Havuts Tar Monastery

Victoria and I decided to make our own excursion and visit Havuts Tar Monastery. It’s in ruins, but I read that the view is great and it’s a short hike from Garni. We wanted to hike somewhere close to Yerevan, and this was on my list, so we decided to give it a try.

Azat River!

I wasn’t so sure about the logistics of hiking there because it’s located inside of Khosrov Forest State Reserve. It’s one of the oldest protected areas in the world, supposedly established by King Khosrov in the 330s. I think he just wanted something to name after himself. It was reestablished in its current form in 1958. There are four different landscapes within the park, ranging from desert to alpine meadow, and a ton of different plant and animal species. There are 41 mammal species!

You can see a little speck on top of the mountain in the background, right side… that’s Amenaprkich Church

If you follow the Khosrov website, visiting the park seems like a huge pain. It says that you have to hire a guide and get a permit if you want to hike in the park, and it’s a bit expensive. In all of the reviews I read, no one said anything about a guide. We figured we would go, try to visit, and be prepared for a last-minute change of plans if we weren’t allowed into the park.

The path

We took a marshrutka to Garni and walked from there. After some near wrong turns and helpful directions from locals, we found what looked like the trail and started hiking. Thank goodness for GPS because otherwise, who knows where we would have ended up? It seemed for a while like we weren’t going to encounter anyone… until we turned a corner and saw a huge gate with a Khosrov seal on it. Okay, showtime. Worst case, we’d get turned away and have to find something else to do. No big deal.

There was a park ranger sitting at the gate, and we said hello and told him that we wanted to see Havuts Tar. (We had practiced saying this on the walk so that we would sound like we knew what we were talking about.) He didn’t seem thrown off by our presence or our request and asked where we were from. We said Yerevan, and he told us that it’s 1000 dram to hike there if you’re from Yerevan and 2000 dram if you’re a foreigner, so lucky for us that we’re not foreigners because we get a better price. Pretty sure he winked at us when he said that.

We went into the little visitor’s center to pay, and they had a sign with pricing for all of the different sites within the park. To me, that seems to mean you don’t need a guide… Oh, who knows. Maybe it’s like some local secret that you can just walk in and they try to trick the internet users into getting a guide. I was surprised by how nice the visitor’s center was. They had posters about the different sites in the park, information about environmental preservation, a creepily impressive beetle collection, and best of all, a bathroom.

The path

Victoria and I paid our 1000 dram each and headed up the trail to the monastery. The hike wasn’t bad at all. There were some steep parts, but we were following a dirt car road, making it impossible to get lost. There were even a few shade trees along the way! That’s a rare sight on a hike here.

Getting closer…

Havuts Tar Monastic Complex was built between the 12th and 14th centuries, so in Armenia time, it’s new! There was an earthquake in 1679 that destroyed much of the complex, and after that, it was basically abandoned. There’s another church there as well, Amenaprkich Church, which was originally built in the 10th century.

View of the monastery complex from the hiking trail

The ruins were a pleasant surprise. Everything I read basically said that the monastery is unimpressive, but the view makes the trip worth it. I completely disagree with the first statement. It was beautiful!! The ruins were way more extensive than I expected. There were fortified walls, hidden underground rooms, and some of the best stone carvings I’ve seen in Armenia. As we wandered around, Victoria and I couldn’t help but express our disbelief at the fact that anyone would say that the monastery was anything less than awesome.

One of the church ruins with nice lettering carvings inside

Me on a relatively stable wall…

Looking out at the ruins from the wall

I love these khatchkars!

I’m sure this isn’t going to fall anytime soon… but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t sprint under it just in case

That view!

Entrance to one of the monastery complex churches

Some of the carvings were the most intricate I’ve seen

Everything is decorated!

This looks like an alien on a space horse capturing another alien, but that alien is smiling because he knows that there are twenty of his alien soldier friends on their way to save him.

