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Day thirty-three - last day in Yerevan

Saturday 28 September 2019

rain 22 °C

Shopping mission

My last full day in Armenia was going to be focused on shopping. I’d seen a craft fair advertised by the Cascades so headed there after breakfast. The stalls had lovely handmade goods made by the variety of different craftspeople. I priced things up so that I could withdraw enough cash, I didn’t want lots of drams on my hands just as I was about to leave.

The Fem library

Close to the Cascades is the Fem library where my niece volunteered. Having met two women on my travels who had strong connections with it, I really wanted to visit and say hello. To ensure it remains a safe space, the place is not signposted but I managed to find it and was shown around by one of the women who uses the space. As well as the library of feminist fiction and non-fiction, there is a meeting space, kitchen and chill out area where they’d just been running a yoga class. A very calm and safe space.


It was threatening rain so I walked back to the hotel, and had a rest whilst sheltering from what became an incredibly heavy downpour. When it stopped, I had a late lunch at Eat:Fit. Totally delicious roasted quinoa salad which would not go amiss at a Bristol hipster cafe. Always good to have a respite from starchy carbs. I wandered back to the craft fair prepared to make my purchases and the whole thing had been disbanded. The gazebos probably couldn’t cope with such heavy rain.



Vernissage, the street market close to Republic Square, has more stalls at the weekend. In amongst the usual touristy stuff there is some lovely handcrafted crafts and artwork. For a change I took a different route walking east past the Yerevan puppet theatre until the end of Sayat Nova, then through the circular park until I reached the market. As I got there people were starting to pack things away. Not sure where the day had gone but I had managed to achieve very little. My plans to do shopping were unravelling but I didn’t want to panic buy so decided to buy gifts elsewhere on my travels.


Getting ready to leave

Back at the hotel, I packed up my bag before heading out to Byblos, a Lebanese restaurant around the corner from the hotel. Had a delicious eggplant in tahini cold dish, as recommended by the waiter, with tabouleh salad and mint tea. A very nice last meal.


As I had to be up early at 2.30am, I had an early night in the hope that I could a few hours sleep before my very early morning flight to Istanbul.

Posted by Cath_Greig 05:42 Archived in Armenia Tagged markets cascades yerevan armenia Comments (0)

Day thirty-two - last day on the road....for now

Friday 27 September 2019

sunny 29 °C

The road to Yerevan


The distance to Yerevan is about 144 km and dependent on traffic, should take about two hours. We had three short stops en route. I was definitely beginning to have tour overload as I was tempted to scotch the plan and head straight back to Yerevan. There are a lot of roadworks as the M1 is being improved. Eventually it will be a dual carriageway linking the Black Sea area of Georgia to Iran. It has been funded by a Chinese company. Roads in general have improved but I can’t help thinking it’s so that the big tour buses can access previously inaccessible sites. Karen is a careful driver but even then, the type of driving needed to cope with the road conditions, can be particularly hair raising. Where tarmac is missing, cars swerve to avoid them so that from afar it looks like some mad bumper car rally.

Amberd Fortress

The first stop was Amberd Fortress. I’d been 9 years previously when we were the only tourists with a rough pathway to the fortress. The only way to get to the top was via a steep scree slope which I didn’t do. Now there is a pathway with information signs and steps - albeit quite rough and steep - up to the fortress entrance. It’s an impressive place built atop a ridge made by the confluence of two rivers. On one side walls had weren’t needed because the steep gorge made it unassailable. As we made our way back down the twisty road, We passed a Soviet era observatory which is still in use - Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. There is a guesthouse on site and guided tours can be arranged.


The last two monasteries of the tour

Next stop was Saghmosavank, most notable personally as it was the first monastery I had ever visited in Armenia and where my sister and I were blessed by the priest. Poor man didn’t realise that his blessings were wasted on us. Like Amberd, last time there were no tourists about but that has changed. The building is perched on the edge of the Kasagh Gorge with stunning views towards Mount Aragat’s.

Last stop was the 7th century Karmavor Church - the name means reddish hue. It was a tiny little church and the only one on this tour that I hadn’t seen before. A party of school children, who looked about 5 years old, were around the church careering about and generally causing havoc.


Busy, busy Yerevan

Finally we arrived in Yerevan, hitting busy traffic as we entered the city. This time I was staying at the Diamond House Hotel on Aram Street, two doors up from the first restaurant that I ate at - Fit-Eat and close to the other favourite - Amar on the other side of the Kond pedestrian tunnel. The room at the hotel was pretty good although I didn’t have a balcony. I enquired about laundry but it would have cost me a small fortune to get a few items cleaned.


After settling in I thought that I’d eat lunch at Amar as it’s better to walk through the tunnel during the day. I had the zucchini rissoles that had been recommended on my last visit there, together with a salad. After this, I walked around the Kond area, a very old part of the city that feels very different from the rest of Yerevan. It’s like finding a village in the middle of a city. The streets are narrow and winding with access mostly via steps and just a few roads in.


