At the final intersection we turned right across the small bridge to the narrow road that is perhaps my most favorite road section to ride in the south. It is a worn tarmac secondary road through a narrow gorge the color of the sun, and while the colors of the scenery resemble those of the Barrens in World of Warcraft (especially around summertime), the blooming trees, the wide expanse of the sky and the light tarmac all add fantastic bright shades, making the road a lot more like fantasy than any zone in World of Warcraft can be.
In Noravank it was already unpleasantly cold and windy. We parked in the small parking lot, locked the handlebar and headed to the churches.
Architect Momik’s masterpieces were magnificent and beautiful as ever!
I insist that the crosses on the following photo signify the number of people who have died falling down the narrow stairs with no handrail. The crosses on each level signify the number of people who fell down the particular stair on that level for the given day. After the day is over, the priest registers the deaths in his statistics journal and carefully wipes the crosses using his Holy Armenian Apostolic Sandpaper. As we can see, higher stairs cause more deaths. I understand that this was Momik’s Evil Plan of Taking Over the World by slow and systematic kills over the centuries. Resistance is Futile!!
Sometimes the sandpaper does not wipe the crosses very well, and the priest has to swap the stones with cleaner ones from the other side of the church!
This is a very awesome illustration of Mary, Jesus Christ and two Angels (I think the one at the left is St. Gabriel) posing together.
After observing the churches and taking photos, we took a rest at the nearby cafe and warmed ourselves up with some tea. There was a heated discussion at the next table where two priests were explaining to some fellows that there is no such a thing as an Azerbaijani nation. Despite the scientific arguments, it sounded pretty odd after our recent encounter.
After a few minutes of walking, we realized that every minute spent at Noravank meant the way back was going to be colder. We headed back to Yerevan. The section from Noravank to Yeraskh was immensely cold, but after Yeraskh the air got warmer. Riding over 140km/h along the Most Boring Highway of Armenia (MBHA, aka M2), I was thinking about launching an awareness campaign for saving the innocent lives taken away by the absent railing of the narrow stairs.
Sunday was the first ride of the Season and it was decided that we were going to Noravank. Comprised of two XIII century churches St. Astvatsatsin and St. Karapet, I consider the whole monument on top of the gorge one of the most beautiful and St. Astvatsatsin perhaps the most beautiful church on the territory of the present Armenia.
Weather.com predicted a high of 16°C for the day and we figured it would be tolerable for a ride of ~260km wearing sweatshirts. There were some morning showers reported, so we decided to head out of Yerevan past noon. The air itself was so chilly in the wind that at some point we contemplated turning right to Khor Virap, which would slash our trip, leaving less than a quarter of the planned mileage. However, at the crossroads to Khor Virap we decided to stick to the plan.
Something that I just discovered near Khor Virap is that along the M2 road there are many stork nests built on top of the lightposts. The nests are huge and they look like hats for the wooden posts, and there is a stork standing in almost every one of them—looks awesome! The storks gave me a pleasant flashback to my childhood when they were somehow directly associated with Armenia in my perception, albeit being a child in Yerevan I had never even experienced a real encounter with a stork!
So we rode all the way to Yeraskh, which is of course the standard rest point where we took a Snickers & Bounty candybar break. I was eager to find an ‘extra large’ Snickers instead of the regular size, so we started traversing through all the local stores (which are really just old cargo containers turned into shops by cutting windows and doors into them).
And here we witnessed something extraordinary! There were other tourists taking a break in the area besides us, who I presumed were from Iran and were returning back after celebrating Novruz in Yerevan. Among these were two tan guys in mid twenties in one of the stores where we were looking for the large Snickers, and as all Iranians do in Armenia they were shopping for alcohol. These two in particular were going for some scotch and a bottle of Armenian brandy. While choosing and checking their goods out, they were chatting to the store owner, an old woman in her 70ies. A foreign speech catches anyone’s ear, especially if you are standing within half a meter of the speech source in a long–lost rural area in Armenia, and so I was trying to figure out how could that old woman speak Farsi so fluently, when it suddenly struck me—the speech sounded a lot more like Turkish than Persian! The guys paid for the goods and left, leaving an atmosphere of excitement in the dirty cabin and a sincere melancholic smile on the old woman’s face who obviously didn’t smile that often. I was already pretty shocked, and so I followed:
“Would you give me a large bar of Snickers?” I asked suspiciously.
After a short pause, the old woman replied with a mildly nostalgic voice, “I don’t have the large ones… You can have these, which are smaller…” At this point I realized the woman had a thick Baku accent. She seemed super nice, too.
“So, what’s up with those guys?” I tried to sound casual and careless.
“Ah, young Azerbaijanis… Came to visit from Iran. I used to live in Baku, before coming here… [pause] Still remember the language… not so well.” The woman too sounded suspicious but casual. “Had to check the amount by writing it down on a paper to avoid a mistake…” At this point she kept smiling like a kid who knows he’s done something wrong and yet enjoyed the experience.
“Thanks!” I replied.
I was feeling pretty confused. We walked out of the container and I told Nariné, although she was standing by me all the way:
“Those guys were Azeris…”