• gautami2007

Armenia~ The home to the world’s oldest winery and the first nation to adopt Christianity as S

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

In this article, I’ll be taking you along on a journey to Yerevan, the capital of this relatively lesser explored country called Armenia. Armenia is the oldest country in the world to have officially adopted Christianity as it’s religion. However, since the country is landlocked between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, it’s difficult to miss the Islamic influences everywhere-particularly in the food department.

[Note: We reached Armenia on 9th May, the day after the Velvet Revolution in Armenia. We were fearing about violent mobs and arson attacks and unruliness. But surprisingly, when we reached Yerevan, everything seemed calm and the city looked calm and quiet as if nothing unprecedented had happened!]

After we exited Georgia, we walked in the no man’s land and reached the Armenian Immigration. The immigration was a breeze, they just stamped our passports and let us into Armenian soil. Our minivan driver from Tbilisi was waiting for us at the Armenian side already. As soon as we got into the van, we were off!!! The road conditions were neither poor nor good. There were occasional potholes and the ride to Yerevan was a bit bumpy. But the scenery outside made up for everything. It was wild, raw, virgin beauty. It seemed like time had frozen in place. We crossed small little towns on the way. No one could be seen around. Looked liked Soviet ghost towns! But we were assured by our driver that people indeed did live there. It seemed impossible to believe when every town you cross, you were greeted with empty streets and closed windows. But, what did we know? It took another couple of hours to Yerevan. In between people started getting off one by one. The minivan driver dropped us off at a bus stop about 5kms from Yerevan city center. We did not have Armenian Dram, only Georgian Lari. As soon as we got down, numerous taxi operators crowded around us and asked where we were going. Finally, we found a driver who was willing to take Georgian Lari and drop us to our address. Before leaving Tbilisi, we had messaged our Armenian Airbnb host about our expected arrival time. The driver dropped us to the exact address and took off. We were standing on the street unsure where to go. Suddenly a man came and asked “Vineeey?”. We understood it was our host. He unfortunately could not speak a single word of english. He took us up to our apartment on the 14th Floor, showed us around his impeccably maintained apartment and gestured things to us, which we could not understand. Finally, he shook “Vineeey’s” hands and left us after handing over the keys to the apartment.

Yerevan, particularly the central part, houses some stunning Soviet style architecture. Yerevan gets its pretty pink hue from the rosy volcanic rock that was used to construct many of the city’s buildings. Yerevan had undergone massive reconstruction during Soviet era under architect Alexander Tamanyan’s vision to build a perfect city, somewhere along the lines of St. Petersburg or Vienna. In those days, it was known as the “Pink City” because of the flamboyant coloured bricks used for construction. This city is a wonderful mix of culture and tradition. The streets are filled with, on one hand, ancient, renovated Soviet time cars (honestly, we were surprised they still run!) and on the other hand, with high end luxurious cars. The streets are lined with tiny, quaint cafes that make your mouth water from the smell of the delicious food wafting out.

Yerevan can be visited all year round. During the warm summer months, one can stay out late and have some delicious wine in one of the little diners and in winter, it becomes a white wonderland.

Day 1-Central Yerevan is compact and very walkable. However, if you are the kind who don’t fancy walking, you can just flag down one of the many innumerable taxis playing on the road. But, beware that English is spoken very less in Armenia. So, if you don’t have any Russian or Armenian language skills, I would suggest you to get a local SIM card (Beeline, 5USD) and download the Yandex Taxi app. Rides anywhere within the city will not cost you more than 2$! Local buses, trolleys and vans (known as Marshrutka) ply everywhere. But again, if you don’t speak the local language, it will be quite difficult to reach your destination. However they are extremely cheap and costs not more than USD 0.2 per ride! If time is no constraint, and you don’t mind getting lost a few times, you can use these local modes of transportation!

