This trip to Armenia was a surprise trip for my daughter Anna on her 15th birthday. She didn't know where we were going until we reached the gate.
I chose Armenia because:
- There were no COVID-19 restrictions or lockdowns as of September/October 2021.
- It's warm and sunny even in the fall.
- We wanted to be in nature, and Armenia has plenty of it and is very little urbanized.
- It was a new country for both of us, and we wanted to discover something new.
It's close to Russia, with very good and affordable flights from Moscow to Gyumri (about 100 km from Yerevan). You can also find affordable flights from Western Europe to Armenia, either to Yerevan or Gyumri. The country has only these two international airports. For example, Wizz Air flies directly from Vienna to Yerevan, with flights starting at just 15 EUR.
Armenia, to be honest, was never on my travel list. We discovered this region for ourselves thanks to COVID-19! While most countries make it difficult for travelers, Armenia is one of the "easiest travel destinations" I have visited in the past two years. Here, you can lead a normal life; there is no societal divide, and you don't need to prove your health to dine in a restaurant or encounter other restrictions that have become a thing of the past in Western Europe. These have now become my primary criteria when choosing my next travel destination.
For entry, you only need a negative PCR test (showing it on your phone is sufficient), and you are free to explore. There are no measures within the country, and your eyes can rest from seeing masked faces.
Armenia is small and manageable, but it has a lot to offer - nature, mountains, tranquility, delicious food, fresh fruit right from the trees, a very hospitable people, and a very ancient and rich cultural heritage!
Armenians are also considered the first Christian nation in history! Armenian King Trdat III and his subjects were baptized in the year 301.
Nationals of European countries do not require a visa for entry into Armenia and can typically stay in the country visa-free for up to 180 days.
According to a legend that was told to us on-site, the baptism didn't go entirely smoothly. The then King Trdat III had rejected Christianity and imprisoned a believer named Gregory in the dungeon of Khor Virap Monastery. The king intended to keep him imprisoned until Gregory renounced Christianity. However, from the moment of Gregory's imprisonment, the king faced significant issues with his appearance – his ears started growing, and the rest of his face became quite deformed. It was only when he freed Gregory from the monastery cellar that his face healed, and his ears became smaller... 🙂 This mystical incident left such an impression on the king that he immediately converted to the Christian faith. According to this legend, this is how Christianity began more than 1700 years ago. (Told by an Armenian who gave us a ride to the monastery. He grew up in the village next to the monastery and now works for the military police on the border.)
Photo: Khor Virap Monastery, where Georgy spent 13 years in an underground cell.
There is a narrow staircase that leads down to Georgy's underground cell in Khor Virap.
(Almost) at the foot of the sacred Mount Ararat. We couldn't get any closer because that's where the Turkish border lies. The border between Armenia and Turkey has been closed since 1993!
Photo: Mount Ararat (5,137 m) hidden behind clouds. On a clear day, you can see the two peaks very well. The mountain can be climbed, but only from the Turkish side.
For Armenians, this mountain is a sacred place (the Ark of Noah is said to have landed on Ararat), and they can see it, but it no longer belongs to them. The mountain now belongs to Turkey, as does approximately 2/3 of the original Armenian territory.
There was another reason why I chose Armenia as the travel destination for Anna's birthday: because Armenia and Anna share the same birthday! Anna turned 15, and Armenia celebrated 30 years of independence on the same day!
Photo: at the birthday dinner in Yerevan. Armenian cuisine is incredibly delicious but not necessarily very healthy. For vegetarians, the selection of dishes outside of major cities is quite limited.
In the evening, there was a grand celebration at Republic Square in the capital, Yerevan. I'm sure Anna will never forget this day!
For those interested in history, one must not miss this museum - the Museum and Institute of the Armenian Genocide in the capital, Yerevan. It is an impressive memorial with an underground museum that presents the tragic history of the Armenian Genocide. We even took a guided tour because we were very interested in the subject. I must admit that I, as an adult, only learned about this genocide at a later stage in life because this dark part of history was suppressed for decades. It's not something you learn about in school.
Photo: The Museum and Institute of the Armenian Genocide in the capital, Yerevan. Admission is free, and guided tours are very affordable.
Actually, we had planned to travel through Armenia in a cultured (relaxed and calm) manner. I even booked a rental car for us. However, when I went to pick it up at Yerevan Airport, they told me, "We don't have a car for you. We don't even see your prepaid booking." This was from the international company HERTZ 🙂
At the airport, there were three more rental providers. But there was no one at any of the three counters. A police officer at the airport also confirmed to me that he rarely sees anyone there.
