Category Archives: Central Asia
How to Extend Your Visa in Armenia
I’ve just applied to extend my Visa here in Armenia. This is perfect if you want to stay a few days past your official Visa exit date. For staying much longer or for getting a multiple entry visa the process is probably similar, though I don’t have direct experience with that. While the Visa extension process is fairly painless – easy and inexpensive – you do have to wait a few days. But it still may be a little intimidating for some so I’ll write this as a step-by-step guide for those who are researching how to do it.
For the impatient among us, here’s a bullet-point summary.
- Allow up to one week for processing.
- Budget 500 dram per day, plus 10-15% extra.
- Go to the Passport and Visa Department, room 212.
- Fill out the right forms, make copies of your passport and visa and deposit money in the right account.
- Bring all documents back to room 212 for their approval.
- Bring all documents to room 214.
- Return when they tell you.
First, make sure you’ve got a few days left on your Visa to begin with. My process will take 3 days, but I would guess that this could take up to a week depending on holidays and weekends. So as soon as you know you’ll need to extend it, start the process. You’ll also need to budget 500 dram for each day you want to stay, plus another say 10-15% for miscellaneous expenses. All together my 5 day extension cost just 2,840 dram, or the equivalent of $7. So it’s more expensive per day than getting a longer visa at the border but can be well worth it. In my case the extension saved me hundreds of dollars on airfare.
To apply you’ll need to go in person to the Passport and Visa Department, located at 13A Mesrop Mashtots Ave. The building is located in the courtyard behind the Artist’s House, which seems to be dedicated to performance music like opera and orchestra. You can enter through the alley just to the left side, when facing that building. Or you can enter through an alley just off of Mashtots on Amiryan St. The walls of this alley are painted with stylized versions of passports, travel documents and official looking stamps. The building itself is up a set of white steps with glass doors. The office is closed between 1-2pm.
Once you enter you’ll go upstairs and to the left, to room 212. Explain what you want to do and they will give you a form to fill in as well as a bank account number to deposit the funds. You’ll also need to make a copy of your passport’s face page and your current Armenian Visa. There are facilities close by to take care of this, see the map below for details. At the bank you’ll likely pay somewhere around a 10-15% transaction fee. To make copies it should be less than 100 dram.
Next you’ll return to the Passport and Visa Department, again to room 212. They will initial your form, tell you when to return and instruct you to take the paperwork to room 214. There you will drop off the paperwork (you keep your passport) and send you on your way.
Go back to their offices when they tell you. Go again to room 212 and tell them that you submitted your paperwork a few days before. They’ll look through a big stack of papers, find yours, take your passport and ask you to wait. 10 or 15 minutes later they’ll get the proper stamps and signatures and return your passport. Easy as can be!
How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off
Ripoffs in Armenia are like mullets: business up front, party in the back. That is, they’ll either try to hit you up for a large amount before the transaction or ask you for more just before you’re done. If up front they’ll walk away from the deal if you say no. If on the back-end they’ll back down and play by the agreement. And this is a pretty standard tactic around the world – I’ve written about the back end ripoff in India.
Armenia in General
Now I want to make myself clear up front – I think Armenians are generally a very honest bunch. But it’s hard making a living here. There’s nearly no room for profit and what you do get is usually eaten up by some random thing that comes up like official bribes, injury or having your flower shop run over. So I don’t blame Armenians – or any honest business scammer for that matter – from trying to make an easy Dram or Drachma. But that doesn’t mean I have to just give it up. I refuse to be a stereotypical sucker.
Business Up Front
For a certain segment of the ripoff artists out there, they’re willing to risk a low profit for a huge one. Some taxi drivers, for example, when they see you with bags in a touristy part of town will refuse you the standard fare and will only quote you an exorbitant one. Even if they know there’s only a 50% chance you’ll go with them. If they can make in 30 minutes what they’d normally make in 5 hours they’ll take the chance.
And when you stand up for yourself and refuse to pay that, the up front ripoffs tend to dissolve. They’ll usually let you walk away but will back down and pay your price. If they pay your price then you’re probably still getting ripped off, just not as bad.