This room is underground… they think it used to be the monastery’s library

The view certainly wasn’t anything to complain about either. It overlooks the Azat River Valley, the same one that runs behind Garni Temple, and the whole thing is pretty spectacular. From Amenaprkich, you can see Garni Temple too! We found a shady spot to eat our snacks (some bread, cheese, and cookies, courtesy of Victoria), chatted, and enjoyed the scenery.

Amenaprkich Church

View from Amenaprkich Church

Me and Victoria!

It’s always nice when a day turns out even better than you expect. I was worried that we wouldn’t even be able to enter the park and I would have dragged Victoria out there for no reason. Far from that, we had a great time! Havuts Tar is pretty close to the top of my list of favorite places to visit in Armenia, along with Dilijan, Levon’s Divine Underground, and Smbataberd. I think my list of favorite places is slightly more obscure than most people’s…

❤️❤️❤️

Advertisements

Happy Birthday, Yerevan!!

What’s the oldest city in the world? What’s the first thing that pops into your head? If you said Rome, today is your lucky day because you’re about to learn something new! Yerevan is 29 YEARS older than Rome. Take that, Rome! Ha!

Serious decorating…

Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, right next to Babylon. It got its start in 782 BC when King Argishti I founded the fortress of Erebuni. I guess you could say that the rest is history… 2799 years of history, to be precise. Today, unfortunately, most of the historic buildings have been replaced with newer models. In 1924, the architect/urban planner Alexander Tamanian (the same guy who designed the opera house) made a new master plan for the city center, and a lot of the historic streets and structures were destroyed to accommodate his plans. You can still visit the remains of Erebuni fortress, though, about 7 km southeast of the center.

There was also a chalk party for kids earlier in the day where they shut down the street and kids got to chalk it up

Yerevan’s birthday is celebrated every year (since 1968) on the second Saturday in October. Believe me when I say that this birthday party is like nothing you’ve EVER seen before. Word of the day: ridiculous. I’m going to try not to overuse it in my descriptions of the happenings, but I can’t make any promises because well, it was ridiculous.

There was an extensive schedule of events for the day, and I didn’t make it to even half of them. How could I? You would have to be in 100 places at once. The exciting festivities started with a street cleaning and the washing of Yerevan monuments… don’t want to miss that! Those were the only events that started before noon because this is Armenia and “morning” here means like 12-3PM.

I decided to make a loop around the different areas where things were happening. My timing is apparently impeccable because I made it to Republic Square right at the end of the “Opening of the International Balloon Festival” which means that I was there just in time to see the hot air balloons take off. Oh yes, hot air balloons. Twelve of them. Did you think that “balloon festival” means those dinky latex balloons? This isn’t MY birthday party we’re talking about. This is YEREVAN!

One small example of the balloon arch craziness… now just picture this literally everywhere

On the topic of balloons though, it looked like a balloon festival threw up all over the city. You couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a balloon arch or balloon column… or 100 of them. Tons of businesses had balloon arches surrounding their doorways, colors perfectly coordinated to the business’s colors or defaulted to Armenian flag colors. I don’t even know how they managed to accumulate that many balloons. Trust me, I am NOT being dramatic. I’ve seriously never seen anything like it. Balloon factories around the globe probably worked overtime for months to fill the city’s order. Okay, maybe slightly dramatic, but we’ll say 5% drama and 95% completely warranted commentary.

Anyway, the hot air balloons. It was like something straight out of a movie. The twelve of them took off one after another and floated around the square. It was awesome. Don’t think that when I say “ridiculous” I mean it wasn’t awesome because it definitely was that. It was also just completely over the top.

All lined up and ready to launch

Airborne!

Doesn’t this look like something straight out of a movie?

The streets were PACKED

Prepping for their festive ride

I took a stroll down to City Hall and was there just in time to see the “Festive cycling” participants (aka people on bikes, carrying Yerevan flags and wearing matching t-shirts) depart. So incredibly random. From there, I headed back towards the center and the opera house. One of the best things about the day was that most of the streets in the event areas were closed. How fun is it to be able to walk fearlessly in the middle of a usually busy street? (The correct answer, by the way, is VERY fun.)

