A Travellerspoint blog

Day twenty-one - Parajanov day

Monday 16 September 2019

sunny 26 °C

Parajanov Museum

Although most museums are shut on Mondays, the Sergei Parajanov museum is an exception. It’s five minutes walk away from the apartment, overlooking the Hrazdan gorge opposite the Ararat brandy museum.

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The entrance fee is 1000 lari. This was my third visit. If you like creative arts this is the place for you. Parajanov was one of these people who seemed to be able to do anything. Although principally known for his films e.g. the Colour of Pomegranates, the museum houses collages, sculptures, sketches, hats - a multitude of art created by him. I imagine that he was a man who just could not contain his creativity and had to make something from whatever came to hand. When he was imprisoned - he made reliefs of people’s faces out of bottle tops just using his fingernails.

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Lunch at Marilda’s

For lunch - i’ve been skipping breakfast - I thought I’d try out one of my niece’s recommendations - The Marilda cafe on Pushkin Street. It was quite small and very busy with just one table free when I arrived. I ordered fattoush salad, baba ganoush and lavash bread as well as a coffee and home made lemonade. The fattoush never arrived but it was probably a good thing as the generous portions meant that the baba ganoush was more than enough. The Armenian version is different from the one that I make at home using tahini. This version is a mix of chargrilled vegetables - mainly eggplants but with onions, tomatoes etc. Totally delicious.

Vernissage

After lunch I wandered down to the tourist information kiosk near Republic Square to get a map. For a major city, the tourist information is pretty poor. Although helpful, the women working there are stuck inside the kiosk and have to talk to you through a small window. This is where Georgia comes out tops, every town has a decent office that you can go into allowing you to browse through leaflets and other information. The Vernnisage market is close by so I decided to stroll through. The last time I’d been there it was a jumble of makeshift stalls with sellers stringing things like tablecloths on lines between trees. I hadn’t realised that the market has been upcycled so that there are now proper stalls in regimented rows. Somehow, a bit of the magic seems to have gone. Apparently it’s busier with more stalls at the weekend so maybe it’s more vibrant then.

Swimming in the City

I walked back ‘home’ via Shahumyan Park, just off Republic Squate as I wanted to remind myself of where the Congreve Hotel was in case I decide to spend time by their swimming pool. As a non guest you can pay to use their outside pool for the day, something my sister and I did back in 2010. I realise it was also only five minutes walk from the apartment via Khorenatsi Street. As I walked back up the street I bought a watermelon, something that I’d been craving for a few days. I managed to find one that wasn’t crazy big, although I have no problem polishing off watermelons as, together with figs, they are my favourite fruit.

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Another evening meal of salads, cheese and bread. Another dry evening of no alcohol, too!

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Posted by Cath_Greig 22:09 Archived in Armenia Tagged museum yerevan parajanov Comments (0)

Day twenty - heading for the Cascades

Sunday 15 September 2019

26 °C

The Cascade Complex

I started by exploring close to the apartment. It’s within a complex of houses bordered by Mashtots, Zakyan, Khorenatsi and Grigor Lusavorich Streets. It isn’t in the heart of the tourist area so feels more local. Everything I need is within the vicinity including an excellent fruit shop two minutes away. Although I got up a bit later than planned, my first tourist destination was the Cascades, probably my favourite part of the city. On the way I found a group of statues commemorating four Armenian actors who starred in a popular comedy “The Men”. There are lots of statues in Yerevan.

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Lots of public art

I’m not sure how many steps there are in the Cascades but it’s a long way to the top with minimal shade. The views of the city, and if you are lucky, Mount Ararat, are well worth the clamber up. Within the Cascades is the Cafesjian Centre for the Arts that houses art works from a variety of artists, mainly international. For those that can’t make it up the exterior steps to the top, there is an escalator inside that takes you most of the way up. A treasure trove of Contemporary art can be seen as you travel up the escalator and can also been seen in the gardens at the bottom. All of this is completely free but the shop and internal galleries are only open Friday to Sunday.

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Healthy Lunch

Although I’d made myself a coffee in the morning at the apartment, I needed to have another and found the Kaziriok cafe serving good coffee in the cutest cups. Next stop was lunch - I had a list of ‘go to’ places recommended by my niece Elly but today I wanted to try the Eat, Fit cafe on Aram Street. It was so on trend, it even listed the amount of calories on the menu. I had buckwheat noodles with avocado which was totally delicious, together with a cooling mint lemonade.

