Saturday, 21 September 2019

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We had another long drive to our first stop today – Noravank … monastery (built in the 13th century), what else?  The road is very busy with oil tanker trucks and other trucks going to and from Iran, so it would appear that Mr Trump’s embargo does not apply here.  Up to another mountain top together with the throng of tourist coaches (it being a public holiday today for Independence Day).  Tourists en masse really are horrible and it seems the sole purpose of people going anywhere these days is to take “selfies”.  Which might not be so bad if the people in question were not so fat and ugly!

So far Armenia has been hilly or mountainous and the roads have been atrocious.  As we commented earlier, it seems that the Armenian Government has come into some money and decided to do up their roads – but all at once.  Fortunately, again, the drivers seem to be reasonable.  We have certainly had good ones and we have not seen too many other drivers doing stupid things or being inconsiderate.  In that respect, better than Australia.  No road rage or asserting your rights on the road – if you can see what someone is wants to do and it’s not unreasonable you give them a bit of room to do it and you are patient.  No horn tooting, fist shaking or “giving the finger”.

The final 50 km into Yerevan is along the flat Ararat valley with Mt Ararat off to the South-West over the Turkish border and shrouded in smog haze.  It is 30º C today.  Our last stop for the day was Khor Virap which was an ancient Urartian settlement with a pagan hilltop temple, which, you guessed it, is now a monastery.  It is also the alleged place of incarceration of St Gregory the Illuminator who was imprisoned here for 13 years.  St Gregory is credited with converting Armenia from paganism to Christianity.  Just in case you didn’t know, Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as it’s state religion in 301 AD.  You cannot see much of the old settlement (unless you are a trained archaeologist perhaps) but there are lots of “nice” souvenir stalls to make up for it!

Yerevan seems to have less of a traffic problem than Tbilisi but that may be because today is a public holiday.  We are in a very nice hotel near Republic Square, which is just as well as the last three have been at the lower end of our currently preferred range.

It is interesting (for us) to note the number of touring cyclists we have seen so far on this trip.  Probably about a dozen so far.  We look at them toiling up hills in 30º C heat knowing that they have another 50 km to go before days end and think “They must be mad!”.  Most are couples (man and woman) and the guy is always 0.5 to 1 km in front uphill – funny how they always arrive at the same time, never could work that out.  We never did, and never would, have cycled in such difficult a country/conditions (with the exception of one short, never to be repeated, trip to Sri Lanka in 1982).  All our cycling was done in Western Europe, although Spain in mid-summer was damn hard and the Alps were not a doddle, but at least they were cool and scenic.

We have a corner “studio” in the hotel so we had a good view of the Independence Day Parade as it came along the street to Republic Square.  For a change from the rather indifferent Armenian food we have been eating we ate out at an Indian restaurant for dinner.  It was good.

On the way to dinner we passed another restaurant where we could watch the lavash-making ladies at work.  You can see them by clicking on the arrow below. 

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Today we look around Yerevan, starting at the “Vernissage” market where all manner of stuff is sold.  We were most interested in the carpet section which was quite large and they had some good stuff.  We were not buying but it was nice to look and to know that the skills and traditions have not completely disappeared here, as they have in Georgia.  We can recognize quite a few Armenian rug types as we have half a dozen.  We did spot an unusually long tent band at one stall and we talked to the owner about it.  It was over 20 metres long and must have been 30 cm wide, so it would have been for a tent (yurt) about 7 metres in diameter.  He said it came form Dagestan.  He told us he was (ethnic) Armenian but his family had lived in Aleppo, Syria for generations until the current war.  He had a carpet shop next to an 8th century church.  Now, the church is destroyed, his shop is destroyed (he showed us photos), but he is grateful that he and his family could escape to somewhere where they were welcome.

Next we visited the Manuscript Museum, which sounds a little dry perhaps, but we had a museum guide to explain things and it turned out to be quite interesting.  The Armenian alphabet/language was invented in 405 AD, so is not really, really old.  One does wonder why people would invent a completely new alphabet when there were already plenty of others already in existence.  One particularly interesting map showed the places where Armenian scripts/documents have been found (probably mostly in monastery ruins) .which really highlights the far reaching extent of Armenia prior to the early 20th century.  At one time, Armenia extended from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and to the Mediterranean Sea.

Our second museum for the day was the Armenian History museum which was again very interesting.  Again we had a museum guide to explain things we might otherwise have missed.  History going back to the stone age and the oldest (leather) shoe ever found in the world in a cave at Areni near the Noravank monastery we visited yesterday.  The shoe has been dated by 2 radiocarbon labs in Oxford and California and it was established that it dates back to 3,500 BC.  They also had a good collection of carpets but you were not allowed to take photographs in the museum (although our guide did give us a wink and said, go ahead as long as the old dragon is not watching).

One frustrating thing about trying to learn about carpets is terminology.  A carpet can be described in many ways, the principal three being; by the “tribe” that made it, the place it was made, what the pattern is allegedly showing.  Any one piece can end up being called any of a minimum of three things.  So when you go to a museum hoping to expand your knowledge and read descriptions like “A blue rug of the old style” or something equally uninformative it can be frustrating.

At the Vernissage market there were a few book sellers and eagle eyes (Cheryl) spotted a carpet book which Clive didn’t have in his collection.  It was USD 50 so we passed, but Cheryl Googled it later and found it was selling online for USD 90.

We also visited the GUM Market where a large part of the market is devoted to dried and candied fruit, nuts, spices and “sujukh” a fruit candy dipped nut treat.

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Our last port of call for the day was the Megerian carpet workshop.  We wouldn’t normally seek out a place making new carpets but you take what you can get.  It turned out well.  The Megerian family, originally from Armenia, started out in New York in 1917 repairing and washing carpets only, but then started making them in the traditional way to keep the skill alive.  They have 35 weavers in the workshop in Yerevan and workshops in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Egypt.  They had an interesting small museum of old carpets.