There’s a large segment of the population who calculate how much to charge by adding a percentage to the cost. That’s what Marx and Engels argued was the true value of anything. It’s easy to see why they felt that way. But there are several faulty assumptions there, such as assuming no value for time not worked (ie. either infinite time or full time employment), taking risks (ie. someone might pay more for a car than a horse-drawn carriage) and other factors. Thus is the folly of supply-side economics.
Party in the Back
The other typical ripoff is when someone asks you for more just before you’re done. The reason given is usually something like you used more resources than you were supposed to, it took extra long or somehow otherwise you owe extra. Sometimes they will argue about what you agreed on or just simply say they want more. In taxis they might make the excuse that you had bags to put in the trunk, or it is night, or the airport cost is more, or they may just drive around in circles hoping you’ll think it was a long way away. At restaurants they may add extra items to your bill or round up when giving you change.
Not all of these tactics are outright fraud, many are just the custom. If your bill is 10.78 and there are no pennies in the country it may be expected that you’ll pay 10.80 instead. And in some countries there is a higher fare for taxis at night. But these are the exceptions. And if you’ve already negotiated a price, or if the meter is running just pay what you should.
When negotiating up front, don’t feel like you have to buy from a particular vendor. If you don’t know the price of something it’s OK to just ask casually and walk away. Odds are there’s a nicer one of whatever you’re eyeing at a shop a couple of doors down. If you get to the point of negotiating without knowing some relative costs you’re already at a disadvantage. Also know what you’ll pay up front, don’t let them decide that for you. That’s true for services as well as for products.
Don’t back down when asked for more at the end. Agree on a price and stick to it. Show the price written down on your phone’s calculator or similar. Some of these people are just bullies – if you stand up to them they quickly shrink away, but if you let them take advantage of you they’ll keep doing it. And don’t feel like you have to stay engaged, sometimes just walking away will make them stop asking. That’s especially true for taxis where, once you’ve paid the fair fare there isn’t any need to stick around. The taxi driver might call after you a time or two but he’s not going to follow you.
And keep in mind that some people will try both approaches. They’ll beat you up on the front end and at the end they’ll ask for more at the end. I’ve found that typically if you compromise on your price up front they’ll more frequently try to get money at the end. But if you stick to your price they’ll judge you as unlikely to pay.
In some places there are certain signals to make or avoid making. For example in Armenia the travelers who are ethnically Armenian but from a wealthy country tend to speak a different dialect. Locals pick up on that and will try to take advantage of their long-lost cousins. At markets in China the sellers and buyers use hand signals to signify quantity – if you know the hand signals you’re saying that you’ve done this all before and won’t be fooled. And negotiation has its rule of thumb in different places. In some you cut the price in half and offer that; in others you drop a zero or two from the asking price. And it’s always important to know how to check the authenticity of what you’re buying as compared to the knock-offs. For example, silk threads will burn separately, whereas the imitation synthetic materials melt together. You can search for how to spot a fake on the Internet and you’ll be informed when you buy. Often when you show this knowledge the shop keeper will go into the back or reach under the counter for the real stuff, smile at you and treat you with more respect.
Getting ripped off is a part of traveling. When you find out you’ve been rooked, laugh about it. It probably wasn’t for very much and use it as a chance to learn a lesson for next time. Applaud the savvy shopkeeper who can spot a sucker who has more money than sense…even if sometimes that sucker is you.
My Worst Flight Ever?
I’m on the worst flight of my life. I have traveled a lot and am happy to report things have never been this bad. It’s exciting in a way! I shall report on my situation in excerpts from my mental travelogue. My hope is that either posterity will know what was my woeful fate or that we’ll all have a laugh together.
I had an inkling things might be not go so well when the majority of people at 6am were checking into last night’s 10:30 flight that had some delays. And on the board every flight since that one proudly called out that it had been delayed before it departed. Why display flights that are gone already, especially when they make you look bad? I dunno. But they did. Luckily mine checked in and started boarding on time. Well, on Armenian time which is to say nobody was in too big a rush to be punctual.
