Voghjuyn Hajastan – Hello Armenia
Armenia – an unknown country
Before our visit to Armenia I only knew the jokes of the (fictional) Radio Yerevan. That was in the 1970s. They were always built according to the same pattern. A naive question was followed by an answer. Which started with “In principle yes (or no)”. And then an explanation. Criticizing the inadequacies of communism.
An example? Question to Radio Yerevan: “An example? Question to Radio Yerevan?” Answer: “In principle no. However, letters with anti-Soviet content, will not be carried.” Or: Question to Radio Yerevan: “Is it true that in the USA everyone has a car?” Answer: “In principle yes. But in our country everyone has a car park instead.”
Why did these jokes play in Armenia? No idea. Maybe the political system in the Caucasus at that time, far away from Moscow, was less authoritarian.
But Armenia is everywhere
Only 3 million Armenians live in Armenia. But another 8 million Armenians are spread over the world. André Agassi. Charles Aznavour. Rick Kavanian. Fernando Gasparian. Kirk Kerkorian. Cherilyn Sarkisian (Cher). Kim Kardashian. Garri Kasparow. Aram Chatschaturijan. All native Armenians.
“If two Armenians meet anywhere in the world, they immediately found a new Armenia“. Said William Saroyan, American writer of Armenian origin.
Where is Armenia actually located?
Between Georgia in the north, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh in the east, Iran in the south and Turkey in the west. In the southwest, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan still borders Armenia. Which can only be reached via Iran. There are also three small Azerbaijani exclaves within Armenia. Around the places Yuxari and Barxudarli in the northeast and Karki in the southwest.
And by car Armenia can only be reached from Georgia and Iran. The borders to Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Armenia is the smallest and poorest country in the Caucasus. And 90% of its area is over 1,000 m high. Mostly even higher than 1.800 m. Many areas we passed through were therefore stony and bare. And only difficult to use for agriculture.
Difficult for tourists is certainly the language. The ancient Armenian writing is absolutely unreadable for strangers. It has 39 letters and was invented by a monk in the 5th century. The official spoken language is Eastern Armenian. But there is also an Western Armenian dialect.
But younger people mostly understand some English too. However, we actually had less contact with people in Armenia than in Georgia. But most information and road signs are bilingual (Armenian/English). And so the geographical orientation was not a problem in the end.
At the border near Bagratashen the formalities were quickly completed. Car insurance, roadtax and ecotax. In addition, the purchase of a SIM card in a supermarket. And cash from an ATM. The currency is now called Dram and Luma. Whereby you got about 500 Dram for 1 US dollar that time. But all this was routine for me after the many other borders I crossed so far.
Yerevan – the capital
Sometimes you can also find the spelling Erevan. Supposedly both are fine. One third of all Armenians live in the capital of Armenia, that is around one million people.
Still, the city doesn’t make such a gigantic impression. At least not in the center. You can easily explore it on foot. Therefore we walked all over the city center in the morning. In one of the oldest cities in the world. The city exists around since 782 BC. Under Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Russian rule.
There are some modern neighborhoods. For example on the Northern Avenue. With stores, restaurants and bars. For which old houses were completely demolished. Nearby are again half-dilapidated quarters from the time before 1945. Here, in some cases, modernization is only just beginning. And of course there are many buildings from the Soviet era.
As in Tbilisi, we wanted to stay only one day in Yerevan. And then rather look around the country. So we had to limit our walk through the city center to a few highlights.
Republic Square and Freedom Square
There are two large squares in the center of Erivan, the Kentron district. One is the Republic Square.
With quite a lot of traffic, various government buildings and museums.
One kilometer away is Freedom Square with the opera house. Both are connected by a pedestrian zone.
I think Freedom Square is prettier than Republic Square. Because instead of traffic, there is a small city park and a lake here.
The Cascade Complex
If you walk further north from Freedom Square, you will come to a huge limestone staircase. The Cascade Complex.
It was built in 1971 and was supposed to connect the residential area at the top with the city center at the bottom. Today it is mainly a tourist attraction.
Before you reach the stairs, you walk through an avenue. And first you pass a statue.
At first I thought it was from an Armenian saint. But it is not. It’s the architect Alexander Tamanyan.
At the beginning of the 20th century, he had a major influence on the cityscape of Yerevan. And already back in the 1930s he designed the Cascade Complex.
Along the pedestrian zone there are many restaurants, cafes and wine bars. And there are green areas, sculptures and works of art. Somehow this district seems to be the cultural center of the city.
The staircase has 572 steps. But you can take a break in between. And take a look inside the buildings along the stairs.
Actually, the first museum for contemporary art in the Caucasus was supposed to be built here. But even here the money for art is scarce. That’s why there is not really much on display yet.
