Thursday, March 10, 2011

We're Off On the Road to Armenia

I went to Armenia for the long weekend, like you do. We had Mother's Day off on March 3 and International Women's Day off on March 8. So, along with 6 other teachers, I took off for Yerevan.
One the way down we took the overnight train. It was a 12 hour excursion. The really odd thing about the train ride was that our entire wagon was packed with fruit. All of the overhead spaces and even under some of the beds was all fruit. I guess that's what third class will get you. Thankfully we went got to the border within the first few hours, although actually getting past the border was a pain. Out of the entire 5 wagon train there were only 10 people who needed Armenian visas- the 7 of us, 2 other TLG teachers we met on the train, and a Japanese guy. I don't think they've ever had to process so many people at once. They crowded us all into this tiny room. Most of them did speak English, though, which was great. And I got another sticker for my passport. Yay!

We got to Yerevan eeeeeeearly in the morning. Well, it was 7, but that feels early after a somewhat cold, bumpy journey. We made it to Envoy Hostel after a long walk because we got off at the wrong metro stop. One of the nice things about traveling in former Soviet satellite states is that you can be in the most yokel of capitals and they'll still have a subway system. But don't let that mislead you- Yerevan is not a yokel capital. Yerevan was definitely farther ahead than Tbilisi. The roads were well paved. The sidewalks were flat and so clean. There were working pedestrian lights at all of the crosswalks.

And the best thing about Yerevan was the sun. Let me tell you about the sun. It was shining. It was bright. And it was warm. Oh God, was it warm. Please don't think I'm crazy for emphasizing that gloriously glowing globe in the sky. Before I went to Yerevan I hadn't seen the sun in two weeks. Two weeks. For two weeks it had been grey cloud-cover for me. While living without the sun I wasn't incredibly depressed like you'd think someone would be. I just got used to the constant grey. But as soon as I saw those bright yellow rays again I realized just how depressing grey can be.  I wanted to put the sun in a jar and take it home with me. All of us were happy to see it. In fact, on several occasions we opted to walk on the wrong side of the street just so we could walk in the sun. We were constantly crossing the street just for a chance to soak in those warm rays. It was glorious. Have I said that enough? Glorious.

But Yerevan doesn't just have the sun. It has other things, too. I was absolutely shocked at the difference between Yerevan and Tbilisi. They're only a couple hundred miles away, probably the distance between Boston and Washington, if not closer. But Yerevan has one glittering thing that Tbilisi seems to be in large demand for: Infrastructure. Yes, that's right, Infrastructure. And yes, I did capitalize it on purpose. Come on, who doesn't think about infrastructure when they're on vacation?

I will admit that I have not stayed an extended period of time in Tbilisi, but I have seen enough of the city to allow me to compare. Tbilisi has one road that is its shining gift to tourists, Rustaveli Street. It's a long boulevard with many shops and it's very well taken care of. However, if you go a block off of Rustaveli, you could be anywhere in Georgia. Well, okay, maybe not anywhere. But the streets immediately surrounding Rustaveli look like some of the slummier parts of Telavi, no question. But all of Yerevan looks like Rustaveli street. All of Yerevan is well maintained and kept clean. I'm talking sidewalks, roads, and even the buildings. Yerevan looks like it could be any city in Europe, not just it's one or two main streets, but the side streets as well. It just boggles the mind how different these two cities are.

Perhaps it isn't fair to compare these two cities. Honestly, I was expecting a city very similar to Tbilisi because their histories seem so similar, or at least, what I know of their two histories. But the primary difference between these two countries- and this is something we heard from more than one Armenian- is the Armenian diaspora all over the world. Every summer people of Armenian descent travel back to Armenia and just pour money into the country. And Georgia just does not have that source of income, which is really a shame.

As a result of this diaspora Aremian seems to be more worldly. I ate at an Irish pub, a Greek gyro fast food place, a baguette type of bistro, and had pad thai at a restaurant that didn't really have any type of "style" or "theme," just a whole lot of different kinds of food.

