did I know about these countries when we booked the tour a year ago? Keywords
that came to my mind: Caucasus, Golden Fleece and Jason and the Argonauts,
Soviet Union, …. Conquests and Occupation by the Persians, Turks and Arabs,
Russians… Revolution, Conflicts till today…. For Armenia there is the ugly Genocide
after WW I… a great diaspora around the world, Charles Aznavour, and there was a
family friend who used to invite us for fantastic Armenian meals, among them
the tripe soup.
did I expect to find? Answers? I did not know my questions, so I went with my
mind completely blank and waited for the impressions, impacts, I was open to
have attached the travel programme and some links about the two countries which
I think are very important to read in order to have a basic understanding. I
don’t want to go into the historical background or political and religious
impacts on the people, this is not for a short-time traveler to discuss, for
that you need to live there in order to understand.
wanted to meet with the people in their surroundings, in the streets, I wanted
to see the architecture, the atmosphere, the country’s nature, and I wanted to
see the arts and listen to their music and read their poetry, I thought that
these columns of society would give me the keys I needed in order to learn
about the soul of the two countries.
Tbilissi we were booked into a hotel by the name of Shota Rustaveli, the famous
poet of the XIIth century, right in the centre of the city, right next to the
old Parliament building and down at the bottom of our street was the Rustaveli
Prospect or, to make you understand better: the Rustaveli Boulevard along which
I would find museums of all kinds of which we visited at least one. Shota
Rustaveli is known for his epic poem “The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin” of which
I include an excerpt. I have found this
Anthology of Georgian Poetry on a book stand in one of the lanes with many
coffee shops, bars and art galleries, where people and tourists come looking
for such things, and where we, as a small group of 12 friends from Cyprus were
on the lookout for a typical Georgian restaurant which we actually found and
where we enjoyed our first evening.
1 He who created the
firmament by the omnipotent might of his power,
Gave breath to all living creatures and to man spirits celestial,
Gave us the world to possess with all its unlimited varieties,
And Kings ordained by Him, each in His own image.
2 0 One God, who has
created the form of every man's body,
Assist us, give us strength, to conquer the wiles of Satan;
Fill us with longing for love, endless, enduring to death!
Lighten the load of sins we must bear to the world to come!
3 I sing of the lion whom
the use of lance, shield and sword adorns,
Of Tamar, the Queen of Queens, the ruby-cheeked and jet-haired.
How shall I dare pay tribute to her in praiseworthy verses,
Whom to look upon is to feast upon the choicest of honey?
4 Tears of blood flow
profusely as I exult our Queen Tamar
Whose praises I have uttered forth in well-chosen words.
For ink I have used a lake of jet and for pen, a pliant reed.
My words, like jagged
spears, will pierce the heart of the hearer.
5 I was told to compose
in her honour stately and sweet-sounding verses,
To laud her eyebrows and lashes, her hair, her lips and her
Badakhshan ruby and cut crystal arrayed in two even ranks.
An anvil of lead can break even the hardest stone.
6 Fire my mind and tongue
with skill and power for utterance
Which I need, 0 Lord, for the making of majestic and praiseworthy
Thus will the deeds of Tariel be remembered in eloquent language,
And of the three star-like heroes who faithfully served one another.
7 Come, let us sit
together and weep with undrying tears for Tariel.
There never breathed a man born under the same star as his.
I, Rustaveli, whose heart is pierced through by his sorrows have
Like a necklace of pearls a tale told until now as a tale.
According to a 2014 census, 83.4% of the Georgian population
identified themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christian, 10.7% Muslim, 3.9%
Armenian Apostolic, and 0.5% Catholic. Orthodox churches serving other non-Georgian ethnic
groups, such as Russians and Greeks, are subordinate to the Georgian Orthodox
As of 2011, most Armenians are Christians (94.8%)
and are members of Armenia's own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which
is one of the oldest Christian churches. It was founded in the 1st
century AD, and in 301 AD became the first branch of Christianity to
become a state religion.
An Armenian poem: Love Song by Sayat Nova (born
in 1712 in Tbilisi)
I sigh not, while thou art my
soul! Fair one, thou art to me
A golden cup, with water filled of
I sit me down, that over me may fall thy
Thou art a gold-embroidered tent to shield me
from the heat.
First hear my fault, and, if thou wilt, then
slay this erring man;
Thou hast all power; to me thou art the Sultan
and the Khan.
Thy waist is like a
cypress-tree, sugar thy tongue, in sooth;
Thy lip is candy, and thy skin like Frankish
Thy teeth are pearls and diamonds, the gates
of dulcet tones;
Thine eyes are gold-enamelled cups adorned
with precious stones;
Thou art a rare and priceless gem, most
wonderful to see;
A ruby rich of Mt. Bedakhsh, my love, thou art
How can I bear this misery,
unless my heart were stone?
