Lahic was the last of the Caucasus hill villages we visited and it reaffirmed that hill villages often have the most to offer in terms of scenery and real life experiences. They are generally hard to get to and usually involve boarding a Soviet-era school bus that should have been retired 20 years ago.
Winters in these remote villages are difficult – roads get snowed out and access to the rest of the world and its goods is limited. Locals reflect their accumulated years of difficulty with an outwardly rough exterior, but they usually soften quickly upon engagement. Even a “hello” in the local language will bring smiles, invitations for tea (or vodka), and possible induction into the extended family.
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While visiting the village of Kish just outside of Shaki, the Azerbaijani long weekend getaway of choice, we struck up a conversation with a newlywed couple – a young dentist and his wife – as they gave us a ride back into town.
“The situation with doctors and dentists is really bad in Azerbaijan. My salary as a dentist is only $30 per month.”
“How could you afford a car like this on $30 per month?” Audrey asked, as she sank back into the deep plush seat of his Mercedes sedan. Continue Reading »
Sometimes quotes are the best way to describe a place. Here are a few from our friend, Yahya, about Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
Posing as Estonians
The influence of Azerbaijan’s current oil boom (its second, the first occurred in the early 1900s) can be felt just about everywhere, not least in the price of accommodation which happens to be geared more towards oil executives with large expense accounts than independent tourists. Based on our research, hotels were out of the question. Baku didn’t seem to have a network of homestay families as in Tbilisi and Yerevan, so we opted for a short-term apartment rental.
“Don’t speak English when the woman comes. I told her you were Estonian. We get a better price this way.”
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Peaceful Haghartsin Monastery is nestled in the forest about 15 minutes outside of the northern Armenian town of Dilijan. Continue Reading »
At 1900 meters, Lake Sevan’s waters are icy cold…a toe dip and you’ll lose feeling immediately. Continue Reading »
Garni, a reconstructed Hellenic temple (originally from the 1st century) located at the Avan Gorge. Nearby Geghard is an early Christian rock monastery from the 4th century, augmented by the Zakarians in the 13th century. Catch someone singing in the upper chapel (as we did) – the acoustics are terrific.
How to get there: As public transportation makes it a bit tricky to visit both sites in one day, we took a tour with Sati (21 Mashtots Avenue) for around $8 per person.
Echmiadzin is to the Armenian Apostolic Church what The Vatican is to the Catholic Church. It is believed that St. Gregory the illuminator first envisioned and built Mayr Tachar (Mother Church of Armenia) there in the 3rd-4th century. The monastery remains active with somber looking men in black robes gliding around its grounds. Continue Reading »
Searching hopelessly one night for what turned out to be a defunct traditional Armenian restaurant, we inquired with the locals in Yerevan regarding where we could find good traditional Armenian food. “There,” all fingers pointed in the direction of one of the handful of local kebab joints.
We declare – man cannot live on kebabs alone! And anyway, could grilled minced meat wrapped in lavash (flat bread) really represent the breadth of the Armenian table? Continue Reading »
Every advertisement for Armenia includes an image of Khor Virap Monastery’s silhouette against snow-capped Mt. Ararat.
Khor Virap Monastery can be considered the site of origin of Christianity as Armenia’s state religion. Continue Reading »
Interested in seeing more of the “real” Armenia outside the reaches of Yerevan, we decided to head south to Tatev in the direction of Armenia’s border with Iran. The journey there comes in two parts: a marshrutka (minibus) from Yerevan to Goris (4-5 hours) and a dilapidated 1950s school bus from Goris to Tatev (1.5 hours). Though the trip to Goris was relatively uneventful, we were amazed that the bus to Tatev actually winds and finds its way up hills, across meadows and in and out of a switchback-framed gorge – each and every day in one piece, rain or shine. Continue Reading »