The last couple days have been a total whirlwind, but I’m currently on a plane from Istanbul to Budapest, where I’m spending the next two days.
Dad and I had a great and busy last day in Armenia. We started off the morning with a trip to a local market in Yerevan that pops up on the weekend. We’d read that you need half a day to spend there, but it was hard to imagine that until we got there. The market was huge. It just went on and on and on, full of all sorts of crafts, jewelry, artwork, wood carvings, and carpets.
We spent just over two hours there, and still didn’t manage to see the whole thing. My favourite part was all the communist memorabilia; there were all sorts of pins and medals and stamps from the 70s and 80s proudly displaying Lenin’s head and other Soviet symbols, which was so cool. I’m not a stamp collector, but I almost started a collection after seeing this old books full of Soviet stamps!
Next, we had a fantastic lunch at our favourite restaurant, Yerevan Tavern. We got all our favourite armenian classics, including armenian barbecue, lavash bread, grilled vegetables, and a really delicious potato and meat dish. We’ve had such amazing food this whole trip – I had no idea what to expect in terms of cuisine before getting here, but we didn’t have one bad meal.
That afternoon we took a litttle trip to Khor Virap. Khor Virap is a monastic complex on a little hill in the shadow of Mount Ararat. The mountain is actually in modern-day Turkey, but the region is considered (to Armenians) as historical Western Armenia. A lot of the borders in this area are contentious, but this one caries particular significance to Armenians; Mount Ararat is said to be where Noah’s Arc landed after the famous Biblical flood.
Khor Virap has a lot of significance to Armenians too. Saint Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia’s patron Saint, brought Christianity to Armenia in the 3rd Century, which was at the time a Pagan country. The Armenian King didn’t like Gregory disrupting the traditional religious practices, and imprisoned him in a dungeon on the hill where Khor Virap sits today. Legend has it that 13 years later, the King fell deathly ill, and his sister had a dream that only Gregory could save him. They checked the prison cell, and amazingly, he was alive. Gregory cured the King, and tthe King immmediately declared Armenia a Christian country. Armenia was the first official Christian country.
Now I don’t know how likely it is that this guy magically cured the King through the magic of religio, but what is known for sure is that a guy named Gregory brught Christianity to Armenia, and that we has imprisoned in a cell on this hill. Today, you can still visit the cell where they imprisoned him, and they’ve built a monastic complex around it to commemorate the spot. This is considered the most popular tourist destination, and it was still practically empty. From one of the churches there was a small hole on one side where you could climb down a ladder and visit the cell where Gregory was imprisoned. It was really cool because anywhere else in the world, they’d never let tourists climb down an old ladder into such an important historical place with no supervision, but we just climbed down and wandered around before climbing back up.
The next day we drove back to Tbilisi. Artur was our driver again, and he made some stops for us to point out things like Lake Sevan, a famous Armenian Lake, and the Azerbaijan border. The Armenian-Azerbaijan border is quite contested, and apparently there’s actually still a lot of violence every year, which I didn’t know. In the picture below, the left side of the lake is Azerbaijan and the right side is Armenia.
Once we got to Tbilisi, we had a great last meal complete with Kinkhali and our favourite tomato, cucumber, and walnut salad. We left Tbilisi in the middle of the night on a crazy flight at 4am through Istanbul, then off to Budapest!