My tears are blood because of thee, my reason
A young vine in the garden fresh thou art to
me, my fair,
Enshrined in greenness, and set round with
I, like the love-lorn nightingale, would hover
A landscape of delight and love, my queen,
thou art to me!
Lo, I am drunken with thy love!
I wake, but my heart sleeps.
The world is sated with the world; my heart
its hunger keeps.
What shall I praise thee by, when naught is
left on earth, save thee?
Thou art a deer, a Pegasus sprung from the
Speak but one word, to say thou
art Saïat Nova’s love,
And then what matters aught to me, in earth or
Thy rays have filled the world; thou art a
shield that fronts the sun.
Thou dost exhale the perfume sweet of clove
Of violet, rose, and marjoram; to me, with
love grown pale,
Thou art a red flower of the field, a lily of
Translation by Alice Stone
Georgians and Armenians are proud of
their countries, a deep rooted love connects them to the past, great past but
also great misery, through conquests and occupation, and they both are deeply
religious (see above the statement about national religions). Both have a love
for the arts and a taste for good food and they somehow all enjoy life,
especially family life.
The city planning of the big cities is
something I would recommend for European architects to look at; what a pleasure
to stroll along these wide avenues with precious old trees in the centre thus
creating parks, a space for the people to enjoy the coolness of the trees with
benches all along.
especially, I could fall in love with, the beautiful old houses with wooden
lace balconies; here and there Art Nouveau buildings, also elements of it in
newly built buildings.
You can smell the old culture from long
ago, poetry in architecture, a historical city with a river going through its
midst, where we one night had a wonderful boat ride. It was the pride of the Soviet Union for wide
avenues, hero monuments, impressive nationalistic buildings, but we also saw
the cheap miserable residential areas of those times that still exist – in both
countries we visited – but remarkable the opera house, the parliament….
fortresses, churches of centuries ago, all well preserved and shown with pride
and just next to it high rise buildings in the style of Dubai….. no truly,
these buildings are investments by the Arabs…. One day we were shown the
treasury in the Historical Museum dating back to the times of the Golden
Fleece. Can you see the wide span of culture you can see today?
Erivan, or Yerevan, an unbelievable place, known to most
countries outside by its Radio Erivan Jokes, jokes we as tourists were welcomed
Radio Yerevan political jokes
large series of jokes of this kind goes along the following line. A listener
asks a question, e.g., about the difference between communism and capitalism.
The answer is usually in the lines of "in principle, yes", but the
details of the response contradict the affirmative answer.
Is there a difference between capitalism and communism?
In principle, yes. In capitalism, man exploits man. In communism, it's the
Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as
there is the USA?
In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the Washington
Monument in Washington, DC, and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished.
In the Soviet Union, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell,
"Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished.
Is it true that the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky committed suicide?
Yes, it is true, and even the record of his very last words is preserved:
"Don't shoot, comrades."
Why is there no flour in the market?
Because they began adding it to the bread.
Is it true that in the Soviet Union people do not need stereophonic equipment?
In principle, yes. One hears exactly the same thing from all sides.
Is it true that conditions in our labor camps are excellent?
In principle, yes. Five years ago one of our listeners was not convinced of
this, so he was sent to investigate. He seems to have liked it so much that he
hasn't returned yet.
is also known for so many other reasons and personalities. In the cities fountains
everywhere, in Erivan the one at the Square of the Republic, where hundreds of
people sat around a huge basin in the evenings, the ‘Singing Fountain’, water
games with colour and music, and Charles Aznavour was heard and the waters were
dancing to the tunes. Huge squares were so fashionable in Soviet times, also to
have demonstrations of power, so the Square of the Republic is huge; there is
the Opera House and other important buildings. Another impressing entertainment
project is a sort of art monument ‘The Cascades’, built on five levels uphill
and escalators to go up on, with arts exhibitions on all levels and in the middle
of it water falls, also important and famous sculptures in the park in front of
it.. Public entertainment….necessary when the pensions are low? Reminds me of
the old Greek and Romans: Entertainment to the masses and they will keep still.
When we approached the border to Armenia
at Bavra, an area which is mostly populated by Armenians who live there on the
Georgian side also, and further on, on our way to Erivan through the Lori
province we could still see the devastations of the last earthquake in 1988
with 25.000 deaths, everything looked somehow still miserable and suffering,
even nature. In the outskirts of Eriwan there are still the Soviet ‘plattenbau’
social residential areas, affordable for the normal citizen, explained our
Always present is the Ararat, to see on
good and clear days, especially in the hearts of Armenians, although their
sacred mountain is not on their soil geographically, a most important national
symbol for the Armenians, who are an extremely proud people. Also for those Armenians
living abroad, who are heavily
supporting their Armenia in many ways.
