Birthright Armenia & Armenia Volunteer Corps arranges everything from language classes, lectures on societal topics, havaks (social gatherings) and excursions around the country. As Leo mention it is one of the reasons we barely have time to see each other or do any blogging but since it’s a lot of fun and a great way to explore Yerevan and Armenia, we sign up for most of the things. This weekend they had planned for a trip to Gyumri and obviously we just had to join. I divided it into two parts as it was too much for only one post. It’s hard to keep it short when every little thing on this trip offered a new experience. I just have to write about it to remember, and it wouldn’t be the right way to document this excursion otherwise. So let’s begin with day 1; Saturday.
The first thing that happened was the armenian standard delay of the bus. “Bus is leaving 9.00 sharp!” in means its leaving maybe 9.15. So after that normal start we set of to reach Gyumri, on roads that cannot be explained, only experienced. We arrived an hour later than anticipated, tried a typical Armenian sweet called Monchik which is some sort of filled doughnut that tastes nothing but extreme sweetness. After a sugar high, we started off a city tour in the little city centre, passing by the main square and the beautiful church next to it, the Gyumri Birthright office and some really cozy streets. No longer surprising, we found empty buildings just like in Vanadzor, but in Gyumri they where examples of beautiful history in black, pink and red stone only a couple of floors high with balcony’s branching out from the facades in curly, organic shapes. Some of them where already falling apart, having the sky as roof.
After the city walk we hoped into the buses again and drove 30 minutes out to nowhere, guided down some winding stairs into a gorge which turned out to be an incredible restaurant. Long tables where set for us (being around 80 volunteers on the excursion) with salads, breads of all kinds, butter, fresh herbs and to our surprise – a variation on smoked fish and something that looked like salmon caviar. It all looked incredibly tasty and fancy and when we had our first bite the flavours exceeded all expectations. It was hard to understand we where having such a nice quality meal in the country side of Armenia. The main dish that was served was something reminiscing of salmon grilled over charcoal together with french fries and all the herbs and vegetables we had had to the pre course. It didn’t look so extraordinary but believe me it tasted even more so. Everything put together it was probably the best fish meal I have ever had, and I was not the only one of that opinion.
After the lunch we walked around the facilities and saw that they where farming the fish in different ponds all over the gorge, realising that we had just had freshly caught fish. In between the ponds there were cute porches where other guests were having lunch in the shades, while the staff took care of both alive and dead fishes and a couple of kittens was snooping around to maybe get a fin from a nice guest. For some reason they also had horses so I got stuck a couple of minutes, bonding with the horses and enjoying the serenity of animals. Very appreciated after being herded together with 79 other people the whole day. The whole experience was surreal but amazing and it is a definite must for anyone of you who comes and visit!
We also visited a monastery named Marmashe after the lunch, located down in another gorge by a wide and peaceful river. The sun had started to set when we arrived and offered amazing scenery and peacefulness. We happened to time two talented girl who were singing in the monastery and their voices, the acoustic and the intense feeling of being in an thousand old monastery gave me goosebumps and I was very grateful for the experience.
Last stop on our trip was Gyumri city centre again, where we had an hour before meeting up with our host family’s who we were gonna stay at during the night. Someone in the group of volunteers mentioned beers and that sounded like a great idea. We ended up in a basement bar, tried a libanese shots called Dou Dou (tequila, Tabasco, lime and an olive – horrible) turned up the volume to max and everyone started to dance. It was like a whole night out, but all concentrated into one hour, and it ended 20.30. Of course no one drank much, as we had to disperse into families later but the spirit and energy as if on a night club was there and I must say I like the concept of one hour-dance floor.
The clock struck 20.30 (actually, more like 20.50) and we went to met with our hosts. We where divided into groups of 2-4 and introduced to each of the families that had been kind to offer us dinner and overnight stay. I was paired up with Marie, a girl from France, and we met with our host mom Karine (though she was not much of a mum as she was 19 years old) and her husband. They where very nice but didn’t speak much English, though we could have smaller conversations. When we arrived at their house they had made dinner for us as if we were 6 people coming and we ate, ate and ate. Pasta, huge meat balls, chicken, potato, salads, bread (of course), cheese, eggplant patty and salami for main course and then watermelon, grapes, apples, pears, two types of sweet bread and of course; more bread and more cheese for dessert. We ate until 01.20 and I was so full when we finally went to bed that I slept like a baby the whole night. Only to wake up to breakfast and more food, as they made us breakfast before we headed out with our team again. The breakfast table contained pizza, pirogue with meat or potato filling, boiled egg, salad, salami, bread and cheese. The ironic thing was when I asked our hosts if this is what they normally eat; they answered they don’t even eat breakfast. Must be the reason for why they made us a buffe for breakfast, they didn’t know what breakfast looks like. But at least we got a good start of our second day on our excursion.