Tbilisi to Yerevan

Today’s post is about bread and circuses – or, at least, bread and religion – which perhaps isn’t that different.

While I pondered whether to travel from Tbilisi to Yerevan via train or marshrutka (minibusses with threadbare tyres found all over the Caucasus), I stumbled over a brochure from Envoy, an Armenian tour company. Among their tours was one going one way from Tbilisi to Yerevan, stopping off at various interesting spots along the way, including the UNESCO-listed monasteries at Haghpat and Sanahin.

As it turned out, we would also have lunch in the garden of a local farmer near Alaverdi, and stop at a superb bakery in the town of Aparan. Perfect.

Crossing the border between Georgia and Armenia

Georgian - Armenian border Armenian - Georgian border

Luckily, I’m a citizen of a Schengen-country, which means crossing the border between Georgia and Armenia is pleasantly easy. After exiting Georgia, I stroll over to the Armenian border post.

- ‘Don’t you need a visa to enter Armenia?’ asks the border guard.
- ‘No,’ I say.
- ‘OK,’ he replies, and stamps my passport. ‘Welcome to Armenia.’

Were only all border crossings that simple.

Well inside Armenia, our first stop is at the fortified monastery at Akhtala, which is to be one of several that day. Even more monasteries are in destiny’s plans during my coming days in Armenia. But that’s as it should be, I suppose, in the world’s first Christian country.

Akhtala

Akhtala monastery, Armenia Akhtala monastery, Armenia

The monastery at Akhtala is famous for its lovely frescoes…

Akhtala monastery

… and is also known as Pghindzavank, meaning copper mine monastery. These three happily sell us copper-speckled stones:

 

Kids and copper, Akhtala

Inside the monastery we’re joined by a few devout worshippers. I ask our guide whether Armenians today are very religious.

The answer is complicated, and goes beyond the question of religion. The world – or Europe, at least – is becoming ever more secularised, and Armenia is no exception. On the other hand, Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD. To complicate matters further, the little country has strenous relations with two of its Islamic neighbours, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Borders are closed and there are no diplomatic relations. Armenia’s identity as a Christian country is important.

Lunch in the Armenian countryside

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Rambling about in monasteries and ruins where snakes are rumoured to lurk is hungry work. We stop at the house of a local farmer who has set a table for us in the garden. The trees are heavy with luscious, ripe blackberries. Meat and potatoes sizzle on the barbie.

lunch, Armenia

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Nothing rushed here. We stay a while, eating, drinking, laughing, climbing trees, playing with the kids and fellow travellers. There are eight of us, from six different countries.

Haghpat and Sanahin

Haghpat monastery, Armenia

Haghpat is next. This Byzantine monastery was an important centre of learning in medieval times and is an excellent example of Armenian religious architecture.

Haghpat monastery, Armenia Haghpat Monastery, Armenia

Haghpat and Sanahin together form one of Armenia’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Like Haghpat, Sanahin was a place of study, particularly famous for illumination and calligraphy.

Monastery at Sanahin, Armenia

Sanahin monastery, Armenia Sanahin monastery, Armenia

Though what intrigues me even more are grave stones. In Armenia, there’s frequently a photo of the deceased on the grave stone. Not that unusual in itself – but it’s also not uncommon to illustrate how they died. I stand for a long time in front of a stone, engraved with the image of a man and three women, one of them a young teenager at most. Next to the happy group is a car driving off a cliff. Evocative. And sad. Also, I’m reminded of the narrow roads back down the mountain, and shiver.

The road to Yerevan

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As we continue onwards to Yerevan, we drive past meadows and the towering mountains of the Caucasus.

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In the distance, Mount Ararat with its eternal snow cap appears. I’m to see this legendary mountain again and again during my time in Armenia.

For the moment, however; I’m distracted by bread. And not just any bread, but the yummy concoctions from the Gntunik Bakery in Aparan. Such a delicious surprise.

All about bread

The kneaded dough is slapped on the side of the oven, like this…

Gntunik Bakery, Aparan, Armenia

…where it seems to stick, much to my surprise.

Gntunik Bakery, Aparan, Armenia Gntunik Bakery, Aparan, Armenia

Afterwards, it’s lifted out…

Gntunik Bakery, Aparan, Armenia

…looking, smelling and tasting absolutely gorgeous:

Gntunik Bakery, Aparan, Armenia

We buy lots to share and munch happily all the way to Yerevan. The capital of Armenia turns out to be yet another wonderful surprise. But that’s for another day.

