Great (Un) Expectations
YEREVAN/GYUMRI/GARNI & GEGHARD, ARMENIA; TBILISI, GEORGIA: July 13-16, 2013
Steve: At this point in our travels we can safely say that Yerevan is the smallest capital that we have yet to come across. I am not sure how it compares to other large cities on a square mile basis, but at least in feel it is much, much smaller. There are no towering skyscrapers looming over the downtown area, blocking views in or out. Getting from one end of downtown to another is easily done—if not enjoyable—on foot. As Leah has pointed out in past blog entries, one of her biggest pet peeves is countries where pedestrians not only do not have the right of way but are targeted like a sadistic game of real-life Frogger; if you even seemingly think to set foot across the street in Yerevan cars slow down and stop for you—this is definitely a walker’s city.
Venturing outside of Yerevan the sights quickly deteriorate to rundown Soviet era projects and abandoned factories. Just because Yerevan is clean, hip and bustling does not hide the fact that this is a poor country still climbing its way out of a relatively recent history of war (with Azerbaijan from 1991-1994), foreign (Soviet) occupation, natural disasters (a 1988 earthquake), and the identity-altering cultural and geographic schism of the Armenian Genocide (1914-1918). All these events not withstanding people do not seem to be miserably poor with homeless people huddled underneath freeway overpasses like we might see in the States. I can only surmise that this may be a holdover from Armenia’s days as a Soviet state—socialist ideals at least dictate that the poorest still get a helping hand from their brethren. We have yet to see Armenians on buses or trains not sharing food with others.
On our remaining days here we made it a point to see all that we could while maintaining our sanity (Leah: Given Yerevan’s central location and cheap accommodation we had decided to stay in town and just take day trips the whole time, which many travelers end up doing). One day was spent visiting the nearby town of Gyumri which with about 150,000 inhabitants is Armenia’s second largest city. Originally founded in the 4th century and known as Alexandropol, parts of the city still lay in ruins from the devastating 6.8 Spitak earthquake that occurred back in 1988—most notably the Church of the Holy Savior which is slowly being rebuilt but still has a ways to go before it is finished. Given the wars and political upheavals that have happened since then helps contextualize why repairs haven’t been completed. The city itself was easily walkable and there wasn’t a whole lot to do but that was kind of nice in itself. The morning train ride from Yerevan—complete with boxes upon boxes of fruit cargo—was worth it just for the pleasant views of the Armenian countryside.
How to describe it The Cascade—it is essentially a massive staircase meticulously constructed of stone, replete with water features, carvings, creative landscapes and loads of art. Inside this staircase of sorts are terraced exhibition rooms with everything from big name modern art, pop art, nationalistic murals and even a Swavorsky crystal art exhibition. And the most staggering part of this is that a large portion of this artwork is from the personal collection of the aforementioned Mr. Cafesjian—which is also why the Cascades’ other official name is the Cafesjian Center for the Arts.
The second to last day of our stay found us sucking it up and taking a guided tour to the nearby sights of Garni and Geghard (Leah: Yes, it was a bit of a splurge, but totally worth it to have a guide give all sorts of info and answer all our questions, something that we don’t have the pleasure of when we do sites on our own with only a guide book in hand). The former is the site of a reconstructed pagan temple that was originally built in the first century in honor of the sun god Mithra. The site also included the remains of an ancient church, a royal home, fortress walls and a Roman bathhouse. The later still has a relatively intact mosaic which has Greek lettering noting that the artists received nothing for their work. Since it is in what was the royal dressing room it is debated whether the artists were actually not paid for their toils or if there is some other meaning behind it.
little gem of an animated music video was played on the marshrutka back from Gyumri and we have to share it. According to Chant, the singer, Tata, always has long hair and a baseball hat and this image combined with a music video about Tata/Armenians being inserted into American/Hollywood history (complete with a hybrid Armenian/American flag) pretty much had us in stitches. Sorry we can't find translated lyrics but you definitely get the gist of it just by watching.
Steve: As I sit in the Tbilisi International Airport putting the final touches on this blog entry I am amazed at how fast the past three weeks have come and gone. We will be moving on to Bulgaria before moving north through Eastern Europe and I am excited for some of the places that we have on our itinerary—but I should probably be just as excited for those that we haven’t yet to consider. Georgia and Armenia weren’t on our radar as of a couple months ago and they have both turned out to be hidden gems that we will be talking about for years to come. Sleepy and travel-weary I can only dream about what unexpected treasures await us….
CLICK FOR BUDGET SYNOPSIS OF ARMENIA
CLICK FOR BUDGET SYNOPSIS OF GEORGIA