Some things are not the airline’s fault. I mean this Armenia, which is more European than Europe in its people’s befuddlement of the winged train-like object that makes the ground shrink and move underneath you. Using manners perfectly alright for train travel like getting up to walk around as the mechanized wonder is departing, so they can grab the stinky cheese and meat from the overhead, meanwhile the cart of apples spills down the aisle picking up nearly enough speed on the plane’s ascent to breach the back. Things that work on trains just don’t work on planes though. I’m half wondering if there haven’t been more than one confused European who tries to open the door at 30,000 feet to smoke or to find the restaurant car.
There is the old guy who’s never been on a plane next to me. He is testing everything to see if it does something and how it works. That includes the armrest, pulling it up, finding that it lifts and putting it down again before trying the one on the other side. Sure enough it lifts too. On to the tray table for a while then back to the armrests. I can only imagine his sense of wonder when yet again they lift.
Every drink or food tray that comes down the aisle he anticipates and times to make sure he will be served. Leaping towards the aisle to grab at whatever Precious resides within the steel contraption. He reserves the same zeal for darting toward the window to peer at the sea of clouds below.
Then there are your standard bad mannered airline folk on board as well. Like the prototypical screaming kid right behind me. He starts with “I’m MAFIA” and banging his tray table (my seat back) up and down. After a few minutes of this civilized behavior he gets bored and starts kicking the seat and yelling louder. Then his mother says something at him (not to him) in a loud tone enough times that he starts screaming, alternating between shrill bursts and wailing. Then he quiets himself briefly, talks calmly and starts again. The cycle is about 30 minutes long so it should be easy to time the flight.
And once again my arm is crammed into my shoulder before my elbow slides off. It’s more of a yanking upwards than I described above I guess. The way only old men who have done manual labor all their lives can manage. With strength that comes from sinews tightened from years of wrenching loose rusted bolts, plowing fields or maybe pulling locomotives. I don’t know, but the motion is spastic and strong.
But this strength and dexterity fail him when they hand the hot goupy tray on top of the slick box of food. This soon becomes a hot goupy lap full as you might imagine. Two laps full because he has shared his lunch with me. Now I can’t fully blame the old guy for this maneuver, I mean who puts a nuclear hot metal tray on top of a slick paper box and hands the whole contraption over a row of people in a sardine tray?
Armavia, that’s who. The national airline of Armenia would probably be the envy of the 1957 TWA with their modern jets, bulky stewardesses and ability to skillfully save space. Cram six seats in a space most airlines waste on five seats. So much room is wasted on the aisles on other airlines that the carts luxuriously parade up and down the plane, hardly banging anyone on the knee or elbow. Not so Armavia. And why pamper baggage with a regular size overhead compartment? I’m sure on a full flight all the bags will fit in sideways…oh nope I guess they didn’t. Delay while we put check some luggage, hopefully to reemerge either plane side or at the carousel at the destination. Their one luxurious row of first class is protected by a curtain that sits in the chair of a row of cattle class, making it unusable. And the announcement in French sounds like somebody held their phone up to the speaker during an air France announcement and recorded it.
So in my cramped seat I sit, wishing that the air vent worked. Listening to the sweet serenade of “I’m MAFIA” and commiserate with my seat which is taking punishment from as many sides as I am today. The aforementioned hot meal served was hardly a respite, with a date carved into the foil of a week ago exactly. I wasn’t sure if it was the date it was made, supposed to be served or when it would go bad. In any case it was an indicator that I should adopt my strategy of staying alive at third world restaurants and become a vegetarian. So I was able to eat one slice of cheese and one of cucumber, as well as the mint. The chocolate snack looked like the Baby Ruth bar in Caddyshack – slimy and turdlike so I avoided it and withheld my urge to yell “doody!”
Perhaps an ill choice of words. Not more than two hours after lunch it smells as if one of my nearest neighbors has shit himself. I’d blame the kid but he hasn’t let up in his game of trying to snap his tray off. Whereas the old man has gone very still all of a sudden.
