Our visit to Garni and Geghard today marked the first time we truly got a glimpse of this country’s natural beauty. The road up to Garni was windy and kind of bumpy, but the views of the Ararat valley were incredible. Once we got to Garni, we got to walk inside the temple which was built before Christ during Armenia’s pagan years. I had only read about things this old in textbooks, but today I got to sit on the steps of one and take a picture with it. By far the best thing about the temple is that it sits at the edge of a steep canyon with the Garni River winding through it. The view from up here is truly breathtaking and to just stand there and feel the wind on your face and soak in the view was amazing.
After buying some homemade batsukh (fruit leather) and soujoukh (the sweet kind) from the vendors at the temple, we continued up the road to Geghard. This church is built in a canyon with a few of its rooms carved into the cliff side. Just before we entered the church courtyard, we decided to make a slight detour up a steep, rocky path that led to small rooms carved into the cliff face. The hike required a little more work than we thought it would but it was well worth the effort. Once again the view from up here didn’t fail to amaze us.
Joining us on these tours and our nights out in this city is Manouk, a native Yerevantsi and member of the local AYF chapter. We all clicked with him the moment we met and having him with us has made our trip more interesting than it already is. As we exchange stories about how life is in our respective countries we gain a much better understanding of the people here. Communicating with him is also very helpful in building the group’s Armenian skills and often times funny as we try to describe the words we are trying to say.
We then carefully clambered/slid down the cliff side and entered Geghard’s courtyard. The first room that we saw was carved out of stone and looked like a cave except for the detailed carvings on the walls, ceiling, and pillars. There was a window at the top that let in a beam of light. The acoustics in the room are incredible. Berj and Kevork decided to start singing Der Voghormya and the way their voices resonated gave me chills. I can just imagine priests conducting service in here and how amazing it would sound. After all that singing, we all went quiet for a moment so that we could hear just how wonderfully silent the church can be.
We made our way to several other smaller carved out rooms and then to the main church, which stands on its own and is made of slabs of rosy tufa stone (of course). All the rooms were dark and any light that is available is through small windows or lit candles. The church is surrounded by forest, which adds to this monastery’s beauty.
Perhaps the best part of the day came when we all sat down for lunch in a local family’s backyard restaurant. Not only was the food good (including the best fish I’ve ever tasted), but the setting was relaxing. We ate outside on a large picnic table under the shade of dozens of large fruit trees.
As the oghi flowed, our group began to open up to each other even more than we have been over the past few days. Life, death, friends, and family were all discussed while we ate and drank and sang. These are the moments which make this trip so worthwhile. Living with others and working towards a common goal brings so many different emotions out of you that would otherwise not occur at home. I’m really looking forward to getting to know this group of people over the next five weeks and becoming more like family than friends.
As you all have heard, the trip has been amazing. It’s my first time in Hayastan and it’s pretty hard to find words to describe the emotions you get when you visit places that you have read about and seen in pictures.
Today we went to the churches of Soorp Gayane and Soorp Hripsime. The designs and details and size of each of the buildings are truly unbelievable, especially after you find out that the churches were built around 600 AD. Etchmiadzin was also an amazing sight to see. And I know I might sound generic when I use words like “amazing” and “unbelievable” but it’s impossible to find words in any language that can describe the places we’ve seen. They really are places that you need to see for yourself.
Today was also a very emotional day for us. We went to Yeraploor which is a cemetery that holds the graves of our fedayees and our heroes that lost their lives fighting for Artsakh. You walk around and you read each tombstone. Some names you recognize from songs and stories and some you don’t recognize. Some are only 19 years old. But, you realize that each has given the same sacrifice for our people.
The groundskeeper, who acted as our guide, added to the emotions of sadness but also to the pride and appreciation felt towards our heroes. He fought and was wounded in Artsakh, on his hand was a tattoo which read, “PARK MONTE” in honor of the man who led the people of his region. He let us know that not many people have the honor of carrying that mark. As we walked he explained how each of the fallen is honored to be buried overlooking Ararat. He spoke of the courage needed to sacrifice your life for your country. His words were enunciated with such power and with such fire that you knew if conflict were ever to arise again he would be there to fight, regardless of his condition.
You can’t help but ask yourself if you would do the same. I think any of us can say that this experience at Yeraploor is and will be one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. Our new friend Albert did not hesitate to take a few pictures with us before we left.
Next, we went to Sardarabad where we met a woman who told us to wait around because the museum would open in half an hour. Slowly, our conversation builds and she begins to tell us how she takes care of the truly beautiful garden that surrounds the graves and photos of those from her region who passed during the battles of Artsakh, one of which was her beloved husband. She told us the story of his passing. She introduced us to her son, named after his father, who he had never seen before. You don’t know how to respond or what to say. What words can you find to express to her how meaningful and honorable her husband’s sacrifice was? Just imagine the strength of this woman and her family. Everyday she willingly goes to work, where she takes care of the memorial of her fallen husband. This was another unforgettable experience. The strength and courage of our people amazes me.
