Back just after dusk at Tbilisi’s central railway station, I had a bite to eat in a small food court upstairs before boarding my second consecutive overnight train, tonight bound for Yerevan.
I had purchased the ticket earlier in the day at the station for ~$28, again in a second class compartment with four bunks. I was traveling with one rollerboard bag and my duffel bag and did not want to lug it around the city with me, so upon arrival in Tbilisi I inquired about whether the station had any locker facilities.
No, it does not, but I was directed to an underground storage facility below the train tracks. Fine, I thought. I proceeded outside and found a dark stairwell leading down to a dirt floor below. Could this be it, I thought?
Downstairs was indeed a large room with a dirt floor dimly lit with a few fluorescent bulbs. A group of men was huddled around smoking cigarettes in front of what appeared to be the luggage storage facility.
My heart sank. Do I leave my bags here? My computer? Or should I be miserable all day lugging it around? I approached the men and one went behind the counter to fill out a handwritten receipt slip for me. He held up two fingers and I nodded. He took my bag and set them on a shelf behind the counter, handing me the receipt and pointing to the 9 on his watch, indicating what I assumed to be a 9pm closure. There were no locks, not even a door to the storage facilty—just a few hastily constructed wooden shelves placed on the dirt floor.
As I returned that evening to pick up my bags, my heart was beating. Would the bags still be there? My computer? My clothes? Yes, all was still there…every last sock.
Upon boarding the proper car for the eight hour journey to Yerevan, I found my compartment was already occupied with three Armenian women. They giggled a bit when they saw me and I made my way for one of the top bunks. A conductor strolled by and saw that I looked a bit out of place in the room and started talking to me in Georgian.
It seemed he was beckoning me to take my things and follow him, so I did and he brought me four compartments down to another compartment where I found a young Indian man who introduced himself as Raja.
He asked me if I recognized him. Huh? I said no and he said he was an Indian rapper and his music videos are on YouTube. His eyes lit up when I said I was an American and he pulled a crucifix necklace from under his shirt and held it proudly for me to inspect.
“I love America. I’m a Christian,” he said.
Nodding in agreement I was about to answer him when he continued, “I like America very much. America very nice place, good people. America Christian country, so I am Christian because I love America.”
I asked him to elaborate.
“My uncle lives in America. In Chicago. I was there once. America is a great place. I am a Christian because I want to be an American.”
Well, now he had piqued my interest and we spent the next hour discussing his faith, or lack thereof.
As the train rolled out of Tbilisi, Raja excused himself and returned with two Armenian beers, offering me one. Beer is an acquired taste and I have not acquired a taste for it, even after living in Germany. I politely refused but he was adamant I drink with him. So I opened the bottle and took a drink. It was just as nasty as ever. I set the bottle down and we continued to speak.
He was traveling through Armenia and Georgia himself and would end up in Turkey. He excused himself again and returned with another two beers and two hot dogs. He handed me a hot dog but I again refused. I did not want to be rude, but this was nasty—it stank and it was cold. He polished off rather quickly two more bottles of beer, then finished my bottle, and it was very apparent shortly thereafter that he was drunk.
He eventually passed out sitting up and I tried to fall asleep, though the ride was bumpier than the previous night and we were nearing the Armenian border. It was not too long after that when Georgian border authorities boarded the train to stamp passports out of Georgia. That took a half hour and we were sent down to a vacant compartment where a border official had set up shop. No words were exchanged.
After a brief trek through no-man’s land, we reached the Armenian frontier and came to another halt. Five of us, including myself and Raja, and three Japanese guys were asked to step off the train and go into a small office to obtain our visas.
We were ushered out by an Armenian border official and into an office where we were told to wait for awhile. Our passports were confiscated. Raja just looked terrible—unable to barely stand. One-by-one we were called into a back room where visas were processed.
The border official spoke just a tiny bit of English and asked me how many days I would be in Armenia. I told him three (though it would only really be one stretched out over three days) and he prepared my visa, which cost about $10, which I paid in U.S. dollars (a small amount of change in Armenian Drams was given).
Armed with another beautiful full-page visa sticker in my passport, I reboarded the train where my passport was again taken to be stamped into Armenia. We eventually pulled out of the station and I was finally able to get some sleep (Raja had gained his second wind, but I told him that I was going to sleep).
We arrived into Yerevan around 5am and were booted off the train promptly—too bad this was not a Pullman car, because I could have slept for several hours. It was below freezing outside and the sun was not up yet. I had nowhere to go and no sense of Yerevan or where I was in the city. But I had made it to a place that had been hovering near the top of my destination list for years.
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…