At some point we were at the top of the platform. With a great view over Yerevan you will be rewarded for the effort of the ascent.
With good visibility you can even see the Mount Ararat. But we were not that lucky. Because it was rather misty.
Behind the platform there is a construction site. What was supposed to be built there remained unclear. We have only been able to find out that this construction site has actually always been there…
Mother Armenia in the Victory Park
On the hill next to the Cascade Complex is the Victory Park with a military museum and a statue. In memory of the World War II and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Until 1962, Stalin probably still stood on the pedestal. Since then Mother Armenia has been watching over Yerevan.
Actually, a connection path from the Cascades Complex to the Victory Park would have been quite practical. Because one was already up on that high.
But unfortunately there is no direct connection. So we would have had to go back down first. And then a few streets further up again for another 3 km.
We saved ourselves that. And we only took pictures of Mother Armenia from a distance. Somehow we did not find her really attractive either.
In the afternoon we went to the hill Tsitsernakaberd (swallow’s nest). It is located in the northwest a bit outside the city center. Here is the memorial of the same name for the Armenian victims of the genocide in 1915.
Certainly the past cannot be undone. However, one should learn from it.
But to do this, Turkey must also face up its responsibility. Only then can the today’s Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be permanently resolved.
Two monasteries and a lot of landscape
The next morning we started our tour through Armenia. But there is no way to avoid some culture. After all, Christianity was made the state religion in Armenia as early as 301. And the Armenian Apostolic Church plays a central role in the Armenian identity. Accordingly, there are many churches and monasteries spread across the country.
Only 40 km from Yerevan is the rock monastery of Geghard. Caves and rooms were carved into the rock near a spring. They are decorated with wooden and stone ornaments.
It was founded already in the 4th century. This makes it one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Armenia. Since 2000 it has also been listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Khor Virap Monastery
Another important place for the Armenians is only 60 kilometers to the west of Geghard Monastery. The monastery of Khor Virap. Right on the border with Turkey. And only 30 km away from the Iranian border. This place is important for the people for several reasons.
For one, the old Armenian capital Artaxata was here. About 200 BC to 450 AD. On the other hand, the founder of the Armenian Church was imprisoned here for 13 years. And finally the monastery is located below the Mount Ararat.
Mount Ararat is the national shrine for the Armenians. And part of the Armenian coat of arms. In every office, every living room and every hotel there is a picture of the 5,100m high volcano.
In the past the mountain was on Armenian territory. Today the Armenians can be nowhere closer to their mountain than at the monastery Khor Virap.
Ancient Egypt, pharaohs, pyramids? The Armenians just laugh. These are crazy things from a distant future and science fiction. Because their story begins with Noah and his ark. And their landing on Mount Ararat.
As already in Yerevan, we unfortunately had no luck at the Khor Virap monastery. Mount Ararat was only dimly visible in the mist.
By the way, Turkey has already complained in Soviet times that the Armenian SSR had the ‘Turkish’ Mount Ararat in its coat of arms.
Whereupon the Soviet foreign minister cool countered that Turkey has also a piece of moon in its flag. Although neither the moon nor a part of it belongs to Turkey.
Into the inland of Armenia
After the culture we went further inland. We drove south-east on a well-developed highway. The highways in Armenia were consistently good. And the driving style of the Armenians was significantly more defensive than that of the Georgians. But there were also much fewer cars in Armenia than in Georgia.
Soon we arrived at a rather bare landscape. Where we absolutely had to start the drone. It only seems possible to grow fruit or vegetables here on rivers or through artificial irrigation. After half an hour the battery of the drone was empty and we were on our way again.
Before we went down into a somewhat greener landscape we passed the 2.300m high Vorotan Pass. We stopped briefly for a photo of the strange gate on the pass. Unfortunately, several trucks parked in front of it, which disturbed the picture a bit. For the drivers this route might not be that easy. Because it’s pretty steep. And probably snowy in winter.
Destination of the day: The Spandaryan Reservoir
My son wanted to go camping again. And so we decided on a meadow at a reservoir. And we hoped that nobody would send us away from here. But our concern was unfounded. Nobody showed up. In the evening we made something warm on our camping stove.
But unfortunately the night was not as undisturbed as we had hoped. The later it became, the more cloudy it became. And that ended finally up in a pretty heavy thunderstorm around midnight.
We were in our sleeping bags in the Landcruiser’s awning. But we didn’t want to stay outside on the large open area during this thunderstorm. So we moved into the car for about 2 hours. But we could not sleep there. Because the car was fully packed with all the camping equipment from Australia. Only when it was only raining we crawled back into our sleeping bags.
The next morning the sun was shining again. But it took us some time to dry the awning, blankets and sleeping bags.
