Saturday, November 23, 2019

Armenia Adjacent

Having spent far too much time in Tbilisi, I agreed to tag along on an excursion to Armenia.

As one might expect driving through the caucuses, the scenery was gorgeous… though the route was treacherous. We saw an accident where a car careened off a small cliff and our minibus driver and a few other passers-by went to help. The occupants were alive, but beat up - there wasn’t much for anyone to do except wait for the ambulance, so we continued on our own recklessly driven journey.

Yerevan was a nice change from Tbilisi. Much more “Soviet”, but not in a bad way. The sidewalks were much more walkable and things seemed to make a bit more intuitive sense - including the huge pedestrian promenade that split the city. Don’t tell the Georgians, but I liked the Armenian food better! It’s a little more of a regional mix that they take credit for - you’d think they’d invented shish kebab in lavash! Finally, it was still rather cheap - though it’s hard to get over rock-bottom Georgian prices.

For whatever reason, my Google Fi didn’t work in Armenia, meaning I didn’t have cell service. I chose not to buy a SIM card for such a short stay, but now I’m beginning to get a bit annoyed. Both Armenia and Georgia were supposed to be supported by my plan, but here we are. Hopefully it starts working again in Europe.

I checked the normal things off my list in Yerevan - saw City Hall (and a pleasant museum inside), wrote a poem in a cozy city library (that had an outside area with pigeon coop), and wrote a poem in the National Library (WAY nicer people than in Tbilisi). Saw some fountains, did a walking tour, saw the Cascades, got as close as possible to Mother Armenia after a wrong turn, and tried to enjoy being out of Georgia. The latter included using the postal system - holy smokes it was so much easier and cheaper!

The one thing I didn’t find in Yerevan was a group. I’ll grant I’m really spoiled by Tbilisi, but it felt like pulling teeth to make friends. All the bars were smoking bars and few had barstools, making for an eye-watering, asocial experience. Even the people with whom I’d struck up small friendships had other friend groups they wanted to engage instead of me (heaven forbid they introduce me to them!). Unlike, say, Melbourne, Yerevan wasn’t unfriendly - you just hit a wall after a bit.

After Yerevan I decided to head back toward Tbilisi. I probably should have explored Armenia a bit more, but my heart wasn’t in it (and I’m fairly certain I had a couple engagements to attend to in the coming days). You’ll note I said “back toward Tbilisi” - I made a two-night stop in Dilijan before crossing the border.

Dilijan was absolutely gorgeous! Unlike in Kazbegi, Dilijan had about twenty well-marked hiking paths that ranged from an easy hour to a few overnights - I ended up hiking for five or six hours over two trails. If it were warmer, if I had budgeted more time, if I were staying in a place that was a bit more central, I would have certainly explored a whole lot more.

In the town itself, I saw their museum, I took a picture of City Hall, and I visited one cafe and one bar - so I saw basically everything in town. I accidentally stumbled into a High School (my map was showing that I was at City Hall), where I made a disturbing discovery: a landmine identification chart posted in the entrance hallway. It’s easy to forget the trouble and strife places like Armenia are currently dealing with (it only took the US a century to recognize the genocide purpetrated by Turkey! Who knows if and when the situation with Azerbaijan will be settled).

My thought process in going to Dilijan was that “every minibus going to Tbilisi passes through here” - I should be able to catch one and make my way north. Apparently this was a mistake - the minibuses pass through but don’t stop! From Dilijan I had three choices: a bus back to Yerevan (backtracking - blah), a taxi to a larger village to the west, or a taxi to a larger village to the east. I went east, as it was cheaper and I was running low on cash. Halfway there, my taxi stopped for gas, as did a minibus. I was “encouraged” to get on the minibus to complete my trip… to the larger village. Once there, I met a guy from Japan who’d made a similar calculation and together we got on a minibus to a bordertown. We figured that, hey, it’s a bordertown - there should be a reasonable way to cross the border! We ended up spending about forty minutes with our thumbs outstretched before a Tbilisi-bound minibus stopped. We had to pay (in Lari, thankfully - I was out of Dram), but we made it to Tbilisi.

Overall, I had a delightful time in Armenia. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

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