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.
I’ve been in Armenia about a month now and I’ve seen it go from miserable to welcoming. The weather has become very pleasant and with it the people are warming up as well. With the growing grass and budding flowers I find the city growing on me as well.
Yerevan is one of the easiest cities to navigate that there is. Laid out on a grid system with a perimeter encircling it, the city center is a small enough to get across easily by foot in a half hour. And taxis in Yerevan are plentiful and insanely cheap – it’s $1.50 minimum, which covers 5km. The Yerevan metro is alright for reaching the outskirts and is about $0.25 per trip.
The cost of living in Yerevan for other things is also quite low. There’s a market with fresh foods open every day, where you can get anything and everything and very cheap. Chain grocery store prices range from modest to outrageously expensive, depending on what you’re buying. But they also carry other necessities like toilet paper and Starbucks coffee.
The expat community here seems to be just the right size. It’s not massive like in many capitals, but it’s large enough to sustain many different groups of people who get together often. That’s nice because it means there’s usually something going on. Just about everybody knows each other or knows of them, and they’re all very receptive to new people, whether here to live or just passing through.
What’s not to like? Well I do have a few gripes.
Seems like people are hit-and-miss about ripoffs. I’ve got to review every bill to make sure somebody hasn’t added extra stuff or overcharged for things. Like the double espresso that was marked up as a double-double expresso. And the random things added to the bill every so often. Also I have been quoted prices in dollars, then they use a way low conversion rate. So I always have to confirm those prices in Dram before I agree. And sometimes when you go to pay, if you don’t have exact change they will just raise the cost. Sometimes they say it’s because they don’t have change, but sometimes they don’t try to make any excuses.
And certain things seem to be decades behind. Like smoking. Smoking is allowed just about everywhere – restaurants, bars, offices, public spaces, etc. The decor dates from between 1960-2000. It’s actually hard to find stores that sell modern looking things. The metro, even though it was built in the early 1980s seems to date from the late 1950s. Maybe the equipment was hand-me-downs from other Soviet countries. And the busses are also old and belch black smoke.
But all-in-all that’s not much to complain about. It’s a good place to be and I’m really enjoying it!