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Entries about armenia


sunny 27 °C


I had great hopes for Goris. Like Sisian, it seemed like a good place to stay for a few days to explore the area, but it sounded a lot less functional and more attractive. As the Mashrutka slowly wound its way down the valley, I was surprised to see the town was much bigger than I expected. We were set off in the town centre and yet I had the stupidly optimistic idea that it would be nice to find a cafe, have some much needed breakfast and get our bearings before we looked for somewhere to stay. As it was we eventually found a shop and sat on the disused fountain in the square to eat and drink and try and make sense of the, so far, useless map. As we were sitting there eating and looking around in mild disappointment, a fellow traveller passed by and stopped to talk to us. "Bit of a disappointment isn't it?" He said. I was loath to give immediate judgement, but my heart sank. However, he was staying in one of the hostels we were hoping to find and offered to take us there. We followed him and ended up in one of my favourite places to stay in Armenia. The hostess was a warm, friendly woman called Nadia, who lived in another part of the house with her family. It was connected to the two guest rooms by a spacious wooden veranda which was dominated by a large wooden table. After settling in we dashed off with our new friend, who wanted to see "Old Goris" before he was taking a taxi to a monastery another town later that day.

Its a funny thing when you are travelling, you make friends so quickly, spend a bit of time doing things with them and then realise you sometimes don't even know (or can't remember) their names but you know their nationality! This man was English, but had lived in Canada for a long time, and seemed to be trying to break some rapid travel record. None of us actually knew what Old Goris was going to be like and were expecting it just to be an older part of the town, which it was at first until we crossed the bridge and were faced with an impressive area of "Fairy Chimneys" and caves very similar to those in Cappadocia, Turkey, but here the surrounding hills were higher and a lot greener. I had just intended to have a quick look at the area and then come back later in the day when the light would be better for photos, but we were drawn upwards by the winding path into the hills. We came to a point where the path where you could either go off into the hill or climb up a steep hill that overlooked the town. The speedy man decided that he had time to run up the hill before going back to meet his taxi. I, however had something much more important to do as I'd seen my first Armenian goats!

When I was an 18 year old, flamboyantly dressed hippy, someone told me that I reminded him of an Armenian goatherd. I didn't have any idea, nor did he, of what one looked like, but it stuck at the back of my mind all those years. When the idea came up to travel there, I jumped at the chance to check it out. The only trouble was that I was several days in and I still hadn't seen a goat, even through a bus window. So when I spotted a herd, there was only one thing to do and that was to get some photographic evidence! It involved climbing over fences and down rocks to get to the goats and running then around like Heidi (in MY mind I was), while Rob tried to run round the other way and catch the moment in camera. Unfortunately, I never did find any goatherds to photograph compare them to, but I think it was pretty clear that I bore very little resemblance to one. I dealt with the disappointment - eventually.

goat_1.jpg goat_2.jpg

Having annoyed the goats enough, we went back to the path and met up with our puzzled-looking English friend coming down - I just felt that it might be better not trying to explain, and we carried on up to the top of the hill. The view over the town was very impressive, as were the hills behind who were luring me to continue walking into them.




We went back up to that area a few more times while we were there. After leaving the road, the path wound through a cemetery before going into the hills. One day as we were coming back down we were spotted by some workmen sitting down amongst the graves, eating a late lunch. They waived us over and insisted that we should join them. There was hot chicken stew, salads, freshly made flat bread and local cheese. It was delicious, as was the home-made fruit vodka which they were drinking. In case you're new to my blogs, I should point out here that I'm not much of a drinker and don't like the taste of most alcohol. I do usually, however, have an impressive ability to knock back neat shots of vodka, which I learnt when travelling through Central Asia and improved on in the Caucasus. The first large shot, which toasted Armenia was nicely warming, the second toasted the England and was pretty poky. One of the workers was, surprisingly, from Azerbaijan, and given the conflict between the two countries, it would have been very rude not to toast his country as well. After that one I sat there in a state of near hallucination, while the workmen gathered up their industrial power tools, minus any protective clothing and proceeded to work on the tombstones. I waited a few minutes till the world stopped warping in and out and staggered back to the house.

