New Town

Trip Start Aug 20, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Armenia  ,
Saturday, November 8, 2008

           I finally moved myself on from Tbilisi to Yerevan (though I still fly out of Tbilisi, on the 25th!). The ride to Yerevan was uneventful as far as marshrutka rides go. The border guards to Armenia were actually very pleasant and made the bureaucracy go easier. After Kazakhstan and Russia, I have a fear of all border guards (I've had not fun times in both countries). When I went up to the first window, the guard looked for my nonexistent visa in my passport, then at my blathering that I thought I could buy a visa at the border, he smiled and sent me to another window. At the next window, the guard asked for Armenian money for the visa. At my fearful expression, he smiled and sent me to the exchange booth. I exchanged money, got my visa almost immediately, and then returned to the first window. There the guard stamped my passport, offered me a mandarin orange while I waited, and chatted about the Presidential elections and asked if I'd voted. The marshrutka driver bought us all little cups of coffee after the border. It was pretty disgusting cold factory made coffee, but the gesture was nice. When I arrive in Yerevan, I took a taxi to the hostel/gueshouse. The taxi ride almost took longer than the ride to Yerevan itself- I had to supress my homicidal urges. Every block the driver would get out and ask a pedestrian the way. Hmm, I'm new to this town, but if my address is 5 Sayat Pova, and we're on 47 Sayat Pova and the numbers are going down, doesn't that mean we have a few blocks before we reach the building? Sigh. The hostel is very nice- it's in a beautiful apartment. Sadly, this beautiful apartment is on the 5th floor without an elevator. The owner came out on landing and watched me take a little rest break on the 3rd floor landing, commenting that my backpack was bigger than I was. She started the hostel 5 years ago when her husband died. She's been very helpful, but worries a little too much about me being alone and keeps trying to lug me onto other travelers. I finally broke down and paid to have my laundry washed in a laundromat near the apartment (well, not really a laundromat, since you turn in the clothes and two days later they emerge magically cleaned and ironed). I've been handwashing, but at some point blue jeans just need to be in a washing machine to fully be rid of the knee high mud that had previously been on them (my washing had resulted in everything below the knee having a brown tinge...). So for 8 dollars, I have 4.5 kilograms worth of clean clothes...worthy splurge.

          Yesterday I went to the Armenian Genocide museum, the Armenian state museum, and the Erebuni history museum and archaeological site. The genocide museum cheered me right up- I don't think I could have had a better day even if there had been a holocaust museum next door. The Armenian genocide is said to have happened from the end of the 1800s to the beginning of the 1920s, with the main atrocities in 1915 to the Armenians living in Turkey (at the time, Ottoman Empire). I use the term "is said to" because the genocide is still not recognized by Turkey. Outside the museum is a garden of trees planted by countries and public figures that recognize the genocide, including many representatives from America and Russia. Turkey and Armenia still have closed borders and no trade with each other. The pictures in the museum were horrifying- many of the men were killed right off, while women and children were left to starve in the Syrian desert if they also weren't killed right after being moved from the Turkish towns. One of the main historical Armenian towns, Ani, is in modern-day Turkey. This wasn't simply a Muslim-Christian war- there was actually even a letter from Mecca asking the Turks to stop the genocide since the Armenians were Christian friends of the Muslim and under the protection of Islam. Westerners who observed the genocide reported nightmares for the rest of their lives.

          The State Museum was a little bit more cheerful. Happy beautiful carpets and handicrafts, stone crosses (Armenia was the first country whose government accept Christianity for the country, even before Rome), and an exorbitant number of ancient representations of fertility gods and goddesses. When people talk abou the downfall of modern society and our obsession with sex, well, humanity has been worshipping sex for quite a long time....

          Erebuni is an ancient fortress established on a hill about Yerevan about 740 B.C. The site itself was open, so I crawled around over it (and yes, I actually walked up the hill to it, cursing these people and their love for fortresses/chapels/ancient sites on high hills the whole way up). The view was amazing, even though mainly it just shows how humongous and spread out the city is. It's sometimes hard to think of how big the city is, since the apartment blocks hug the hills, go over them, and then dip into the valley so you can only see that the city goes on for many hilltops...  The fortress also gave a view of Mt. Ararat, which is actually in Turkey but can be clearly seen from Yerevan. This is the mountain the Noah's Ark is supposed to have rested on after the floor (all I can say is- good lord what a long walk down!)

          I also stopped by the one remaining mosque in Yerevan, which is supported by the Iranian government. Even though it was on a city street and you can still hear the cars and assorted city noises, the courtyard of the mosque itself was very peaceful, with a lovely garden and koi pool.

          Today I went to Echmiadzin (still can't say the word. To get on the marshrutka and find out if I was on the right one, I simply copied the word into Armenian and held it up to an older gentleman while I looked confused and lost. It worked.). This town, about 30 minutes outside of Yerevan, is the center of the Armenian Orthodox/Catholic church. The main church, Mayr Tachar, is surrounded by the monks' cells. Outside the church is a monument recognizing Pope John Paul II's visit, and there is also an archway from the 4th century. The seminary near the church was closed after refugees fled to it in the early 1920's from the genocide, but has since been reopened since the end of the Soviet Union. The museum/treasury attached to the church had a spearhead that is supposed to be the one that pierced Christ's side as he was once the cross. The treasury also had the beautiful robes different heads of churches have worn throughout the centuries, as well as bones in cases of golden hands making the sign of the cross. Interestingly, the canes (whatever you call them) that the church heads would carry had the heads of serpents/dragons on top of them. According to the monk curator, these were to remind/give the heads of church wisdom. The curator was very nice, except when a little sneer came out in his voice when he asked if I was "Protestant." Sometimes it's good to be able to pull out the line, "Well, my parents were Catholic...."

          The topping for today's excursions was to the Yerevan Brandy Company, which makes brandy under the label of Ararat. The tour was interesting, seeing all the brandy being aged in oak barrels in their factory (factory, aka big storage house, basically). There was also a tasting to show the difference between 3 year old, 10 year old, and 20 year old brandy. I don't know anything about brandy, so it was interesting to see that there really is a drastic color difference (the factory doesn't add any artifical coloring to its product) and how to fill up a brandy snifter and the way the brandy rolls down the sides of the glass slower and slower as it ages. The factory also has a storage of barrels that it gives to world leaders when they visit. Apparently, I missed the Russian president Medvedev by one week - his barrel was in there signed by him with a big "Spasibo" (Thank you) written on the top. The Baltic presidents were there, as well as Putin and Yeltsin. The company also puts out scales whenever a leader visits, and invites the leader to stand on the scales while they fill up the other side with brandy to match his body weight. The heaviest leader was Yeltsin- it wasn't discovered until later, when they were watching a film of the event, that Yeltsin's bodyguard had his foot on the edge of the scales to bring down the weight. The barrels of brandy are kept until the leaders request them (Yeltsin's family may request his). There is also a barrel that will only be opened when the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is resolved (it will probably be sitting there for awhile...). My tour ended up being free! It was supposed to cost $15, but since it was near closing time they told me not to worry about it. Excellent....

          I think the rest of the world is even more excited about Obama's election than I am... Everyone asks about it, and offers their congratulations.

          Anyways, I hope this post saves. I tried to write last night and then the internet blipped and everything was lost. :(
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