We spend the next morning doing some last-minute souvenir-shopping in Tbilisi before heading south to the border with Armenia. The whole process of visa application (visa on arrival for Philippine passport holders) and getting a permit for the van, which is registered in Georgia, takes us almost half a day, and with the additional four-hour drive from the border to Yerevan, we reach our hotel in the Armenian capital at around midnight. We check in, rest for the night, and prepare for the next day.
The next morning, after a meal at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, we’re on our way to the first destination in the country, the Khor Virap. The Khor Virap is perhaps Armenia’s most popular monastery, with its figure backdropped by the great Mount Ararat on the other side of the border with Turkey providing one of the country’s most iconic images. Today, though, heavy clouds obscure the biblical mountain.
Khor Virap, which means “deep dungeon” in Armenian, used to be a prison site where Saint Gregor the Illuminator was held in a dungeon for 13 years. Gregor would later on cure his captor, King Tiridates III, of a disease (some say madness, others say having the head of a boar). He would also convert the king to Christianity, and by extension the whole nation, making Armenia the first country in history to adopt Christianity as the official religion.
The cell where Saint Gregor was incarcerated still exists and is visited today by hundreds of pilgrims. In fact, the whole monastery is a popular pilgrimage site, being a key location of the Armenian Apostolic Church.