About Jonny Scott Blair
Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. His website Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.
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Haghpat Monastery sits in glorious Armenian countryside in northern Armenia. Armenia has numerous monasteries so there are a ton to choose from but this one is special for many reasons, including its glorious views.
Inside the monastery.
Haghpat Monastery Built dates back to approximately the year 976, however over the next 2 centuries other buildings were added to it to expand the area. The main building is known as the Surp Nishan, which is the oldest part of the structure. It’s a World Heritage Site but there is no entrance fee. Donations are welcomed and inside the main church is a small stall selling souvenirs.
I loved the views from Haghpat. Remember to admire the scenery as well as the Monastery. Remember, there was a reason they chose to build it here! Below, Surp Nishan — the main church building in the middle.
The main part of Haghpat seems to be Surp Nishan.
Surp Astvatsatsin. A smaller chapel inside Haghpat.
Unusual holes in the floor inside.
There is also the option to stay near Haghpat Monastery, a local family could arrange a homestay for sure, or there’s the Gayane B and B further down the hill. Most people do a day trip, but you can also take in Sanahin in the same region. If you’re in the Debed Canyon or northern Armenia, check Haghpat out!!
Armenia is blessed and bunged with more temples, churches and monasteries than you can count. Garni is a Greek temple situated in mountainous countryside and a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At the end of this path, against a spectacular backdrop is Garni Temple, Armenia.
You can of course stay in Garni itself (a small village) but most travellers base themselves in Yerevan and do Garni as a day trip (often tied in with a visit to Geghard Monastery as well).
1. Getting from Central Yerevan to GAI Poghots/Mercedes Benz
Head to Abovyan Street near the corner with Koryun Street and take bus 22 or 51 which heads out of the town (northeast) to GAI Poghots where you will see a Mercedes Benz dealership. Your aim is to get to the Mercedes Benz dealership on GAI Poghots Street.
2. Getting from GAI Poghots to Garni
From GAI Poghots, on the opposite side of the side road by the Mercedes Benz dealership, there is a small bus station for mini-buses and marshrutkys. Here there is a second bus you need to get out to Garni, which is a lovely journey up through hills and countryside and takes around 30 minutes. You’ll arrive in Garni Village, a small village that has a slight tourist trade due to the Temple.
The views into the Canyon and the Symphony of Stones: You can hike up to these rocks, which are hexagonal and known as the “symphony of stones”, not dissimilar to the Giants Causeway rocks in Northern Ireland, without the crashing waves of course!
Exterior of Garni Temple: Walk around, admire it and wonder how on earth it’s still here considering that it was built in the FIRST Century.
Interior of Garni Temple: if you’re feeling religious say a prayer or sing a song. Many people do.
Church Grounds: There is a lot of debris and ruins in the church grounds so you can marvel at the size the entire site would have been.
Bath House: There’s now a cover on the top and it’s enclosed but you can see the remains of what was once a Bath House.
After you’re done with Garni, it would be silly not to also visit Geghard Monastery which can be reached by heading to Goght next. We took a Marsjrutky there, then shared a taxi. Other spots to take in include: Haghpat, Tatev, Sanahin and Gandzasar (which is actually in Nagorno Karabakh).
Above, the UNESCO listed Sanahin Monastery in northern Armenia. This won’t be the last you hear of Armenian Monasteries on here; we must have seen over 20 and personally visited over 10 during our stay in the country. Here’s the lowdown on visiting Sanahin Monastery.
There are not really any regular tours, buses or trains, which leaves you with these five main options:
1. Hire a Driver: Agree a price. Pay no more than 8,000 Dram for the car in total (2,000 each). We took this option and also did Haghpat at the same time.
You get great views down into the Debed Canyon en route – hiring a driver means you can stop off as much as you want.
2. Marshrutky from Alaverdi to Sarahart. If you’re based in Alaverdi, you can easily get a Marshrutky. Starting at 10 am and running until 5 pm, they will leave Alaverdi when they are full and cost 1000 Dram.
Marshrutkys become commonplace.
3. Walk it. Unless you’re staying nearby in Sarahart, this isn’t really an option especially since it’s all uphill, it’s far and it’s easy to get lost. There is a hardcore hike from Sanahin to Haghpat though, so this may be an option for you.
4. Hitchhiking. easier than you’d think in these parts.
5. Cable Car. I’m listing this as option 5 as the Lonely Planet book claimed there is a cable car there. We never saw it, heard about it, nor did any other travellers use a cable car to get there. If you have information on this, let us know.