Well it turns out to be the kid behind me. What I felt as the pulling on the tray was just his mother changing him on it. He didn’t quite fit – you know they don’t make those trays as big as they should to change your 2 year old. I was suddenly worried that my decision to even eat the cheese and cucumber might have been a bad one.
We circle the city for a while. This is always the worst. Like when the person just in front of you in line takes an interminable amount of time owing to some complaint or error on their part. Or worse over a small amount of money thy are trying to talk the cashier out of. We finally come to the ground and applause erupts as if Nadia Comaneci has just won the gold. Really, planes and pilots do this several times every day. Not once every four years. It’s not an amazing feat of heroism.
As soon as the cheers die down we pause briefly on the tarmac awaiting ground instructions. And we are nearly bounced back into the air by the force of the humanity jumping out of their seats. As per standard practice someone comes on the intercom – Armenian only, they know who it is jumping up. That does nothing except to make the standees talk louder to be heard. And a stewardess walks back as far as the first bunch, telling them to sit again. They look at her, dismiss her with a motion and she returns to her post. Their surprise is audible as the plane lurches forward again to continue to the terminal. Their faces seem to say “How rude to move the plane like that after you’ve stopped it. Don’t blame us if you parked so far away the first time.” The former hero captain now reduced to an idiot in their eyes.
And that is the end of my journey. I have lived again. And with story in hand I head to print it for all the world to read. And maybe to clap at my own feat of heroism and restraint.
How to Stay Dry on Vartavar – Armenian Water Day
Today is Vartavar in Armenia. It’s the pagan holiday which celebrates the goddess of beauty and water, Astghik. The original legend tells of people showering the goddess with roses. Today they use water, for unknown reasons. And they’ve also turned it into a Christian celebration – it is 98 days after Easter. The idea is that you go around splashing everyone or squirting them and everyone has a great time. In practice, though, it’s an excuse for horny teenagers to run around and dump buckets of water on busty young women. Kind of like a religiously sanctioned, country-wide wet t-shirt contest. Maybe that’s too harsh an assessment, but based on observations that’s what it seems to have become.
As I was sitting at the Cafe Central in Yerevan (they roast and grind their own coffee, by the way!) I watched the chaos. As the gangs of kids were running around splashing women, I noticed that some women were accosted and others weren’t. So I came up with some rules for staying dry on Vartavar.
- Walk with a man, child or older person. Single young women or groups are more like to be hit.
- Walk confidently. Keep walking, don’t stop and don’t back down. Stopping lets others catch up or surround you and emboldens them.
- Tell them no. Look would-be attackers in the eye and tell them no (or ‘che’ in the local language).
- Be alert. If you’re on the phone or otherwise distracted you are more likely to miss the attack.
- Avoid them. Cross the street when you see them farther down, and avoid places where there are ample supplies of water like fountains. You can duck into a shop if you see them and wait for them to move on or to go after someone else.
- Look for signs. If you see lots of women dripping water coming toward you, or if you see wet patches you may be approaching a danger zone. The gangs tend to stay in the same place.
- Take a taxi and keep your window rolled up.
But even these tips may fail you, so it’s best to be ready.
- Don’t wear or carry things easily damaged by water.
- Bring an umbrella to block some of the water that hits you.
- Wear your bathing suit under your clothes.
Or for an alternate, you can enjoy and take part in the fun. Grab a pail or gun, dress down and enjoy the cool water on a hot day!
A Tale of Two Brandy Factories
Armenia is famous for it’s brandy, which rivals some of the best in the world. The tradition of the two main brandy makers in Armenia goes back only to 1887, but they have a rich reputation. In 1902 an unlabeled bottle won first place at a brandy contest held in France, and was reportedly the only non-French drink ever awarded the right to call itself Cognac (though later legislation forbade this). Churchill favored the 50% Dvin style over all other brandies. And the Kremlin Award brand is the one used in official Russian state ceremonies.
