This summer I embarked on my 14th trip to Armenia. Unlike past visits, this time I didn’t go with my family. Instead I went with friends on a mission to volunteer in my motherland. Located in the Southern Caucasus on the cusp of Europe and Asia, Armenia is one of the oldest nations in the world. It was the first Christian nation and has great cultural history, as the country originated during the 6th century B.C. Currently Armenia is a democratic republic with a population of about 3 million, but there are approximately 8 million Armenians living outside of their country as a result of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Below I’ve shared a small glimpse into various parts of Armenia’s breathtaking beauty.
Here’s the famous Sevan Lake which is the largest body of water in Armenia. The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming, jet skiing, paragliding, sailing and many more water activities. This lake is home to the “Ishkhan” (which means “prince”) fish, which are quite delicious.
The Armenian alphabet, created by Saint Mesrop Mashtots, has been around for 1,610 years and has 36 letters. Visitors of this park often climb on top of the statue of the first letter of their name to take pictures!
On the first Saturday of our trip, we decided to go on a hike in the region of Dilijan. About 2 hours away from the capital of Yerevan, Dilijan is often called the Switzerland of Armenia. With its traditional and historical architecture and its evergreen trees, Dilijan is beautiful and relaxing. Dilijan’s famous church is the Haghartsin Monastery, nestled in lush green trees, where we began our hike.
We marched for about 3 hours, passing through fields, streams, vines and what felt like a forest.
Finally, we reached the top of the mountain, where we enjoyed a nice picnic by the lake before heading back down.
On route to visit some historical monuments near the capital of Yerevan, we stopped at these fruit stands to enjoy some juicy peaches and sweet apricots. Armenia is famous for its delicious apricots. Armenia’s produce is mostly organic, which you can definitely feel when you taste the food. Another delicacy of Armenia is the homemade mulberry vodka — it has about 95% alcohol!
On route … cows crossing!
Garni is an ancient temple that dates backs to the 1st century A.D. It’s one of the only temples in Armenia. Next to Garni there is a church called Geghart. The two are often linked together because of their near proximity and their location on mountain tops. Both of these historical sites were carved by hand. Today, one can enjoy delicious sweet bread called “ghata” and homemade fruit rolls and jams outside of these 2 tourist attractions.
We decided to take a weekend trip to Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. We jumped on a train bright and early Saturday morning. Once we reached Gyumri, we walked through the city center where we saw this huge church. We then hopped onto a “marshrutka” bus and headed to our hotel.
After a short rest and lunch paired with the tasty local beer of Gyumri called “Alexandrople” (a must try!), we embarked on a 6 mile hike to the Marmashen Monastery. I know, Armenia truly is a hiker’s paradise!
An old woman in the village saw us walking in the 100+ degree heat and invited us into her yard for some fruit from her trees. Her son and grandson were bagging up wheat probably to make bread. Armenia is known for its hospitable people. Feeling bad for the poor family, we declined any food that she offered us but the old lady would not have it and she made us eat her mouthwatering fresh fruit. They filled up our water bottles and set us on our way!
Some of us gave up on the hike, so the villagers called over one of their neighbors to give us a ride in this old, broken down, might-explode-at-any-moment van.
Finally, we reached the Marmashen Monastery as a storm was setting in. As we were arranging our nice picnic, some nice folks nearby invited us to join them as they barbecued some kebob, Armenia’s local dish.
We drove up to the Lori Province about 3 hours from Yerevan. Lori is notorious for its mountainous surface and its churches located atop hills. Below is a an old woman (called “dadik” in Armenian) standing just outside the entrance to Haghpat Monastery, admiring the “khachkars”, which are crosses engraved in stone.
On the mountain next to Haghpat Monastery is Odzun Church. It was a breathtaking last stop on our tour throughout Lori.
For our last night back in Yerevan, we saw the sunset as we sadly got ready to say a “see you later” to Armenia.