In February, I heard that Wizz Air launched direct flights from Sofia to Yerevan. I’ve been coming across and enjoying reading Armenian authors for years, so I thought it would be cool to go to the place that inspired their stories. The first round-trip flight I saw cost 200 BGN instead of the usual 400-600. I bought it.
Things worked out so that I came home from Georgia 2 days before traveling to Armenia, but whatever – I hadn’t flown for a long time, and I was catching up. I left early in the morning, and at the airport in Yerevan, I was surprised by the Armenian who liked me in Georgia, who came to pick me up in a car. I didn’t know how to react, especially considering how happy he seemed to see me. He told me as much as he could about Yerevan on the way to the center, we found the hostel and went out for him to show me the center. We saw the Cascade and sat nearby for lunch, where we were joined by another boy from the project in Georgia and his friend. A woman selling violets passed by, and the other boy bought me a bouquet – they smelled wonderful. They left before I finished my lunch, and I and my suitor climbed to the top of the Cascade and entered Victory Park. We also visited the “Mother Armenia” monument museum, which houses an exhibition and commemoration of the military conflict with Azerbaijan in Artsakh. After we looked around, it started to drizzle, so we headed back and this time we went into the Cafesjian Arts Center on both sides of the Cascade. I really liked the sculptures and the art on display and the fact that there were escalators was a nice bonus.
In my hostel room, I struck up a conversation with a French girl who had come to Armenia to practice her Russian. I asked her about her plans for the next day, and she said she was going to some temple near Yerevan – we agreed to go together. In the evening I went out to see a friend whom I met almost 2 years ago in Croatia. I ate a very delicious mountain sorrel aveluk soup, and we drank a sumptuous wine from her hometown of Areni, famous for its wine.
I thought we were going to Khor Virap, a famous monastery, but we misunderstood each other and instead went to the temple in Garni. In the morning we went through the supermarket to buy something to eat and got lost trying to find the station from where the bus to Garni leaves. We changed several buses and minibuses, in which I experienced a tiny culture shock. When a person entered the minibus, they did not immediately pay for a ticket. There were no tickets! Everyone paid according to how many stops they rode when they got off. Next to the driver sat a passenger who acted as a conductor until his stop came. Coins were passed back and forth and each trusted the other to be honest and fair. If you paid, then everything was fine – you do not need a ticket, the driver knows that you have paid and that’s it! I was very surprised.
In Garni, we went to the temple, which was built in honor of the sun god Mithras (Myrh) in the first century, and later, when Armenia converted to Christianity, it was turned into a summer residence for a member of the royal family (at that time, Armenia was a client-kingdom of the Roman Empire). On the way, a rather elderly taxi driver in his white Moskvich, which was certainly older than me, spoke to us and offered us a good price for the Geghard Monastery. We walked in the garden of the temple, admiring the remains of the ornate Roman bath with three basins, the view, and two tunes played on Armenian duduk by a man in traditional dress. The melodies fit indescribably well with the setting.
On the way back from the temple, we got into the taxi and headed towards Geghard – the driver’s hands were shaking on the steering wheel, we had no seat belts in the back, and we were driving through dizzying turns with superb views. We joked about how we got there and that at least the taxi driver couldn’t see well enough to notice the worry on our faces. When we arrived he offered a new, again good, price to wait for us for 1 hour and bring us back. We accepted, but he refused for us to pay the first part of the fare. He said “everything at once” and we left for the monastery. What a trusting man! Like in Bulgaria, on the way to the holy place, tables were arranged with honey, gata sweets, dried fruits, and there was even a duet of folk musicians with duduk and a stringed instrument resembling a gadulka. I really liked Armenian music in general – both folk and pop. On the way back, I took a huge half gata (a round pastry filled with a thick jam, mostly apple) and ate it with gusto until the next morning. 😀
My friend and I found some rocks to climb and it turned out that monks and scholars used to live in the caves and rock niches around. I had a bad fall there and bruised my knee. The monastery complex itself was very beautiful, built in the 13th century around a cave with a holy spring. By the spring, I also heard several women talking to each other in Bulgarian, so I started talking to them. In the innermost dark hall of the main temple, I was struck by how beautifully the light falls precisely on one cross and on nothing else. The next day I found out that this was done on purpose in all Christian churches and monasteries in Armenia because this is how the continuity from the pagan belief in the Sun God to the Christian God is shown.