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Running out of steam

I intended to try and get to the Children’s Railway via the underground tunnel at the end of Aram Street. The whole area looked pretty abandoned and one tunnel was blocked off. I decided to find out a bit more about it first before venturing any further. The nearby park had some public art - objects and statues covered in what looked like AstroTurf.

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As I was still recovering from the train journey and the heat, I went for a siesta and then ventured out later to get some salads from the deli at the SAS supermarket for my evening meal. I realised that it was my third day of no alcohol so promised myself that I would get some beer or have a glass of wine at the local wine bar. But not today - a catch up on my book and more sleep were top of my to do list. As I settled down a storm that had been brewing all day, erupted with rain, thunder and lightening. Didn’t disturb me when I went to bed though.

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:44 Archived in Armenia Tagged food statues coffee cascades yerevan cafesjian Comments (0)

Day nineteen - familiarising myself with Yerevan again

Saturday 14 September 2019

sunny 25 °C

Finally off the train

Arriving early in the morning and having time to kill, meant dragging my heavy suitcase up Tigran Mets looking for a cafe. One thing worth knowing - the train toilets are locked well before the train gets into the station. This means you will need to find the station toilets. I suspected this would involve steps so would have to hang on! This is when solo travelling can be tricky - having a companion means you can take turns looking after bags. Or possibly have a smaller, lighter bag, of course!

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I knew that if the worst came to the worst, I was likely to get coffee at the Marriott on Republic Square. As predicted no cafes were open. At least the pavements were quiet and I could walk in the shade. I also got some cash on the way.

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Breakfast at the Marriott

The Marriott was a welcome sight. I obviously prefer to support small local cafes but as none were open, needs must. After two coffees, a tasty creamy Bircher muesli and a welcome visit to their toilets, my next goal was to get a SIM card. There is a branch of Vivacell on Amiryan Street, on my route to the apartment. I just needed a sim to make local calls and to use as a hotspot when I’m out in they regions. The store is open 24 hours but I read reviews that there are long queues. Arriving early on a Saturday seemed a good time as I only had to wait a couple of minutes to be served.

My lovely apartment

As with most tech things, I had an issue with sending a text to the owner of the apartment, luckily, I could make calls so we arranged to meet near the Blue Mosque on Mashtots Avenue. Although I haven’t been to Yerevan in 7 years, I could orientate myself with no problems. On my last visit, my brother and I stayed in an apartment on Abovyan Street, close to the action. Central Yerevan is quite compact and easy to walk around so I knew where I was staying was still close to everything. My host met me and we walked round to the apartment which is behind the Blue Mosque. It’s at ground floor level - thank heavens - with just a few steps to access. Although small it is absolutely perfect for a solo traveller or a couple. The owner has thought of everything, and I have to say, bar a special apartment in Nicosia, this the nicest one I’ve stayed at. The decor and facilities provided are excellent. Loads of pots and pans, sugar, coffee, shampoo, nail polish remover etc. etc. You name it, it’s here. And spotlessly clean, too!

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Removing the grime

First job was to have a shower and wash away the grime. After that, I put a wash on. Getting my clothes washed always makes me happy. Then it was time to get out and explore and get some lunch. I stopped for lunch at Melody near the Opera House and after that generally just wandered around to old familiar places. I bought some veg and cheese so that I could eat in. I was too tired to visit the Cascades, one of my favourite areas so decided to go back to the apartment to have a siesta before venturing out again. I read that there was a music event in Charles Aznavour Square so decided to head down there in the evening.

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Aram MP3 was one of the artists appearing - for those who don’t watch Eurovision - he was Armenia’s entry in 2014 singing ‘Not Alone’. After a night of disrupted sleep, I knew I wouldn’t last very long. As predicted, by about 8pm I was feeling tired again so it was time to head back to my new home and sleep. Yerevan is pretty safe to walk around at night - the streets are full of people, particularly on a Saturday night.

