Tag Archives: Museum

Georgian Museums

We like to learn about the places we travel to and a visit to the country’s museums can often be a good way to do that. However in many areas of the world which are not as affluent as Western / Northern Europe, exhibits can sometimes be a bit tired or dusty, with difficult to read translations, if any. But not so in Georgia, we were consistently impressed by the quality of the museums with well laid out displays, professional lighting and coherent and informative English labelling.

Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi: Andrew checking out the well-lit and labelled displays; an early 19th century Persian painting of a girl with a tambourine (artist unknown)

The centre piece museum is without a doubt the Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi. The exhibitions ranged from Asian art to Georgia’s time under Soviet occupation to a fascinating gallery filled with skulls and skull fragments of human ancestors from the Stone Age. But the standout exhibit has to be the Archaeological Treasury filled with beautifully made golden grave goods from burials excavated in Georgia and dating back to the 3rd millenium BC. The side room containing the numismatic treasury was cleverly set up with two examples of each coin (where possible) one showing the face and the other the reverse.

The progression of skull shapes through hominid development, Stone Age exhibition in Museum of Georgia

Coins and intricate goldwork in the Archaeological Treasury of the Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi, including the lion statuette which we recognised as the logo of the Bank of Georgia

The regional museums had nice twists showcasing what is special to their area of the country. The museum in Sighnaghi had a fairly standard exhibit of the archaeology and development of the area, but upstairs was a gallery of paintings by locally born national painter Niko Pirosmanashvili, also known as Pirosmani. We saw more of his pictures along with other Georgian artists in Tbilisi’s National Gallery.

National Gallery, Tbilisi (clockwise from left): ‘Yard Cleaner’ by Niko Pirosmanashvili; ‘Imeretian Landscape 1934’ by David Kakabadze; ‘Girl from the North’ by Iacob Nikoladze

In Svaneti the museum in Mestia is recently reopened in a state of the art building and displays many treasures from the region’s churches alongside culturally specific Svan items including clothing, weapons and local crafts.

The Svaneti History and Ethnography Museum in Mestia reopened in 2013 in this custom-built modern building

Svaneti History and Ethnography Museum (clockwise from top): icons from Svaneti’s churches; photograph of a late 19th century sanctuary door by Vittorio Sella; traditional Svan snow shoes

The final museum that we visited in Georgia is not under the aegis of the Georgian National Museums body, it is devoted to the country’s most infamous son, Josef Dzhugashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin. Stalin was born in Gori, 80km west of Tbilisi, and the museum contains the house where he was born and spent the first four years of his life, preserved on the spot where it originally stood, covered by a pavilion adorned with a Soviet hammer and sickle. The custom built museum is rather grand but slightly shabby and very cold, reminiscent of the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana. Its construction was actually started in 1951, two years before Stalin’s death, but didn’t open until 1957.

Stalin’s birthplace is preserved at the Stalin Museum in Gori

The displays were not particularly well signed but the whistlestop guided tour (included in the admission fee) was good at highlighting notable artefacts and giving an overview of the arc of Stalin’s life. For a man who is generally reviled in the west, it was strange to be in a place where the atrocities commited during his time in charge of the USSR are hardly acknowledged, the small corner devoted to those who died under his rule felt like a very token effort.

Stalin Museum (clockwise from top left): grand entrance staircase; the museum contains a large collection of photographs, letters and busts of Stalin; Stalin’s armoured train carriage contains a bathtub and an early air conditioning system; I was quite taken with the several carpet portraits

Somehow the gift shop at the Stalin Museum manages to be tacky and slightly disturbing at the same time

Batumi, Georgia

When we were planning our trip to Georgia I’d wanted to include some time in the Black Sea beach resort city of Batumi even though Julie, Jo and I aren’t really beach people, and by that I mean that we prefer a hike, city walk or good museum to a sun lounger. Not that sunbathing was on the cards in late March as it would have been far too cold!

