Never say never. (November 2014)


We travelled along the Armenian Silk Road to Yerevan. It was foggy and the roads were less than perfect. At the start, it was all twists and turns, as we drove through the Vorotan Pass at 2,344 metres, then it was straight down into the Yeghegis Valley towards Yaravan.

On the way we stopped to visit the Monastery of Tatev, this involved a ride on the aerial tramway known as The Wings of Tatev. Completed in 2010, this is the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car. The foggy conditions didn’t allow us much of a view but what we did see was stunning.

This amazing ride allows year round access to the Monastery of Tatev, which is one of Armenias most important religious complexes.

The Tatev Monastery, built in the 9th century, is suspended on a cliff above the Vorotan River. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was the centre of science, religion and philosophy in Armenia.

From the heights of Tatev we descended down into Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

The formal part of our adventure was over so the rest of our time was unplanned. We therefore spent the next day catching up on emails, photo editing, blog writing and planning the next few weeks.

We had lucked upon what was probably the best hotel of our trip, the Republica Hotel in Yerevan was just 100m from the main Repiublica Square and walking distance from most of the other sites in the city.

But that wasn’t its real attraction.

The room, staff and restaurant, especially the restaurant were excellent. The design was contemporary and the menu was a creative fusion of Central Asian and European cuisines. It was so good that we ate there three night out of the four that we spent in Yerevan.

I have always been of the belief that you never eat at a hotel restaurant, unless you really have to. We have been guilty of doing just that a number of times this trip, but it has always been purely out of necessity.

With the restaurant at the Republica Hotel, it was because we wanted to.

Never say never.

Having no real plan, and glad of it, we wandered around the city centre.

We had heard about the Cascade, so that was our first stop. This is a giant stairway that climbs up from the Kentron area to the Monument district with a great view of the city across to Mount Ararat. What makes the Cascade so interesting is the art gallery that is under the stairway, going up the hill.

It was first stated in 1971 and the initial part was completed in 1980. A large museum was planned to go at the top of the Cascade, however work started but was never finished.

We then slowly meandered back to the hotel, passing the Opera House on the way.

The next day we hired Garik, a driver and guide, to take us out of Yerevan and explore some of the country to the north and west of the city.

This area is on what’s now called the Black Sea Silk Road. The name and strategy is an EU initiative, designed to help broaden tourist interests and economic development in this part of the Caucuses. The main partners are Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia.

Our first stop was at Garni where there is a Roman temple to Mihr, god of the sun. The temple was built in the 1st century AD, with a palace, winery and bath house built in the 3rd century.

Stone crosses or Khachkars are everywhere in Armenia, some are over 500 years old. They are carved memorial stones with a cross and a variety of other motifs. In 2010 the craft and symbolism of Khachkars was inscribed in the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage.

The Monastery at Geghard is another UNESCO site with caves and many Khachkars. The monastery was founded in the 4th century while the main chapel was built in 1215. There was even a choir hall with incredible acoustics and an echo that lasts for fourteen seconds.

The monastery was built near an old pagan temple, that was probably Zoroastrian.

We then drove to Lake Sevan, the second highest lake in the world, after Lake Titicaca in Peru.

It’s 80 km in length and can be over 80 metres deep in some parts. In winter it freezes over.

On the north west shore of Lake Sevan, is Sevanavank, a monastic complex containing a hermitage and St Harutiun Church. It was established by Grigor Lusavorich or Grigor the Illuminator in 305 AD. Originally Sevanavank was an island but due to the draining of the lake during the Stalin era it became a peninsular.

On the northern side of Lake Sevan is the Monastery at Gosh. Built in the 12th to 13th centuries and named after Mkhitar Gosh who was involved with the rebuilding the the current monastery after an earthquake destroyed the original one in 1188. Within the monastery is one of the world’s best collections of Khachkars.

It was a relentless day of sightseeing with Garik at the wheel. No sooner had we viewed one historical site we were into the car and off to another.

He was determined that we would get our money’s worth.

The Haghartsin Complex was built between the 10th and 14th centuries and is located near the town of Dilijan. At its dedication an eagle was seen soaring over the dome and it became known as ‘The Monastery of the Soaring Eagles’

By the time we reached our last stop for the day, the church at Tsaghkadzor, the sun had set. We were exhausted and Garik had done a great job.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is derived from the fact that it was started by the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddaeus (Judus). It’s the world’s oldest national church and understandably there is a wealth of tradition in every aspect of church life, architecture and ceremony.

Many of the original Christian churches in Armenia were built over the site of pagan temples, as were many in ancient Christendom – they also borrowed much of their symbolism.

The design of the Armenian churches elaborated on the pagan temples and became the basis for all Christian architecture in Eastern European countries.

We had seen so much of history with Garik on the road, that he suggested we visit the Armenian History Museum and get a more academic point of view.

There was a wonderful collection of coins from the 3rd century BC to 150 BC and wooden carts and chariots from 15th to 14th centuries BC.

Another outstanding object was a 12th-11th centuries BC bronze plate showing a symbolic model of the solar system, with a round earth, including water and atmosphere, the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This ancient concept of our solar system, was visualised way before the Greeks suggested it in the 3rd Century BC.

So proud are they of this ancient artifact that it has become the museum’s logo.

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