Brandy is a distilled spirit made from fruits. In this case, nearly all of the Armenian brandy is made from grapes – a fruit which grows in great abundance here. Glass pipes transport the cognac between barrels. As cognac ages it is moved to older barrels, enriching the flavor. Once it has matured sufficiently, the liquid from each barrel is tasted, blended with others and mixed with water until it reaches the desired flavor and strength. Then the brandy is aged for a few months to allow the different flavors to marry with each other. The age marked on the bottle is the average age of each spirit which goes into the final blend. French Cognac is also made this way, but has the added distinction of having been born in the Cognac region of France and so can apply the trademarked label to its bottles. French Cognac also marks the bottles with a rating system which describes the youngest spirit in the blend, rather than the average. When drinking, you should always use a brandy snifter. The proper amount to have is just enough so that when you tip the glass on its side, it comes to the edge, but does not spill.
Today Armenia’s two main brandy factories sit across the road from each other. Having once been a part of the same company, their stories are intertwined and often confusing. But each factory site tour is interesting in its own right. So for you, dear reader, I have gone to the trouble of examining both and reporting back.
In the 16th century, Erevan Fortress was built just outside what is modern day Yerevan. In 1887, the fortress was turned into a winery. In 1902 the first brandy was bottled and won the aforementioned first prize. In 1920 the factory was one of the first to be nationalized by the state, and during this state-run period vodka production was begun as well. In 1945, Churchill enjoyed the spirit at the Yalta summit and Stalin sent him a case every month for the rest of his life. It’s said that when the flavor changed, he complained to Stalin who had to quickly retrieve the master distiller from Siberia where he had been recently exiled. In 1953 a new factory was built and brandy production moved to this new facility. In 1998 the brandy factory was sold to Pernod Ricard (rumor has it for a price less than the value of its assets) and at some point the original factory began making and selling brandy under a different name.
This split is what makes the history so murky. The current day location of this new factory houses the Yerevan Brandy Company (commonly called ArArAt), whereas the original location in the fortress is called the Yerevan Wine Company (commonly known as Noy). Since both companies have a similar lineage, both claim it proudly but ignore the elephant across the street, as it were. So it’s a bit hard to piece together the history into one single story. Each factory claims to be THE original brandy lineage and it seems each has a pretty good claim. So the real question then is how were the tours and how is the brandy?
The original Erevan fortress has been restored several times and is now in fantastic shape. There’s a legend about an old bell that one of the previous owners, Shustov, would ring after each batch of wine had been made. A replica has been incorporated into the building. The first stop on the tour is a large room with many bottled brandies in glass cases, along with some of the awards. There are photos all around of the new owner doing things and of the dignitaries who have visited. It seems very self-important and a bit pompous. There’s a large oil painting of the owner that looks over the room like in some creepy Scoobie Doo episode where the ghost is looking through the eyes of the painting. We were asked to wait here for 10 minutes while another group passed through and our guide went off to chat with her friends.
After being alternately rushed and asked to wait through a few more places telling the story of the place, we were taken down to the cellars. We had a special treat in front of us – the opportunity to taste a 1924 Madiera wine! It was very nice and smooth, and you could really taste the aging. I’m not sure I’ll ever top that again for sheer age of a beverage. It was impressive. They have enough old wine in the barrels down there to last visitors about a hundred years, they claim, since they don’t sell the wine.
Next we saw a couple of old caverns. Apparently they were dug by prisoners at some point, and were allegedly to bring in grapes from the surrounding areas to keep them cool. But that explanation didn’t make a lot of sense, because the grapes would have to come many miles before hitting a cavern. Instead I suspect that they were dug as escape and supply routes in the event that the fort were ever sieged. More recently they may have been made for more nefarious purposes, as one leads to the US Embassy.
Finally to the tasting. We were seated at a table with some difficulty – there were more people than places and this baffled our guide who spent a few minutes looking at the table, the people and you could almost see the gears turning. So with some difficulty the non-drinkers were asked to sit at another table (purgatory) while the rest of us enjoyed water, juice, fresh fruit and chocolate. Other than the logistics the tasting was quite nice and an Iranian group next to us took great pains to try to communicate with us and emphasize that they like America a lot.