Dancing Fountains

Once I got back I had an Apricot ale at Dargett Craft beers which was about four doors down from my hotel - this really is the street to be on. I decided that tonight was the night for visiting the Dancing/Singing fountains in Republic Square so needed to have a little siesta after the beer.


The fountains don’t start until 9pm so I had plenty of time to have a rest. The fountains are quite an institution. They are accompanied by a light show and music nightly and there are always lots of families down there and tons of hawkers selling stuff for kids - exactly the sort of things sold at festivals etc. The fountains are in the background when when Armenia relay their votes for the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s pretty cheesy but I think that something that brings everyone out and together is great.

After an hour I decided to walk back and happened on Shrivan’s as recommended by my niece so popped in for a bit of food. The menu was pretty meat orientated so had fries and soup - a bit of a strange combo but pretty good all the same. My culinary choices haven’t necessarily fitted with my ‘avoid starchy carb’ regime on this holiday but I am sure I can reverse the anticipated weight gain once I get home.

Posted by Cath_Greig 22:16 Archived in Armenia Tagged monastery yerevan armenia saghmosavank amberd amar dargett Comments (0)

Day twenty-five - last day in Yerevan before tour

Friday 20 September 2019

sunny 30 °C

The start of a new day

I’ve developed a pattern to my days - get up, take medication, shower, hot water with lemon followed by Armenian coffee. After a lot of faffing around, I finally leave the apartment at about 10.30am.


Coffee and cafe toilets

My goal for the day, apart from packing, was to buy some handmade soap, body lotion and if time, explore Kond a bit more. Started with a walk down Amiryan Street as I hadn’t been down there since I’d arrived 6 days ago. Stopped at Tap Station for coffee, it’s a cafe attached to the Republican Hotel. There seemed to be a helluva lot of noise - a woman shouting like a fish wife and children’s voices. I then realised the cafe was next door to a school and the waiter’s station looked straight into one of the classrooms. The kids seemed to be very boisterous - the waiter shook his head resignedly when I asked him about it. Anyway, I had to use the hotel toilets - they were very plush. In fact the hotel itself looks really nice. Talking of toilets, I’ve found, like Cyprus, the upmarket cafes have really classy toilets. Santafe cafe from yesterday and Amar from the day before also had very clean and toilets with stylish decor. On the other end of the scale are the squatter toilets found at roadside cafes. Functional but definitely not aesthetically pleasing.


Shopping spree

From there I walked to Republic Square and then Abovyan Street for a spending spree. Began by buying things that weren’t on the list: a scarf for wearing when I go to religious sites - will be particularly good when I go to Istanbul and a bag, On Abovyan Street before reaching the circular park found Adele’s where I bought some bars of handmade soap.


Jengylov Hats

It was now lunchtime and realised I was near the cafe that sold Jengylov hats - a flat bread stuffed with herbs and greens. The sign for the place is in Armenian but I recognised it from when I went with Hasmik 9 years ago. It’s very popular and does a brisk business. There is no menu as that’s all they sell. I ordered two, one to eat and one to take away. They are pretty filling. I’ll definitely buy one from the market in Stepanakert when I’m there. Apparently that’s their regional dish.


A walk in the park

Walked through Poplavok Park which is part of the circular park that stretches from the cascades in the north of the city to st Gregory the Illuminator in the south. There is a small man made lake with pedalos and amusement park. Schools finish around 1pm so there were already families taking advantage of the amenities.


It was Independence Day the next day and flags were appearing everywhere around the town.


Body lotion purchase fail

Walked back along Mashtots in a fruitless search for body lotion. All the labels are in Armenian or Russian and not all shop assistants can speak English. Thought I’d look up the Armenian words for body lotion and try again over the next few days. Too tired to traipse around Kond, I settled in for the night, particularly as I had to pack. Being in an apartment has meant that my belongings are all over the place so I needed to take time to make sure that nothing is missed.

Posted by Cath_Greig 20:58 Archived in Armenia Tagged parks shopping coffee yerevan Comments (0)

Day twenty-four - visiting friends

Thursday 20 September 2019

sunny 30 °C

Planning my route

I’d been invited to lunch by a friend who lives north of Yerevan’s Victory Park. I was going to get a taxi but looking at the map, her apartment looked as if it was within walking distance if taken in stages. It was going to be another hot day so thought I’d take my time. First stop was the Santafe cafe near the Cascade Complex for a coffee and violet lemonade. Although I always carry water it‘s good to keep the fluids up.


The price of coffee

On the subject of coffee - I have found the prices range widely from 350 to 1,200 drams. The cheapest so far has been at Marilda’s, a locals cafe, with the Marriott being the most expensive. The cafes near the tourist attractions are generally around 800-900 dram.

