Day 6: Tbilisi written in Georgian (Tbilisi) → Yerevan written in Armenian (Yerevan)

Continue reading: →Day 7: Lake Sevan

Picture: Georgian-Armenian border
Border crossing between Georgia and
Armenia. First impression!?
Today is August 15, the day our Georgian transit visa is going to expire and the Armenian visa is becoming effective. So we have no other choice but to cross the border. According to Nasi, there's a bus leaving to Yerevan leaving at 8:15 in the morning. We get up at 7 - everyone is still sound asleep, even Nasi, who sleeps on the veranda because the travelers have occupied all the other rooms. We walk to Marjanishvilis square, but it's too early for the marshrutkas. We don't have much time, and so we decide to take a taxi. After a short haggle about the fare, the driver takes us to Ortachala bus terminal. Some men approach and offer taxis and marshrutkas to Yerevan. No way. We insist on taking the regular bus, one of the familiar old, yellow Ikarus buses made in Hungary. Getting tickets for the bus and some food for the ride takes a few minutes only. The driver wants to see our Armenian visa - no visa, no ride. Thank god we've got one, and so we can take our seats. Inside the bus, it's incredibly narrow. The bus leaves on time and we even proceed rather quickly. Looking out the window is very interesting and reminds me on Russia again. Almost all houses in the villages are completely made of wood. The roads are muddy and full of more or less deep holes. Farmer's wives with weather-tanned faces, wearing scarves, walk the roads. After a while, we leave the broad valley at Kasreti. From there, the road spirals up the sparsely populated mountains. One thing is for sure - Hungary is a flat country, and Hungarian Ikarus buses are not made for mountains, especially not when they're full. From now on, it wouldn't make a difference whether we walk or sit on the bus.

Somewhere in the mountains, between green but treeless hills, we reach the border, located at a pass. The border crossing rather looks like a makeshift facility. All passports are collected and later on handed back to the passengers. The same procedure on the other side. With the small difference, that every passport except ours are given back. We better tell it to the bus driver, but he drives on to customs. There we unload our luggage, but it's only a superficial inspection. A few minutes later, someone is running to us with our passports in his hands. All other passengers are either Georgians or Armenians, which is why our registration took a little bit longer.

World's greatest toilets I
Armenia's greatest restrooms I

The whole procedure took less than half an hour, and so we can soon continue. The road crosses a large plateau. On the other side we can see a massice mountain range. The first thing we notice is that there are much less trees than in Georgia. After two hours on a really bad road we enter the mountains again. There, we stop at a place with some makeshift houses (so far, everything seems to be makeshift). All passengers get off the bus, and so do we. The weather is fantastic and the landscape just great. Which cannot be said about the toilets. However, that's a part of the deal... The bus driver is having a shashlyk with some other guys sitting in a small cabin. There's even an old but working mechanical water pump so that the passengers can refresh.

We are the one and only foreigners and therefore the main attraction on the bus. Now that we've crossed the border, people come to us asking this and that. A gold-spectacled woman, around fifty years old, is asking about my profession. I answer that I work as a teacher, which makes her happy. She's a teacher as well, calls me a colleague and starts talking about the good ol' times. And about our plans in Armenia. What we are going to see. Where we are going to go. Where we are planning to stay. Nasi in Tbilisi has provided us with an address in Yerevan, that's all we have. Now we are getting somewhere! She says that we can stay with her if we want. And that she doesn't want to beg for money, but a small payment would be nice. Which is just fair. However, as for the moment I refuse. She's a bit too talkative and somehow suspicious.

Typical small town in Armenia
Typical small town in Armenia

She's not giving up so easily and starts talking about the accommodation offer again. The two of us, three nights...in that case, US$ 100 would be enough! Enough!? Yes, I believe that this would be enough for her. To say it with other words, that's way too much. And so I finally refuse. In revenge for her "nice" offer, we let her try black natto - a Japanese snack, made of rotten beans. Not suitable for most non-Japanese. The Armenian gold-spectacled teacher can tell you about it! After more than an hour, our satisfied bus driver continues driving. Now we know almost everyone on the bus, with people smiling at us occasionally.