There were also approximately one million stages with ongoing performances all across town. There were stages in Republic Square, the park near Republic Square, the opera house, two of the parks near the opera house, two on Northern Avenue, and at Cascade. And I’m probably missing some, honestly.

The taglines of the day: “feel Yerevan” “love Yerevan” “see Yerevan” and “hear Yerevan”

Flags over the street.. leave no corner undecorated

Northern Avenue

Me, Liz, and Gagik

I spent the day marveling at the fact that we literally searched the entire city on Independence Day, trying to find something going on and failing miserably. Now I understand why because with plans in the works for Yerevan Day, how could the city afford to do anything? Better question, how could the city afford Yerevan Day? I would bet that’s a sensitive topic… there are so many things here that could benefit from even a tiny fraction of the probably millions of dollars it took to pull everything off.

This makes Armenia sound like a country with confused priorities, and I won’t argue with that. Before you start judging though, think about the fact that it happens everywhere. I’d bet there are zero countries that aren’t guilty of doing the exact same thing. I’m not saying it should be excused because everyone does it or that I didn’t think the day was a ton of fun… It’s just something to think about.

Cascade during the concert!

At night, there were simultaneous concerts at a few of the stages. I went to the one at Cascade because it seemed like the biggest deal. I had heard about previous concerts there and wanted to see it in action. They put up a stage facing Cascade, and people stand on the stairs like they’re bleachers! It’s brilliant. I somehow ended up right in the front, maybe because I was by myself and it’s much easier to wiggle your way through a crowd when you’re solo. The concert was an orchestra with a revolving cast of singers. Each singer came on for one song, and sometimes it was just instrumental so they brought out dancers. I enjoyed the music, and it was also cool that the crowd was a huge mix of ages, from babies to grandparents. It’s always fun to be a part of something that brings together a diverse group of people.

In conclusion, Yerevan Day was ridiculous. Everything was done to the extreme. I think my jaw was dropped for 80% of the day. People looked like they were having a great time. I had a great time. I feel like I can confidently say that I will never experience a day like that again. I just have one question left… if that was how 2799 was celebrated, what on earth is 2800 going to look like?

The opera house

Insanity

During one of the instrumental pieces

Fireworks!

Look at how close I made it to the stage!

Can you find me? Also, how sad looking is that heart?

Night at the ballet

I have a new obsession. My friend Victoria asked me if I wanted to go to the ballet with her last week, and I figured why not? You can get tickets for super cheap, and even though we got there only 15 minutes before the show started, we got decent seats in the 4000 dram section (about $8).

Awkward wedding cake. Maybe it’s just me who thinks that, but architecture is art which means we’re allowed to have different opinions.

The opera house isn’t one of my favorite buildings from the outside. People would probably disagree with me, but I think it’s blocky and kind of looks like a weird wedding cake. The inside was a pleasant surprise. While the outside looks bulky and heavy, the inside is a little more graceful and light. I think I also just have a problem with the exterior because of the lighting. I don’t think that I was as bothered before I saw it at night, but just like so much of the exterior lighting here, it’s almost painful to look at. Again, maybe that’s a me problem… but I really am not a fan. I wish I had a picture but am pretty sure I’ve avoided photographing it because I don’t want to have to look at it. I promise I’ll take one next time I’m there so you can either agree with me or decide that I’m a hard-to-please grump.

Inside the opera/ballet theatre.

Anyway, the building opened in 1933 and was designed by the Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian. That’s the same guy who created the master plan for the center of Yerevan as it is today. He did the master planning for a bunch of other Armenian cities too, including Gyumri and Stepanakert. The layout and buildings of Republic Square in Yerevan are his as well. I have some mixed feelings about his work, but I’ll keep those to myself for now. I’ve bored you enough for now with my opinions.

Me and Victoria with the ballet poster

Back to the ballet… Wow, I got very sidetracked… Okay, so Victoria and I decided to go without having any clue what it was about. It was called “Masquerade”, and that brings up pictures of fun parties and princes and such in my head. Safe bet, right? Wellllll… maybe not. Yes, it does include a very fun looking masquerade ball and a prince, but it’s no happy Cinderella story. Let me give you a plot summary (which is a fun mash-up of the summary in the program, one that we read online, and my own interjections).

