Last month, I had a chance to visit the wonderful country that is Armenia. I bet few of you doesn’t know where Armenia is and maybe heard very little about it (well the Kardashians are of Armenian descent). I’d be honest, when my friend invited me if I could join her to travel to Armenia for 4 days, I had very little knowledge about the country. All I know was it was near Georgia and Turkey, that’s it. I went to Georgia a few years ago and I can still remember that I didn’t spend much so I thought coming to Armenia probably wouldn’t hurt my wallet as well. Also like Georgia, what’s good about it is that Filipinos get visa upon arrival so less hassle.
I traveled to Armenia with my long time friend Gladys which is doing the trip for her visa renewal. I think based on my whole stay in Armenia I can tell that Yerevan (capital of Armenia) is the new Oman when it comes to visa renewal. Why? Well it’s a good option if 1. you’re already sick of the desert and 2. they cost almost the same. Also, the weather in Armenia is so nice (at least when you’re travelling from the month of July-September). Tip: Always check the weather first before leaving and make sure you bring the proper clothes (esp. during winter!) This was the first time that I travelled without an Itinerary on my hands and with no research at all because I was too busy at work. Everyone who travels with me knows that I never travel without a printed itinerary. I even do it with illustrations!!! Oh well, I think maybe it’s good in a way so I really don’t know what to expect. Well without further a do here’s what when down when we went to Armenia.
Let’s start with the cost:
Airfare: 1,200 dhs (Dubai-Yerevan <>Yerevan-Dubai Roundtrip Ticket)
Hostel: 92 dhs for 4d3N (it’s super cheap!)
Visa: 23 dhs (Filipinos are given visa upon arrival)
Pocket Money: 1000 dhs (about 270 USD (make sure to change your dirhams to USD before going to Armenia! This is more than enough for 4 days. I had so much left after the trip, you’ll just basically use this for visa, tours, taxi, food and some souvenirs!)
We arrived in Zvartnots International Airport around 3pm. Travel time is around 3 hours from Dubai (not that bad really, just like travelling from Dubai to Al Ain).Then went straight to the money changer counter to change my USD to Armenian Drams. Drams is their currency. 1 dirham is equivalent to approx. 23 drams. After the currency exchange we took the visa form and wrote down some details and went straight to the visa counter. It took us about an hour (because of the long queues) before we were able to exit the airport. The people from our hostel has arranged to pick us up.
Travel time from the airport to hostel is about 15-20 minutes.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much on our hostel considering it’s only about what, 30dhs/day with free breakfast?! but it was actually nicer than I thought. It’s clean and beds are comfortable and that’s all that matters. Actually we were supposed to stay in a dormitory type of room but we were told that there’s an available bedroom with 2 single beds so we took that immediately for security reasons.
We just put down our things, rest for a bit and then immediately went outside for a walk to make the most our of our Day 1. We didn’t plan any tours because obviously we don’t have enough time. The only downside though of going out just the two of us is that we don’t have anyone who could communicate in Armenian! Even our hostel receptionist can barely speak English. But we thought the weather is too good, we’re still going out plus it’s almost dinner time and we’re hungry!
This is me having a photoshoot outside the hostel while local passersby were looking at me like I look some kind of Alien. While in Armenia, I could say that they’re very amused with tourists. I don’t know why but a lot of locals came to us and took photos with us. I mean that’s really weird, it should be the other way around. So back to us going out, we had no idea where to go. It’s actually sad and so frustrating that you can’t ask people for directions. The language barrier is really such a big issue. We’ve walked a lot but we couldn’t find any single restaurant. We found a grocery though and we bought some chips and cake but we’re still craving for some proper meal until when we were on our way back to our hostel, we met this guy on the street named Ashok. (Hi and we owe you big time if you’re reading this btw!) He was an English major so he can communicate so well. Ashok helped us grab a taxi (via his mobile app which works like Uber so he can track us if we get lost!) on our way to the place near where the Opera is. It has lots of good restaurants and cafe!
Before heading out to the restaurant, we decided to take a few shots first near the Opera. I think it was sort of a park? because there were too many people roaming around and they were even bikes for rent too! Well it could be better if I could know where I’m standing in front of cos I have no clue but you know nobody could understand us we tried asking!
After a few minutes of eenie minie mini mo we’ve finally decided where to eat which is called Melody Cafe. From the looks of it, it seems like a place where people meet for a drink so I’m not really sure why of all places, we thought there’d be good food there. People we’re staring at us.