In Armenian towns and villages we soon notice that almost all bigger buildings are made of light reddish-brown tuff. Except for the city of Spitak. In 1988, a desastrous earthquake levelled the entire city. Parts of it have been rebuilt, with slighly more diversity here and there.

After some kilometers, the bus leaves the road from Spitak to Gyumri (formerly known as Leninakan) and follows a serpentine into the mountains. Not one single tree can be seen. The endless green of the grass, dotted with carpets of red and purple flowers, the blue of the sky and the white clouds touching the mountains form an incredible picture. I'm almost suffering the Stendhal-syndrome. Behind the pass we can see snow-covered Mt Aragats or at least parts of it - unfortunately, most of this massive summit is hiding behind a thick bank of clouds. After a few more hours, the landscape starts to turn into a real steppe. We are getting closer to the capital of Armenia. Before we enter the town, the road passes a long gorge. At around half past five, after more than nine hours on the bus, we finally arrive. The bus terminal is outside the centre. Since we have nothing better to do, we first walk into the wrong direction. A few minutes later we are getting sick of this, walk back und go to the city centre. Indeed, huge Mt Ararat can be seen from Yerevan! But we can only see the faint outline of this majestic mountain through the mist.

The city centre is separated from the southern and western suburbs by a deep gorge. The first thing we notice are the numerous construction sites. Many streets and buildings are under construction, the entire city seems to be in transition. But first we need some cash. Luckily we find a bank with an ATM near Republic Square in the heart of Yerevan. And a nice café, where we can finally have a short rest after the long and exhausting bus ride. While sipping a coffee, we can enjoy the view of the Republic Square, a huge round square, surrounded by four quarter-circle shaped palace-like buildings made of tuff of course. The National Art Gallery faces the square as well. Occasionally, some Ladas and here and there a Mercedes Benz or BMW are speeding across the square.

It's already quite late, and so we decide to look for the address we've got from Nasi. Another private accommodation. Halfway, a young Armenian is joining us, starting a conversation in rather poor English. He offers to help us finding the address. Without him, it would have taken quarter an hour, but thanks to him it's only 15 minutes. He's not of much help and doesn't really have a clue. We can find the right street and the number quite fast, but the building has three entrances. Of course, #3 is the correct place. A friendly woman opens the door, but she already hosts another traveler, from Hungary, and she cannot host another person. But she sends us to another person living next door after making a phone call. There seems to be a small network, and the network is working.

Mt Ararat
Centre of Yerevan and Mt Ararat (in Turkey)

The young Armenian is still with us, jumping around excitedly. A small woman, around 50 years old and wearing large glasses, opens the door. She welcomes us friendly and shows us around the apartment. And she's talking without the shortest break. Our new Armenian friend is still with us - what is he doing here!? The woman doesn't even seem to bother. Something is not okay, and after a few minutes I realize what it is. He's annoying. He doesn't notice that I can well get along with my Russian and that I know what I'm doing. The woman asks something in Russian. I want to reply. As soon as I open my mouth, he's trying to translate the question into English. Yes, he's friendly but he's a real nuisance. To get rid of him (how cruel), we agree on meeting again two days later. The apartment is quite big and technically it's a gallery. There are hundreds of pictures of all formats, styles and motifs. From expressionism to pointilism, from still life to portrait, from propaganda to ikons - you name it. Her husband is ? was ? a popular painter, and his pictures can even be found in the National Art Gallery.

