This year besides going to Georgia, we added another country to our itinerary: Armenia. Our first leg of the trip was in Georgia and after a week we crossed into Armenia at the Ninotsminda – Bavra border crossing. This is definately not the most obvious and one of the less used border crossing and it showed. The road from Ninotsminda to the border was a challenge! Unpaved, lots of potholes, mudd and sand but we made it!
Passengers need to get out and cross the border on foot and since Leon was driving, I got out and waited for him on the other side. Once it was his turn at the checkpoint I immediately noticed something was ‘wrong’. We had papers which allowed us to take the rental car into Armenia but only my name was stated on the papers. I saw Leon point at me and suddenly the border guard yelled my name and waved me over. He needed my passport, I had to get in the car and that way we could drive to the next check. Here we had to get out of the car, take our luggage inside through a scanner and get some more paperwork for the rental car. Up to the Armenian check point…I was driving this time. Here we were asked about insurance. We tried to explain we had full coverage (also in Armenia) but no…we needed Armenian Insurance so I had to go back to the office and buy insurance. Well, I don’t know what I signed since the piece of paper was completely in Armenian, so I might have given them my kidney in case of an accident, but…we got our piece of paper for only 20 lari (which is about € 6,00). This time we were allowed to enter Armenia.
Armenia is one of six ancient countries
Armenia is the first country to adopt Christianity as state religion
Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world
Mount Ararat is the symbol of Armenia
The Armenian bread is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage
Armenia is a chess superpower
Source: Armenia Explore
First stop on the road was the second largest city in Armenia: Gyumri. In Soviet times this city was called Leninakan and during the devastating ‘Armenian Earthquake’ in 1988 the city suffered major damage. Today large parts of the city are in still in ruins and lots of buildings are still not recovered. In the mids of these ruins stands ‘The Iron Fountain’. Here we met a lovely old lady who only spoke Armenian and Russian but with hands and feet (& Google translate) tried to tell us about the glorious Soviet days, how sad the was that her city was still in ruins and how angry she was at people ‘stealing’ money … maffia and corruption were the words she used.
In total we spent five days in Armenia. I won’t write a day by day blog here, but will sum up some of the highlights. For example: Yerevan. We spent a day in the capital, photographing mainly brutalist architecture. One of them was the ‘Yerevan Cascade Complex’. The build of this monument started in Soviet times, but was halted after the 1988 earthquake and Armenia’s independance in 1991. In 2000 work started again and the whole complex was finished in 2009. It now has 572 steps, 50 metres wide and 450 metres high.
We started our walk at the top and decended level for level. Photographing the amazing scultures and fountains along the way. It was a warm day and we were dreading the climb back up, where we had parked our car. While we were having lunch and a drink, we noticed a large amount of people entering the complex at the bottom and decided to see if there was an easier way up…which there was! So we took the escalators back up and we only had to walk a few stairs at the top.
While walking to the car I noticed a small ice cream stand. Leon noted that they might have the ‘CCCP ice cream’ there. We had seen pics of these online and I really wanted one. I was lucky, this ice cream seller indeed had the cccp one!
During our days in Armenia we also checked quite a few villages to see if we could find some old Houses of Culture. In a few we were lucky! In one village we spotted a decaying building and did a quick scout around it. Immediately we were noticed by a farmer on sandals carying a big agricultural fork on his shoulder. He also only spoke Armenian and Russian but we managed to explain to him that we wanted to look inside the House of Culture. He gestured that we should follow him and jumped inside through a window. Showed us around and we were happy to see that the theater room was still worth photographing. We had seen the chandeliers through a window at the back…so we were not disappointed at all. Leon went to get the car, which we had parked along the road and while he was away, the farmer got a bit touchy feely. Tried to put his arm around me, put his hand on my back and such. Made me a little uncomfortable because I didn’t want to make him angry, but also didn’t want his arm around me the whole time. All in all it wasn’t too bad and once I shook my index finger and said ‘njet njet njet’ he laughed and stopped…thinking back, I now just laugh at the whole situation.
Because we often explore the places where not many tourist come, people often wonder why we are in their village. We noticed that people in Georgia were mostly curious and people in Armenia we more suspisious, but once they realised what we were there for most immediately offered help. For example we met a group of young girls outside one of the Cultural Houses that we checked. They were learning English in school so they tried to talk with us. We also met their theacher and I must admit, the girls spoke better English! *lol* These girls immediately showed us the way in and talked to the grumpy post office lady who had her office in the building.
Anywhere I lay my head
The first B&B we stayed at was run by a lovely family! Grandma was an English teacher so everyone in the family spoke a little English. We had a decent size room and shared the living area with two guys from Belarus who were staying at the B&B for a few months. When we arived we hadn’t eaten yet and for only a few Armenian Dram we were served a lovely home cooked meal. We were also offered a glass of their home made wine.
The second evening we again had dinner at the B&B. This time the lady of the house even made some special dishes because Leon had stomach problems. Again everything was delicious!
The owners were really friendly and helpfull people and we would definately stay at their B&B again if we ever go back to Armenia.
Our second B&B was -how to say it nicely- interesting. When we arrived we were greeted by a huge doberman who didn’t seem to listen to the owner very well. Our room was pretty basic and the bathroom was downstairs…in the owners house. Yep, indeed … it was their own personal bathroom that we had to use. We did have a toilet in our room, fortunately.
The owner was a really friendly man. He spoke a little English and at his place we also were served a home cooked meal. We were seated in their livingroom and the food just kept coming. It was very nice! The dog was watching us through the glass of the door the whole time.
The next place we stayed at was a hotel at a resort at Lake Sevan. The room was large and comfortable with a stunning view of the lake. The restaurant was okay, wide choice in the menu but lots of dishes were not available. Probably because it was not tourist season yet.
Our last hotel in Armenia was by far the weirdest place we’ve ever stayed at…
At first we couldn’t even find it. Google maps wasn’t very clear. At the place where it was pinned there was no hotel, just shops. We were driving around, looking if the hotel was above the shops or something when I spotted some police men and decided to ask them. I parked the car in front of an abandoned building…or at least it looked that way…and went to the police men. They raised an eyebrow when I asked them about the hotel and pointed in the direction from which I came. I turned around and saw a guy waving at me in front of the ‘abandoned building’. Apparently one floor of the complex was still in use, in which was our hotel.
The rooms were quite nice, the reception area looked posh. We were the only guests and for the next morning we had told the guy running the hotel that we wanted breakfast at 7:00AM but he showed up late because he had to go to the market first. While waiting for the guy to arrive, Leon wanted to go outside for a smoke. We then realised we were locked in. Unsafe if you ask me. In case of an emergency we wouldn’t have been able to leave! One of the weirdest places I’ve ever stayed in.