We began our ‘Armenian journey’ in Yerevan, arriving by sleeper train from Tbilisi. We instantly fell in love with this bright and cosmopolitan city, so modern and chic. We were delighted to see a variety of international restaurants, buzzing cafés and beautiful modern sculptures adorning the city centre. The prices, however, were less appealing. Although less expensive than most European cities, accommodation in a hostel dorm will set you back about £10 per person and eating out quickly adds up! What’s more, although a lot of beautiful and interesting sites are merely a 40 minute drive from Yerevan, very few are served by public transport, so taxis tend to be the only option. And the drivers know it only too well!
Mount Ararat is one distinctive feature that dominants the skyline in Yerevan and the main highway down South. This biblical mountain, whereby Noah is believed to have landed his boat, is iconic for Armenia. Yet it is a constant reminder of a bitter history between Turkey and Armenia. Widely referred by Armenians as ‘Western Armenia’, Mt. Ararat rests in the disputed land currently part of Eastern Turkey. The tension from the tragic and bloody history of the Armenian Genocide and the loss of land can be felt in Armenia, particularly as this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the brutal murders of Armenians that took place in 1915. Today, in Yerevan, a fantastic Genocide Museum stands tall, detailing the tragic events and is a must see.
What we found most interesting, particularly since we had visited parts of ‘Western Armenia’ (Turkey) less than a month before, was the complete lack of acknowledgement of these events on the Turkish side of the border. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no mention at all about the land previously being home to Armenians. For all the historic stories that people told us, all missed out a very crucial and very recent event. One would, in hindsight, love to return to find out more of the Turkish version of events.
However, for now we had a journey to make! Although we thoroughly enjoyed Yerevan and could easily have spent our days there, we were keen to discover the more authentic Armenia.Yerevan hosts just over one million people; 35% of Armenia’s total population. The main universities and businesses are here, resulting in a massive exodus. The rest of the country is therefore known to be vastly different, set back in time, more traditional, and of course, much poorer. Nevertheless the countryside is famed for its landscape and natural beauty, both the green mountains of the North and the dry arid South contrasting each other. With taxis being the only option, we decided to rely on the Armenians’ reputation as friendly and welcoming and set out to hitchhike our way around the country instead.
We did not expect our hitchhiking experience to be so easy and enjoyable! From the first moment we hesitantly put our thumbs out, someone stopped and that marked our luck from there on. Throughout our whole journey, we never waited more than 10 minutes before being picked up.
We started by heading North to places such as Dilijan and Sevan. On our way to Sevan we were picked up by Artur, the chief policeman for Sevan. He pulled over in his big shiny 4×4, initially scaring us with his dark shades and military uniform. We soon saw that despite his gruff manner he was keen to show us around. Clearly a man of status, he drove us to luxurious hotels and pads, stopping for a coffee and Armenian pastries in a lakeside hotel. They opened up the café just for us! Artur told us about his holidays in Dubai, his villa in Greece and his ten year old son’s jet-ski. This was our first taste of Armenian pride in flashy material possessions and ‘bling bling’!
After a few days touring the lucious green landscape of Northern Armenia, we decided it was time to head down South, reputedly the most beautiful part of the country. We were hardly out of Yerevan when we were picked up by a group of giggling young girls, friendly and with excellent English. Curious and keen to practice their English, they invited us to their family home in the town of ‘Artashat’. Although we had already been to two houses for food and drink that day, visited people’s shops and market stands, it was an offer we could not refuse! Meeting people and discovering their culture and ways of living is what brings us the most pleasure whilst travelling. And this time we really had found a gem!
The young girls drove us to their grandiose house and we were warmly welcomed by both family and curious neighbours. Oh, and food! Lots of food! We spent the afternoon chatting, learning and eating the best Armenian food yet! Time flew by and it was getting late for hitch-hiking, so the family kindly offered for us to stay the night. This hospitality was overwhelming and we felt so privileged. The night was spent laughing, playing games and learning about each others culture.
We could have stayed with this family for days, but it was time to press on! In the morning, the father, a police officer, drove us to the highway. He didn’t just drop us off though! Two colleagues joined us, and whilst we sat in the car, the policemen set about finding us a suitable driver! The petrified look on drivers’ faces when they were pulled over was memorable! The policemen were picky and sent most drivers away. Finally though we were found a lovely young soldier who would bring us all the way to Tatev – he didn’t have much choice mind you!
It was a long drive with incredible landscapes and eqaully impressive traditional Armenian music. There was lots of Armenian cakes and lots of failed attempts to communicate, Click here for a glimpse of our ride down south!
As we headed South past Yerevan the landscape vastly changed; it was breathtaking. Arid, vast and rural, we were in total awe. Shepards tended to their sheep blocking the roads, and old men sat on benches watching the time go by. The land was much dryer and mountainous at first, then we drove through the spring laden region of Vayots Dzor, hosting towns like Jurmuk, Yeghegnadzor and Noravank, where the landscape was more canyon like and resembled parts of California. In fact, driving south, we could have driven through many countries judging by the scenery; Canada, Austrailia, Nambia, Scotland…
We had various crazy drivers, speeding up and down terrifying bends and mountainious dirt paths, but enjoyed every second of it! Old Soviet cars, Ladas, soon became our favourite rides!
A particularly memorable experience was on the road to Jurmuk when we were picked up by two young men. They were very curious to see lone travellers in the area and were unfamiliar with the concept of hitch-hiking. Nevertheless, they were keen to show us around and we had an amazing time!
Artak and his friend work in a little dried apricot ‘factory’, funded by Geoteam, a social and economic development company funding local peoples’ projects and businesses to showcase and develop their skills. Only open for two years, the little business has brought back life to the little village of Gnadzor and work for the locals. We were given packed of dried fruit and introduced to friendly locals picking walnuts. We were also invited to Artak’s family home and served a variety of delicious local fruits.
In stark contrast to the family in Artashat, these people lived in a tiny house and had very few possesions. These generations lived together, sharing only two bedrooms. Outside the grandmother and great-grandmother sat washing sheep’s wool which will be used as a mattress. It was like going back in time, however we were most taken aback and delighted to hear that their favorite TV series is Sherlock Holmes! Their dream is apparently to come to England to go to Baker street! We could not believe that a BBC series has managed to find its way to this rural little village.
These are only some of the people we met whilst touring Armenia. Everywhere we went we found friendly locals and were warmly welcomed. Nearly every driver bought us food or drink, invited us home, some even invited us for picnics! The language barrier was not a problem, as people were just happy to help us and show us a part of their amazing country. We made lots of friends, some of which we hope to meet again and stay in touch with.
We were genuinely overwhelmed and surprised by the kindness of people in Armenia. Not once were we asked for money. Although the sheer beauty and intense culture of Armenia was striking, it’s the people we met and what they showed or taught us that struck us and made this trip one of the most memorable so far. Next stop, Kyrgystan!
Have you ever been to Armenia? How was your experience? Please comment below and remember to share and like. For more pictures see below or visit our Flickr.