A few miles out of Goris, was a village called Khazdzoresk, where there was another area of caves. Nadia, our hostess, had a friend who lived there and also arranged a cheap taxi to drop us off at her house. As we drove over the hills to the village in the beautiful early morning sunlight, the elderly driver had on a mixed selection of traditional and modern Armenian music. I happily sat there thinking how much more special it was when you heard local music as you travelled along .... "Yo, yo f..k you beeatch" suddenly blared out of the speakers as we neared the village, reminding me not to be too precious! In England, we quantify music quite a lot, label it and expect it to be listened to by certain groups of people, but I've noticed that this isn't necessarily the case in many other countries, especially those with Soviet connections. I've seen old ladies (not just me), tapping their feet to rap and teenagers doing traditional Kyrgyz dances to Russian techno, just because they like the beat.

We arrived at an amazingly small wooden house which Nadia's friend shared with quite a lot of family. Although we'd eaten breakfast, she sat us down and made us Armenian coffee, walnuts, sweets and popcorn. Her sister-in-law arrived and we all sat around trying to communicate in the usual hotch-potch way. They had so little but they were determined to show us as much hospitality as they could and I was reminded of the sisters-in-law who had been so kind in Azerbaijan. After an hour, we took our leave and she pointed out the road to the caves, which turned out to be quite a lot further and harder to get to than I thought they would be. They looked magnificent from the road and spanned quite a distance on either side of a valley, but there were a lot of sheer drops and rock cliffs and it took a while to find a path down. Eventually one became clear and we set off down into the valley.



Caves at Khazdzoresk

Caves at Khazdzoresk

The caves nearer the bottom of the valley were used for animal food storage and in the distance, I could see a man riding down the steep path on his horse. After a while, he came back up the hill to talk to us. He told us he was 78 and that he lived quite far away and came every day to check on his cows. I was so impressed by his agility - obviously he knew the paths around there so well, but they certainly weren't easy walking for an old man. We "chatted" for a while and then he carried on looking after his animals, meeting us at the bottom to show us his horse, which he then leaped on and rode off into the hills.


Once the old man had gone, we were left to ourselves in the valley which rose steeply on the other side. The lower parts of the valley were full of the cave houses, a lot of them were in obvious use for animals. They carried on up the hill, petering out towards the top. There was an obvious path on that side and a stream running down the middle. I'm not sure why we started walking on the other side of the stream to the path, I think we just got lured by the houses and just kept seeing more interesting ones just a bit further ahead. Eventually I found my dream house, with a two good sized rooms and a nice bit of lawn in the front and considered moving in. By this time the sun was beating down and we were halfway up the hill, albeit the easiest part. The path in the distance looked fairly easy but the stream had etched out a deep chasm and there was no way across. It was hard to see if there was a possible way up from where we were and there were some pretty imposing sheer rock faces that I certainly wasn't going near. We now had to decide whether to carry on and hopefully find a path or to go back down, cross the stream and find the obvious path on the other side. Stubbornness and my strong dislike of going down steep hills won and we carried on up in a route that was becoming more bizarre and hopeless looking and I started to remember some of those TV programmes where stupid, unprepared people get lost or fall off cliffs in remote areas. We had water but no food and my legs were becoming wobbly from low blood sugar, heat and the seemingly inevitability of going back down the way we came. Just as we were deciding on this, a small hunched figure with a stick and a large sack on his back seemed to appear out of nowhere, if I had been in Ireland I would have seriously suspected that he was a Leprechaun! We all sat down on the grass and he pointed out that he was going up to the top and would show us the way. He opened the sack and produced some freshly picked walnuts, we provided some water and cigarettes and soon all was well with the world. Our saviour was in his eighties and I've never seen such a sprightly old man. So much so, that when he stood up and indicated that it was time to carry on, we were both struggling to keep with him - even Rob, who often annoyed me so much by his ability to walk up the steepest slopes without appearing to get out of breath. After a couple of cunning twists and turns, the steep path up the hill became obvious and the old man turned and waived, adjusted his sack and disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. Maybe there is an Armenian type of Leprechaun......


While we were at Nadia's house, a large group arrived from Yerevan to stay. They worked for an Armenian bank and came down every year for work. I was expecting a sedate bunch, having experienced the Armenian ability to be solemn and thinking bankers would be very serious people, but I was completely taken aback by their friendliness. They were hilarious, swept me into their group and showered me with hospitality. They all spoke fluent English and were able to explain to me so much about life in Armenia as they experienced it. They talked about politics; the problems with Azerbaijan, the economy and relationships with Turkey. They hoped that the border would open, which they felt could happen if Turkey admitted to its past faults. While we were talking, one of the men started crying and sat there with tears rolling down his face. "He always does this when we talk about the genocide" I was reassured "His grandparents were killed and it makes him sad, don't worry." Sure enough after a couple of minutes he stopped and carried on as before.

