Exploring Armenia on Wintertime

 

Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery

Country: Armenia

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.

img_5763

img_5761

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.

img_5785

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.

Mt. Ararat hiding through the clouds

Mt. Ararat hiding through the clouds

 

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.

Khor Virap means “deep pit,” a place where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years

Khor Virap means “deep pit,” a place where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years

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.

 

Garni Temple

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.

wp_20151221_14_44_01_pro

A Pagan temple and a symbol of pre-Christian Armenia

A Pagan temple and a symbol of pre-Christian Armenia

wp_20151221_14_49_03_pro__highres

 

Geghard Monastery

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.

 Geghard is also known as Monastery of the Cave built during the 4th century

Geghard is also known as Monastery of the Cave built during the 4th century

img_5853

 

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.

Kecharis Monastery

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.

Kecharis complex consists of three Churches

Kecharis complex consists of three Churches

 

Tsaghkadzor Ropeway

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.

img_6061

img_6088

img_5974

 

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.

Lake Sevan under the clear, blue sky

Lake Sevan under the clear, blue sky

 

Sevanavank

Sevanavank

 

img_6107

 

Day 4: Vernissage- Genocide Museum- Cascade- Opera House- Swan Lake

Vernissage

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

Display of Armenian native products

Display of Armenian native products

 

 

Genocide Museum

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.

The eternal flame

The eternal flame

 

Yerevan Cascade

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.

img_6268

 

Opera House

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.

Yerevan Opera Theatre

Yerevan Opera Theatre

 

Swan Lake

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.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

 

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.

 

28 Comments

  • Andi says:

    Wow, the structures are like ruins of ancient times. And -2 C? Freezing point, I might ask for a hot coffee every hour just to keep me warm! Good thing you can do solo travel, and it is nice that you are able to see some snow.

    Andi | http://www.wizardandi.com

    • Louiela Ann says:

      Thanks Andi,,, Actually I love winter more than summer 🙂
      I guess that coffee thing is a good option to keep us warm,,

  • Erica says:

    It’s the best combination in an itinerary – history and winter experience!!! I remember the first time I experienced snow! BRRRRRRRRRRR Anyway, I just wanna ask is is possible to know the range of travel cost to Armenia? If I follow your itinerary for 5 days??? TIA!

    THE GIRL WITH THE MUJI HAT

    • Louiela Ann says:

      Hi Erica, thanks. Sure, i will send you the cost of my travel. I’ll send it in messenger now… the currency is in Armenian Dollar (AMD), just convert it then to the currency you prefer… 🙂

  • One of the possible counties should I say in Europe? Im not sure if they are part of Europe or Asia. But I believe because of their political and economical trend they are now considered as part of Europe. That I could visit soon because they just requires Visa upon arrival for Philippine Passport holder. Atleast, I couls say for once in mu life. Ive been to europe or close to europe hahah

    • Louiela Ann says:

      Cai… yes, Armenia lies in between Asia or Europe… And you’re right, I guess their heart loves to be a part of Europe 🙂
      You can find here also Mt. Ararat where Noah’s ark landed… and, home country of the Kardashian’s :)))
      If you’re in Armenia, try your best to cross the border to Georgia…

  • CHY says:

    I love this! I’m a Filipina too but live in USA now! I just followed you! Let’s connect! I just posted my paris trip! XOXO https://thelostmango.wordpress.com

  • Indrani says:

    Wonderful itinerary done. Good coverage of all the must see places there.
    Hope I can visit some day.

  • Gel says:

    Such an in-depth travel guide itinerary. But what really caught my attention was the Khor Virap. I wonder if it’s creepy down there? –Gel musingsandpathways.com

    • Louiela Ann says:

      Hi Gel, thanks. Khor Virap is too beautiful to take a photo with Mt Ararat (but I wasn’t lucky due to the weather).
      the deep pit isn’t creepy but not advisable for those who are claustrophobic and the stairs are too narrow and stands parallel to the straight wall..