Posted by Cath_Greig 11:04 Archived in Armenia Tagged railway yerevan armenia music_night Comments (0)

Day eighteen - last day in Tbilisi

Friday 13 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

With a day to kill before the night train to Yerevan, I had a leisurely breakfast. Chatted to an English couple who apparently live 6 months of the year in Cyprus. Slight tinge of jealousy! They had taken the train from Kutaisi to Tbilisi the previous day and apparently it was pretty horrendous. So glad we made the decision to do the journey by taxi. I took my time packing up - with about ten hours to fill there was no point rushing about. I decided to take a taxi to the station as I couldn’t face lugging my case around. I have to admit it was not a good buy. Although sturdy, it is a heavy case even before anything is put in it. In countries with few lifts it is a bit of a nightmare. The driver at the hotel took me at a cost of 10 lari.

There is a left luggage place at the station costing 10 lari. I just wanted to dump my bag so that I could spend the rest of the day unencumbered. Going on the metro without a big case was a relief. The turnstiles are tricky to negotiate, the escalators seem endless and the trains are incredibly busy. On the plus side though, they only cost 0.50 lari however far you go.

I got the metro back into the centre and stopped off at Marjanishvili station to return to the Pharaoh cafe for a good cup of Turkish coffee. I decided to do a lot of walking to tire myself out as much as possible before the train journey. Now that I had a better idea of how different areas related to each other, I could avoid the dreadful roads that are impossible to cross. I hadn’t forgotten our experience when we had tried to get to the flea market when we first arrived. We had made the mistake of walking to the river whereas we should have walked down David Aghmashenebeli Avenue to the next bridge. This is the street with lots of cafes and the craft beer bar. There are also a few interesting craft shops. I got to the flea market also known as dry bridge market and had a bit of a wander round. There were some bags I liked but they were far too small for me.

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I rested at the nearby park close to the hotel that I’d just left. The parks in Tbilisi are well used. Lots of seating and plenty of shade. I decided to have lunch at Mama Terra again - the veggie cafe near the funicular. I had Pad Thai - quite nice but not as good as the ones that my sister makes from a Linda McCartney recipe. My next port of call was the old city as I wanted to visit the Armenian Cathedral and also wander around some of the backstreets. There are a lot of beautiful but crumbling buildings down the side roads but there is also a lot of restoration going on, too.

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I didn’t realise at the time but we had walked past the entrance to the Armenian cathedral on the walking tour. It’s on Samghebro Street that leads to the sulphur baths. I started to walk up a nearby steep street and realised that I was heading to the fortress and some great views of the city. I decided to drop down and sit in Rike Park for a while. The queue for the cable car was really long.

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My walk back took me past all the places in the old town that had now become so familiar. I popped into the Galleria to use their facilities - it’s good to locate where the free and clean toilets are located in any city! I had a final stroll up Rustaveli to have something to eat at the Iveria cafe close to the Radisson Blu. Had a tasty courgette soup and a rather unusual banana cake. The advice for travelling on the train was to take food and particularly water as there is nothing available on the train. I had already bought simit at a Turkish bakery so got fruit, crisps and a large bottle of water from a nearby supermarket. As it was now dark I decided that I might as well go to the station and hang around there, even though there were still a couple of hours to go.

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There is a waiting area in the station booking hall. It’s OK but the constant noise of the buzzer is a bit intrusive. At about 9.15 I retrieved my bag. I had hoped that the train would go from Plarform one, next to the left luggage but no - it was platform 3. Although there was an escalator back up to the booking hall, I could only see a long flight of steps to the platform. It also wasn’t clear which platform was which as there was no signage. I couldn’t face lugging my case down then up again. Luckily a fellow passenger confirmed which was 3 and helped me with my bag

The train arrives about 30 minutes before departure as it’s quite a performance getting everyone on the train. Some people were already on the train from Batumi. I think there were 16 carriages - mine was carriage 15. I chatted to a guy who is studying in the US and a man from Djibouti, both of whom were heading to Armenia for the first time. A random train driver looked at our tickets and told us which area of the platform to wait on. It was good advice - it would have been quite a trek if we’d stood at the wrong end. At first I felt a bit stressed about finding the right carriage but they were all numbered and a steward shows you to your seat/bed. The couple in the next compartment were very friendly Geordies and I shared the compartment with a woman from Denmark who was also very friendly. I’d decided to go on the equivalent of first class with only two to a compartment with clean sheets, pillow cases and towel provided as well as a little care package of toothpaste and comb etc. The toilets were ok -I’ve seen worse but unfortunately there was no running water. Luckily I had wet wipes - destroying my eco credentials - and water for teeth brushing. At the other end though of the carriage was hot water for drinks. Although I had tea bags, I didn’t have a cup. Note to self, in future bring a collapsible cup for travelling.