Because I did not want to stow it in the car when it was wet. Because I did not know when we would have another chance to dry our stuff again.
My son used this time for some nice drone shots of our campgsite, the reservoir and the surrounding mountains.
There are also some pretty shots of this in the video below.
A day in the south of Armenia
In the south of Armenia the Tatev Monastery is located. 50 km from the border with Iran. And 10 km from the Nagorno-Karabakh border.
Actually, we didn’t go there because of the monastery. Because we had already seen two. But it’s in the middle of the mountains. With a worthwhile route to get there.
And the last 5.7 km it goes up to the monastery with a cable car. The longest in the world with a continuous suspension rope. In 11 minutes over a rather deep gorge. And we did not want to miss this cable car ride.
Tatev itself is situated on a mountain with steep cliffs leading to the gorge.
In the Middle Ages, there was a university here in addition to the monastery. In this respect, it is also an important cultural and architectural monument in Armenia.
Back to the north
We did not want to spend the night in one of the surrounding small villages. Instead we preferred to drive back to Lake Sevan. It is located in north-south direction about in the middle of Armenia. On the eastern border with Azerbaijan.
To do this, we had to drive a large part the same way we came. Once we tried to turn onto a smaller road. To discover something new.
Nevertheless, there was still a worthwhile stop on our route as well.
Because about halfway we crossed the 2.400m high Vardenyats Pass. Also called Selim Pass.
Which also the caravans used hundreds of years ago on their way between Asia and Europe.
For us today there was again the opportunity for nice drone shots.
And the Orbelian Caravanserai
Just after the pass is the Orbelian (or Selim) caravanserai. From the 14th century. As a resting place and overnight stop for travelers and their animals on their way out of or into the mountains.
Thunderstorm at Lake Sevan
Towards evening the sky suddenly became quite black.
Two large thunderstorms formed side by side on the shores of Lake Sevan in front of us.
In addition it started to hail. In such a way that we finally had to stop first.
But after 20 minutes it only rained. And we were able to drive on to our accommodation.
At Lake Sevan
The next day we went to Lake Sevan. It is 78 km long and 56 km wide at its widest point. It is the largest freshwater lake in Armenia and the Caucasus. And probably the second highest in the world.
My son wanted to drive around it once. But first of all, the weather was not really sunny. And on the other hand, the route didn’t offer any real highlights. So we drove on the eastern shore only to about the middle of the lake. And took a few drone shots of the Lesser Caucasus there.
In the evening of that day we went to a small Armenian restaurant not far from our hotel. There we have decided not to eat the famous Khash (broth with cow’s feet). Instead we ordered Dolma. This is spiced minced meat, wrapped in grape leaves. With a garlic sauce. There was even live music here that evening.
Back to Georgia
Our last day in Armenia had started. And we went back towards the Georgian border. Here, as on the way there, the customs clearance was very quick.
So we had some time in the afternoon to try out the drone while driving. On a side road in the middle of meadows and pastures. While I was driving the car, my son controlled it in the passenger seat.
But the whole thing only works if you have a clear view of the drone. Without treetops or tunnels. So we drove right through a herd of cattle grazing left and right of the small road. And soon afterwards we were back in the Georgian capital.
By the way, this was the last time the drone took off on my trip. Later on the Black Sea and in Europe it was just too crowded to fly it again.
In the evening we treated ourselves to a Georgian dinner. And my son bought a bottle of Georgian wine as a souvenir for home.
The next day I took him to the airport. He had to fly back to Germany.
And I was alone again. The last part of my road trip from Australia to Germany by car was to come.
The trip from Tbilisi to Batumi on the Black Sea. And from there on to Europe.
Another adventure in Armenia at the end
I don’t remember exactly where it was in Armenia. And unfortunately there are no pictures of it either. Because we didn’t turn on the dashcam.
We drove on the main road through a small village. Suddenly two cows ran in full gallop in front of the Landcruiser from a not visible sloping side street. The car stopped ten centimeters in front of the animals. My son drove and reacted perfectly. The cows looked a bit stupid. And so did we. Because an impact would probably have meant beef goulash and fender-bender 😉
Now you can watch our dashcam and drone video of Armenia (3m 15s, 585 MB. Music: Let’s Do It – Topher Mohr and Alex Elena).
- Geghard Monastery
- Near Khor Virap
- To/at Spandaryan Reservoir
- Vardenyats Pass
- Thunderstorm at Lake Sevan
- To the Georgian border
- Side road in Georgia
And as already promised, my YouTube video from 2019 as well. About our experiences in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia (14m 53s).
How it went on for me in Georgia after my son left, I will tell you in my next post.
Cheers, Rüdiger 😎