Northern Armenia

Published on 10/20/2023 at 15:52

On the Armenian side, the hardest part will be paying the ecological tax. All vehicles are subject to this, but depending on the size of the vehicle, the price can vary. In our case, the price will be 25 euros, which is the same as for most travellers; however, our friends who passed through a little before us, but who are still there at the border, are subject to a higher price. Admittedly, they have a heavy vehicle, but it also seems that the amount is somewhat at the whim of the customs officials... They will try to negotiate, and will succeed somewhat, without however managing to reduce the amount to the same level as us.

Apart from that, the rest of the journey was completed without even searching the vehicle, just opening the side door to take a look inside.

An hour and a half later, we leave the border post and make our way to the next roundabout, where dozens of agents offer us their services for a SIM card and insurance for the vehicle. After negotiating, we come up with a good price for both, although we suspect the price is overestimated. But it's late, it's dark, and it saves us a lot of searching in the next town the next day. We don't like driving without insurance and that comes at a price!!!!

We didn't drive long to find a place to spend the night. It's not glamorous, but it's isolated, on a former industrial wasteland and quite far from the road. We spent two days there: the day after crossing the border, we received notification from the Iranian embassy that our visa had been refused for the whole family. We'd tried to go straight through the embassy a month earlier, although we hadn't heard of any travellers who'd managed to do so... Unfortunately, we're not going to make an exception and we're going to apply for all our Iranian visas again through an agency (Tappersia). Of course, the agency charges an extra €28 per person, on top of the €50 visa fee at the Iranian embassy.

The next day, we head for a bivouac high above the Debed canyon, which is quite famous and very pretty. The road to get there turns into a track, as ongoing roadworks have made access to this plateau difficult. As we like to do, we find ourselves surrounded by wild horses and pigs. We take out the extra outside room, because the weather is rainy and windy. This allowed us to stay in the dry and calm for 3 days! My darling will be invited, and Kéo will accompany him, to stay with the locals, eating and drinking in abundance. They've got a good run, despite the degree of their home-made local alcohol! Kéo won't stop telling us afterwards that they were just toasting! They're really nice and offer us some fruit afterwards. We also met some Germans who will be coming over the day we leave! It was a great meeting and a great chat, as always.

Second stop, directly in Gyumri, a large town in the west of the country, to get away from the rain, which was getting heavier... We would have liked to have had a bivouac in the open country, but given the surrounding mud, it was a waste of time and it wasn't for lack of trying. We rode around a lake, looking for a spot, but the muddy slope dissuaded us. So we stopped at a restaurant car park, which turned out to be very quiet and allowed us to explore the town on foot. We were astonished to find that the main asphalt street had been replaced by adjacent streets - real tracks in the middle of the city!

This will be an opportunity to do some laundry at the launderette, as the rain of late has meant that we haven't been able to wash what we needed to. And for the first time, there's no launderette - well, almost the first time, there's only a dry cleaner who'll do our laundry, for the modest sum of 30 euros...

We also took advantage of the big city to buy a WIFI router, because when you buy a single SIM card it's not always easy to share a connection. We'll soon find it indispensable and wonder why we didn't do it before!

Then it's off to a lovely bivouac about thirty km from Yerevan, in the hills near an astrophysics observatory. We're close to crops that the locals tend with roto-tillers. They take the opportunity to offer us grapes and apples from their plantations. The view is magnificent, and we can see Mount Ararat quite well, despite the pollution and clouds...

Three days later, it was time to leave and we made a detour to the observatory, but the price of seeing just one telescope seemed disproportionate. Too bad, next time.

This time, the distance to cover was shorter, and we stopped to visit the cathedral of Etchmiadzin, a pontifical residence by the way. It's a very pretty place, but the visit will be short because the cathedral is closed for interior viewing. We also wanted to see a nearby Yezidi temple, the largest in the world, here in Armenia. It was closed when we arrived and the locals pointed out a camping area, which unfortunately was extremely dirty, reminding us of Turkey... Bottles, both glass and plastic, were strewn all over the ground, although the place seemed to be suitable for family picnics. Never mind, we'll stay a while, even to the point of being smoked out at night by the neighbours who burn their rubbish... It permeates everything, and the smell lingers... and it's unbearable... We meet abandoned dogs that we can smell are being beaten... they don't dare approach us, and yet we've bought them kibble just for them! One puppy was more courageous and was nicknamed Pistache by the children. He's adorable, and the children try to train him. What's more, he follows the car as we drive away and if he'd followed us a bit further, it's quite possible we'd have adopted him...

The Yezidi temple is a thing of beauty, all in white marble, and the gardens are wonderfully well kept! This people, whose religion predates the great monotheistic religions, is heavily persecuted by radical Islam, and genocides have taken place on several occasions in the course of history.

They are mainly located in Kurdistan, mainly in Turkey and Iran, and a little in Armenia.

Finally, we bypass Yerevan to the south, heading for the Gherart monastery and the Garni temple.

On the way, we stopped for lunch by a reservoir, and the colours of the surrounding mountains were fabulous. You can see that the level of the lake is falling all the time, as the horizontal lines around it are very artistic.

We stop near the Temple of Garni, one of the first Hellenistic temples, which is very beautiful, but we won't be going inside. Just next door is the symphony of stones, a natural basalt theatre that resembles an organ. They've turned it into a promenade, but it's not overly touristy yet, or we've already arrived after the tourist season! In short, super pretty and impressive.

To go to sleep, we climb a track, but turn back because the ground is so stony that we're afraid of damaging our house on wheels. Some locals showed us the way around the problem and we climbed anyway. We gained height, but not to the point we had envisaged, as the time it would take to get there seemed interminable. We stopped on a small plateau with another magnificent view over the valley. The sun is out and that's good for us. A short walk and school. Nothing more, but everything is perfect!