Travel

Armenia’s Best Kept Secret

You may have gotten a hint by now how much I enjoyed my spontaneous, non-regimented, solo travel in Armenia. Honestly, my expectations of this trip was surpassed though my movement was restricted and influenced by the weather.

What makes for it?

Travelling solo, and without the usual long planning and research I was used to, safety was of paramount concern. Actually, at the onset, I thought to be slightly spontaneous, just exercising a bit of caution and common sense as I go about town, which made this trip a little bit more exciting. I only booked the first 4 nights of my stay, and the rest, I thought I’d leave it to gut feel and to what comes up at that moment.

I couldn’t have made a better decision. For the remaining days of my stay, I let me instinct guide me. I looked at weather forecasts, corresponded with locals regarding my plans to travel around, researched online for some more information, but most of the time I relied on the people.

This trip has become very special because I was at the receiving end of Armenian hospitality and genuine kindness. Let me count the ways…

My airport pick-up driver bearing a paper with my name on it, who welcomed me first to Armenia with a smile, and assured me that my things will be okay when I left them at a distance while I did some errands at the airport. He saw me looking paranoid over leaving my stuff unattended. 

The crew of Elysium Gallery Hotel, who were all very accommodating and helpful, who always had smiles on their faces, and you could feel the genuine hospitality. To Ani who offered me hot drinks when I came back from a very cold weather outside, and I probably looked like I am about to freeze to death. To the lady helper, who not only made me coffee, but offered me Armenian sweets as well to down with it. To their manager, who gave me huge discount when I chose to come back to them after I stayed in the second hotel I booked, and upgraded me for the night I was supposed to stay at a cheaper room.

Ah, Gayane of Old Dilijan Complex, who I had a kilometric-long email exchange on my plan to stay in Dilijan overnight. She had been patiently answering my queries, remembering to check the weather for me to let me decide whether I would push through going to Dilijan. She was honest to advise me not to go on the day I initially planned as access to the monasteries were not good. She made sure everything was in order when I arrived, made sure that the driver who will take me to the monasteries was there when I arrived, checked minivan schedule for me for my return to Yerevan the next day, reserved a seat, and updated me about it as I was on my way to the monasteries tour.

The random Armenian drivers who helped other drivers who were having problems maneuvering their cars in the snow. I’ve seen it more than a few times, and I observed these people would stop voluntarily, without the needy driver desperately calling for assistance. It was such a pleasant sight, what Filipinos call bayanihan.

To my fellow passenger to Echmiadzin the first day I went, who took care that I alighted at the correct place, and showed me where to get a ride back to Yerevan.

My accidental Echmiadzin tour driver, who was only supposed to show me 2 sights for the fee I was told, but brought me to an extra one, the Church of Shogakhat. Accidental because I was supposed to just get a taxi outside the Cathedral, but came across someone who contacted him for me.

The lady in Echmiadzin Cathedral’s souvenir shop who I asked about getting to the other sights, and who referred me this driver, and checked on me from time to time to make sure I was ok.

The taxi driver who brought me to Yerevan from Echmiadzin after I went for the Christmas Eve service. I was alone, it was almost 8pm, but I didn’t feel a slight fear while I was on the trip back to the city.

My co-passengers in the minivan to Dilijan, who then became some sort of acquaintances. Their curiosity about me, travelling alone, taking a public transport, probably raised the caring level in them. Most helpful were the Russian lady and her Armenian boyfriend, who were thoughtful, giving me last minute instructions where to alight, just before they had to get down the minivan. To Cristina, who alighted with me in Dilijan, who took my arms to help me walk on ice, as she saw me struggling with my bag and with my shoes! With all these nameless souls I crossed paths with in Armenia, it was only with Cristina that I had a photo with, a selfie with me!

My tour driver to Dilijan’s monasteries (that Gayane arranged), who did not give up for me to see Haghartsin monastery, though we had to stop by the road for some time to wait for the equipment clearing the icy road, and he had to walk back and forth to check with the drivers from where our car was. He may be up for the challenge to find out whether he was a good driver, but I think he didn’t want to disappoint me, who travelled all the way just to see these 2 monasteries. 

To the old woman working in Old Dilijan Complex, who saw me hesitating to walk on the slippery ice, lest I make a mistake and be the Jill who comes tumbling down. Without saying a word, she grabbed my arms, led me to a concrete path that I didn’t know I could take, and was watching on me as I walk back to my room from breakfast.

To the Old Dilijan Complex’s receptionist when I checked out, who initially just offered to show me the way to the bus station to Yerevan. I was telling about my near-ice slips, and a little later, informed me that somebody from their hotel will be bringing me to the bus station. Yey! No need to walk on ice. But… The car was parked at the lower slope of the hill where the hotel is, and so I had to walk on the same ice that the old woman made me avoid to walk at. No choice, I know I will really slip. I grabbed the receptionist’s shirt and got my balance from there. Haha… He didn’t have much choice does he? But he let me anyway…

I may not have gotten their names, but I might remember their faces when I do visit Armenia again. This post, however, wishes to immortalize the little good deeds I have received in my 10 days in their country.

It is not the sights that I will remember later. Google can help me with that. It is these personal memories that will be etched in my mind. After all, these are what made my experience unique and worthwhile.

Tip for the next trips: combine a good mix of spontaneity, adventure and caution, it will give you more chances to interact and create a lasting memory of your travel.

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