Before setting off, our passports were taken away which was a bit concerning but they were returned with a stamp showing our exit from Georgia. There was a scary looking guy walking up and down the train - he looked a bit like Lurch from the Addams Family. We thought he might be security as he glanced into all of the compartments. There is red tape over everything. I naively thought it was to hold things together but we realised it was to stop people hiding contraband in the vents as the tape would show any signs of tampering.

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The train is slow with noisy tracks and I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep not helped by my fellow traveller who snored for Denmark! I think I managed to sleep on and off during the night but at the Armenian border we were woken up as we then had to show passports to Armenian border control. Luckily we didn’t have to get off the train. I think I must have gone comatose after this as suddenly we were being told to wake up - we were nearly in Yerevan!

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:20 Archived in Georgia Tagged trains travel railway tbilisi Comments (0)

Day seventeen - a lazy day in Tbilisi

Thursday 12 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

Now in separate hotels, my friends and I organised a meet up for a last meal together at their hotel in the evening. I had a lazy start to the day. The shower here is the best so far and I also intended to use the bath as I knew this might be the last time I see one for a while! To that end, my mission was to find somewhere that sold bath bombs.

Breakfast was pretty good - the only thing lacking was fresh fruit. We had really been spoilt by the choice of food we had at Chateau Chikovani. I decided to stick around the area close to the hotel and had a wander up Rustaveli again. The previous evening I’d caught a glimpse of a pretty courtyard with seating outside. Retracing my steps I was pleased to see that it was somewhere i’d wanted to get to anyway - Prospero’s books and Caliban’s coffeehouse. Quite an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the Main Street. An appropriate place for someone who rows in a club where all the boats are named after characters in Shakespeare’s Tempest.

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I checked out how much was left on the travel card and also got some cash. I’d hoped to pay the hotel bill by card the previous day but it kept failing so had to use cash leaving me a bit short. I braved the Galleria - a five/six story mall with cinema - as it felt like the most likely place to get a bath bomb. After trying a few shops I finally found somewhere selling them and bought one that was a rose scented.

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I’d found another vegan cafe called the Kiwi cafe on Ivan Machabeli Street, fairly close to Freedom Square. It was another hipster joint with friendly staff and good menu. I had spaghetti which was delicious but as per usual, a pretty large portion. I chatted to an English couple who were spending a week in Tbilisi, doing day trips to other places. They were the first English people I’d met since coming to Georgia. My visit to the toilet made me laugh as there was a Bollocks to Brexit sticker proudly displayed on the wall.

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Next stop was the National Museum of Georgia. I’m not a big museum fan but thought it would be good to have one cultural experience in the city. It cost 15 lari which seems to be the standard entry fee. The best bit for me was the treasury. The jewellery was absolutely gorgeous. It always amazes me at how intricate and beautifully made these artefacts are and so well preserved considering they were made in the 1st - 3rd centuries. The saddest part was the exhibition about Russian occupation. A huge amount of people were shot by the Russians including the clergy, judges, intellectuals and artists. It made me aware of a tragedy that I know very little about and that more recent troubles in 2008 has made relations with Russia strained as they currently occupy 20% of Georgian land at Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This is what I think the protests outside parliament are about.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my bath with rose scented bath bomb. I got ready to go out and planned my walk there carefully to avoid being in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to cross. The route took me past the dry bridge market, over the bridge and then up Tolstoy Street. From there it was pretty straightforward. It seems that the roads to avoid are those that are close to the river as there isn’t a hope in hell of getting over them.

The menu at the hotel was predominately meat dishes but I managed to find enough of the smaller dishes to make a good meal including green cilantro soup which was very good. The was also about the presentation. Also, after quite a performance about the wine choice, overseen by a very young and knowledgeable sommelier, we discovered that it’s de rigeur to have your wine poured for our. It also has to be served from a decanter. Who knew? I also had my last glass of chacha.

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Nick and Lindsay walked part of the way back with me but once at the river bridge it was almost in a straight line as the crow flies to get to the hotel. Parks are busy in the evening and so it hasn’t felt unsafe to walk around at night-time. It would be great if women could feel as safe in the UK as I’ve felt here in Georgia.

Posted by Cath_Greig 20:04 Archived in Georgia Tagged shopping coffee tbilisi galleria chacha vegan_cafe Comments (0)

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