I grew up in Glendale, California, home to one of the largest Armenian populations outside of Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan. My best friend in grade school was Armenian and I have several friends in the Armenian community. In school the Armenian Genocide was remembered each year and Armenians run my barbershop and favorite restaurant. Even one of my former bosses was Armenian. Consequently, Armenia has been near the top of my destination list for years and visiting Yerevan was a big motive for my larger trip to the Caucasus.
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Stepping off the train and into the frigid cold, I had no plan for the day ahead—I just wanted to see as much of Yerevan as I could before my 3am flight to Istanbul the next morning.
Yerevan has a beautiful Soviet-era railway station styled in Stalin’s preferred Socialist realism. A grand concourse sat empty at this early hour and there was no heat inside—it was just as cold outside as it was inside.
A “claw” vending machine sat near the entrance and I laughed as I saw what the prizes were—cigarettes.
With the sun just beginning to peak in the east, I pulled out a blanket from my bag, wrapped myself around it, and pulled out my computer. Surprisingly, there was free wi-fi in the station that worked rather well.
I knew I had work to do and upon checking my e-mail found it was more than I thought. I decided that though I would not be staying overnight, I would grab a hostel with wi-fi for the day so I could leave my bags behind and also get some work done. I reserved a hostel in the heart of Yerevan.
After waiting for the sun to rise a bit higher, I proceeded out the majestic station and came upon a busy intersection. Left, right, or straight? I chose straight and headed up the street for about a half mile.
It was clear already that Yerevan was a poorer city than Tbilisi and Baku. Sidewalks were torn up and the street pavement was uneven. Stray dogs ran wild and a horse-drawn cart with vegetables passed by.
Eventually I turned left and headed past the meat district, where the morning slaughter left the lingering smell of death and blood on the street. Whole cows lay outside storefronts and several heads were just lying there. The stench was unbearable.
I kept walking and thankfully was walking the right direction, because I soon reached the heart of Yerevan. I had the address of the hostel and a rough location on Google Maps that I had downloaded at the station. I walked past a large Armenian Apostolic church, a town square featuring a Marriott hotel, government buildings, and a shopping district.
I thought I was close to the hostel, but just couldn’t find it and had my laptop open a street corner as I tried to place my exact whereabouts. A good Samaritan stopped by and he happened to speak English. Turns out I was very close (just a block and a half away) and he walked with me to the hostel, called the Penthouse Hostel on Koryun Street 5, apt 33a.
The owner was alone inside the hostel—it appeared there were no guests and he was happy to accommodate my request for a room until 1am for about $8. Wi-fi was working and I spent the next three hours—it was till only 8:30a—working.
But I was in Yerevan for just one day and did not to waste the whole time in front of my laptop, so I limited myself to the essentials and headed out around 11:30a, now famished. One of my odd quirks when traveling to a new country is to try out Mexican food (though I did not do this in Azerbaijan or Georgia) and Yerevan has two Mexican restaurants including one that was just a few block from the hostel called Cactus.
In a country in which the average monthly wage is $471, I spent $24 on lunch and I felt kind of guilty doing it and also a bit foolish. But my chips and salsa, chicken tortilla soup, enchiladas, beans, rice, and a Mai Tai hit the spot like no other meal on the trip. It was not perfect, but it was more than acceptable—it was tasty and I was now ready to explore more of Yerevan.
Having visited Mother Georgia the previous day, it was now time to visit Mother Armenia, which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the city. I just started walking toward it and came upon a couple of ugly statutes by Fernando Botero in his siganture obese style (yes, this is subjective) in front of a giant set of stairs that lead to a war memorial on top.
At the top of the stairs I headed right and crossed a street where there is a park entrance that houses the Mother Armenia statue. The park is depressing…a decaying amusement park sits vacant and an eternal flame to the soldiers of Soviet Armenia who lost their lives in WWII is no longer illumined.
As in Georgia, the Mother statute was closed (despite the opening hours on the sign) so I could only walk around it. A few Soviet era tanks and missiles sat rusting around the statute.
Next stop was the Genocide Memorial and Museum—on the other side of town and closed for renovation, but I still wanted to see the outside of the museum and the memorial. I spent the next hour and a half walking across town to the memorial and finally reached it as the winter sun was beginning to set.
It is humbling to think what happened to the Armenian people at the hands of their Turkish aggressors and let us not beat around the bush—over 1,000,000 Armenians were slaughtered and hundreds of thousands of more displaced from their homeland, in large part because of their faith. That the Turkish government continues to deny this well-documented crime against humanity is a tragedy of epic proportions, though as I discuss below the younger Armenian generation has taken a more pragmatic approach to the situation.
Living in the Glendale, California area brought added significance to visiting the Genocide Memorial because I have several friends whose families were personally affected by this tragedy. Being at this memorial on a brisk winter evening with no one else nearby evoked a moment of humble reflection.
There, the eternal flame remains lit and it was heartening to see that the Soviet flame of the past had burned out and yet the flame in remembrance of one of history’s vilest acts against humanity burns on.
The sun had nearly set now and I was once again far away from central Yerevan and my hostel. I began walking back and flagged down a shared omnibus. I had no idea where it was going, but it was going toward the city and only cost about 10 cents to ride.
15 minutes later I hopped off outside the large Apostolic Church and stopped inside, noting how spartan the furnishings and décor were.
It was time for a haircut and I continued another tradition in foreign countries with a $2 haircut.
I walked back to the hostel and found the owner had gone home for the night and left two college-aged guys in charge who were studying at Yerevan State University. They both spoke some English and were quite keen to speak. They lit up when they heard I was from Glendale and we spent the next hour discussing a wide range of topics. Most interesting to me was their opinion that it is time for Armenia to move on from its constant bickering with Turkey: that the financial incentives of re-establishing more ties to Turkey makes more sense than trying to force an admission of guilt.
To an extent, this is happening already as the next segment of my report will highlight the recent re-establishment of air service between Armenia and Turkey.
The guys fed me too—a dinner of grape leaves, feta cheese, and chicken kabobs that they warmed up in a microwave. It was good—one of their mothers made it so I can say that I had a home-cooked dinner in Armenia. They were astonished I did not drink Coca-Cola and I excused myself to work for a few more hours before my taxi would arrive to take me to the airport for my flight to Istanbul.
It had been a full-day, but an amazing day in which I finally got a feeling for what Armenia was really like. And I liked it.
Read the rest of my trip report to the Caucasus!
Thrown Off a United Airlines Flight for Taking Pictures!
Washington Dulles to Kuwait City in United Airlines BusinessFirst
Six Hours in Kuwait City
Pearl Lounge – Kuwait International Airport
Kuwait City to Istanbul in Turkish Airlines Economy Class
Istanbul to Baku in Azerbaijan Airlines Economy Class
Baku – A City of Illusions?
Review: Park Hyatt Baku
Baku Metro (Pictures)
Overnight Train from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia
Pictures: One Day in Tbilisi, Georgia
Overnight Train from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia
Feeling at Home in Yerevan
Yerevan to Istanbul in Armavia Economy Class
The Flight Home from Istanbul…