There are many wonderful things to see in Yerevan. We had breakfast of coffee and pasta in our apartment(Our host generously kept a lot of things in the pantry) and then we headed out to explore Yerevan. Our first stop was the Opera and the Freedom square. It was a mere 1.5 kms walk from our Airbnb apartment. It is informally referred to as the center of the city. The Opera sits on the northern portion of the Freedom square and the portion opposite is lined by quaint little cafes and parks where locals and visitors alike can while away their time. It is very beautifully built with lots of open spaces and benches for people to just sit and relax.

After exploring all around, we sat at one of the local cafes and tried the Armenian Dolma, a family of stuffed dishes from Ottoman cuisine that can be served warm or cold. Some types of dolma are made with whole vegetables, fruit, offal or seafood, while others are made by wrapping leaves, most commonly grape. I wanted to try this dish for ever so long! it was quite delicious. The restaurant even gave us a free Gata, an Armenian pastry or sweet bread, which was simply delicious.

Dolma, an Armenian Delicacy

On our way back to the apartment, we went to the SAS supermarket(found all across Yerevan) a bought several bottles of wines(after all, Armenia was the birthplace of wineries!) and some pastries(most delicious. I must add). After reaching our apartment, we sat on the balcony taking in the view of the soviet style buildings all around till the sun set. And after that we had a feast of wine and dessert at night!!!

The Opera

In front of the Opera

In the freedom Square

View of the city from our Airbnb apartment


View of the city from our Airbnb apartment


View of the city from our Airbnb apartment


View of the city from our Airbnb apartment

Day 2– The day began with having coffee and some croissants at our apartment and then we walked to The Cascades(about 4.5 kms from our apartment). On the way, we visited several alleyways randomly just to see how the local populace lives away from the tourist attractions. Many people were curious about us and assumed we were Iranians. But when we said we were Indians, they started saying they watch several Hindi dramas(Balika Vadhu etc) in their language. It was apparently quite popular there. The cascades are a giant stairway made of limestone in YerevanArmenia. It links the downtown Kentron area of Yerevan with the Monument neighborhood. The exterior of The Cascade features multiple levels adorned with fountains and modernist sculptures from the Cafesjian collection. The stairs afford walkers unobstructed views of central Yerevan and Mount Ararat. The cascades are literally one of the most charming places we’ve ever been. It’s a massive white stairway up a hillside of central Yerevan, decorated with green stretches, fountains and waterfalls. Higher level of the Cascades give a spectacular view of Mount Ararat and panoramic view of central Yerevan with its famously multi-coloured roofs tops. There is a park in front of it that is home to many amusing sculptures by various prominent artists. The streets on both sides of the park are lined with small little eating joints with live music! Indeed a place to while away the evening!

Park in front of the cascades


At the Cascades


At the Cascades


At the Cascades


At the lower level of the Cascades


Park in front of the cascades


bottom to top view of the cascades.

Day 3-On our third day, we woke up quite late and decided to have a brunch at a local Armenian food joint before setting out to see the Republic square. We ordered Lahmajuna(my all time favourite till date) and kebabs with some beer to wash it down. The quantity of food was enough to feed four people. But we were famished and ate it all!!!! Talk about glutony!!! Then we walked to the Republic square, which though apparently, left unfinished, it still can be considered the finest example of Soviet era architecture as far as squares go. The early buildings (the Houses of Government, the Ministry of Communications, and the Marriott Hotel) are fine example of Neo-Classical architecture with Armenian touches. The buildings from later period (the Foreign Ministry, and Art Gallery) are Modernist imitations of previous ones. The Armenian Assembly building is located here.

Our brunch at the city food court(a local joint rarely visited by tourists!!! All that food for INR 250 only!!! Lahmajuna and kababis!!!

In front of the Armenian Parliament aka Armenian Assembly.

The Square.

Next, we visited The Vernissage located next to the Repubilic Square, which is mainly a farmers market that is open everyday, but really comes alive on weekends. If you looking for souvenirs or something to take back home, head to this place. You will find everything you need and that too at throwaway prices! Better than shopping in boutiques or malls.