The Cascades Monument

I chickened out of walking up the Cascades and took the escalators so that I only had to walk a short distance to the top. It was already 26C and I still had quite a lot of walking to do. There is a walkway at the top of the completed cascades that leads to the Charles Aznavour museum,. And from there, you can walk up the road to another viewing platform and monument. Between the Cascades and this viewpoint, unfinished building works can be seen which, I assume, have halted due to lack of funds.


There is a much better view of the city from the platform - I’m not sure why I’ve never been up to it before. Next to the monument there’s a building which has no signage but Armenian writing on it. Apparently it’s a memorial to those who died during the Stalin years. Close by was a group of strange statues/artwork - not sure how to describe them. They look as if they might be scenes from children’s stories but they are quite random and verging on the bizarre.


Victory Park

I’d been worried about crossing the road to get to Victory Park but there was an underground pedestrian way right by the gates. Last time I came here was 9 years ago when we went on the Ferris Wheel and rowed round the lake. It’s a sizeable amusement park - lots of children’s rides - too numerous to mention. There are also a lot of minion themed attractions like the bouncy castle and inflatable slides so they must be big here, too.


Close by the Ferris wheel is the Mother Armenia monument. It’s a pretty impressive statue with a military museum at the bottom and tanks and other military stuff outside - none of which has any interest for me. There are also great views over the city from this vantage point but it was far too hazy to see Ararat.


To get my bearings, I walked down to the lake as I hoped there would be an exit onto Azatutyan street as I needed to walk up there to meet my friend Hasmik. It was time to rehydrate so stopped at the Venice cafe near the lake to rest in the shade and enjoyed a refreshing mint and thyme tea. I gave myself 20 minutes to walk up the hill. By this time it was over 30C so quite a slog. I’d under-estimated the time needed to get to the meeting place. it was hot and the road on a slight incline. I had to quicken the pace but as I neared our meeting point, I felt a tap on my shoulder a& there was Hasmik.


Time with friends

I spent a fun afternoon with Hasmik’s family. Her sister, who had organised our last two visits for us, was there with her three children - all of whom are under four. They are quite a handful, bursting with energy. Hasmik had made some great food. She is experimenting with different dishes and her sweet/sour plums with cheese were delicious. Boiled eggs stuffed with walnuts, eggplant salad as well as red pepper and parsley salad together with bread. Needless to say, there was also cake - Armenians like desserts. Fruit, too. We also had a couple of glasses of Armenian muscat wine which made me sleepy as I don’t normally drink in the day.


The entrance to the apartment is quite shabby, like most Armenian blocks. However, inside it was very spacious and light. Hasmik herself had redesigned the layout and decor. She’s done a good job.

Wending my way back home

As evening came Hasmik had to go to work so she gave me a lift to the top of the Cascades. I don’t know how anyone can drive in the city - it’s like a race track with a dog eat dog mentality. Driving around cities like London feels like a walk in the park in comparison. It was nice strolling back as the air cooled. Although it was a silhouette, Ararat looked particularly close in the fading light. I walked back via Moskovyan then cut down Aram Street, through the park. Lots of families out and about, watching the water fountains and enjoying the cooler air.

Although I wasn’t particularly hungry, I ate a few leftovers, had a beer and carried on reading my historical novel, by C J Samson. I can’t help thinking that UK remainers could take a leaf out of the Kett uprising in Norwich and organise something similar. I’m trying not to get too depressed about what is happening in the UK at the moment, otherwise I just won’t be able to sleep.

Posted by Cath_Greig 07:52 Archived in Armenia Tagged food friends coffee cascades yerevan Comments (0)

Day twenty-three - Soviet Yerevan

Wednesday 18 September 2019

28 °C

Soviet Yerevan tour

The tour started at 9am from the Envoy Hostel on the corner of Pushkin and Ghazar Parpetsi Street. People are asked to arrive earlier to make payment. It’s close to my apartment so I arrived in good time. There were eight of us altogether, six of the people were staying at the Envoy Hostel. Apparently it’s good with a mix of ages and nationalities. I’m not averse to staying in hostels when on the move but for a longer stay it’s been nice being in an apartment. One other person was from the UK. James was staying with a friend in Yerevan and about to travel on to Georgia. Tiago was from Brazil but has lived in the UK for several years & spoke better English than some of our UK natives. Lee was Australian, a farm boy who preferred cities and the other four were from Belgium, and part of a larger group of 12 travelling together. They were genuinely puzzled by BREXIT - they are not alone on this.

Lenin Square

The trip involved an old marshrutka and metro travel and started with a stop at Republic Square. All of the grand buildings enclosing the square were commandeered by the Russians and that was known as Lenin Square with a huge statue of him in the Centre. After Armenia gained independence the statue was taken down and the square renamed. There are rumours that the statue is in the basement of the museum, but the museum denies this. The Singing fountains were out of commission for many years until Jacques Chirac gave money to have them renovated - apparently France was the first European country to recognise the genocide.


