Armenia / Caucasus

Yerevan. Rolling with the homies.

After spending lovely 2 weeks in crazy Georgia we totally fell in love with the Caucasus. I believe it’s a place like no other. It’s not about the views – we all know our world is pretty damn amazing, neither about the history – all countries had their soul-shaking moments, nor about the cuisine (although in this particular case I have to admit I’m a declared fan).

One travel to the Caucasus to meet local people. To experience their openness, hardihood, cheek, good sense of humor but first and foremost, unique HOSPITALITY. 

We, the Poles, like to think about ourselves as a very welcoming nation. The truth is we aren’t even half as kind-hearted as the people from the Caucasus. Once you get a chance to visit this region and make some local connections, so you are no longer a stranger, you will see that it takes travelling to a whole new level. We realized that in Georgia and Armenia only confirmed it. The Russians sometimes (in jokes) call the Armenians a “small, greedy nation”. Maybe they are right, but beyond question is that it is the nation of the most generous people I’ve seen so far.

Yerevan – panoramic view and Ararat mountain hidden in the clouds.

I knew an Armenian guy once… now if you think it’s going to be another love story – you are definitely in the wrong place. Erik, the guy, was short and crazy. My point here is – Armenia has no dull people. My posts are going to be a colourful mosaic of local species. A wide range of characters from kind and caring guardian angels, through positively crazy individuals to totally mad psychos (not a joke – that story is a true spine chiller!!). I do hope you gonna enjoy my Armenian epic. You are about to board the train to the world of magical monasteries, tragic historical events, beautiful sights and fantastic people. Travel to Armenia with me. Let’s face their legendary hospitality together!

We planned to visit Armenia already 2 years ago but it didn’t work as just one week before our trip Polish Airlines cancelled that route. We had to quickly book a last minute trip and we ended up (very disappointed) going to Cyprus. We didn’t give up on Armenia though, the Caucasus was calling us!

We went to Armenia in May. I planned more or less which places we wanted to visit. Less is more if it comes to the Caucasus – time is relevant here and you will soon realize it. 🙂 One can’t simply tick all the places on one’s list. If you want to experience something REAL you have to surrender and let the Caucasus take over. Follow the customized plan it has for you and I swear to God, you won’t regret. 

Gregory

– first clash.

Do you remember my crazy Georgian adventure? If not, I strongly recommend reading this post – it’s unbelievable how it links to our Armenian experience. Our adventure again starts at the airport. We are waiting for our plane to Yerevan when we meet HIM. Gregory, 37, blue suede shoes, wrinkled shirt that once been elegant (definitely too tight around his belly), an Armenian. Seems nice. You have to realize that when you travel to the Caucasus it’s crucial to find a homie (in most of the cases, those homies find you). It’s a person who will take care of you, who is well connected (making things happen here is all about knowing someone) and what’s more – he or she loves his country and dreams of sharing its beauty with you.  We chat a bit and Gregory is already very keen to become our guide, our homie. He takes the guide book from me and starts writing his name next to the most important places around Yerevan. “Garni, Gherard, you gonna see them with Gregory girls, no worries, you don’t have to plan anything I will show you beautiful Armenia!“. On the plane he shares his food with us and proudly shows pictures of his children (the wife hasn’t been mentioned – how typical!) and when we finally land in Yerevan he gives us his SIM card so we can keep in touch for free (or in other words he can call us whenever he wants) and we initially plan to meet next weekend. Nice of him but… in that week our life changed completely and so did we. As for Gregory, we shall meet him again shortly.

Yerevan – view from the Cascade on the national Opera.

We are in Yerevan! First couple of nights we spend on couchsurfing. Manu, our host, is a nice Indian guy. Being in Armenia for over a year, sadly, he didn’t adopt the Armenian way of hosting people (breakfast for one), but we are fine with it as we spend most of the time outside and he is pretty flexible with that and the view from his place is INCREDIBLE.

Back in time you could see the holy Ararat Mountain from each house in Yerevan. This was the goal of the main architect of the city – Aleksandr Tamanyan. Today’s Yerevan is full of high blocks of flats partially covering the view. The heart of Old Yerevan lies in a valley but the city spread onto surrounding hills – some boroughs are much higher than the others and can have quite different weather!

This is the view from Manu’s window – spectacular, isn’t it?

After a short nap (planes from Warsaw land at such a silly hour – 4am) we decide to go for a walk around the city center. We wear our pj elephant trousers I brought from Vietnam. Everyone seems to be looking at us. You have to know that the Armenians living in the capital are big on fashion, especially brands. They love Armani! Men also tend not to be too casual – it’s super hot yet I haven’t seen many wearing short or sandals. The shoes though, they all seem to buy them from the same shop. We talk elegant loafers now!!!! Some rock it plain, others try to show their personality choosing more extravagant leather snake skin patter or golden ornaments. Women wear smart and plain clothes. This is Yerevan!

David.

