Eighty kilometres south of Tbilisi we cross the border into Armenia. The entry is done within an hour without any problems. We have to pay an obligatory environmental tax of about 20 Euro and then in a shop shortly after the border we have to take out an obligatory insurance for the car which also costs 20 Euro for 30 days. Right next door there is then still Internet and we take 10GB for 10 euros. Then we can start.
Armenia is an ancient cultural country and is regarded as the first Christian state in history with the elevation of Christianity to the state religion in the year 301. 1915 in the Ottoman Empire more than 1.5 million Armenians were victims of a systematically operated genocide. The political relations to the neighbours Turkey and Azerbaijan are burdened by it and the borders are closed. Armenia is still trying to gain international recognition for this genocide. I can recommend the book "The fourty days of Musa Dagh from Franz Werfel" to anyone who wants to know more about this.
At the first fork after the border is a prohibition sign for trucks over 8to, nevertheless, it is the distance to the monastery Haghpat which we absolutely want to look at ourselves. As so often we ignore this for the time being, but only two minutes later the police stops us, by the way for the first time on this journey. In my best Armenian I try to make it clear to him that we are a motorhome and not a truck. After a long discussion with hands and feet I can convince him that we are lighter than 8to and we are allowed to continue. We pass desolate villages with prefabricated buildings and many dilapidated factories from the Soviet era. The road is littered with potholes and can hardly be described as such. If we can drive 50km/h we are already happy and so we arrive in the late afternoon at the monastery. Once again it is picturesquely high up on the mountain and judging by the many big coaches it is also a tourist attraction. Haghpat was founded in the 10th century and is probably the most beautiful monastery in Armenia and since 1996 also UNESCO world cultural heritage. Not far away is a beautiful camping site with a great view into the valley where we enjoy the sun for a few days and do some service work on the vehicle.
After two days of rest we drive to the Sewan Lake in beautiful summer weather. It lies at 1900m, is twice as big as Lake Constance and is one of the largest high mountain lakes in the world. On a small peninsula, the monastery Sewanawank, founded in 874, is picturesquely situated at the top of the mountain and a few kilometres further you'll find the monastery Hayravank at the lake shore. Down at the lake there are nice restaurants where we try Armenian cuisine for the first time. We follow the road south along the lake and find a nice place near the shore for Momo and our hammocks. But as soon as we are comfortably furnished the weather changes and the temperature drops within half an hour from 24 degrees to 10 degrees. So fast that we hardly have time to put on the warm jackets. So we had to give up the idea of swimming.
The next morning it is only 5 degrees with gloomy views. So we pack up and drive to the capital of the country, Yerivan. The city is 2800 years old and even older than Rome. We find a nice parking place above the city directly at the monument of the "Mother of Armenia" which was probably a Stalin monument in former times before it was pushed from the pedestal in 1962 and had to give way to the mother. With the collective taxi we are from there in few minutes in the city centre. A trip with these marschrutkas is an adventure of the special kind. The minibuses are held together partly only by the putty and fully occupied there is not. One still goes in. If then the driver makes the mountain down the gear out to save fuel one can only hope that at least the brakes work. We start our tour at the Platz der Republik, probably one of the most beautiful squares of the former Soviet Union. Not to be overlooked on the northeast side is the museum building with the national museum. The archaeological collection on the third floor is really outstanding and we are amazed to see exhibits made of bronze, stone, wood and other materials that are 2000 to 5000 years old. Among other things two wooden coffin carts from the second millennium before Christ and a shoe from 3500 before Christ which was found in a cave and is considered as the oldest shoe of the world. Unfortunately it is forbidden to take pictures in the museum. Therefore there are only pictures from outside.
We stroll through the pedestrian zone and see a very modern city that can compete with any Western European city. Our walk ends at the Yerevan Cascade, a monumental staircase with terraces connecting the city with the hills above. In front of it there is a beautiful park and many artists have exhibited their works here, including three sculptures by Botero, whose monumental figures we saw in Medellín a few years ago. At the foot of the stairs we happen to find a nice Mexican restaurant for a dinner where only the wine is Armenian. Meanwhile it has become dark and then the fountains at the Platz der Republik turn into dancing fountains with music, similar to the Bellagio in Las Vegas. With this our stroll through Yerivan ends. On the way back we renounce the pleasure of a Marschrutka and prefer to take a taxi.
