Published: August 14th 2009August 8th 2009
The view from our room
We took a shared taxi with from Tbilisi all the way to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The route took us along nicely paved roads to the border, where crossing took about an hour, and then continued on the other side on not-so-nicely paved roads! After a year in Azerbaijan it felt a little like tasting forbidden fruit as we queued for our visas which, incidentally, are now available on the border for just US$10 for 12 days.
The road wound its way through the green mountain gorges in Northern Armenia where we saw such sights as the derelict industrial factories, smoke-belching chimneys from those still functioning, the rebuilt village which was the epicentre of the dreadful 1988 earthquake and the town of Spitak with its curious boat standing before the earthquake memorial. Apparently the boat was built in a project to show how Armenian traders used to travel around the world. Along the way we stopped at a roadside shack-cum-restaurant where we feasted on an enormous plate of pork kebab!
North of Yerevan we passed the mountain plateau area where we got wonderful views of Mount Aragats, the highest peak in Armenia. It should not be confused with Mount Ararat
which, despite being in Turkey, dominates the skyline over Yerevan. Then began the long descent onto the plains and into the city itself.
Our driver was not really sure where he was going but, with the help of some local taxi drivers, we soon found ourselves at the Sunset Bed and Breakfast
where our hostess, Nune, was waiting for us. It’s not really a B&B, more like a rented apartment where the hosts come and make you breakfast each day. And what breakfasts! Nune made sure we never went hungry in the mornings with various dishes from eggs and aubergines to go with her home made jams, the bread and cheese, plus fresh apricots from their very own garden. Her husband, Sergey, told us tales of Armenia (and of Qarabaq, where he was born) and from him we learned how to crack the stone on an apricot to reveal a delicious nut. Their sons are talented artists, as is Sergey, and their pictures and sketches adorn the walls of the apartment. They were fabulous hosts and it was a real pleasure to meet them.
Yerevan itself was far more modern and cosmopolitan than any of us had expected.
The food was excellent
It has its problems though with the financial crisis postponing the completion of the Cascade
project which was a real shame. This monument links the upper town (where the B&B is) to the lower town but the uppermost section is currently an abandoned building site. The rest of it is a huge stairway of flowerbeds and statues with undercover escalators hiding at the side to save you the effort of climbing up or down.
At the top of the Cascade is a statue representing Soviet Armenian co-operation and peace. It is in the shape of an arrow stuck in the ground with an ear of corn rising from its upended stem. Nearby is a curious statue of a paunchy Roman Centurion and also a colourful boat looking like it came straight from a children’s cartoon.
Victory Park dominates the upper part of town and it is full of war memorials. The main attraction is the giant statue of Mother Armenia
which is surrounded by a couple of tanks, a Mig-19 fighter (NATO codenamed Farmer!) and a surface-to-air missile. Inside is a military museum which was very interesting and, despite photography being prohibited, Russ managed to get a few
snaps without getting caught!
Down in the city centre there is quite a lot of renovation taking place, most notably around the opera house. The old houses were all demolished a few years ago making way for a long pedestrianised avenue which will soon be full of designer shops. It’s all quite tastefully done and takes nothing away from the city, although we would have liked to have seen some evidence of what it was like before.
Freedom Square is a huge open plaza with the Ministry of Finance, the city museum, the post office and the Marriot Hotel taking up the sides. Outside the Marriot we met a group of Argentine footballers here to take part in the Diaspora World Cup
. Russ got the chance to practice his Spanish again! A little further from the centre we found some restaurants in a park near the “boxy” cathedral where we ate wonderful ishkhand
, a local type of trout.
On Friday Rob went off bird watching on the Turkish border so we had a day of exploring by ourselves. We took a taxi to the Museum of Armenian Genocide, a huge structure covering a hilltop to the West
of the city. An eternal flame burns inside a circle of concrete towers and haunting music plays from somewhere within. Next to it is a large needle-like monument and nearby are trees planted in memory by various world leaders and groups. The museum was very moving but full of horror as such a museum must be.
Also in that area is the new sport and concert venue. It is a very modern looking theatre with a great stone mural at the front. Whilst we were there we were treated to a helicopter fly-by but we never got a good enough look to identify it! Walking back into the centre we passed the football stadium where Russ got told off for taking a photograph of a photograph of the stadium in its heyday. National security?!!
That evening we met up in the Irish Pub (yes, that’s its name - how inventive!) with a group of Couch Surfers
. They came from Armenia, of course, but also the UK, Finland, Hungary, Poland and France. It was a very enjoyable evening with more than a few beers! Later we met three British girls who were in Yerevan on a project with the
Girl Guide Association.
On Saturday morning we got ready to leave and, full of Nune’s breakfast, we walked down the Cascade into the centre once again. Close to Freedom Square was a large market. At first we feared it was just old telephones, drills and nuts and bolts. We pushed further on and found an amazing array of handicrafts, gifts and paintings. We even made a purchase! Russ had spotted a magnificent chess set with a map of the world forming the board and the presidents of the USA and USSR/Russia making up the pawns on each side. It was a little too expensive though, but we did find a set of Christmas tree decorations with the faces of the Russian presidents!!
At 4pm we said our goodbyes to Nune. Sergey’s car service had overrun so we didn’t get to say goodbye to him. Then our driver was escorted out of Yerevan by a couple of his friends and we were on our way. Sadly it wasn’t such a beautiful drive as it poured with rain all the way to the Georgian border and there wasn’t much to see apart from the odd flash of lightning! Incredibly it
was sunny on the other side of the border, but it was just about dusk so we couldn’t appreciate it much. The border crossing took about an hour again including having all of our baggage x-rayed. Not bad considering there were about 7 coaches waiting there. Mercifully it seemed none of them were ready to cross yet!
So, Armenia was great. We would love to return and explore some of the country away from Yerevan. Maybe one day!!
There are more photos below