Dilijan - Goris


Wednesday, 18 September 2019

We depart Georgia today and move into Armenia.  The border is a 1.5 hr drive from Tbilisi and we had to go through on foot again.  The queue looked horrendous but the whole process was over in 40 min and we met up with our Armenian guide, Gohar, and driver.  It was again interesting to see what was being traded across this border:  it was toilet paper again plus washing powder.

We have a better vehicle this time, a Mercedes Vito, compared to a Mitsubishi Delica in Georgia, which is just as well as the roads seem to be considerably worse.  It appears that Armenia has decided to rebuild all of its roads all at once – they are presently up to the excavation stage.

First, second and third stops today were: drumroll … monasteries, although there were no monks present at any, unlike in Georgia that always had a bunch of them hanging around.  They are different to Armenian ones (slightly), no blingy icons and no compulsory head covering, so that should provide some interest for the next day or so.  The 1st was Akhtala Monastery (10th C), then Haghpat and finally Sanahin.  The latter two are UNESCO sites and were built from 10th – 13th century.

IMG 1383

Our last stop for the day was to visit the workshop of a stone-cross sculptor, or perhaps that should be a cross-stone sculptor (or maybe even a cross stone sculptor) at Vanadzor.  It seems they are everywhere in Armenia (the crosses that is) and are not just for gravestones as we had thought.  It seems that if you are Armenian and you have lots of money you can commission a cross at any time.  The sculptor has been at it for fifty years and he said 160 of his crosses are scattered across Europe, having been commissioned by expat Armenians.

We are staying at a town called Dilijan and it was with some foreboding that we arrived at our hotel which is in an “old town setting”.  We’ve have recent experience with such “authentic” accommodation, notably once in the mountains of Iran and once in Lao on the Plain of Jars.  To our relief the room was up to modern standards and our baggage was not transported through town in a wheelbarrow (as in Iran) and the gardens and surrounds were not pitted with bomb craters (thanks to Uncle Sam in Lao).  Dilijan is 1500 asl so the weather was lovely and cool at night, perfect for sleeping with the windows open.


Thursday, 19 September 2019

Something was out of sync today: we’d had breakfast and we’d had coffee so it couldn’t be hypoglycaemia or hypo caffeinia and it was not until we had reached the shores of Lake Sevan that we realised what it was – we hadn’t visited a church or monastery as yet today.  That was soon rectified as we pulled up to visit the Sevanavank monastery (founded in the 9th century) on what used to be an island in the lake but is now attached to the shore by way of an umbilical cord of souvenir stalls and restaurants.  The monastery was reached by climbing 238 steps which gave Cheryl some good exercise for her knees.

IMG 3421

Lake Sevan is the getaway destination for the urban population of Yerevan in summer and its shoreline is blighted with the cinderblock weekenders of the Yerevanites and lots of fishy restaurants.

Near the lake we stopped at a highway stop that proved the most interesting event of the day: they had a tandoor oven with a master baker whopping the loaves onto the inner wall and almost disappearing into the oven in the process, then removing them deftly with a long scraper to lift them off the wall and a long hook to flick them up onto the cooked bread stack; a continuous belt tunnel oven for flat bread with a lady at one end feeding in pillowcase sized flaps of dough and a second lady at the outlet whipping the cooked flaps onto stacks to cool before wrapping bundles of them with plastic to stop them going hard (which they do in about 10 min); finally a fish smoking room with tanks of live fish (trout and sturgeon) watching the fate of their relatives (and soon to be theirs) of being gutted and dried then smoked.  Sturgeon really are comic-book-looking fish – like a catfish with a long pointy snout with a white pompom on the tip.  It must have been designed by a committee.

We were advised to buy lunch supplies due to a dearth of restaurants en-route.  We bought some innocuous looking pastries that turned out to be not only innocuous but tasteless – every day can’t be a winner.

Next we stopped at Noratus, a small village with the largest cemetery of stone crosses,  The oldest crosses (from the 10th century) had weathered away over the centuries to look not unlike run-of-the mill boulders lying in the grass, then there were some round topped suitcase sized ones off intermediate age that were quite nicely carved, then the big blingy upright ones (16th and 17th century).  The newer they were the more blingy they seemed.

Armenians are very proud of their stone crosses (khachkars) and in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabagh the invading Azerbaijanis went out of their way to smash up as many as they could.  Why can’t people get on and behave in a civilised way?

Armenia does not have a happy past or good relations with its neighbours.  It’s border with Turkey is closed because of the genocide of 100 years ago.  It’s border with Azerbaijan is closed because of the latter’s land grab of Armenian territory.  The border with Georgia is open but we got the impression that they were not very fond of each other.  The border with Iran is open and they apparently get on well.  Their best friend in the world is Russia.  There are 3 million Armenians in the country and about 8 million worldwide but allegedly the natives and the expats (many of which are in the USA) frequently disagree on policy and the future of the country.