We were craving for some meat so that’s what we ordered. We couldn’t really understand their menu but they had pictures! These dishes we’rent the best we’ve tasted but it’s good. The next day, when I told our tour guide that we had our first meal at Melody Cafe, he asked me if I was joking. Until now, I still don’t know why he said that. Anyway, we only spent 4150 drams for our meal and that’s already good for 2 (equivalent to 32 dhs). Can you image that? 32 dhs for 2 people? And it’s actually a pretty decent meal. I can never buy a decent lunch with the same worth in Dubai. Going home, we decided to take a cab but unfortunately we’re not aware that taxi drivers in Armenia will rip you off MOST OF THE TIME (well that’s what happened to us unfortunately). They’re charging us way way beyond the normal fare (though still way cheaper compared to Dubai) and there’s no point in arguing because they won’t understand you anyway so basically you just have to oblige to what they were asking for. Anyway, just make sure you have your hotel address, flyer or photo on your mobile so you can easily just show it to the taxi driver without having the need to speak.
We woke up early on our second day in Armenia because we wanted to ask the receptionist if they can arrange a tour for us for the day. Normally they don’t arrange tours for just 2 people because it’s a bit expensive but we don’t have any choice. We asked everyone in the hostel and they’re not interested with any tours (because most of them were there for their visas). I told them we’re willing to pay cos there’s no point not doing a tour for the day. We can’t do DIY because we can’t speak the language and definitely we don’t want to waste the whole day just staying inside the hostel. We paid around approx. 361 dhs for the itinerary below. To be honest the price isn’t that bad considering we’re dividing it. Oh btw for breakfast, the hostel served this bread. It was actually weird because it has roasted eggplant inside but it tasted nice after a while. We left the hostel around 1130 am which is kinda late considering we wanted to maximise our whole tour.
Day 2 Itinerary:
– Aragatsotn (Yeghipatrush Church/Holy Mother of God Church)
– Byurakan (Armenian Alphabet Park)
– Mount Aragats
– Fortress of Amberd + Vahramashen Church
– Lunch at owner’s house near the fortress til late
– Way home dropped by to a Restaurant for some coffee and dessert
We traveled to Aragatsotn to see the Yeghipatrush Church or Holy Mother of God Church. It’s a 10th century church so you know it’s been there for ages! It’s worth knowing that Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion so definitely you’ll see lots of Christian churches here. It was the first Christian nation founded in 301 AD.
The view outside the church was amazing.
Then after this beautiful church off we go to Byurakan to visit the famous Armenian Alphabet Park. These are giant stone letters dedicated to the founder of Armenia’s alphabet.
An old man gave us some of the apples that he was selling which was really really sweet! I think this is one the best things that I’ve experienced in Armenia. Eating the freshest, cheapest, all organic food! I swear even their onions were so good I thought it was a fruit.
Next up, we’re off to see the astonishing Mount Aragats. We’ve been told that we’re about to see some snow so we got really super excited.
Look what we saw on the way.Fascinating isn’t it?
Mount Aragats is above sea level and is one of the highest points in Armenia.
Mount Aragats is actually a volcano.
Weee! Actual Snow! The weather was below 5 degrees when we were there!
There was an abandoned research facility beside the lake which is kinda creepy but then abandoned plces/things always fascinate me.
We were starting to go numb and couldn’t take the freezing weather anymore so we decided to leave and visit a fortress and a church just nearby. It’s the Fortress of Amberd + Vahramashen Church. The Amberd Fortress is a 7th-century fortress located 2,300 meters (7,500 ft) above sea level. Some say that the fortress used to be a summer residence for kings.
This is near the church. There’s a wedding so it’s a tradition to feed everyone and it would be disrespectful to say NO. Even the priest was there.
It was lunch time when we finished exploring the church and fortress so we asked our tour guide if he can find us a place to eat. On our way back to the car there’s this small house that sells lavash and some delicacies. Our tour guide told us we could eat there. He knows the owners since he’s always doing tours. Seriously the owners were so hospitable they treated us like family. TThey cooked pork barbecue, some salad and freshly baked Lavash (Armenian bread). I really enjoyed the food. It was a really good local experience and we felt really welcomed. They made us drink too much vodka. They told us it’s disrespectful if you say no so they just keep pouring our shot glasses every minute. I swear we were too drunk I had no idea how we managed to go back. Even our driver was madly drunk. Props to our tour guide slash driver for that I guess. I think it was the best part of the tour.
This soup tastes like sarciado minus the fish.
Their food is so fresh and really really good. It’s the owner’s lunch but they invited us to eat with them and we really felt welcomed. We super enjoyed the food and their company so we gave them money although they didn’t really ask us to pay for it. We were there from 3pm til 7 in the evening. Then all drunk and dizzy, we went back to our hotel.