Our host is talking very, very quickly. In Russian, of course. While she's explaining everything, I sometimes have difficulties in following her. And there's a lot to be explained: Especially the part about the water is quite tricky. There's a self-made water tank in her bathroom, which can even be heated. But we shouldn't use it when there's "state water" (lit. translated). So we have to check for "state water" first. It's even possible to have a hot shower straight from the tank. After an hour or so she hands out the apartment keys, so we can leave whenever we want. We can also use the kitchen and everything else. Before we can leave, she explains the door lock three times... Now we are really hungry. The apartment is opposite the opera, and in front of the opera is a beautiful park with neon-lit open air bars and restaurants. I start to like this city - a great place to be. And completely different to Tbilisi. Especially the atmosphere in the park is very relaxed. However, it's already late in the evening, so there's not much to eat. A strange adaption of a hamburger, salad, beer and one very tasty Armenian cognac is setting us back 3500 Dram, around € 7. Quite a lot, but we are in the heart of the Armenian capital in a rather chic bar. At night, a refreshing thunderstorm washes the dusty air. And so we end up sitting on the balcony enjoying the lightning and the thunder. Our first impression of Yerevan can't be better - the town is a real surprise and a very nice place to spend a couple of days. And staying with Anait, our host, is just fun.

Continue reading: →Day 7: Lake Sevan

 

 

  • The ride from Tbilisi to Yerevan on regular Icarus buses costs 15 Lari (€ 7.5) and takes almost 10 hours. Another way is to take a marshrutka. The marshrutkas take another route, the fare from Yerevan to Tbilisi is around 6500 Dram (€ 13). A marshrutka needs less than 7 hours.
  • Most buses and marshrutkas arrive at and depart from the main bus terminal on Admiral Isakov Ave southwest of the centre. It's around two kilometers away from Republic Square, but marshrutkas (eg No 77, 100 Dram per person) run between the opera and other places and the bus station. There are several buses and marshrutkas to places inside and outside Armenia, incl. Nagorno Karabakh. However, there are no direct buses to Turkey and Azerbaijan (there's one to Turkey, but via Georgia. See also →Politics in Armenia.
  • The International Airport is around 20 km away from the city centre near the small town of Echmiadzin. There are several buses and marshrutkas running between the centre and the airport.
  • The number of railroad connections is limited. There are trains to Sevan, Gyumri and Tbilisi, that's already it. Trains are incredibly slow. There's no proper train station, only two platforms. The closest to the centre is the one above Victory Park. (see → Map of Yerevan).
  • Yerevan's city centre is not very big and everything is within walking distance. However, countless marshrutkas and buses run to virtually every point in the city. Many bus stops concentrate along Mashtots Ave. The fare is usually written on the windscreen. Most marshrutkas charge 100 Dram (€ 0.2) per person.

 

 

  • Since there's a lack of tourists, there's also a lack of accommodation variety. Of course there are several expensive hotels, but not much in the budget section. Which is not a big problem - the tourist information seems to arrange private rooms. It's also possible to skip the information and try the following two examples:
  • Anait Avetisyan is a very nice and very talkative woman with a highly interesting apartment (see above). A night in her apartment costs 7 US dollars per person. Thanks to the special equipment in her bathroom, there's always water, even hot water. It's possible to use the kitchen for making coffee or whatsoever, and there's also a balcony. We asked her if we could use her washing machine, and she even did our laundry - for free. The best thing is that one can learn a lot about the country when talking to Anait. She hands out the apartment key, so you can go and come back whenever you want. When standing in front of the main entrance of the opera, turn right, cross the broad street and you will see the apartment block. It's the middle entrance, second floor left door. Address: Yerevan 375001, Avetisyan Anait, Prospekt Sayat-Nova 5 kv. 6; Tel.: 58 16 17.
  • In the same building, right entrance, Gayane Simonyan also caters for travelers, but space is limited - two persons are the maximum. I guess the price and conditions are similar to Anait's apartment. Address: Yerevan 375001, Simonyan Gayane, Prospekt Sayat Nova 5, kv. 22; Tel.: 52 75 88.

Ani Plaza Hotel

Yerevan · 19 Sayat-Nova


Since: 1970
Location: Map
Number of floors:
Number of rooms: 246
Rates from: US$105
Rating: 8.1/10

More Information
Ani Plaza Hotel is perfectly located for both business and leisure guests in Yerevan. Offering a variety of facilities and services, the hotel provides all you need for a good night's sleep. Meeting facilities, car park, elevator, safety deposit boxes, Wi-Fi in public areas are there for guest's enjoyment. Designed for comfort, guestrooms offer television, in room safe, air conditioning, hair dryer, coffee/tea maker to ensure a restful night. The hotel offers various recreational opportunities. A welcoming atmosphere and excellent service are what you can expect during your stay at Ani Plaza Hotel.

