This spring has involved a lot of travel. About a week or so after returning to Georgia from Baku, my friend Anne (a classmate in my PhD program) visited Georgia for UMD’s spring break. She was only here for about eight days, but in that time we fit in as much as possible!
After meeting her at the airport in Tbilisi (another one of the early, early morning flights), we drove west across Georgia to Batumi, a popular beach city on the Black Sea. On the way, we stopped in Gori to pick up my friend Betty.
It was too cold to really enjoy the beach, but we had a great time in the hotel’s indoor pool, in the sauna, trying real adjaruli khachapuri in Adjara (the region of Georgia where Batumi is and for which the boat-shaped bread with egg version of the famous food is named), and hanging out with Eric (one of the Fulbright ETAs who lives in Batumi) and Chris and Matt, TLG and former TLG volunteers also living in or near Batumi. One day Anne actually managed to get me outside for the first run I’ve been on in months! We jogged along the boardwalk, and it was great.
After a couple of days relaxing in Batumi, we headed back to Gori. We stopped in Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia and the legislative capital, long enough to snap a picture of this fountain, get a cup of coffee, and get a parking ticket 🙂 .
Anne came to my U.S. Studies and English for International Tourism classes as a guest. It was great to have her there to share her thoughts and opinions as part of our discussion on similarities and differences on gender roles and expectations in the U.S. and Georgia. Also, as you can see from these pictures, spring was starting to make an appearance in Gori when we got there!
From Gori, we headed back to Tbilisi for just the night. The next morning, we traveled to Yerevan, Armenia.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to visit both Azerbaijan and Armenia in such close time to each other, completing my “tour” of the three countries of the South Caucasus. Though I got to spend a lot of time getting to know people in Azerbaijan and not much time seeing the country, in Armenia, it was almost the reverse. Even though we only had two days in Armenia, we spent time both exploring Yerevan (the capital city) and touring several sites outside of the city: Khor Virap Monastery, Garni Temple, and Geghard Monastery.
Our first stop was Khor Virap Monastery near the Turkish border with an amazing view of Mt. Ararat. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Armenia is a deeply Christian-influenced country, and Mt. Ararat (which was located in Armenia at one point in history before borders were changed) is believed to be where Noah’s ark landed at the end of the flood. In Genesis, after landing on the mountain, Noah sends out a dove to search for dry land:
“At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible. After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 1He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.” (Genesis 8:3-12).
This was not in the forefront of my mind as we were walking up to the monastery until I saw this man with his birds and asked our tour guide what he was doing.
Our guide explained that you can take one of the birds up to the monastery, release it in front of Mt. Ararat, and make a wish. Legend has it, your wish will come true.
I loved this for two reasons. First, it was a cute modern-day connection to the Biblical story. Secondly, what a great business this man has! I’m sure the birds are trained to come right back to him, and he can make money off the same bird again and again (from people like me, haha). 🙂
We negotiated a price of 3000 Dram for the two birds (about $3 each) and headed up. It was a bit strange to pay 3000 ANYTHING for a bird that you’re planning to release only a few minutes later (literally throwing your money away), but when else would we have the opportunity to do this??
We released our birds and made our wishes. I may have been a little enthusiastic in my release (but I had a good wish)! The wish hasn’t come true yet, but I’m still optimistic. 🙂
After Khor Virap, we headed to Garni Temple, the only pagan temple built in the Hellenic style that still remains in Armenia.
Our last stop was Geghard Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery is partially made up of caves cut into the mountain, and is really beautiful to see.
When we got back to Yerevan, we made a brief visit to the Armenian Genocide Monument and Museum. The museum was closed, but we were still able to visit the monument.
The website of the United Armenian Council for the Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, L.A. Chapter explains the monument’s design better than I can:
“The Armenian Genocide Monument, Dzidzernagapert, was constructed in 1965 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Twelve imposing pylons representing the twelve provinces where Armenians were massacred surround the eternal memorial flame inside the fortress. The flame burns to represent the Armenian spirit, which can never be extinguished. The monument, which means “Citadel of Swallows”, is named for a bird that always returns to its nest, even if its home has been destroyed. A unique portion of the monument is the tall, needle-shaped shaft beside it, which represents the rebirth of the Armenian people.”
While in Yerevan, we also each got to catch up with a colleague; Anne was able to visit Armen, an Armenian friend from her master’s program, and I was able to see Ryan, one of the eight English Language Fellows in my region. The first night they took us out for a delicious traditional Armenian dinner, and on our second and last night in Yerevan, Ryan took us to a local jazz club.
After only two short days in beautiful Armenia, we headed back to Tbilisi on Anne’s last full day in the region. We got stuck at the border for longer than expected because of passport problems another passenger in our car had. We got back to Tbilisi just in time to take the cable car to the top of the fort and enjoy a good traditional Georgian meal. Anne left early that morning, and I headed back to Gori.
Even though it was a very quick trip, it was great to explore parts of Georgia I hadn’t seen yet (pretty much everything west of Gori!), to see some of Armenia, and to catch up with Anne. I wish we had had a little more time to see Armenia and meet more people there, but I did see enough to now confidently say that all three countries of the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) are truly fascinating and beautiful places that, in the future, I hope to be able to spend more time in. 🙂