Sunday, April 22, 2012

Alaverdi Sanahin and Haghpat: Cross-post with

The operator of the Alaverdi-Sanahin cable-car has a slight memory problem.
[When was the ropeway built?] I ask him
[When was it built? What did you have for dinner last night?]
[I don't understand. I'm sorry, my Armenian isn't very good.]
[What did you eat for dinner last night?  I'm 65 years old. I can't remember what I had for dinner last night. How can I remember how old the ropeway is?]
[But is it safe?]
[Of course it's safe.  I remember how to drive it.]

Unlike the slick, newly opened cable-car in Tatev, the Alaverdi-Sanahin cable-car in Lori Marz is a daily commuter.  Its windows are scratched and cloudy, its paint worn and the operator must step out at each stop to keep the car from swaying on its single carrying cable.  But for a princely sum of 140 drams (~40 US cents) for a roundtrip, about 1/20th the price of the Tatev trip, the cable-car is an essential connection between the town of Sanahin, located on a clifftop overlooking the Debed River and the mining city of Alaverdi located in the valley floor.

The Alaverdi #2 Cable Car and the town's copper mine

 After overflying the river and rising up along a vertical cliff face, the cable-car deposits commuters and tourists at the bottom of Sanahin.  It's a 15-minute walk out to Sanahin's twin tourist attractions: the Mikoyan museum, dedicated to the life and careers of Artem Mikoyan, the legendary fighter jet designer and Anastas Mikoyan the Soviet apparatchik; and Sanahin monastery, a 10th-century monastic complex and UNESCO world heritage site.

Haykush Mikoyan and the MiG-21
I'm an airplane nut, so I couldn't help but visit the Mikoyan museum, where I had the pleasure of meeting Haykush Mikoyan, the museum's curator and niece of the Mikoyan brothers. The centerpiece of the museum’s collection is Artem Mikoyan’s most successful fighter, the MiG-21.This particular jet, Haykush explains, was built in Tbilisi, little more than an hour’s drive away. Appropriately, a family of wasps has taken up residence in the right aileron. The museum itself houses a collection of flight suits, books and aircraft models. The first floor also houses artifacts relating to life in Sanahin, including a medal presented by Soviet authorities to Mikoyan’s parents for having five children.

Artem’s brother Anastas Mikoyan occupies a corner of the museum.  He had a storied career as an unusually long-lived Soviet apparatchik with a close relationship to Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.  Photos show Anastas cavorting with dignitaries and revolutionaries ranging from Latin American guerillas to Ford engineers.  His official GaZ car is preserved in a glass case outside.
Tourists explore Haghpat
After I've got my fill of aviation history, I head up the hill to Sanahin.  Its archways, domed halls and grottoes are majestic in the light of the Spring day.  From Sanahin, it is possible to see its sister monastery, Haghpat, across the gorge.  Haghpat and Sanahin share majestic medieval Armenian architecture, blending secular and ecclesiastic styles and featuring intricate khachkars, the cross-stones that are a central feature of Armenian art.  Although most travelers will choose to take a taxi or marshrutka down the hill, through Alaverdi and back up the gorge, intrepid travelers can choose to walk the 6-kilometer hiking trail between the two.  I personally choose to ride the cable-car a second time and return to Alaverdi to catch a taxi.  [It's a beautiful walk and it can be done in a few hours,] says my driver [but you're too fat.]


  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Armenia? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Armenia in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Calle Valencia,39
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez

  2. It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.

  3. You're not still in Armenia, are you?!