Today I visited Geghard and Garni, which are two very popular sights just outside of Yerevan. These are easy access and must-sees. I trusted myself again to Lusineh at Sati, and the driver was a kindly elderly gentleman named Grikor.
Geghard is a monastery, and Garni is an ancient pagan temple which has been there for a couple of thousand years. It looks very Greco-Roman. Beautiful scenery to boot. Near Geghard they still sacrifice animals, and there is a river nearby. Nature is always nice. Garni looks like a small version of the Acropolis, which makes sense because the people who built it were influenced by the Greeks.
For dinner, I went to a tourist restaurant called the "Caucasus Tavern". They have food from Armenia and Georgia both. The waiters are in traditional garb. I ordered a lamb bone soup (Georgian), and an unusual type of Armenian dolma for a main. For dessert, I had Armenian coffee (like Greek coffee), and a sort of sweet thick bread pancake, which tasted a bit like a crust from a pie, but sweeter.
Not bad at all. Finally some success in this department, huh. The waiter was a little odd, but he was honest, and when I looked puzzled, he explained everything to me on the bill, which was reasonable, and we were for once clear that service was not included. I tipped him 10%, which might be on the high end (expected in some types of restaurants but not all), but it really is not a whole lot of money in the end. He did his job pretty well and was agreeable enough. I sampled one glass of the famous Armenian fruit vodka (in Armenian they call it "oghee"), and I chose the famous Cornelian Cherry flavor. And yes, Mom, I only had one and drank it very slowly, you don't want to mess with this stuff.
It seems like you just have to know where to go. I also ran into another member of my tour group, who is an Israeli-Armenian who now lives in Istanbul and has a house in Maryland!! She was there with her kids, just as on the tour, and she gave me her card. Apparently she's a travel agent in Turkey. I think I might call her sometime...
On the way to the Caucasus Tavern, I noticed something very strange, and it gave me cause for some concern. To get to the restaurant, I followed a street which goes along the front of the Opera, as the guy in the hostel had recommended. I had to take a detour, and I got slightly misguided (as usual).
The reason? The police were out, and in larger numbers than I had seen last Friday evening. They were standing in a line to block the street I was trying to follow, and out in the street were two police cars with lights on. I detoured to the pedestrian street that leads to Republic Square. The tone was much more aggressive than last Friday. They also had lots of cops in military uniforms wearing berets, who are apparently Internal Ministry officers.
I had my camera with me, but I kept it securely in its case. They left me alone, but I detoured to get to the Caucasus Tavern-I was not going to attempt to cross that cordon. The atmosphere was tense and just a bit paranoid...
But after a satisfying dinner, I went back home, and the street near the hostel had six police cars out where the officers were talking to someone. I have no idea what was going on, but as usual I just kept out of it. Kind of bizarre, though.