A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Dancing in the street to Boney M

A photo heavy blog.

sunny 25 °C

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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.)

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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.

Posted by sue deegan 00:40 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Back to Georgia 2

Tbilisi and rainy mountains

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I was beginning to think of Tbilisi as my home city now and got the hang of it a lot more. I've mentioned before about the dilapidated buildings and wonky pavements, but you soon get used to the pavements and I realised how much more beautiful the buildings are left to themselves .

I've also mentioned the food at great length and the vodka, but I realise that I haven't told you about the most traditional Georgian dish, which is called Kinkhali - best pronounced as if you have swallowed a frog which is now trying to jump back out of your throat. Kinkhali are large dumplings, which are filled with a meaty, herby mixture and broth and are twisted at the top. The general idea is to hold the dumpling by the twist and then bite into it, first making sure that the broth inside has cooled a bit otherwise it can be a bit painful. After a few messy meals you get proficient enough to suck the juice out and then eat the dumpling, making sure that you leave the twist. Its very common to see groups of men any time of the day sitting in cafes with huge plates of Kinkhali and a bottle of Vodka. Please don't think that they just sit there swigging back vodka and getting pissed - there is far more to it than that! There is a tradition of "toasting", which is always done with vodka and there are all sorts of rules about how high your glass should be held and not finishing the last bit and of course there has to be the main toaster, who says something very long and eloquent to which everyone drinks to. No more is drunk until the next toast. Other people then get involved with the toasting, but if its a formal affair they need permission from the main man. Its all very traditional and romantic, though some of the wives I talked to were less than impressed by it. Having said that, even though they can down some pretty massive amounts of alcohol, there are very few annoying drunks around - its very bad form to be out of control after drinking.

Our plan was to go to another beautiful mountain area north Tbilisi before going on to Armenia, but the weather was against us.The drive up to the mountains was beautiful. We managed to get a shared taxi for the same price as the mashrutka with a Kazbegi man who was going home and wanted to pay for his fuel and some extra and he was happy to stop at a church overlooking a lake in the low mountains before the proper big ones started. The drive was great and we drove over a high pass with snow at the top of the mountains and I was really looking forward to seeing the famous Kazbegi mountains.

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However, when we got there there was a freezing, misty rain hanging over the whole area and it was impossible to see anything. I was totally unprepared for cold weather, I know realised. Having carried my favourite, but impractically heavy jacket around all summer, I had immediately lost it the first time I wore it on a chilly evening in Azerbaijan. Now I was dressed in a bizarre collection of inadequate clothing, or maybe an inadequate collection of bizarre clothing, whatever, I was freezing cold and looked funny! Kazbegi village was also unprepared for winter as the gas, which provided the heating wasn't to be turned on until the end of the month. After a couple of days attempting walks in the rain not being able to see anything and hanging around in a cold, expensive cafe we headed back for Tbilisi as the weather forecast wasn't looking very hopeful. Never mind, we'd been pretty lucky with the weather so far and you can't see everything in a country that you want.

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We took the mashrutka back down over the pass, which was now completely covered in snow, passing an old Tesco lorry on its way to Russia. The mashrutka driver was quite religious and as is quite common the front was covered in religious pictures. His driving was pretty good until we drove past a church on a busy part of the road, which entailed him crossing himself three times and I wondered if we'd crashed would he have gone directly to heaven?

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Back in the warmth of Tbilisi, I decided to call in on a hostel on the way back to our "apartment" to see if anyone there was just back from Armenia and was greeted by an amazed French/Algerian man who I'd met four years before in Cairo. You often keep bumping into the same travellers on the same trip, but to meet someone from that long ago in a totally different area was a great coincidence. We spent a couple of days meeting up in Tbilisi until we headed off on the overnight train to Erevan, capital of Armenia.

Here is another, very detailed and completely accurate history/geography/politics lesson to remind you why we have to keep coming back to Georgia: Georgia borders Turkey; Armenia; Azerbaijan and Russia to north. Armenia and Azerbaijan share a border but its closed because they fought over an area called Nagorno Karabach (more about this in a later blog) Armenia and Turkey share a border but its closed because just after the First World War, the Turks either killed or forced marched over a million Armenians into the desert of Syria, where most of them died. The border may remain closed until the Turks acknowledge this and apologise. The Georgians pride themselves on getting on with everyone and welcome you with a free visa at the border. I wont mention the Georgia/Russia problems here though as that would just take too long.

Posted by sue deegan 12:54 Comments (0)

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