But before going back to the hostel, we decided to grab coffee and some dessert near Republic Square.All I can say was Day 2 was a really good experience. Travelling the caucasus, visiting some fortress and churches, learning the history of Armenia bit by bit and getting all drunk in a country not worrying if you’d be able to go back home.
Here’s Day 3’s Itinerary
- Khor Virap Monastery
- Noravank Monastery
- Tatev Monastery
- Karahunj (Armenia’s Stonehenge)
- Wine Tasting at Areni
Again, the tour was arranged by our hostel and nobody wants to go with us so it’s just the two of us. We spent around 400dhs for it which is yes kinda pricey but we’re dividing it by two so still not too bad. We’re already in Armenia and we want to enjoy it and we thought we enjoyed yesterday’s tour so no worries. Now this time the hostel has specifically told us to wake up early because today’s tour would be quite far.
And when they said far, it was really far. We were almost at the boundary of Armenia and Turkey. Our first stop was Khor Virap which is around 3-4 hours travel from the city and of course it was unavoidable not to feel the call for the loo. We did some stopovers but when we checked the situation of the portable loo’s along the way it’s a bit..uhm well let’s just say ‘sad and unuseable’ so we decided we can’t just put our asses on the floor that stinks so bad. Oh by the way since we’re in the countryside, most of the toilet’s were traditional. You know those ones where you need to squat because it’s on the floor? We really don’t care about the ‘squat toilet’ to be honest because I believe n Dubai even though everything’s pretty luxurious and modern already there are still areas where the toilet is like that. Cleanliness – that’s the only issue.
Well anyway to cut the story short, that’s the first thing we did when we reached Khor Virap. We went to the loo. But I have no complaints at all. Just look at that picture above. That’s my toilet view. It’s so beautiful.
Now I can’t say much about Khor Virap because I wasn’t really paying attention to our tour guide while he was explaining things (besides that’s what google is for). It was just so picturesque I couldn’t stop staring at the caucasus mountains and take pictures. I mean it’s not everyday that I can take a look at this view right? so yes I made sure I make the most out of it.
Oh and yes there was one thing that we did there that I really enjoyed. We went to an underground cellar. It was more like a dungeon actually. Aside from the fact that Khor Virap is a monastery and pilgrimage, Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned here for 14 years. I don’t know who Gregory the Illuminator was when we were there but I thought that experience to go down to the cellar where Gregory was thrown into was a good experience. Apparently Gregory the Illuminator was kept here for 13 years by the king, before convincing the king to convert to Christianity, and thereby making Armenia the first Christian nation. We went down to a really long ladder to be able to go underground where the prison cell is. Good thing we were wearing rubber shoes. I really enjoyed it that I have no pictures of it. I think nowadays that’s the sign when you’ve really enjoyed something. You won’t really be bothered to take pictures because you want to enjoy the moment. Although our tour guide kindly filmed the whole experience for us.
While we were about to leave Khor Virap, we saw a few guys selling doves to tourists. They said that the releasing of doves from Khor Virap with the hopes that they will fly to Mount Ararat will release you from all your sins.
Our next stop – the Noravank Monastery. It was quite a long drive from Khor Virap. With the amount of monasteries and churches we’ve visited during our stay in Armenia, I felt so holy. I feel like I went there for pilgrimage. I’m not really a big fan of churches but I enjoyed each of the places that we went to. I think it’s also because of the view and how often the churches where situated at the top of the mountains? That really amazes me. I mean I can’t imagine the difficulty of building a church at the top of a mountain. On our way to the monastery, the tour guide told us that he’ll show us first where we are eating lunch so that we can order ahead and after visiting the monastery our lunch would be ready. Also he told us that the road looks nice so if we want, we can take some photos. Of course the camera shy people that we are, we willingly complied.
An 1 hour after we left the place, we reached the Noravank Monastery.
The Noravank Monastery is situated on top of the valley. It was built in the 13th century, when the Mongols ruled. As usual it’s really beautiful! Regardless of you religion or beliefs, I’m pretty sure you’ll appreciate Noravank. I mean the whole location is just simply breathtaking. It’s so peaceful and serene. I ran out of adjectives to describe it when I was there.
I’m also the type of person who’s really into details that’s why I really appreciated all the carvings here.
Then after our visit to Noravank we headed straight to the restaurant where we ordered our food.
As usual the food was good. Some pork barbecues, rice porridge, lavash and potatoes. We paid around 8600 drams (66 dhs) for our meal. Already good for 4 people. I mean really I couldn’t ask for more, good view, good weather and good food. My day could end. But we’re still going to Tatev and they told us it’s a bit far and a bit of a long drive.