I was a bit taken aback when one man told me he was completely shocked as he'd heard that English people could insult each others parents. I wasn't sure what he meant but said that maybe close friends would joke about it, knowing it wasn't meant. "If anyone said anything bad about my mother, even as a joke, I would have to kill them!" I was told seriously. "Not just fight, but kill. We Armenians love blood too much!" Luckily I managed not to insult anyone's family and we left on the best of terms.

Far from disappointing me, Goris had become better and better as I'd got to know it. Sure there were the usual ugly soviet buildings, but I hardly noticed them any more, but did see the beautiful old buildings and autumn trees and had met some friendly, interesting people. We left Goris for a couple of days to go to a small town in the south called Tatev. There was a famous monastery there and a cable car to it had just opened, which was claimed to be the longest cable car in the world. After that we would return to Goris and carry on to the Nagorno Karabach, the country which officially doesn't exist.

Posted by sue deegan 06:33 Archived in Armenia Tagged landscapes mountains bridges buildings trees village caves backpacking ancient armenia caucusus cave_cities Comments (0)

More days in Sisian

sunny 27 °C


Although it has a beautifully restored 6th Centuary church, set up on the hillside, the main part of the town of Sisian was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930’s. This means that while there are a few pleasant spaces in the town and the river and the surrounding countryside are beautiful, the town itself has the same decayed sovietism of Jermuk, without the evidence of modern tourism springing up. There didn’t seem to be a lot of money for re-building here though.





The welcoming manageress at the hotel became less so when it became apparent that we were resisting her advice to change to the more expensive rooms. In fact, once the group of musicians that were staying there had left, the heating got turned off and the water remained icy cold. Her directions suffered as well: the day before she had come back from shopping to tell us how to get to Carahunge, now she merely cryptically grunted “Take the road here and turn left at the animals” instead of the more complicated information we needed to a place several kilometers away. But it was a good place to stop and explore the surrounding area so we stayed a bit longer.



When you’re travelling on limited resources in the Caucasus, if you want a change from shop bought bread, cheese, local sausage, tomatoes and cucumber, you need to find a cheap café. I’ve already mentioned the wonderful Georgian dumplings and other highly calorific cheap foods available. The problem there was finding the cafes to eat them in as they seemed hidden away at first, though after a while you get your eye in and they seem obvious. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is over-flowing with visible cafes, unfortunately they are full of men, both working and eating there and drinking endless cups of tea. There are no women to be seen anywhere in them outside of Baku, the capital, although foreign women are generally accepted as honorary men - and you get stared at for being foreign anyway. The trick there is to find the friendlier staring men’s café! Yerevan is full of all sorts of cafes, obviously cafes and full of both men and women. Out of Yerevan, Armenia really didn't seem to do a lot of cheap cafes; there are obviously a lot of other things people need to spend their money on there.

We found two cafes in Sisian. The first was cheap and just across the road from our hotel; the other was right next to the river and was more expensive. The cheap café was run from early in the morning to late at night by a Russian-looking woman of the shot-put stereo-type variety I mentioned in my last blog. She was not a happy bunny. There is, I’ve heard, a café in New York which is famous for its bad-tempered waitresses, people flock there to be insulted and this one could have come a close second. The menu in our café was written in Russian, Armenian and English and I tried to read the Russian, not really difficult when it comes to food and there was very little choice. The waitress would repeat the English version in a near comedy Russian accent, look very disapproving and say “You sure you vant zis?” At first I really did think she was joking and I think this may have been my downfall as either she got more unfriendly in a less comical way or the joke just began to wear thin, but I think we had quite a unique love/hate relationship going for a while. The other place to eat was more expensive but was run by an incredibly friendly but rather excessively house-proud woman and was extremely clean. This should have been a good thing had I not arrived there after a day’s walk in the hills in travel-stained clothes, greasy hair and grubby fingernails (no point going back to the cold hotel with freezing water to clean up first), which she would politely pretend not to have noticed. It also had the best Goulash in the world.



