Armenia is a wonderful country and its premier monastery is in a beautiful location. We visited Geghard Monastery, together with the Roman temple of Garni on a half-day trip out of the Armenian capital of Yerevan.
We hired a taxi driver for £20 and set off. First stop was Garni, a Greek style temple dating back to Roman times, set amongst rolling hills and pine forest.
We arrived before official opening time, but a gardener let us in to give us the place to ourselves for a blissful while. How much nicer it was not to be herded around, having posers diminishing every shot.
The temple itself was impressive in structure, but had clearly been much rebuilt. It was a case of that old dilemma of whether ruins should be reconstructed or left as rubble so that the original can be left to the imagination of visitors.
The Armenians had chosen the former option to the purist’s chagrin. At least they had used original style material, which was now weather worn enough to almost blend in with the few original stone blocks that remained.
We had fifteen-minutes of privacy before a Russian trio of two hairy blokes plus a girl with bee-sting lips and a deep love for herself, showed up.
The girl wore a white fur lined hooded coat, coupled with white knee length boots. She posed in front of every flower and each aspect of the temple imaginable. Not only that, but she had to bend this way and that way whilst making multiple expressions, all in pursuit of the perfect shot.
When her appetite for paparazzi was sated, the guys turned on each other and snapped away in similar style. They were to be an irritation all morning.
Gregory our driver then approached me to advise that I should go and see some ancient mushrooms. Mushrooms? How ancient can they be? Were they petrified or perhaps set in amber?
Gregory had actually said washrooms – I decided I must get that hearing checked!
The Roman bathhouse was encased in glass, but we were still able to get a good impression of how the hot water had formed an ancient sauna and could also make out some impressive mosaics.
It wasn’t long before Geghard loomed into view, an impressive looking pile of monastery, so we stopped on the hillside opposite for a few snaps of the rocky structure before moseying on down.
The monastery was a fabulous spot in the picturesque countryside, surrounded by mountains and tranquility. Every now and again the peace would be embellished by some exquisite singing from a group of five female singers who piped up for a fee upon request.
The first time I heard their harmonies, I was inside the church itself. It made a wonderful accompaniment to the ornate carvings and inscriptions cut out of the stone building. There was even a small stream babbling along inside.
It really was a spiritual place. At least it was until Karenina and Co turned up to blight every shot with their presence. We lingered for over two hours, managing to ignore the bored looks of our waiting driver.
I discovered that the singing quintet placed themselves down a small passage on the second level to find the best acoustics for their heavenly voices. A strategically placed hole in the church wall allowed the blissful tunes to waft into the main building and fill it with sweet music.
Outside we saw a new bride cheesily release a dove and witnessed an old lady bent double as she walked with the aid of a stick. The wizened old maid enjoyed herself by standing up virtually straight as visitors passed her by, to let out a witch-like guttural cackle right into the unsuspecting faces of the peace-loving tourists!
At the moment a group of thirty Romanies descended on the place to shatter the peace and usurp the Russians in the annoying stakes, we decided it was time to leave.
We were soon back to Yerevan for our afternoon train to Tbilisi and left Armenia with a feeling of sadness to be leaving such a lovely and welcoming country.