Arrival at Sanahin Monastery
Sanahin is a World Heritage Site but there is no entrance fee. Donations are welcomed however and there are a load of stalls selling souvenirs on the way up the path.
Souvenirs shops are here at Sanahin just to prove commercialism hasn’t escaped these proud Armenians.
It turns out that Sanahin dates back to the 10th Century, and its very name hints at the fact that it is older than nearby Haghpat. A translation into Armenian is something like “this one is older than that one”.
Sanahin is older than nearby Haghpat.
Main Points of Interest at Sanahin Monastery
1. Domed Ceilings. These are cool – high, decorated, symmetrical and diverse.
2. Countryside Views. The location was chosen because of the height and the views and from here, you can see Haghpat Monastery.
3. Main Church – Surp Astvatsatsin Church – be sure to go inside.
4. Spooky Graves. The monasteries have a spooky and eerie element to them. There are graves inside the churches under the floor, on the grass and up on the hills.
I recently stayed at the Otel Senbayrak in Adana Turkey, a 4 star luxury hotel in the centre of Adana.It is situated on a corner at Sefa Ozer Caddesim, which is downtown, near all the major sights in Adana and close to a market and local bus routes, including a handy airport connection bus stop just a few streets away.
Our room had a “lounge” section with comfy settees and chairs, a TV and a table.
The main room featured a small lounge, two TVs, a window with a view, a huge comfy double bed, a fridge, a desk, a table, a cabinet. Below, the bathroom in Otel Senbayrak.
The highlight of the view was seeing the spectacular Sabanci Central Mosque from our bedroom: the biggest Mosque in Turkey, no less.
The staff issued maps of Adana, told us about the sights and were very welcoming and friendly. Below, the very clean and modern lobby.
Lobby in Otel Senbayrak, Adana, Turkey
The Breakfast at Otel Senbayrak had unlimited cheese, bread, cereal, salad, snacks, eggs, tea, coffee, juice, yoghurt etc. The photos tell the story!
Choices are endless!
Sefa Ozler Cad. No: 14 – 01060 Kurukopru Seyhan, Adana Turkey
Phone: +90/322/666/00/00 & Email: email@example.com
While in Nagorno Karabakh, there are more sights to see and things to do than I first imagined. In the end 3 days and 3 nights in the region wasn’t enough, but we did squeeze in some awesome stuff in that time. Having a choice between Dadivank and Gandzasar Monasteries (we didn’t have time or funds to do both), we opted for Gandzasar. Merely because we spent a night in Vank, and it’s only a 3 kilometre walk from Vank town centre. It’s the easier one to tick off (transport out to Dadivank is a bit trickier!) First up, cross into Nagorno Karabakh from Armenia and get your visa in Stepanakert.
You’ll probably want to base yourself in Vank in order to get to Gandzasar Monastery. Vank sits quietly and vivaciously in some epic unknown mountainside, forest and rural charm. Our stay in Vank was rather mysterious. Perhaps I was haunted by my visit to Agdam earlier that day, or maybe it was the eerie mist which made the town look like it was about to rain but didn’t.
The pretty, Autumnal road to Gandzasar Monastery on Nagorno Karabakh.
The misty road to Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno Karabakh.
We juggled things up a bit by walking up the road, and coming back down on the path. We had thought that just maybe a car would drive past to allow us to hitch hike a ride to the top. Alas that didn’t happen, this place is so untouristy there’s just not many people about!
The mist and magic on our walk up to Gandzasar Monastery.
Walking up the road is dreamy and mysterious. We were there in Autumn and the essence of colour that filtered through the air on the way up was magnificent. Trees were shedding their leaves in a mix of brown, yellow, red, orange and green. It reminded me of my childhood days in Northern Ireland. The entire road up to Gandzasar is an ascent.
The Autumnal walk to the top!
It’s not too challenging but it is relatively long and has a few twists in it. You should make it to the top in around an hour or so at normal pace. We took time out to admire the views, take photos and relax so it took us a bit longer.
Only 2-3 cars passed us on the way up and none would stop to give us a lift, you might be more lucky. Summer season (July – August) is the busy time. We were the only travelers walking up that morning.
First sighting of the mist covered Gandzasar Monastery, Nagorno Karabakh.
After an hour you will reach a graveyard, this is the start of the area of Ganzasar Monastery. On the day we hiked it, the mist had completely covered the sky so we couldn’t see Gandzasar at all until we were a few metres from it. On a clear day for sure you will see it on the way up.