Practicals

  • The Envoy day tour from Tbilisi to Yerevan cost 26 500 AMD or the equivalent in GEL (about EUR 48 /USD 65) and takes most of the day. In contrast, the train between the two cities cost from 8 000 – 17 000 AMD (depending on class of service) and takes about 11 hours. The cheapest option is a marshrutka which cost about 7 000 AMD, and could very well be crowded to the point of standing room only for you.
  • Do you need a visa for Armenia? If you’re from an EU-country or a Schengen-country (not the same thing), no visa is required. Otherwise, you generally do. This is easily obtained at the border, it just means an extra queue and paying a fee of EUR 6/UDS 7 for a single-entry 21-day visa. More information on Armenian visas here.

 

unesco logo

Haghpat and Sanahin together form a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more heritage sites around the world.

 

Disclosure? Nope, nothing here. Paid for it all myself.

19 Responses to “Tbilisi to Yerevan”

  1. Turkey's For Life 2 December 2013 1650 #

    Wow, borders make me sad. Came to this post via your Facebook and the photo, I thought at first was around Kars and the Armenian ruins at Ani. That’s where we were in May. Of course, your photos (especially of Mount Ararat) are of the same scenery as ours – just from over a border. I hope Ani is awarded UNESCO status soon…
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Turkish Recipes: Domates Soslu Misket Köfte

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2013 1144 #

      It’s sad borders are still necessary. I’d love to see Lake Van and the area around Mount Ararat on the Turkish side.

  2. Muza-chan 2 December 2013 1813 #

    Beautiful places…
    Muza-chan recently posted..A Japanese Song per Day: Rita Iota – Christmas Night

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2013 1145 #

      The Caucasus region is absolutely stunning, Muza-chan.

  3. I’ve been hearing lots of great things about Armenia lately. Akhtala’s frescoes are gorgeous, and your countryside lunch and that bread look absolutely delicious!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Finding Paradise at Yerba Buena Farms & Guest Cabins Jamaica

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2013 1145 #

      Such an interesting country, Armenia. Quite small, but with so much to see.

  4. Maria 3 December 2013 0320 #

    Good looking food! Got me hungry now.
    Maria recently posted..Haiku – Managed Wilderness

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2013 1147 #

      You’d love that bakery in Aparan. Yum!

  5. Andrea 3 December 2013 1323 #

    You always go to the most fascinating places. I’d love to go here. Great photos as always Sophie.
    Andrea recently posted..My Free Travel Guide to Albania is Now Online

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2013 2217 #

      Thanks Andrea. You’d like the Caucasus, I’m sure :)

  6. Corinne 3 December 2013 1325 #

    Like Natalie above I’ve traveled on the Turkish side and it’s gorgeous, and both Georgia and Armenia have been on my list for a long time. How much time do you suggest to do Armenia well? How about Tblisi? Love your photos, and I can almost smell and taste the bread. Love it!
    Corinne recently posted..Christmas Traditions in Germany

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2013 2218 #

      Thanks Corinne. I would say at least a week for Armenia. It’s a small country but full of beauty and interesting places. I loved just hanging around Yerevan and could easily have done that for a few days, just hanging around in the parks, seeing the nightly dancing fountains, ambling about the outdoor art by the Cascades…

      As for Georgia, probably more than a week, esp. if you wanted to visit Batumi by the Black Sea and the mystical Svaneti. Tbilisi alone is worth a few days of exploration.

  7. Sand In My Suitcase 4 December 2013 0121 #

    What an interesting day! Such rich blue colors of the frescoes on the Akhtala monastery. And we can almost smell the bread baking while sticking to the inside of that oven.
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..5 good reasons to travel

  8. Jeff 4 December 2013 1113 #

    I am hungry now. Those doughs seems absolutely sweet. Haven’t been in Armenia though looking forward to.

  9. Mette 4 December 2013 2037 #

    Great to read about these places under my radar. Would love to see those Unesco sites with their frescoes and the star shaped oculus. And taste the bread and the garden lunch of course.
    Mette recently posted..Chestnut cake from Lunigiana in Tuscany

  10. Laurel 17 December 2013 1048 #

    This looks like an amazing trip. I know very little about this part of the world.
    Laurel recently posted..Bratislava Christmas Markets: Eat Drink and Be Merry

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 December 2013 1536 #

      I didn’t either, really, Been curious about the Caucasus for some time. Really enjoyed it so definitely going back to see more.

  11. Stephanie - The Travel Chica 28 December 2013 2241 #

    Beautiful, quaint area. And tasty food too :-)

  12. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs 29 December 2013 2140 #

    I did the same crossing, as my 5 months trip was dedicated to Caucasus and Iran! Great pictures from the road! Amazing clear day!
    Marysia @ My Travel Affairs recently posted..Friday Lens Affair #48

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