Day 7: (Lake Sevan)
Continue reading: →Day 8: Echmiadzin
|The city of Sevan. Typical buildings made of tuff|
After one and a half hour, comparatively fast for the 70 km between Sevan and Yerevan, the marshrutka stops at a crossing and the driver tells us to get off the bus. There we are - in the middle of nowhere, no street signs, no clue where the lake could be and something that looks like a small city on the left. Is that Sevan? We are surrounded by mountains, which gives us a small idea of where the lake might be. But we don't have a map, and so we start walking without knowing the direction. The air is quite fresh and cool, which comes as no surprise at an altitude of around 2000 m above sea level. After a while we enter the town. Streets without people, crumbling apartment blocks made of tuff. One or two kilometers later we come to something which looks like the centre of town. A small street bazaar, with poor-looking people selling vegetables and replacement parts, stretches along the road. After more than an hour of walking pretty quickly, we end up in another suburb. Obviously we have crossed the whole town. And there's no lake to see. So we ask at a rather modern petrol station.
|Medieval church at Lake Sevan|
Guess what, we walk the right direction. Halfway, we notice a giant aeroplane, looking rather unusual. The plane is flying in a very low altitude, disappearing and appearing again. On the next day I will read in a newspaper that the Russians are testing a new and indeed very big seaplane. We keep on walking, until we come to a motorway. We ask again, and we still seem to be on the right track. After more than two hours without a break we can finally see lake Sevan. We want to go to a peninsula with two very old and famous churches on it. The beach is crowded with people - this could be the Bulgarian Black Sea coast or the Italian Adriatic coast as well.
Thanks to our long walk we are starving. We grab a seat in a beach restaurant and order shashlyk - the typical Russian diet, consisting of marinated pork chunks impaled on a large skewer. A good barbeque takes a good deal of time, but we didn't expect that it would take more than an hour until we get our food. The amount is shocking. A large plate full of shashlyk, bread for around 6 persons and a couple of onions. Yes, we are hungry, but not that hungry. After a while we have to give up and want to pay. Which takes another hour... Eating out in Georgia and Armenia requires a lot of time.
It's already half past three when we leave the restaurant. So we walk quickly to the churches, standing on top of a green hill. Long stairs lead to the churches. Up there we meet several Russians and - a Japanese tour group. We've already noticed them the day before in the centre of Yerevan and were quite surprised to see them even in Armenia. The group was incredibly loud, trying to explain something in English to their Armenian guides. Despite all the noise the atmosphere at the churches is absolutely sublime. The two small churches are called Arakelots and Astvatsatsin and were probably founded in the 9th century. The stones are covered with colourful lichen and radiate a reverential calm, as if they would have always have been there and nothing could ever change that. Lake Sevan behind the churches with its mysterious blue water surface and the high mountain range in the background complete the beautiful setting. Next to the churches there are some old Armenian stone crosses, called khachkars. It might sound cynical, but travelers should hurry to see this scenery. During the last years, the water surface has shrunk to two thirds of its original size, which is due to excessive draining. If Armenia doesn't find another solution, the lake will disappear completely in a few centuries.
|Lake Sevan at an altitude of 1900 meters|
Below the church we find a small visitor centre selling picture postcards. We decide to buy 12 postcards and a small map of Armenia. The price is quite a surprise. € 10. Damn, this is almost our daily budget! Other visitors seem to pay similar prices. No, the postcards are not made of gold, but obviously postcards are a rarity in Armenia. It's already late, and so we walk back to the main road. Next to the road there's a platform, with hundreds of people waiting there. Suddenly a thunderstorm and torrential rain starts, and so we are running to the train station as well. A few minutes later, an old elektrichka, the typical Russian commuter train, arrives. And so we get on the train and even find a seat. We don't really know if this train is running to Yerevan anyway, and so we ask other passengers. Yes, it's the right train. And we can buy the tickets on the train. The fare is ridiculously cheap. The train proceeds in a breathtaking speed - when it's downhill, the speed even seems to top 30 km per hour. Every ten minutes or so, singing and begging and reciting old men walk up and down the aisle in order to earn a handful of Dram. For the 70 kilometers to the capital, we need around two and a half hour. We expect something like a train station, but there's nothing like that. At a makeshift platform with an Armenian name, which deifinitely doesn't read 'Yerevan', some other passengers tell us that we would have to get out at this station.
Again, we don't have the slightest clue as to where we actually are. We walk some hundred meters and find out, that we are on top of a hill not far from the city centre. Only a few minutes later we find a marshrutka running to the opera. In front of a crossing, the marshrutka stops and the engine refuses to start up again. We are the only passengers, and so the driver kindly asks us to push-start the microbus. Which is quite risky on a vibrant crossing. But we finally manage to start the car without heavy losses. Before dinner we go to an internet cafe, recently mushrooming in the city. 600 Dram for one hour high-speed internet connections on a modern terminal is quite cheap. In contradiction to that the dinner in another park restaurant - the atmosphere is great, but the food rather lousy. In the evening I have a long conversation with Anait about Armenia, the war over Nagorno Karabakh, the consequences of the the war and the future of the country. It's very interesting to chat with her and I enjoy the conversation, although high-speed Russian gives me a headache. I find out that Armenians are extremely proud of their country, despite the high price the civilians had to pay for the 'patriotic' war over Nagorno Karabakh.
Continue reading: →Day 8: Echmiadzin
- From the capital, buses, trains and marshrutkas run to Sevan. Marshrutkas cost 1200 Dram (€ 2.4) per person, the train sets you back 250 Dram (€ 0.5) only. The train is very slow but quite convenient. Be sure that the bus or marshrutka runs to the lakeshore near the churches and not just to the city of Sevan! From the city, it's a long and boring walk.
- There are a couple of hotels near the lakeshore, among them a luxury hotel complex, which was under construction in 2002. However, it's easy to do Sevan in a day trip from the capital. For information on accommodation in Yerevan see the previous day.