One day we walked out of town a few kilometres, straight on and left past the animals, as instructed, to a 18m high water-fall, which is used for a hydro-electric power station. Some days it’s on and others its off. Of course I went on an off day, though I was still impressed as I'd approached it from the top looking down. The ground and the rocks around the river looked surprisingly purple. We were approached by a man who offered to have the waterfall turned on for a fairly hefty amount of money, which we declined, but he didn't seem surprised. We walked back into town an easier and as we neared town a car full of local people stopped, stared in amazement at us and immediately took out their phones, some to call people about the foreigners, while the others took our photos. When I produced my camera to photograph them, they all thought that was hilarious and we all had a good natured laugh at each other before they drove off beeping.




The more time I spent in Sisian , the friendlier the people became - except the fore mentioned hotel and cafe women of course - and I found myself lingering more on the outskirts interacting with people and taking a few photos. I don't think it was that they were getting used to me as the areas I was going to were different, more that I was beginning to get used to them.




The one daily bus to Goris, the next place on our trip left first thing in the morning, as I was getting my stuff ready I realised that my "very private" notebook, where I wrote down all sorts of things and feelings of the moments, was missing. A lot of you will know I mislay things quite frequently and so travelling can be challenging in this way for me, but I had tried to keep track of it. My heart sank as I remembered taking it to the "grumpy cafe" the day before. I could just imagine the cross Russian woman reading it and laughing at my innermost thoughts! I still had time to get it before the bus went and it had been open for breakfast the last few days - but not today! If it had been any other place, I would have left it there and imagined that they would just throw it away, but this woman had seemed to have taken malicious delight in my discomfort (so it seemed early in the morning) and I was determined to get my book back! After a while knocking , she eventually came to the door and I hurriedly asked for my book, which she knew nothing about. Now she had good reason to be grumpy with me, but she just seemed puzzled. I then remembered going into some shops nearby after the cafe and mumbling a vague apology, rushed into the only open one, where the man immediately produced my book as I went in the door. I thanked him, made the bus and promised myself to keep it a lot safer in the future.


Posted by sue deegan 11:26 Archived in Armenia Tagged waterfalls sunsets_and_sunrises mountains lakes churches people children water armenia caucusus carahunge Comments (1)

Sissian and how to get there

Armenian Stonehenge


We got up at a unpleasantly early time to take the only Mashrutka back to my favourite town of Vayk, then quickly catch another south to a town called Sissian. We'd become spoilt in the last few days by being brought breakfast in our warm sitting room. These breakfast were so large and diverse that we'd saved them for lunch too. We got to the only bus stop in town early and waited in the cold rain for the bus, which was late. A taxi driver came up and told us we were at the wrong place, the right one was miles away, but he could take us there for a large sum of money and if we hurried we would catch it. I was pretty unimpressed, cold, wet and bored with all the slyness we'd met so far. When the Mashrutka came it soon filled up with equally grumpy passengers.

What a difference arriving back in Vayk this time! Instead of being dusty, late and uninspiring, it was wet, early and uninspiring! I know I'm being unfair to the town as I only saw a tiny part of it, I'm sure if I'd spent time there I would have started to know and like the people.

But what I did see this time, was different cafe next to the Mashrutka stop, run by a cheerful, friendly woman who plied us with hot Sorch at the correct price and we chatted about our lives, not an easy task with my limited Russian and Armenian and her limited English, often using scraps of paper to illustrate. Meanwhile taxi drivers hovered around outside like wasps. She tried to explain the transport system there, which seems obvious now, but then it just seemed so confusing, though it gradually began to sink in. Basically, a lot arrived there from the capital, Yerevan, in the north, hovered outside tantalisingly for a few minutes, turned round and went back again. Some didn't turn round but were already totally and utterly full and were mainly going to Stepanakert, the capital of a country that officially doesn't exist, which I'll tell you about in a future blog. We wanted to go to a town a few miles off the main road, so there weren't many buses going there. The map I'd looked at didn't make it clear that it was so far off the main road, which added to the confusion. Don't worry, she said/mimed someone will tell us when one gets here, maybe one hour.