Once upon a time, there was a man who was happily married to the love of his life. The man meets the prince who invites him to a masquerade ball. His wife is also there, but he doesn’t know that. Everyone is wearing masks that only cover the area right around their eyes, so obviously it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell who anyone is.

Quite ridiculous chandeliers, no? The ceiling looks like it’s covered in cake icing designs.

The woman loses her bracelet, and it is found by a baroness. The baroness has eyes for the prince, so what does she do with the bracelet that isn’t hers and she just found laying on the ground? She gives it to him, of course! And since she’s wearing such a confusing mask, he has no idea who she is.

The side balconies.

Meanwhile, there’s a very mysterious character who the program calls “The Unknown”. Victoria and I couldn’t decide if he was an actual person or just a personification of jealousy/anger/supernatural forces trying to prevent the happiness of the characters. He’s always lurking in the shadows, and it looked like he was the reason why the woman’s bracelet fell off. Oh, who knows.

The prince is all excited about his new women’s jewelry, so he shows it to the man. The man thinks it looks familiar but doesn’t realize it’s his wife’s until later that night when he sees that her bracelet is missing. He questions her, but obviously she doesn’t know where it is because that’s what it means to lose something.

The woman goes looking for her bracelet. The prince hears and thinks that she’s the one who gave it to him, and the baroness is afraid to tell him that it was actually her. The Unknown starts spreading gossip about the woman and the prince, and the man hears. He is furious and decides to do what anyone would do in this situation: publicly shame the prince and kill his wife. Duh because what other options did he have??

More crazy chandeliers and the frilliest curtains to ever exist.

He shames the prince by making it look like he cheated at a card game (supposedly… all we saw was the two of them dancing and then the prince tearing off his jacket and rolling on the floor in distress) and goes home to poison his wife’s ice cream. What a way to add insult to injury, right? Did it have to be the ice cream? After he poisons her and she’s dying, he tells her what he did and why. Her claims of innocence are ignored, and she dies.

The next day, the baroness and the prince come to clear up the confusion. The man is horrified when he realizes that he killed his innocent and beloved (though not beloved enough for him to believe that she wasn’t lying to him) wife and rolls around on the ground in distress (that’s apparently what you’re supposed to do when you’re upset. I’ll have to give it a try sometime). The End.

If you’re thinking, “huh?” then you’re on the right track. Maybe I’m not an artsy or cultured enough human to fully appreciate the storyline, but my response was something along the lines of, “DUDE, CHILL OUT.”

So much frillage

That aside, I enjoyed the show. The music was beautiful. It was all composed by Aram Khachaturian who is the pride and joy of Armenia even though he was born in Georgia but SHHHH! He composed the music for a bunch of ballets (and other things), and one of his songs from the ballet “Gayane” (Sabre Dance) is so mainstream that you’ve probably heard it before.

The orchestra did a fabulous job, and the sets and costumes were nicely done too. There were a few parts where they used this big projector screen that I thought took away from the performance and wasn’t necessary, but otherwise it was good. The dancing wasn’t like the ultimate best ballet I’ve ever seen (I’m saying that like I’m some ballet expert, which I’m not, but I do know a few things), but I still enjoyed it. Honestly, I would have gone just for the music, so everything else was just a bonus.

In conclusion, the music was great, the building was sparkly, the dancing was fine, and I’m going to buy as many $8 ballet tickets as possible before I leave.

The hallway on level 3 where our seats were (still definitely not a bad view!)

We obviously spent a little time frolicking around the building like ballerinas because that’s what you do after you go to see a ballet. Luckily, people cleared out pretty quickly, so we had some privacy.

Pop-up art exhibition

There was this temporary art exhibition thing going on for a couple of weeks, and I checked it out with my friend Arin. It’s organized by HAYP Pop Up, and they set up a few exhibitions each year. They usually are held at places that are a bit off the beaten path, and this one was at the Byurakan Observatory. Artists from Armenia and abroad are invited to participate and a different theme is selected for each one.

