One visit to Haghpat (a UNESCO monastery in Armenia), one super friendly encounter, and one freaking spectacular view.
Surrounded by the cool stone interiors of Haghpat monastery, I was admiring flowers left over from spring equinox celebrations, when the monastery’s caretaker materialized out of nowhere.
Afraid that I was committing The Ultimate Sin (breaking a no-photography rule), I nonchalantly pretended to fiddle with my camera settings while staring thoughtfully at the (not decorated) ceiling.
As the caretaker drew closer, I saw that he was smiling, and relaxed. He picked up the bunch of flowers I was photographing.
“See this?” he said in Russian, “Armenian letter like in Jesus Christ!”
“Yes! I see! Good! Interesting!” I stammered, whipping out half of the words in my Russian arsenal.
Delighted that I somewhat understood, he pulled me to the front of the chapel where more flowers were lying near the altar, and began constructing a crown for me to wear. All the while, he explained everything from the equinox celebrations (March 21st, the start of spring), to why the curtain at the front of the church was closed (it reopens on Easter), to how he himself climbed up to hang the massive chandelier from the ceiling several years back (magic).
We got talking—or, should I say, he talked at me until I understood, at which point I would mangle a few phrases in Russian as acknowledgement, then he would continue on—and he took me on an impromptu tour of the monastery.
I’m not one for tours, having the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to listening to people, but as he spoke, you could hear his love for the UNESCO World Heritage monastery in his voice, and see his pride in the twinkling of his eyes as he touched its stone walls.
He’d been working there for 10 years, and knew every nook and cranny (despite respecting the fact that he’s not allowed to enter all of them), every historical factoid possible (ex. that there are 12 ridges in the columns supporting the ceiling to represent the 12 apostles), every occupant beneath every tombstone (a bit creepy, but aiight). He was charmed to be able to talk personably with me, saying that he was sick and tired of having to deal with tour busloads of people–he mimed hanging himself as he made the comment.
As the day was winding down and Sebastiaan and I were making moves to leave to catch a marshrutka back to Alaverdi, he stopped us, asking if we’d like to see the bell tower. “Only I have keys!” he said proudly. Um, yes, hello. We’ve only been waiting to be able to go up into the towers of these churches and monasteries since, well, forever.
He ran to grab the key and then took us to the tower, where he unlocked the creaking wooden door. The steps in the bell tower were about as high as a small child, and wide enough to fit the idea of your foot on the step, with no railing, of course. Ah, so that’s why people aren’t allowed inside. Dutch stairs, I’ll never complain about you ever again.
After ever so gracefully crawling up on our hands and feet, we emerged into the bell tower. The view from the top? Godly. (Am I allowed to say that about a monastery?)
You could see over the entirety of the monastery complex, silhouetted against the mountains and valleys that lay beyond–it was literally breathtaking. Caretaker man stood behind us, smiling knowingly as we gushed about how freaking brilliant everything was at that exact moment.
It’s moments like these that make me fall in love with traveling. I can’t check them off of a list, I have nothing tangible to remember them by, but they’re what I value most.
Have you had any encounters like this in your travels? Where did you meet the person? What happened next? We love hearing your stories 🙂