Armenia is a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located in Western Asia, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south.
Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the mountains of Ararat. It became the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion and in between late 3rd century to early years of the 4th century (the official date is 301 AD), becoming the first Christian nation. (Source: Wikipedia)
Date of Travel: December 20-24, 2015
As a Filipino and raised in Philippines (a tropical country) then given a chance to work in Middle East (where scorching summer days are longer than winter cool days) I have never seen or experienced snow my entire life.
From a wishful thinking, I just woke up one day, that I have to chase my dreams and one of them is to chase snow.
Having a long day off, I packed those thick winter clothes, boots, gloves, bonnets and travel to somewhere where it snows.
Hello snow, hello Armenia.
Day 1: Arrival in Zvartnots Airport
Though this is my second solo travel, the feeling of being anxious in an unfamiliar place was still there. I followed the other passengers that led us to the immigration. Being a Philippine passport holder with UAE residence visa, I have to obtain a visa on my arrival. I filled up the form and followed the queue.
Not sure of the directions in a foreign land, I contacted my host prior to my arrival to arrange my transfer from airport to the hostel. Searching from the crowd, I always have that happy feeling whenever I find the one who holds that small paper with my name on it.
The guy led me out to the airport and asked me to wait for few minutes to take his car.
I assumed I was wearing clothes enough to give me warmth but I underestimated the weather in Armenia. It was -2 ‘C and I was shivering during the few minute wait.
I arrived in my hostel, and it was very silent. From there I knew, that I came to visit Armenia in an off-peak season for tourism.
On this same day, I had the chance to walk around Yerevan but I was not able to stay outside for a longer time. I wore thick clothes but it wasn’t enough. I needed more winter accessories to give me warmth.
Day 2: Khor Virap- Garni- Geghard
Since it was off-season for tours, it was difficult to find a group to join with. My host gave me a map and instructed me where to go and on how to reach the places I wanted to visit.
Classic Yerevan Hostel in only 5-10-minute walk from the Metro (Barekamutyun), I took the opportunity to use it. As instructed I had to go down to Republic Square to take the bus going to Khor Virap. It wasn’t difficult to look for the bus station. But the problem was all the signage were written in Armenian letters and I couldn’t read even just one.
I asked few people around where’s the bus going to Khor Virap. It seems the bus left already and I’ll have to wait for the next bus. Well, that’s how I understand it. Communication was a bit difficult at this time. One guy approached us, he speaks a bit of English and I told him that I wanted to go to Khor Virap. He is a taxi driver. After we agreed with the price, we were on our way to Khor Virap.
It was around 45-minute drive and I kept looking around. I was searching for Mt. Ararat. It should be there somewhere. Until we reached Khor Virap. It is a monastery set on a hill so you must have to use the uneven stairs to reach the uphill.
As I was too excited and in a hurry to reach the top, I was running to the steep. Many times I would fall as careless as I am. Snowfall happened like two weeks before I went there. The snow has melted making it slippery and some has dried already.
I finally reached Khor Virap Monastery. My eyes were searching around. Where is Mount Ararat? Then I saw behind the clouds, a glimpse of Mt. Ararat who doesn’t want to show itself to me. I can barely see it as it is all white with snow plus it is hiding behind the clouds. All I can say is, next time.
I wandered and explored. The place holds a significant role in Armenian history for the conversion of all Armenian nation to Christianity. As I don’t have a guide, I have to ask somebody and he pointed a door and gestured going down.
Being curious and intrigued, I checked the place. I saw two small holes. Yes, they were only holes. I am petite yet I was having doubt if I would fit there. I was hesitant to go down, but what’s the use of going there and I will miss out going down to a remarkable place of history.
I wouldn’t forget going down through the narrow vertical stairs. Just a reminder to wear non-slippery footwear if you’re planning to go and two strong hands to have good grasp to use the stairs.
After exploring Khor Virap, I was suppose to go back to Yerevan but I asked the driver if we can continue to Garni and Geghard, he agreed with the price changed.
By the way, I didn’t see clearly the Mt. Ararat but I met a very nice guy named Ararat who was there with some doves in exchange for few pennies, I think. But I’ve got my dove for free and watched it fly in liberty in Khor Virap.
From one place to another place, we were on our way to Garni. I didn’t notice how much time we traveled as I was awed with the snowy roadside and mountains we were passing by.
Garni is the only Pagan temple in Armenia that is preserved. It was dedicated to Mihr, the god of sun. Its walls were built without use of mortar or what they call dry masonry completed during the 1st to 2nd century AD.
Garni was built in highlands of Armenia making it more stunning with the snowy mountains as its backdrop.
