Snake souvenirs, festive tables and tours outside Yerevan: Armenians preparing to meet 2013

Snake souvenirs, festive tables and tours outside Yerevan: Armenians preparing to meet 2013

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Christmas fairs, festive illuminations, discounts and bustle in the markets are sure indicators that Armenians are preparing to celebrate the most popular of holidays, New Year. As every year, the most widely-purchased souvenir is anything to symbolize the Chinese New Year. 2013 is the Year of the Snake – specifically, the black water snake.

While the exchange of gifts for the New Year holiday is popular tradition in Armenia, still the main concern is a holiday table laid on December 31 and then refreshed until January 13, when Armenians marked "Old New Year", a day, which culminates the Christmas holidays.

New Year's table, (which traditionally includes turkey, pork shoulder, tolma, ishli kufta, and more dishes as well as salads, fruits and sweets, dry fruits and nuts, beverage) will cost a middle class family a minimum of $500, the amount which is not available for the majority of the Armenian population. The cost will be underwritten in many cases by money transfers sent by relatives from abroad.

December in Armenia is a month of price increases, but as noted by the several consumer protection unions, this year’s price hike has been more modest than last year.

Inflated prices mostly are found in open-air markets where some fruits, vegetables, greens, dried fruits and nuts have increased from 5-8 percent. In regular stores, prices have remained mostly unchanged. And, unlike last year when eggs mysteriously disappeared from shelves as prices reached ridiculous sums, this year there has been no shortage.

The price for the pork shoulder however rose by 10-12 percent ($9 per kilo), which is according to the agriculture ministry’s official happens because the demand is higher that offer. Ashot Hovhannisyan, a representative of the ministry mentions that however the prices for other kind of meat did not change as this year there was observed a high volume of meat production - by 3.8 percent higher than last year. The official suggested people to replace pork with lamb, which is as delicious and contains less cholesterol.

For those who prefer to mark the New Year away from home numerous restaurants in Yerevan are offering festive dinners. Prices for the banquet start around $60 per person, which includes a live show by Armenian pop stars. High-class restaurants such as Bellagio offer banquet for $100 and more per person, while some restaurants, (such as Parvanna in Hrazdan gorge) charge $25-30 for entrance and the rest is charge accordingly to what was ordered.

And for those who take their holiday celebration on the road, the small resort towns of Tsakhkadzor, Aghveran, Dilijan, Jermuk have been booked since early fall.

Prices once seeming exorbitant for Armenia no longer shock New Year revelers. A five-day holiday just 50 kilometers from Yerevan will cost a family $1,500-2,000 – an amount more typically expected for a Mediterranean Sea vacation.

In the Western Aghveran Hotel, Kotayk province, all the rooms were booked in mid-November. A four-day rest in a standard room there will cost one person around $720-800 including the New Year feast.

A nine-day rest in Alva cottage in Tsakhkadzor will cost $800 in a double room while at Impulse hotel in Dilijan, five-day packages sold for $630.

At Jupiter hotel in Tzakhkadzor, a popular skiing resort, all 60 rooms were sold out by August, mostly to Russian guests where prices range from about $350 to about $1,480 for a seven-day package. The peak season has from year to year seen increases in visitors to Tzakhadzor, resulting in a boom of hotel construction and overcrowded conditions in the small town.

The resort area remains popular, too, among guests of more modest means, as Tzakhadzor also offers about 3,000 beds of lower class, with an average price of about $ 16 a day, plus multi-family cottages where basic accommodation (not including meals) can be had for about $150 a day during the winter holidays.