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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Monday, September 29, 2003 05:15:29

Central Asia 2003: 5 - Armenia

We were breakfasted and checked out by 8:30 AM, and off on the road to Armenia. The first part of the drive was not bad, but about a third of the way there the pavement ended and the road turned into a good impression of a dry river bed. Our progress was further hampered by a ready-mix cement truck blocking the road between the stone walls in a small village, where we had to wait for a retaining wall to be poured, and then a flat tire added to the delays shortly after that. By the time we reached the frontier we were all feeling very sorry for Gaila and Maia who would have to make the return journey without the comfort of a spare tire, as the tire was destroyed. We'd all had our kidneys well shaken!

The purchase of visas for Marilynn & I at the border was quick and efficient. We met Ruzanna & Hachik, our new guide and driver and bid a very sincere farewell to our Georgian friends - we had all become very fond of one another.

A big plus about the new outfit is the van - a new German made Ford with loads of leg room. My back was instantly grateful for no longer being bounced around on the small, uncomfortable jump seat I'd been using. The roads in Armenia are in far better condition as well.

Armenia is the smallest of the three South Caucasus countries with 29, 800 sq. km. It reached its peak in the second century BC when it was ten times larger than it is today. The very unique Armenian language was invented by a monk in the 5th century. Poverty here is major, with an average national income of $30-40 per month. A student with excellent marks could receive a free education, but an average student would have to pay for schooling. Medical care is also not free, and is priced beyond the reach of the average citizen. The religion here is the Armenian Apostolic Church - the churches are quite different than they were in Georgia.

The evidence of the collapse of the Soviet Union are everywhere in Armenia as well, with huge areas covered with abandoned factories and buildings. Ruzanna explained that under the Soviet system raw material would come from one republic, be processed in another and distributed in a third, a strategy to ensure Moscow's control over all areas of industry. When the republics became countries tariffs went up, transportation failed and the plants closed. There were apparently two trains a day to Tbilisi in those times, where now there are two a week.

The long drive to Yerevan was broken by an enormous BBQ lunch followed by a visit to the monastery complexes of Haghpat & Sanahin. Both were universities in their time. They were built in 930 and 950 AD, and were complete with a church, communal hall and a large library. The soot is still evident on the library walls from when Muslim invaders burned all the precious books. The drive was through high, bare hills, over 2,000 meters above sea level.

Yerevan, a city of 1,410,000, did not appear at first impression to have much to offer - another mass of Soviet style apartment blocks. The plaza on which the Hotel Armenia is located is beautiful, though, with five major buildings curved around the huge traffic circle. In addition to our hotel there is the legislature, the natural history museum and government offices. The hotel is great, with full sized suites for all. The city has many wide, tree lined avenues and is divided by two rivers.

The day ended with more food, but we had asked on route to have the big meal being laid on for us at a classy restaurant near the hotel scaled down. We were all beyond able to handle more food! After picking at dinner, a short walk saw us back to the hotel to collapse into bed.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

It was my turn for tacky tummy this morning and I've been regressing on the bronchitis as well, so I used that as an excuse to beg off on a city tour of Yerevan today which included several churches and museums. Declining food for the day also gave my system a chance to live off the surplus which I've been accumulating since our arrival in Georgia! Marilynn informed me that the highlights of the tour were the museum housing many of the old manuscripts from early monasteries and the genocide museum, which is dedicated to the massacre of two million Armenians by the Turks in 1915.

The tour was also to include more churches, but Marilynn led a revolution that changed the destination to the market. In the evening they all hiked about 10 blocks to a restaurant for dinner - I stayed on my water diet for the day.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

After a very light breakfast on my part we mounted up for the drive down excellent freeways to visit the old church and monastery complex of Khor Virap, located on a hill in the shadow of Mt. Ararat, the legendary resting site of Noah's Ark. It was a fascinating place, and included the underground cell in which Gregory the Illuminator, who introduced Christianity to Armenia, was imprisoned for 13 years. The cell is located at the end of a narrow, vertical hole going over 30 feet below the floor of the building. It is possible to descend into the cell by way of a vertical steel ladder. After 13 years, in 301, the king decided Christianity might be a good idea after all and let Gregory out.