Grounded UFO with knives in it, apparently thrown by human defenses

This time, the theme was aliens. Well, not exactly. I think that the artists had to imagine what it would be like to make contact with extraterrestrials. Or something. I don’t know. (HERE‘s the webpage about it.) I love art, but modern art frequently baffles me, so combining modern art with a spacey (literally) topic like aliens can only possible result in complete stupefaction.

The telescope

There was one exhibit in a different location, so we went there first. It’s apparently a radio-optic telescope but just looked like some weird pendulum thing in the middle of a giant bowl. The exhibit was a sound exhibit where the artist put three speakers around the rim of the bowl and three microphones inside of it. I think he did some mixing of the sounds, but the speakers partly played what the microphones were picking up, resulting in some weird echoey feedback sounds. The speakers were playing what the microphones were picking up, and the microphones were picking up what the speakers were playing. Weird, right? And if you made a sound loud enough, you could make it into the playback too. I don’t know. There was some deep meaning or something to it, but mostly it was just eerie.

The best part of it was the view. It was next to a gorge, and there was another weird, abandoned thing in the distance that Arin and I decided to check out. Things that I often think in Armenia: “I wonder if we’re trespassing by being here.” Immediate next thought: “T.I.A. Is trespassing even a thing here?” I don’t have any clue what this thing was, but there were stairs so we obviously climbed it. And then there was a ladder so I obviously climbed that too. It all seemed sturdy enough… don’t worry, I have health insurance!

Gorge-ous! Yes, I’m going to use the same bad pun EVERY time I take a picture of a gorge.

See the weird mirror thing in the corner? Yeah, that’s what we climbed.

Climbed that tower!

Looking down from the top of the tower. I’m not afraid of heights, but it was a little windy and was blowing in the breeze a bit, so I can’t say I loved that.

Climbed those yellow supports in the back!

Control room

 

Don’t ask. I don’t know.

I think that my favorite part of the whole exhibit was everything we did that wasn’t part of the exhibit. After the sound thing, we went to the observatory property to see the rest of the art. It was all confusing. We started out trying to read the descriptions and understand what was happening and quickly gave up in favor of just walking around the grounds. Here’s a made-up example in an attempt to express how I usually feel at modern art exhibits:

 

Description: “This weird art-like thing you see in front of you imagines the moment of successful contact with extraterrestrials. Elation quickly turns to horror as the humans realize that these are not friendly beings. An immediate war breaks out between human-kind on Earth and the hostile alien forces. Within seconds, the humans can see that the alien weapons are far superior and that they have no hope for survival. This complicated emotional journey from elation to terror to defeat is captured by the piece you see in front of you.”

The art: A cardboard box with a one-eyed frowny face drawn in black sharpie on the side and an LED light inside.

The other people there: “Ah yes, I see it!” “Magnificent!” “So many emotions!” “Completely brilliant!” “The artist is a genius!” “The Michelangelo of the 21st century!” “I’m so artsy and sophisticated!” “My life will never be the same!”

 

This was probably my favorite exhibit haha. Don’t ask me what it’s supposed to mean because I don’t know. I just know it looks cool.

Me: “Hey did someone forget their cardboard box? I hate it when people just leave their trash lying around. Where’s the exhibit? Maybe they unpacked it from this box, put it somewhere else, and forgot to take the description sign with them. Oh well, on to the next one!”

 

I would describe myself as a person who likes art, but sometimes… yeah. I think that I am more an admirer of impressive things, so I appreciate the skill that goes into creating art. If it’s something that I think would be difficult to create, I like it. If it’s something that seems thrown together with some abstract description, it just reminds me of the people in high school English who got good grades from reading sparknotes and BSing their papers. Aka I’m not impressed.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience. Apparently, modern art is the same confusing adventure no matter what country you’re in. Good to know.

One of the many observatories on the grounds

Lots of changes

This was a weird week. There are a lot of things changing at once, and I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

Here’s a random collection of pictures of my and my departing friends *tear*…
Shant, Carineh, and me out at dinner.

