Saturday, March 4, 2023

Winter? We thought we had left you behind....and January expenses

Winter and other musings

Views of Tbilisi outskirts

Well, we've officially been in Georgia for around 6 months now and I can say that I truly do love this place.  The people, the food, the culture, and the history still astound me every time we go out.  With every location though, there are of course downsides and this place has its issues for sure. We heard an anecdote from another traveler when we first arrived that Georgians can really be stubborn about certain things (just like any other person) but specifically in this case about real estate.  The anecdote was along the lines of "it doesn't matter what a place is worth, the price is set by what a person has been told they should expect to get".  Over and over, you will see places for rent that are just beyond ridiculous for pricing in a country where you have to deal with power outages and water outages almost weekly in parts of the city; where the average monthly wage for a Georgian is around 1250gel or 475usd.  Whats that?  You want a 2 bedroom place?  In a desirable location?  That will be $2000usd please!  If you're lucky it may even have a stove!  Obviously, this has been caused by the recent and massive influx of Russians due to the war so of course there should be price increases but this is beyond any normal demand.  If people are getting these ridiculous prices, then I guess great for them, but over and over you can see places advertised for months on end with no change to pricing.  This is where the anecdote comes in, you see, they've been told to expect $2000usd because someones uncles, mothers, second cousin got that 2 weeks ago so you should too.  And so, it sits.....frustrating beyond belief as it's definitely pushing people out of the country at least in the short term as they can no longer afford the prices.  


Our now weekly khinkali meal with a side of nigvziani badrijani (stuffed eggplant)

The other major downside is that winter is a lot more 'wintery' then we expected.  It's not even bad honestly, it is above 0 every single day and the sun shines quite a bit but fall and spring are windy beyond comprehension which causes +3 to definitely feel like -10...and when you're walking everywhere it's just a rough reminder of Canadian winters and what we were trying to escape.  

A beautiful street in the Marjanishvili district of Tbilisi

 I don't mean to come off as unappreciative of our current home though, as we've absolutely loved our time here.  The history is evident everywhere and the people are very friendly; getting around with just english can be a bit of a trial in certain areas but for the most part you'll be able to get by with a smile and a gamarjoba (hello) and madloba (thank you).  With our time coming to an end in Georgia as well, it makes us realize that we have not done near as much as we had hoped while we were here.  There are so many sites that we're leaving undiscovered but that just means a return trip is probably in the cards.  

Just some of the beautiful graffiti around Tbilisi


Our first views of Armenia

Armenia is one of those countries that you hear about on the news and then forget about it.  You don't actually think that you'll ever get a chance to visit it but you think maybe one day...  It is one of those countries that is hard to get to and way too far away so it was always a relegated option in our travel plans.  It wasn't until I started to look into Georgia that a few photographers from Armenia started to pop up in my views and really brought Armenia to the forefront of my mind.  What I saw was amazing and I decided we had to see it. 

Armenian sweets!!!

Living in Georgia, expats go to Armenia for day trips...usually to reset their 365 day visa clock in Georgia.  You pay 50 dollars to get a taxi to take you to the border, walk across into Armenia and then back into Georgia and you get to stay another year in Georgia; it takes an afternoon.  We had no such plans to turn around that quickly as we had a lot to see in our 5 day itinerary in Armenia.  

Behind Haghpat Monastery looking at the main building

With our ride all figured out, we started the trek to Armenia and had plans to stop at every monastery and historical site along the way (THIS IS A LOT) and quickly realized that unless we planned to do a 275km trip in 2 days we would not be able to see all the sites, so we decided on Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries.  These are 2 of the most important monasteries in Armenia and just happen to be directly on the road to Yerevan from Tbilisi.  


Raeleen at the entrance in front of Haghpat

We definitely got lost in the town leading to Haghpat and ended up parking on a road and walked the rest of the way to the monastery.  It was only a short 10 minute walk but it meant we got to see a little of the surrounding town; definitely a lot more rural feeling than any small Canadian town.  As we had arrived in the middle of January, the locations are almost completely devoid of other tourists and you get a bit more of a realistic feeling of life around a popular tourist site.  The mountains that seem to cover the entire country of Armenia are so beautiful and rugged as well. 

Looking out from Haghpat to the surrounding areas

Only 15 minutes down the road from Haghpat is Sanahin monastery which literally translates from Armenian to English as 'this one is older than that one' presumably meaning that it is older than Haghpat.  