We spent several hours there. The rain eased and I went outside to find a French couple we'd met in Yerevan cycling along the road and chatted for a while. There were a couple of make-shift stall around with people selling phone credit, fruit and veg and the ubiquitous seeds. Seeds aren't something that we do in England, but they are common in so many other countries and I learned how to eat them in China. They are toasted, salted and are usually sunflower, pumpkin or melon. The knack that works for me is :- hold them sideways up, point inwards, between the teeth and push them slowly into your mouth as you give three or four gentle cracks along the sides with your teeth. The third or fourth time it should open enough for you to hook your tongue inside and scoop out the whole kernel, leaving the empty case in your hand. The best ones pop into your mouth by themselves and the worst just disintegrate into a mixture of shell and seed. Its a fantastic way to pass the time, waiting for a bus, sitting on one, or just contemplating life in general. Crack, crack, crack, scoops, eat, crack, crack, crack, scoop, spit, eat and so on. Squatting while you eat them makes them taste better even better. Squatting is something that's not done a lot of in England either and although I've got a lot better at it, especially when my feet are pointing downhill, after a few minutes my legs start to hurt and I have to stand up and pretend to be interested in something else.

The seeds are usually incredibly cheap and usually the street vendors are pretty poor. I bought some from an old lady, who cried as I bought them, and said something long and rambling in Armenian, probably about the plight of seed sellers, and we hugged each other. After that people became a lot friendlier and actively started to help out with Mashrutka situation. Armenian has its own writing, but as I already knew Arabic and most of the Russian letters and had recently learnt the Georgian alphabet, I'd decided not to strain my poor brain with learning yet another - especially as we were only spending three weeks there. However, I couldn't resist pulling out the dog-eared paper with the alphabet on and trying to decipher the destination boards on the Mashrutka windscreens. If I'd be hoping to impress any of the locals, I was sadly disappointed, but I had great fun working them out and cheered myself every time I got one. Eventually I read one that said Sissian, which belonged to an incredibly full Mashrutka and managed to persuade the driver to let us on, the whole town must have been fed up with me by this time and probably begged him to take us away!

I realised, after the last blog, that you, dear readers, mostly get to read the edited highlights. This of course is right, You don't often need to know the details of what I ate for breakfast, the boring times, the details of the haggling, hassling, delays, total incomprehension or any really personal stuff. But, just this once, to give a slightly closer idea of the reality of travel, I've forced you to stick around with me, in a bad mood in boring Vayk while I ramble on about seeds and Mashrutkas.

Anyway after two hours of uncomfortable travel with some friendly people, passing through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery, we arrived in Sissian. We spent some time looking for the cheap hotel only to find it was the big relatively impressive one we'd passed. We asked for one of the cheap rooms which had a balcony and looked out onto the fountain and rose-beds, the helpful English speaker manager came back from her shopping to explain how to walk to Carahunge, or Stone-Henge a few miles away, which was one of the reason we'd come there.

We walked quite a lot of the several kilometres towards Carahunge until a man in an expensive car stopped and insisted on giving us a lift. The majority of Armenians I met don't really see the point of walking for pleasure, so he was quite insistent. We'd had a long day so far, and so we got in. He told us he owned the big hotel, which he pointed to in the distance, spoke perfect English and didn't seem at all worried about driving his car over the bumpy track that led to the site. "Any problems at all, just contact me", he told us as he dropped us off at the entrance.


What an impressive site! The sheer number of stones is what hit me first - they seemed to stretch on forever. They varied in size between small child and a large adult, some of them had holes in them at a variety of angles, some pointing at the sky and some at the horizon. Some of the stones were set straight and others were leaning in different directions, maybe having been placed that way or had settled there over the hundreds of years. They seemed to be arranged in a circular pattern, which I walked around taking in the atmosphere and inspecting the separate stones.



Even without the stones, the scenery would have been beautiful. It's granite cragginess, which I hadn't seen before in the Caucasus, reminded me of Ireland. It was greener than most of the areas I'd seen around, which were mostly parched and yellowish after the long summer, fairly high up and surrounded by mountains, some of which had the start of the winter's snow on their peaks.

We had the place to ourselves, except for small shop and were free to wander wherever we wished. As the sun was getting ready to set, it rained a little, producing a rainbow that stretched over the hillsides. I'd been thinking about a close friend of mine and how much she would have loved it there. She'd had so many misfortunes over the last two years, but was getting married the next day in England. As I watched the rainbow I wished them both better times and a happy marriage.


