Armenia - Day 1

Thursday, June 12, 2008
OK, I promise I'll post about the previous week here shortly.

But first I have to get all this off my chest.

After lusting with the thought of visting this country for, I don't know how long, I'm finally in Armenia.

Unfortunately, my first impressions aren't that great.

The flight from Prague to Yerevan is a brutal red-eye, leaving at 9:30 am and arriving at about 4:00 am. The flight length is only about three and a half hours, leaving you only about two and a half hours to sleep once meal service has concluded.

I arrived to find a very nice airport, with well-lit spacious passages and signs in both Armenian and English.

Upon reaching the immigration area, I was directed to the Visa section to get a visa. I told the person at the counter that I had an e-Visa, but I don't think he understood, as he wanted me to pay the normal $60 visa cost. I dug through my backpack and pulled out a printout of my e-Visa, and the guy looked as if I had given him his pink slip. At this point he had already placed my sticker visa in my passport, so he painstakingly pulled if off and waved me over to the other side of immigration.

At the new counter, the lady stared at my passport for a while and quizzed me on my name. I guess I didn't look enough like my picture. After asking me which flight I came in on, she cleared me and sent me on my way.

Baggage had already arrived, and there was somebody stationed at the exit to match up baggage tags with ticket stubs. I'm not used to this, so I had to dig through all my crap to find my boarding pass.

The exit of the airport is small, and was crowded with families awaiting loved ones. Some guy started pestering me for taxi service at a grossly inflated rate. I ignored him and worked my way over to the change booth to exchange some foreign currency. There was only one person in line ahead of me, but he was taking a lifetime. After 15 minutes, I gave up in frustration and just did an ATM withdrawl instead.

The Information Desk at the airport was out of maps.

Finally satisfied I had accomplished all I needed to at the airport, I headed out. The decency of the airport quickly ended - everything outside the airport doors was ghetto-fabulous, with some half-assed lighting and no sense of organization. The original taxi guy kept badgering me too, but I kept ignoring him.

I finally made my way to the taxi stand, where, guess what, there were no taxis available. I finally had to give in and use my new found "friend", who charged me about 5x the regular rate (according to my guidebook, which is admittedly a few years old).

The hotel I originally planned on was already booked up, so he took me to another place (and charged me an additional $5 for the two block drive).

So now I'm laying in "bed" at the Hotel Chirak. It was built in 1981, and some of the rooms were renovated, although I can't tell if mine is one of them. If it is one of them, I'd hate to think what it was like before.

The room consists of:

- A large dead moth on the floor
- A 13" TV
- A queen size bed (actually two twin mattresses placed side-by-side). The mattress feel as if they're stuffed with cardboard ... they're slightly squishy, but not at all soft. The sheets are nicely folded up and placed under the duvet for you, meaning you have to put the sheets on your own bed.
- Two pillows which weigh about a metric ton each
- A fairly nice bathroom considering the rest of the room.
- A large window with black-out curtains that cover only 2/3rds of it.
- A balcony you can walk out onto, although most of it appears to be taken up by an air conditioner.

I'm standing in the doorway to the bathroom here. Room is tiny if you can't tell. Curtains have been extended almost as far as they go.

There is also a huge flock of geese somewhere in the near vicinity, and they are squaking like I have never experienced before. Do you remember in the movie Sneakers, where the guy who was kidnapped remembers hearing a party, and they find out the "party" noises were actually a huge flock of geese? That's the level we're talking here.

I managed to somehow sleep about three hours. I've since checked out and moved down to a Best Western down the street. It appears this one has functioning windows that mute most of the outside noises, and the bed is somewhat pliable too. I think I'll be staying here for this visit.


Danielbeast said...

Airport maneuvering is always rough, don't let that get you down about the trip. Since you're visit Georgia be sure to go to Haghpat and Sanahin (also Oudzon if you can) monasteries near the border!!!!!!!!! They are not to be missed!!!!!!!!! The whole country is beautiful, when you get out and see it outside of your rotty hotel room you'll be in love.

Dave said...

Thank you random reader! I was able to wander around the city for several hours today (before a nasty rainstorm moved in) and have a better idea of what I'm dealing with now. I'm still hoping to have time to visit Georgia for a bit, but unfortunately I only have until Tuesday before I have to leave.

Danielbeast said...

There random blogger, I was in the same place as you last summer. I had a random walk around Yerevan and got hopelessly lost, but not before checking out some very cool sites! Here's where you should go: the church of Zoravar
It's a nicely gardened area in the middle of the city and cool church. Be sure to walk around it and see if you can find the stairs leading down to a saint's tomb (claimed to be the biblical Ananais by the lady I met there but doubt he would have actually made it to Yerevan...)
Next a few streets away is the Persian Blue Mosque,
You MUST go, it is so cool! The gardens are pretty and its usually pretty unnoticed by the locals so you should have it all to yourself. Also if you can make your way down to the new large cathedral of Yerevan you should try and just use for all your traveling needs to get ideas, etc.
I also have some American friends in Yerevan right now... if you can track down the Blackbird pub/club (Beatles themed place which didn't exist when I was there) or the Cheers Bar (I think its still open) you'll definitely find fellow English speakers/American who can probably show you around or at least be a friendly person who knows your language.

[lisa] said...

I LOVE blackout curtains. What the heck is the point of those things? No matter how tired I was, I think the frustration alone would keep me awake.

The Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires-best blackout curtains I have ever had the pleasure of waking up to. Remote controlled as well!

Hoping the Best Western is better. In my experience Best Westerns are not too bad... outside of the US. :)