What is your reaction when a stranger approaches you on the street and they want to speak to you? I’m pretty sure it will be similar to mine in that moment. We get to Republic Square when suddenly a random dude asks if he can spend some time with us to practise his English. What do we do? We have a moment of slow-motion panic thinking “another freak/what does he want from us/leave us alone”. I believe such a reaction is natural for someone living in a big city where you remain anonymous most of the time.  If it happened to me in London, I would be like “I’m not talking to you dude”, but this is the Caucasus, where a real person is more valuable than the whole flock of sparrows! Besides we are in a new city, new surrounding, we haven’t slept last night so we just can’t think about a creative way to give air to him in a nice way so, we go for a coffee together.

David turned out to be a fantastic person. Along with his friend Abkar, he showed us the city and we ended up dining together in a traditional Armenian restaurant – we would never find it if it hasn’t been for them! We planned to go to Etchmiadzin for a day trip the following day. In Georgia we met Levan who took care of us from our first steps on Georgian soil, in Yerevan David was our guardian angel. What would happen if we just walked away and didn’t trust him? David will return again in my next post.

Our very first Armenian coffee (it’s awesome) with David who is studying my polish guide book.  🙂
Dinner with our Armenian friends – David and Abkar. 

Yerevan.

There are no dull personalities in Armenia, but how about the capital? I’m sorry to say but to me, it came across rather dull despite of its beautiful pink colour. It’s not as charming as Tbilisi (a sensitive subject to many Armenians) even though the city center, with its architecture is quite interesting. We couldn’t feel this city, its tradition and history, but perhaps it was our fault as we didn’t have time to discover its museums and galleries – and those are, apparently, amazing.

Old Yerevan, covered with dust from many caravans coming to this important hub on the Silk Road, the famous ancient network of trading routes, smelled of spices – cardamon and cinnamon, essential oils and sandal wood, tasted of dates and almonds. The exceptional properties of Armenian dyes were exported to Rome and the East. The renowned Venetian Marco Polo was astounded by the beauty of the Armenian carpets. It was a truly magical place, but since the Russians took over (and as much as I love them they were always the masters of massive destruction) the lively, flamboyant oriental city turned into yet another Soviet city.  

Such a shame, Yerevan must have been such a beautiful place back in time. The Armenians love their capital and it’s an unconditional love. To the point that they don’t accept any sort of criticism regarding their city. In general when you travel around the Caucasus you are strongly advised to be careful of what you say. It would be the best for you not to have a strong opinion about something related to the politics, the history or the country itself unless you share the same opinion as your interlocutor. Otherwise you may end up being stabbed with a khanjal (traditional Caucasian knife). 😉  Offending people in this part of the world is super easy and believe me, it won’t take you anywhere.

Most of the Armenian diaspora (outnumbering the current population of Armenia!!!), living in different parts of the world always mention Yerevan as their pride. It’s the last thing that has been left as the country’s history is brutal and shocking. The genocide that has never been acknowledged, taking over their land by the Turks, the Karabakh war. It’s the history that still hurts so the Armenians, as a nation, carry incredible sadness inside them. I don’t say it in a bad way. It is actually beautiful they love their country so much.

Yerevan is not a modern city even though the main walking street pretends to be one. It isn’t as charming as other eastern-european capitals I’ve been to. It’s definitely not beautiful, but it’s interesting and a lot of cool stuff is happening around especially in summer. It has a lot of green spaces but they are usually occupied by cafes or restuarants and bars.

There is one thing I love about Yerevan. The authenticity of the local people. An Armenian will always remain an Armenian. Smoking cigarettes like crazy, sipping strong coffee and enjoying discussions with people visiting his city. 

Perhaps some of you are disappointed now, especially if you were counting on finding out what to see or where to go in Yerevan. It’s not my style. I would rather tell you who to meet. Forget about must-sees, maps and itineraries. Be like a local, roll with the homies – only the Armenians can show you how amazing is their country. Even though Yerevan didn’t steal my heart, everything that happened in that city makes me feel so nostalgic about my time in Armenia, but for more stories you will have to wait for my new post.

Republic Square in Yerevan and its beautiful pink architecture. You can see my friend Anna and David from behind – it took this place minutes before we started talking!
We were really luck with the weather – in such a sunny day the city center looked really nice.
Yerevan’s symbol – the Cascade. 
Yerevan – view from the top of the Cascade. The stairs afford walkers unobstructed views of central Yerevan and Mount Ararat.
The exterior of cascade, in addition to stairs has multiple levels with fountains and sculptures. 
Yerevan’s blocks of flats.
Some of the neighborhoods reminded me of my hometown – Warsaw.
Wedding trends straight from Yerevan. 
Impressive churches hidden between grey blocks of flats. 
A beautiful building made of black tufa. 
On the way to the subway (only 1 line) you can see some fountains.
I loved their shape – it looks so great in the pictures!
Can you find your zodiac sign? What I really like about Yerevan is the fact that you can find drinking water almost everywhere. Little fountains are located in several places – it’s important when the temperature goes up to 40 degrees! 
Even post-Soviet block of flats can be beautiful.
If you visit Yerevan make sure to do one of the walking tours. The tour will help you to understand the city. Go to Yerevan, if you are looking for something authentic, for hospitality and amazing people. I hope you gonna love it!