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Armenia and Georgia Trip Report, Jun 9 - Jul 1, 2021

Armenia and Georgia Trip Report, Jun 9 - Jul 1, 2021

Old Jul 4th, 2021, 08:13 AM
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Armenia and Georgia Trip Report, Jun 9 - Jul 1, 2021

My wife and I traveled to Armenia and Georgia from June 9th to July 1st, for 21 nights. We had planned on visiting Armenia years ago, but those plans changed and this was our opportunity to get away at a time when few places were open to visitors. We planned at first to only visit Armenia, but when I heard about the Svaneti region of Georgia, I felt I had to include that in our plans. The fact that my wife worked for a Georgian movement theatre (Synetic) in Arlington, VA meant that we were able to connect with a movement theatre company in Tbilisi.

We were not sure what to expect. I knew we would see some spectacular scenery, but I felt in the dark about what traveling in the Caucuses would be like. Even now, I find it hard to put into words all that we experienced. We were often left speechless. Unlike anything I’ve experienced before; terms like vacation or trip hardly do it justice. It was an unfolding of long, deep conversations, meeting passionate folks with a sense of ancient history, love of traditions, an eye to economic development, the sorrow of genocide, and troubling contemporary geopolitics. I knew I was in for some good food ( a requirement for me), but had no idea just how stupendous it would all be. Fabulous feasts were laid out on our table, and while we were digging in, they were still cooking MORE food. I can easily say that I have never spent three weeks of eating better and trying new things. It was ri-DIC-ulous. For us, this was an experience for the ages.

One mention about what is happening today. The Azeri have entered Armenian territory and are on the move. There is no conflict because the Armenians are not putting up resistance. It is a soft war. Conflict over the now-closed Artsakh Province is over, The Azeri now have complete control of the region which is culturally and historically Armenian. The largest field of kachkars (stone crosses) in Artsakh have been destroyed as not being compatible with Islam. They were a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. I know a lot of people plan on doing three countries in 2/3 weeks when traveling to the Caucuses, but for us there was no question. We would not visit Azerbaijan. You can make up your own minds.

There is also some consideration to comparing Georgia and Armenia. Right now, Georgia is the larger country by area and population. It is also not as poor as Armenia and the roads are paved and in much better condition. The mountains are even bigger and lusher than in Armenia. Georgia is prettier than Armenia. It was absolutely fantastic visiting Svaneti and Tbilisi.

But try to find resources for Georgian to English! The language and culture is far more obscure than Armenian, as the Armenian diaspora is so large. In the US, Armenians are everywhere, especially Glendale, California which has become a magnet for Armenian Americans. . It is likely that anyone reading this knows someone with Armenian heritage. So it is also a question of being able to relate to what you are seeing and doing.

In following posts, I will try to recount as best as I can what our three weeks was like. I will also include some photos and a link to a Flicker photo album. For us, we feel changed in a way I could not possibly expect.

Last edited by shelemm; Jul 4th, 2021 at 08:54 AM.
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Old Jul 5th, 2021, 03:07 AM
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Our flight got into Yerevan about 40 minutes late and it was night. It took us three flights, 19 hours of transit plus 8 hours time change.My wife was already nervous about what to expect and the confusing scene at the airport didn't help any. So I made the first smart decision of the trip and we went out to eat at a 'secret' garden cafe in the back of the Dalyan Art Gallery. I say 'secret' because plenty of places to eat in the Caucuses have no sign or indication they are there. If you walk by the front of the gallery, all you'd see is a souvenir stand. The scene in the garden was pretty, sophisticated, wonderful. We also found a gorgeous ceramic to buy, based on an Armenian carpet design. The food was extraordinary, for us, but as we were to find out par for the course in Armenia. It was a great start.

Pardon for the food talk, but that is a major focus of my travels. We started off with two foods I read about in preparing for the trip: rejena and gavurma. I read that rejena was a 'baked milk' dish (which I did not understand), and it was served in scoops that looked like ice cream and tasted like milk-flavored butter. Awesome. Gavurma is meat preserved in butter. It is dry, crispy, slightly salty .... and then all that butter. Heavenly. We went on to a soup of red beans, walnuts, and parsley and a stuffed eggplant.

All was right with the world.