Batumi, Georgia

Batumi: Georgia’s beach resort. No fine sand but it is clean and over 6km long

With much of the same reasoning behind hiring a car in Armenia, having picked up another in Kutaisi meant it was easier to justify a couple of nights in Batumi as there were a few sights we’d read about that piqued our curiosity, such as the Black Sea Boulevard, a tower with a ferris wheel at the top (how does that work? – we had to find out!) and the region’s khachapuri speciality is the iconic bread-boat filled with cheese and topped with an egg. Much like Naples being the home of pizza and serving the best we’ve had, would this be our home of khachapuri?

Batumi Tower, Batumi, Georgia

There it is – the ferris wheel at the top of the tallest building in Georgia. Originally built as a Technology University, it is currently destined to become a hotel

Batumi is the third largest city in Georgia and it is easy to see that the laid back vibe is popular with Georgians, Armenians, Russians and Turks alike. Accommodations a-plenty (and really cheap off season) running the whole spectrum from self-service apartments to international luxury hotel chains and they’re building new apartment blocks at an impressive rate too.

Old Town, Batumi, Georgia

Batumi’s Old Town has a medieval fairground attraction quality to it

We started our tour of the city in the respectfully renovated Evropas Moedani or Europe Square, consisting of lovely two-tone brick buildings set around a large open square with one of those ground-squirting water features you can play chicken with and a tall statue of a woman holding a golden fleece. Why’s that you ask? So the story goes, Jason and his 49 Argonauts sailed past Batumi, along the Rioni river a little further up the coast and inland to Kutaisi where they took the Golden Fleece from a dragon. The legend of the Golden Fleece is based in history: Georgians used sheepskins to sift for gold in mountain rivers!

Medea monument, Batumi, Georgia

The Medea monument in Europe Square. In Greek mythology, Medea was a daughter of King Aieti, the king of Kolkheti in present day western Georgia. Medea helped Jason to steal the legendary Golden Fleece

Working our way towards the coast we stopped at the Adjara Arts Museum, a nicely sized gallery with a varied collection of Georgian, Russian and European artwork, followed by the Cathedral of the Mother of God in an imposing Gothic Revival style that the Soviets had previously repurposed as a high voltage laboratory!

Adjara Arts Museum, Batumi

A solid and varied collection with a couple of standout pieces, such as a bold pomegranate by Kudba and a portrait of 2 old men by Gabashvili

Cathedral of the Mother of God, Batumi

Batumi’s Cathedral of the Mother of God is an impressively imposing Gothic building. No danger danger of high voltage anymore

Batumi’s main attraction is the 6km coastal boulevard, a wide promenade with separate cycle lanes and lined with large, quirky art on the coastline side and impressive hotels and apartment blocks on the other. Crescendoing at the northern end is a wide open space dominated by a large ferris wheel, the other ferris wheel I mentioned earlier that sticks out of the 13th floor of the Batumi Tower – the tallest building in the country – and a monument to Georgian script and culture called the Alphabet Tower.

Boulevard, Batumi, Georgia

Batumi’s Boulevard. We reckon it’ll be a lot busier when the weather’s nicer..

Boulevard art collage, Batumi, Georgia

Batumi’s Boulevard is lined with quirky art, including these giant shoes that made us all look like midgets, a series of outlined figures with hearts and what we think was a cross between a snail and the ‘@’ symbol

Boulevard art at night collage, Batumi, Georgia

There’s just as much to see at night too, the most impressive illuminated artwork being Ali & Nino (centre) who change colours as they pass through each other!

A special mention goes to the dancing fountains that our guidebook said wouldn’t be running this early in the year so we were very pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon them. We’ve seen a few water displays set to music and lights before, but these were by far the most coordinated.

