Return to Tblisi

Posted by on 14, Jul 2010 in 2010 - The Caucasus, Armenia, Caucasus, Europe

Return to Tblisi

We left Yerevan and headed to see the two UNESCO sites just south at Echmiadzin. One is just ruins and a bit disappointing but the other is the Vatican of Armenia and is a complex of a small cathedral surrounded by gardens and priests accommodation buildings and various other churches dotted about the town.

The cathedral seems to be working non stop with people coming in to kiss the icons and light candles as well as get children baptised. It seems a bit odd to see the baptism happening whilst others pray or do the rounds of the icons and all the while tourists mingle freely with everyone.

We also visited the treasury which contains the actual spear tip that pierced Christs side, 2 pieces of the cross and a large section of Noahs Ark! It seemed as though only people bearing the travellers Bible – Lonely Planet who treated these pieces with some scepticism!

Leaving the town we actually felt as though we were on our way home as we now head north for a few thousand kilometres till Moscow! We weren’t done with challenges though and headed for ‘the worst road in Armenia’ to visit Garni temple and Geghart Monastery. The road winds its way up the hills outside Yerevan and passes a view point with a huge Arch which is supposed to frame mount Ararat and Yerevan. The haze over the city however leaves the snow capped top almost floating freely over the clouds and smog below.
The road from here turned into a plasticene road twisted by a toddler. It dropped suddenly in places almost as if the child had snapped the plasticene and then jammed it back together, further along it was twisted and made Taffy lean at alarming angles. It was slow sea sick making going but only lasted a few miles before a proper surface resumed. Cunningly all the local road side vendors congregated on the slow going section and you almost had time to lean out of the window and pinch items as Taffy swayed between the stalls!

Garni temple is a fantastic reconstructed Roman temple sat on the edge of a cliff overlooking the chasm below and well worth the trip. The view alone was breathtaking and we sat for hours just gazing at the river and mountains around us. The temple was in a small walled city and 4m of the 14m high wall remain together with the gate. We camped right outside the gate and had all the local stall holders come in for a tour. We ended the evening at a local bar with half pints of a fizzy red wine overlooking the gorge with just the crickets for company.

Early the next day we drove on to Geghart, a working monastery carved out of the cliff right at the end of the road. We were so early that it hadn’t opened which must be a first for us! The church was like most here dark inside and somewhat depressing but there was a service going on which was interesting to watch. The caves had been carved into small chapels with wonderful carvings in them and apparently were unusually carved from the top down.

Our final stop on our fleeting visit to Armenia was at the border where the usual disorder and chaos rained. You queue to get into the compound but cars just wiz around you to jump the queue it is as usual bedlam. When you finally make it inside you park and take your papers to the Customs Broker who has a steam powered PC in an unair conditioned room with 20 people all pushing and shoving to get their papers seen first. It was 40 outside and probably close to 50 in the tiny office. Eventually the PC can take it no more and crashes due to the heat! The official clears the room but we having got to 2nd in the queue stand our ground and he let’s is stay in whilst the PC reboots. Eventually completely soaked to the skin we emerge ready to get our passports dealt with. To do this you drive to the exit barrier and then get out and begin round two of the Argy bargy push and shove that is Armenian border control. Of course at this point there is no point in shoving past the person in front as no one is going anywhere with Taffy blocking the controls. This naturally makes no difference to the locals but we were fortunate to have 2 very big American Armenians who were behind us and made sure we got dealt with promptly. And that was it , 10 minutes later we were sailing down the road in Georgia and headed to the David Gareda monastery and an encounter with the Georgian Special Forces as we managed to drive into a military camp!

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