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Old Jul 5th, 2021, 05:39 AM
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Looking forward to reading more about your trip! I loved my visit (too long ago) to Georgia and Armenia (perhaps Georgia a bit more than Armenia...) I did make it to Nagorno-Karabakh, so have been very sad to read about the fighting (https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...n-keep-silent/ )
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Old Jul 5th, 2021, 06:15 AM
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That's so great that you had the opportunity to visit that region. I was frustrated during trip planning that I heard about historically important and visually stunning places that were off limits to me.
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Old Jul 5th, 2021, 07:02 AM
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Glad you enjoyed what still feels like a hidden part of the world. Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Jul 5th, 2021, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by shelemm View Post
That's so great that you had the opportunity to visit that region. I was frustrated during trip planning that I heard about historically important and visually stunning places that were off limits to me.
Sadly, I wasn't able to make it to the Svaneti region because of a health issue, so I understand the frustration!
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Old Jul 5th, 2021, 07:53 AM
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The Svaneti region can be problematic to reach under the best of circumstances. We had a guide/driver, which I was torn over, but it turned out to be a good idea. Construction on the roads to Ushguli means that driving is a wild card. You never know how difficult it will be or what delays will come your way. Of course, rock slides can happen independent of construction, so there's that as well. If we didn't have a guide, we almost surely would have turned back.
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Old Jul 6th, 2021, 04:57 PM
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In two full days in Yerevan, we had two disappointments and two wonderful discoveries. In between, a couple of places that every visitor must see: the Armenian Genocide Memorial and the Cascade Complex.

Not only is the genocide museum an extensive learning experience which will prepare you for the rest of Armenia (and life) , it is moving to see people enter the memorial and pay their own tribute to the dead. One family was singing hymns together. A father came with his young daughter, he dressed in the Manchester United jersey of Mkhitaryan, an Armenian soccer star.

The Cascade Complex is thoroughly unique. A multi-level modern art gallery cascading up (or down) a steep hill. Each level has an outdoor plaza with recurring themes of a central sand clock and water eternally pouring forth from ancient urns. Inside, escalators take the visitor past modern works. At the bottom of the complex, an outdoor sculpture garden.

The disappointments were:
Matenadaran, a repository for ancient books. I was very much drawn to this, but found the display completely underwhelming. Better displayed and far more amazing were books from Matenadaran at Noravank Monstery.

Vernissage is a flea market attraction, mostly filled with row after row of tourist shlock. But not the good kind.... the truly embarrassing stuff. I am not above buying a snow globe of a monastery that hasn't seen snow since the Ice Age, but this was worse. To be fair, we did buy some sheet music, a duduk (an Armenian recorder), a used cake knife from the true 'garage sale' section, and some fine silver Xmas ornaments.

The connections for us began by visiting the Lusik Aguletsi House Museum. They also serve meals there, but I was unsure if they were open at all due to COVID so I reached out in advance and I was glad I did. As it turns out, they stayed open late for us. We were given an extensive tour and ate there as well. The tour gave us insights into Armenian mythology, traditions, and history.

Lusik Aguletsi was an artist who always dressed in traditional garb she sewed herself. Her collection of costumes and crafts is astounding. Adhering to tradition, they offer in their garden cafe some old Armenian dishes difficult to find elsewhere, and dinner was extensive and great. We got to talk with a manager there (the fellow we reached out to) who is also an opera director and shared our love for theatre. They gave us gifts at the end this would become a theme of our time in Armenia.

We also went to the Mirzoyan Library, a one room library of photography books that had been expanded into a two-story coffeehouse and photo exhibition center wedged into a courtyard between residential buildings. There was little indication of what was there from the street, so walking down the alley was a mystery. The guy who founded it is a photographer and he showed us his photographs on display. They included a series on recent protests in Yerevan but shot in a style reminiscent of Prague 68. Also a photo series taken from various city buildings with a window view outside, but he had drawn onto the windows somewhat comical UFOs attacking the city.

Some photos from the Lusik Aguletsi Houseimg]https://cimg3.ibsrv.net/gimg/www.fodors.com-vbulletin/2000x1504/img_1854_4943f590ab94411b6cf60726413b8e6c380eb8df. jpg[/img]




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Old Jul 6th, 2021, 05:22 PM
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Interesting - the cascade was under construction when I was there, just a concrete staircase. But it sounds like the market has gone down hill - this was my experience: "Down one side of Pavstos Byuzand Poghots an outdoor Home Depot gave way to souvenir stalls, then to clothes, while on the other side I found carpets and embroidery, flanked by glass and ceramics. I liked some of the wood carving, but I didn’t buy – too much travel still to go."

I did enjoy the Matenadaran, but I had a guide, plus there was a special exhibition of illustrated manuscripts from Cilicia.
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Old Jul 7th, 2021, 12:15 AM
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That sounds good about the books form Cilicia. A woman behind the desk at Matenadaran gave us some cherries... this was a gesture repeated in Armenia. We had coffee made for us in a small clothing shop and apricots handed to us while visiting Echmiadzin.

