to Armenia.  It is just South of Georgia. It takes about an hour to get to the Armenian border, with about another 4.5 hours to get to Yerevan, the capital, once in Armenia.

I stayed in Yerevan, but I did several day trips outside of the city.  Yerevan is an ok city.  It is surprisingly more Western and trendy with shops like Victoria’s Secret, Armani, Dolce and Gabana, etc.  Though Tbilisi is nice and comfortable, it felt good to get back to an even more modern city like Yerevan.  I think the money is coming from the large Armenian diaspora community abroad.  In fact, I even saw some neighborhoods on the city limits that looked exactly like Schererville, Indiana type neighborhoods.

If you make 'Mad Max' reference, you need the photo.

Even if Yerevan has the stuff I described, the majority of the country is straight out of 1960; Very Soviet, many abandoned factories, and extremely poor towns.  The very dry and dusty climate also adds to the depressing state of the towns.  “Mad Max” could have been filmed here without any Hollywood Props.

Yerevan is also very smoggy from terrible pollution and hot weather, and everyone…EVERYONE smokes.  Armenia dethrones all other countries I have been to for people who light up.  I went out Friday night, and I felt like I burnt my throat after breathing so much smoke in hole in the wall clubs without vents.

If I was to just visit Yerevan, I would have really hated Armenia.  Luckily, I went to see a lot of the surrounding monasteries and churches in the countryside.  Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity and has many very old and beautiful monasteries.  They were some of the best I have ever seen…

Echmiadzin. This town is the seat of the Armenian Christian Church.  It is the holiest church in Armenia and very beautiful inside.  They also have the spear head that supposedly pierced Christ during the Crucifixion.  (I have also seen this claimed spear in a few other countries)

Gerghard Monastery.  This monastery is straight out of Indiana Jones with most of it built into caves in the mountainside.  Very cool inside, though the photos did not come out.


Those columns are solid stone carved out of the mountain. Hollowing out a monastery inside the Mountain must have taken forever.

Lake Sevan. This lake is the main source of water in Armenia.  They  have several monasteries based around the lake.  This one wasn’t the best, but it had a really cool view.

Taxi Drivers. Taxi Driving is how I got around for the most part.  I would take mini-bus public transportation to towns, but most of the monasteries were in the middle of nowhere.  The man below was my driver for the day.  He was fun and spoke enough English for me to understand him.  I took him to this one monastery that he had not been to for 20 years.  He was telling me about this ‘dangerous’ photo he took by climbing down the rocks near the monastery.  There were fences this time, but we hopped over them and re-enacted his photo.  He was having a blast.  Unfortunately, we later got in a car accident in Yerevan.  I was fine, but a lot of damage was done to his car, so he wasn’t smiling at the end of the day 😦

Natural Gas Car???? All of the taxis and most of the minibuses actually run on Natural Gas in Armenia.  I never thought this actually existed in the world.  I have obviously heard of it, but this was the first time I pulled into a ‘Natural Gas’ Gas station.  They are a little more cautious with these gas stations.  We needed to exit the car and stand about 20 yards away while they filled up the tank in the back.  Apparently this is much cheaper than petrol, and most cabs started doing it in 1995.  When we got back in the car, it smelled so bad of the natural gas.  I am fairly certain if I lighted a match, we would have exploded.  He assured me we were fine though.  This was the same car we later got in an accident with, so I was a little paranoid still about leaks!

Well, there is quite a lot more I would have liked to have seen in Armenia, but costs add up getting a taxi driver.  And some Armenian sites are not even in Armenia.  If I wanted to see Armenia’s most famous landmark, Mt. Ararat (where Armenians say Noah crashed his Ark) it sits about 50 miles away from Yerevan now in Turkish Territory.

The fact that Mt. Ararat is in Turkish territory annoys many Armenians.  My time in the Caucasus has taught me that I really did not know much about this area before coming here.   Almost every country has border disputes of some type over here.  Armenia has had problems for centuries with its neighbors.   The Turkish border is closed as Armenia still demands recognition of the Armenian Genocide of WWI, and Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan is closed as Armenia occupies about 1/3 of Azerbaijan territory after a 1990-1994 war.  This occupied region, Nagorno Karabakh, is basically a de facto independent country with its own visa.   This region is only recognized by one other country as independent, though.  Transnistria! (Which was the break-away republic of Moldova).  I think I will make another trip to Armenia later in life, so there will still be some things to see.

The 'NKR' is the occupied region. You can see how Azerbaijan also has a little sliver (AZ.) west of Armenia. That area is completely cut off for the most part. Caucasus=Crazy Borders

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Armenia.  It is such an interesting country with a very long history.  If you are ever in the neighborhood…drop by!


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