Dancing Fountains, Batumi

Batumi has the best dancing fountains we’ve seen

At this point in our travels around Georgia we’d accomplished our side quest of trying all of the styles of khachapuri, the country’s national dish of bread and (typically) cheese. As mentioned, the western region of Adjara is home to the most iconic of khachapuri styles – the Adjaruli khachaphuri..

Adjaruli khachapuri, Batumi

The Adjaruli – a bread boat filled with molten cheese topped with an egg and an generous knob of butter. Genius.

Georgian khachapuri

Gotta catch them all! Source: Gudaturi

While the Imeruli and Megruli are available across the country and almost all varieties can be found in Tbilisi, we can confirm that just as for pizza in Naples, the local pride in Batumi makes for the tastiest of the tasty khachapuri. Honourable mention and a close second goes to the meat-filled kubdari we watched being skilfully made in Ushguli.

Sighnaghi and Davit Gareja, Georgia

After our day trip to Mtskheta, we ventured a little further afield to the south eastern region of Kakheti which, as well as the following sites, is also famed for its wine. Enroute to our destination of Sighnaghi and straddling the border with Azerbaijan is the 6th century cave monastery of Davit Gareja. Using public transport to get out this way would have doubled the time we needed, so we took the easy option and hired a guide-taxi through our Tbilisi guesthouse.

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja, Georgia

Looking down into Lavra monastery on the Georgian side of the Davit Gareja complex. The surrounding stripy red hills reminded us of the colourful landscape of Tsagaan Suvraga in Mongolia

After a long 2 hour drive through increasingly bleak and sparsely populated land we arrived at the remote monastery of Davit Gareja, a relative oasis compared to the dry and treeless surroundings. Our guide Giorgi explained that as well as carving out their single-cell shelters, the monks used diagonal channels in the rock faces to collect the little rainwater the area gets.

Davit's Cave, Davit Gareja

Davit’s cave, most likely dug by himself ~1,500 years ago

We were surprised to find much of this part of the complex is in use; the larger caves looked inhabited, some areas were cordoned off requesting visitors to kindly respect monk’s privacy, and there were about a half-dozen monks saying prayers in the small chapel which made it feel almost bustling.

From the upper courtyard we took an energetic trail up through the monastery, past a few more basic caves and a couple of armed Georgian border guards to the top of the ridge before dropping a little way down the other side. I wasn’t entirely sure why we’d left the monastery and were following a path that is essentially the border with Azerbaijan until we’d gone about 100 meters..

Davit Gareja, Georgia

Oh! That’s why! Obviously we knew it was a cave monastery but I had no idea how big it had been and that a lot of the caves had been covered in frescoes painted in the 10th to 13th centuries

Frescoes, frescoes everywhere!

Davit Gareja collage

Exploring the frescoes, including the dinner hall (top right) with a depiction of the last supper

We spent a good hour or so working our way along the remains of the frescoed caves, many of which were just open to the elements. It was amazing how well they’d held up to the weather given a lot of walls had fallen away, but it was bittersweet that some Soviet visitors had scratched their names into the plaster.

Davit Gareja, Georgia - Close up of the Soviet graffiti

Soviet era graffiti – it’s a shame but it’s also a reminder of that period in the monastery’s history

Bodbe Convent

Bodbe Convent, Georgia

The church (right) and bell tower of Bodbe Convent. The grave of St. Nino is inside

From Davit Gareja we drove another 2 hours to reach the outskirts of Sighnaghi. We’d planned to visit Bodbe Convent the following day, but as Giorgi and our fellow tourist Daniel were due to head back to Tbilisi the same day it made sense to include this small but important site in the itinerary. Set amongst tall cypress trees and lush, immaculately kept grounds, the peaceful Bodbe Convent is the final resting place of St. Nino, who converted the King and ultimately Georgia to Christianity.