At the Vernissage


At the Vernissage

Our next stop was the Blue Mosque. Located on Meshrops Mashtots avenue, the Blue mosque is architecturally stunning and tucked away inside a corner of central Yerevan. The Blue Mosque is an 18th-century Shia mosque in Yerevan, Armenia. It is one of the few remaining structures from the time of flourishing Islamic Community in Yerevan. It was such an oasis of quiet and peace amongst the hustle and bustle of the city.

[Did you know? The Blue Mosque is the only active mosque in Armenia, due to its minuscule Muslim Population]

The Blue Mosque


The Blue Mosque


The Blue Mosque


The Blue Mosque

We then Visited the Matenadaran that houses the largest collection of Armenian manuscript in the world. It was truly an experience to remember. Established in 1959, The Matenadaran , officially the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, is a museum, repository of manuscripts, and a research institute in Yerevan, Armenia. It is the world’s largest repository of Armenian manuscripts.

Outside view of the Matenandaran

After that, we just walked along some of the famous streets like Abovian Street, Northern Avenue and Mashtots avenue. These streets are full of Soviet style architectural wonders and if you are interested in architecture, you can literally spend hours just walking along these streets and looking at the buildings. After that we were dead tired and decided to head to our food joint, have dinner and go back to our apartment. We ordered some delicious Armenian food for just 3$.

Some stunning architecture


Some old soviet architecture


Delicious Armenian food


How can someone resist this???? It was simply yummy!!!

Day 4- We got up early in the morning to go to Visit the Ararat Cognac Factory. Our camera was not working due to some issues so, we had to leave it behind. Armenian Brandy (locally called Cognac) is famous all over the world and there are many shops within central Yerevan devoted solely to brandy from the Ararat Cognac Factory. If you want to visit, book a tour in advance. There are two types of tour-Package 1 costs around 10 USD and package 2 costs around 20 USD. There is a tasting session at the end of the tour and you can pick up some world famous Armenian Brandy to take back home! The trip was interesting and we go to taste some cognac as well. We were dropped back to our apartment late in the afternoon.

Inside Ararat Factory(source:internet)


Inside Ararat Factory(source:internet)


Inside Ararat Factory(source:internet)


Outside view of Ararat Factory(source:internet)

So, we decided to grab some rolls and stroll around the street.

Eating some delicious rolls!!!

During our walk around the city blocks, we discovered the Moscow Cinema(no we didn’t go it to watch. We both hate Cinema!!!). It was unique in the sense that there was a giant spider statue installed in front of it. We were struck by the prevalence of public art. It seemed that everywhere we walked, we encountered sculptures, statues, and artistic representations of Armenian people and culture. But it was the giant spider outside the Moscow Cinema that especially captivated us. It was unique and we had fun clicking photos with it!!!

Spider Statue


Spider Statue


Spider Statue


Spider Statue

Day5– Today we decided to visit Erebuni Fortress. Erebuni fortress is a must visit for everyone and particularly for the history buffs. The Fortress, or what remains of it, is situated on a hill on the outskirts of Yerevan. It was the birthplace of ancient Armenia. There is a museum also, where you can find out more about the history of Armenia. Entry fee is USD 2 per person. After climbing up a lot of stairs, you will be rewarded with stunning, windswept views of the entire Yerevan city. Nothing much remains to be seen here except a few remaining walls and murals of what must once have been a magnificent fortress. You can literally feel the weight of history in this place. We took a Yandex taxi there for about 2.5$.

Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Inside the Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Going up to the top of Erebuni Fortress


Sweeping views of city from Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Erebuni Fortress


Outer walls of the Erebuni Fortress

St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral is a stunning Cathedral in central Yerevan. It was completed in 2001 to commemorate the 1700th anniversary of Armenia as a Christian nation. However, the cathedral complex is quite unfinished and is a stone’s throw from the Republic Square.

Interesting Tip: Gregory the Illuminator is the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He was a religious leader who is credited with converting Armenia from paganism to Christianity in 301 AD.

St Gregory the Illuminator cathedral(souce:internet)

Day 6- We decided to hire a cab to visit the nearby towns of Garni and Geghard(cost us only 15000drams, that is 38$ for the two of us!!!). The temple of Garni is a pagan temple and the best known symbol of pre Christian Armenia. The colonnades of the temple are distinctly Roman and the temple itself is situated on a cliff overlooks the ravine of the Azat River and the Gegham mountains. The view over the entire valley is simply stunning!

