Don’t sleep in Yerevan, Armenia
My family visited Yerevan, Armenia on our last trip and although I had my own guesses about the city before I met them, I was woefully wrong. Don’t sleep in Yerevan, Armenia.
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Lack of expectation
For a travel writer, I failed my first goal before I even got off the plane in Armenia – hardly did any research. I looked for the map of the capital, but it was mostly just to find my hotel in Yerevan. Admittedly, I didn’t know much what to expect until I arrived.
What a wonderful surprise.
There was a state of growth, energy and excitement, but also a reflection on what had happened before. As a former state of the USSR, Russian elements remain in some places, but Armenia is a whole different place with its own identity. Lending some flavor to its northern neighbor Georgia, a celebration of Middle Eastern neighbors Iran, Iraq, Syria and western Turkey, all contribute to the aroma, to the style and personality of the city and its inhabitants.
If I’m being honest I might have kicked off the town search because I was there for work. My marketing agency has opened an office there to support employees in the region. It was also at the end of a long journey filled with stops in Barcelona (we canceled this segment), Manchester (our former home for three years) and Athens (a place we hadn’t visited in over a decade). ‘a decade and a first for our seven-year-old daughter.)
But my lack of research made every delicious meal a delight.
It was my first visit to – where again? Is it Europe? No. Is it Asia? I mean, not really. Can we say Eurasia? Sure, but it’s not really that either. Caucuses are such an interesting mix and Armenia is right in the middle of them. It is a culture in its own right.
The food was interesting and tasty. It borrows traditions from other regions and turns it into something new, something original. The region’s dumplings have a xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) feel and similar approach, but it would be news to Armenians that this dish may have been copied from China. The area has a lovely stringy, salty cheese that adorns the dumplings sometimes, showing that instead of just borrowing from China, they (dare I say it?) Have made the dish better. Turkish pide has its own twist under the name Kachipuri, which is more like a cracker pizza but with seasoned meat and often without cheese.
The streets and sidewalks reflect modern European design with slabs of stone rather than concrete. The construction of buildings looks Soviet, as do the police uniforms. On the other side of the Caspian Sea, Khazakstan is going through the turmoil. Turkey and Syria continue to face their own problems and Iran is still a point of contention, as is Iraq in the south. After a recent war with neighboring Azerbaijan, a disputed territory in the hills and mountains (Nagorno-Karabakh) is still disputed to this day with Russian peacekeepers stationed in the area. Yet despite what others might see as a potential cause for concern, we felt safe and comfortable in the city throughout our stay.
The Armenian people are proud of their culture and their city, and for good reason. It was a wonderful introduction to caucuses for me and my family.
Recently, Spirit Airlines started to fly to Armenia, Colombia, the coffee country of one of the most prolific coffee producers in the world. One could forgive to confuse Armenia, Colombia, with Armenia the country, if one bases oneself only on the number of cafes. It is said that there is a cafe or kiosk every 100 yards in the city and that seems kind of an understatement. There are cafes next to the cafes across from the cafes and luckily almost all of them are amazing. I haven’t seen coffee kiosks in public – break rooms, yes, sidewalks, no – in years. The ones we found in the city (although I didn’t choose to try them) were also busy.
Matthew has reviewed the excellent coffee in cities around the world, just search this blog. Although he discussed this destination in advance, he never mentioned this aspect and I’m starting to wonder if there is a deeper reason for this. Perhaps my days on LiveAndLetsFly are drawing to a close, much to the chagrin of a select group of commentators. Then again, maybe he was just busy.
Nonetheless, I have had great coffee all over the world. It might be the best city in the world for coffee shops and if you’re a fan, add it to your list.
Remains of the old, signs of the new
Remnants of domination under the Soviet Union remain, but something different, new and exciting is developing in Armenia. A busy pedestrian mall (both above ground and underground) in Tashir Square reflects the past with a magnificent opera house at the end of the square. Friends of ours celebrated the opera and ballet that featured The Nutcracker at the time; it seemed like that classic view of a Russian state.
We were in Yerevan for Armenian Christmas (different from Orthodox or Catholic / Protestant dates) and this allowed us to visit the oldest church in the city, in the oldest Christian country in the world.
The city is showing signs of new growth everywhere. We were based on Republic Square, a huge traditional circular monolith filled with people and traffic and a reflection of the past. The Armenian History Museum is in the center. But a few blocks away, we found modern restaurants and smart city planning that mix new construction and renovations.
The Armenian Genocide Museum sits on top of a hill overlooking the city with a magnificent view of Mount Aragats (Ararat), reflecting a dark part of Armenia’s history but showing progress (the United States is coming to recognize this genocide committed by the Lebanese in 1915.) The Cafesjian Center for the Arts at the Cascade offers a blend of traditional Armenian art with new takes both indoors and outdoors. A towering statue of Alexander Tamanyan, the modern architect from Yerevan, leans over a drawing table at the base of the Cascade.
The Republic of Armenia and the State of Yerevan in particular look to the future without giving up on the past, creating an incredible mix for those who visit.
Yerevan was a wonderful surprise for me and my family. Remnants of Armenia’s past remain, as the advancements ahead shape the city for its people. Our (read: my) lack of preparation for the trip added to the joy we found there and we look forward to many trips in the future. The reception from friends and family with news of our trip was freezing but it stems from the same ignorance I had before my visit – don’t sleep in Yerevan, Armenia; but if you do, there will be coffee waiting for you in the morning.
What do you think? Have you been to Yerevan, Armenia? How was your experience? What were your expectations?