Today I took another wonderful trip for the day with Sati Tours. My guide was a young lady named Lusineh, and Azat was our driver again. They took us to Aragatsotn province, part of which is a high plateau area surrounding Mt. Aragats. Mt. Aragats is now the highest mountain in all of modern Armenia. It's smaller than Ararat, but of course Ararat is now just over the border in Turkey.
We visited several churches, the first of which had a garden cut in the shape of the letters of the Armenian alphabet. Another one also had stones cut in the shape of the alphabet. The Armenians seem to be very proud of Mesrop Mashtots, the man who invented their alphabet as well as the original alphabet of neighboring Georgia.
Finally, the third part of the tour was the most dramatic. We took some long, windy roads, going through some desolate and barren landscapes--not much in the way of trees, and it's all brown. Another haunting landscape. It is very high there, higher than I am accustomed to being, although I did not have altitude sickness or anything-it was not that high. Our final stop was a monastery which was guarded by Amberd Fortress. I could see mountains, including sacred Ararat, and scenery all around us. We were high up on the Aragats Plateau.
Why would the Armenians put monasteries in such messed-up places? Simple. Lusineh told us that since Armenia is on the bridge between Europe and Asia and Middle East and all that, everybody wanted to attack it. They wanted to make it harder. Not that it helped that much. Apparently the Seljuk Turks and Mongols both did attack it in the end.
Now here's another clever ploy: when the Armenians were building these churches and monasteries, they would carve reliefs depicting religious apostles, Jesus, etc. Sometimes they would carve the facial features to resemble Mongolian or Persian faces, etc. to make them look like a person from the group that was most likely to invade them, in the hopes that they would therefore not level the place. It seems so far that the Mongols were candidates for this slightly more often, but I'm not sure.
Lunch was kebab meat with salads and French fries again. The food here is simple and nice.
These tours take us to places that serve homestyle food, more or less. No comparison to what they serve in Yerevan restaurants, although there are some notable exceptions.
For dinner I discovered a simple kebab place that is tourist- and user-friendly. Easy to choose, about $2 gets you a decent portion of kebab or shwarma (like a gyro), wrapped in lavash bread with your choice of spices. Finally, something no-nonsense!
Armenia is a remarkable place, really.