The tour I did in 2013 with Judy started in Armenia and finished in Georgia. It was an Explore tour – Land of the Golden Fleece – and it was wonderful.
Armenia – Yerevan – Day 1
Yerevan is the capital of Armenia – it has lovely views of Mt Ararat which actually is in Turkey – it used to be in Armenia and for many Armenians, this is a very sore point. Our hotel had a wonderful view of it, but it was, unfortunately, 10 minutes by taxi out of the centre, which made it difficult to enjoy the city in the evening. We were there for four nights.
Yerevan city centre has some lovely buildings – very European, tree lined streets, and a lovely square (Republic Square) which has a wonderful fountain. However, the suburbs are dry and dusty with tired houses and remind me of Poland – or even the suburbs of Riga which I went through last year on the shuttle from the airport. And customer service is not one of their strong points yet – we were continually left with a part roll of toilet paper (at the hotel) and even though we asked for another one each night, the house keeping girl never ‘got it’- and on the last night, I was trying to explain that we had been asking for an extra toilet roll every day, we needed 2 rolls not one (the toilet rolls weren’t good quality and half a roll each wasn’t enough for us!), so she bought us 2 more rolls! Argh! The frustrations of not being able to get annoyed when the person you are talking to has no idea what you are talking about.
Our Explore tour group of 18 is very interesting – most of the group is over 60; 8 singles and 5 couples – and come from several countries – South Africa (2 – but he is originally from the UK), Canada (1), USA – Georgia (1), Australia (Judy), New Zealand (3 – a couple and me), Ireland (2 brothers) and the rest are from the UK. We are getting on well – normally a group as big as ours will split into two, but apart from the fact that I float between the two extremes of the group, there is quite a big ‘middle’ section. In Armenia, the South Africans hogged the front seat of the bus but the Georgian guide mentioned the Explore policy of moving seats and so now others are taking turns sitting at the front. (I was writing this in Georgia).
Driving into Yerevan from the airport at 5.30 am Judy and I wondered what type of city we were coming to as the road from the airport goes through the casino strip – and at that time in the morning the casinos were all still brightly lit with their neon lights and signs. Evidently the government wants to move the road as they don’t think it is a good first image for visitors to get of Yerevan. I agree.
Above, city view with Mt Ararat in the background
Our city tour of Yerevan on Day 1 was very extensive – Victory monument with the huge statue of Mother Armenia, the Matenadaran Library, the Cascade complex (which is still being built), the Genocide memorial, and the Vernisage craft market. In the evening we went to a folk concert, had dinner in the city and watched the sound and light show in front of the museum.
Lara, our Armenian guide was an absolute font of information for the whole 6 days we were with her – she never looked at notes, it is all in her head.
In Victory Park, the giant statue of Mother Armenia, looms over the city in a classic Soviet style plaza complete with tanks and jets on pedestals. She holds aloft a gigantic sword, defending the country. We were also able to get an idea of the layout of the city from this vantage point.
The Matenadaran Library is amazing – it houses over 17,000 rare manuscripts (or maybe even more now) – many of them are from civilisations or cultures that are not Armenian but they have the facilities to care for these ancient works.
It was very interesting with illuminated books – various bibles (one very large and heavy one on calf skin and one the size of a box of matches), poetry, medical texts etc. and displays of all the pigments from flowers, herbs and minerals uses as paints.
Unfortunately the acoustics were terrible and we couldn’t hear our guide for the noise of all the other guides – this is where audio tour guides come into their own.
We visited the very impressive memorial and museum of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 -22 when 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Turks.
The memorial was in the form of a 40 metre high pointed spire, and an eternal flame within a stone circle built of 12 sloping upright basalt slabs, all on a huge stone platform overlooking the valley, with the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Various political figures have donated trees (a type of pine I think) in memory of those killed. Suitably sombre music was playing over loudspeakers in the grounds.
Our next stop was the Cascade complex, a gigantic white building built in layers into the side of the hill – it was still being built when we were there. We had only 45 minutes so I used the inside escalators, however there are steps outside to each outdoor level garden.
It is a showcase of modern sculpture both within and without, and modern sculptures are also scattered throughout the park facing the structure.
The sculptures inside beside the escalators were very modern, but the ones outside on the levels were mostly carvings in the stone with a few others – one was a lion made out of cut tyres which made a particularly impressive lion mane.
I loved this complex and it was one of the few things I had researched when I was at home – I visited all the levels and I took photos of everything – moments like that I am thankful I bought new batteries for the camera!
While I was racing around photographing everything I could – it took all of the 45 minutes we had to photograph everything I wanted – some of the others had lunch instead!
The sculptures in the park were very eclectic – and one was a very large, bright blue kiwi sitting on his bottom with his feet in the air! (I am using this as my symbol on WordPress) – I have no idea why it was included.
Later I wandered around the Vernisage Craft Market taking photos for nearly an hour – it consists of a lot of stalls selling a mixture of tacky souvenirs, nice souvenirs, carpets, table cloths (machine done), carved chess and backgammon sets, silk scarves, pottery, wooden carved ornaments etc.
I picked up a couple of small zip bags made from material with traditional Armenian patterns – original prices 2500 and 2000, but she offered me both for 4000 – I counter-offered with 3500 (NZ$10) and she accepted! The bigger one has proved very useful as my normal wallet is far too heavy to carry around in my hand bag.
Lara organised tickets for us to the National Folk Concert (about $NZ15) – it was wonderful, with very professional singing and dancing. The men’s dancing reminded Judy and I of Russian folk dancing (we went to Russia in 2012) with loud, energetic music and leaping and gymnastic type moves, whereas the girls’ dances were a lot quieter – and their dancing and dresses seemed to be more Persian influenced. They were beautiful.
After the show we wandered down the avenue, and six of us had dinner at a local restaurant, Marco Polo. Three of us had a traditional Armenian dish, Lamb Khaslama, which is a bowl of lamb and potato, like soup without the liquid. It was very nice but slightly difficult to eat as it was in a bowl – half meat on the bone and half boiled potatoes and no other vegetables. I had to take the pieces of meat out of the bowl and cut them up on the flat plate and then put it back in the bowl!
Many things about Armenia remind me of Turkey, for example, the choice of fruit and vegetables are limited but there are lots of tomatoes and cucumbers and there is always a tomato and cucumber salad option on every menu.
The sound and light show at the fountains started at 9.30 pm – the buildings in the central square are lit up and the fountains change colours and ‘dance’ to music – we watched it for about half an hour and it was a lovely way to end the day.
We had difficulty finding a taxi at the price Lara had told me – it was supposed to be 1000 dram, but they were all 1500 or 2000. Then we found one taxi who we thought understood that one finger indicated 1000 but when we got out at the hotel, and I gave him the 1000 he muttered away so I gave him another 500 and walked away – then Lara said, oh yes, sometimes it is 1500 – it depends on the time!
Continued next post