This tour focuses on everything but the brandy. The factory, owners, old wines, etc. We were continually told to stop and wait while other groups either caught up or were given priority. And we were rushed through the brandy tasting too quickly to enjoy it. Overall I give the tour a D, the building and grounds a B+ and tasting an A+. If you’re planning to go, I would recommend you call ahead and reserve an English guide: +374 10 547048
Yerevan Brandy Factory (Ararat)
This is the factory originally built in 1953. The tour here begins and ends in the gift shop. In comparison with the Noy tour, this one focuses much more on the making of brandy. And of course highlights the common history and modern differences. For instance, it’s at this distillery that visiting heads of state are given their own barrels of brandy to age and wait for the proper time to be bottled, as a present for the dignitary.
The guide went to a great length to make sure we all understood what she was trying to communicate. Both tour guides had obviously received training from a script, but the script here is much better and the guide seemed a lot happier to tell us about things. Always smiling and chaperoning us around in a well choreographed way.
The guide also told us many of the Armenian legends involving wine or brandy. One I recall was that tiny devils dance on the top of brandy glasses. When you clink glasses some fall away but what fall in your glass are what make you drunk. It’s not your fault nor that of the brandy, it’s just the devils. Another saying is that you should only ever have three glasses of brandy: “The first glass is only to slake thirst. Second is just joy. Third is happiness. Fourth is craziness.”
I would give the tour here an A, the building and grounds a B- and the tasting a B. Call ahead for reservations here too: +374 10 540 000 You can likely take care of both tours on the same day.
Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood?
You can run into lots of interesting people in such a small city that’s so important to the country. For example, there’s a guy who keeps his girlfriend company at the flower shop just outside my door. He’s been to Atlanta once, he said. In 1996. As an Olympic boxer. The guy still retains his size and muscle, looking imposing standing around. I always make an effort to say hello and I hope he thinks kindly of me, I’d hate to think it was the other way.
The past week the apartment above mine here has been rocking. Music plays starting in the morning around 8am and continues until well after midnight. And occasionally this is accompanied by loud thumping. What’s going on up there? Another interesting neighbor I suppose.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard music coming from above. Usually there are faint piano sounds. Sometimes these are really basic, like someone practicing scales, and sometimes it’s more like someone rehearsing a piece. It’s always very quiet and I have to strain to hear it. Occasionally there is recorded music that sounds like it’s Arabic or Persian – it’s hard for me to tell.
But starting about a week ago activity increased. The music was louder and more frequent, often going the whole day and late into the night. And the aforementioned thumping started up. I’m not an expert in the region’s music, but it sounded like the same song over and over again. In between playings I’d sometimes hear people talking.
One night the music and thumping was especially loud. Dishes started rattling from all the thumping and it sounded like the ceiling was going to collapse. It was like living below an earthquake. So I went upstairs to see what was up.
I banged on the door trying to overshadow the music. It must have worked because the music stopped, the locks turned and the door swung open. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see behind it, but the sight surprised me.
When I opened the door I was greeted by something much larger and more intimidating than the boxer outside. A guy stepped out, about 6’5″ tall and with a lazy eye looking down at me, his mouth smiling. His shirt off, sweaty, out of breath and very muscular, it was a bit alarming, despite the big smile on his face. I don’t think I physically jumped back but in my mind I did.
I used my diplomatic tools to throw on a smile and speak first. “Do you speak English?”
“Hello. Hello. No English.” He reached out his large hand in a gesture of friendship to shake my hand. I took it.
Motioning to the ground with my other hand open and facing downward I said “It’s very loud.” Hopeful that I’d made my point, and relieved I’d managed to get to this point without physical harm I was bolstered a bit.
“Sorry. Sorry.” He offered his hand again, nodding, panting and still smiling. “Sorry.”
Nothing left to discuss at the moment, I bid him goodbye. He slipped back inside and I went back downstairs. The music resumed, but had quieted noticeably and the thunder seemed more distant too. “What was going on?” I was left to wonder.