The next morning we leave the city and head east into the Geghama Mountains. There are two destinations which, according to the travel guide, no visitor should miss. First of all the temple of Garni is on the road and we realize that nobody really misses this highlight. In the late morning we count at least 15 big coaches and in addition there are countless minibuses. We turn around and decide to try again early in the morning. We drive a few kilometers further to the monastery Geghard. There are also some coaches, but by far not such a hustle and bustle as at the temple. The monastery was founded in the fourth century. Today's monastery buildings date from the 13th century and nestle picturesquely in the rocky landscape. It rightly belongs to the category of the most beautiful monasteries in Armenia. Young singers often make music in a room of the monastery, which can be reached via a narrow dark corridor. The magnificent acoustics, caused by the vaulted architecture, are truly unique and moving.
Nearby there is a nice campsite with pool and internet. For us it's a good opportunity to do some laundry and have a holiday at the same time.
But then unfortunately the news of a bereavement reaches us in the close circle of friends and we fly home spontaneously. As so often in life, joy and sorrow lie close together, because a few days later we can greet our first grandchild and are now proud grandparents. In the middle of October we are again in Armenia and continue our journey.
On the campground, where we left MOMO behind, Olaf & Riecke are already waiting for us, to whom we bring a new parking heater. Achim & Andrea with their 1017 we have already met in Georgia are also there and so we spend two nice and humid barbecue evenings together before we go on.
Also the second attempt to look at the Garni temple fails because of the mass of coaches and we drive on without further ado. In Yerivan we have to extend our car insurance, because we have already exceeded the 30 days stay. Then we recharge 3GB Internet and treat MOMO to a complete wash. So we can look forward to the remaining days in Armenia relaxed.
At the foot of the 5165m high Ararat, where once Noah stranded with his ark, lies the monastery Chor Wirap, directly at the border to Turkey. The main church was built in the 17th century and is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Armenia. From the defence wall one has a great view to the Ararat, if the weather plays along, which unfortunately was not the case with us.
The next day we continue to Norawank Monastery, which was founded in the 9th century. Already the journey through the narrow Amaghu gorge is an experience and at the end the monastery lies at the foot of the red rocks. Also under the foreign rule of various conquerors the area was never destroyed. Only an earthquake in 1840 caused the domes to collapse and the monastery was abandoned. Restoration work began in the 20th century and today the buildings shine almost in their old splendour.
On the way south we make a stop at Soraz Karer, the Armenian Stonehenge. The stones are standing there in a row and have circular holes. How it originated and for what purpose, the scholars argue about it to this day. Some suspect a sky observatory over 7500 years old, but the holes are probably not suitable due to their size and settlement. Anyway, it's quite nice to look at and on the opposite side of the site an Armenian artist has set a stone circle a la Stonehenge and left some nice masonry behind.
Armenia also has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. After a construction period of only 10 months, the world's longest cableway with a continuous suspension rope was opened in 2010. It connects the village Halidsor with the monastery Tatev on a length of 5752m. 25 persons can be brought over the gorge with a maximum speed of 32km/h in 11-15 minutes, with the gondola hovering 321m above ground at its lowest point. The Tatev Monastery was founded in the 9th century and is picturesquely situated on a hilltop. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was once a spiritual centre and seat of a medieval university. In front of the gate of the monastery there is an old oil mill which is used as a museum. Before the construction of the cable car, the monastery was only accessible via an adventurous serpentine road.
Now it is enough with monasteries, even if we stand for the overnight directly in front of an abandoned monastery in the middle of the forest. In the next days we will enter Iran in the south of Armenia. Karin has to wear the headscarf not only in the monastery but all the time, because in Iran the headscarf is obligatory. She is really looking forward to it. We must have destroyed the alcohol by the time we enter the country. We are working on it. The next beer has to wait until Oman. We are in any case very curious what awaits us and will of course continue to report. Until then have fun reading and looking at pictures.