Public transportation in Armenia is quite limited. The railway network is also very small. There's only one route in the country (Yerevan - Gyumri), which is about 150 km long. And there's one train to Georgia, according to information at the train station.
So, it was clear that our plans for a cultured, relaxed, and calm trip were not going to happen. It was going to be an adventure!
Here's our route, and we did about 95 percent of it hitchhiking!
Hitchhiking turned out to be the fastest and easiest mode of transportation for us in this country! And Armenia has become my personal top choice for hitchhiking! In no other country was it as easy to hitchhike. We didn't have to do anything, not even wave our hands! The cars would just stop (unsolicited), sometimes even two at once! 🙂
It wasn't easy to stay active and take a walk in Armenia because someone would frequently stop and insist on giving us a ride so that we wouldn't have to walk too much.
Southern Armenia is famous for its fertile valleys where many types of fruits grow: watermelons, melons, figs, pomegranates, peaches, walnuts, and much more. I haven't seen so many grapes all at once anywhere else as I did in Armenia - dozens of trucks loaded with grapes on the roads!
We couldn't resist the temptation and collected about 10 kg of grapes. We traveled with this giant bag for three days! It was incredibly heavy to carry, and it looked quite silly hitchhiking with a bag of grapes. After three days, half of the grapes had gone bad, and only then were we able to part with them. The lesson learned: "Being stingy is not cool!" 🙂
We didn't know beforehand that the longest cable car in the world (that operates continuously) is located in Armenia! The route is 5.7 km long and leads to an old monastery in Tatev. This cable car even made it into the Guinness World Records book in 2010!
In this video, you can see part of the ride.
Photo: The cable car is called the "Wings of Tatev." This was our most expensive "attraction" in Armenia. The round trip costs 12.6 EUR per person, which is quite expensive for Armenia. However, it's worth it!
Armenia has its own "Stonehenge"!
And even its own "Machu Picchu"! I have written a separate report about these two mystical places!
Armenia is definitely a fantastic travel destination. In addition to the advantages mentioned above, I found the following points to be very appealing:
- Armenians are incredibly hospitable and warm-hearted people. So many individuals helped us, just like that, without expecting anything in return.
- The country is not highly urbanized. The air is clean, there's plenty of nature, and it remains very authentic.
- There's a lot to see for history and culture enthusiasts.
- There are also options for more sport-oriented travelers, with many exciting hiking trails and reasonably priced winter sports.
- In general, prices are very democratic. Compared to Western Europe, almost everything in Armenia is a bargain.
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables, all local and fresh from the tree. You can taste the freshness immediately.
- Very clean and delicious tap water. In the mountains, we drank from the rivers, and it was fine.
The disadvantages (from my perspective):
- The infrastructure is limited (which, on the other hand, can also be an advantage depending on how you see it). For us, this wasn't a problem, but I realize that not everyone may be comfortable hitchhiking. However, taxis are very affordable. For example, a ride from the center of Yerevan to the airport (12 km) costs about 2.7 EUR. And a trip from Yerevan to the Khor Virap Monastery (where the faithful Georgy sat in the cellar, 43 km from the capital) costs 9 EUR. If you're traveling with four people, it might even be cheaper than taking public transportation.
- The selection of hotels outside the capital is not as extensive, so the value for money often doesn't match. If you compare it to neighboring Georgia, you can get a better room for half the price.
As a vegetarian, you may need to search a bit longer for food because Armenians typically cook with meat.
Both of us are happy to have discovered this country for ourselves. I can recommend it to anyone who is looking for a country without restrictions, enjoys rural areas, and loves nature. Anna was very pleased with her birthday trip 🙂
Our Documentary Films
We capture our years of travel life in documentary films that we produce independently and together.
Our travel film "Anna, Asia, and Me: 250 Days on the Road" Part 1 was shown in many cinemas in Germany in 2019. Now, this film is also available for download for your home cinema. Here is the movie trailer!
Saudi-Arabia: let's sleep in the desert
Our journey to Saudi Arabia was not planned; it simply happened by chance. Saudi Arabia is anything but touristy and was closed to tourists until recently. But after so many years of travel experience, we knew that we could handle it in Saudi Arabia and find it exciting and fun. Anna’s idea was to sleep in the desert. Why not? But we travel with only hand luggage and have no camping equipment, and of course, no tent. Watch the trailer!