Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Now I'm Finally Seeing New Things!! (Or...Today I saw Armenia in a Nutshell)

Hey folks!

I made a point of resting more last night. It's still hard to sleep but it's getting better. Due to my constant tiredness, confusion, and disorientation, my lack of ability in the language, lack of signs, etc. I decided to take a guided tour for the day.

This tour took me to Khor Virap monastery, and the house and museum of Paruyr Sevak, the famous Armenian writer and poet. Paruyr Sevak was famous for several of his works, but died in his 40s in 1971, in a car accident, along with his wife. The museum showcases several of his works and has a mural showing him at several different stages of his life.

Khor Virap is an Armenian classic. It is in the shadow of Mt. Ararat, the mountain that all Armenians look to. Both the Sevak house and Khor Virap are in the province called Ararat, and are found in the Ararat Valley. Of course the valley itself was flat, but Khor Virap rises up and is made all of stone. Just behind it you could see Mt. Ararat (I think it is only 33 km from Khor Virap to the top of the mountain). Of course this is the mountain where Noah's Ark supposedly landed after the Deluge. It has two peaks, Masis (the largest), and Sis (the smaller one).

As we stared at Ararat, we could see a Turkish military base. Khor Virap is directly on the Turkish border, and we had to walk up a bit to see the monastery. St. Gregory the Illuminator was the Christian missionary in Armenia. The legend says that King Trdat persecuted him for this, and put him in a dungeon which is on the same site as where Khor Virap now stands. He threw him in a pit and let him sit there for 12 years, while supposedly Christian virgins fed him in secret. King Trdat went crazy (some say he turned into a whild boar). Then he converted to Christianity and made Armenia the first Christian state in the world in 301 AD. Khor Virap monastery was built on that spot, and I saw the pit where Gregory was for 12 years.

Complete with Mt. Ararat behind it, it is wonderful to visit places like this with such legends behind them. Because of this being on the border between NATO and the Soviet Union at the time, this same trip probably would not have been possible 20 years ago.

After this, we moved on to see the Noravank Monastery. This was further to the southeast in the Vayots Dzor province. Vayots Dzor means "Gorge of Woes". It certainly is a gorge and the mountains are barren and rocky. We visited Noravank, where a Canadian-Armenian in my tour group showed me how to light candles and make a prayer. You buy a candle for 60 drams and take it over to the tray which has all the other candles, taking fire from any of them. After lighting it, you stick the candle in the tray and say a prayer. You always enter and leave the church facing inwards, otherwise you are turning your back on God. Both Khor Virap and Noravank are still active monasteries and churches, so of course you may take photos, just be quiet and discreet.

The Gorge of Woes got its name because many people used to die there while traveling because it was such a rugged, remote, and dangerous area. While moving from Ararat province to Vayots Dzor, our guide Gayane showed us where the Arax river is, and beyond it, Naxchivan Province of Azerbaijan (Naxchivan used to belong to Armenia once upon a time). The Armenian borders to both Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed and we are not allowed to cross them.

It was raining a bit, but the views were still pretty good. On the way we stopped off to try some Areni, a local wine label. The pomegranate wine was especially nice and I bought a bottle.

We stopped for lunch also. It was an appealing array of Armenian salads, french fries, and kebab. Good stuff, tasty, and healthy, too. My body is finally learning to appreciate food again.

Vayots Dzor is one of the more dramatic landscapes I have seen. On the way back, Azat, our driver, put on some haunting traditional Armenian music, where you could hear drums and the duduk, a traditional Armenian instrument made from apricot wood. I watched the remote, barren landscapes change with this music in the background. Somehow it reminded me of travelling in Connemara in Ireland. Remote, barren landscapes with traditional music in the background.

Azat is a really cool guy. As for Gayane, she was a delight, too. This tour company is called Sati. They are reasonably priced, straightforward, simple, and good people who both know their stuff and are genuinely nice and friendly.

I think I'm really enjoying my trip!


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