Five things that will surprise you in Armenia
English writer Jonathan Campion has just been to Armenia for the first time, and found that there is more to the country than he expected… Jonathan will be writing more about Armenia, for now these are the main highlights from his trip:
There’s more to Ararat than Ararat
Taking the train between Yerevan and Gyumri was going to be the highlight of my time in Armenia – especially the journey through Ararat province. But on the day I went, Mount Ararat was hidden by clouds. Instead, the best part of my trip was the beautiful sight of white storks gliding above the farms and fields next to the train, and making their nests on top of the station buildings at Masis and Etchmiatsin. In Armavir province, hoopoes fly next to the train tracks. I learned that Armenia is paradise for birdwatchers: it is home to over half of all the species that live in Europe.
The view from Cascade is only the beginning
As soon as I arrived in Yerevan, I went straight to Cascade and ran up its 572 steps, for a glimpse of Mount Ararat and the famous view over the city. But by the end of my stay, some places near the bottom of the steps had made just as great an impression. The Yervand Kochar museum on Mashtots Avenue shows the work of an extremely talented (and very versatile) Armenian artist, while the Sargis Muradyan gallery – almost underneath Cascade, on Isahakyan Street – has a new exhibition every couple of weeks.
Armenia lives for the moment
I came to Armenia expecting to step back in time: I had read about Armenia’s ancient monasteries, learned about the country’s place in history; even downloaded an album of duduk music. I wasn’t prepared for Yerevan’s dazzlingly modern Kentron district, where everyone from teenagers to the elderly dresses with incredible style, and gorgeous (but not expensive) cafes and restaurants are busy even during working hours. For a city that’s over 1,700 years old, Yerevan feels very young.
There’s more than one drink to enjoy
I knew exactly what I would do every evening in Armenia: relax in my hotel bar with a nightcap of the country’s famous cognac. At the end of my trip I realised that I hadn’t tried a single glass. In restaurants my Armenian friends chose Areni red wine – the same delicious sweet wine that people in the town of Areni sell by the roadside in old Coca-Cola bottles. In the mornings and after lunch, strong Armenian coffee – served in little clay pots with a spoon of sugar – was just as much of a treat.
Meat dishes often come with a twist
After falling in love with Armenian food while living in Russia and Ukraine I couldn’t wait to have kebabs, shaurma and lavash again. I starved myself for a week to make room for all the red meat there would be to choose from. So I didn’t expect my first meal to be seafood – warm grilled whitefish at a café at Lake Sevan, with fresh salad on the side. (The men standing at the side of the road in Sevan holding their arms out aren’t indecisive hitchhikers, as I first thought: they are fishermen with fish to sell, showing passers-by how big their catches are…)
While you’re exploring Armenia’s historical sites and signature dishes, remember to keep your eyes open. It’s a place where every plan comes with a surprise.