On a much much lighter note, I’ll update you on a few interesting events that have recently taken place. The other day Kevork, Kevork, Levon, and I went out to get breakfast for everyone. We stopped at a bakery to get some bread. The woman greated us and waited in front of a wall of different kinds of bread as we discussed what we wanted. We decided on two loaves. Before I continue, let me emphasize that we were at a BAKERY, we were planning on purchasing some BREAD for breakfast, we now knew how much BREAD we wanted, and the nice woman was standing in front of piles of BREAD. Take a second to visualize. OK, so the next thing that came out of Levon’s mouth was “Hatz oonik?” and we all kind of stood there for a second and looked at each other. Then we realized what he said and we all began to laugh. The woman also began to laugh as she responded by pointing at the stacks of bread behind her and saying “Ayo hatz oonink.” We’ve already reminded each other of the story thousands of times and it seems to be just as funny each time.
Another notable occurrence, after our tour of the Bureau building we were walking down an alley where we heard a familiar tune. We walked a little further and realized that an Armenian man in a big truck parked on the side of the road was bumping T-Payne’s “Blame It on the Alcohol.” Put yourself in our shoes. This time, all 8 of us began to laugh. Hopefully you guys find these stories kind of funny. We miss all of you back home and hope all is well.
We started out our wonderful journey by heading to the store to buy hatz yev baneer for breakfast. The group had an “intense” discussion about the previous night, then we went to the Bureau office to visit the museum that was located downstairs.
Anoush, the curator of the museum, gave us an in depth tour of the exhibits. From what Anoush was saying, I immediately picked up the fact that she was extremely intelligent on this subject when she was speaking.
However, as a non fluent speaker in Armenian, I found it very hard to understand what she was saying, due to the fact that she was speaking extremely fast; but I didn’t care because I’m so desperate to speak/understand my language that any exposure is great.
After the Bureau office, our group headed to the Kerakyun Marmin building, which is the headquarters of the ARF in Armenia.
Riding on the metro... almost
Seeing this made me realize that we Armenians are very powerful and anything we set our mind to will definitely come true and nothing can stop us from what we have to say or do.
Throughout the day as we walked through Yerevan we went to the beautiful church of St. Gregory the Illuminator that I am hoping to get married in.
We also went and experienced the metro underground for the first time.
This trip is by far THE best experience I’ve ever had. This would be my first time coming to my homeland and I love it so much. Being in Armenia for a day or so already makes me want to buy a house and move here. I honestly love this group and we have had so much fun, we all just clicked and to me they’re like my brothers and sisters. I have a feeling I am not going to want to leave Armenia because I’m having the time of my life!!!
Anyone can tell you that the plane ride to the destination is the worst part of it all.
But my overwhelming anticipation to finally arrive in Armenia kept me awake the full 20 hour trip. I didn’t know what to expect of Armenia once I got there but I had a feeling this would all be worth it.
As we arrived to Zvartnots it hit me like a bag of bricks, I was in my Motherland for the first time. The only thing I wanted to do at this point was step out of the plane and say “Parev” to everyone that I saw.
As we reached the arrival gate we see Berj’s father who was kind enough to come welcome us. So there we are, we have all our luggage and are waiting for the van to come pick us up, everyone tired and excited at the same time. Finally the van arrives and we head out to our apartment building in Yerevan.
While driving I turn to my right to gaze at a gorgeous view of Mount Ararat. I couldn’t stop staring at it and just thinking, thinking about how much work everyone in that van has put in for our Armenia, thinking about how one day I would love to have a simple picnic at the base of Ararat and not have to see it on the other side of the border.
My final thoughts on Ararat, as it disappeared behind buildings, were “I want that back.”
We reach our apartment building and I notice the other buildings around us have a unique style, each unit with a balcony of its own and each balcony designed in their own special way. Some had tile around it others had nice stones, as if to point out the individuality of the families living there. Our apartment units were simple and plain, yet I wouldn’t take a suite at the Marriot hotel over it.
At this point all of us are hungry but no restaurants are open only 24 hour grocery stores. Our first meal in Armenia was a traditional one; we had bread with cheese, boureg and apricot juice. Sitting on a small table, barely enough room to fit everyone, we shared one of the greatest meals of our lives.
After we rested for a little while we decided to walk the streets of Yerevan and possibly eat again. When you hear someone say the drivers in Armenia really don’t care about pedestrians, the stories they tell are 100% true. We had many close encounters in our 2 hour walk through of the city.
We also saw a lot of very interesting things, like a local shawerma restaurant called Sayat Shawerma, which I would recommend to anyone looking for a very good shawerma meal.
On our way back to the apartment we learned how to deal with the drivers that almost run you over, you simply stick your arm out and yell at them, they either apologize by sticking their arms out of the window and showing you the universal hand gesture for thank you/I�m sorry or they drive away mumbling to themselves about how rude you were–oh the irony in that!
It is currently 9:30 P.M. so the night is young and we are ready for a fun filled evening in the city. For my first day in Yerevan, I can tell you that this day alone was worth that 20 hour Trip.