Sanahin Monastery

We had a need to get to Yerevan before it was too late so we could check into our apartment for the next few days but I would absolutely love to transit through Armenia at a leisurely pace as the country is filled with beautiful nature and historic sites.  So, sadly we left the rest of the historic sites and finished our drive to the capital of Yerevan.  
The landscape the entire way was beautiful
Arriving in Yerevan, we were blown away by how cosmopolitan the city looked.  Where Tbilisi looks old and a bit run down (which in my opinion adds to its character and beauty), Yerevan reminded me much more of a European city with wide and well maintained roads, large sidewalks, newer buildings.  We checked into our apartment almost in the city centre and had our first meal in Yerevan before heading to sleep and getting ready for the next day of exploring Yerevan. 

Exploring Yerevan.  

We started the day with a visit to "The Cascade".  A series of steps and art installations running up a hill in the middle of Yerevan.  It is probably the most recognizable location in all of Armenia as it features heavily in all media of the city.  We spent the rest of the day exploring Victory Park, the Vernissage (a bazaar/market), and the Armenian Genocide memorial; a beautiful complex dedicated to the memory of 1.5 million Armenians that were killed in the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century.  

Mother of Georgia and eternal flame

Armenian Genocide memorial monument
The Vernissage

We ended the day with a beautiful Armenian supper in Tavern Yerevan where we got to eat tasty, traditional Armenian dishes such as ghapama which is a stew cooked inside a pumpkin.  


Day 2 was all about tours and getting out of the city.  We were headed to Noravank Monastery and Khor Virap which would bring us within 100 meters of both the Azerbaijan and Turkish borders.  It was on this day that we were given the chance to try Armenian wine during a winery tour and see an important archaeological site with the oldest leather shoe ever discovered.  

Khor Virap looking into Turkey.  If it wasn't for the fog we would have been able to see Mount Ararat

The beautiful Armenian countryside.  So rugged!
What is known as the 'birds cave'.  An important archaeological site
Noravank Monastery
Camryn, Madeline, and Rae at Noravank

Day 3 was more tours but this time we hired a personal driver and guide since there were specific sites that we wanted to see.  There was no way to do this tour unless we went the personal route but it was definitely the right choice as we had a great time with our tour guide and driver.  We started the day at Etchmiadzin which we've been told is the oldest standing cathedral in the world.  Sadly, the cathedral is undergoing restoration works so we weren't able to get inside but we did manage to walk the beautiful grounds and see some historical artifacts in their museum, one of which the Armenians believe is the spearhead used to pierce Jesus' side at his crucifixion.  

The spear, Etchmiadzin cathedral, and the entrance to the grounds

The rest of the day was spent driving to Zvartnots cathedral (a destroyed cathedral uncovered in the early 20th century), Garni Temple (an old Roman-era temple believed to be dedicated to a sun god), the symphony of stones (a rare geological stone formation similiar to the giants causeway), and Geghard Monastery.  

The remains of Zvartnots
Garni Temple

The symphony of stones
Geghard Monastery

With that, our trip had come to an end and it was time for the drive back to Tbilisi.  We of course, wanted to see the most famous lake in all of Yerevan so we asked our driver to take the optional route back past lake Sevan.  This, it turns out, was not the best idea as we ended up driving on a road that made even our driver a bit nervous as it had been the site of fighting only months earlier between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  We ended up making it through unscathed and happy to be able to experience the beauty of Armenia.  

Lake Sevan and the cathedrals on it.
Our last stop for food in Armenia at a little restaurant in eastern Armenia
Traffic isn't the only thing to worry about on the roads!

We cannot say enough positive things about our trip to Armenia.  It was filled with amazing history, food, people and we would definitely love to visit again.  Place this country on your maps folks, it's well worth the trip! 

January Expenses
Our January expenses breakdown is as follows: 

Housing - 1749gel
Food - 1090.49gel
Personal Care - 65.45gel
Transportation - 453.70gel
Entertainment - 1392gel

Total: 4750.64gel which is $2478.88.  It was a bit more of an expensive month as we spent quite a bit in Armenia and to get there (costs have ballooned there as well because of the war).  This affected our food, transportation, and entertainment costs.  I would say that this month is a bit of an anomaly as it's definitely higher than we are hoping to spend each month. 

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Winter? We thought we had left you behind....and January expenses

Winter and other musings Views of Tbilisi outskirts Well, we've officially been in Georgia for around 6 months now and I can say that I ...