New church, Bodbe Convent, Georgia

They’d nearly finished a new cathedral-sized church in the grounds of the convent. It looks almost complete from the outside with a lovely mix of texture and materials but it was still a building site inside

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi, Georgia
Our base for a couple of nights was Signhaghi, a laid-back, quiet, picturesque hill-top town ringed by a turret studded wall. Given that we’d already done our day’s sightseeing activity before we’d arrived, we took a leisurely wander around the town’s walls which afford spectacular views of the wine growing Alazani valley and Caucasus mountains beyond (when there aren’t clouds in the way!).

Sighnaghi walls collage

One of the few staircases onto the walls around Sighnaghi that aren’t in the round turrets

Sighnaghi Museum, Georgia

Just off the main town square is the small but excellent Signhaghi Museum which finishes with a collection of works by the famous pauper painter Pirosmani who was born in Kakheti

After a lazy day of wandering around in the morning and catching up with photos and diary writing in the afternoon we spent the evening indulging in great food and very good, very local wine!

Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia

We opted for the wine tasting menu to accompany the food at the renowned Pheasant’s Tears which consisted of 6 wines from vineyards across Georgia

Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia

The food we had in Sighnaghi deserves a mention too – we unconsciously ordered fish and chips with our wine tasting – how does the saying go? you can take the British out of Britain..

The Kakheti region makes up about 60% of Georgia’s vineyards and has been a wine producing area for over 8,000 years. To this day the Georgians take enormous pride in their traditional method of natural fermentation in large clay pots called qvevri sunken into the ground. They also use the whole grape – skin and pips – which turns their white wines a rich sunset amber colour, though they’re still light and refreshing. Delicious!

Tbilisi, Georgia

Compared to Yerevan, Tbilisi feels more affluent and cosmopolitan, by that I mean there are more coffee shops, more restaurants (and chain restaurants), and a few more tourists, though that might have been because spring was on its way and it was getting warmer! Our great friend and travelling companion Jo flew in on the same day we crossed the border from Armenia to explore the capital and the country with us :o)

Rustaveli Avenue

The Georgian National Academy of Sciences, Tbilisi, Georgia

This wonderfully imposing building is home to the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and sits at the top of Rustaveli Avenue

The wide, grandness of Rustaveli Avenue (named after Shota Rustaveli, a 12th-13th century Georgian poet) is the main thoroughfare through Tbilisi. In a straight line it links Liberty or Freedom Square at the edge of the Old Town to Rustaveli Square and is lined with elegant and imposing buildings. It was of little surprise to us that it was laid out by the Soviets in the 19th century as it reminded us a lot of of Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg.
Georgian National Opera Theatre, Tbilisi, Georgia

At the other end of Rustaveli Avenue is the Georgian National Opera Theatre, a striking stand alone building in the Moorish Revival style


Rustaveli Avenue collage, Tbilisi, Georgia

As well as the former parliament building, Rustaveli is lined with art such as these adorable little bonze figures made by different artists in the image of internationally famous people, can you guess any of them?

Old Town

Old Town, Tbilisi, Georgia

A district of dilapidation awaits the ambler in Tbilisi’s Old Town

There are plenty of accommodation options in Tbilisi but not wanting to stay in a hotel and fancying a change from the old Soviet-style apartment blocks we found plenty of choice in the city’s Old Town – a maze of 2 storey buildings in conditions that range from neglected shells to rebuilt splendour. The very well renowned Skadaveli Guest House is somewhere in the middle of that scale, its entrance staircase looks like it was built on afterwards, has since had a disagreement and is slowly distancing itself!

Old Town, Tbilisi, Georgia collage

Encompassing the south-eastern part of the city, we loved just semi-aimlessly wandering through the organic street layout, admiring the picturesque dilapidation and stumbling on pretty little secluded public squares like this one with a romantic water fountain

Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path – Funicular, Mother Georgia and Narikala Fortress

Funicular collage, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Tbilisi Funicular railway started our half-day hike – we couldn’t stop ourselves taking panoramic photos of the city!

