August 5, 2005
We arrived at the airport, got our visas checked, Elizabeth picked up her bag and
we headed out to the lion's den... the Taxi line. We got a taxi for $10 and
headed to a home stay in town. The taxi drive was hectic and road rules fail to
exist here. Instead of feeling frightened like I did the first few time I was in
a car in Russia, I felt oddly comfortable and at home. The trip wasn't safe,
but it made me feel at ease, as if this was a place I know and feel comfortable
in. Perhaps it's just the feeling that at any moment I could die and I simply
can't do anything about it that relaxes me. The feeling that my life is out
of my control is odd at first, but quickly becomes home and comfortable, a feeling
of relaxation and at peace.
The address of our home stay was wrong so the bus driver helped us find it, just
to find that the place was full. The woman set us up with a friend of hers on the
south side of the city, so we took a mini bus as our host, Emma, picked us up outside
the big church in the city. We walked to the nearby apartment, which we had it to
ourselves. We settled down and decided to grab food and money on our way to the
bus station, before catching a bus to Lake Sevan. We got money from a bank with
armed guards, much more like Kenya than Europe, but for our protection. The street
food was good, I had a deep fried dough thing filled with potatoes, much like the
peroshki found in Odesa and a meat pie baked instead of fried.
The walk took us to an area that was extremely beat up and poor. The sidewalks were
cracked and falling apart with gravel spread sporadically throughout as the rest
was lifeless soil in the semi-arid desert-like environment. It looked like the city
was devastated and had no money, but other parts of the city vastly contradicted
Later that night, after returning from Lake Sevan, we decided to eat at a grill
we had seen that morning. After sitting down we realized that Elizabeth was the
only woman present, however they welcomed us none-the-less. They didn't have
a menu in either English or Russian, so we looked at the raw meat and pointed. We
also ordered salad, water, and the complimentary lavash. We seemed to set
ourselves apart from the rest of the restaurant who was drinking a thick white milky
substance in addition to vodka or beer. The salad was typical for this part of the
world: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley.
The bread was a combination of flat lavash and lavash more like
bread. This was served with a sauce consisting of onions and spices along with chunks
of tomatoes. It was good, but the meat overshadowed it. I got the pork and Elizabeth
the beef. The flavoring of both, but particularly the beef was incredible and would
rank as some of the best pork and beef that I have ever had. It was served on flat
lavash and we ate it with the tasty sauce.
After the meal, which was extremely filling and absolutely incredible, we paid our
eight dollar bill and headed to the apartment to get an early night. In general,
I'm quite impressed with the Armenians. The city of Yerevan is incredibly ugly
from an architectural viewpoint, but the people are so kind and inviting, they seem
so happy and optimistic. The people seem to have so little, but they have what so
many places lack: hope and optimism.
August 5, 2005
We made it to the bus stop in Yerevan, which was little more than a bus parked on
the side of the road. We asked if they were going to Sevan and, after they responded
positively, we asked when the bus leaves and they said when the bus fills up. We
grossly under-estimated how long this would take and an hour later we continued
to wait for people. Once the bus finally filled we left, me sleeping for much of
Upon arrival, the driver asked where we were going and we said the lake, he informed
us that we had to take a mini bus there so headed to the nearby lake via mini bus.
We paid at the end of the trip not the beginning, which seems to exemplify the Armenian
people's honest nature and their trust in the kindness of humanity.
Our time on the lake was short, but the hill overlooking the lake and the lake itself
was great. The hill that makes up the peninsula consists of a couple churches and
great views over the lake. When the sun cracked the clouds the lake tuned an almost
unreal bright turquoise color in complete contrast to the cloud-covered blue of
the rest of the lake. The lake is surrounded on all sides by hills or I guess small
mountains and the churches are made of dark red and black bricks, a round steeple
rising from the middle and the base in the shape of a cross.
We asked another driver how to get back to Yerevan and he responded by mini-bus
then bus. He insisted on standing up when talking to a lady, which I found slightly
odd considering he seemed very comfortable and relaxed before we approached him.
Unfortunately, the man also informed us that the last bus back was at 5:00 so we
quickly grabbed a mini bus into town to catch the last bus.
After being pulled over by the police our trip continued, we picked up a little
old woman, extremely tan with a large straw hat, who was carrying a large bucket
of sunflower seeds. She was excessively happy and dominated the bus-wide conversation
in Armenian. Once she realized we were foreign she began giving us sunflower seeds
and two Russian women helped translate for us to participate in the bus-wide conversation.
They were all extremely nice and by the end of the five minute ride we seemed to
have been accepted by the people as their guests and upon exiting the bus, were
invited to the Russians' home. As much as we would have liked to, we had not
slept the previous night and unfortunately the last bus to Yerevan was across the
street. We regretfully denied the invitation and jumped across the street to find
the mini bus full.
The people on this bus were again extremely generous and let us in, although there
truly was no space. I think I took the brunt of this problem myself, but it was
a sacrifice well worth the hassle in order to avoid having to find a place in Sevan
for the night. On this trip we were again welcomed as guests as two young girls
who spoke some, although very minimal English, decided to practice their language
skills as we struggled to continue the conversation.
Echmiadzin & Zvartnots
August 6, 2005
Echmiadzin & Zvartnots
We managed to get up in Yerevan at 10:30 this morning without much of a problem.