Heading South away from the lake we climbed up to a pass at 2410 m.  The road stays closed each year up to June because of snow.  Shortly after the summit we came to the Selim Caravanserai which was built in the 14th cent as a waypoint on a thread of the Silk Road which branches off from the main network in Iran (probably at Tabriz) and heads North into Russia.  Even on a warm sunny day the setting and the building looked bleak.  But after a 50 km walk up the mountain from the South side with your donkey or horse it was “home sweet home” for the night.  There was a jolly couple stationed outside the caravanserai selling homemade vodka and wine, apples and peaches, cakes, honey, fruit and nut rolls, hazelnuts and various other souvenir trinkets including some nice looking knives whose blades were made of obsidian.  All this from their little “Lada” which acts as a shop-front and holds up their shade tarp.  Our guide confided to us that they always plied visiting tourists with samples of the food and it would be impolite to refuse so Cheryl got stuck right in with the tasting (except the vodka and wine) while Clive passed by hiding around the side of the lada.

IMG 3471

We stopped for the night at a homely “resort” at Hermon.  We cannot figure out why.  We arrived at 14:30 and it’s in the middle of nowhere.  We could easily have gone on to tomorrow’s destination having seen what was along the way and still arrived at a reasonable time.  We figured it was a stitch-up.  It’s very difficult to know what is in store until you actually do it, but – not impressed.  Dinner tonight is a fixed menu – or nothing – there being nowhere else to dine.  Should be interesting!

Indeed!  In a dining hall with a capacity to seat about 100 we dined in lonely splendour.  Judging by the amount of food though they must have been expecting another 50 people because we didn’t have a hope of eating it as neither of us are feeling tip top.  Cheryl has had her travelling cough for the last ten days despite finishing off a bottle of German cough medicine and a bottle of Russian cough medicine and several packets of Strepsils (Strepsilkovs in Russian) and Clive may be succumbing to his well-known travel trots.

The first round of plates delivered included platters of tomato and cucumber salad, very salty feta-type cheese, pickled vegetables which included eggplant, a very suspect dish that looked like shredded beetroot in mayo, puréed capsicum plus a washing basket size bread basket.  The second round consisted of a tureen serving size each of bean and potato soup.  The third round was a platter of pilau rice and a platter of bony superannuated lamb (or goat) stew.  The fourth and final round (we think) consisted of a platter of bulger (cracked wheat) and a platter of what could have been chicken bits in a brownish red sauce, but we were past being polite by this stage and didn’t touch it.  The meal was accompanied by a pitcher of rose hip juice which was very nice and gave us our vitamin C for the day and a litre of fizzy mineral water to settle C’s tum, having first roiled it up with lots of CO2 gas.  Fizzy mineral water is supposed to settle wobbly tums – verdict tomorrow.  We absconded before a fifth course could be brought out to tempt us.  Hope we survive the night!

Friday, 20 September 2019

It’s definitely a case of the travel Trotskys for C although c’s cough is showing definite signs of improvement.  Swings and Roundabouts.

Our first stop today, just for a change, was a very old Jewish cemetery.  It was in the middle of nowhere, near the small village of Yeghegis, beside a stream.  There were only about 60 – 70 graves dating back to the 13th – 14th century with inscriptions in Hebrew and Aramaic.

IMG 3490

We had a long drive to our second stop which was – you guessed it, a monastery.  But this time with a big drawcard difference, it has a cable car to get to it.  How did these medieval Christian monasteries ever hope to develop a sustainable business model if they made it so difficult to reach their churches.  The cable car was only built in 2010 by an Austrian-Swiss company and it is in the Guinness Book of Records as “the longest reversible cable way in the World” (which suggests perhaps that there may be others, longer, that do not reverse).  The cable way is 5.7 km long and at its highest point is 300 m above the ground.  The Tatev Monastery was, well, just another Armenian monastery built in the 9th century.  We thought Georgian ones all had a certain sameness about them but Armenian ones are more so.  Some are downright grim.  The principal difference between the two are that Georgian ones have painted icons – everywhere, and Armenian ones have carved crosses – everywhere.

Fortunately it was only a short drive to our night’s accommodation after the trip to the monastery.  The hotel was in the town of Goris which is quite close to the border of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.  This region is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan and its ethnic Armenian majority, which is backed by Armenia.  The hotel is new and seems to have been built for the tour bus trade.  Dinner in the mess hall (sorry, restaurant) is mostly set menu (for the tour groups) and way way too much food, but if you order off the carte most things are “off”.  Anyway, we had a passable meal.  We used the term “mess hall” because it reminded us of all the site canteens we have eaten in over the years.    

© Cheryl & Clive Miller 2019-20