The first big change was the weather. Last weekend, the temperature was still in the low 90s. This weekend, we’ve been in the mid-60s. That. Is. Crazy. I wore shorts and a tank top at the end of last week. This week, I’m wearing pants and a fleece and am sleeping with the windows closed and all of the blankets we have piled on top of me. Okay, that’s a small exaggeration, but it’s a substantial change which I completely wasn’t ready for.

My 3D model! I promise I didn’t select those building colors… that’s what they actually look like.

Next, my job went to like a full-on architecture position this week. That’s not a bad thing, just kind of funny. To give you a little more info about the project we’re working on, one of the big challenges that refugees face is finding employment. An even bigger challenge is finding employment that pays a living wage. A lot of people here were given apartments after the fall of the Soviet Union, so they don’t have to worry about paying rent. Refugees, on the other hand, don’t have that benefit, so they need to find higher-paying jobs than most of the people living here because they have a huge extra expense each month. The national average monthly salary is a little less than $400. Rent eats up half of that, if not more, and that’s not even in a central location.

Carineh and me on top of Aragats

Aleppo-NGO’s plan is to make cuisine center that manufactures frozen Middle Eastern food for sale in grocery stores plus has a little dine-in/carry out component. It will employ refugees from Syria, train them to work in the service industry here and develop management skills, and pay them wages that are higher than the market rate. From there, people can find other jobs, start their own businesses, etc, but it’s a way for them to get some experience and management training and get used to the logistics of running a business in Armenia.

They have the property, and now they’re fundraising and applying for different grants to pay for the construction and furnishing costs. I spent the first half of the week developing some possible floor plans for the report and the second half creating some graphics using the 3D model I started last week. It’s been fun to get to do something different and feel like I’m contributing in a way that is really taking advantage of my skills. Larkitect is taking the world by storm.

Finally, this is the last week that a lot of my friends are going to be here. We had a pretty solid crew of 5 of us who met in Gyumri and moved to Yerevan basically at the same time: Shant, Carineh, Gagik, Talene, and me. Shant has been gone for a couple weeks now, Carineh just left this morning, Gagik was supposed to leave last Friday night, and Talene will be in Armenia for a couple more weeks but is going to be sightseeing with her cousin which means she’s basically gone. The whole “Gagik was supposed to leave” thing is because he decided to change his ticket and stay another month! So that’s something at least. It’s still going to be pretty rough without the others though. My other good friend, Arin, leaves on Tuesday. That means I’ve been forced to try to branch out and make more friends. Ugh. It’s overwhelming because there are so many volunteers, and how do you even start going through 100 people to find the ones you get along with?

Talene and me enjoying each other’s company in Halidzor on the way to Tatev Monastery

I told everyone that they’re all required to find me one replacement friend before they leave. That’s only fair, right? They came through pretty well actually. I’ve met some people in the last couple of weeks who seem cool, so now I just need to do the whole “beginning of friendship effort” thing. Exhausting.

I think I’m going to be okay, though. Plus, it’s only three more weeks until my family comes to visit me!!! Yup, that’s right! My parents and my brother are coming for about 8 days at the end of October, and I’m super excited about it. We’re going to have so much fun!

Dilijan National Park

We’re approaching the time in my trip when all of my best friends start leaving I get sad and have to begin the whole friend-making process again. Ugh. Hopefully I can manage to keep myself from falling into a moody depression like what happened in Ghana. I think I’ll be okay, but still, I’m not excited about having to find new people who are on the same page as me. It’s not as easy as you might think.

Walking into Dilijan (the town)

Anyway, the point of that whole rant is that the first person from our crew to leave was Shant, and his final wish was for us to go hiking and camping in Dilijan National Park. Dilijan is a 240 square kilometer national park. It was established as a nature reserve in 1958 and was changed to a national park in 2002. You know what the best part of Dilijan is? THERE ARE TREES! Yeah, yeah. I know that sounds stupid, but I miss forests. Dilijan has plenty of trees, and it made me very happy.