On the way back we stopped at a church where a service was underway to listen to the beautiful singing, and then proceeded to Echmiadzin, the "mother" church, located in a huge complex housing a religious college, the home of the patriarch, a museum and various other buildings. The first church was built on this site in 301, with the present cathedral being started in the 6th century.

This was the most beautiful, and the largest, cathedral we have seen on the trip. A service was underway, with a large choir accompanying the several church officials conducting the service. As services last 3 hours and there is nowhere to sit - people stand - they are very casual. People, including monks, are coming and going continually. Tour groups did not seem to disrupt the proceedings at all. Religious tours from other parts of the country to this church are common. We stood for quite awhile listening to the beautiful music and watching the very active service.

Lunch was at a good Lebanese Restaurant. I didn't dare try the full fare, but had a delicious bowl of yoghurt soup, which sat well. After lunch I walked back to the hotel, and the others headed off to the markets and shopping areas. The guide had been laid off for the rest of the day, the group having made their feelings towards visiting more churches quite clear. Marilynn was very happy, having found shirts and a long skirt for Iran that she had been looking for at good prices. The downside is that a large filling she had done by a dentist in Victoria this summer has fallen out, and we are in a bit of a quandary as to what to do about it! It took out about half a tooth.

Ruzanna was back at 7 to walk us to dinner at a restaurant about five blocks away, from which we all made our own way home. The hotel apparently recommends a dentist right next door, so they are going to try to make an appointment for Marilynn.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Today's tour started off with a drive into the mountains to Garni, the site of a Roman temple from 100-50 BC. It is in remarkably good shape. The site is spectacular, on a point of land jutting out into a deep canyon with a river at the bottom. Later Armenian royalty built a church and summer residences here, but little evidence of them remains.

From there it was on to the monastery and churches at Gegard. This complex was more interesting, as it was located at the end of a box canyon with towering walls. Once into the church, which is built into the cliff face, there are passages into three other churches built completely inside the mountain, and not visible from outside. The acoustics in some of them are amazing!

Another lengthy stretch of driving took us to two more ancient churches on a point jutting into Lake Sevan. The lake is large, covering 5% of the surface of Armenia, and quite deep at 99 meters. Lunch was of local fish at a restaurant which had a nice view down the lake. We were all in agreement that it was definitely not worth the drive, though. Marilynn reported that the restaurant bathroom was as bad as any she had encountered, and that takes in some dandies! She is getting quite adept at disappearing into the woods beside the road when the guys do for a rest stop. Although she is not keen on this type of outdoor activity, she finds it far superior than braving the stench of the filthy washrooms that have been standard throughout the Caucus countries.

Marilynn was able to arrange a 5 PM dentist appointment. She is in the chair as I'm writing this, so I'll let you know how Armenian dentistry worked out in the next instalment! She will likely be dining on soup and wine for our last meal with our three travelling companions tonight! They must wait here one more day, as there is no flight out tomorrow. They'll be headed for the US the day after tomorrow via Vienna.

Tomorrow morning Marilynn and I must leave at 7:30 AM for the 7 hour drive to the Iranian frontier with our driver who does not speak English. No one has any idea how long the drive is once into Iran. This will be interesting, as it is off into the unknown, since Iran has such a veil of mystery over it. The only information I have is that the driver cannot accompany us across the 600 meter long bridge that is the frontier, so we'll have to drag our luggage across. I also am led to believe that internet access is restricted in Iran, so if you do not hear from me for two weeks, that will be the reason.

Marilynn is very apprehensive about dress requirements. I'm very apprehensive about the information that we will have four other women passengers on this segment of the trip, and have visions of interminable searches for diet Coke, bathrooms and shopping! Another pressing question - will there be beer? Stay tuned for the results, which will be out as soon as access to Internet permits!