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Gyumri is Armenia’s second biggest city and is located in Shirak region in the northeastern Armenia. The city was largely destroyed after the 1988 earthquake. There is little preserved from the old Gyumri, however whatever is there is well worth a visit. Destroyed buildings and temporary containers (domiks), where people were lodged after the disaster, are now largely replaced by modern housing complexes. The city is very charming, has a cosy feeling about it and offers a beautiful glimpse into the historical past of Armenian cities. Take your time and stroll around, you will find many charming houses, cobblestoned streets and churches of course. Most of the old houses have a distinct architectural look, with pretty balconies, iconic arched windows. Even the rainwater pipes are very unique Gyumri style, so don't forget to look up from time to time. Check the old part of the city - the charming Kumayri district, that has managed to stay intact during the earthquake and presents a large architectural and cultural value. Before reaching the city make a stop at impressive Haritchavank monastery - it was built with huge stone slabs that were around three meters wide. Just a few km north of Gyumri, in Hatsik village, you will find a peculiar pagan monument - “Tsak Kar” (literally Stone with a Hole). According to the legend whoever passes through the hole will get everlasting happiness. Some hopeless seekers of happiness were not quite able to squeeze through the stone and were kind of stuck :) There is another reason for traveling to Shirak. In the south, close to the village Ani, you will find the Ani viewpoint, the only place from where you can see the ruins of historic capital of the Armenian Kingdom (10-11th centuries) - beautiful Ani, now located in Turkey. The border with Turkey is closed and this is the closest you can reach to Ani. The viewpoint is located by a Russian army checkpoint, who guard the border from the Armenian side. To get to the lookout you will need a permission issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (located in the Republic Square in Yerevan) or by joining a tour organized by various travel agencies. Alternatively you can try to use your persuasion skills with the Russian soldiers, however that might not help. You can get to and from Gyumri by train, which has daily departures to Yerevan. The ride is very beautiful, takes only 3 hours and costs 1000 AMD as of July 2013. The train drives very close to the Turkish border and thus you get a perfect view over the historical Armenian lands.
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