Part of Geghard is excavated from the mountain and it also means “spear.” Armenians believe that the spear that pierced the side of Christ on the cross was once kept in Geghard after it was kept in St Thaddeus grave.
Letters and designs were carved on the walls and to the pillars during the early medieval period. Some cross-stones (khachkars) were being painted with a red dye made from beetles native in Armenia giving them its red color and has been there for more than 800 years now.
Only few were there at the time. I took the chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the peaceful and blissful atmosphere in Geghard.
Day 3: Kecharis Monastery-Tsaghkadzor- Sevanavank- Lake Sevan
Ever dreamt of a white powdery fairyland?
My journey to Tsaghkadzor made me realize that in the frugality of our lives, dreams do come in reality. During the trip, I couldn’t take off my eyes on the road with the magnificent views of snow-covered mountains.
We had a stop in Kecharis Monastery, a medieval Armenian Monastery built during the 11-13th Century. It is built in Bambak mountains and during my visit there, the surroundings were covered with snow.
Lighting a candle in the church isn’t my practice but how can you refuse a good man who sacrificed few pennies to purchase candles and handed you some.
Continuing the journey, I couldn’t resist the inviting views of the surroundings. I kept on requesting to stop the car and have photos of the panorama.
I was then very contented of what I was seeing but experiencing the Ropeway of Tsaghkadzor is very overwhelming.
I have paid for one rope only and I don’t know what to expect. And that was the superb moment that all worries were erased as if I was in a trance in a place where the only feeling that exist is happiness. But no, that was real… happiness, peace, freedom, amazed… That all I can do is to savor that magical, blissful snow experience and praise our Creator for bringing a piece of Heaven on earth.
The ropeway was slow giving you a chance to enjoy the delightful views and feel the icy wind. I forgot my fear of heights. My attention was diverted on how to contain the awe-inspiring majesty of nature.
I jumped off when I reach the station as the ski lifts doesn’t stop. I walked around, totally flabbergasted. The mountain I am walking on, stepping on is all snow. The snow was thick yet fluffy and powdery white. I loved the winter rays of the sun that go through the bare branches of the trees.
I saw only few people skiing. Most of them are proceeding to the second or third ropeway maybe for a better ski slopes. So it means, I will own for a moment this piece of winter fairyland.
Lake Sevan and Sevanavank
Lake Sevan is a vast body of water. I thought it’s a sea. But it is quite a huge lake. The view is stunning with the snow-covered mountain and calm waters.
Atop the peninsula is Sevanavank or Sevan Monastery where you can see a number of Khachkars (cross stone.) Taking a hike to the top of the peninsula is very rewarding to enjoy the chilly weather and appreciate the view Lake Sevan.
Day 4: Vernissage- Genocide Museum- Cascade- Opera House- Swan Lake
Vernissage is an open air market in rows where they sell and display carved wood artworks, carpets, paintings, books and other stuff. It is a good place to purchase souvenirs and you can haggle prices especially if you are buying in bulks
The 44-meter steel symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Twelve slabs are positioned in a circle, representing the twelve lost provinces in present-day Turkey. In the center of the circle, at a depth of 1.5 meters, there is an eternal flame dedicated to the 1.5 million people killed during the Armenian Genocide. (Wikipedia)
It was 4pm when I reached the museum. It was a big mistake since it is their closing time already. But the sun was still up so I stayed there for few minutes. The quietness of the place makes the atmosphere feel sad and sober but you can feel the calmness and peace.
I walked around through the memorial trees until I reach the place where the eternal flame is placed with flowers around. I offered a prayer and left.
Cascade is composed of many levels of giant staircase with 572 steps all in all. Reaching the top gives you a spectacular view of Yerevan. Good thing is that I was informed that there are escalators inside to save us from sore legs.
However, going down through the stairways is rewarding, giving you the chance to explore and appreciate the modern architecture and sculptures and art displays.
Since it will be my last night in Armenia, I enjoyed walking around the streets of Yerevan. Another mistake I did was; I didn’t check any available show in the Opera House.
So I stayed outside, sit and watch people pass by while listening to Armenian music.
Nearby the Opera House is Swan Lake, a skating ice rink in Yerevan. Either you’ll do ice skating or simply sit there with hot drinks, for sure you’ll be amused with the people skating from different ages, from learner to pro. Watch them glide, play and dance. Watch them fall and rise again with the freezing temperature while soothing music is being played.
Day 5: Departure early in the morning
Five days in Armenia wasn’t enough for me being a slow wanderer. Though I am very thankful for this another experience and I will always cherish it.
I don’t have a bucket list, I just grab any opportunity to go somewhere and I love that Armenia has given me this wonderful adventure of a freezing winter and snow experience.
To see more of Armenia, click here.