And it's probably good that Armenia has a lot of other cultures to choose from because Armenian food isn't very good. And Armenian is wine is foul. On a good day it tastes like Minute Maid and vodka. On a bad day it tastes like nail polish remover. And yes, I know this from personal experience. But don't worry, even though they can't do wine or food very well, they still have cognac and a very active nightlife scene.

Yerevan is definitely a young city. We to several bars and there are young people all over the place with different styles and looks. There are the people with leather jackets and sunglasses at night who go to clubs and stay out til 5am (because apparently Yerevan doesn't have a closing time). And then there are people with beards and dreds rockin' the plaid shirt look. I would call them hipsters, but I went to school in New York. I know what true hipsters look like and these people weren't them. I could totally see myself being an expat in Yerevan.

On one day we got out of Yerevan and saw some of the countryside. It was pretty. But also, pretty much like Georgia. Not gonna lie, for all of the differences between the two capitals, Georgia and Armenia look a lot alike when you step outside of the cities. We saw lots of monasteries and churches. In my opinion the best parts of the tour, out of the whole day were the last two places we went. One was a pagan temple in the Hellenic style. One of the kings of Armenia had been decided by the Emperor of the Roman Empire. So he went down to Rome to get crowned. While he was down there he was so impressed by Roman architecture that he wanted some for himself. He built a temple for his summer house and even put a Roman bath next to it. That was the last thing I was expecting to find in Armenia. And the last place we went to was truly awe inspiring. It was a monastery built into the side of a cliff. The acoustics were fantastic! The tour guide told us that sound waves reverberate for 48 seconds in this one room. I wish I knew some opera just so I could start belting out some tunes. It was really great. And in the surrounding cliffs were all sorts of caves. Big ones, small ones. All sorts! Very cool!

So that was Armenia. And here are some pictures for you:

A traditional salt holder, because women give life and salt gives food flavor  (I never got the connection either, but just go with it) 

Here's to acetone wine!! Cheers!

Very cool restaurant with very bad food

Republic Square. Yerevan was big on its public squares and parks.

I don't think I will ever be so depleted of energy to need "Spam Energy Drink"

Traditonal Armenian Dancing

The Armenians know how to do nuts.

Map of Yerevan

For the record, Lemon Rent-A-Car is out of business. I wonder why...

I'm not a car expert, but I know this is no Mustang.

Armenian Genocide Memorial

Lake Sevan

Pagan Temple

Roman Baths!

View from the Roman Baths!


  1. Wow they should bring Spam Energy to the states!Big seller! lol

  2. Yerevan sounds great, but I'm going to have to seriously disagree with you about Tbilisi. I live in the heart of the old town - by the baths - and it is GOREGEOUS, not to mention entirely newly renovated. Not only do you have a load of swank, nicely decorated bars that rival anything in NY/London in the Chardini/Erekle Street areas, but even the narrow side-streets of Kala/Abanotubani are gorgeous. They're definitely period/historical, but they're certainly not falling to bits! Likewise, Sololaki (between Freedom Square and Old Tbilisi) is a bit dilapidated, but full of amazing art nouveau buildings, and Mtatsminda (uphill from Rustaveli Avenue) is equally lovely. And those are the "old" neigborhoods - the posh areas like Vake and Saburtalo are much more "modern"-looking.

    But pretty much anywhere in Tbilisi (except Pervoskaya, which is IMO skeezy and overrated), there's TONS of cafes/bars/cocktail bars/tea houses that are definitely "cosmopolitan" (personally, I find Rustaveli Avenue nice, but far from the cosmopolitan centre of town).

    I think many Tbilisi-ians find Yerevan to be the "poor cousin", not vice versa! Never been, so it could be that Yerevan is WAY nicer, but I do want to speak up for theTBS love.

  3. The map of Yerevan is really interesting to look at. Photogenic city planning, I guess?

    Also, I appreciate the nuts. That sentence wasn't intended to sound as dirty as it is.

    PS: This is Matt