22 Jan

From my last blog post, you probably gathered that Azerbaijan is an interesting place with a lot of interesting rules (don’t smile…don’t make eye contactyou get my point). Another interesting travel rule is that if you stay in the country longer than 10 days, you have to register yourself with immigration even though you already have a visa. So to avoid accidentally becoming an Azerbaijani citizen, I decided to head back to Armenia, but long was the trek ahead.

To get to Armenia from Azerbaijan, I had to go through Georgia… you know, because war. So I took a bus to Tbilisi, Georgia and then from there took a train to Yerevan, Armenia. I noticed that customs was way easier to get through as I entered Armenia from Georgia than it was to get into Azerbaijan from Georgia; this put my non-Russian/non-Armenian-speaking self at ease.



Armenian church on a typical-looking day in January.


Even though I wasn’t struggling to explain my presence in Armenia, I did find myself wishing that I could speak Armenian or at least Russian. It was really hard to communicate with people in that part of the world without speaking their language, and English wasn’t common among the masses. Beyond that, the language barrier kept me from learning a lot of the things I wanted to know more about, namely Armenia’s modern historythe genocide, its initiative to take in Syrian refugees, its volatile feud with Turkey. So, since I wasn’t about to become fluent in Russian or Armenian in the short time I was there, I learned what I could about the culture despite the language barrier.

I especially learned, as I sat in the 6-person hostel dorm that I had all to myself, that January was not the most popular time to visit Armenia. Moreover, if you do visit Armenia in January (or at least stay in this particular hostel), you are bound to run into some very interesting characters.

There was the Armenian student who worked at the hostel every single day; it was the same girl every time. But that was okay because she was incredibly sweet. There was a certifiably crazy Thai guy who would not stop talking if anyone was around (sometimes I wonder if he kept talking even after everyone had left the room), and an Australian who could’ve walked out of some angsty young adult fiction novel. He was a serious loner and was mainly visiting parts of the world that weren’t recognized as countries but whose self-identities classified them as independent nations (like Transnistria, Nagorno-Karbakh Republic, and Crimea). He had just come back from spending 3 weeks in eastern Armenia and spent his days watching documentaries…Was this a version of the Truman Show? Am I really a character in a novel? Only time will tell.

Anyways, we were a really eclectic group, and while we did spend some time together, I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were best friends…or even friends. So because I wasn’t too keen on watching documentaries all day (not that I was invited) or listening to my Thai hostel-mate’s rants, I decided to join a gym. And lo and behold, I found my people!

On the first day at the gym, the elliptical I was on (with no on off button) actually broke. And even though I’m in shape, that somehow seemed to fulfill literally every person’s worst gym nightmare. The trainer, Eduard, came running over to make sure I wasn’t hurt, and other than my bruised pride, I was completely fine. He reassured me that it was just shoddy Soviet architecture. Once I was safely secure on another elliptical, Eduard came over to talk about the book he was writing. Here’s a quick summary:

The best way to solve the world’s problems is not with guns, but with a boxing match. Boxing match? You might ask. Yes, throw all the world’s leaders into a boxing ring, and let them duke it out. So, the book (fiction, fingers crossed) is about Putin, Trump, Armenia’s president, and other world leaders meeting in the ring. But as they begin to fight, they can’t find the chancellor of Germany anywhere. Where’s Angela? They ask. Then suddenly, they look over and yes, Angela Merkel, ladies and gentlemen, is wearing a small bikini and walking around the ring with a sign—she’s the ring girl.

I was too out of breath from the elliptical to comment on the slightly sexist overtones, but he hasn’t finished the book yet, so maybe the plot twist is that in the middle of the fight, Merkel throws the sign like a boomerang and knocks the rest of the leaders out cold. Here’s hoping.

After spending all of my time at the gym, Diuel and Eduard became my gym buddies—Dieul, a girl who always kept me laughing while the trainer busted our asses, and Eduard, the trainer who busted our asses. Not only was I super excited that these two spoke English, but also I found them to be incredibly fun company to keep. Eduard pushed us really hard (I think my abs still might be sore…), but he was really sweet, and everyone at the gym came to him for advice. It was like physical therapy (*comedy drum noise*).

I was feeling great! I had found a sense of community, was working out hard each day, and was buying fresh fruits, veggies, and eggs from the market near the hostel. Eduard even came up with a diet plan for me, which didn’t allow me to eat bananas.



Healthy cooking the the gorgeous hostel kitchen (not pictured: the gorgeous hostel kitchen)




Before I knew it, I found myself amidst new friends and the NFL’s postseason. Since the Steelers were in the playoffs, my friend Davit and I navigated the metros to find a sports bar that was showing the game. We failed on both fronts—first getting off at the wrong metro stop and then never finding a bar that showed American football. Luckily, Davit was able to find the game on his phone, and we watched it from there. As I was explaining the rules of the game to him, in sort of an American cultural exchange, I realized that I probably (no, most definitely) didn’t know as much about American football as I thought. But I knew enough to know the Steelers lost.  



That television behind him where we tried to find the game says No data, CBS doesn’t play in Armenia.


Another adventure featuring Davit took place at a restaurant where we had dinner and dessert (but not in that order; shout out to the pre-dinner raw vegan chocolate cake).  



Great photo of a great memory.


The restaurant was very cool, and we used every single one of its amenities: ordered food, ordered wine, Davit had a long day (he works as an Economic Officer in the embassy of the Czech Republic in Armenia), so he made use of the couch, we looked at the bookstand and took photos in different parts of the room for different lighting. Seriously…every amenity. Here’s the best picture we took.  The lighting is superb, am I right?




We had a great time filled with food and laughter…. In Armenia, you say ‘yes’ by saying ‘ha,’ so when Davit was on the phone, he would say: “Ha. Ha. Ha.” Ok, so he wasn’t technically laughing, but I sure was.


After a week, Davit arranged for me to take a night bus at 8pm to Kutasi, Georgia where I had to catch a flight. The minibus ride was 11 hours long, and it was impossible to sleep because it was so cramped, and the road was extremely bumpy. But I made a new (Facebook) friend on the way. The guy sitting next to me didn’t speak a word of English, but he really wanted to become Facebook friends. I accepted his request, and I kid you not he spent the next several hours Facebook-stalking me while I sat right next to him. I got notifications that he was liking almost every single one of my photos—some dating back to a healthy 10 years ago.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched someone Facebook stalk you, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a fun pastime.

Five hundred Facebook notifications later, I finally arrived at Kutasi airport and sought out a nice comfy place to sleep on the floor. I set my alarm for 9:30am, my check-in time. After 90 minutes of what clearly wasn’t enough sleep, I went to check in but was denied. They told me I had to wait until 11am. By the time I got back to my cozy floor bed, my spot had been taken.  

It was a hard day of traveling, but I pushed through. I had found pockets of warmth (friends, community, experience) in a not-so-warm climate, and I was looking forward to finding both warm people and warm weather in my new destination.  I did not like being uprooted again from a routine I found comfortable but, it wouldn’t be called traveling if I spent too long in one place.

Off off and away,

One Response to “Armenia”

  1. deekerson January 25, 2018 at 4:31 pm #

    “sometimes I wonder if he kept talking even after everyone had left the room” as in “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?” Answer: “Ha!”

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