I slept like a rock and could have slept longer had I been given the chance. Like
much of this part of the world, there is little hot water and much of the day there
is no water at all. We had missed our morning water-window so went without a shower,
a ritual I feel I will partake in often on this trip.
We went to the bus stop for Echmiadzin, little more than a stop on a street corner.
We made it to Echmiadzin and got off in front of the church complex which is essentially
the Vatican of the Armenian Orthodox Church. At one end of the complex stands an
enormous monument to the visit of the late Pope John Paul II. The monument was quite
impressive especially given the income of many of the people here. It struck me
that they sacrificed the money to build such a monument while much of the surrounding
area was going to ruins.
We bought much needed water at the small store at the entrance of the complex and
the woman actually spoke English and insisted on using it.
I felt slightly out of place and rude here wearing shorts; the typically dress is
of long dark pants and a shirt that is something other than a t-shirt with English
writing on it. The people seemed to notice me; however no one stared or made me
We walked around the grounds and into the church, which was adorned with incredible
detail in carved stone work. The inside was ordinary, while the museum in the back
was very interesting. The museum contained religious books from hundreds of years
ago written in Armenian and even had a container with part of Noah's ark in
it very near the spear head that pierced Christ's side on the day of his death.
We lit candles in the church, crossed ourselves three times and exited the church
backwards so as to avoid turning our backs to the altar.
The old church in Zvartnots has a very unique style compared to other churches I've
seen. There was a large baptismal pool and a hole in which the altar used to rise
up from in the center. Being a small sight though our stop here was only about 15
minutes long, then we were off to Yerevan for the night.
August 6, 2005
A Day as a Tourist
We started our time in Yerevan today at the Opera House followed by the nearby Cascade,
a large set of stairs leading up a hill to a Soviet monument. The hike was long
and draining in the heat. The views did little to make one feel rewarded for their
effort, especially since, in the heat, the air was thick and full of dust creating
clouds preventing us from seeing nearby Mt. Ararat, although we had decent views
of it upon arrival at the airport.
After our walk down the Cascade we had lunch with two of Elizabeth's friends.
The one girl worked in Moldova and compared the situation here with that of Moldova.
They also shared a ton of information with us about Armenia.
The phone system in Armenia is sporadic at best; the Diaspora's aid seems to
disappear through bureaucracy; Armenia has alienated or been alienated by all of
their neighbors except to a small degree Iran and Georgia. This led them to turn
to Russia, Diaspora support, and the closing of their borders to Azerbaijan and
Turkey. The imports mostly come in via air or ground through Georgia, so everything
is excessively expensive seeing as how Armenian itself is too dry to have sustainable
crops and feed themselves. This helps me understand my flight into the country...
Elizabeth's friend said that many flights contain live chickens.
The country also has an incredible tourism industry based around the Diaspora. This
however does not change the fact that the country has little to offer visitors and
that the country has nothing to produce except cognac, which is apparently inferior
to that of the rest of Europe's.
The US Embassy here is incredibly large and the reasons are various as to why. First
the Diaspora is strong in the US; second, Armenia has tied closely to Russia and
has over 20,000 Russian troops on their soil, frightening not only Azerbaijan and
Turkey, but also the United States.
After lunch some of the money that the Diaspora has donated became apparent throughout
the city. The streets of Yerevan are the best I've seen in any former Soviet
country including the Baltic countries. There are various western standard banks
and ATM's along with a small group of very nice cars including a large number
of Bentleys and enough demand for a Porsche dealership.
As we walked around the streets I was absolutely shocked at how many Americans I
saw and heard. The number not only rivals, but exceeds the number of Americans in
Moscow or St. Petersburg. I felt like I was actually in a city that was well known
and was a tourist destination, however the sights don't justify this, only the
people and the Diaspora's will to return do. The streets contained only Armenian
and English voices; no Russians anywhere, a shock after going to places like Riga,
Kyiv, and even Vilnius.
After grabbing a street kebab, we sat on the square to people watch. On the way
back we bought water from two women who were thrilled that we were not only in their
country, but that we could talk to them in Russian. They didn't want to let
August 7, 2005
We woke early, again missing the water, this time too early for the water to be
turned on, so we'll go without a shower for another day. We got to the actual
bus station today for the journey to Tbilisi. We arrived early and found another
American here for the journey back to his temporary home in Georgia.
Just outside of Yerevan we saw a huge pyramid structure raising out of nowhere,
our driver said that it is a new casino... as if the people need that. The trip
to Tbilisi was beautiful through the mountains.
Our lunch was at a small road side grill, where we had shashlik (in Russian),
or khorvats (in Armenian) really nothing more than grilled meat with onions,
salad, and water. The dinner for the three of us (the American, Barry joined us)
was all of about 6 or 7 dollars. We continuously stopped for passengers going short
distances, including many soldiers going from bases to small villages.
We reached the border without any problems and saw more foreigners here including
people from France, Germany, and various other European countries, many of whom
were on motorcycle. The border wasn't bad other than the fact they the e-visa
confused the border guard in Armenia. We made it without much problem and continued
to the Georgian border with even less trouble.
Continue the above trip to: Georgia
● Learn more about Armenia ●
Return to Justin's Travel Blog ●