Sunday, March 23, 2014

Park Apartments, Yerevan

Have you considered staying in a holiday apartment during your stay in Yerevan?  It could definitely be worth considering.  You may not get the benefit of some of the 24-hour services and housekeeping available in a hotel, but there may be benefits that you have not contemplated.  If you choose your holiday apartment well, you could benefit from a private, well-appointed home-from-home that gives you unlimited freedom to enjoy your holiday at your own pace – giving you somewhere to relax and cook for yourselves if you do not fancy eating out, for example. 
Park Apartment Yerevan

Park Apartments are situated in the heart of the capital of Armenia, at Aram Street – just 700 metres from Republic Square and the Metro Station; therefore, exploring the city, its attractions and eateries (many within a 5-minute walk) is both easy and convenient from here.  However, the apartments are also spacious and well-appointed places to relax – that perfect home-from-home.

Arrival Information
Check in is from 2pm and checkout is until 12 noon.  Payment will be accepted by American Express, Visa and MasterCard and the right to pre-authorise your card is reserved.

Services and Amenities
The apartments the following range of services and facilities: free Wi-FI in all areas; free, onsite private parking, without reservation; an airport shuttle; a 24-hour front desk; a lift, family rooms and multi-lingual staff (Armenian, Russian and English).

Guest Rooms
Park Apartments has 6 different apartment rates available: One-Bedroom Apartment; Two-Bedroom Apartment; Deluxe One-Bedroom Apartment; Deluxe Two-Bedroom Apartment; Superior One-Bedroom Apartment; and Superior Two-Bedroom Apartment.  Rates start at 28,872 AMD per night and rise to 50,182 AMD per night (as of March 2014).  All children using existing beds/cots stay free.  The maximum number of extra beds/cots allowed per room is one.  Pets are not allowed.  The apartments feature the following facilities: a wardrobe, a dressing room, a balcony, cleaning products, kitchenware, refrigerator, oven, stovetop, washing machine, kitchen, electric kettle, seating area with sofa, dining area, flat-screen TV with cable channels, bathroom, hairdryer, heating, air conditioning, ironing board and iron.

Trip Advisor Rating and Testimonials    
Overall, this hotel/hostel has been awarded 5 stars out of 5 on the Trip Adviser website (written by independent visitors to the hotel).  When broken down, the hotel received: 5 stars across the board for service, value, sleep quality, cleanliness, rooms and location.  Some of the guests said the following:

‘Great location near the park and great service.’
‘Outstanding location, clean and comfortable.’
‘Can’t think of a better place to stay in Yerevan!’
‘Armenian hospitality.’

Sometimes, all you want to do on holiday is relax and feel totally at ease – nothing enables you to do that more than a private space where you can come and go at your own leisure.

Garni and Garni Temple

Garni and Garni Temple
Looking for something interesting to do outside Armenia’s capital city? Located just 12 miles outside Yerevan, Garni and Garni Temple is a great day trip for a broad spectrum of visitors.  If you fancy driving to these attractions, yourself, they are less than an hour’s drive from the country’s capital along roads that afford you picturesque views of the Armenian landscape and occasional glimpses of the iconic Mount Ararat.  However, if you would feel safer going on an organised tour with a local guide, then why not consider taking a look at (a site that has been connecting travellers with local guides since 2008).

A Brief History of the Garni and Garni Temple
Many people mistake Garni for the 1st century AD Hellenistic pagan temple, nearby.  However, Garni, itself, is a major village in the Kotayk Province of Armenia - an area which was first settled in the 3rd millennium BC.  Situated at a bend in the Azat River, it is originally thought to have been a summer dwelling for two royal dynasties – which is when the famous fortification, excavated briefly between 1909 and 1910 and continued in 1949, was built.  Over time, this region quickly became one of the most renowned metallurgical and trading powers in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.  However, the fortress was sacked by Timur Lenk (historically known as Tamerlane – a Turko-Mongol ruler who conquered West, South and Central Asia and founded Timurid dynasty) in 1386 and, in 1679, an earthquake ravaged the area and demolished the nearby Temple of Garni.

