Caucasian Vacation Part III: The Real Armenia (Day 1)
We found the student dorms/hostel place that was listed in our Lonely Planet and rang the bell. There was a guy sleeping in the room right off the door. Chris spotted his feet. We rang again. Finally this old guy got out of bed. I felt bad for waking him...he looked like he needed the sleep. He let us in and shortly a woman scampered down the stairs to see what we wanted. "Did we have a reservation?" she asked. Of course not; that would take planning which is a skill we seem to lack. She made a few phone calls wnd within fifteen minutes a tiny little women hobbled down the street to take us to some apartment for two nights. All in all they were very efficient in finding us a place to stay, and gave us a very good price. Our abode was located just across the street, up about four flights of stairs. We had running water (which I guess can be a problem), hot water (debatable), and the place to ourselves. She even gave us a key. Chris and I talked for a while about our plan of attack for the next day and hit the sack. I took the bed and he took the couch. We were out like a light.
The next morning I don't remember what time we awoke, but it wasn't too early and it wasn't too late. We decided to explore the town. Chris and I have always been big walkers and went off to explore on foot. We rounded about a quarter of downtown when we decided to cut into a park. By then we were looking for an ATM to exchange some money for the next two days. In this park we say the most amusing statue I have ever seen. The two fingers you give some when you tell them to "piss off." Or the European equivalent of "the bird." The statue was of the two fingers from the wrist up, and the other hand was cupping the palm while the two fingers were up. It was odd and it became our hand signal for the next week. Not just the two fingers...you had to cup the palm also. A sort of cryptic fuck you. People were really amused and befuddled everytime we did this to each other. It's thier damn statue and they don't even know what it means.
After getting some bad sandwiches and coffee we explored further into the center of town. Yerevan is on the build. There were many large buildings being constructed, and many old ones being renovated or destroyed. It had the sense of something coming. Like spring, things were growing. It also had the sense of old eastern block buildings and Russian architecture. For every nice building there were three or four that were straight concrete with random stuff hanging off the balconies. There were plenty of nice cars and new restaurants mixed in with old cars and businesses. We wandered into the Marriot to ask for directions and learned something very important. Actually we learned two things: do the math conversions before you buy the five dollar cappucino, and whenever you need help finding something go to the Mariott. The girl at the service desk in the Marriot was awesome. She explained stuff to us, and gave us directions, called people to find answers for us, and had a great smile to boot. We must have been amusing coming to town with no idea about anything and asking questions that your average Marriot patron wouldn't ask. We should have asked her about the statue.
What we found out that morning set our itenerary for the next two days. How to get to Lake Sevan, where to go that evening to drink, where was the train station and how much to get to Tbilisi. She was probably the most helpful person on our trip. We left to find the train station. It was a bit further than she mentioned. After walking for about an hour we found the station. Classic Russian architecture and empty. We actually caught the one lady the ran the place on her way to the bathroom, so she turned around and in broken English, worked out where we needed to go. Our tickets were pretty cheap. For a sleeper car I think we paid fourteen dollars each...or was that for two. Either way it was a cheap ride to Tbilisi for the next evening. I garuntee a bus ride and a hotel would have cost much more!
Having purchase our tickets we took a microbus back to our hotel and took a little nap before we attempted to go to Lake Sevan. When you mention Lake Sevan to Armenians they get all doe eyed and look off into the distance like they were remembering the best day of their life. I think this is actually the eyes rolling up to the part of the brain that creates fiction. Most Armenians I have met in Syria haven't been there. In fact, most of them haven't been to Armenia. Hence the fun of this trip was to put to test how beatiful Armenia was, based on accounts from people that have never, or rarely, been here.
