Mar 24

An Armenian Thanksgiving (Destination: Khor Virap)

Thurs, Nov 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I didn’t really know where I wanted to go today. I had wanted to go to Khor Virap if the haze of the last few days cleared away and Mount Ararat was visible. Alternatively, I was thinking about going up to a nearby city to walk in a gorge. When I stepped outside the hostel this morning, lo and behold the sun was shining and there were blue skies! Khor Virap it was!

It was nearly 8:20 and the LP said the bus for Khor Virap was leaving at 9:00 so I walked really fast to the metro station and rode the subway to the southern bus station. Luckily, the bus was there and I departed less than 10 minutes after I arrived

The drive was nice, with views of a partially cloudy Mt. Ararat (famous from the Noah’s Ark story). Although the sky was blue, the clouds seemed to linger and form on the glaciers of the 5,100+ meter high Mt. Ararat. It reminded me of Mt. Rainer – relative flatlands with a huge glacier capped peak.

I got dropped off on a country road around 10am. The driver asked my language and handed me a tiny slip of paper that said “Buses to Yerevan: 1:20, 3:20, 5:40”. I walked the last half mile on the driveway to Khor Virap with views of the walled monastery and Ararat in the near distance.

The church itself was not unique, but there was a chapel next door that had a 7-meter-deep snake pit where St. Gregory had been imprisoned for 13 years. St. Gregory was trying to spread the Christian faith to the region but the King did not want this so he put St. Gregory in a hole with snakes.

Secretly, the local women brought him food that sustained him all those years. Eventually, the King went mad and St. Gregory cured him by converting him to Christianity. This was the start of the adoption of Christianity by Armenia. The first country to do so in the year 301. It was still early and a couple hours until the 1:20 bus so I walked up a hill to get a different view of Mt Ararat. From here, I could see just how close we were to the Turkish border – probably only 100 yards away. The barbed wire fence was very high and the only action was an occasional patrol vehicle. At one point, Mt Ararat was part of Armenia but during the Soviet occupation, Ararat and an area containing several Armenian churches was given to Turkey as a gift from the Soviets. I sat there for a while reading the history of Armenia in the Lonely Planet book. But after a while, I got bored and the clouds were getting thicker on the mountain (thus worsening the view) so I started walking to the main highway where I planned to have something for lunch and try to catch a bus sooner than 1:20.

As I was walking on the country road, a white van pulled up. I asked if they were a bus and a woman in the back said no but they would help me get a bus to Yerevan. I had recognized these 3 ladies as other visitors at the monetary. The older women in her sixties said something to the 2 girls in their 20’s. The girl that spoke English told me that they were going to visit their cousin in a nearby village and they wanted me to come with them. After a couple hours, they would then return to Yerevan and help me get there. Since I didn’t have to go back to Yerevan until evening for the opera, I decided to go along. We got out of the van (I think the 3 ladies were just hitchhiking there, as we didn’t pay anything to the driver of the van), and then walked to a house with Anna, Liana, and Larissa. There we met an Armenian woman with dark hair and blue eyes. She served us snacks of walnuts and dried apricots and then went off to the kitchen to bring out lunch. Her husband came home and then the 6 of us had lunch. What a great way to spend Thanksgiving – having a homemade lunch with my “Armenian Family.” There was loads of food – lavash bread, pickles, a hot green bean dish with an orange sauce, fried potatoes, cold potatoes with onion and cilantro, a sort of local chutney, and red bean salad. It was all wonderful. At one point, Anna asked “Don’t you like the food?” She thought since I was eating slow I didn’t like it. They ate very fast!

After lunch, they booted up the computer and we looked at pictures of all the cousins. Alot of these cousins lived in Utah. Soon we had to head off to catch the bus, but first we used the toilet. Despite the quite nice interior of the home, they still use an outhouse in the backyard. We then took some pictures of the group in the huge garden – they had built a crude 2-foot-high greenhouse out of twigs, rusty metal, and clear plastic. Here she grew all types of spices, onions, leaf lettuce, and cabbages.

She gave a big bag of lettuce and some preserves to Larissa, the aunt and we set off walking to catch the bus. The walk thru the country was nice. Lots of bare fruit trees. We stopped to pick some mint that was growing next to the road. Larissa told us about an accident she had in this village as a youngster where she tried to jump over a creek and broke her ankle. After a short wait, we were on the bus. On this bus, we saw a fighter jet making maneuvers. The girls said it was common to see this and they weren’t sure if they were Russian or other. I hugged them all as they got off the bus in the south of Yerevan as I continued to the metro station and then took a subway back to town.

There was a little time so I stopped at a flea market in the south of the city center. This is certainly the place to shop for Armenia souvenirs. The prices seemed quite low but all I bought was an Armenia fridge magnet. In the main square, they were putting up Christmas decorations and in Opera square, they were assembling an ice skating rink. Christmas is celebrated on January 6th in this part of the world (Georgia and Armenia).

I went back to the hostel and got dressed for the Opera – La Traviata by Verdi. The opera included a few dozen cast and a live orchestra. The opera house was probably only 20% full despite low ticket prices (my ticket was just under $12 for the front row of the balcony). It was a great show that lasted 3 hours with intermissions.

Steps: 21,053

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