Somkheti

On a whim, Sean and I decided to take a quick trip to Armenia (called Somkheti or სომხეთი in Georgian).  We’ve lamented not visiting before; after all, Yerevan is just 5-6 hours from Tbilisi, depending on your mode of transportation.  Last week we were faced with a couple of free days in our schedule and, knowing it was likely our last chance for some time, decided to leave the next morning.

What a good decision!  We let ourselves be tourists and saw as much as possible during our 48 hour trip in and around Yerevan.  Photos from our short time in Armenia below:

 

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Republic Square in Yerevan.  We found the city to be surprisingly European and modern, but to us it lacked some of the charm we were used to finding in Tbilisi.  (We admit to being biased.)

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Ignorantly, we assumed Armenians were mostly Orthodox (like Georgians). I was surprised to enter this church – the largest we saw in Yerevan – and find it wasn’t Orthodox.  It felt Catholic, but we learned the next day it’s actually Armenian Apostolic, an unique type of Christianity of which Armenians are very proud.

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Originally we thought these Soviet-era steps were only for Yerevan views, but we happily discovered sculptures and a small indoor art museum on our way to the top.

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We had plenty of “moody clouds” during our time in Armenia.  On clear days, one can see Mt. Ararat (16,854 feet), a holy and special place for Armenians – and where Noah’s Ark landed!  It has been a part of Turkey since 1915.

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We went on a day-long tour that took us to Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus.  At 6,200 feet above sea level, it was cold – it started hailing right after this picture – but beautiful.

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Our tour guide joked that God gave Georgians the forests, rivers and Black Sea, and all the Armenians got were mountains and rocks.  In our experience, Georgians and Armenians tend to be competitive and we traded jokes with our guide all day.  (For the record, we found Armenia to be stunningly beautiful.)

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We visited a medieval cemetery filled with these unique Armenian “cross stones,” some from as early as the 10th century. 

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This first century pagan temple (!!) was rebuilt by the Soviets in the 1970’s.  When the area became Christian, the temple was allowed to remain standing as long as a church was built next to it.  They built it – three centimeters away!

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My favorite stop on the tour was Geghard, a monastery built in 1215 that hasn’t been remodeled since.  Pictured is a chamber that has amazing acoustics; we heard many pilgrims taking advantage of this while exploring the complex.
Of course, seeking out good food was on our itinerary. Armenians are quite proud of their version of dolma – meat and spices wrapped in cabbage leaves.

Shaurma was also everywhere, and recommended by just about everyone we talked to. Although it isn’t uniquely Armenian, it is still tasty, filling — and cheap!

We even ran across Georgian food — especially khinkali.

It was interesting for us, with our knowledge of Georgia, to compare and contrast its very close neighbor.  Admittedly, we prefer Georgia – we are biased! – but we saw some extraordinary sights and were happy we finally visited, after six years of exploring here.