|Church overlooking Lake Sevan|
|Photos of survivors, Genocide Museum|
Our guide, David, was the picture of attentiveness, asking if we'd like to hear Armenian music on the bus, pushing wait staff to bring our food more quickly, and manipulating the itinerary down to the minute to squeeze in every possible site and preference. This was especially lucky given that the tour only allowed three days in Armenia. It's a small country, but there's a lot to see.
|Better than stained glass?|
As in Georgia, churches were a big focus. Though a bit less ancient--and in many cases reconstructed--they're much plainer here, stripped of iconostasis or most any other decoration on the inside. Outside, though, there's a tradition of carving crosses and lettering into the stone: while not quite as flowery as Georgian script, Armenian letters are very picturesque. There's also a tradition of kachkars, granite blocks carved into ornate crosses trussed up with remarkably Celtic-looking ornamentation and writing.
|Pair of kachkars|
|Armenian scripture or Elvin runes?|
|Pedestrian mall, Yerevan|
Armenians are much more open than Georgians, energetic almost to the point of being pushy. In a little convenience store, an old lady and a young man were dancing enthusiastically to the radio, and invited anyone in our group to join in. Nearly every restaurant featured a small band, and recorded music filled many other spaces. Russian and French are more common than English, yet people are not easily intimidated by language barriers. The Iranian influence can be seen in the food, which is much more elaborately prepared than Georgian food--yet to me it lacks that certain handmade charm; even in a restaurant, Georgian food feels like what Mom made, while in Armenia it suggests the practiced hand of a chef.
|Roadside "soda" fountain|
We went to a winery and sampled several reds, plus an array of fruit brandies. The roadsides are peppered with people selling wine in Coke bottles mostly to Iranian truckers, who can't get alcohol at home and don't want anyone to know what they're drinking. Armenia exports wine to Russia--presumably taking over the market share given up by Georgia--but "cognac" gets a lot more attention in-country. Like a comical quantity of other things, its major brand is "Ararat," after the mountain where Noah's ark supposedly landed, which now lies in Turkey. It's very fine; the same can't be said of the beer.
Like the rest of the Caucasus, Armenia is a study in contradictions and complications. The very modern meets the most traditional; urban blends with rural; East meets West; Christianity almost converges with Islam. Each of the three countries has its own character that's no less distinct for being difficult to summarize. After nearly a month in the region, surprises still await at every turn.