Excavated in 1909 – 1910, it is believed that the Temple of Garni was erected on top of a Urartian temple during the reign of King Tiridates I of Armenia, using money secured during his visit to Emperor Nero in Rome.  It is further believed that it was built to honour Mythros, the pagan Goddess of the sun – an entity it shared with Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire (who adopted Mythros as a patron goddess) – and to revere fire as an ultimate gift from the gods.  However, it is also likely that the real political reason for its construction would have been the declaration of Armenia as a Roman province.  During the excavation, it transpired (fortuitously) that most of the original architectural members and building blocks from the basalt construction remained at the site – allowing the temple to be reconstructed between the years of 1969 and 1975.

Garni and Garni Temple, Today
Not only do several tourist attractions nestle within the walls of the original fortress complex at Garni, but it is also central to many other attractions in the area.  Garni Gorge can be found nearby, which is home to the ‘Symphony of Stones’ – a series of basalt columns carved out by the Goght River.  It can be reached via a cobblestone road that leads down from the village and in to the valley.  Once in the valley, turning right will lead you to an 11th century medieval bridge and the ‘Symphony of Stones’; whereas, turning left will lead you along the river and up to the Khosrov State Reserve.  Within the reserve, itself, you will find the 13th century Aghjots Vank, the Church of Saint Stepanos and the Fortress Kakavaberd.  If you progress a little further from the reserve, you will reach Havuts Tar Monastery (which can be viewed from the temple). 

Garni Temple is one of the attractions that nestle within the walls of the original fortress complex at Garni.  Situated on a cliff surrounded by jagged rock walls, it is a magnificent and unique example of pagan architecture, constructed from basalt (a material not commonly utilised at the time) – designed and built to the revered geometry of the age and oriented to the East, to meet the rising sun.  To the north of the site, on the side of the temple, sits an extremely well-preserved Roman bathhouse with an exceptional example of a mosaic floor.  In fact, this work of art has been so well-preserved that it was awarded a prestigious UNESCO International Award in May of 2011.

If you choose to visit this amazing complex, you will also have the chance to meet and mingle with the local people.  In the car park, you will find a souvenir shop and a gathering of people attempting to sell you their merchandise – including compact discs of local music and ropes of pastegh (a local delicacy consisting of nuts and grape juice).

Trip Advisor Ratings and Testimonials
Garni Temple is ranked 8th out of 38 Armenian tourist attractions on Trip Adviser, with 110 out of 192 independent reviewers giving it 5 out of 5 and 56 more giving it 4 stars out of 5.  Some of the guests said the following:

                ‘Well restored temple.’
                ‘Spectacular construction.’
                ‘It’s a must.’
                ‘Well-preserved Greco-Roman structure.’

There is certainly a lot to do and see at Garni – a chance to visit an amazingly well-preserved and  reconstructed pagan temple, breath in some magnificent scenery and meet the local people!  

Tsakhadzor - Snowboarding Paradise

Tsakhadzor - Snowboarding Paradise
When considering your next snowboarding adventure perhaps Armenia does not jump to mind. Well, maybe it should because you would be hard pressed to find a more exciting place to ride the slopes. In Yerevan, the Armenian Capital, which is not far from the slopes and you have plenty of things to keep you busy, when hanging your boots up. Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world and nestled in the heart of one of the oldest countries in the world, as such you will have plenty of culture to soak up will you wait to visit the ample skiing on offer.

Unique Location
Armenia is a unique country, with a unique ecosystem and due to the variation in environments you can experience summer and winter sports in the same holiday. Whilst in the winter you can go skiing north of Yerevan but in other regions you can go mountain climbing, undertake water sports or hike through lush, green forests.