We went into the shop before we left, which sold a few postcards and had a small collection of books and was run by a young man. He made us welcome and told us his friend was coming to pick him up soon and we could have a lift back into the town. I looked at the diverse books, some of which were in English. Apparently Carahunge or Zorats Karer, is about 7 hectares in and consists of hundreds of standing stones and over 200 stone tombs around the area. I mentioned the stones with holes in and these are thought to have been made to take readings of the movement and positions of the sun, moon and stars. Its been estimated that its at least 7,500 years old, predating our own Stonehenge. There was even a claim that Ancient Britains originated from Armenia and built Stonehenge using their ancient knowledge. A lot was mentioned about it being the point of a special sort of triangle, to do with ratios, between Stonehenge and The Pyramids. The jumble of claims and theories became harder to understand and so I sat and looked at the pictures and chatted to the man in the shop. Soon his friend arrived and we headed back into the town.

Posted by sue deegan 01:54 Archived in Armenia Tagged mountains village sites backpacking ancient armenia carahunge Comments (1)


Taking the waters soviet style

sunny 14 °C


After a relatively short Mashrutka trip past the glorious view of the twin peaks Mount Ararat across the border in Turkey, through some very red hills, some bare mountains, and a pocket of rich farmland, we arrived in our first planned stop. As the distances are so short in Armenia, we'd left in the afternoon and there was about an hour of daylight left.

The little town of Vayk had sounded quite attractive, but in reality it seemed little more than a dusty street containing a few shops and cafes and the promised beautiful surrounding hills looked very uninspiring. As we got off, we were immediately harassed by taxi drivers, who seemed bemused by our decision to stay the night in the town and having spotted a shop/cafe, we sat escaped there for coffee and to decide what to do next. The woman in the shop was very pleased to see us and rushed to make us some strong Armenian coffee - known as Sorch. I looked up and down the street, wondering where the welcoming homestays were that we'd been told about and thinking how different it felt there, not only from Georgia and Azerbaijan, but from Yerevan. One of the taxi drivers came over and tried to communicate with us the stupidity of staying in the town, saying that we should let him drive us to another town in the mountain where we had intended to go the next day. We'd heard that one before! Taxi drivers always tell you that there is no bus, the last one is gone, the hotel you want is closed, whatever it takes to get some custom! In the end he phoned an English speaking friend, who repeated the advice and in we eventually struck a surprisingly reasonable deal for him to drive us to the 20 km up the mountain. This definitely put me in a better frame of mind - until the nice cafe woman tried to charge some ridiculous amount for the coffee. Its so easy to forget the basic rules of travel when you are tired or distracted: always ask the price first, especially if you've just arrived in a place, and especially if they smile a lot!! And don't always mistrust taxi drivers, but do be very careful!

The village or small town we arrived in that evening turned out to be a good decision, the good old taxi driver went out of his way to find us a bargain, which, as it was just out of season, definitely was a bargain! There were 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and sitting room where we had a massive breakfast brought to us in the morning. It had all seen better days, of course, but the best of all was the ancient but effective central heating to protect us from the cold mountain evening. All for considerably less than a cramped room in Yerevan, though without the friendliness of our one is previous hostess.


What a strange place Jermuk was. Its about 2,000m above sea level and surrounded by wooded mountains, which looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine. Its famous for its water, and quite rightly so. People have been coming there since ancient times to "take the waters" and now it's bottled and sold all over the world. In the 1940's it started to become a popular Soviet health resort. There's a lake surrounded by woods and hills. Next to this lake is a building called the "Gallery of Waters", which consisted of an arched wall with a series of taps, from which water from the hot springs flowed into stone basins. Each tap has water of different temperature, ranging from warm to "drink it straight from the tap if you think you're hard enough"! The temperature of each water was written next it and they were all meant to have different therapeutic properties. There was a constant stream of people coming to drink the water, some had special cups that the brought there every visit. The water tasted faintly metallic but quite nice.


Around that area are a few stalls selling some natural cures, mainly herbs and fruits and around the lake are some large modern hotels/health spas and a deserted one that had obviously been pretty impressive in its hey-day. There was also a new one being built, right in the way of the beautiful views! The rest of the town consisted of some pretty dilapidated old soviet blocks of flats and house another disused, massive hotel. There were no cafes around so we had to make use of the (very) minimally equipped kitchen, but the shopping in Russian and about three words of Armenian was great fun. I was puzzled, though, as to why a lot of the shops seemed to be selling 80's sports wear as well as food.


