Early September we spent a few days near the town of Getahovit. We camped near a river which also turned out to be the spot where the local kids come to swim and the local men to bathe. So every afternoon and early evening we had some “entertainment“. After a few relaxing days we hiked through the Yenokavan canyon.
From there we drove on to lake Sevan. Here we found the best place to camp: a small isolated spot right at the lake with a private beach! It was beautiful sunny weather. So we lay in the sun, had a few bbq’s and Kilian went for a bike ride and even I got on my bike. To the supermarket which was less than 2km away to buy ice cream :). We also had some strawberries, so with our strawberry ice coupe on the beach we felt as in paradise. Binkie also enjoyed our stay at Sevan lake because of the bushes, the mice and the tree trunk which we had dragged over to our campsite.
After the calm and quiet of Sevan lake we decided to visit Yerevan. With some effort we managed to find a hotel where we could safely park the van and Binkie was also allowed. Leaving Binkie in the air-conditioned room, we left to explore Yerevan on our bikes. Yerevan traffic is crazy and chaotic but we lived… In Yerevan we strolled around Republic square, went to the top of the cascade, visited the Vernissage (outdoor market) saw the blue mosque from the outside and wandered through Kond, the oldest part of the city. We went to Tashir street and a few other shopping areas. We finally managed to buy a cast iron pan, also known as a Dutch oven. We have used it a few times already and are very pleased with it. Our home baked bread used to be OK, but now it is great. We also successfully baked cookies, croissants and lasagna in it. And as is slowly becoming our tradition, we went to an Indian restaurant. I love Indian food but the only Indian restaurants are in the capital. So we had Indian food in Sofia (which was the best), Tbilisi and now Yerevan. Yerevan is a nice city but it doesn’t offer a lot when it comes to sightseeing. You can easily do it in one day. And traffic is awful, so be warned!
After Yerevan we needed another quiet place to recharge our batteries, so we drove to Khosrov forest state park, you can read about that here.
Mid September we visited Noravank monastery. A beautiful monastery and although we were there out of season it was very busy. Almost a 100% of the Armenian people are Christian, so monasteries and churches are popular and there are a lot of them. Noravank was built in the 13th century and its mostly special because of its beautiful surroundings of red cliffs in the Amaghu gorge.
Then we drove to Jermuk hot spring. We followed the off road track that our navigation suggested. Well, that turned out to be unwise. The road was so bad that we could not drive on. There was simply too much height difference between the left side of the track and the right side and between rocks. With a hell of lot of effort and a bit of damage to the right front bumper, Kilian managed to turn the van around and with some careful driving, a lot of steering and sometimes just a lot of power he managed to get the van back up to a plateau from where we could safely drive down the other side of the hill. A local had told us there was an “easy” road on the other side of the river. Well, it wasn’t easy but we made it to Jermuk hot spring and even found great campsite. The hot spring is a popular attraction but by getting up early (meaning 9 am 😉 we managed to have the “bath” to ourselves.
We continued our journey South and went to see Karahunj, which is Armenia’s Stonehenge. Unfortunately there is no money to do enough research. It was build sometime during the Bronze Age and the stones are spread out across 7 hectare. The name means singing stones. Most stones stand upright and have a hole in them. On a windy day they can make a sort of singing noise. Some think Karahunj was an ancient astronomy observatory, others think it was a defensive wall. Or perhaps it was a religious site. Without more research we will never know. There was no entrance or parking fee which was nice for us but a missed opportunity to get some research money.
We drove on to visit Tatev monastery. We hadn’t planned to visit it (yet another monastery) but people recommended it to us and we were glad they did! It is a very big monastery where you can wander around (and like all monasteries and churches it is free of charge) and see where the monks used to live and cook. You have a great view of the surrounding mountains and the gorges Vorotan and Tatev gorge. There were also weddings going on so we got to see an Armenian wedding!
After Tatev we walked through the canyon to the Hermitage of Tatev. This 17th century monastery is now a ruin in this forgotten gorge. We also saw the devils bridge and the Halidzor belltower. We spend the night at old Harzhis (Harjis), an ancient abandoned village situated beautifully above the gorge.
Tatev and the Vorotan gorge were a pleasant surprise. Driving south the landscape was very uninspiring. Nothing but flat and bare mountain plateau, littered with a lot of power pylons, old an new, used and unused. The road was bad in a lot of places and there are a lot of Iranian truck drivers, who drive even worse than the Armenian truck drivers, with no regard for other peoples lives or cars. Long trucks speed ahead, overtaking other vehicles even with oncoming traffic. Most trucks are in bad shape and the drivers are usually on the phone… We consider these roads much more dangerous than the off road tracks we sometimes drive and feature on websites as dangerous roads. Nevertheless I would advice this beautiful area. After Tatev we drove back North, unfortunately, because we had really wanted to drive further South to visit Iran (yes despite of the crazy truck drivers). But despite of promising news since the July, Iran still doesn’t issue tourist visa.
So we drove back North and drove the Vardenyats pass and visited a well preserved caravanserai. A caravanserai was a rest stop along the silk route. Our last tourist destination in Armenia was Amberd castle. The only attraction where we had to pay a small entrance fee. Ironically enough this was one of the least interesting places to visit… Nothing but the remains of a small castle and a church but the setting against the rough rocks with sparse vegetation gave it a dramatic look.
On the 28th of September we drove back in to Georgia. We wanted to stay a few more days in Georgia instead of driving straight through to Turkey. Turkey has a 90 days in, 90 days out policy and on the 3rd of October we would be 90 days out. We decided to visit Borjomi again in the meanwhile as it was a nice town. This visit would lead to an unexpected trip to Tbilisi in order to rescue a kitten and its foster mother-dog. You’ll be able to read more about this in our October blog.