By the time I visited Gandzasar I had had my dose of monasteries and had chosen my clear favorites: Khor Virap with majestic Mount Ararat as a backdrop and fairyland-like Noravank wrapped in a blanket of snow. Gandzasar became the perfect number three. Why? It was so quiet there, I hardly wanted to leave. You could hear nothing, absolutely nothing, but a few birds. At the end of March I was the only tourist, summers are busy I was told. Besides it is a popular wedding destination for Russians.
Monastery & Graveyard with a view
It was a good hour drive from Stepanakert to the village of Vank, from there a road paid by a local millionaire leads up to the monastery. A tiny cemetery with very personal tombstones flanks the monastery. I spent a lot of time studying the tomb stones and the pictures of the people buried there. I guess this scenic graveyard overlooking a valley added to the serenity.
Kitschy playground for Russian millionaire
Vank is just weird, the village center is dominated by the Titanic-shaped Hotel Eclectic, also financed by the local businessman Levon Hairapetyan. I checked out the pompous inside, everything expensively overloaded.
The other bizarre trademark of the village is that everything is painted in green and yellow, EVERYTHING. There is more kitsch outside the village, a kind of resort. An ugly hotel is surrounded by a number of terraces that descend down to a creek. Again everything is painted in green and yellow. Large wooden vessels serve as restaurants and bars, although there was nobody around the music blasting from hidden speakers. It was simply surreal.
But there was one highlight.
This most delicious flatbread is filled with a variety of fresh herbs, 7 or was it 27? It is a specialty from Nagorno-Karabakh, literally, it means bread with herbs in Armenian. A tiny door opened into a super hot kitchen where three ladies were cooking away, for whom I did not know. They were sorting through tons of herbs so much used in Armenian cooking. They asked me in and served me hot super delicious Zhingalov khats.