Soviet snacks

Back on the bus and the next port of call was the railway station. When I’d arrived on the 14th I was tired and didn’t hang around but it was good to have a better look at it. It’s a beautiful building but so underused as there are very few trains running in Armenia. Apparently in Soviet times the line that I was on, continued into Russia - it no longer does that. Constructed by the Soviet regime but designed by an Armenian, although obviously Soviet there are also touches of Armenia such as the white interior and the fact that it is built almost like a church.


This is where we took the metro to a place called Paradise. First of all we had some Soviet snacks in one of the underground cafes - Potato in a doughnut like pastry and a sweet version with a custard like filling. They weren’t bad but carb heavy as ever!



We were only going one stop to Gortsaranayin. The guide told us it was called Paradise. It is one of the industrial areas of Yerevan which is mostly abandoned Soviet factories. Apparently the only industry now is coffee roasting but none of us could smell it. The minibus picked us up and took us to an even bleaker area - an abandoned rubber factory. Something was happening in the next building but we were warned not to go near as the guard had a rather ferocious dog. On cue the guard came out and gave us a long hard stare as did the dog. No one seems to know what goes on in the building. Very cloak and dagger.



Next stop was the agricultural market in an area called Bangladesh. A real locals market. It was full of traders, some selling a variety of fruit or others who just had one type of goods. There certainly isn’t a cauliflower shortage here. They were huge, three times as big as ones at home. Our guide bought some sujukh - walnuts dipped in grape juice - to try before getting back on the bus. Apparently sellers come from as far away as Lake Sevan. There is a story that the area became known as Bangladesh when someone complained that he’d been housed so far from the centre, he was in Bangladesh. Sounds like an urban myth to me.



Back on the bus to an area of the city with a massive estate of Soviet housing blocks. Apparently, the plan was to build the blocks to form the letters CCCP to greet the soviet leader as he flew over. However, this didn’t quite work out and only one of the Cs was completed. Although the blocks are a bit grim on the outside apparently they are quite spacious inside. Also, the areas in between the blocks have parks and Children’s Play areas that don’t seem to suffer from urban blight like UK estates. There are also shops and other facilities at the bottom level of the blocks. Before getting on the bus, we were given a CCCP ice cream, a choc ice on a stick covered in quite unpleasant chocolate. The Belgian contingent were suitably unimpressed!


The only one

Lastly, we stopped in one of the back streets typical of the ones that lie in between major streets. Here was the head of Lenin, reputedly created by a sculptor who lived in one of the houses. The head has been nicknamed the ‘only one’. As we returned to Envoy Hostel I asked our guide about the children’s railway and the best way to get there. She explained that one pedestrian tunnel is open but not to use it after dark. As we were a street away, it made sense to go there after the tour


The Children’s Railway

The tunnel to the railway looks abandoned and well dodgy but operational. There is lighting and you can see to the end as you enter. It takes about five minutes to walk through. There were a few people who passed me going the other way. It felt safe enough. At the end of the tunnel and over the road, there was a nice looking cafe called Amar (Summer). I was going to go straight down to the trains but decided to have lunch first. This is another cafe with nice decor. They also have really nice toilets. I ordered omelette with herbs, Armenian salad and a cucumber and mint lemonade which tasted great and was also a work of art! The waitress was lovely and a budding filmmaker. She has made films for the feminist library that my niece volunteered at, so there’s a chance that they might have met.


The children’s railway was built in 1937 and is one of several throughout soviet Russia. The little station, although run down, is delightful and there’s a guy there selling snacks who, by all accounts, has been there forever. There are some very old trains with carriages outside the station and abandoned looking rolling stock nearby. Not sure when it stopped working - people have written about it in 2017. It’s hard to find current information. I might come back to see if it really does ever work as I did read another blog from September 2019 saying that it operates from May to October.


There is an amusement park near the station with lots of rides for small children. There were several families wandering about. I found another way back along Dzorapi street and onto Paronyan Street where I’d walked the previous evening, past the Parajanov museum and home. I bought a few beers on the way back to have in the evening.

Keeping in touch with home

My son and sister were visiting my mother so we connected via a WhatsApp video call. The wonders of technology. It was lovely to catch up - the weather looks amazing in the UK. The sky was as bright and blue as Yerevan.

I spent the evening in and finished the salads that I’d had in the fridge, together with the bread that I didn’t manage to eat at lunchtime but which I took away in a ‘doggy bag’. Thoroughly enjoyed the beer, too.

Posted by Cath_Greig 07:21 Archived in Armenia Tagged markets soviet cccp yerevan childrens_railway envoy_tours Comments (0)

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