I’ve made a few conjectures, but have no real evidence for my theories. From what I can make out, I think the guy above is a performer. Probably some kind of a dancer. I think he must have been practicing for an upcoming performance. Probably with a group, judging by the traffic up and down the stairs. The music has since subsided, so I assume that he’s done his thing and is back to learning piano.
I hope to run into him at some point and try to talk with him. Seems like an interesting person and if I’m right, I’d love to see him perform or something. Or at least satisfy my deepening curiosity. Like I said, you can meet a lot of interesting people in a place like this, and this person is particularly interesting
Taking the Metro in Yerevan
If you’re a veteran subway system user you probably won’t have any issues getting around on the Metro in Yerevan. It’s a lot like the ones in other former Soviet
Though there are only about a dozen Metro stations in Yerevan, they’re easy to find. Each has blue signs usually labelled in English on one side and countries, so if you’ve mastered those, this system will be a breeze. But for those who haven’t, read on.
what looks like a large flying “V”, marking the location. But barring that, look for the oddest Soviet modern art looking small building around and that may be a station. There aren’t any great maps I’ve found overlaid with the city. But you can print out and carry around something like the Urban Rail map of the Yerevan Metro system which might help you navigate around, especially when you’re on the line. I’ve also created a Google Map of the Yerevan Metro line, embedded below.
Here’s a typical trip on the Metro. Follow the signs and enter the door marked in green. Head over to the small window and buy a token by handing over some money (100 Dram at the time of this writing) and asking for one token – you can just use an upturned index finger. Then walk over and drop the token in the turnstile, walk through and descend on the escalator. It moves fast, so get on and off quickly and carefully. Follow the tunnel on around until you get to the platform.
There are signs on each side indicating the next stops. In many stations the signs are in English, Armenian and Russian, but in some English is omitted. So it helps to know how to pronounce Russian so you can sound out your station and find your way. On the wall of the platform where the train will be heading there is a clock that displays both actual time and the time since the last train left. This is handy, since trains come about every 5 minutes or so.
When the train comes in it will be rattling and clanking loudly. Feel free to put your fingers in your ears, as some of the locals do. Board and you’re quickly on your way. When you’ve reached your stop, disembark, follow the crowd up the escalator and to the exit. You’ve arrived – simple as that!
A Stroll Above the Cascade
I took a walk, starting by hiking up the Cascade in Yerevan. I should explain that the Cascade is a man made feature here that has steps, terraced greenery and at some point will probably have several water features, turning it into a waterfall of sorts. At the top it leads to a large platform from which you can look out on the city and, more impressively, Mt. Ararat beyond.
Just past the top of the Cascade is Victory Park (Haghtanak Park). Slightly worse for the wear since the collapse of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, it is still a serviceable green space. There’s also what they call an amusement park with the feel of a carnival – cotton candy, ice cream, shooting games, small rides and the like. The highlight is the Mother Armenia (Mayr Hayastan) statue, brandishing a sword and looking out towards Turkey to the west. Reinforcing the subtle point are several tanks, mortars, missiles and planes facing in that direction. All seeming to say “we’re ready to do this anytime you are.”
Kept walking down General Babayan St. which has a few embassies and other nice houses. Then through the Arabkir district. It’s a mostly residential area, with apartment buildings, small markets, beauty salons and the like. Some kids followed after I stopped to buy some fruit. They started shouting broken English – some of it rude – but eventually I turned and looked at them at which point they scattered.
Walked back along Marshal Bagramyan St. Stopped into a bizarre place called the Sherlock Holmes restaurant. Decorated in a style reminiscent of, but not quite capturing, an English Pub, a loud karaoke song greeted me. Before I had time to turn and run I was greeted and whisked to a table. The atmosphere turned out to be not too bad. The singers were ringers and it was not karaoke after all, despite the looks of it. I know because they charged $2.50 for it. And the wait staff were friendly and spoke English fluently. The food was alright. Not world beating but not awful.