Aquatek Hotel

Yerevan · 40 Miasnikyan ave


Since: 2007
Location: Map
Number of floors:
Number of rooms: 29
Rates from: US$90
Rating: 7.4/10

More Information
Aquatek Hotel is perfectly located for both business and leisure guests in Yerevan. The property features a wide range of facilities to make your stay a pleasant experience. To be found at the hotel are bar/pub, room service, salon, meeting facilities, poolside bar. Designed and decorated to make guests feel right at home, each room comes with television LCD/plasma screen, mini bar, air conditioning, balcony/terrace, jacuzzi bathtub. The hotel's peaceful atmosphere extends to its recreational facilities which include pool (kids), indoor pool, water sports (non-motorized), outdoor pool, spa. No matter what your reasons are for visiting Yerevan, Aquatek Hotel will make you feel instantly at home.

Yerevan Deluxe Hotel

0012 Yerevan · Komitas 32/1


Since: 2004
Location: Map
Number of floors: 3
Number of rooms: 17
Rates from: US$56
Rating: 5.4/10

More Information
Stop at Yerevan Deluxe Hotel to discover the wonders of Yerevan. Featuring a complete list of amenities, guests will find their stay at the property a comfortable one. Facilities like room service, restaurant, concierge, shuttle service, car park are readily available for you to enjoy. Guestrooms are fitted with all the amenities you need for a good night's sleep, including air conditioning, balcony/terrace, television, non smoking rooms, in room video games. The hotel's peaceful atmosphere extends to its recreational facilities which include sauna. For reliable service and professional staff, Yerevan Deluxe Hotel caters to your needs.

Theatre Hostel

0018 Yerevan · 27 Tigran Metz Ave, 2nd Entrance


Since:
Location: Map
Number of floors:
Number of rooms: 5
Rates from: US$0
Rating: 0.0/10

More Information
Theatre Hostel is a popular choice amongst travelers in Yerevan, whether exploring or just passing through. Offering a variety of facilities and services, the hotel provides all you need for a good night's sleep. All the necessary facilities, including tours, safety deposit boxes, family room, airport transfer, meeting facilities, are at hand. The well-appointed guestrooms feature internet access – LAN, hair dryer, refrigerator, non smoking rooms, desk. The hotel offers various recreational opportunities. No matter what your reasons are for visiting Yerevan, Theatre Hostel will make you feel instantly at home.

Areg Hotel

Yerevan · 80, Burnazian Street


Since:
Location: Map
Number of floors:
Number of rooms: 12
Rates from: US$75
Rating: 0.0/10

More Information
Areg Hotel is perfectly located for both business and leisure guests in Yerevan. The hotel offers a wide range of amenities and perks to ensure you have a great time. Shuttle service, Wi-Fi in public areas, family room, business center, coffee shop are there for guest's enjoyment. Designed for comfort, guestrooms offer shower, desk, bathrobes, bathtub, television LCD/plasma screen to ensure a restful night. Recuperate from a full day of sightseeing in the comfort of your room or take advantage of the hotel's recreational facilities, including massage, garden. Convenience and comfort makes Areg Hotel the perfect choice for your stay in Yerevan.

Imperial Palace Hotel

0001 Yerevan · Koryun 23


Since: 2012
Location: Map
Number of floors: 5
Number of rooms: 78
Rates from: US$123
Rating: 0.0/10

More Information
Imperial Palace Hotel is perfectly located for both business and leisure guests in Yerevan. The property features a wide range of facilities to make your stay a pleasant experience. All the necessary facilities, including business center, shuttle service, salon, airport transfer, restaurant, are at hand. Each guestroom is elegantly furnished and equipped with handy amenities. The hotel offers various recreational opportunities. For reliable service and professional staff, Imperial Palace Hotel caters to your needs.

 

 

 

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