I find it remarkable after 8 years of traveling there remains a tiny “blip” on my map that remains unmarked, nestled among the giants that surround it. Just like with Slovenia, much hype surrounds Armenia as a prime travel destination and yet remains so rarely visited. I would be guilty of having perpetuated that stereotype.
But no longer. After years of postponed promises, I finally visit the 2800 year old city of Yerevan, the capital city of one of the world’s oldest countries.
After months of intense studying I finally took the American Board of Emergency Medicine Qualifying Exam — and what hopefully would be my last formal written exam ever — this morning. I then celebrated over drinks with a few friends before heading to JFK airport in the evening to catch the 12:30am Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev. Faniel was already waiting there, having driven early from Philadelphia to make the flight. Sheryl, however, had an Uber driver who got lost on the way to the airport and even with less than 45 minutes prior to takeoff, still managed to check into her flight and get on the plane. Guess I’m not the only one who experiences travel miracles!
We all knocked out and landed 8 hours later in Kiev, where we spent a 2 hour layover at their functional business class lounge and boarded an 8:10pm flight to Yerevan, landing around 3 hours later.
Once we got our bags, we tried out the Yandex Taxi app to hail a quick cab to our hostel, Hostel Bivuoac, and checked in at around 2am. I feel like we have the whole hostel to ourselves as we have yet to meet another traveler here.
After waking up bright and early the next morning, we joined with Nishant who had flown in the middle of the night from London a few hours earlier.
I had met Nishant through Taylan back when I was in Sydney and it’s remarkable how he still would remember me so he could come on this trip. Then I find out that Nishant and I have other mutual friends back from my college days when he used to live in NYC, that he has been on YPT trips with some of my colleagues, AND that he has a mutual friend with monsooner veteran Mihaela, whom he has never met and would be joining us later in the afternoon. Then I find out Faniel and I have a close mutual friend in NYC back when they lived in Philadelphia, AND that she has the EXACT SAME BIRTHDAY as Sheryl, who didn’t want to feel left out of the serendipitous/synchronicity of my travel magic. FYI, nobody has met one another before today. WTF; this magic just never ends!
And to make things even more wild, ahem, Hostel Bivuoac’s morning breakfast spread has been one of the best I’ve had in any hostel I’ve stayed at (ok, not that wild, but I can’t believe I’m having more than the usual bread and butter spread):
And after a quick breakfast, we set out for nearby Freedom Square and The Opera House, the “soft” center of the city.
Weaving around Freedom Square, we grabbed another quick bite at adorable library café Artbridge.
From then walked up Abovyan Street and stopped by the Holy Mother of God Kathoghike Church, the oldest surviving church of Yerevan.
We then walked down the beautiful pedestrian-only walkways of Northern Avenue with the Opera House behind us. Opened a decade ago in 2008, Norther Avenue connects Freedom with Republic Square and as a Post-Modern response to post-WWII Soviet Yerevan architecture.
After about 5 minutes along the mall, we reached Republic Square, the official “center” of the city. If you’re into Soviet era architecture, Yerevan is a humble example of it; the earlier buildings (the Houses of Government, the Ministry of Communications, and the Marriott Hotel) are designed in the Neo-Classical style with Armenian influences while buildings that came after (the Foreign Ministry and the Art Gallery) are Modernist imitations.
From the square you can see St Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, which was completed in 2001 to commemorate the 1700th anniversary of Armenia as a Christian nation. It is also the largest Armenian church in the world, so we decided to take the 20 minute stroll there next.
Curiously unlike other churches in Yerevan, the Cathedral is built to take in natural sunlight and does not have any places for candles.
After about 10 minutes here we walked back out and had a quick lunch at a nearby outpost of Yerevan Tavern, a national chain that delivers solid food.
After an hour for lunch we cut across northwest for the Blue Mosque, an 18th century Shia Islamic Mosque and one of the few surviving structures to suggest there was once a prospering Muslim community in Yerevan prior to Soviet secularization.
We then walked about Mashtots Avenue, the mega 8-lane highway in the center of the city which somehow also accommodates pedestrian zones on the sides, just in time to witness a wedding conclude at St Sargis Vicarial Church.
About a few paces north is the famously enigmatic Sergei Paradjanov Museum. It houses the works of Sergei Paradjanov, a famous Soviet film director best known for his collages which prove that art can be made out of anything.
Finally we capped off our morning with a sobering visit to the Armenia Genocide Museum, which chronicles the Ottoman massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. It is widely considered as modern history’s first genocide, and the second most studied after the Holocaust
Take it all in, like any holocaust museum this place can be pretty sobering.
I was actually curious what we may have missed on our personal quick jaunt around Yerevan so afterwards we decided to hop along with local tour guide Nushik on a free walking tour that Yerevan Free Walking Tours offers everyday at 4pm. Mihaela, probably on her 8th monsoon with us at this point, joined us in the afternoon after her 3pm flight landed
The whole tour lasted 2.5 hours and other than what I had mentioned above, we also visited Garegin Nzhdeh, a historical landmark featuring replicas of sacred Armenian Khachkars:
Across the street from Garegin Nzhdeh is Vernissage, the city open air marketplace.
And around the corner from Garegin Nzhdeh is the metro station for Republic Square, Yerevan’s prettiest.
If you’re in need of an atmospheric cup of coffee, I suggest picking one up at Dalan Art Gallery:
A few paces away from Dalan is Charles Aznavour Square, named after the recently passed French-Armenian singer.
Don’t leave Yerevan without a sunset view from Victory Park.
Around it is the Motherland Statue of Armenia that serves to protect all of Yerevan. It’s much like the one in Tbilisi except this one’s missing a wine cup.
Surrounding it are a bunch of military warcraft that you can climb.
After the sun sets, you can find a path down around the construction down Cascade Steps.
Don’t wanna climb stairs? Look inside on the flanking structures for the escalators.
Then, we dropped off Mihaela’s bags back at the hostel and finished up with dinner at the fabulous Sherep Restaurant:
We even got our own private room, where we got to play our own music (courtesy of yours truly) and gossip over our crazy past love lives and crazy travel stories.
Another great first day to begin a monsoon!
– At time of posting in Yerevan, Armenia, it was 55.4 °F – Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy