Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
Trip End Oct 03, 2005

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Flag of Armenia  ,
Friday, September 30, 2005

The spirit of Gregory is smiling upon us. At least that is my explanation of our good fortune on this trip so far. It's a beautiful day and our imaginations have been fired up by Khor Virap and we're ready for more of Armenia.

This country suddenly seems very romantic in the way that only places with invasions and turmoil can be!

Roadside stalls are selling the sweetest grapes and these mix well with the boiled eggs and bread I pinched from this morning's breakfast buffet. I needn't fear going hungry here as everything sold bythe road apparently is edible and organic. One of the results of collapse of Soviet Union is not being able to afford pesticides, apparently!

Our good fortunes are that of Gregory and the road. Artur, our driver, suddenly stops our van at the side of the road. He's just seen his father's truck drive past. His father has also pulled over and they have a brief roadside reunion. Naira explains that while she and Artur are both lucky to have good jobs the price is being away from their families.

A short while later Artur again stops the van and yells out the window. The passing motorbike is the man from the Cave Café, where we are headed after the next monastery, Noravank.

We catch the proprietor heading into town on his motorbike. He takes our order - tomatoes, cucumbers, garden herbs, bread, eggs and some kind of meat if he can find some - then he hurtles off down the canyon road, presumably to make his purchases from one of the weathered women sitting roadside!

Around a curve in the road and Noravank is to our left: reddish stone, conical towers, perched away on the small plateau in this gorge, well hidden against the pink and red veined stone.

Noravank was built in 1105 by Bishop Vahanavank for John the Baptist. The place was captured by the arabs, but after a Persian princes son was cured by an Armenian bishop, the reward was the granting of this land back to Armenia. Title deed passed to the Orbelian princes, Toursayish and Smbat, in 13th century.

In one small alcove there is a cross stone lying on the floor, Smbat's gravestone. On a certain day of the year, his birthday, the cross cut into the stone wall allows sunlight to flood through directly onto this cross stone.

Naira points out the cross stone above a doorway. Unusually, it has a human figure depicted, rather than the usual cross and swirls. Most striking: its eyes.

Naira explains that when monasteries heard that Mongols were coming, they would etch these figures to prevent the destruction of the church. Similarly if Persians were coming, they would carve an onion dome shape into the cross stone.

Outside, we look at another family stone. Grave of Toursayish's son. This time, lying flat on the ground and carved with a lion - the Armenian symbol.

The Armenian family pose for photos on the narrow staircase outside tower building. After they've left some of our group climb up and inside. I stay firmly at ground level, knowing how feeble I am with heights!

We return down the hill to the cave café, where we lunch on fresh produce and of course, the habitual lunchtime bottle of good red Armenian wine. We can't get over how good the food is, fresh and unbeliveably delicious.
The wine is so fresh and natural I can almost taste the dirt of the vineyards.
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