In the middle of my second workweek, I found out my main colleague at work was going to be on vacation for a few days, so I decided to head to Armenia with my fellow Fellow, Kevin. He’d been planning to head down to Yerevan for a long weekend and invited me to come along. I was a little apprehensive about going along but it turned out to be the exact thing I needed. I had been feeling a little down and trying to figure out how I was going to fill my time for 3 months here in Georgia, and I think getting out and about for a few days was exactly what I needed to refresh my mind and restore my optimism.
So on Thursday the 11th, we met at the marshrutka station (a marshrutka is a minivan) and settled into our seats for the 6-hour drive. It was a packed marshrutka – the two of us, plus an Italian doing her thesis on Georgia, a guy working for the EU (randomly), a Georgian woman who drank an entire 1.5 litre bottle of Fanta within 3 hours and who stuck her butt in my face too many times to count, her friend who slept the entire way, an elderly woman who gave us clementines, and another woman who slept the entire way. There was also the driver and the two random guys who sat up front. The men always set up front; I’ve never seen a woman sit up front. Aside from the woman with the Fanta who couldn’t sit still, the ride was surprisingly comfortable and easy. It took about 90 minutes to get to the border. The border crossing was very easy – we changed a little bit of money to buy our visas ($8 each) and popped right on in to Armenia. I wish we had changed more money because we stopped for lunch at a roadside kebab stand, and it smelled so delicious. On second thought, it’s probably better considering we still had 3+ hours in the car and my stomach has been a little iffy. Luckily I had thought to bring some snacks, including almonds and a Snickers bar for each of us! Kevin thought that if he remembered nothing else about the ride to Armenia it would be that Snickers bar. They were delicious!
Upon arriving in the capital city of Yerevan, we checked in to our hotel, Envoy hostel, which I thought was great – clean rooms, clean bathrooms, a nice kitchen and lounge area downstairs, plus computers to log on to the Internet. We headed out for dinner to a restaurant claimed by Lonely Planet to be the best Chinese restaurant in the Caucasus. It might be the best Chinese restaurant in the Caucasus, but that doesn’t exactly mean it was great Chinese food. I ordered the sweet and sour chicken. Kevin ordered the orange chicken. The waiter said, “oh they’re the same dish, we just put an orange on top of the orange chicken.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Kevin changed his order to a noodle dish, which turned out to be a type of ramen noodle. Luckily it tasted better than the Ramen of my college days! I think I’ll wait until I get home to indulge in any more Chinese food! We spent the rest of the evening “bar-hopping” and checked out a few places. I had brought a deck of playing cards, so at a bar called “Wild West” (which yes, was as cheesy as you are likely imagining), I pulled the cards out and talked Kevin into a game of Go Fish. We had barely gotten through a round of fishing, when the waitress came over and said, “No games allowed!” We were shocked, and of course were like, wait, what, why not? That’s crazy! But all she would say is “no games allowed!!” I guess some old ridiculous Soviet-era rules die hard?
Friday was spent exploring the city of Yerevan. We decided to follow the walking tour in the Lonely Planet book. It was a pretty decent tour, and I think we saw most of the main sights of the city. We decided against paying admission fees so we skipped the museums. We did plan to go to the genocide museum, but unfortunately since it’s at the edge of the downtown area, we didn’t have enough time to get there before it closed for the day. We enjoyed lunch at a shwarma place, which was delicious and filling. I was mostly just grateful that my stomach seemed to be agreeing with all of the food in Yerevan!
Friday night we were more than excited to get dinner at Cactus, a Mexican place we had visited Thursday night for a drink. The margaritas looked promising, and I had seen some fajitas go by that looked legit. My frozen strawberry margarita was delicious. Interestingly enough, they served a basket of onion rings instead of tortilla chips, which was odd. My fajita was about as legit as Mexican food is going to get in the Caucasus, I believe. It wasn’t Juan’s Place (our favorite Mexican place in CA) but I was pretty much obsessed with it anyway and enjoyed the hell out of it. After dinner we went to an Irish-style pub. I loved the bartender there; he was pretty hysterical, despite his chain smoking. We didn’t stay too long, and decided to venture over to the Opera Club, which is exactly what it sounds like, a nightclub in the basement of the Opera house. How could we not check it out? The cover charge was pretty high and of course in our jeans and fleeces we stuck out like two sore thumbs. We quickly found out that having a drink on the dance floor is also not allowed! The dance floor was in the middle of the regular and VIP sections. There was a mirror on the wall across from the dance floor. There were several ladies dancing in front of the mirror, and they were about as obsessed with themselves in the mirror as I had been obsessed with my fajita earlier in the evening. It was completely hysterical and slightly disturbing. Poor Kevin and the other guys on the dance floor didn’t even stand a chance on getting any attention. And I had left my thigh-high boots and booty shorts at home so I stayed away from the mirror…
Now that’s not to say that all of the women dress slightly like hookers. We actually found that people were fairly fashionable in Yerevan and were surprised to find stores like United Colors of Benetton, Lacoste, and particularly Victoria’s Secret.
Stay tuned for Armenia, Part 2!!!
Please check out my Facebook photo album for more pictures from my trip to Armenia!