Later on when we got back to Vank, you could see Gandzasar through the mist. In the morning, it wasn’t visible at all!
The Gandzasar Monastery an elaborate monastery complex at the top of a hill in the mystical valleys of Nagorno Karabakh. It dates back to the 13th century, though many parts of the monastery have been renovated and restored since then. A lot of people reckon that this monastery is the most important one in Nagorno Karabakh.
The magical Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno Karabakh.
Outside the main grounds are a load of graves on hills, walk past them, through the main entrance arch and you’ll see this spectacular church sitting shyly in a land many have never heard of.
The misty view down from Gandzasar.
A misty day at Gandzasar Monastery
Living quarters and courtyard at Gandzasar.
The church itself is called Surp Hovhannes Mkrtich and is huge. Inside lit candles, wall inscriptions and tombs on the floor from the bishops that worked here.
Outside the main church
The living quarters are in the grounds of the monastery. Unless you’re completely into monasteries, an hour here is easily enough time to see the place. No entry fee of course but donations are welcomed.
Inside Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno Karabakh.
The path back down to Vank from Gandzasar
Having taken the road up, we took the path back down. It’s quicker and offers better views of Vank itself. It will take under an hour walking down – it’s a fairly simple path to follow. Just follow the yellow railings all the way down. Be aware of loose sheep, dogs and goats here.
Walking back down from Gandzasar on the path.
The walls of Askeran Fortress in Nagorno Karabakh.
Here’s an overview on visiting Askeran Fortress in Nagorno Karabakh. When backpacking in Nagorno Karabakh, nothing will be normal or even remotely straight forward. My journey to Askeran could have been made easier by getting a direct Marshrutky from Stepanakert out to the site. However I decided to head to the destroyed city of Agdam first (against the conditions of my visa) and down to Askeran from there.
Remains of Askeran Fortress, Nagorno Karabakh
Most people reading this will be heading there from Stepanakert, with this in mind and unless you have a rented car, leaves you with two main options:
1. Hire a driver to take you there (and to other places)
2. Get a Marshrutky to the destination
Plaque near the entrance to Askeran Fortress.
Hiring a driver is easy to organize – try and tie in a visit to Askeran Fortress with Agdam, Tigranakert and Vankasar. Getting a Marshrutky out to Askeran is simple. Just go to the main bus station in Stepanakert (you won’t get lost – there’s only one – on Azatamartikneri Poghota) and ask for Askeran. For sure the bus number 202 goes there as I got this one to Agdam and it passed Askeran Fortress.
Modern road from Stepanakert to Tigranakert on the left, old fortress on the right.
The fortress is northeast of Stepanakert in Nagorno Karabakh. It slices the road in two and stretches out into the green hills and countryside. This land may be claimed by Azerbaijan, but it’s Armenians living here. Vicinity wise, it’s about 14 kilometres outside of Stepanakert.
The inner part on the other side of the road at Askeran Fortress.
The Askeran Fortress an 18th century walled fortress which is still standing, despite a war in the region. The fortress is sometimes referred to as Mayraberd (also the name of the international airport in Nagorno Karabakh). It was built by Panah Khan and was once over a kilometre long. These days you can walk along the walls and enjoy some cracking views.
Riding on the Pyongyang Metro System is oddly a highlight from your visit to North Korea’s lively capital city. Forget the busy London tubes, the old grubby New York Subway and the soul-less Shanghai Metro, this is Pyongyang – and it has a Metro System like nowhere else on earth. Here are 10 facts I dug up on the “Pyongy Metro” , a nickname I gave it.
1. Pyongyang Metro is the deepest metro system in the world (110 metres underground).
2. Pyongyang Metro uses old East German trains, some of which still have German writing on them.
3. Pyongyang Metro has 2 lines (known as the Chollima Line and the Hyoksin Line).
4. Even our tour guides admitted they don’t use the Metro in Pyongyang.
5. The stations all have names related to North Korean stuff (like Glory, Revival, Red Star, Victory, Reunificaion etc.).
6. The station names are not really related to the part of Pyongyang they are in.
7. Each Metro station has a free toilet in it.
8. A ticket for the metro costs 5 North Korean Won, at less than one US cent this is surely the cheapest metro system in the world.
9. The Pyongyang Metro is completely underground – no stations above ground level.
10. The metro stations are all designed to act as bomb shelters if need be.
North Korea is a country that requires your visit to be a guided tour only. Once you arrive in North Korea most of the tour will be planned in advance, almost all tours will allow you to visit the Pyongyang metro but double check with your tour operator and guides.