This is Sharambeyan Street in Dilijan. It’s been preserved as basically the Dilijan “old town”. There are different kinds of artisan shops all the way down the street which is pretty cool.

Are you ready to hear a ridiculous story that supposedly explains the origin of the name “Dilijan”? Once upon a time, there was a shepherd named Dili who fell in love with the daughter of his master. Obviously, since this is how these stories go, the master was wholeheartedly against it and ordered Dili killed! Seems like a dramatic response to me, but well… yeah. Anyway, Dili’s mother searched for him for days and days, wandering around and calling out “Dili jan! Dili jan!” (If you recall, people use “jan” as a term of endearment after someone’s name or sometimes just in place of it.) The End. Hehehe that might be one of my favorite Armenian stories yet.

Along the hike!

Anyway, one of our friends from Gyumri is spending a month working with the Transcaucasian Trail. They’re planning to build over 3,000 kilometers of trails in Armenia and Georgia. It’s going to be super cool! (If you want to see the route or read more about it, check out their WEBSITE.)  It’s also going to take nearly forever, but still, anything is better than what they have now. As you may have realized from my many posts about “hikes” I’ve gone on with my friends, there are a ton of cool places to hike here, but very few of them have actual trails, and even fewer have trail markers. Armenia has a lot of potential as a tourist destination for people who are into outdoorsy activities, but it’s much easier to sell that when you have accessible information and actual official trails.

Dilijan is beautiful!! It was on my list of places to definitely visit, so when Shant said that he wanted to go there, I was all about it. We got in touch with our Dilijan friend, and she said that we could camp behind their house and borrow camping equipment. Nice! I’m pretty sure that you can probably just pitch a tent wherever in Dilijan, but this way we didn’t have to worry about renting equipment and carting it with us.

This was the marshrutka on the way back to Yerevan. I was confused about why they had these little cubes inside. They looked like footrests. Nope. They were seats. Gotta pack the people in!

We took the first marshrutka from Yerevan at 9AM and were in Dilijan by 11. After stocking up on snacks and supplies, we walked to the campsite and got our tents set up before heading out for a hike. Since the trail marking is still a work in progress, there aren’t many well-marked options. They have all sorts of maps in the TCT headquarters of the various jeep trails and such that exist around the park, so one of the guys there showed us a route that we could take that had no markers but used existing paths. He said it took him 5 hours which I took to mean it would take us at least 7. He tried to insist that he wasn’t going fast, but that means nothing when you’re talking to someone who hikes all the time. We decided to give it a try, I confirmed the directions to the trailhead about 50 times and took a million pictures of the map, and we were off.

A tiny church along the way

I hate being the navigator. Okay, that’s not a completely fair statement. I like navigating and I’m good at following maps, but depending on who you’re with, having the navigating responsibility can be stressful. If I was with Sarah (best friend Sarah), for example, it would be fun. If we hit a point where we weren’t sure which way to go, we would just try one and turn around if it was wrong, no big deal. It’s all part of the adventure.

The view from the top.

Sometimes though, people see pauses and uncertainty as you not knowing what you’re doing, and they lose all confidence in your guidance. That’s when I hate navigating. Following hiking maps isn’t quite as easy as street maps, so sometimes you need to just take an educated guess. There were some parts where I wasn’t completely sure about where EXACTLY we should be walking, but I knew that we were following a river the whole way, so as long as we were close to the river, we weren’t lost.

The crew! Laura (Carineh’s friend who came to visit), me, Carineh, Gagik, and Shant

There was only one part where the “trail” shown on the map wasn’t even close to right. Otherwise, we made some slow progress, but I always knew where we were. We made it to the halfway point after about 3 hours, and I knew there was no chance that we were making it all the way to the end before it got dark. That dude who made it in 5 hours must have been some sort of mutant. Called that. We made a group decision to go a little bit farther so that we could get a good view and then turn around and head back. At least then we would be following a path that we had walked before, and I had a GPS tracker running so we could use that to make sure that we were going the right way.