Again wishing to avoid Armenian food for dinner we decided on Chinese food.  After all, one can’t go wrong with Chinese food.  You can get it all over the world and it is always – well, Chinese food; tasty, nutritious and familiar.  We opted for the Beijing Restaurant.  We have to admit, it was the worst meal we have eaten since the Japanese meal we ate in Tashkent in 2016!  Cheryl had a lemon juice – sounds reasonable, lemon juice, water, sugar syrup.  No, this one was “lemon juice” ie. the juice of lemons.  It must have taken about ten lemons to get a big glass full.  Never mind; call for the sugar and a bottle of mineral water but even diluted it was too strong.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Today’s excursion out of Yerevan was to the Geghard monastery and the Garni temple, both UNESCO sites, in the mountains to the North East of the city.  Because these two “touristic” attractions are quite close to the capital they are absolutely inundated with bus-loads of tourists.  Even relatively early in the day the limited parking areas nearest the sites were hopelessly blocked with buses and vans.  We have a good driver who seems to be able to spot the gaps and always manages to get us right to the head of the scrum, find a park, turn around and get us out when we return to the van.

Even brief encounters with mass tourism is enough to turn one off travel.  The sites in Armenia particularly attract the “older” tourists, many of whom are in a terrible condition.  It is surprising more don’t drop dead on tour as they are so overweight or doddery.  Goodness knows how long it takes the tour leaders to get them on and off the buses; they must only see half the number of monasteries in a day that us sprightly sexagenarians manage (lucky them!).

Geghard Monastery was in a scenic location and half of it is excavated in caves into the rock and half free standing.  The complex was founded in the 4th century, but the main chapel was built in 1215 AD.  Like all Armenian monasteries it looks better from the outside than from the inside.  Cheryl spotted a lot of books in the souvenir shop so we went in and found the carpet book we saw yesterday at the market, but for USD 37 not 50 and not the $ 90 online, so we bought it – bargain!

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Our last stop today was the Garni temple which is the only pagan Roman temple in Armenia built in the 1st century AD.  Although reconstructed after an earthquake it is in a beautiful location and is a very nice temple.  Regrettably swamped by tourists.

We had finished our “touristic efforts” by early afternoon so took the opportunity to relax in our comfortable hotel room.  Touristing seems easy at first, but after three weeks on the go it begins to take its’ toll.  Having to be up at first call of the alarm, breakfasted, packed and in the lobby each morning, usually 9:00 or 9:30, ready for the “off” then being bounced about for four or five hours in our van, followed by a hike up 200 odd steps in the broiling sun takes its toll.  Not to mention the rigours of coughs and tummy troubles.  Not to mention the indifferent food.  If we see another hotel buffet breakfast after this trip we’ll gag.  Who in the hell wants to eat cake at breakfast (probably lots of people) or cooked vegetables.  It can be amusing to see what incongruous things some people pile onto one plate – particularly those (1st time travellers?) who seem to be under the misunderstanding that you are only allowed one plate and one go at the buffet.

We have been reflecting about our travels and feel that it’s not really 3 weeks but 40 years we have been on the go (September 1979 is close to the end of our first cycle tour in Europe) and, apart from a few sedentary interludes, life has pretty much kept us on the go.  We also have a significant decision to be made about selling our house in France.  This is not to say that our travels are at an end, but that we perhaps need a new “model” or “method” (perhaps our own private jet? – no, can’t see that).  We’ll be putting some thought into it over the coming months.


Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Today really is a day “off”.  We didn’t even see our guide today and had the day to ourselves in Yerevan.  First order of the day was to have a lie-in and not have to set the alarm, followed by a late breakfast (after the groups had departed).

So as not to seem completely lazy and indolent we do have a few museums to look at.  The first was the Folk Arts museum which had a good collection of carpets as well as other traditional folk arts.  Had the place to ourselves as we were the first ones there.  It was a few kilometres away so we took a taxi there and back which was easy and cheap (AUD 2 each way).

Next was our first decent cup of coffee in two weeks at the Segafredo café opposite our hotel and a midday rest with a light repast of fruit for lunch.

Then we walked around to the dual Museum of Near East Art and the Museum of Armenian Literature and Art which was again interesting as it had lots of very nice antique carpets, ceramics and other folk art from Iran.

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On our walk backto the hotelwe passed an antique carpet shop and could not resist a peek inside.  We find it best to let the dealer know that we do already have a few carpets, have been collecting for a while and are not interested in anything large.  Notwithstanding this, they still pull out all and sundry – but that’s their problem then.  We did come away with two very interesting and appropriate pieces to complement our collection as you will see in these photos.

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The lady in the shop was very kind.  She plied us with water, coffee and fresh peaches which were sweet and juicy.  She didn’t mind unrolling a few carpets to show them off and was happy to just chat.

Finally, Clive desperately needed a haircut (the first person to reply “which one” will be instantly disbarred from accessing this site, so don’t rush G) and we found a barber nearby the hotel but had to first check that we had the required AMD 2,000 (AUD 6) fee as we are leaving Armenia tomorrow and do not want to change any more money into AMD.  We must also ensure we have “toilet” money for tomorrow.

Continuing with our avoidance of Armenian food we had an interesting burger for dinner.  It was very tasty but a little unusual in that the bun bread was dyed a bright red and it came with a small accompanying satellite burger.  Hmm!  We were taking a bit of a chance; as, although the place looked very nice it was named “Maison de la Gastro”.  Perhaps not the same connotations in French or Armenian as in vernacular Australian but so far so good.

© Cheryl & Clive Miller 2019-20