So many ups. So many downs.
So many great memories and a few bittersweet ones as well.
I have said before that my time in Armenia wasn’t so much about the country itself as it was about the people I met and the lessons I learned. Nonetheless, certain things definitely stand out to me as my favorites.
1. Tatev Monastery (and surrounding area)
If there is one place I recommend anyone visit outside of Yerevan, Tatev is it. Sitting on a cliff overlooking the Vorotan Gorge in southern Armenia, the monastery consists of churches dating from the 9th and 11th centuries. Even more enjoyable than Tatev and its incredible views was hiking down into the gorge from the village of Tandzatap. It was a fun, challenging hike and Mets Anapad, the 17th century monastery near the bottom, was an isolated stop that we had all to ourselves. I only wish it hadn’t been so windy so we could have checked out the cable car to Tatev that spans 5.6 kilometers over the gorge – the longest in the world.
2. Cascade in Yerevan
By my third week in Armenia, the snow melted and the weather cleared up, so I decided to take advantage and walk to the office every day from my homestay in Zeitun (in the hills north of the city center). This meant walking down Cascade every single day, but it never got old – rather, it was one of the favorite parts of my day. The view of Mt. Ararat and the whole of Yerevan seemed slightly different every day and I often carried my camera to take even more pictures. I also loved the fact that it was nearly empty in the morning so I could walk down the several hundred steps alone with my thoughts.
3. Geghard Monastery
Clouds were rolling in as I arrived at Geghard Monastery but that didn’t stop me from enjoying its superb setting in a steep canyon not far from Yerevan. Said to have been founded in the 4th century, Geghard is probably most famous for once housing the holy lance that pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion. To me, it stood out as unique among the many monasteries in Armenia due to its cave churches (around 20 altogether!), the oldest of which dates back to the 7th century.
4. Noravank Monastery
Like Geghard, I loved Noravank for its picturesque setting. I also loved it for the 14th century Surp Astvatsin Church – the only two story church I can recall seeing in Armenia or anywhere else. To reach the second level, you must climb (i.e., crawl) up a somewhat precarious narrow stone staircase on the outside of the building.
5. Calumet in Yerevan
Yes, I am picking a bar as one of my favorite places in Armenia. How could I not when some of my best hazy, fuzzy memories came at Calumet? And as much as everyone seemed to groan when someone would suggest going there, it seemed to be the one place that we always ended up.
The minute I first walked into Calumet, I felt at home. They played a great mix of music that reminded me of fun nights out in Chicago, singing along to every 80s hair band song that came on. The overall vibe was completely relaxed and by the end of the night the whole place (including the table tops) was a dance floor. It didn’t hurt that they were one of only two bars in town that understood the concept of a vodka soda and at just 1000 dram a drink (about $2.50), well, let’s just say I probably consumed a few.
But I guarantee you, I never ended up like this guy.