Posts Tagged ‘yerevan’

October 8 – 10, 2009: On a long trip, returning to a place, even one you have only visited briefly, can feel a little like a homecoming. I certainly felt glad to see my room at the Villa Delenda in Yerevan again, although I only stopped long enough to leave my pack before going back out for a late dinner at Marco Polo. My mood improved further after a very good carrot salad, with honey and nuts and orange, followed by schnitzel and fries and, of course, a glass of my new discovery, Pineau.

This time I did some sightseeing on the north side of town. I had heard good

Yerevan's Cascade

things about the cascade, supposedly a flight of stairs with flowing water, but no water was in evidence, and it seemed unfinished. On the other hand, the British backpackers I had met in Telavi had talked down the Matenadaran, the museum of ancient manuscripts, but I had a lovely time there. I went round once with a guide, and then again on my own, and felt lucky to catch an exhibition of beautifully illustrated manuscripts from Cilicia.

Expeditions to the Folk Museum and the Woodcarving “Museum” (more of a showroom) were less successful, but I found the History Museum, on Republic Square worthwhile despite the lack of English labels. I liked the lace from the Lake Van region, now in Turkey, and Turkish influence was evident in the costume section, particularly the wide silver-buckled belts, which reminded me of similar outfits I had seen in Northern Greece, also under Ottoman rule until the 20th century. Then I noticed Persian influence on the ceramics, a reminder that Armenia had been unhappily located between two empires, a prize of war for first one and then the other.

Assorted sweets in Yerevan's market

Although Armenia has a proud history as the first Christian nation, occupation by the Muslim Turks and Persians resulted in a number of conversions, and one mosque survives today in downtown Yerevan. I found it almost deserted when I visited, with the prayer hall out of bounds, and a small exhibition of Iranian art explained by a notice that renovations had been funded by Iran. I had more fun across the street in the big, bustling covered market – you could easily overdose on sugar from the free samples of unusual sweets offered by the merchants.

I don’t often attend made-for-tourists folk performances, but I had bought a ticket for one in Yerevan before leaving for Nagorno-Karabakh. The Australian woman from the tour decided to join me, and we were happy to run into the French couple at the show. We were treated to separate performances by male dancers – very energetic – and female dancers – much more demure – with many costume changes, and a sizable chorus backed by drums and strings. Some of the instruments reminded me of hammered dulcimers, but were probably kanuns (http://www.traditionalcrossroads.com/cd/4336.php).

After the performance we went for drinks at one of the fancy cafes near the Opera House, and had such a good time we arranged to meet for dinner the next night. I talked the others into trying Armenian barbecue, or khoravats, which had sounded like the kind of meal that worked better with a group. When we arrived at Urartu, the maitre d’hotel warned us that he only had one table available, and the music would be too loud for us. Initially incredulous, we soon discovered he was right – the wedding party in progress had the music at deafening levels. A pity – we would have liked to join in the fun, but thought our ear drums might not recover.

Instead we ate in a private room round the side of the building, where the two Armenian speakers ordered the food from a friendly waitress – no menus appeared. I had been right about needing a group, and we all agreed that the meal was delicious, and a great value at 5,000 dram ($13) each. An antipasto spread of tomato, cucumber, pickles, cheese, yoghurt and tomato sauce was followed by two lovely pork chops apiece – the best meat I had in Armenia. Washed down with Areni wine, it made a festive end to my visit. Next day I would leave for Syria.

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Disappointed with Yerevan

October 4 – 6, 2009: After passing through some more forested mountain scenery, the marshrutka to Yerevan entered a tunnel. When we emerged, I was amazed by a sudden change – all the trees had disappeared. Further south we skirted Lake Sevan, coldly blue, and beautiful, but reflecting barren hillsides. Yerevan surprised me too, much bigger than I expected, sprawling among low hills under hazy skies.

Villa Delenda

None of Lonely Planet’s hotel listings had appealed to me, and eventually I booked through Hyur Service (www.hyurservice.com). Instead of traveling independently around Yerevan, I had decided to take organized day trips, plus a two night tour to the disputed (with Azerbaijan) enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Hyur had been willing, unlike Sati Global, to guarantee that the tour would run even if I was the only client. They also had a list of Yerevan accommodations, and I picked Villa Delenda (www.villadelenda.com), which turned out to be an inspired choice.

Admittedly, when my taxi delivered me to the Villa, I thought the driver had made a mistake. Instead of a hotel sign, the building sported a tourist information board, telling me that the house had been built, from tufa, in 1906, while Yerevan was under Persian control, for the jewelers Gegham and Hovhannes Mnatsakanian. Once inside I was led upstairs to a room with a high, sloped, beamed ceiling, a big bed, and (I later discovered) a rain-head shower in the bathroom.

New development in central Yerevan

Unfortunately, the Villa was a rare survival in central Yerevan. Aside from Republic Square, surrounded by elegant low-rise buildings, the center of Yerevan was being gutted to make way for monumental high-rise development I would characterize as “brutalist modern”. I understand that the development is funded by members of the Armenian diaspora, who inhabit the expensive apartments maybe a month or two a year. After Tbilisi, somewhat shabby, somewhat chaotic, but built on a human scale, I found the center of Yerevan sterile and unfriendly, looking like the set for a dystopian sci-fi movie.

I did appreciate the restaurant scene in Yerevan. I enjoyed one of my best, if somewhat pricey, meals at Dolmama (dolmama.narod.ru/restaurant.htm)  – a huge salad of greens, tomatoes, nuts, olives and cheese followed by three quail in vine leaves. I drank a glass of good Areni wine with the meal, and then Dolmama introduced me to Pineau, delicious and just slightly sweet. Yumm! I ate a couple of times more cheaply at Marco Polo, on Abovyan Poghots, where the people-watching supplemented the food.

Since I had arrived on a Sunday, I spent my first afternoon checking out the Vernissage market. Down one side of Pavstos Byuzand Poghots an outdoor Home Depot gave way to souvenir stalls, then to clothes, while on the other side I found carpets and embroidery, flanked by glass and ceramics. I liked some of the wood carving, but I didn’t buy – too much travel still to go.

Garni temple

Monday morning at breakfast I met a French couple who would be on both my Hyur tours. She was ethnic Armenian, and had learned Armenian from her mother in her late teens, but he was a native Corsican, a chef, who spoke no Armenian. They were having to change hotels as the Villa Delenda was fully booked, and shared the taxi taking them to Hyur’s office with me, but I spent much of Monday’s tour chatting with a German guy who had lived in China for three years.

This tour took us to Garni, a largely reconstructed Roman temple, and 13th century Geghard monastery. On the way we stopped for what should have been an iconic sight – Mount Ararat, the symbol of Armenia, tauntingly just out of reach across the closed Turkish border. Alas, it floated, barely discernible, above a haze of pollution that seemed a permanent feature of the Yerevan area.

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