Garni and Khor Virap
Hotel: SIL Hotel (Yerevan, Armenia) $75
We wasted a lot of time this morning trying to find a bank that would cash D’s AmEx travellers checks; no place wanted to take them (even with the AMEX symbol on the door!) We finally found a place that supposedly would cash them. My wife’s ankle had been acting up, while he was inside the bank we sat down on the steps outside to give it a rest. A guard came out and motioned that we couldn’t sit there. So we walked across the street and sat on the curb. She still kept giving us dirty looks! Still unsuccessful in cashing D’s TC’s (they wanted the receipt which was back at the hotel), we headed back to Republic Square which had an ATM. We found a taxi driver in a big Volga who said he would take us to Khor Virap, Garni and Geghard Monastery for $60.. a bit much but none of the drivers wanted to budge on price. The road to Khor Virap was in excellent condition, it is the main north-south road out of Yerevan that goes to Iran. Khor Virap is located 30 km southeast of Yerevan, literally within spitting distance of the closed Armenian-Turkish border. It is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator was held captive in an underground cell for several years. Mt. Ararat (which is inside Turkey) provides a stunning backdrop to this monastery. It was the first time we had seen tourists in the Caucasus; but the odd thing was they all were Armenian! We climbed up the hill which had a great view out over the surrounding fields and the border. There was a large cemetery located below the church; in Armenia it is customary to have a photo of the deceased engraved on the headstone, some of them are quite spookily realistic! Next we set off for Garni, a restored Greco-Roman temple. Our driver took a shortcut on the way, though an earthquake prone area, apparently there had been one several months ago and the road was in horrible shape. He kept saying ‘No problem, no problem’ until we came to a dropoff, and suddenly it was a problem! We all had to get out of the car and walk down the hill while the driver somehow managed to maneuver the car down the slope safely! The road finally got a little better once we rejoined the main road to Garni, but there was still evidence of extensive earthquake damaage to walls and houses. The town of Garni lies about 30 km east of Yerevan. The Garni temple is located on a cliff point overlooking the gorge below. The Greek classic style temple looks to be in great shape as it was restored not too long ago. There were dozens of other tourists here (again, all appeared to be Armenian descent). Our next stop was at the Geghard monastery, an incredible place which consists of a church partially carved into the mountainside. It is allegedly the former resting place of the Holy Lance (which is now in Echmiadzin cathedral). Behind the church there were several bushes with strips of cloth tied to them. This seems to be a common custom in the Caucasus, similar to Buddhist prayer flags. It may indeed have been brought with the Mongols, which had been through this area in the 1200s. After we returned to our hotel, D and I walked over to the Blue Mosque; the only remaining mosque in Yerevan. Arriving just in time as the mosque was closing for the day, but we ran into one of the caretakers as she was leaving, she offered to show us around. Parts of the complex were undergoing renovation, sponsored by Iran.