The sky above us shoots to kill

I have to admit, I didn’t sleep much in my tent last night. The wind was constantly smashing into my tent and when I finally managed to ignore all the unfamiliar sounds, the brightness of a golden morning already woke me up. I had no time to lose today, so I packed everything before the sun completely rose from behind the hills. It really was a great morning.

Just when I planned to get in the car and leave, I noticed about a hundred cows, sheep, goats, … coming straight at me. A man was bringing them from the farm to the fields. He didn’t allow me to take a photography and just continued when he realised I didn’t understand anything. While I kept waiting for the animals to pass, the man had stopped walking and returned to me. He gave me two big fresh peaches and continued his path again.

Next on my schedule was Harichavank. You should know ‘Vank’ means monastery and Harich in the name of the village. The village is a bit isolated on a hill 3 km south of Artik. The monastery complex is located at the end of the street that goes to the village. Only from inside the building complex you can see the stunning setting of Harichavank. There is a gorge just next to the monastery that stretches along the village.

When I arrived the church was still closed but someone called the key holder who soon arrived to open the door. The man who called gave me a tour inside the main church in Russian. It was difficult do understand – not to say I didn’t understand anything at all – but he also pointed me to a hidden staircase in the wall and brought me some apples after the tour.

It seems you can descend in the gorge from the monastery, but I didn’t go down. Next time I would definitly go down to have a nice view on the cliff with the Harichavank on top of it.

But I had to move on towards Gyumri. Gyumri is the second largest city of Armenia and since I had no concrete plans to visit Gyumri, I decided I would be lost in the city the whole day so I just drove trough Gyumri and continued my trip to Marmashen monastery.

Before I completly left Gyumri behind me, there is one more thing I saw in the outskirts of the city. One of the many visible remains of the earthquake in Spitak in 1988 that had a disastrous impact on the city. Many buildings are not recovered yet leaving a few thousand people still homeless today. Others still live in half collapsed apartments.

I needed a few minutes to feel the impact of this view. It’s hard to see nature can be cruel.

Luckily, Mother nature and some human hands worked together on many other places in Armenia to create something beautiful. One of these places is definitely Marmashen Monastery. It’s located about 20 minutes driving north of Gyumri from where you need another 15 minutes to drive down in the valley. Halfway down you get to see the Monastery in the valley. The whole area looks very dry and dusty except in the direct surroundings of the monastery where fruit trees are providing visitors with some refreshing vitamines.

Next stop could be Spitak, the village where the epicenter of the earthquake was located. But I didn’t took the turn to Spitak but continued my road towards Stepanavan. Here for I had to take the tunnel of 1.8km under the Pushkin pass (2038m). The scenery is completely different on the other side of the tunnel. The open, dry landscape disappeared completely and the road circles now down the mountain between the forest with lovely green trees. Welcome to Lori Province!

My GPS sent me on an alternative route to Stepanavan. I naively followed the instructions of the GPS, even when a man clearly indicated I was wrong, and find myself stuck on a hill half hour later. I returned the same road and took the main road just to be sure I would still arrive today at my next destination, Lori Berd.

Once arrived in Stepanavan, I had to drive to the end of the city and take the huge bridge over the Dzoraget gorge. A few more kilometers driving on the other side of the gorge brought me finally to Lori Berd. A fortress located on a peninsula along the deep gorge cut by the Dzoraget and Tashir rivers.

I was getting hungry so when I returned to Stepanavan I stopped to buy some food and drinks. What you often see in Armenia are the people selling there vegetables and fruit together along the road.  The same here is Stepanavan on the photo below.

Next on my schedule was Hnevank Monastery. But the road from Stepanavan soon transforms in a dirt road that requires all of my attention that I missed the path down to visit Hnevank. I only saw Hnevank Monasterty when I took a break and got out of the car to fully enjoy the views in the gorge.

It must have been more than an hour driving this difficult road because I was getting hungry again. When I came back on the main road I wanted to eat something at the first place I found. First buildings I saw was the Dzoraget hotel. Not the kind of place where I wanted to go for food.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait much longer before I found a small snack bar along the road. They didn’t have a menu card – even if they did, it would probably be in Armenian – so I just explained them I wanted something with meat. The woman was also happy to prepare the vegetables I bought in Stepanavan as a starter for me. While she was preparing the vegetables, her husband was preparing the barbecue for me.

After dinner I had to find a place to sleep. My first option was to camp along the river. But one look at the sky told me I don’t want to sleep where all coming rain would come together. So I continued to Odzun, from where I could hike up the hill to another church with nice views according to my guide-book. unfortunately, a big thunderstorm started and I lost track of the path in the tight forest. I had to stop thinking about camping and return to my car as soon as possible.

Once back on the road, I realised how lucky I was I didn’t pitched the tent along the river an hour ago. The road was already flooded at many places. I reached the city of Alaverdi but couldn’t see any sign of a hotel. Luckily my friend Anush did a few phone calls from Yerevan for me and made a reservation for me at the Debed Hotel.

One minute later I had to call her back to tell her my car didn’t start anymore because of all the water. She arranged so that someone from the Debed hotel would come pick me up. Luckily that wasn’t needed anymore since ten minutes later my car started again.

I was happy to have a bed this night. It was a very exhausting day and I learned I should not eat everything people offer me without washing it. I felt terrible. Let’s hope a night in a good bed will heal me.

Many thanks to the people from the Debed Hotel and goodnight!