A guide always helps and for most of our trip we learned to say 'Yes and...' to everything, like Improv. So we wound up with some amazing museum tours, but we tried Matenadaran on our own and it didn't work.
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Old Jul 7th, 2021, 12:24 AM
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Photos from the Mirzoyan Library






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Old Jul 7th, 2021, 12:53 AM
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We rented a car for the remainder of our time in Armenia, and for the next two days we visited five major tourist attractions. We got lucky that the Khor Virap B&B (aka Arekelyans Gastroyard) opened for us. We may have been their first visitors in a very long time. The Gastroyard program is comprised of about a dozen guesthouses around Armenia that focus in on traditional foods and teaching other crafts. They received money from UNDP to fix up their farm, build a tonir (traditional bread oven) and get it all prepared for guests. Our hosts spoke only a few words of English, but later in the day we were joined by their daughter and her husband who were fluent. We had a great visit and one of the best meals I’ve ever had. A true feast. While waling through their gardens, we got to sample many of the things they grow there.









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Old Jul 7th, 2021, 01:56 AM
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The wonder of Armenia is that every one of those monasteries is sited in an especially glorious landscape. If they were movie sets, I'd say the location manager really did a great job. In front of a towering mountain, at the edge of a plateau, or dug into a cliff, they each exist in a unique world all their own and are difficult to take in with just one view or perspective. They beg to surround you.
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Old Jul 8th, 2021, 03:47 AM
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On the way down to Goris we stopped in at two sites: One is an impressive collection of megalithic standing stones, and the other nearby is a whimsical work of contemporary art for which the viewer is meant to question if they are looking at something from a civilization lost or yet to be....





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Old Jul 8th, 2021, 07:05 AM
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We spent three nights in Goris. Although we were at the exact address of our hotel, we entered a building only to find a bunch of empty apartments. Turns out the hotel is off the driveway to the left side of the building, opening to a courtyard.

Back to where we first entered, among the empty apartments, we called out into the void to see if we could find anyone, We were eventually greeted by a young British woman who heard 'familiar' English being spoken. She, her husband, and their Karabegh son were with an international team of people 'stuck' in Goris for the last six months. They were part of an operation clearing land mines in the Artsakh region of Azarbaijan before being kicked out of the country. So they were in limbo. They were occupying the third floor of this building.

Our first full day in Goris we headed down to Tatev Monastery. We used the aerial tramway and saw Tatev, the Harsnadzor lookout, and climbed down the trail under "Satan's Bridge." More on all that later.

Our next day we tried to find the cliff dwellings of Old Goris which are accessible right from in town. But our guidebook was not all that helpful in finding the path. So we went to the local history museum/visitors center to see if anyone could help us. The woman at the museum didn't speak English, I don't speak Armenian, but she does speak French. Voila, a connection. Turns out there is a 100+ strong Francophone community in Goris thanks to a Twin City program with Vienne near Lyon. She introduces us to other members of the community who had helped setup a sewing room for refugee women from Artsakh. They were sewing purses and tote bags, and we bought a couple. (Search on Instagram: All_for_Armenia and Made_in_Syunik). Later, a young French woman who splits her time between Vienne and Goris took us on a walking tour to a church the community had restored and then on to the cliff dwellings.



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Old Jul 9th, 2021, 02:59 AM
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Need for a car?

So I don't drive and am super keen to go on my canceled, delayed trip to Armenia now in September. Are there taxis or buses I can use that you were aware of to see some of the sites you saw?
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Old Jul 9th, 2021, 06:35 AM
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@genibre - shelemm will have much more up-to-date info than I do, but there was no shortage of taxis when I was in Armenia. However, they insisted on using the meter, even if I wanted to hire one for a couple of hours or a half day (unlike Georgia), so I wound up doing day tours with this company: https://www.hyurservice.com/eng/
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Old Jul 9th, 2021, 08:05 AM
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@genibre In both Armenia and Georgia, ,there are a gazillion (I counted) people who will gladly take you around to anywhere you want to go. There are marshrutkas (regularly scheduled vans), taxis, and lots of tour companies and drivers at the major tourist gathering spots with signs offering you private tours. The great thing about Yerevan is that it is centrally located in a small country, and you can get anywhere I went pretty easily from there. Staying in guesthouses might be trickier, but once you get there the guesthouse can make arrangements for you, including seeing things you might not otherwise know about.

We used taxis within Yerevan. I never saw a meter. Every taxi ride within the historic core is about 1,000 dram or 2 dollars. When we got to our destination, they were grateful for whatever we gave them which usually included a big tip. In Tbilisi we used the Bolt app (like Uber) and that way there was no miscommunication with where we wanted to go or what to pay. Not enough Bolt drivers in Yerevan.

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Old Jul 9th, 2021, 08:18 AM
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More photos: first taken from the aerial tramway to Tatev looking over the road, then on to Tatev Monastery:








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Old Jul 9th, 2021, 08:26 AM
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After Tatev, we took the path under "Satan's Bridge" where finally we saw people climbing down by rope, and then on to Harsnadzor lookout tower with a commanding view,








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