The Pink Capital of Armenia
Trip Start Jun 04, 2012
174Trip End Apr 04, 2013
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Meanwhile, our driver from the previous week's drive from Azerbaijan spotted us and came by to say hello to "Raj Kapoor". Due to his lack of English, we were unable to ask him about Yerevan. Seeing that we were restless, the taxi driver had us get into his taxi (also a Mercedes!). At this point, we should have just told him off, but we complied and he drove a few minutes down the road and stopped by the side of the highway going "Yerevan Marshrut come here today. Not the bus station". We knew that he was trying to pull something but were not sure what. We refused to get out of his taxi until the Yerevan marshrut showed up. He kept barking into his cellphone and then gesturing to us that it was on its way. By now, we were openly sceptical and let our disbelief show on our faces. Everyone was getting anxious. Something had to give. It did. The Yerevan Marshrutka actually showed up and stopped behind the taxi.
This was not a Mercedes at all, but some beaten up old heap. It looked more like a vehicle carrying fleeing refugees rather than a regular inter-country public transport
There wss no room for our big packs at the back and so we had to take them inside the vehicle. M managed to find a seat in the middle of the van. The driver gestured for V to sit in front, on one of the flexible aisle seats with no headrest. Just as V resigned himself for an uncomfortable journey, the young woman seated in that row gestured to V to move to the back as there were better seats there. When V tried to move to the back (there were a few empty seats there), two women seated at the back raised their voices and motioned him back to the front. The young woman in front said in clear English "Don't pay any attention to these people. You can sit at the back". As V tried to force his way into the back, he noticed that none of the empty seats had any room for feet
We reached the Armenian border in about an hour. V was still not happy with the seating arrangement and wanted to explore other options inside Armenia, possibly a change of vehicle or simply getting off in the nearest town to stay the night. The women at the back revealed that they were not just paying travelers by saying "No money back!". M brokered a truce by swapping seats with V. By then M had learnt that the American seated next to her had just arrived in Tbilisi earlier in the day along with his two sisters (who were also in the van) and they had waited for 2 hours for this marshrutka to leave from the bus station. The trio were on a monumental quest to seek long lost family in Armenia. Their father had left the conflict ridden country in 1914 and come to America. We listened to their story (from brother and sisters) through the rest of the journey. They, in turn, expressed great interest in our journey and we managed to exchange our stories during the five hour journey to Yerevan. But their immediate pressing concern was lack of legroom and the siblings swapped seats till they were reasonably free of discomfort
V recounted a joke that he had read that went "Azerbaijan has oil. Armenia has Kerkorian". This tickled the Armenian Americans but also aroused the curiosity of the bossy woman at the back. Her English was not good enough to understand the joke but she was curious about what was being said about her country (we had learnt that she was Armenian). She suddenly stopped all the conversation by claiming that she had not slept for 2 nights and could everybody please be quiet so she can get some rest? If you please! At some point she even protested when the young woman in front (who said she was a tourist from Persia!) spoke into her cell phone. This seemed a hell of a way to run a transport service between two countries. Deny paying customers room so you can pack the floor with your own stuff and then ask them to shut up so you can sleep.
All Armenian names seem to end with the syllable -ian (sometimes spelt -yan). Famous names from the tennis world incude Agassi (whose father dropped the -ian) and Nalbandian. During the past week in Georgia, we had managed to make out a few vowels and consonants in the squiggly Georgian script by reading the destination boards on marshrutkas. But the Armenian script proved more difficult to grasp due to a couple of factors
On arrival, we were struck by the vodka factory outside the Kilikia bus station, the taxi driver's use of a familiar word (one 'hazaar' dram to go to the Opera house), the well lit Matenadaran museum on top of the hill beneath the statue of Mother Armenia with sword on an even higher hill. We got to visit the museum later on a rainy morning and enjoyed the rare manuscripts from centuries ago as well antique maps that revealed Armenia's history and provided a context for their troubled history (more on this later in this blog). The plentiful statues seen around the city possess sad expressions, but its citizens seem to enjoy their vibrant city with its many pleasures. The trendy Abovian Poghots feature top name brands from all over and Yerevanians seem to wear those fashions well. The compact city surrounded by mountains seems smaller compared to Tbilisi
The vast flight of stone steps and flower beds known as the Cascade needs special mention. We have not seen anything like it anywhere else. The steps lead upto a monument for the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia that was never completed. By the side of the steps is an indoor area comprising of several art galleries, all of them connected via a series of escalators and elevators. We got ourselves a rain soaked Yerevan panorama from the top of the Cascade.
