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Personal recent travel review with pictures and well researched itinerary of the east.
Having been to 65 countries with repeat visits in four continents, Armenia is one of the few places I know little about. Last year, Armenia was in the news for negative reasons though these days it is peaceful. All I knew before is there was a skirmish last year, the Kartrashians (aka. Kardashians) kind of come from there (in the present day, 21st century, the village is in the bordering country of Turkey) and of course the moving genocide of over 100+ years back.

Ask anyone where is Armenia and they would struggle to find it on a map. They will also say, is that Europe, Asia or an area between Europe & Asia. According to most sources it is in West Asia and most of the Middle East is in West Asia also. It borders Iran, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. It has no sea unlike other countries nearby - the “glorified lakes” of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Very first impressions - do not judge a book by its cover! We flew into Yerevan airport and after getting our luggage, going through immigration, getting cash out of an ATM, getting a SIM and going through a light Corona check (vaccine cert needed only, not a PCR) loads of men were harassing us for a taxi. This is like what happens in Egypt, the non-Gulf Middle East and parts of Asia. We wrongly assumed the people were money grabbing - how very wrong we were.

Armenia like most of the ex-USSR (The Baltics cares more) does not care too much about Corona. No PCR or rapid test is needed to enter at the border. Very seldomly will a restaurant ask to see your vaccine certificate and masks are seriously optional. No restrictions were visible during our visit and even cops in the airport did not wear a mask. In some ways it is nice to get away from the restrictions and constant media coverage.

We left the airport in a large taxi which cost well under £10 to get to the edge of the city centre where we stayed in a decent apartment costing about £100/week. Taxis are super cheap and cost £1-3 to get anywhere, even the airport in a standard sized taxi. The currency is very weak - £1 is 600 Drams. Everything in the country is very fairly priced: museums, hotels, shops and restaurants.

After dropping off our luggage we headed out for a walk. Nearby is the impressive and possibly only (Shia) mosque in Armenia. Not far from there we walked through Republic Sq., past the Opera House and to the Cascade. At the top of the hill to the right is the Motherland Statue which is similar to the one in Kiev - Soviet origin of course. Dinner was local food which is similar to the rest of the USSR, especially Georgia and it defiantly has an Eastern flare.

Compared to the rest of the ex-USSR Armenia feels less Soviet, mentality and architecture wise. Like in Ukraine most of the communist emblems have been replaced. It is not too Western looking, and the people are a different ethnic group to those of Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. The language looks nothing like what you have seen before. Russian is spoken by all, and English is stronger than other post-Soviet states with more English signs.

Sadly, I had remote work to do but after a few days a road trip in a Soviet style Lada Niva 4x4 which I loved was planned, mapped out and a car rented. Six days was enough to complete pretty much everything in half of the country - east of Yerevan. Armenia is not too big but because of the roads and altitude driving it is not speedy. In two weeks, driving many kilometres a day, all could be seen. In winter a normal 2-wheel drive car would not cut it.

What is there to see? Mainly tonnes of churches/cathedrals (often at altitude), abandoned villages and nature which includes: mountains, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, natural rock formations and villages made of caves.

Let the epic road trip begin… in a seriously cool car (in my view anyway!).

Day #1
  • Charent's Arch - viewing point of Mt. Ararat
  • Garni Temple - think of a knock off of a Roman or Greek temple though it is 2000 years old and pagan
  • Symphony of Sound - a natural knock off of Giants Causeway though at a different angle. Armenia has lots of these
  • Geghard monastery - a high-altitude well-known monastery
  • Dvin ancient village - little to see
  • Khor Virap - a monastery and viewpoint
  • Night in Areni - has a winery

Day #2
  • Areni Cave 1 - a previously inhabited cave with evidence visible. Not very big
  • Jermuk waterfall - down a steep snowy hill and with some frozen falls
  • Jermuk thermal water - a knock off of bath with a bath house with free warm water
  • Shaki waterfalls - semi frozen falls with a different layout to Jermuk
  • Carahunge - a knock off of both Stonehenge & New Grange (Ireland) in one site
  • Night in Shinuhayr - little here to do

Day #3
  • Old Khot - seriously cool knock off of Machu Pichu though not as old
  • Wings of Tatev - claims to be the longest cable car in its category built recently
  • Tatev Monastery - at the top of the cable car
  • Night in Halidzor - close to high altitude drops

Day #4
  • Devils Bridge - a natural rock bridge
  • Tatevi Anapat - a monk’s hermitage 2kms from the road
  • Khndzoresk - another great abandoned village and a knock off of Cappadocia (Turkey). There is a suspension bridge to get there. We saw loads of Eurasian Lynx prints
  • Night in Sisian - just a town

Day #5
  • Aghitu memorial - a small old memorial in a town with the same name
  • Vorotnavank Monastery - another monastery and all are similar
  • Vorotan - undeveloped hot springs and 150-year-old bridge
  • Night in Martuni - town next to Lake Sivan

Day #6
  • Noratus cemetery - an old large cemetery near the lake
  • Dilijan - not worth the detour
  • Sevan Island - a view of the top of the lake
  • Back to Yerevan - end of a great road trip

How are the people? Our experience of the taxi drivers in the airport was not seen outside of the airport. The people speak better English than other parts of the ex-USSR including 50+ year olds which is unheard of in Moldova or Ukraine. Citizens of Armenia are helpful, honest and not money oriented. In case English is not spoken just use Google Translate for Russian which is more readable than հայերէն (Armenian).

Would I return? 100% yes to explore the west of the country and more of Lake Sevan. This review was written and published without charge in payback to MES (Ministry of Emergency Situations) for rescuing us. One late afternoon we were driving on the Vardenyats Pass (M10) which is up to 2500m altitude and got stuck. Four MES men in their large Soviet truck pulled us out and we followed them to their accommodation/office cabin for a drink. We followed them and then drove to Martuni for the night. MES nor any of the other helpers would take cash from us.