Tired and happy

The view from the “end” of the hike was awesome. There was a great view of the valley, some mountains in the distance, and there were even a few trees starting to change colors already! It would be super cool to go there in the middle of fall with all of the leaves changing.

After spending a little time resting and enjoying the view, we started hightailing it back in an attempt to hit the road before dark. We had flashlights with us, but that’s no good when you’re not following a clear path. There were a few parts of the hike where we were walking through fields, so you had to be able to see ahead across the field to make sure you were walking in the right direction. We were about 5 minutes from the road when it got completely dark, but luckily that was close enough. The whole hike ended up taking something like 5-6 hours, and I was wiped by the end.

We ate dinner in town at the one restaurant everyone always talks about before heading back to the tents. And s’mores. Because what is camping without s’mores? We didn’t last very long after getting back… I think everyone was exhausted. I could have slept on a bed of rocks.

Here’s our taxi driver looking at a map while driving. Comforting, yeah?

Me, looking like I’m haunting Carineh. And a mystery person looking like they’re haunting me… though I don’t think you can see it that well. Just know that there’s someone else lurking there who looks even creepier than I do.

Biking to Etchmiadzin

Too many people on bikes

There was another cool Birthright excursion a couple weeks ago, so I made another exception to my usual “avoid large groups” rule and signed up. That rule exists for a reason, and I knew that I would be subjecting myself to inevitable irritation by going… but bikes were involved, and I love bikes more than I hate large groups.

Talene and me during an unnecessary break at the airport

Side note: If you’re wondering about why I have that rule, it’s for a lot of reasons. When it comes to traveling, large groups are always late and can never make decisions and there’s always someone who’s unhappy for some reason or who is out of sync with the rest of the group. It’s better, in my opinion, to limit your group sizes and save yourself the stress. Plus, in general, I’m not really the type of person who thrives in large groups. I’m much better one-on-one or in settings where I can talk to each person and actually get to know them. Too many new people or things going on at the same time completely stresses me out.

Funky flower at one of the churches

Anyway, the excursion was biking to Etchmiadzin. I was almost convinced at “biking” until I thought about the fact that it would be 50 people on bikes, and so many people are terrible at biking. I wasn’t exactly interested in having someone who hadn’t ridden a bike in 10 years swerving into me and knocking me over. Somehow, I was convinced to go anyway, and my game plan was to stick to the front of the pack.

For the most part, it worked. There was one dicey second when a girl next to me swerved into a (parked) car and then swerved back out into the street, towards me. Thankfully, there was no collision, but I got away from her as quickly as possible and sped my way to the front.

I forget that a lot of other people don’t really bike that often or that far. The ride was 20 km (about 12.5 miles) on almost completely flat ground, and for me, that was nothing. I used to bike 8.5 miles one way to get to work every day. Especially considering the speed we were going for most of the ride, I probably could have gone for 100 miles. At least. We were moving at about 6.5 miles per hour which is less than half the speed that I’d ride to work. Anyway, afterward, people were talking about how far and difficult the ride was, and I was baffled. I wanted so badly to ride back so that I could do the ride at a normal speed, but I wasn’t allowed, even though two of the BR staff members said they would go with me. Bummer.

Squash at the lunch spot

Once we made it to Vagharshapat, the town where Etchmiadzin is, we went to 4 out of the 5 churches in town. This is the same place where Sarah and I went on our “day of a million churches”. There were weddings in progress at 3 of the 4 churches (that’s Armenia on a Saturday for you). It was cool going back to Etchmiadzin because I still love the ceiling there. Even though there are these weird 3D baby heads randomly on the ceiling that I think are supposed to be angel heads but are mostly just creepy.

They should have just hired me as the tour guide for this trip because telling that story about Saint Gayane and Saint Hripsime is one of my most favorite things. Maybe I can have a career in Armenian folklore storytelling? I hear there’s a big demand for that. Anyway, I won’t tell it again because we’ve already been there and done that, but in case you missed it, you can check out my post about visiting Etchmiadzin with Sarah HERE.

Nice chair feet!

Supposedly the rocks that killed Saint Hripsime. True or not, it’s kind of eerie.