Friday, August 19, 2016


Day 1: Yerevan in the Rain

I arrived around 1 am to the Yerevan airport, and my dear couch surfing host A. (name censored for privacy) picked me up and greeted me with a bouquet of flowers! Great start  :)
But then he tells me his sister and her baby are staying with him right now so instead I will be staying with his friend Suzy. Okay, cool.
So we go to Suzy's house and she is we wake her up! I felt incredibly awkward and was also completely exhausted after a wonderful whirlwind few days in Istanbul with Leyla, Elyse, and Jen, but Suzy turned out to be a really cool girl so we all stayed up and talked for an hour or so until I decided I needed to pass out. 
The sleeping arrangement was this: Suzy in her double bed, me in a daybed/cot at the foot of her bed, A. on the couch in the living room (why he did not go to his own house I will never know...).

The next morning I woke up around 9 and everyone had already left for work, so I some time alone to plan my day and also learn about Yerevan because I had done veryyyy minimal prep for this trip.
A rain-soaked Soviet apartment block in the city center

After a series of google searches including "yerevan food" "what to see in yerevan" and, as the weather necessitated, "yerevan in the rain" (there is no guide for this!!), I ventured out into the wild.
A. kindly met me at lunchtime to help me get a sim card for my phone, teach me a few quickly forgotten words of Armenian (I only remember "hello" - barev and "what" - inj), and review my itinerary for the day.

I think I hit most of the city highlights:

Republic Square


Northern Avenue

The Blue Mosque 

St. Grigor Lusavorich church

Also, due to the rain, I spent a lot of my time scuttling under the streets through the underpasses, which were surprisingly well maintained and well-stocked with shops selling everything from watches and jewelry to stationary to dried fish.
8/10 would recommend.

That evening there was a goodbye party for Suzy at her place, since she was going for a few months to Egypt (I think?) to visit family. 
It was kind of like a Georgian supra in that way too many people gathered around a flimsy table and laughed, ate, and talked well into the night. 
However, there were not really any toasts, the food was very limited - only 2 or 3 dishes, and the wine was absolutely terrible...I'm so sorry to any Armenians out there, but the stuff we drank was about the worst wine I have ever had, and everyone agreed it was disgusting. Thank the heavens there happened to be a Georgian tour guide who stopped by along with his friend (an Armenian tour guide saying goodbye to Suzy) who brought some homemade Georgian wine and saved the day! Maybe I'm just spoiled now by Georgian wine, but if you go to Armeni and someone tries to give you Areni, run...Armenian cognac is apparently amazing, though

Culture note:
Armenia basically gets constantly battered from every direction, which has made the population generally extremely defensive. Small countries are usually more defensive about their history and culture, since it can be so easily and swiftly erased, but Armenia is the "worst" I've ever experienced...within about 45 minutes of arriving in the country, I already found myself in a heated debate about the age of the nation, the recipient of careful explanations of Armenia's relationship with its neighbors, and an observer of the raw vitriol these people held for deniers of the Armenian genocide.
This constant defensiveness is honestly a bit of a turn off. While in Armenia, I felt like no one was relaxed, everyone was on edge, ready to defend themselves at any hint of a verbal attack. So many conversations turned into spewing anger at their neighbors, desperate justifications of the NK war, and what felt like justifications for the right of Armenia to exist in general. It conjured up a bit of what I imagine Israel feels like in that regard.
It also causes issues such as the name dispute over Lake Sevan (discussed in the footnote). The root problem here for the Azeris, in my opinion, is not that the lake bears a name other than their preferred moniker, but that they cannot visit it. Armenia is more or less cut off for Azeris due to the semi-frozen ethno-territorial conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Day 2: Heat Stroke in the Car

The next day, two of A.'s friends - the very hungover and sleep deprived Hayk and the indefatigable tour guide Van drove me to some of the best sites surrounding Yerevan.
  • Garni (I actually took a bus here - it was kind of complicated to find the right one...if you are thinking of doing this, send me a message or leave a comment and I'll explain!)
    • Hellenistic pre-Christian temple from the 1st century AD
    • The only Greco-Roman colonnaded building standing anywhere in the former Soviet Union
    • Very cool site, good quality informational plaques, many tourists, cheap entrance fee is 1200 drams (less than $3)
    • Speakers play some kind of "ancient" music as you walk towards the temple
    • Man playing a wooden recorder inside the temple...hired or an innovative panhandler? Who knows...
    • An interesting article about neglect in the preservation of Garni

      told you...
  • Geghard Monastery
    • I didn't actually get the chance to go here, but you should
    • Free entry
    • Very close to Garni (plenty of taxis loitering around to take you)
    • UNESCO world heritage site
  • Echmiatsin/Etchmiadzin Complex
    • Administrative headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Pontifical Residence of the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
    • Huge complex of at least 3 churches (felt like more), residences for the leaders of the Armenian Church, museums, a seminary, and more!
    • UNESCO world heritage site

  •  Zvartnots
    • Ridiculous name
    • UNESCO world heritage site
    • Ruins of a 7th century cathedral - beautiful but really just columns...the best part is that it is set against the backdrop of the imposing Mt. Ararat 
    • Archeologists and architects theorize that it was originally 3 stories tall
      Photo Credit:
  • Khor Virap
    •  A monastery about 100 meters from the closed border with Turkey
    • Original site was built on the in the 7th century, and the current building was erected in the 17th c.
    • It's famous for its lovely view of Mt. Ararat and as the location where, in the 4th century, evil King Tiridates III imprisoned St. Gregory the Illuminator in a hole for 13 years as punishment for preaching Christianity against Tiridates' pagan rule  

It was a lot of driving and it was very hot, but with a car, all that is doable in one day with Yerevan as a base!
dancing fountains

That night I met A. in the city center for dinner and to check out the bar/club scene. I arrived to our rendevouz point a bit early and caught the dancing fountains show! It is actually really long...I think about an hour. I don't recommend just standing and watching the whole thing. Some people bring chairs or blankets to have a kind of concrete picnic against the fountain show backdrop. I stood and watched about 15 minutes and was satisfied. 

Day 3: Lake Sevan* and the 1.5 Kidnapping Attempts

For the riveting details of something that did not in fact happen, please see this video. 
gas station in Sevan, Armenia
at Lake Sevan, Armenia
my would-be kidnapper being a classic creeper

Selfie on Sevan
Lake Sevan

*I decided to use "Lake Sevan" in this post, to the likely outcry of all my Azeri friends and readers who have already helpfully alerted me to the widespread belief in Azerbaijan that the lake is in fact Azeri land and is called Lake Göyçə (Goeja).

Wikipedia says: "At least from the early modern era, the lake was often referred to as Gokcha (from Turkish Gökče,[31][32] which translates to "blue water").[33] Besides being used by the Azeri population (Azerbaijani: Göyçə), the name Gokcha appeared in Russian and European sources until the early twentieth century."

An Azeri friend explained to me something vaguely along the lines of in the 18th century the land was Azerbaijani, and then there was a war and Armenian forces conquered the land, but it wasn't "fair" because actually Russian troops helped Armenia and then granted them the land so really it is still Azeri land...this does not really feel like sound logic to me. Additionally, I will continue to call it Sevan because a) the whole rest of the world calls it Sevan, b) this was a REALLY long time one living remembers when this was Azeri territory or even heard stories from great-grandparents remembering it as Azeri land - time to let it go, c) as I have already discussed above, Armenia is pretty much the local scrawny kid on the playground...this isn't a play for territory, there is no attempt to make the lake change hands, it's just semantics, so come on, just give it to them

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