After only a week in Armenia it has so far left a far different impression than Georgia, which as previously stated hasn’t lived up to expectations (yet!). The people and landscape, while having many similarities, are very different in so many other ways. I quite like the capital Yerevan, which is notthing like as bad as some sources would have you believe, as from our point of view it’s simply a progressive city with some lovely public spaces, lots of artworks, and friendly locals and is no more contradictory, dirty or noisy than any other city that we have visited, especially those imbued with centuries of culture and history. Sure Armenia is not a wealthy country by any stretch of the imagination, the tourism infrastructure is not as well developed as in Georgia (which just adds to its appeal as far as I’m concerned) and roads are not generally as good (though no worse than much of South America that we have travelled through), but creativity seems to be valued and the mood feels upbeat and not repressed at all considering what the Armenian people have endured.

Another thing that we noticed that is “similar but different” is the food, with many regional specialties that are a variation on the same as found in Georgia, but with a general leaning more towards a Turkish style of food. They seem pretty big on sweets too, especially made using the abundance of local fruits that are dried and turned into some distinctive and delicious creations.

Sunny’s favourite shop!

Iranian chocolate

After deciding to hire a car with a driver-guide (albeit with limited English - but fear not, Google translate is here to help) for not much more than just hiring a car (with none of the potential hassles), we have done a couple of day trips outside of the capital to various churches, monasteries, fortresses and the like, through some inspiring landscapes, always with the presence of Mt Ararat, which is situated just across the border in Turkey, looming in one direction or another, and often the highest peak in the country, Mt Aragats, also featuring prominently.

I must say that the churches here are very different to those in many other Christian countries, simpler and less ornate but actually more beautiful to me because of it. They all feature carved stone crosses called khachkars which can be simple or highly intricate and there are many subtle variations in the designs of the churches themselves, nearly all constructed from the local stone called tuff which comes in a divine assortment of colours ranging from almost white to earthy pastels of pinks, reds, oranges and browns in endless shades, to almost black. Construction often uses two different colours in checks, stripes or other patterns to great effect and the churches are usually perched in some spectacular and precipitous location on the edge of a gorge or halfway up a mountain. We visited Saghmosavank, Hovhannavank, Amberd fortress and Tegher the first day, which were all impressive in their own ways and provided a good introduction to the the more rural side of Armenia, after having only glimpsed it through a window on the journey from Tbilisi.

Of particular note the next day was the UNESCO World Heritage listed monastery of Geghard that is partly carved from the cliff within which it nestles. In one of the more original, older parts, carved from the living rock, our driver-guide Karen (pronounced Garén) went straight to a specific place within and proceeded to sing in a melifluous baritone, which was only made all the more beautiful by the resonance that is created on that exact spot due to the precise shape of the chamber. What a treat!

We were then also “blessed” in witnessing a priest walking around swinging the censor containing frankincense to purify the main church. If we hadn’t arrived just before opening time and been the only people we saw there for the first half an hour or so, we wouldn’t have experienced it the same way, as not long after the tourist buses were rolling in.

We are now having a few days break before another longer and extensive trip to more remote eastern parts which I will duly report on when we are back.

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