Day Two in Armenia: Church, Cheese, Wine and Church

Posted in Armenia| Wine| winery
Day two was another great day of sightseeing around Armenia. We started in the capital city of Yerevan and ended in the southern city of Goris.  It was a full day with great weather, beautiful sights and even a little adventure. All in all a great day.

First we hit the road…

Beautiful blue skies and the open road

…and headed to Khor Virap Monastery.

How gorgeous is this picture??

The Monastery up close

Candles alight inside the chapel

Legend has it that St. Gregory the Illuminator (what a great name!) was held for 13 years in a dungeon pit because he fell out of favor with King Trdat III.  Despite my slippery shoes I decided to shimmy down to the bottom of the pit. 13 years?? 2 minutes was more than enough for me.

From the bottom looking up the ladder to return to freedom.

Word of warning:  When you arrive at Khor Virap, some enterprising gentlemen will try to sell you a dove which will carry your wishes to the skies.  Actually these doves/pigeons are trained to fly right back to their owners so they can be recycled on another wish. I found a bunch of them hanging out on the church grounds.

Your wishing doves on a lunch break.

Great view of the local cemetary

Believers tie scraps of cloth to bushes and trees around the Monastery to hold their prayers

From the Monastery, we changed things up a bit a decided to get a bit agricultural.  We headed to the Areni winery where we learned about their grape vines and wine making practices. Then on to a goat farm and the cheese processing plant to find out how goat cheese is made.  OK, YES!…I was possibly also looking forward to the samples. Wine and cheese…yum!

Our driver, Sergey admires a bottle, but doesn’t have a sip. He’s carrying precious cargo, you know!
Checking out the goods.
Armenia is known for its wine, pomegranates and apricots…so why not combine them?
This apricot schnapps was NO JOKE! It packed a punch.
I had to laugh because directly across the street from the official winery, locals were selling their own wine moonshine right out of plastic jugs and bottles. 
Taking on the competition one plastic bottle at a time. 

 Then on to the goat farm (cute little goats) which were luckily used for cheese, not meat.

One of the babies

Don’t worry – you’re just a dairy goat. 

And the finished product (notice the sample plate in the back)

After a little digression for wine and cheese, we headed back to another church called Noravank (or new church).  So far I think this one may be my favorite. It may not have had the best legend behind it nor been the largest church of the ones we visited, but something about just seemed so peaceful and beautiful. I could have hung out there for a few hours.

Noravank Monastery

The main alter
Inner sanctuary with lit candles

Intricately carved stone crosses (khachkars)

This climb was harder than it looked…the stairs were very narrow and no railing. There were definitely no fat monks back in the day.

But that climb took me to the post peaceful area of the monastery. The second floor had once been a place of study, but I would have just spent hours watching the clouds sail by.

The ceiling arches opening to the sky from the second floor of the chapel

Beautiful wild flowers on the grounds of Noravank Monastery
Leaving the monastery, our last stop for the day was at Zorats Karer, also known as Armenia’s Stonehenge.  Having visited Stonehenge, I can say that the stones at Zorats Karer are quite a bit smaller and not as dramatic, but still it is interesting to wander amongst them on the wide open plane.  You definitely have to wonder about who placed these odd shaped stones here. Most of them with a perfectly placed hole just towards the top. It was worth the drive down the rocky dirt road to check them out. 

Sun setting behind one of the Zorats Karer stones.

Wandering through and wondering about their origin. 

For those of you coming to Armenia, I definitely recommend renting a car, organizing a guide or taking a marshrutky (shared van) to visit some of the places beyond Yerevan. This country has so much to offer both inside and outside the capital. Definitely leave time for a few day or overnight trips to really get a view of the whole country.

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