Located north of Yerevan is the countries only ski resort which is in the resort of Tsakhadzor. However, it is worth noting that a number of new ski resorts are planned in the future. The resort has only four lifts but at least that means you are guaranteed some quality time on the slopes. This resort is an untapped source for the snow fan and you should get yourself on the slopes before word gets out to the wider skiing community and the slopes become packed out as they commonly are in France and Italy at the height of the season.

Plenty of Slop Time
Any snowboarder will tell you that what they like is space on the slopes and whilst Tsakhadzor is popular with Armenians, and so it should be, it is still relatively quiet, giving you plenty of slope time. However, you just wait until the secret is out and the skiing and snowboarding community gate crash the party.

Olympic Standards
Whilst there are only four ski lifts, Tsakhadzor can offer Olympic standard facilities and the slopes can offer challenge to even the most seasoned skier. It is worth noting that the Soviet Olympic Ski squad used to train here and that is saying something as they have many quality facilities of their own, on their own soil, as such this gives you an idea of the quality of the slopes available in Tsakhadzor. Instructor services are available for the beginner and the experience skier or snowboarder alike and cost from 12000AMD (30 USD) per hour and often the 5th hour is free. There are plenty of wide open spaces for the experienced skier/snowboarder to have fun and the slope has a monstrous vertical of nearly 1400 meters (4,593 feet). The ski tracks length is a whopping 7200m in length, more than enough to test the skills of any Olympic hopeful.

Armenian Music

Armenian Duduk
Folk music plays a major part of Armenian culture; however, Christian music is also very popular, as is light pop. Religion plays a large part in Armenia culture, as such it follows that religion will have an influence on the creative arts, and music is no different.

Folk Music
There is a wide range of musical instruments that are unique to Armenia or to the Caucasus region.  These include instruments like the Duduk, the Dhol, the Zurna and the popular Kanun, all of which are found in Armenian folk music. This form of music plays a significant part in Armenian culture and can be found far and wide throughout the country.

The Armenian Genocide caused a wide spread displacement of Armenian citizens across the world, as such Armenian music has spread far and wide, however, the influence of other cultures on Armenian music can also been seen in the country’s pop music, which is heavily influence by western popular artists. In the United States of America the so called “Kef” style of Armenian dance music (which combines Armenian and Middle Eastern folk instruments with modern western electronic ones) is very popular in both the American Armenian community as well as in Armenia itself.

Traditionally, Armenia has been known for its classical music and during the Soviet rule of Armenia Aram Khatchaturian (the noted composer) became internationally well known for his classical music compositions. However, the oldest form of music found in the country is the Armenian Chant which takes its format from religious music in medieval times. Many of these chants can trace their origins to pre-Christian times and whilst some are relatively modern, most of these chants are more traditional.

During the 1940’s and 50’s the big jazz bands of America and Europe proved to be very popular with the Armenian communities abroad and had a big influence on the music of the Armenian diaspora. However, in more modern times, many young Armenians living abroad have found popularity in songs of Armenian patriotism and revolutionary songs which generally discuss Armenian history and national heroes.

Armenians Abroad
In more recent times, there are many examples of successful musicians or artists who are Armenian and have settled in other communities around the world, or can claim Armenian heritage, whose style of music is far removed from the traditional Armenian style of music such as the heavy metal band System of a Down and the pop star Cher.

Armenian Apostolic Church

Armenian Apostolic Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church is the oldest established national church in the world. The oldest form of Christianity is the Oriental Orthodoxy and the Armenian Apostolic Church forms part of that community. It is well known that in AD 301 Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity and with the formation of the Armenian Apostolic Church Christianity officially became the national religion. What is not so well known is that, according to the elders of the Armenian Apostolic Church, they can trace their origins back to the missions of the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the early days of Christianity.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Gregorian Church, however, the church are not keen on this title as they consider the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus to be the churches founders and so the church is rightly named after them. However, Gregory the Illuminator was not the founder of the church but instead the churches first official governor.