On the way to Yerevan, we admired the abundant views of Mount Ararat!
On the evening of the 4th, my knee swelled up and I decided that I would rest the next day, so that I could walk the rest of the days. I did, only going out for a “short” two-hour walk, in which I discovered the university district of Yerevan – I passed by at least 6 different buildings for the different faculties and two university hospital complexes. It was interesting that the boys went around in large groups of 5-10 or more people, and they were very similar to each other. The girls went alone or at most with another girl. There were also smaller mixed groups here and there. The rest of the day I worked at the hostel.
Before I arrived in Armenia I had liked and booked a full-day tour through GetYourGuide to Dilijan and Lake Sevan on the 6th. I went almost an hour early because I really wanted to walk, and after checking in for the tour, I explored some more and sat on the bus reading “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt. I wondered who would be sitting next to me, but I trusted the feeling that whoever it was, it would be the right person. So, right before we left, Nia walked in – an American, traveling by intuition. We spent most of the day sweet-talking about spirituality, intuition, personal experiences, and preferences. I persuaded her to come visit me in Bulgaria, which she did towards the end of May. My parents liked her, and my brother practiced his English with her. I’m grateful we meet <3
The tour itself was much more saturated than we both expected: we thought we would only go to Lake Sevan and to Dilijan, but it turned out that we would go to a church on a hill by the lake and to two more monastery complexes. The lake met the expectations of great beauty and crystal clear waters. I learned a lot about the history of Armenia and how strongly faith is intertwined with it. Both Goshavank and Hagartsin were lovely monastery complexes – full of powerful energy and a long, rich history. And next to Hagartsin there was also a bakery with unusual gata sweets. I got one with Armenian cheese and tarragon and one with blueberry and lemon… I need to start collecting the recipes for the dishes and desserts that steal my heart, I will totally lose it otherwise!
During the day, I also talked with more people from the tour – about architecture, literature and what it is like to be a writer, about volunteering in the Armenian Volunteer Corps (another fulfilled request to the Universe from a few years ago, when I felt like joining this corps in Armenia). I tried to organize a group visit to the national gallery the next day, but it didn’t work out.
In the morning I took a walk and found a cool fountain next to the National Opera where I sat and enjoyed the warm weather. There was free internet, and when I couldn’t connect to it, a guy offered me his mobile internet. It struck me that in Yerevan it was very natural that if you sat alone on a bench, someone would sit next to you. No talking, just sitting, and this boy sat on my bench. Armenians seemed to me very open and natural, even if they carry a lot of pain inside.
At some point, I remembered that I needed to print my plane ticket and went looking for a place to do it. I happened upon a photo studio where they printed my ticket and I liked a notebook set with a book divider and a pen. I went back to the fountain and wrote until I was tired. Then I went to see Matenadaran – a large research institute converted into a repository for old and valuable manuscripts and papers as well as a museum. I didn’t go inside because it was their day off, but I found out about it the day before. I have a reason to come back.
At noon, with an American we met on the tour and talked about writing, I visited the gallery. We spent about 3 hours there, absorbed in contemplation and intriguing conversations. And the main exposition was not open for visits because it was being renovated! There was a wide variety of exhibitions, from nudity in Armenian art to an Iranian partially illustrated fairy tale and Christian art in Armenia to surrealism. We walked around a bit more, and I went to rest at the hostel before my late flight back.
It’s been a long time since I went on a trip just like that. I had planned to go to Istanbul in January with company that canceled, and it spoiled my pleasure enough to go in the morning and come home that evening. On the other hand, I felt how timely and accurate this trip to the oldest fully Christian country was for me. I didn’t take mobile data there either because I challenged myself to not rely on my phone so much. I think it did me good, and maybe I’ll even do it more often: that way I was much more open to the possibilities of the place.