My Time Capsule

7.12.17

Armenia: Noravank Monastery The Hidden Gem Of Amaghu

Armenia, October 2017




Armenia has a what it seems like an endless list of centuries old churches and monastery. For Armenian church and monastery has always been a crucial establishment. Not only for praying, they served as school or college as well. Needless to say in such a short span of time I've only managed to visit a few of them. Nevertheless I already have a hard time to decide which one is my most favourite. I seriously think Armenian are really advanced in choosing the most dramatic and extravagant location to build their churches. From atop of a beautiful lake, carved inside a rock mountain to hidden in the middle of dense forest. They believe it's the way to protect their church less vulnerable to attacks. It blew my mind when I imagine about how did they transport and construct all the materials to those hard to reach location. The first glimpse of each of the monasteries I've visited made my jaw drop. And Noravank Monastery is no exception.


just me and my silver 'horse' in this stunning narrow gorge 😁

Noravank monastery is located at the end of narrow and deep gorge, after driving through the small twisting road. It's perched halfway up the mountain, surrounded by high peaks full of brick-red colour cliffs, known as the home of hundreds caves. So the journey itself was a pleasant reward. Feels like I was in a scene from Indiana Jones' adventure. But instead of a horse, my ride was a sprinter limo 😛.
Previously I had a lunch inside one of the caves which is set into a simple restaurant. It was a unique experience indeed! I think it deserve a whole blog post itself, so stay tuned, okie! When I reached nearly the end of the gorge I looked up and my heart skipped a bit. The monastery looked striking in such an isolated area, like a hidden treasure.


brick-red cliffs

long winding road

Surb Astvatsatsin church

The complex consists of two churches and one chapel; each decorated in intricate designs and religious reliefs. The grandest structure is Surb Astvatsatsin or Holy Mother of God church, famous for its two-storey architecture. It was completed in 1339 by the talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik. Sadly this masterpiece was also his last work as he died no long after and was buried in this complex.

Here's another twist about Momik. He fell in love with the daughter of Syunik's governor. But the governor didn't like him and trying to get rid of him by challenging Momik with an impossible task. Momik was ordered to build a big church complex in such a short time. If the project is succeed then Momik could marry the governor's daughter. Never underestimate the power of love, because even though it seemed hard to accomplish apparently the church complex was coming to its end even before the due date. The governor was furious and sent someone to kill Momik. His servant climbed to the dome of the church where the architect was working and pushed him. Momik fell down and died before he could marry the love of his life 😭.


details on wall and khachkars

There's also a number of khachkars or Armenia cross-stone which is commonly used as tombstones or sometimes used as memorials. There are some category of khachkars depending on the carved details. From standard to the highly elaborated which is called "lacework" khachkars. They are all soooo pretty and I can't get enough of it! Every time I saw one, I would spend some time to admire the details. I wish I could read Armenian alphabets so I could understand the story behind each khachkars.

super narrow stairs at the church entrance

Nope! That's not me on the picture. I really wanted to reach the second floor but when I saw the narrow steps, my heart sank and my legs turned to jelly. Dang you, acrophobia! It's probably only 15 cm width so it's difficult to balance my once-petite-but-now-curvy body. Trying the lizard-crawling-on-the-wall moves with my face stuck to wall and did not make it either. Afraid of ruining the 13th century historic site, I decided to settle with the ground floor only. Apparently it's more difficult to climb down that going up. I saw some people were panicking because they couldn't figure out how to climb down that deadly stairs since there's no guardrail to hold on, only an unstable rope 😱

relief sculpture 

the eyes that saved Noravank Monastery. Thank God! (literally) 

Gayane, my pretty cicerone told me that this complex of churches almost didn't survive the Middle Ages. When the Mongols conquered Armenia in the 13th century they destroyed many of the historic temples in the country. And Noravank Monastery was just about to be demolished when they saw a relief of God with large almond-shaped eyes. This conciliation to the Mongol's physical Asiatic heritage seems to calm the army and left Noravank in peace.


Surb Karapet church

The second church is Surb Karapet where the dome was damaged twice during earthquakes in1340 and 1931. After the earthquake, the new roof that they made had a new the shape. They made the structure quite different from other Armenian monuments of the same kind. In this church, the ceiling has four rows of brackets and forms stalactite vaulting with a square lighting aperture at the top. As most visitors flocked around Surb Astvatsatsin (queueing to climb the stairs of death, that is), I found  Surb Karapet to be more serene. I had all the church by myself, admiring the interior and beautiful inscribed gravestones.




interior

one of the inscribed gravestones

the altar

Noravank Monastery



My pictures can't do justice to the beauty of Noravank Monastery and the surrounding. I brag a lot in superlative words that I might sound like I'm being paid by Armenia tourism to promote their country. Believe me, it's not a sponsored post. Armenia maybe is not a big country but it has so much to offer. The more places I visit, the more I yearn to discover another. It's addictive! Perhaps because I have a thing about inscrutable remote areas as it tickled my curiosity. If you ask me whether Noravank Monastery worth the 2 hours drive from Yerevan (about 120 kilometres)? Yes, a big YES! It is a real gem to visit specially if you fond of historical buildings like I do. 