We happened to see weddings in old
churches, there were many couples lining up to get the blessings of the priest,
also young couples for baptizing their babies, happy and loud ceremonies. In
one abbey high up in the mountains we had the chance to hear a choir in the
lower part of the church cut out of the rocks, the ‘Luys Vocal Quintet’ with
spiritual songs, and later I learnt when I talked to them, buying one of their
CDs, that they have been on tour in Europe and will shortly be in Germany
A very rich culture, and what impressed
me very much was an exhibition of old scripts and holy books in the National
Museum, what a treasure, handwritten and -painted, precious volumes.
What connects them all is the wine, an
important export product that is grown in the wide green valleys of the
Caucasus, we have tasted it, and also the Cognac in Armenia, a very important article
of trade to the whole world. We had tastings in famous Wineries and in distilleries
… but also in private cottage gardens where we had lunch.
What is remarkable, and for me particularly
to mention, is the creativity of people who don’t have the financial means, is how
they decorate their small business places, their cafés…. things you discover
when you go through the side streets, bookstores, arts and craft, then also the
cleanliness everywhere, there is no rubbish to be seen, nowhere, not in the
cities, nor along the highways or in the mountains. The money is little, especially
of the retired people, I heard of the monthly pension they get… but they don’t
beg, they go and pick some flowers and sell them, old women, old men playing an
instrument; or people selling cups of berries or juice they make along the
streets; women selling their art and craft work, I bought a pair of fleece pantofles;
people cook in the streets, no limits to inventiveness… but no beggars…
And in the summer evenings they go out
into the streets and into the parks of which there are so many and so well kept, the
entire family with their babies in the pram, children playing and running, and
the family sitting on the many benches. Public entertainment, in streets and
parks sculptures of poets and artists, the heros and national figures are more
in the big open parade places or on top of the hills. I wonder how life is in
winter; I heard it is rather cold.
On our bus rides through the country we
came through awe-inspiring scenery, wide, open hills and valleys, velvety
green, with mountains all around, fields full of flowers, we have no longer
seen such in our over-cultivated countries, wide fields of poppies and mustard
flowers, or was it canola? We could not take our eyes off and now and then on
hill tops old fortresses and fortress churches to protect the villages from
invaders over the centuries, built from local stone; the Georgian churches rich
in decorations and paintings, the Armenian churches more simple, at least in
those which we saw. In the villages was
life as I remember it in my childhood, proper farm gardens, wild and full of
fruit and life. What an extreme pleasure.
I would like to end here my travel
report but not without mentioning the food which, all in all, resembles the philosophy of Turkish and Near
East cuisine, but also Russian somehow. It is laid out to entertain large
groups with great appetite and a savoir vivre….
10 June: Ercan –
Istanbul - Tbilissi
with Turkish. Transfer 25km to Shota@Rustaveli Boutique Hotel right in the
cultural centre of the City.
11 June: Tbilissi
Tour of Old and New City.
Metechi Church (13.Jh.) , the statue of the founder of the city Wachtang
Gorgassali. The city’s river Mtkwari, the Sulphur Baths, the Nariqala Fortress
(4th century), Synagoge Sioni Cathedral, with the grapevine cross of Saint Nino
who brought Christianity to Georgia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nino The oldest
church of the city, the Antschischati Church (6th century), Visit to
the treasury in the Historical Museum with goldsmithery from times of the
Golden Fleece. Dinner at a typical
12 June: Tbilissi-Signagi-Kisischewi-Tsinandali-Tbilissi 260km
wine district Kakheti, the City of Love: Signagi. Visit and lunch at the Winery
Schuchmann in Kisischevi incl wine tasting. Visit of a Princely Estate in
Tsinandali with its beautiful park. Return to Hotel Shota@Rustaveli in
in the morning on the road to Mzcheta, old capital and religious centre of
Georgia (UNESCO World Cultural Heritage) with the Dschwari Church (6th century)
and the Swetizchoveli Cathedral (11th century). We continue on the
Georgian Military Road over the Cross Pass to Stephantsminda. On the road
another church, the fortress church Ananuri (17th century).
Beautiful scenery in the higher regions of the Greater Caucasus. Dinner and 1
night in Stephantsminda (1700m), in the 4* Hotel Stancia
14 June: Stephantsminda-Tbilissi 150km
the early morning driving up to 2170 m to the Gergeti Holy Trinity Church.
