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.
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.
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.
C C C P
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.