It was interesting to walk around the area and to see the old Soviet remains and the new building that were going up, which also had the feel of the new Soviet era. Its funny that years ago the stereotype Russian woman (mainly from James Bond films I suspect) was built like a shot putter and had very few feminine qualities about her, I'm trying to be correct here, but we are talking about stereotypes! Nowadays Russian women are usually portrayed as beautiful blonde man-eaters, waiting to trick men into marriage at the first opportunity. The fashions of architecture are equally changing and the austere soviet buildings are now being replaced by a newer, slightly more welcoming ones, but still intimidating for us feeble westerners.

And so it seemed with the health spas, which were in the new soviet-style hotels. Of course, how could I be in a health spa town without trying out the goods, especially at out of season prices. Rob bravely decided to come too and thus became the only man under 60 they had probably seen in a long time! Though I don't think he quite got the idea that you were meant to enjoy it, afterwards I realised he might have had a point. The hotel we chose definitely had the new soviet veneer and once we passed the forbidding grey exterior.

In the clean white carpeted foyers people were hanging around in 80's style sports wear whilst waiting for there various treatments. People often come here for a week of tow of treatment, seemingly either from Yerevan or Russia. There is a long history of soviet health tourism, which I saw remnants of in Kyrgyzstan. We had opted for a day's series of treatments and swim and I had visions of soft white toweling robes and towels and being pampered and pummeled and stuff happening with clay and oils, though I wasn't quite sure what.

Our first port of call was the doctor, apparently for a medical check-up, but in actuality seemed more concerned with what we were prepared to pay. The nice lady from reception, who spoke English and had promised us a day package had miraculously disappeared but we negotiated the same price, minus the swim. It never ceases to surprise me, coming from NHS Britain, not that you have to pay for treatment, but how often the doctors, therapists etc. get involved in haggling prices beforehand. Anyway, we were pronounced fit enough for the treatment and were prescribed a hot spa bath, a gum massage, an oxygen drink and a normal massage.

My first port of call was the gum massage room. Images of what it could mean flashed before my mind as I was efficiently rushed to the room. Looking at the rows of old-fashioned sinks lining the walls, I was again struck by the modern veneer put on the old soviet systems. I was sat at a sink and given a tube that was hanging from a leaking mineral- greened tap. Probably nothing could look new for long with this water running through it constantly, but I was glad when I was also handed a plastic mouthpiece. I then had to sit over the sink, a plastic bib tucked around me while I moved the mouthpiece around my teeth. "Keep moving it" I was sternly warned, and so I expected some pretty gum-tingling pressure. It was mildly invigorating, but maybe the mineral content was doing unseen things to the health of my mouth.

After about 15 minutes, my personal nurse came back and brusquely rushed me to the mineral bath. Again this looked like something from some old Russian film! There were cubicles of baths, divided by curtains, everything was green and the hot spa water continuously ran into old-fashioned bath-tub and out of the overflow. I was told to get undressed and get in the bath, handed a timer and told " 10 minutes only, keep heart out of water!" and a timer was placed on the grubby rack over the bath. "Whatever!" I thought, maturely, and proceeded to sink right into the lovely hot bath English-style for a wonderful 20 minute metallic smelling mineral soak. After 2 rounds of the giant egg-timer my nurse hurried me to a white sofa-ed waiting area, where I was soon joined by an equally bemused Rob. I felt a bit like a bag lady in my odd assortment of light clothes and bags of warm clothes for outside - so much for my idea of soft white toweling robes! We adjourned to the coffee bar upstairs to wait for round two.

Again, the imagined pummeling massage from the old shot-putter style Russian turned out to be a disappointingly light rub-down by a slight blonde and then it was time for the intriguingly named oxygen cocktail. I was led to a small sitting area where the oxygen machine was run by the first, and only, smiling woman of the day. She took a glass containing a coloured sugar solution and pumped it full of oxygen from a tap on the machine. It tasted like a sugar solution with air pumped into it, but was told the oxygen would counter the effects of the high (all of 2,000 m) altitude. And that was it - an interesting, but not impressively healthy health spa.

After a day of rain we headed back early in the morning in the only Mashrutka of the day to Vayk, where we intended to catch another one onto to the town of Sissian, about 40 km away.


Posted by sue deegan 10:21 Archived in Armenia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains people water springs village hot mineral armenia Comments (0)

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