I decided on my second day in Yerevan
to leave it on a tour arranged by the hostel. Normally I avoid tours, but many of the sites in Armenia are difficult or impossible to reach by public transport. The tour guide was a young student who took along her sister with us, because she herself had not seen many sights in Armenia. Our first stop was Echmiadzin, the home of the Armenian Orthodox Church. We watched the seminarians solemnly, and some no so solemnly, walk to Sunday services. The churches in Armenia are much older and better preserved than the ones in Russia, I think because Armenia was more protected from the Mongol invasions. All the churches are made from a native red brick material, "tuff.
" I like the austerity of the churches, they are no icons like in Russia. I get pretty bored of looking at the same icons in Russia - so nice change. We briefly visited Khor Virap
, a reconstructed fortress less than a kilometer from Turkish border. I liked it mainly for the dungeon used to imprison a saint. I climbed to down the ladder into the dungeon to get the experience. High school students were celebrating their graduation at the fortress, singing and screaming. For some reason they wanted a picture with me, so I obliged. The tour guides thought they were drunk, but having smelled their breath I can assure you that they were only high on life.
We had lunch with a family not far from Khor Virap.
The father, Hamut, showed us his surrealist paintings and his large plaster eagles which were commissioned to be put in front of the town hall. I enjoyed the Armenian flat bread, lavash, and the meat and rice wrapped with grape leaves and cabbage leaves (I cannot remember the name). I ate some coffee too - it was that strong.
Clearly the highlight of the day was the Noravank monastery. The monastery was built in a high, isolated valley far from any major town. The monastery overlooks the very narrow valley floor. The monastery has the only two-story church in Armenia, and its fun to climb the little steps. The best of the monastery is the view from the second floor. If I can find a computer which let me upload photos, that will be the first photo uploaded.
The tour ended with a tour of Areni Winery. They make fruit wines from pomegranate, cherry, raspberry, and peach. I bought a dry, non-fruity wine as a gift for my host in St. Petersburg. They load the wine into enormous barrels like I have never seen before. The Areni winery competes with vendors who sell their own wine from empty coke bottles from kiosks on the street. It was a wonderful, inexpensive tour, and I am glad I did it. It was amazing how much ground you can cover in Armenia in one day; it truly is a small country.