That afternoon and evening, we walked around the city with Gohar to get our bearings. The central square (hraperak) was in full holiday regalia, with a big New Years tree, dozens of Santas, kiddie cars, and horse carriages.
On Tuesday, we went to Echmiadzin Cathedral outside of Yerevan, the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The cathedral itself is beautiful, and in its museum are all kinds of relics and treasures from the whole of the Armenian Church, including, for example, the spear that's said to have pierced Christ's side.
The grounds were also really nice, and we particularly liked these sculptures, carved into the trunks of still-standing dead trees:
Afterward, we saw another church and convent nearby, and then went to visit Gohar’s sister in the district of “Bangladesh,” so called for its crowdedness and distance from the center. There we had some delicious Armenian food (ishli kufta) and spent a really nice time talking and visiting.
Wednesday morning we visited the Genocide Memorial that crowns a hill overlooking the city. The museum itself was closed, but an eternal flame burns for the victims and a small forest of evergreen trees has been planted by heads of state, governments, organizations, and individuals who have recognized the genocide.
Afterward, we walked around the city some more, visiting the nearly-finished Cascade, a waterfall fountain with a variety of museums and exhibits inside. The water was off for the winter, but I’m sure we’ll be back sometime when the flowers are blooming and fountains flowing.
Chihuly pieces from a gallery inside the Cascade:
From the top of the Cascade, we walked through a park to the statue of Mother Armenia and her rather oversize sword staring protectively toward the West. In this photo it appears that she is about to smack some Ferris wheel riders:
We then made our way to the matenadaran, the Armenian manuscript library. One of the really fascinating things to me about Armenia’s sense of self is the great importance placed on writing and literacy, and the matenadaran is a monument to that value.
Afterward, we headed to the famous Grand Candy shop and cafe for some ponchiki. I don’t know if they were as good as the ones Melissa made, but it was still a fun time.
On Thursday, we went to the Armenian State Museum, which featured a really interesting exhibit on Bronze Age Armenia before marching on through the centuries to almost the present day.
On Friday, it was time to go. We went back to Tbilisi, rather than to Akhalkalaki, so that we could do a little more domestic traveling over the weekend. It happened to be Old New Year (according to the Julian calendar), so we decided to go to visit our first host family in Kortaneti. They have a tradition that will be familiar to my family members of hiding a coin in a loaf of bread – the one whose piece has the coin will have good fortune that year. Looks like 2011 will be grandmother’s year.
On Saturday, we decided to take a day trip to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. A big statue of old Joe used to stand in the center of town. It was taken down last summer and now there’s a New Year’s tree in its place.
We visited the palatial Stalin museum, which included the house where Stalin was born (itself now housed in a huge stone and marble pavilion) and a hall of gifts to the leader.
The Stalin museum:
Stalin's office recreated:
A gift to Stalin from the workers of an accordion factory:
We also managed to visit the cave city of Upliltsikhe outside of Gori, an ancient site where pre-Christian temples, churches, pharmacies, and the royal residences of the kings of Kartli piled on top of one another. We had the place almost to ourselves (save for a policeman chasing a runaway horse around and looking very like a Keystone Kop), and it was fun braving the high winds and tromping in and out of the caves and marching down the long tunnel to the River Mtkvari.
We were back in Kortaneti for the night and spent some good time with our host family (once again promising ourselves that we’d brush up on our Georgian) before heading back home on Sunday. School was due to start today, but it looks like for pretty much everyone that date has been pushed to Monday. So it’ll be back to work and a new semester of challenges and (hopefully) accomplishments. We’ll keep you posted!