March 2018: As part of a 10-day trip that also included Romania, Turkey and Nagorno Karabakh, my friends Jimmie and I spent 3 days traveling across Armenia.  I hired an Armenian driver with an old Mercedes Benz to drive us across the country and the driver served as our un-official guide too. he was one of the few drivers who had the right kind of insurance and was also willing to take the risk to take us into Nagorno Karabakh.

Armenia has a fascinating history that like many other countries is rich in stories of war and suffering. Armenia is the world’s first Christian country but would later become conquered by several empires. Between the 4th and the 19th centuries Armenia was conquered and ruled by, among others, Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Mongols, Turks and finally the Soviet Union before becoming independent. Armenians suffered genocidal like persecution during World War I from the Turks and to this day there are tensions and closed borders because of this history. Armenia is currently involved in the ongoing conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, a neighboring region that consists mostly of ethnic Armenians that has claimed sovereignty but continues to be at war with neighboring Muslim Azerbaijan that also claims ownership of its land. Fighting in this region has been on and off for decades.

 

My route

This was my itinerary while in Armenia:

Day 1
Arrive Yerevan, Armenia 335am
Airport pick up Gagik Grigoryan in Mercedes 
Breakfast in Yerevan
Khor VirDrive to Goris (6 hour drive)
Visit old city of Goris (khndzoresk Old City and swinging bridge)
Hotel in Goris

Day 2
Drive from Goris to Larabackh((100$)Visit Breakaway Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (currently being fought over between Armenia and Azerbaijan))
Visit Agdam ghost town (A city of what was once 200,000 people and was destroyed by the war)
Visit ancient monastery of Sushi
Sleep in town of Sushi/Nagorno Karabakh
Homestay with family

Day 3
Return to Yerevan 7 hour drive 
Visit Orbelian Caravanserai (ancient fort from the Silk Road) via Seli Pass
Visit ancient Nirvana Monastery
Night Yerevan hotel

Day 4
Drive from Yerevan to Achltsicke, Georgia (6-7 hours)

 

 

 

Old Monasteries/Churches

Armenia as the world’s oldest Christian nation dating back to times of Jesus, has no shortage of old beautiful monasteries and churches many located in remote mountain locations where the monks could live a life of prayer and meditation in isolation away from the distractions of the secular world. I made sure to find and visit as many of these old churches as I could in our drive across Armenia. When we first arrived, it was nighttime under a full moon and as we drove across the Armenia landscape, the snowcapped peak of Mount Ararat was illuminated in the moonlight. Mount Ararat is the biblical mountain believed to be the final resting spot for Noah’s Arc from the biblical floods,

 

 

16,000 Foot Mount Ararat view at night under the full moon

16,000 Foot Mount Ararat view in the morning sunrise

The countries of Armenia were rural, dotted with small villages with horse wagons, Soviet era Lada vehicles and vineyards where wine is made and sold along the side of the road. We stopped to purchase some red wine from a man growing it in his village.

 

 

Home made red wine we bought for the road

We detoured up a small mountain road to visit some remote monasteries that are over 1000 years old. The scenery around them was just as beautiful. Most monasteries are guarded by an old monk who lives nearby and possess the key to open them up for visitors.

 

 

Lonely roads

1000 year old mountain monastery

Mountains

1000 year old mountain monastery

Road to Goris

We ended up staying a night in Goris, an ancient town built around cave houses that were carved out of the mountains and still used today as homes by some people or storage areas for farming. We stayed in a family run guesthouse and were spoiled with huge home cooked Armenian meals from the elderly mother that ran the guesthouse. Early in the morning before sunrise on Armenian Easter morning, different than Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Easter, I woke up early to wander the streets of Goris and I walked through layers of history. There was Soviet era Goris and ancient Goris with its cave homes. I walked from hours across Goris.

 

 

Early Easter morning walk through the streets of Goris

Early Easter morning walk through the streets of Goris

Cave Homes, Goris

Cave homes-Early Easter morning walk through the streets of Goris

Early Easter morning walk through the streets of Goris-Lada car

The next day on our drive to Nagorno Karabakh, we stopped to visit a few more monasteries. Tatev Monastery, one of the most sacred monasteries in Armenia, was completely enshrouded in fog and was mystical during our visit. I wish I could have visited years earlier when the only way to visit it was on foot. Now it is easy to access via a cable car, but the cable car is an adventure in itself and towers a 1000′ in the air between the mountains.

 

 

Tatev Monastery

Tatev Monastery

Tatev Monastery

One of my favorite places to visit was a small abandoned medieval village-khndzoresk at the bottom of a gorge that we had to cross a rickety rope bridge to visit. The small chapel is still used by visiting Armenians as a place of prayer and incense and candles were lit.

 

 

khndzoresk Old City church

Armenia is located at a crossroad between Eirope and Asia and has been a center of world trade for centuries especially at the peak of the Silk road caravans that once crossed its moubtains. Abandoned caravanserias, old forts where traders sheltered from bandits and the elements enroute to their destinations can still be found in remote coners of the country like this one on a mountain pass called Orbelian Caravanserai. According to legend, the son of the Kurdish leader Suleyman fell in love with a girl from Gegharkunik and would often sneak across the pass to visit her. One harsh winter, during his attempt to cross, the young man lost his way and died. In memory of his son, Suleyman built a lodging at the pass so that strangers could find respite during snowstorms and be spared the fate of his son. Orbelian’s Caravanserai now marks the place where the grieving father’s inn once stood.

 

 

Jimmy at the Orbelian Caravanserai (ancient fort from the Silk Road)

Frank in the Orbelian Caravanserai (ancient fort from the Silk Road)

On our drive back to Yerevan, the capitol, we traveled across Lake Sevin and visited some of the oldest villages of Armenia. Anytime we saw an interesting old village with a graveyard like the old one in this photo, we would stop and explore. 

 

 

Old Monastery Ruins and graveyard in a random village where kids play

Old Monastery Ruins and graveyard in a random village where kids play

We spent one night in modern Yerevan, a cosmopolitan city with remodeled old Soviet buildings with Mount Ararat looming in the distance. It was a nice city and my friend, who are single met a few different Armenian girls, known for their beauty, via the Tinder dating app. From Armenia we traveled overland into Georgia and onwards to Turkey since the border with Turkey and Armenia is closed.

 

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