One of our favourite days in Tbilisi was joining the funicular from Old Town up to Mount Mtatsminda with a hike to the giant statue of Mother Georgia and on to the Narikala Fortress. The Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path afforded some fantastic panoramas of the city which we just couldn’t stop ourselves from photographing, especially as it was the first clear day we’d had!
Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path collage, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path. What a lovely day!


Mother Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

The giant Mother Georgia as vigilant and poised for defence as Armenia’s


Tbilisi, Georgia

Oh look.. another panoramic view of the city!


Narikala Fortress, Tbilisi, Georgia

Not much remains of the Narikala Fortress but some of the outer walls have been restored and are good to climb up for yet more panoramic views of the city. We were surprised just how big the fortress is

Deserters’ Bazaar

Tbilisi Market, Georgia

Giant barrels of pickled vegetables, Julie’s favourite!

Desertirebis Bazari or Deserters’ Bazaar gets its name from deserting soldiers who sold their weapons here in the early 1920’s. Today the main building is mainly a fruit market and sadly it has nothing to do with puddings (that’d be “desserters’ bazaar” – Julie). This is a huge market that sprawls out through streets in all directions from the railway station and even includes an old platform!

Tbilisi Market Stallholders collage, Georgia

As we found in Armenia, the people are keen to know where we’re from and invite us to try their produce or take their photo

Tbilisi Market, Georgia

As well as stand after stand of fresh fruit and vegetables, and herbs and spices, we spotted laminated Christian icons and the odd sweet stall. Most of the locals sell their own “chacha” a homemade grappa-like spirit which we were encouraged to chase with pickled tomato

Chronicle of Georgia

Chronicle of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Chronicle of Georgia. A bit different to a church I suppose

This one makes it onto our list for the sheer why?-ness of it.. a pagan-esque arrangement of columns faced with cast metal panels depicting scenes from the bible, the history of Georgia’s conversion to Christianity and is so very nearly complete.

Chronicle of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

Julie, Jo and I exploring the wackiness!

Sitting on the top of a hill near the city’s reservoir at the northern end of the metro line, it looks a lot like Stonehenge from a distance. We’d read that it’s by Georgian-Russian artist and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli whose works are often controversial, and that we’d seen one of his first public works – the giant Peter the Great Statue in the Moskva river in Moscow near the start of our adventures!

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum

Open-Air Museum of Ethnography, Vake, Tbilisi, Georgia

Another lovely day to be outside exploring

A short bus ride north to the outskirts of the city followed by a short uphill walk through Vake Park brought us to the excellent Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, a collection of relocated period dwellings from every region of Georgia. Our favourites were the the traditional farmhouses with their separate kitchen buildings out the back, the bakery which was lovely and warm, and the winery.

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia

The museum has a lovely mix of dwellings and tradesmans buildings spread out over a wooded hillside

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia

Clockwise from left: a fireplace in a single room dwelling; a guide gives us an explanation of the grape press and the various cleaning and ladling tools; a distinctive tower house from the northern Svaneti region; and an example of the traditional “Georgian Pampers” for girls!

One invention I have to mention is a smoking pipe like wooden apparatus sticking up in the middle of a baby’s cot. The attendant dressed in period costume explained that the parents would hang a hollowed out gourd underneath the cot and “arrange” the child in such a way that they wouldn’t have to put them in nappies, they’d just strap them into the cot so they couldn’t move. With a slightly different design for boys and girls she finished her description by calling them “Georgian Pampers!”

Tsminda Sameba Cathedral

Tsminda Sameba Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

The gold-topped Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi in the golden evening light

It was our last night in the capital, and as we’d seen the Catherldral from afar we weren’t that keen to pay it a visit but we mustered up the enthusiasm and we’re so glad we did – not only was our timing perfect for the evening sunlight, but we caught an impromptu a cappella from an unlikely looking group of men who could have just parked their works van outside after a day’s graft on a building site! Beautiful! Inside it’s as airy and spacious as the grounds it sits in. A fitting farewell to our time in Tbilisi.

Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan was the starting point for our exploration of Armenia and Georgia and in early March it was chilly, with snow on the ground and freezing fog obscuring our view most mornings, but pretty much every afternoon the sun broke through and we enjoyed its mixture of old and new buildings, public parks and lots of art.

St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral

The St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral looked very atmospheric in the snow and fog. It was consecrated in 2001 having been built to celebrate 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia.

In the 1920s there was a grand plan to redesign Yerevan, it took a few years to be completed but Republic Square was the centre of that plan and today is the focal point of the city.  Around its sides are impressive government buildings in the pink tufa stone characteristic of Yerevan, and in the centre is a pedestrianised square which is supposedly paved to look like a traditional Armenian carpet from above.  I’m not sure that it manages to look like a carpet, but in the summer I’m sure it’s bustling with crowds watching the musical fountains whose pools were still empty after the winter when we visited.

Republic Square

Government offices and the History Museum of Armenia (right) flank the ‘carpet’ section of Republic Square

Cafesjian Art Centre

At the northern edge of the city centre is the Cafesjian Art Centre, also known as the Cascade due to its stepped appearance and fountains (also not working in March)

The Cafesjian Art Centre is a modern art space unlike anything we’ve seen before.  Housed in a huge staircase with fountains, called the Cascade, it houses sculptures beside the escalators which run between the levels and an external sculpture park in the gardens at the front and on the building’s terraces with a funky range of modern art.  On each internal level are galleries including two permanent exhibitions with huge pieces commissioned specifically for the museum – a mural of the History of Armenia by Grigor Khanjyan and a relief carving of the epic David of Sassoon.

Cafesjian Art Centre

Cafesjian Art Centre (clockwise from left): escalators run inside the building; ‘The Knot’ by Stephen Kettle is made of Welsh slate; ‘Gendrd I’ by Barry Flanagan is situated in the external sculpture garden

Mother Armenia

Following the steps above the Cascade building we came out at Victory Park which contains a fun fair and a large statue representing Mother Armenia

We also visited a couple of smaller art museums including the excellent museum dedicated to Yervand Kochar, a contemporary of Picasso, whose 4D sculptures were unlike anything we’ve seen before – rotating pieces of curved metal, slotted together and painted on all sides to create something not quite like a painting or a sculpture – Kochar called them “Painting in Space”.

Vardan Mamikonyan statue

Several of Kochar’s more traditional sculptures are placed around the city including the statue of 5th century military leader Vardan Mamikonyan in the Circular Park, notable for all four of the horse’s feet being off the ground

We visited a LOT of churches and monasteries during our weeks in Armenia and Georgia but on our first afternoon in Yerevan we had one of those serendipitous moments that remind us why we travel. We’d read about a small church surrounded by apartment blocks and as we approached at 5pm its bells were ringing.  We entered just as a service started and sat quietly at the back watching people come and go while priests chanted, candles were lit and incense pervaded the air.

Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church

The Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church doesn’t look so remarkable from the outside, but inside it felt other worldly

On Tsitsernakaberd hill overlooking the city sits the genocide memorial, a sobering monument to the thousands of Armenians who lost their lives in ethnic cleansing carried out by the Ottoman Empire in 1915-22. The well laid out museum chronicles the story and includes historical documents, photographs, personal possessions and testimonies.  It reminded us of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and the atomic bomb memorial museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Outside, the eternal flame burns in a circle of 12 slabs which is beside a splintered needle representing the provinces of Western Armenia lost to Turkey in a post WWI deal between Ataturk and Lenin.

Armenian Genocide Memorial

As we exited the museum a Russian delegation was visiting the monument and laying flowers so we had to wait for them to leave before we could approach the eternal flame

To the west of the city centre there’s a former railway tunnel that runs down the hill to the park beside the Hrazdan river. It’s been converted for pedestrian use and is full of graffiti, nevertheless it probably wouldn’t be all that interesting were it not for the unusual zig-zag lighting which makes for a great photo.

