To get to Armenia from Signaghi, we took a marshrutka from Signaghi to Tiflis and then a minivan to Yerevan. We jumped off the car in Sevan and took a taxi to our hotel, Noy Land Resort. Here we were rewarded with great service for small money: the rooms are big and nicely furnished, the restaurant is open until 22 and serves decent food. We tried the local fish called sig, which was brought to Sevan lake from Baikal.
The Noy Land hotel is built on the lake Sevan, the biggest lake in Armenia, which is situated about 1990 meters above the sea level. Currently, its size is about 3% of the size of the country. The lake was even bigger before Stalin had drained it for economic needs.
On the next day, after a very good breakfast we ordered a taxi to the Sevanavank Monastery. It was raining the whole night and continued during the morning, so we didn’t have best hopes for the day. However, I must admit, slightly foggy weather only adds up to the special atmosphere of Sevanavank. The view from the hill to the churches, built of crude black stone in the 9th century, and to the lake is indeed outstanding!
The same taxi driver who brought us to the monastery, suggested to drive us to Erevan for 8000. We agreed and after less than one-hour ride, we reached the capital of Armenia. Beware, the traffic in the city center can be pretty heavy.
After checking in into the Art Hotel, we went for a city walk. While aiming to the Republic Square, the central town square in Yerevan, we were impressed by the monolith architecture of the city. It seemed that the houses were built in the 1950-s for eternity… However, many buildings were under construction or re-construction that didn’t seem to end soon.
The Republic Square is surrounded by five massive buildings forming an ensemble in the neoclassical style with vast use of Armenian motifs. Those five buildings are the National Gallery, the History Museum, several governmental buildings and… a Marriott Hotel.
For a dinner, we chose the Tavern Yerevan situated close to the city central square (5 Amiryan St, Yerevan 0010, Armenia). We ordered the most unusual things we could find on the menu: sorrel salad, home-made Armenian pasta, grilled suluguni, pomegranate soup and sea buckthorn juice. The service was outstanding, the atmosphere very pleasant and the meal was very tasty and authentic.
After the dinner, we were so full that it was necessary to take a walk before heading back to the hotel. We decided to visit the largest cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the world, the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral. By the way, from inside it looks even bigger than from outside!
In the morning, we went on an excursion to the Yerevan Brandy-Wine-Vodka Factory „Noy“ situated at the territory of the former Yerevan Fortress. Our excursion included also a degustation: in the cellar full with old barrels with Madera wine we tasted the one from 1924! According to our guide, one bottle of this wine costs about 2000 dollars in the shop. Unfortunately, this plant doesn’t produce wine anymore and only sells the leftovers left since the beginning of the 20th century. Our second degustation drink was 10-years and 20-years old cognac. I’m so not keen in cognacs and can only tell that I liked better the 20-years old one. It tasted somehow milder to me.
There is a story about one of the products of this factory, Armenian brandy, and how it became Armenian cognac. In the beginning of the 20th century, the owner of the factory, Nikolay Shustov, incognito sent some samples of his brandy to an exhibition in Paris. These samples were unanimously granted Grand Prix. The venerable French tasters, the judges, were so astonished to found out that those divine samples didn’t come from France but from Armenia, that they granted this unknown brandy-maker the privilege to write the word „cognac“ on his labels instead of „brandy“.
During the whole trip, we had only one unpleasant experience with a taxi driver (and we suspect that he even wasn’t Armenian). He pretended that his taximeter was broken, he didn‘t understand Russian or English and asked for the price which is four times higher than it had to be. We asked him to stop and let us out: first, he didn’t agree and started roughly bargaining. We insisted and almost jumped out from the moving car. Some adrenalin into our blood, huh!
Our last stop in Yerevan was at the Yerevan Cascade, a complex of the massive staircases with fountains. This construction was almost finished when after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the money ended. Therefore, the last fourth of the complex was left unaccomplished and abandoned. Inside the complex, Cafesjian Center of the Arts is situated which offers a diverse program of various exhibitions, concerts, lectures and films. From the top of this giant staircase, a great view opens to the whole Yerevan city and to the imposing Mount Ararat.
To sum up, our impressions of Armenia are very good: hospitable people, tasty and cheap food, rich history. However, if we come back, we would take a car and discover more of beautiful nature and mysterious cloisters and monasteries of this country!
- Currency: Armenian dram, its rate at the time we were there was about 567 dram to 1 Euro.
- Transport Tiflis – Yerevan: you can take a comfortable minivan, which starts from the Avlabari metro station appr. every 2 hours and costs 35 Lari pp.
- The border-crossing Georgia – Armenia was very uncomplicated (maybe, it was because of the off-season): it took us maximum 30 minutes to cross both borders.
- Visa: Russians (as well as the citizens of the former Soviet countries) and Germans don’t need a visa. We got a stamp in our passport on arrival and at departure.
- Taxi: agree on the price in advance, usually the autos have a taximeter; the minimum rate is 600 (up to 6 km), every next km is 100. To go to the airport it cost us 2000 (including tips).
- Excursion at „Noy“: 1 hour, 3500 without degustation, 5000 with degustation (one sort wine and two types of cognac). For excursions in Russian or English, you’d better check the times and register in advance.