A photo heavy blog.
20/1/11 25 °C
We were told to be prepared for Armenia to be less exciting than Georgia and Azerbaijan and that the Armenians had a bit of a reputation for being miserable. We had also been told that Erevan, the capital (also known as Yerevan) was less interesting than Tbilisi and Baku. When we boarded the Armenian night train I was surprised by how clean it was and how the attendant was walking up and down spraying the carriage with air freshener. There was piped Armenian music and a calm, relaxed atmosphere - except for the group of excitable Georgian teenagers.
We arrived at the massive train station early in the morning and got a taxi to a hostel in the city centre. To save money I try and use public transport as much as possible, but its so much easier to get a taxi when you arrive at a strange city early in the morning after a disturbed night on a train. Once you've got your bearings its usually easy to find your way around by bus and mashrutka and Erevan also had a small metro system. The streets were eerily quiet and when we got to the hostel, we were told that it was Erevan's birthday and that there would be celebrations all that day. The hostel was full, but sent us to a Homestay down the road in an old soviet apartment owned by a woman called Suzanna. After admiring each others names, she rushed off to work. A word here about my name: When I was travelling before I would just get a blank look, until one day a man at a hotel looked at my passport and his face lit up "Ah, Susana" he said "that's and Egyptian name." Its also Turkish, Georgian, Armenian, Syrian and Jordanian. Even in Turkey and Azerbaijan, where the word for water is "Su", people wouldn't make the connection. So I've resigned myself to calling myself Suzann and it never fails to bring a smile to peoples faces when I tell them, in fact I'm beginning to think of myself as that now.
When we hit the streets, we really were in the centre of town, people were getting ready for a street party - and what a street party it was! Slowly the massive streets and squares filled up with people, dressed up in all sorts of costumes and waiving flags. There were speeches by important people, marching bands galore, children, lots of music, a children's park with an amazing puppet show, stages with pop music, traditional dancing and music, arts and crafts, street dancing - including what was probably the world's youngest break dancer, people working in shops were dancing wildly outside and everyone was having fun. As you can see I got busy with my camera and everyone was very eager to be photographed. (There are a couple more photos on my gallery on the blog site.)
But the crowning glory of the day in Erevan, of course, was the headline performance of Boney M in the main square. It was so full of people that it was impossible to see them, except on one of the mainly massive screens, but we could here them doing all the old favourites. I'd been surprised to have heard "Rasputin" played in Georgia and Azerbaijan on buses and the radio given that the Russians had taken over those countries for so many years, but there is very little rancour on the surface towards Russia or the Russians there. Actually I never liked them that much at the time, but now I'm fond of them as you can only be in retrospect with cheesy pop music. I reckon it takes about 10 years minimum for a bad song to become a Golden Oldie! Sorry all you Boney M fans, but that's the truth. Anyway they were wildly popular in Armenia.
We spent the next day wandering around the subdued city, which as I'd been told not to expect much, I found really pleasant. As we'd travelled through the night on the train we hadn't seen any of the scenery and when we climbed up to a high viewpoint I was amazed to see the snowy twin peaks of Mount Ararat, which is in Turkey, dominant in the distance. I was soon to learn that the Armenians have an almost religious devotion to the mountain, claiming that it really is part of Armenia. Its the sadly unrealised dream of many Armenians to make a pilgrimage there.
As our visas were only for 3 weeks, we moved on to the south of Armenia, promising to come back to Suzanna's on our way back to the north and to our 3rd visit to Georgia. We got on the obligatory Mashrutka going to an interesting looking town in the mountains to the amazement of the rest of the passengers. It didn't seem worth explaining to them that it was ok we knew how they worked and had spent a massive percentage of the last few weeks on them! Having enjoyed Erevan so much, I was looking ofrward to the rest of the country.