Hopefully, if the clouds permit, we will catch sight of the Kasbeg (5.047m). Return
to Tbilissi, Hotel Shota@Rustaveli
15 June: Tbilissi-Gori-Uplisziche-Kutaissi 280km
travel along the old silk road into the region of Kartli and visit the cave
town of Uplisziche (1st
century BC), the structure of its city, palaces and streets are comprehensible,
from there we continue to Gori where Stalin was born. We visit his birth house
and a small museum. From there we continue into the Province of Imereti in the
West of Georgia, the land of the Golden Fleece. We stay overnight in Kutaissi with dinner at
the Best Western Hotel 4*
16 June: Kutaissi-Gelati-Achalziche
Kutaissi, the second greatest city of Georgia, we visit the Bagrati Cathedral
(11th century) and the Gelati Abbey (12th century), and the attached
academy. Both are declared World Cultural Heritage. Close by is another abbey Motsameta, which we
might also visit on our way to Achalziche in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. Dinner and
overnight in Achalziche Hotel Lomsia 3
17 June: Achalziche-Wardsia-Bavra(Grenze)-Gymri 130km
Cave town is on the programme, Vardsia, once with 3000 ‘apartments‘ a space
which could take up 50.000 people. It was built during the Golden Era of Georgia in the 12th century. On the
road to it we pass the Chertwisi Fortress (10th Century).
lunch we will have with a local family. After lunch we continue to the border town
– Gyumri 120km
We cross the border at Bavra. New bus and new tour
guide which will take us to Gyumri, the, second biggest city of Armenia.
City tour on foot, a charming place. There are hardly any traces of the last
earthquake in the 80s to be seen; a big modern city. From there we’ll visit the
beautiful Abbey Marmaschen of the 10th century, which is
situated in the Achurjan Valley. Overnight in the Hotel Nane
18 June: Fortress Amberd, Abbey Howhannawank 180 km
Before reaching the most lively capital of Armenia
Erivan or Yerevan we will visit the fortress
Amberd on 2300 m from the Middle Ages. The landscape is breathtaking. The
Abbey Howhannawank erected at the beautiful Kasach another highlight. 4
nights in Erivan in the centre of the city at the Grand Hotel ..
19 June: Eriwan
and outskirts 45 km
Erivan has many faces and as you drive along you
will encounter remains from many different culture epochs. There is the palace
church Swartnoz , powerful and proud the Etschmiadsin Cathedral. It
is said that Armenians from wherever they live come here at least once in a
lifetime to listen to the oldest liturgies of the world. In Matenadaran old handwritten scripts and
books with beautiful unique miniature paintings are on display as a World Cultural
June: The Sacred Mountain Ararat 160 km
A whole day tour to the South
of the country, there are so many interesting historical and cultural things to
admire and to stop for on the road, for example the Abbey Chor-Wirap
not far from the Armenian/Turkish border, more or less en face of the two heads
of the Sacred Mountain Ararat . Here, it is said that Gregory, the Illuminator
was held captive for 13 years before he was made the first Missionary and
Catholicus of Armenia. If we are lucky,
we will see Mount Ararat in all its glory (5165 m) . We will continue to Areni,
the best known wine village of the
country, where the famous dry red wine is cultivated. At the end of a
picturesque canyon with the brilliant colours of nature, one of the most
beautiful abbeys, the Abbey Norawank (13-14th century). A pleasure for
the eyes and the soul. Lunch at a restaurant led by a local family where we
will be invited to taste the local famous wine, the home made whitethorn brandy
and cognac before we sit down to a typical Armenain lunch table amidst a
beautiful farm garden with cherries hanging deep from the trees. Return to
21 June: Cave Abbey and Pagan Temple 100 km
In the Geghard
Cave Abbey we will enjoy spiritual
songs of an Armenian Quintet, in the mystical atmosphere of the church. Later,
as a contrast we will visit the pagan Sun Temple of Garni, where once
upon a time Armenian kings were residing.
Our last lunch we will have with a family enterprise again, where we
will first be shown how to make the local typical bread Lavash in the stone
earth oven. It doesn’t need more than three ingredients: Flour, water and salt.
Rolled out thinly it is attached to the hot walls of the oven. You eat it with
your meal, fill it with whatever is in the dishes. Delicious. After a short rest back at the hotel, we will
depart for a tasting of the famous Armenian Cognac and hear about its history
at the cognac factory itself, which is a museum in itself-
22 June: Transfer to the Airport of Erivan and
….Back to where you came from ....
tour ‘Georgia and Armenia’ was organized by KALEIDOSKOP TURIZM Ltd. in Kyrenia.