We made a record of sorts in Yerevan by staying six nights at Anahit Stepanyan's guest house. The previous record was five nights in Tbilisi. Armenia is small enough that most sights can be seen as day trips from the capital which is centrally located. Its lower elevation results in a comfortable climate compared to the much colder surrounding mountainous regions
We also enjoyed a little alternative cuisine in Yerevan compared to our recent history and this was mostly due to the excellent Sayat Cafe on Sayat-Nova street. We made no less than four trips there to enjoy manayeeshes, lamajoons, falafel and hummus. But we did get a rude shock at Caucasus Cafe which seemed to be hugely popular with locals. As soon as we entered, the young woman at the door said "Nyeto" and pointed towards the restaurant on the opposite side and then laughed at our astonished expressions. There are so many ways to let a visitor know that you cannot serve them for any reason but she picked the least civilized.
The statue of Aram Khachaturian (composer of the barbaric "Sabre Dance") in front of the Opera House/National Philharmonic reminded us of the country's musical pedigree
Armenians seem to view their country as the centre of the world (maybe not as much as China does) and pride themselves on being the first Christian nation. They have closed borders with hostile Azerbaijan to the west and Turkey to the east. The Nagarno-Karabakh war saw horrific ethnic cleansing on both sides and left behind an unrecognized republic (NKR) that sees itself as independent. Armenia considers it another province (called Artsakh), while the world recognizes it as part of Azerbaijan. Armenia's relationship with Turkey is dominated by the genocide issue. The genocide museum just outside the city presents the visitor with photographs, newspaper cuttings and books written by neutrals on the genocide. But they do have friendly relations with neighbours Georgia and Iran and with distant USA and Russia (which is quite a collection!). The Blue Mosque on Mashtots street is like a little Iran on the inside.
The Matenadaran museum had some very interesting exhibits. Our curiosity about the relationship between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey has intensified during this trip and we got a factoid from a couple of displays in this museum on Armenia's view of Azerbaijan. The first one was titled "The Map of Armenia, Arran and Azerbaijan" and quoted the 10th century Iranian geographer Istakhri from his "The Book of Roads and Realms". It casually mentions (without comment) that the Azerbaijan referred to in the book is a province of Iran. In a neighbouring display based on Delisle's 1730 "Atlas Nouveau", this is reiterated and in addition the following text is added "the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan can be found divided into various Muslim Khanates Shamakhi, Shirwan and Derbend. In 1918, this same region was renamed Azerbaijan". Other exhibits in the museum of interest to us included old Indian manuscripts on palm leaves (V remembered seeing similar manuscripts at his grandfather's house during his childhood), geometric diagrams from Abu Ali Ibn Sina's 1037 book Kitab-al-Najat, beautifully colored pages from antique gospel books and history books, philosophical treatises, Alphabets of ancient and medieval nations, Euclid's "Elements of Geometry", a 12th century Armenian guidebook to names of Indian cities, Ptolemy's "Geography", a Persian manuscript on Religious Sects of India, a 1617 diagram on how to measure latitude and so on. V's beloved home city of Madras featured prominently in several displays - the young woman patrolling that room kindly allowed V to take photographs of these after he explained the reason for his interest.
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