Kond pedestrian tunnel

Kond pedestrian tunnel

Armenians are very proud of their culture, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the Matenadaran, literally “book depository” where historical documents and precious manuscripts are kept and displayed. Honestly, I don’t think we got the most out of this museum, the manuscripts had English labels with their age and what they were (e.g. gospel) but there wasn’t any explanation of the context or history contained and we wished we’d paid extra for a guided tour. Still, the illuminated documents, some of them over 1000 years old were very beautiful.

Matenadaran

In front of the Matenadaran is a statue of Mesrop Mashtots the creator of Armenia’s alphabet

Food is always high up on our list of things to explore when we visit a new country and we struck gold in our choice of Airbnb room in the apartment of Astghik and her family. Each morning her mother, Shoghik, produced some new homemade wonder from her fridge or oven for us to try.  With a bizarre combination of her limited English, our very limited Russian, sign language and Google Translate she explained to us how each item was made, from homecured meat (basturma), preserved cheese (khorats panir) and pickles to pumpkin swirl cheesecake and the best coffee in Armenia.  

Consequently our Armenian vocabularly is about 50% food words and when we finally visited the large GUM market we recognised a lot of what we saw.  In the summer months I think the fresh produce would play more of a starring role but in the winter there were nuts and preserved fruit galore alongside the butchers, greengrocers, spice stalls and clothes sellers and a fabulous second-hand “junk shop” like corner of the upper level which is where we agreed we would find the furnishings for our Yerevan apartment if we lived here!

GUM market, Yerevan

One corner if the market hall is devoted to the huge Armenian flatbreads called lavash

No sooner had we entered the market than the dried fruit and nut sellers started to bombard us with samples and start off on their spiel at breakneck speed (usually in Russian). This was a little intimidating and we were wandering along trying to keep our heads down when an enthusiastic vendor started thrusting spices under our nose and feeding us samples of his barberries. We politely agreed that they smelt wonderful but thank you we don’t want any, undeterred he took us to his store room at the side of the market hall and started plying us with samples of pomegranate wine and apricot vodka (we refused the latter as it was 10.30am but it smelt wonderful). We gave in and bought a litre of the pomegranate wine and he decanted from the large container into an old Coke bottle before we made our escape!

GUM market, Yerevan

Yerevan’s GUM market (clockwise from top left): orderly displays of dried fruit and nuts; salad and herbs; go on, pretend you don’t want to delve into this lot for treasure; there was a lot of locally produced honey for sale

We’d read of the long tradition of viniculture in this part of the world but didn’t expect to encounter good beer.  However, during my research on Yerevan I’d come across Dargett Craft Beer, a microbrewery serving interesting craft beers.  Oh, and it was good!  We visited three times and (with the help of their taster flights) tried almost all of the 20ish beers on offer, and there wasn’t a bad one among them.  My favourite was the apricot ale.

Dargett Craft Beer

On our final afternoon in the city we took a tour of one of the city’s two brandy factories, the Noy Brandy Company.  Originally set up in the 19th century it closed down and fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th century.  It’s now been renovated and reopened complete with cellars full of old wine barrels (though they only produce brandy here now).  During the Soviet era Armenian brandy was prized across the USSR and Noy are proud that they are still the official brandy supplier to the Kremlin.

Noy Brandy Factory tasting

Trying brandies in the Noy Brandy Company’s tasting room

Before our visit we’d read and seen pictures of Mt Ararat which is supposedly visible from many points in Yerevan.  It’s the mountain where Noah’s Ark came to rest and is sacred to Armenians though it is now across the border in Turkey and they can only look at it.  Unfortunately for us it was quite shy and seemed to be shrouded in cloud most of the time so that we didn’t even get a peek for the whole week that we were there.