  • That must have been such a fun experience for snow the first time! I grew up with long harsh winters and hot humid summer to the point of extreme opposite. I never realized how much I miss having 4 distinct seasons in the year. I am surprised and would not have thought of snow in Armenia! The thing we learn 🙂

  • What made you decide to visit Armenia alone on a Christmas Eve? This country is not only physically beautiful but has a rich history – Ancient and resilient.

    Your photos of monuments and monasteries are stunning, the landscape of Armenia is really Amazing. How was your experience with the locals? They said that Armenians are down to earth people.

    • Louiela Ann says:

      Impulsive decision making, Trish 🙂
      Armenians are one of the reason why I love traveling solo.
      They are so kind, honest and helpful, I felt so safe.

  • Vyjay says:

    Armenis is charming and what a varied landscape and sigts. It is interesting to note that it is the World’s first Christian nation. There is so much of history, it is fascinating.

  • Elisa says:

    i visited Armenia in summer time and by your pictures it looks like a different story. You missed the cool nightlife in the open air terraces spread in Yerevan’s centre but also the terrible heat and of course more visitors. I wish I had seen those same churches under the snow!

  • I didn’t know Armenia is as this beautiful as what I’m reading and seeing in your pictures. I admire your confidence by asking since you don’t have a guide during your visit and that’s something an awesome thing a traveler could make out. I truly like how details your post is, from the history of the place and your travel experience. The snow must be really amazing! How I wish I can experience this thing as well.

    LaiAriel

  • Ferna says:

    Such a nice story you have from your trip to Armenia. I didn’t know that they are a christian country until this post. I know Mt. ARARAT is home for noahs ark? I am not sure though. Good thing you met a person named Ararat hehehe or you will be disappointed the whole day of not seeing the place yay! I know this place is in between Asia and Europe. It has been part of my list to come visit this country. Thanks for sharing.

  • Gypsycouple says:

    Your pics are beautiful! Armenia doesn’t feature in many to-travel lists but from what we’ve heard and seen in this post definitely seems like one to visit before the mass tourist discovers its charm. Wintertime actually seems to make everything so much better 🙂

  • Lynne Sarao says:

    I’ve actually been starting to hear a lot about Armenia (and Georgia) lately and it is very interesting to me. Thanks for sharing all the details of your trip. I’ll have to check it out a bit further.

  • Sonja says:

    Wow this looks like such an interesting place! I didn’t know much about it but I definitely want to visit now! Although maybe when it’s warmer haha.

  • So cool that you went in winter (punny, I know). I grew up in the desert so a road trip for snow is still a magical experience. What a beautiful place to visit for the Opera House and museums.

  • neha says:

    Armania seems to be a beautiful place. We love visiting places in off peak season. We really like it when the place is not so crowded

  • So nice that you got to experience snow for the first time – what an experience! Armenia is actually at the top of my travel list but I wouldn’t go in Winter as I live in Canada and Winter here is brutal….lol!

  • Wow, Armenia looks stunning! Many of my friends from the Netherlands have been here and I can see why. The mountain backdrop and especially the skiing looks appealing to me, but the architecture is impressive as well. Such a big difference from Western Europe.

  • chanelle says:

    I’m not used to winter either! I’m from South Africa so I always have to brace myself when i go traveling in the winter. I’ve never thought about traveling to Armenia and there aren’t many articles highlighting the country so thank you for this, i’d love to go!

  • Abigail says:

    I haven’t read much about Armenia in many travel blogs. I guess it is a good time to visit and explore it while it does not seem to be as crowded as other destinations.

  • Ami says:

    You are a brave one…managing that in winter. However, I must say with sights like those – Khor Virap and stuff…I can imagine how you might have for sometime forgotten your chill. Lovely captures.

  • Yura says:

    ohh I realy like it your photos are amazing Its cool in winter…thanks for staying in Hostel Baghramyan this summer 2017…

Leave a Comment