Legends with in Armenia tell of the early missions of Bartholomew and Thaddeus who visited Armenia on the orders of Abgar, who was the uncle of King Sanatrook of Armenia, with the express purpose of evangelizing the local population. However, as with many of these legends, the stories vary wildly. That said, what is common with all the stories is that Thaddeus converted Sandookdht, the kings daughter. It is said in some versions that Sanatrook was converted and in fact later apostatized, however, in other versions of the story he was never converted and was hostile to Christianity. What is clear is that Sanatrook martyred both Thaddeus and Sandookhdt but some versions do have the apostle Bartholomew arriving in Armenia at a similar time to be martyred.

Within the Republic of Armenia the role of the Armenian Apostolic Church is defined in the constitution. In 2005 an amendment to the constitution was granted and it allowed the Armenian Apostolic Church an exclusive mission to provide for Armenians spiritual and cultural life.

Subsequently, in 2009, further amendments were made to the constitution so minority groups would be banned from spreading distrust in other faiths; however, these amendments were heavily criticized and put on hold when human rights activist Stepan Danielian stated
"the Armenian Apostolic Church today wants to have a monopoly on religion".

Woman’s Role
Armenian Apostolic
Church do not ordain woman into the priesthood, however, woman have made a large impact on the church and have historically been ordained as a deaconesses when in a convent environment. That said, woman do serve the church in the choir and the organ, and well as on parish councils, volunteers, fundraiser, Sunday schools and as staff members in church offices.

The Carpet Weavers of Armenia

Armenian Carpet (Vishapagorg)
Armenia has many traditions dating back to antiquity. However, none are as ingrained and wide spread as the tradition of Carpet Weaving. Armenian woman have traditionally been the carpet weavers, however, whole families have been known be self-employed carpet weavers. That said, in Karabakh, prominent carpet weavers have also been men, demonstrating that across the region the skills of carpet weaving have been passed from generation to generation, regardless of gender, for thousands of years. Subsequently, the skilled carpet weavers of Armenia, and the surrounding regions, have been highly sought after form thousands of years.
The oldest Armenian carpet in existence is from the early 13th Century and is referred to as Artsakh Carpet and was made in the village of Banants, with the earliest known reference to a carpet, or Gorg, in Armenian text was an inscription on the Kaptavan Church wall (circa 1242/43) which is in the province of Artsakh, Armenia.

Ornate Designs
The Artsakh region in Armenia has a special place in the history of carpet weaving in the country. Many common themes and patterns found on Armenian carpets are the depictions of Dragons and Eagles and these designs found their origins in the Artsakh region.  Many ornamental motifs, styles and colours are available to the carpet weaver and so each family can create their own unique designs.  The carpets mentioned in the Kaptavan Church inscriptions were made up of three arches and as art historian Hravard Hakoby notes “it was covered with vegetative ornaments and bears an artistic resemblance to the illuminated manuscripts produced in Artsakh.” The illuminated manuscripts were medieval documents and books which had very ornate, often in gold, decorative design work within the pages, as such, these carpets were highly decorative with ornate, hand crafted work added to individualized them, hence their collectors status.

Medieval Skills
Carpet weaving in Armenia has been heavily linked to that of curtain making, so much so that in 13th Century Armenian the wife of the regional prince Vakhtang Khachenatsi (along with their daughters) was praised by an Armenian art historian from the Artsakh region for their skill in combining carpet and curtain weaving with luxurious, ornate and decorative results.

Foreign travelers to Armenia often remarked on the quality of the carpets and a trip to the Artsakh region was often accompanied with a trip to the many carpet sellers throughout the region. In fact, the noted geographer and historian Al-Masudi commented that among other works of art he had never seen such high quality carpets anywhere else in his life.

To this day, carpet weavers in Armenia still produce high quality, durable and unique carpets that are the envy of the world and a carpet purchased in Armenia makes for a fine gift and a reminder of ones travels across the world.