We were eating this chocolate during the trip. It was really good. I bought loads to bring back to Dubai.
After quite some time, we finally reached Tatev and to be able to reach the Tatev Monastery you have to ride a cable car. It’s pretty exciting and the view isn’t too bad at all. It costs 5,000 drams (40 dhs) to ride on the cable car.
When we reached the monastery, I’ll be honest, we didn’t really appreciate it that much because it’s under renovation (which we heard is being funded solely by a Russian-Armenian philanthropist). We just quickly took pictures and leave. Although we really enjoyed the views inside the cable car. I also think it’s worth mentioning that it’s a UNESCO heritage site.
There are lots of vendors there as well. You need to try the Armenian Snickers (picture above) or what they call Sujux.
We tried to leave as soon as we can as well because we wanted to go to our next stop before sunset otherwise we won’t appreciate it.
Our next stop is my favorite – the KARAHUNJ or the Armenian Stonehenge. Some scientists estimate that Karahunj predates Stonehenge by thousands of years. Armenians believe that this was way older than the British Stonehenge. There are also so many theories of why these stones were around and arranged. What exactly are their purpose? Well our tour guide told us it ranges from the astronomical to ceremonial, but nothing is known for sure.
Many of the Armenian stones have holes carved through near their tops, contributing to the theory of their use in observing the stars.It’s really fascinating. I think it’s worth a visit and it will make you wonder what really are these rock formations for.
Our next stop – Wine Tasting! For wine tasting, off we go the Areni Wine factory. Even if you’re not a wine connoisseur, when you’re Armenia, you must try their wines. It’s interesting to see how they make wines a well. It’s also good to buy wines here cause it’s cheaper. We actually bought two bottles (around 20dhs each).
After the wine tasting, it’s time to go home and end our 3rd Day in Armenia but before that even though it’s late already, we kindly requested our tour guide if they can bring us to the Republic Square because apparently every 10pm there’s a firework/fountain show there so we wanted to see it.
We also dropped by quickly to a fast food place so we can grab dinner. We bought some sausages and this yummy meat patty with cheese and tomatoes on top. I swear it’s the most delicious patty i’ve ever tasted in my whole entire life. I don’t know what they call it, we just basically pointed our fingers on it when we ordered it. If anyone’s reading this and know what this thing is, please please tell me. I would go back to Armenia just for this meat patty with cheese.
It’s our last day and my flight’s around 3pm so I need to be settled around 12pm (that’s the time we’ll leave the hostel). Since we wanted to make use of our time left – we need to be on our own. The moment we woke up, we got ready and fix our things then off we go to Republic Square to buy some souvenirs and grab food.The Republic Square is the real center of Yerevan (capital of Armenia). This is the heart and soul of Yerevan. You can just basically sit, walk and relax while you’re here. There’s also a market nearby for souvenirs.
I can’t help but compare Armenia to Georgia because the countries are really similar in terms of culture, people and food. I was asked by a friend that if I am to choose between the two, which one will I choose? I think I might choose Georgia for the only reason that their people are friendlier. Both countries are worth visiting in terms of tourist spots but it’s just that there was really something with the “kindness” of the Georgians. I mean you can’t blame me for saying this since the moment we set foot into the Zvartnots airport, everyone who works there looks like they’re gonna eat us. They were shouting at people. I’m sorry but that doesn’t give a very good impression to me. Also, the cab drivers ripped us off so many times while in Armenia. Nevertheless we were treated so nicely while in the countryside and we had a good time and I think that’s what matters.
What I didn’t like about Armenia is the language barrier but if you know a little bit of Russian, it can get you a very long way. Also don’t be like me, at least do a bit of research and take some basic Armenian phrases with you. Here are some helpful ones:
Hello = Parev
Good Morning = Bari luys
Goodbye = Ts.tesutyun
Thank You = Mersi
Pleased to meet you = Shat hatcheli e
Restaurant = jasharan
To sum it all up, I really enjoyed my 4 days stay in Armenia. The food is amazing. You need to visit this country for their fresh supply of food! Also if you want to escape the desert heat, Armenia is a really good choice (and it’s just a 3hr flight from Dubai). I’m sure you’ll love the weather in Armenia. You know how they say how travel broadens the mind? I felt this in Armenia. I met new people, tried different food, experienced a new culture and seen new sights. Discovering this country gave me a new perspective. Culture is one of the most beautiful things we have on this planet. I hope you enjoyed this post!
Oh by the way for souvenirs I bought some soujouk (Armenian Sausage) at the airport, some cheese, dark chocolates and some Gata (Armenian sweet bread!). You need to try it. It’s really good. 🙂