At temple of Garni


View of Azat River


View of Azat River and Gegham Mountains


At temple of Garni


Temple of Garni


unfortunately it was raining when we visited.


Front view of Temple of Garni

Next, we visited the Geghard Monastery

The Geghard, the monastery complex was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave. The monastery is partially carved out inside the mountain in the Kotayk province of Armenia. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. The monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley contains a number of churches and tombs, most of them cut into the living rock, which illustrate Armenian medieval architecture at its highest point. The complex of medieval buildings is set into a landscape of great natural beauty, at the entrance to the Azat Valley. High cliffs from the northern side surround the complex while the defensive wall encircles the rest. Today the monastery complex is located at the end of a paved road, and the walk up from the parking lot is lined with elderly women selling sweet bread (the famous Armenian “Gata”), sheets of dried fruit (fruit lavash), sweet sujukh (grape molasses covered strings of walnuts) and various other souvenirs.

Inside a cave at the monastery


Inside a cave in the monastery


A cave behind the monastery


Stepping inside the cave


At the monastery


At the monastery


The Upper Azat mountains


The Upper Azat mountains


Climb to the monastery


Cave inside the monastery


The Mountains


Inside the caves


The Geghard Monastery

Day 7– Tearfully, it was time to depart. We had an awesome time in this small but architecturally beautiful country filled with the friendliest of people. I fell so much in love with this country that I want too settle here in my old age. We were told the north of the countryside is even more stun ning, but we didn’t have time to visit it. this gives us a perfect excuse to come back here again. For now, we were bidding this amazing country au revoir with a sad heart.

[Tip: Indians can get e-visa online for only 6USD!!!! isn’t that splendid?]

We love Yerevan.

Some of our tips for visiting Armenia:

Must-try foods:

  1. Khorovats: are a succulent, barbequed Armenian meat kebab.

  2. Lula kebabs: tender, juicy, and delicious made using steel skewers.

  3. Lahmajoun: a type of Armenian pizza made with minced meat and spices herbs

  4. Dolma:made of meat or vegetables rolled up in fresh young grape leaves. Can be an acquired taste.

  5. Gata: is an Armenian pastry or sweet bread.

  6. Mante: Manti or mante is a traditional Armenian dish comprised of tiny little meat dumplings(mostly lamb meat) served with a yogurt sauce in broth.

Favourite food joint:

One of our favorite places to eat was the Ost Food court on Martiros Saryan St, Yerevan, Armenia. Their Lula kebabs and Lahmajoun were extremely delicious and quite cheap as well! This place is quite popular with the locals.

Places to stay:

There are numerous hotels and hostels you can book on various platforms. However, we prefer staying in apartments. We booked ours through AirBnb and it was located on Aram Street in central Yerevan (one of the poshest neighborhoods) and everything was walking distance from our apartment. Just round the corner from our apartment there was a supermarket (we exchanged our USD to Armenian Drams here) and various pubs, bars and cafes.

Do’s and Dont’s

Armenia itself is a place to drink, with no prohibition against drinking in public. You can even drink in a car-as long as you are not driving it of course! We would suggest buying some bottles of wine from the SAS supermarkets located everywhere in the city, heading out to the Freedom square and having a drink in one of the parks there! The entire population seems to be doing so in the evenings!

Drink water. Yerevan has numerous small fountains with crystal clear drinking water of the kind that Western entrepreneurs put in bottles and sell. You literally will not have to spend a dime on water while you are in Armenia.

Tourists are always open-heartedly welcomed in Yerevan and the locals will do everything to help you. You will have an amazing time there. We absolutely fell in love with this stunning, warm, lovely city! Happy journey and a safe and pleasant stay in Armenia’s vibrant capital!!!

Don’t start a political conversation about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. You may risk offending the Armenian people.

Adieu!!! Till our next adventure. Stay tuned. Suggestions and criticisms most welcome!!!

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