Yerevan and Around

Yerevan has little to offer for visitors looking to get deeper into Armenia. An overnight train arrives from Tbilisi after a rather hectic and tiresome journey. The city isn’t super impressive, although by night it can be quite nice. The Soviets bulldozed much of the city and created a master planned city with roads coming out of the central Opera House. The south of the city has another focal point at Republic Square where you can find all the government buildings and a museum. Much of the city is surrounded by a circular park.

The city isn’t huge, rather it is quite small and easily walkable. You can use the metro, but it goes only very long distances (and costs almost nothing). At the northern most tip of the city are the Cascades. This massive monument is really impressive, you can climb the stairs to the top (which is unfinished and under construction) and follow it even higher to a tower. It is a great place at night, but if you plan on using the free escalator, it closes at 8pm. On the top of the Cascades is a free concert hall which plays in the summer.

At Republic Square there will be the natural tourist trap called Ararat Restaurant. Here they have a live “traditional” performance sold at an exorbitant price with dinner. Luckily we came across a free concert across the street in the small concert hall. It was real, it was local, and it was free. They have other concerts there too, also for a fraction of the tourist trap price.

Near Republic Square is the weekend market where you can buy tons of soviet relics and badges, rugs, random pottery, cheap souvenirs…all prices being negotiable and quite inflated in the face of tourists.

The Opera House area is pretty lively at night (during the day it is completely dead). There are lots of restaurants outside during the summer. They also have a “swan lake” which is completely artificial, but they sometimes put a giant screen in the middle.

Echmiadzin
Think of this city as the Vatican of Armenia. The head of the Armenian church is here (which is not affiliated with Orthodox or Catholic). The city itself doesn’t seem so impressive and it really isn’t any sort of tourist draw. Most of the visitors tend to be pious Armenians and this place is very important to them. The main church (which is said to be one of the oldest in the world) is inside a massive complex which contains numerous more modern adaptations.

Inside there is a museum, which is closed on Mondays. Apparently they have the Holy Lance which is said that have pierced Jesus. Another interesting fact is according to LP you can ask the curators to take you out back where an ancient altar from the old Armenian religion lies. Early Armenians never destroyed it, hoping that if the whole Christianity thing was a sham, they could quickly turn back.

Although it seems pretty close on a map, it takes pretty much forever by bus. Ask around at the main bus station, there should be a Marschrutka going very often. A taxi isn’t too expensive either.

Zvarnots Ruins
Zvarnots is on the way to the Echmiadzin. Your bus or car or whatever will see this odd looking gate on the left side of the road half way to the holy city. This ancient church was circular and incredibly tall. Built in the 600s, it was the center of Armenian life and its church. Little but ruins remain of this ancient church, but it seems that is what was intended.

Eventually this church fell down and continues to remain a bunch of rubble. Like Garni, this place was designed for tourism. Weird music plays in the background as you walk around and tourist shops litter the main road. It isn’t very far off the main highway, making it even more unusual. It is closed on Monday’s but you can bribe pay the gate man to let you in anyways. You think you got a pretty cool deal to have the whole place to yourself, but don’t worry several tour companies know this deal too and it won’t be so quiet anymore.

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