Qatar Airlines flies non-stop from Boston to Doha, Qatar – already an exotic stop for an adventure, en route to Armenia. The Doha airport offers one of the most unique business class lounges in the world.
My first stop: Yerevan, Armenia, one of the few proclaimed Christian countries in the world with the most ancient monasteries dating as far back as 1BC. Its position on the Silk Road from Greek and Roman times, bringing silk, spices, salt, gold, silver and other goods by camel between India and China through Asia and into Europe, made for lively trade and stories of caravans and camel riders exchanging goods, cultures and customs.
Armenia’s Apostolic Christian churches, now renovated, tell stories of invaders from the Greeks and Romans to the Mongols, and finally in the 20th Century, communism ruled them as one of the Soviet Republics. Armenia is land locked so must rely on neighbors such as Russia, Iran, and Turkey for goods and protection - not an easy balance in today’s political world.
On a day excursion to to the Ararat Region, we saw the biblical Mount Ararat and the Khor Virap Monastery.
Khor Virap is a monastic complex and a pilgrimage site with a beautiful location at the foot of Mount Ararat. According to the legend, it is here that Armenia’s patron saint, St. Gregory the Illuminator, was imprisoned for 12 years by the pagan king before curing him of a disease and converting him to Christianity.
From Armenia, a drive to Tibilisi, Georgia reveals a much richer country due to its industry of oil and gas pipelines going from Azerbaijan to Turkey, Russia, and beyond. They service the transportation of gas and oil. The hotels are good – we stayed at the very American and comfortable Radisson Blu but “Rooms Hotel” is the cool, hip place to stay with a unique atmosphere of quaint yet modern. Eat Georgian food at the fabulous “Tabla Restaurant” Visit Narikala Fortress, dating back to the Persians of the 4th century. While exploring the fortress you may visit the Church of St. Nicholas and the Folk Art Museum.
Other highlights of the trip:
The Abanotubani Sulfur Baths are unique and were frequented by Pushkin and Duma and folks as far back as before the Romans. It’s fun to try them out with a whole ritual of alternating hot and cold plunge pools, then a scrub on a marble stone hard bench from head to toe, finishing with a bucket of water over your head and body. Can’t be shy or embarrassed to enjoy this fun experience.
Gori the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, is celebrated with a museum and his original home.
Flying from Tibilisi, Georgia to Baku, Azerbaijan is easy, only an hour and you find yourself in another totally different environment. It’s much richer and more modern than Armenia or Georgia because of its oil. The riches have been plowed back into the country and the people are happy.
The Old Town of Baku is one of the oldest continuously inhabited parts of the region. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers dating back 1,500 years. A maze of alleys, winding streets and caravans with carpet shops and cafes where the hot lavash bread is pulled straight from the clay.
Not to be missed is the “Carpet Museum”, The architecture is unique as the building is shaped like a rolled carpet. It’s collection is so large that only 10% is displayed at a time. A great way to understand the history of carpet making in Azerbaijan.
Baku was the residence and home of the Nobel Brothers and the prize was instituted due to their success in the oil business in Baku. Their home is a museum, beautifully redone.
In Baku, end the trip staying at the Four Seasons in complete luxury!