Our Second Day in Armenia Begins
Unfortunately we just didn’t have a lot of time on this trip, and we wanted to head back towards Tbilisi, but we were hoping to see a few things along the way. We considered making reservations for a place in Lake Sevan, because everyone had told us it is so beautiful, but we talked ourselves out of it. According to one website I read there is an Armenian saying that goes something like, “Have you taken your guests to Geghard? To Garni? To Sevan? If so, then you have done your job well, and they have seen it all.” I kind of wish I hadn’t read this, because I followed it too closely. I figured if that is what the Armenians thought was important, then that is definitely what we should do.
The two places we were headed first was the Geghard Monastery and the Temple of Garni, and luckily they are down the same road. On the way we tried to decide which to do first–the furthest or the closest. We chose the furthest, and Geghard was as far as you can drive. It’s situated right at the end of the road, and the whole complex overlooks the opening of the Azat Valley. In early spring and with a light mist falling, it looks like a pastel colored pencil drawing.
The monastery of Geghard began to emerge right out of the living rock in the 4th century soon after Armenia declared Christianity its religion. Caves were cut out of the rock, but as its importance grew, so did the need for larger spaces and the current cathedral was begun in 1215.
As you enter the grounds, it is natural to first go directly to the cathedral which is decorated with intricate carvings on the outside and blue frescoes on the inside. However, the best part for me was climbing around outside. There were steps up to a second level that held a few caves cut roughly into the stone. On the walls of the main corridor were some khachkars, Armenian crosses, carved along the length, each one uniquely designed. The light was dim, but there was one candle burning which lent a beautiful glow to the rock and accentuated the chiseling in the cross’ design.
Once through the passageway, the space opened up into a small chapel with very few decorations. A couple of small high windows let in a little light, but it gave an air of mystery. Five women stood on one side, dressed in pale yellow tunics decorated with pomegranates. They began to sing and the harmony was mesmerizing. Jim was down in the main cathedral and said that the sound was amazing down there as well. It echoed off the walls, each note highlighted. It was really beautiful. Check out or video by visiting this page!
We continued to wander, checking out the river and mountain views, the multi-colored beehives on the hill, the steps to yet another rock chapel, and the many, many beautiful khachkars scattered around the property, some even carved right into the rock and exposed to the elements.
Reluctantly, we climbed down and exited the gate walking down the hill to the parking lot and through the gauntlet of village ladies plying their handmade wares. I had nodded to a couple before we headed up, so I knew they would be waiting for me. You probably know that I’m not a shopper, but I had seen a few food items I’d wanted to try and now was my chance. The ladies were so fun and happy knowing they were making a sale.
From the first lady, I bought some dried fruit sheets called lavashak. We bought pomegranate, sour cherry, and apricot. Apricot was our favorite. I also had to buy some sujukh, which really means sausage because it looks like one even though it is a sweet wine must made into a paste and spread over the string of walnuts.
Moving on to the next vendor, I had to buy some gata. I had read about this delectable cake before our trip and felt really lucky to have found it being sold by a local instead of in a shop. Not only was it supposed to be a tasty treat, but the decoration on top was stunning as well. Wisely the vendor gave us each a taste. The yellow sponge was split in the middle and stuffed with a honey and butter jelly. It was delicious. The problem was these gatas are huge! She let us buy only a quarter of one, and we couldn’t even finish that much.
Do you know how you leave a site and you just have that feeling of warmth and goodness? We thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the various caves and chapels at Geghard, but we were slightly on a time crunch and ready to move onto the Temple of Garni. Now, remember Garni is always mentioned with Geghard as something every visitor should see. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I agree.
The Temple of Garni is a reconstructed Greco-Roman colonnaded temple. It sits majestically on an outcropping of sheer cliff high atop the valley floor below. If not for the dark color of the stones, I could have sworn I was in Greece! The temple grounds are small and well taken care of with an apple orchard and a flower and vegetable garden and, of course, the requisite bee hives. I was glad we had gone on past to visit Geghard first as Garni was already a little crowded and most of these tourists would be heading there next. As it was, we were able to wait a little and then we had the temple to ourselves for a little while until the next tour bus pulled in. We stayed for a time really just enjoying the spring air, because the sun had come out and it was a peaceful spot even with the many tourists that made it that far down the road. However, we were trying to get to Lake Sevan, the third place that Armenians are so proud of that they want all their visitors to go to, so we didn’t dally.
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning in the Azat Valley and as we drove up the road, we munched on more of our sweet treats. We were hoping to get to Lake Sevan and find lunch. There is really quite a bit to do and see in this small country, plenty of reasons Why to Travel to Armenia. Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Road Trip – Armenia. (Oh, and if you missed Part 1, you can always go back and read that one, too.)
What do you think of our Armenian experiences so far? Are you putting it on your list yet?