It would take more time than I have right now to describe in full detail all the amazing places we visited during our trip, so I'll try to summarize. (If you're interested in reading detailed information about any of the sites mentioned below, click the links provided.)
We drove north out of Yerevan on Ashtarak Highway, passing through Aragatsotn Marz (there are 10 marzer, or provinces, in Armenia, plus the special administrative division of Yerevan).
Next, we drove into Stepanavan and paid a visit to the remains of Lori Berd, a medieval fortress situated in a wild meadow. The vistas atop the sheer cliffs of the encircling gorges were awesome, but little Nathan had some difficulty trudging through the tall grass, and insisted there were "too many flowers."
Finally, we arrived in Vanadzor, where we settled into Maria's apartment and dined on Armenian-style summer salad, buckwheat, and vegetable soup.
We had read about a 12th Century monastery on a mountainside just north of the town of Tumanian. We parked next to some railroad tracks, I wrapped Nathan onto my back, and we began hiking up the muddy trail, passing through the tiny village of Kober. After an intense 15-minute leg and back workout, we reached Kobayr. We were surprised to see a family there having a barbecue. Apparently, they lived nearby and were celebrating the arrival of some friends from Russia. We shared a meal and a couple of dances before saying farewell and trekking back down the mountain to our car.
Our next stop was Sanahin, founded in AD 966. It is in much better condition than many of the other places we have seen, probably because it is protected as a United Nations World Heritage site.
Here's a short video clip of the interior of the main church of Sanahin.
We stopped for a picnic on the way to our next stop, but it was cut short by an intruding family of pigs. We managed to save some cookies and hard-boiled eggs, but the pigs stole our salad, bananas, and a plate of cheese.
After that we went toHaghpat, also built in the late 10th Century. It too is on the World Heritage list, so, as at Sanahin, all the structures were incredibly well-preserved. I really loved the view of the mountain village in the distance.
A beautiful willow stands beside the bell tower
Our final stop for the day was the 6th Century church of Odzun. The doors were locked, so we couldn't see inside, but the beauty of the church's exterior... its perfect situation on a grassy plateau, the ancient tombs surrounding the church so overgrown with flowers and weeds that they disappeared under our feet, the setting sun over the canyon ...all made it well worth the trip.
The last day of our journey. We were off to a bit of a late start because Maria had to take care of some things at the passport office, but Jarred, Nathan, and I had fun wandering around town on our own for a while.
Notice the large, unfinished stones used as the foundation for this building. According to our guidebook, as well as a tour guide we met there, it is left over from an Iron Age fortress that was on the site 2000 years before the monastery was built.
The very last stop of our journey was at Sevanavank, built during the 9th Century on the shores of Lake Sevan in Gegharkunik Marz. Compared to most of the other places we had just seen, this particular monastery was not especially beautiful. But it was still interesting to stand on the Sevan Peninsula (which used to be an island until Soviet engineers - during Stalin's regime - decided to drain the lake) and admire the excellent view. We didn't stay for long, however, as the place was swarming with mosquitoes!
After another hour of driving, we were home. Nathan really enjoyed riding in the "big red jeep." Even now, a week later, he tells me he wants to go back to Vanadzor. One day, we will do just that!
To see all the photos from our memorable trip, please visit our June Photobucket album.