Jermuk (They spell it with a D).

We walked the distance to the Shuka, the local name for the market where they sell produce of all sorts. Arriving there, things were just starting to get moving and most of the vendors were still closed. I was struck by the fact that all the products were just setting there, under a sheet – not all wrapped up and taken home every night like Im used to seeing in Latin America. They must be more trusting/trustworthy here.

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We wandered through the market and noticed how prettily the food was stacked. We were soon waylaid by a vendor trying to get us to taste her wares – she gave us an apricot and, youll think Im lying, I kid you not when I bit into that apricot I heard singing saying aaaaaaaah! It was hands down the best apricot I had ever tasted. It was fresh, but it had all the concentrated flavors of dried apricots, plus some others thrown in. It was amazing.

Then we tried a fig; now mind you, Ive eaten many fresh figs in my life, I grow my own at home. And I thought Id had good figs before. I hadnt. These were spectacular. Using the refractometer, they brixed at 30, while the best figs at home usually brix at 20 – making them 50% sweeter, and more healthy, than the best fig Id ever eaten.

We tried their blackberries – again, unbelievably good blackberries. Small, and tender, and juicy. The peaches were good, but not outstanding, and so were the tomatoes. The grapes however were excellent, with a brix of 20 which is really good for grapes. I also bought some dried figs which were so tender they were just a little harder than fresh figs, with a dried center that tasted like it had jam inserted into it. Many people have noted the correlation between high-brix foods and healthy people, and here I am eating it and seeing it for myself.

Finally, stuffed and with a backpack loaded with food, we caught a taxi to find the shared minivan going to Jermuk. 2.5 hours later we arrived in Jermuk, the home of some incredible mineral water hot-springs and sanatoriums set up by the Soviets to send workers to for rejuvenation. We wound up staying at a place which was very expensive for me (75$/per person), but it included three buffet meals a day, internet, and treatment at the sanatorium. So at that, it wasnt too bad.

We ate dinner there that night, tried some of everything, and it was almost all good. Green beans were incredibly sweet. And the potatoes! They were whole, peeled, boiled white potatoes. And yet, if I were blindfolded, I would have sworn I was eating mashed potatoes – these things tasted like they had tons of butter and salt in them, and I was eating them whole and plain! Not only that, but the texture was so smooth, none of the lumps and chunks we have in our potatoes. Since they were cooked, I wasnt able to get a brix on them (it only works on raw juices), but Im sure they were the best potatoes I ever had. Crystal said they were better than eating ice cream, and I think she was right!

Time doesnt permit me to tell of all the dishes we sampled, so I wont torture you with them, but I must give honorable mention to another stellar food we ate; grits! Crystal grew up in Georgia and hates grits. And so when they brought two bowls of grits to the table to go with our dinner (which admittedly, is a little odd), I figured Id be eating both of them. But one spoonful changed all that.

The grits were served plain – no sugar, just a little butter melted on top. Whats more, I couldnt taste the tell-tale sugar/honey tastes in the grits. But they tasted like well, I dont know what. They were sweeter than ice cream, but didnt taste sweetened. They were just plain GOOD. We wound up eating them at almost every meal after that. They also served whole wheat bread, and some fermented milk with cucumber and drill substance.

I got a chance to use my universal picture dictionary, by taking the page with the pictures of animals on it to the buffet and asking the waitress by pointing at a dish, then at the page, and then shed indicate which animal it was.

So the next day we set out for a hike around the small artificial lake; halfway around I discovered a path leading uphill which I couldnt resist, and we followed it and saw thousands of wildflowers, and all sorts of bees and butterflies humming everywhere. It was quite beautiful. Here are a few of the pictures:

Alongside the lake is a building made to look like a Greek temple, and inside it are about 8 pipes flowing into these Grecian urns, each with a different type of hot mineral water coming out of the ground between 90 and 130 degrees. Supposedly different ones are good for different things, and there are claims they cure everything from headache to stomach ulcers to cancer. I drank some of each, and they all had a unique taste.

The next day we went down into a steep gorge to see the towns waterfall. It was a large waterfall, but I felt rather let down by it. I suppose the water did too! (pardon the pun). The gorge was nice, but not gorge-ous. (Im on a roll!). However, we walked along the bank of the river at the bottom as far as we could, looking for another way out; the road comes in by a rather circuitous route and we didnt want to have to go up that way. Sure enough, I found a thread of a path heading straight up the side of the hill, and I had a feeling it would take me out of the gorge and into town.

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So up we went. As we got half-way up, the path disappeared at a sheer cliff face, so we had to climb up. Crystal had never done any rockclimbing, but it wasnt a difficult climb and it was quite a bit of fun. We came out at the top in someones backyard, followed a path around the side of someones house, and came out behind a building in downtown Jermuk, about a block away from where my dead-reckoning said I should be.

Next day we did a hot mineral bath in the hotel, and then I did a gum hydromassage. I think that may be really good for teeth because it stimulates bloodflow in the gums, so Im going to try and build one when I get home.

Finally we left Jermuk back to Yerevan, then caught a shared minivan – called a Marshrutka here – to Dilijan, called the Switzerland of the Caucasus. Well, as the guidebook says, thats stretching it a bit. But it is nice. Built on the side of a very steep hill, full of hairpin switchback streets. We were looking for a place to stay, tried one place and werent too happy with it, so we looked for somewhere else. We were looking for a place recommended in the guidebook called Tatehs guesthouse.

We made the mistake of asking two guys about 20ish for help. Naturally, we speak almost no Russian much less any Armenian, and they spoke no English. But we managed to convey what we wanted. Next thing we knew, theyd flagged down two people passing on the street and asked them for directions; they concluded that it was down the hill and to the right – when I say down the hill, I mean DOWN the hill. We thanked them and set off, then they decided to walk us there personally. So they led us down the hill, and to the right, asking everyone they saw as we went where Tatehs guesthouse was. We walked about a mile until they started wondering if it was there, so they stopped at someones house, went in and used their phone to call the number in the guidebook. Somehow or other that didnt work, I wasnt sure why.

Then as they were doing that, they asked another woman walking by and she said Oh, Tatehs! and indicated that it was way back the other direction the way we came. So we gathered our packs, tiring now, and we all trundled back up the hill. It turns out we went right at bottom of the hill when we should have turned left. Then we skirted a fence, went up a flight of stairs, up a street, and finally I saw the fence that the guidebook said marked the guesthouse. Needless to say, the guidebook was NOT correct about the location. There is no way to find this guesthouse from the guidebook – the directions are simply wrong.

We thanked our guides profusely. I would have given up long before that, and just looked for a different place, but they wouldnt leave us till we had a place to sleep. They have a very strongly ingrained sense of hospitality here. Its nice but sometimes a bit too helpful J

Anyway, it turns out we were almost back up to town, so I went in looking for some dinner. I wanted some milk. So I went into a little grocery store (TINY grocery store) and asked for Moloku which was as close as I remembered, the Russian word for milk. That didnt elicit a response, so I went to a can that had a picture of a cow, pointed at the picture, then made milking gestures with my hands, then mimed drinking out of a glass. That got a response, and she said Ah! MILK! and I said why yes milk indeed why didnt I think of that J

Anyway, I grabbed a couple of other things and that was that. Tomorrow we head for Vanadzor and then to Tbilisi, Georgia. Catch us there!

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Posted on August 24th, 2010 by Natnee and filed under Georgia/Armenia |

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