The bus to Sevan was packed. When it pulled up people ran and pushed thier way on like it was the last bus on Earth. Again we both laughed. Whats the deal with pushing into lines. It's like these people think no other bus will come. Make a system where you buy a ticket with a seat number on it...even the Syrians figured that one out. We got on the next bus running and pushing (when you weigh 100 kilos you can really push your way onto a bus). We got on with a couple of other tourists. East Berliners that were on a short vacation. They had good English so we chatted the whole way to Sevan about Europe, Germany, the Middle East, etc. We arrived in Sevan after about an hour and we were all a bit shocked. It was really beat. Like an American Indian reservation beat. Worse than an African township beat. This place was grim. Grey, dilapidated, and old. Everything that was new was closed down...failed or bankrupted. The hotel the Germans were staying in didn't exist anymore. The guy, who spoke Russian, worked out with a taxi driver to look at a place on the lake he owned and would rent. First of all the lake is really big but there isn't anything there. Maybe there were a few nicer resort areas that were hidden away, but this place was pretty barren. All I could think of was Loch Ness...and I've never seen Loch Ness. I'm betting Nessy would turn her nose up at this place. The taxi guy's shack was laughable. Barely built, loose carpet laying on the floor, old shitty furniture. The German was trying hard not to show his disgust, but his friend was flat out not having anything to do with the place. I remember her saying something about crazy people and dirty...you get the picture. So they started arguing in Russian and he thanked them over and over again and politely declined. The bright side was we were walking distance from the old churches on the peninsula and could easily get up there from the beach.
Little did we know we arrived mid-mass. The main church is still in use, and there were monks singing inside one of the churches. From the top of the hill the view of the lake just confirmed my Loch feelings, and Chris agreed with me. Not much to look at but open space has beauty all of its own. It was really nice to hear the monks singing from inside the church, and they merrily went down the hill after the services had ended. Oficially Armenia is the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, and subsequently has many old churches scatterd around it's small area. Chris and I had planned of visiting these, and visiting the most famous at Echmiadzin tomorrow - for Easter.
The Germans found a monk that knew a guy that had an extra room in the maintenance house for the monestary. They were happy to have a place to stay that wasn't some scarry Russian's shack, and we were now looking for a way to get home. Apparently buses don't go back to Yerevan from Sevan after a certain time (nobody will tell you when) and we had to take a taxi back into town. This guy drove a taxi that seemed to run off natural gas. He filled up on something at a filling station but it wasn't gasoline. And he would drive and then coast, and then drive and then coast. I guess we just got the pikey driver that didn't want to use any more gas then he had to. Like the arab taxi driver that turn thier lights off so they don't burn out their bulbs. Dumbass.
After what seemed to be a very long time we eventually made it back to town. No what to do. We needed something to eat, and we wanted a nap. I can't remember what we ate, but we did take a nap, and then ventured out to go drinking! The girl at the Marriot reccomended a Jazz club to us that we found earlier and made out way to that evening. It actually had great Jazz, just not any girls to look at. Chris and I were playing this game where we timed how long it took us to find a girl that we would both give an eight out of ten to. A sort of "which country has the cutest girls" game. I can't remember how many tens of hours it took us to agree upon an eight in Yerevan but it was a long time. Armenians have pointy chins, eagle noses, and high rounded cheekbones. All of these things can be very cute if they are well blended and one or the other. Not when they are the predominant feature, and all occur at once. Needless to say it took us a long time to find an eight, and she deffinitely wasn't a pure-blood Armenian. Another small fact that we learned was that most Armenians speak Russian. The older ones mostly speak Russian. The middle aged ones know Russian and speak Armenain. The younger ones speak Armenian and know English. If we wanted to communicate with someone older our best chance was in German, younger in English. Anyone middle-aged we couldn't really talk to. With that said, our drinking was oriented with each other and and younger crowd. By the end of the evening we were drinking god knows what with this crazy bartender and were completely drunk. Almost stumbling drunk. We drank lots of water and tried to eat something...I don't remember much. I do know we felt like hammered shit, and looked like death warmed over. Which sets us up nicely to go repent our sins, on Easter Sunday, at the most famous Armenian church in the world...hungover.