4/6/11 27 °C
Although it has a beautifully restored 6th Centuary church, set up on the hillside, the main part of the town of Sisian was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930’s. This means that while there are a few pleasant spaces in the town and the river and the surrounding countryside are beautiful, the town itself has the same decayed sovietism of Jermuk, without the evidence of modern tourism springing up. There didn’t seem to be a lot of money for re-building here though.
VIEW OF SISIAN OVER THE OLD FOUNTAIN
WORKING PETROL PUMPS
The welcoming manageress at the hotel became less so when it became apparent that we were resisting her advice to change to the more expensive rooms. In fact, once the group of musicians that were staying there had left, the heating got turned off and the water remained icy cold. Her directions suffered as well: the day before she had come back from shopping to tell us how to get to Carahunge, now she merely cryptically grunted “Take the road here and turn left at the animals” instead of the more complicated information we needed to a place several kilometers away. But it was a good place to stop and explore the surrounding area so we stayed a bit longer.
SUNDAY LUNCH IN THE MAIN SQUARE
When you’re travelling on limited resources in the Caucasus, if you want a change from shop bought bread, cheese, local sausage, tomatoes and cucumber, you need to find a cheap café. I’ve already mentioned the wonderful Georgian dumplings and other highly calorific cheap foods available. The problem there was finding the cafes to eat them in as they seemed hidden away at first, though after a while you get your eye in and they seem obvious. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is over-flowing with visible cafes, unfortunately they are full of men, both working and eating there and drinking endless cups of tea. There are no women to be seen anywhere in them outside of Baku, the capital, although foreign women are generally accepted as honorary men - and you get stared at for being foreign anyway. The trick there is to find the friendlier staring men’s café! Yerevan is full of all sorts of cafes, obviously cafes and full of both men and women. Out of Yerevan, Armenia really didn't seem to do a lot of cheap cafes; there are obviously a lot of other things people need to spend their money on there.
We found two cafes in Sisian. The first was cheap and just across the road from our hotel; the other was right next to the river and was more expensive. The cheap café was run from early in the morning to late at night by a Russian-looking woman of the shot-put stereo-type variety I mentioned in my last blog. She was not a happy bunny. There is, I’ve heard, a café in New York which is famous for its bad-tempered waitresses, people flock there to be insulted and this one could have come a close second. The menu in our café was written in Russian, Armenian and English and I tried to read the Russian, not really difficult when it comes to food and there was very little choice. The waitress would repeat the English version in a near comedy Russian accent, look very disapproving and say “You sure you vant zis?” At first I really did think she was joking and I think this may have been my downfall as either she got more unfriendly in a less comical way or the joke just began to wear thin, but I think we had quite a unique love/hate relationship going for a while. The other place to eat was more expensive but was run by an incredibly friendly but rather excessively house-proud woman and was extremely clean. This should have been a good thing had I not arrived there after a day’s walk in the hills in travel-stained clothes, greasy hair and grubby fingernails (no point going back to the cold hotel with freezing water to clean up first), which she would politely pretend not to have noticed. It also had the best Goulash in the world.
One day we walked out of town a few kilometres, straight on and left past the animals, as instructed, to a 18m high water-fall, which is used for a hydro-electric power station. Some days it’s on and others its off. Of course I went on an off day, though I was still impressed as I'd approached it from the top looking down. The ground and the rocks around the river looked surprisingly purple. We were approached by a man who offered to have the waterfall turned on for a fairly hefty amount of money, which we declined, but he didn't seem surprised. We walked back into town an easier and as we neared town a car full of local people stopped, stared in amazement at us and immediately took out their phones, some to call people about the foreigners, while the others took our photos. When I produced my camera to photograph them, they all thought that was hilarious and we all had a good natured laugh at each other before they drove off beeping.
The more time I spent in Sisian , the friendlier the people became - except the fore mentioned hotel and cafe women of course - and I found myself lingering more on the outskirts interacting with people and taking a few photos. I don't think it was that they were getting used to me as the areas I was going to were different, more that I was beginning to get used to them.
The one daily bus to Goris, the next place on our trip left first thing in the morning, as I was getting my stuff ready I realised that my "very private" notebook, where I wrote down all sorts of things and feelings of the moments, was missing. A lot of you will know I mislay things quite frequently and so travelling can be challenging in this way for me, but I had tried to keep track of it. My heart sank as I remembered taking it to the "grumpy cafe" the day before. I could just imagine the cross Russian woman reading it and laughing at my innermost thoughts! I still had time to get it before the bus went and it had been open for breakfast the last few days - but not today! If it had been any other place, I would have left it there and imagined that they would just throw it away, but this woman had seemed to have taken malicious delight in my discomfort (so it seemed early in the morning) and I was determined to get my book back! After a while knocking , she eventually came to the door and I hurriedly asked for my book, which she knew nothing about. Now she had good reason to be grumpy with me, but she just seemed puzzled. I then remembered going into some shops nearby after the cafe and mumbling a vague apology, rushed into the only open one, where the man immediately produced my book as I went in the door. I thanked him, made the bus and promised myself to keep it a lot safer in the future.