11.11.17

Travel Updates: Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia

October 2017




My initial plan was an autumn trip to Romania. I truly enjoyed spending autumn in the Baltics last year and thought Romania would look gorgeous too covered in red goldish foliage. But for some reason the trip was cancelled. Feeling gutted that I had to postpone my date with Count Drakula, my 'Puppy Love' when I was a kid (you are one weird kid indeed, Debbz! 👻); I changed the destination to the Caucasus. Fortunately it's quite easy for Indonesian passport to obtain Azerbaijan, Georgian and Armenia visa. Yay! It's time to pack and jet off!

Uh oh, not so soon, lady! Unfortunately there was another obstacle. My Dad was down with some abnormal liver function and severe dehydration that he had to be admitted to hospital just 3 weeks before our departure. He had jaundice and his thrombosis dropped to only 70K. We were so ready to fly to Singapore instead and called off our trip. Long story short he recovered well and insisted to go. So here we are again. It's time to (last minute) pack and jet off!



Azerbaijan

Heydar Aliyev International Airport

It's quite a journey for us, started the flight from Malang, my hometown to Jakarta where we catch the flight by Qatar Airways to Baku via Doha. Immigration and custom processs at Heydar Aliyev International Airport was easy peasy, and in a blink of an eye I was already in the arrival hall. So let's begin our adventures...

First thing that caught my attention was that cute taxis parked neatly in the airport!!! I've always looooove vintage cars. It reminds me of the wallet-draining taxi ride in London on my first day school (zone 1) because I had no idea how to get to my new home (zone 3) 😂. Okay, back to Baku. I'm really impressed that Baku is really really clean and well organised too.

A trip to Azerbaijan wouldn't complete without a visit to Gobustan National Park where there's tons of ancient carvings from the prehistoric time. I also visited Diri Baba Mausoleum and Yeddi Gumbaz ancient graveyard from the 18th century. Then another stop at Juma Mosque in Shamakhi where the bloodiest massacre occurred in 1918 (around 1700 people perished 💔 ).


Gobustan National Park

Baku Old Town

Diri Baba Mausoleum

Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum 

covering our hair at Juma Mosque in Shamakhi



Georgia

the City of Love, Sighnaghi

Stayed the night in Sheki, the next morning we headed to Balakan and crossed the Azerbaijan-Georgia border in Lagodekhi. It was a smooth one, definitely nothing to compare the Jordan-Israel border crossing I had a few years back which was pretty terrifying. We then joined a Georgian traditional family lunch at Simonay's house. They introduced me to assorted traditional delicacies such as Khachapuri (Georgian pizza), Shoti (Georgian baguette), Churchkhlea (traditional sweets), Rkatsiteli (homemade wine) and more.

Then before continue the journey to Tbilisi, I spent my afternoon wandering around Sighnaghi. It's called the City of Love because lovey dovey couples can get married at Sighnaghi Wedding House anytime of the day. Yes, it's open 24/7 just like mini mart. Should I named it mini Las Vegas perhaps? 👯

Spent the next day to explore Tbilisi, started with a cable car ride to Narikala Fortress. I really loved the view from above, over the Mtkvari River and Tbilisi Old Town. In my opinion, Baku is really pretty but Tbilisi is oozing with character. It's sooo charming that I feel like hugging it really tight like a teddy bear doll. Besides historical buildings, the narrow alleys are filled with attractions, restaurants and shops. The cobblestones street and quaint old house with wooden balconies reminds me of Disney film set.


lunch at Simonay's house

cable car ride in Tbilisi

Georgian Orthodox Cathedral

Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi



Armenia

Noravank Monastery

If I have to describe each country in one word: Azerbaijan is alluring, Georgia is charming and Armenia is home. Among the three countries, I found that immigration officers in Armenia are the nicest. There was no anxiety whatsoever when I walked into the control points. Instead the ambiance was very relaxed. I was waiting for my visa to be processed when some curious officers approached me, asking where I am from. "Welcome to Armenia!" They greeted me with a warm smile, even before my passport get stamped 😆. The people I had met along the trip too are genuinely friendly and helpful and love to smile. There were some occasions when I was clueless and some strangers would approach me trying to help without being asked.

The landscape in Armenia has taken road trip to another level, well at least for me. The diversity really blew my mind. I was enjoying the dense forest view with autumn foliage in full force outside my window when it suddenly became dark as we passing through a light less tunnel. Just in a few minutes, at the end of the tunnel my eyes squinted as I reach daylight again and then voila! The landscape around has changed to arid rocky plateau with with no trees at sight. So dramatic it felt like teleportation!

I love historical sites even though I can't remember which years of what or which century of what. Seriously, I'm sooo bad with numbers that sometimes I can't even remember my age. Doh! I'm always fond of ancient architectures and Armenia has tons of it. I managed to visit Geghard Monastery, Sevan Monastery, Haghartsin Monastery and some others. Definitely should go back again in near future to explore the south area.


autumn foliage 💘

Garni

Armenian Farmer Market

Haghartsin Monastery

Geghard Monastery

By all means 2 weeks trip around the 3 countries was a short time indeed and barely scratched the surface. But my family have business to run and I have 12 dogs at home to take care. So I gotta make the best use out of my short yet precious holiday. It's time to go home and earn some cash again for our next trip (which is in less than a month 😂). Unpacking my suitcase, re-packing and applying another visa now. I will surely blog more about each places soon!

Which ones would you like to read about?



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