Armenia Rising 1/2: Noravank, Khor Virap, Mt. Ararat

Lonely Planet described Armenia as a country that is not easy to navigate with its rough roads and unreliable transportation. However, traveling here is also rewarding and “revelatory”. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect of Armenia especially when an acquaintance in Riyadh who already went there said there’s nothing much to see. He said, “there’s nothing beautiful there.” I didn’t take his comments to heart. For sure, there’s something in Armenia worth traveling for. Turns out, it wasn’t just “something”; it was EVERYTHING.

Oh, Armenia!

The Republic of Armenia is one of the most interesting countries in Eurasia. It’s rich in history and culture. Its nature and landscapes are amazing and its people are warm. The history of Armenia extends over 3,000 years with its various kingdoms, empires, and states rising and falling over the years. They were under the Byzantine, Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Russian. There was also the period known as the Armenian Genocide, dark times during and after World War I. Despite of these tumultuous years, Armenia remains a country blessed with geographic variation from its mountain passes, valleys, canyons, and body of water. It is worth visiting.

Hello Armenia!

We’re not going to publish a “Planning for Armenia” entry in the blog because we did not travel directly from Riyadh to Armenia. Although of course, you can. There are flights that ply the Riyadh to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, route and vice-versa. Our journey to Armenia was done in relation to our trip to Georgia (which I will write about soon, promise!). We don’t usually return to a country we already visited because there are so many other countries in the world that we want to visit. However, Georgia is one of those exceptions. So we had to return. To appease our motto, we added another country in this trip so we have something “new”. We asked the good people at Kabayans and Pinoys in Tbilisi, Georgia, our travel agency for our Georgia Trip 1 and 2, to add Armenia to our itinerary. It’s USD 160 per person for 3 days and 2 nights in Armenia.

The sound of the hills

From Tbilisi, we traveled by land in a van and headed to Yerevan. For six hours on the road, we were enveloped by Georgia’s autumn sceneries on both sides. And eventually, the plains and hills of Armenia came. All we needed in the immigration exiting Georgia are our passport and iqama (resident permit/card). We got off the car and went inside the office and lined up at immigration. The officer was a bit uptight about documents and we had to stand a few minutes while he looks at everything. After that, we got in the car again and proceeded to the Armenian immigration side. We got off the vehicle again and purchased our “on-arrival” visa at the kiosk. The Visitor Visa of up to 21 days is USD 6 each. We were cleared easily and fast and we boarded the vehicle again to continue our journey.

Transitioning from winter to autumn

Armenia’s sceneries are bleak, at least the ones that we saw (October 2018). It’s in the cusp of autumn and the supposedly lush mountainsides are brown and gray from the leaving winter. The oranges and yellows were missing but it’s still a nice experience for us. Seeing all this was quite a momentous event; we treasure it. My soundtrack for this trip is Ben & Ben. Their songs just add so much drama (naks) on this kind of barren landscape. Who creates a playlist when traveling? I do! And that means a lot because I’m not much into music. I do it so that when I listen to a song associated to a trip I made, I remember the memories. Very handy when writing about it too after many months had gone by. Haha.

Our glimpse of Lake Sevan

We rolled into Armeia and got a magnificent view of Lake Sevan from the road. It was an endless sight of water. Lake Sevan, considered as the “jewel” of Armenia, is the largest body of water in Armenia and the Caucasus region. It’s also one of the largest freshwater lake in Eurasia.

Water as far as our eyes can see.

To the medieval monasteries

We proceeded to our first tourist spot in our itinerary, Noravank, a 13th-century monastery located in a narrow gorge made by the Amaghu River. The monastery is known for its two-storey Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) church. The second floor is accessible through a narrow stone-made staircase jutting out of the face of the church. A second church in the ground is called the Surb Karapet.


The monasteries in Noravank

Just walking in the grounds of Noravank brings a peace in my heart. These sacred grounds that are built upon faith make Armenia a endearing country. The surrounding red mountains create a lovely backdrop.

So picturesque

Some greens


The surrounding hills

To the place where we said “cheers!” countless times

For lunch, we visited the Hin Areni Winery and took a look at how they make their wines. As the Caucasus region is famous for them, wines in this area are delicious! Of course we have to try them! We had glasses of red and white wines (‘Cheers!’ ‘Cheers!’ And more ‘cheers!’) and we were filling doozy even before the meal started, haha. At Hin Areni, like most wineries that you might be visiting when in Armenia, they showcase the historic and indigenous Armenian grape varieties that show the beauty and quality of Armenian wine-making.

Hin Areni Winery, one of our stops

Inside the restaurant

Barrels of wine

Lunch, finally

Meanwhile, in the rural streets of Armenia, we don’t have problems with traffic… that are caused by cars. Traffic is caused by sheeps. Hi peeps, excuuuuse us!

Ermnnnn they occupied half of the road

Then they occupied the whole thing!

To the “bottom most pit”

After lunch, we headed to Khor Virap, a monastery located in the Ararat plain near to Armenia’s closed border with Turkey. Saint Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned here for about 14 years. Thus the name came from place of imprisonment (virap nerk’in) and deep (khor). Together, Khor Virap means “bottom most pit”. St. Gregory eventually became a mentor to King Tiridates III of Armenia.

In Khor Virap

Khor Virap has a lovely view of the surrounding mountains. The larger chapel that is seen in the ground now was built around the ruins of the old one. The St. Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Armenia.

Mt. Ararat in the distance

The bigger Ararat

Waiting for the sunset

This is the last stop we made for this day and honestly, we couldn’t have chosen somewhere better. We managed to catch the sun setting over at Mt. Ararat. As a Catholic, gazing upon this snow-capped mountain believed to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark, I found myself teary-eyed. To experience this at a low point of my life (long story), I feel so blessed. I guess it’s just one of those moments you know? This mountain is such an icon, not only for my faith, but also for the Armenians. As ethnographer Levon Abraham said, “Ararat is visually present for Armenians in reality (it can be seen from many houses in Yerevan and settlements in the Ararat plain), symbolically (through many visual representations, such as on Armenia’s coats of arms), and culturally—in numerous and various nostalgic poetical, political, architectural representation.” I mean how can a mountain mean so much right? Just incredible.

Good night on our first day in Armenia

We spent the time taking photos of the glorious sunset until we bid goodbye and headed to our hotel, our home for 3 days in Armenia, Comfort Hotel in Yerevan. We did find “comfort” in this hotel, haha. The rooms for 2 persons and 3 persons were adequate. There’s also a nearby restaurant where we ate dinner and got our second taste of Armenia food… kidding! It was a restaurant called “Pizza Di Roma” haha. Their Asian Pork though is sooo good!

With that, we slept. Tomorrow is another day in Armenia.

Armenia Featured Outside KSA Travel

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