In terms of getting a ticket for the Pyongyang Metro, you don’t use cash or credit cards. Foreigners are actually exempt, since your tour covers it. You walk through the turnstiles as normal and you are given a cardboard ticket which serves more as a memory than being an actual ticket they check. Nothing is checked.
Currently a single one way ride costs 5 North Korean Won which is less than 1 US cent.
What stations can foreigners visit?
In theory you could probably visit all of them, though it’s noted that this is not normally the case. Most tourists are accompanied on a route encompassing just two of the stations, and at a maximum of six of them. I was on the most frequent route from Revival/Revitalisation to Glory and remember there were no stops in between.
We boarded the Pyongyang Metro at Revival and exited at Glory. These stations are known locally as Puhung and Yonggwang. There are two lines and a total of 17 stations, these are:
#1 Chŏllima 천리마선 Line:
Pulgŭnbyŏl 붉은별 Red Star
Chŏnu 전우 Comrade #2 Chŏnsŭng
Kaesŏn 개선 Triumph (Arc de Triumph)
T’ŏngil 통일 Reunification
Sŭngri 승리 Victory
Ponghwa 봉화 Torch/Beacon
Yŏnggwang 영광 Glory
Puhŭng 부흥 Revival/Revitalization
#2 Hyŏksin 혁신선 Line:
Kwangbok 광복 Restoration/Independence
Kŏn’guk 건국 National Foundation
Hwanggŭmbŏl 황금벌 Golden Soil
Kŏnsŏl 건설 Construction
Hyŏksin 혁신 Innovation
Chŏnsŭng 전승 Complete Victory (in Battle) #1 Chŏnu
Samhŭng 삼흥 Three Rejuvenations
Kwangmyŏng 광명 Shine/Enlightenment (Closed in 1995)
Ragwŏn 락원 Paradise
Any truth in the rumour that it’s all a “big fake”?
I honestly don’t believe all this crap about the Pyongyang Metro being fake. People in North Korea are undoubtedly under the impression that their regime is the best in the world and that the US and the West could invade any time. So they are a proud and together nation. Everyday normal local people use the Pyongyang Metro. It’s a hell of a trick if it’s fake as it’s been going for years!!
Apart from being the deepest in the world, it is a work of art. Murals line the walls, it’s squeaky clean (as is all of Pyongyang). Every day the daily newspaper is placed in boards for the locals to read. The trains came from East Germany — Pyongy does it well.
The fantastic sunset at Casapueblo near Punta del Este in Uruguay.
Buses run regularly and from many different companies from Montevideo’s Tres Cruces bus station. If you’re coming from Brazil side, buses also run regularly with the option of stopping further east at Punta Del Diablo (Devil’s Point) as well. If you’re in Uruguay, try not to miss it!
I loved Uruguay – its people, its food, its beaches and as a famous beach resort, Punta Del Este is worth a punt. Pun excused. Punta del Este translates literally as “Point of the East” and that’s because it is. Here are 5 things I recommend doing on your way through.
1. Sunset at Casapueblo
Grab a few beers on the balcony, enjoy the massive Town House with built in museum and marvel in pure delight as the most vivid orange ball you have ever seen sinks out of the sky and leaves Uruguay in darkness. It’s truly epic.
Loving the sunset at Casapueblo – unrivalled!!!
2. Isla de Los Lobos
This is surprisingly the largest sea lion colony in the entire southern hemisphere. Boat tours leave regularly from the port in peak season so you can see the sea lions for yourself. The harbour in the town itself also has a load of sea lions. Some locals feed them daily.
3. Southernmost tip of Uruguay
Head to the calm rocks which its said is the southern most tip of mainland Uruguay. The walk around the seafront also takes you past a church and a lighthouse.
4. Bikini Beach
A resort famous for its beaches and you should check out “Bikini Beach”. Relax with a beer on one of South America’s best beaches.
Gorgeous waves crashing on the rocks at Punta del Este.
The city itself has some cool streets and a decent lighthouse.
5. Hand in the Sand/Los Dedos Playa Brava
On Punta del Este’s Playa Brava, sits a distinctive “sunken hand”. Uruguay does well on quirky art and you can be the tourist that gets their photo by this hand. Plus another excuse to relax on a beach, enjoy a few beers and a dip in the Ocean.
The sunken hand on the beach (Playa Blanca).
Welcome to PDE/Punta del Este – a top beach resort in Uruguay.
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