One week in Armenia has provided plenty to talk about.
I left Tbilisi in a mini-van packed with fifteen people, countless bags and a satelite dish. We bounced along to the border and then snaked through rocky sandy villages and over scraggy hills in the sun. Small post-Soviet industrial towns sprang up here and there showing huge long forgotton factories that looked like they'd fallen from the sky forty years before and done nothing since. The rest of the landscape to Yereven was serene rolling hills and sunny, dusty villages.
I arrived in Yereven at a bus station to be confronted by a few taxi drivers who seemed intent to getting as much cash out if me as possible. An old woman who was on the same minibus as me tugged at my elbow as i haggled with the men. I followed her and her friend to the other side of the road. She spoke a little English, told me that all taxi drivers are cheats, phoned my guesthouse on her mobile, showed me to the minibus that runs to the centre of town, told me where to get off, insisted on paying and acted like doing all of those things was a regular everyday occurance. In Yereven it probably is.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that everyday in Yereven is a Sunday afternoon. Armenia's capital is continually hitting the snooze button, rolling over and having an extra hour. The place is filled with tight narrow streets where cars zoom along but the people loll about for as long as possible in coffee shops and cafes doing what ever they please. I planned on staying three days. I stayed for six.
On Sunday morning i went to church. I was staying in a guesthouse that wasn't really a guesthouse - it was a retired woman's apartment and she had a few empty rooms and made some cash from it. Also staying there was George from Georgia and his Belarussian wife. George had studied in Cardiff for a few years so his accent was somewhere between Welsh, Georgian and Russian. They were going to a place called Mayr Tachar which is Armenia's vatican. It was a small chruch with no seats and hundreds of people on a Sunday morning. The place was swarming with tourists, daytrippers and cameras which replaced any sense of religion quite quickly. I left for the flea market back in Yereven.
Yereven flea market sells everything. It was all just laid out on the floor of a park. Everything. The old men and women would come and lay out books, bathroom taps, chess sets, guitars, electrical wire, CDs, nails, swords, bird cages, arc welders, irons and more random crap in a small park every weekend. After the market i hunted for a bar that showed the Liverpool Manchester United game but all i found was a Irish bar that was shut and a British pub owned by a friendly man born in Jordan. I got chatting to the owner and as it was late afternoon i decided to stay for one beer. Just one. At eleven o'clock that evening i was playing fuseball with three girls, buying cocktails and partaking in behaviour that some people may describe as "debauchery".
The rest of my time in Yereven was spent visiting musuems and art galleries, getting drunk and nursing hangovers. For some reason Yereven has a lot more art galleries and museums than it should have so i saw an old library full of Bibles and Gospels from the 12th century (i can't really remember why i went there, it was as boring as it sounds), i went to the National Modern Art Gallery that was obviously saving on electric bills as an old woman had to switch all the lights on so i could see the paintings and then and old man followed me around turning the lights off in different sections that i'd finished looking at. There were other great little art galleries as well but none of them were the highlight of the week which was, of course, Armenia's Darts Championship.
In the British pub where i got a bit tipsy last Sunday, they told me they were hosting Armenia's Darts Championships. I went down on the Tuesday and sat at the end of the small bar watching people arrive, register and start playing. It was strange. The national darts championship of Armenia was taking place in a pub and it seemed anybody could signed up. I didn't but after seeing the first game i should have. The first player threw darts like a cowbody throws a lasso and his opponent was the Armenian Darts Federation President's daughter. She was wearing so much leopard print clothes that in certain countries she would have been protected under conservation laws. The President himself held a cigar in one hand and with the other threw darts like a builder throws bricks into a skip. They were playing a very easy version of the game (301 single check-out if you know about darts) and there was an Armenian TV news camerman recording a piece for the next days sports bulletin. I may have been on it as he filmed me as i sat snugly between two old chainsmoking men, all three of us looking a little confused. And drunk. Unfortunately i didn't hang around long enough in Yereven to attend the semi finals and final so i don't know who won. It could have been anybody.
Before i came to Armenia i never knew that it was the victim of a genocide and I spent an afternoon at the Genocide Museum learning about it. Armenia was the victim of a mass murder perpetrated by Turkey. For reasons best known to Turkey 1.5M Armenia's were killed between 1915 and 1922. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were forced to march across the deserts to Syria. Few made it. Those that did were killed. Hundreds of thousands fled the country. The Turks also destroyed cultural relics and attempted to wipe Armenia and Armenians from the map. Turkey has always denied that it gave any orders to do so even in the face of photographs and first-hand accounts. It's meant that there are Armenians living all over the world. Second and third generation Armenians are returning to Armenia after being born and living all their lives in countries like Jordan or Iran, Australia, the US or Europe. It's meant that Yereven has a very cosmopolitan feel where people are still today angry that Turkey hasn't even acknowledged what it did, let alone apologise.
I left Yereven for a town to the north called Dillijan. I stayed in a friendly guesthouse that served me a mountain of food but the main house seemed to be built without any right angles as every wall and floor seemed to slope in different directions. Dillijan is billed as the "The Switzerland of Armenia" and if that's the case then Switzerland must be shit. I wanted to do some hiking but it wasn't really worth it as it had been raining for a few days so all the villages that looked bright and dusty in the sun look grey and muddy in the damp and Dillijan was just that.
Today i got a minivan from Dillijan back to the border in the drizzle and after i'd been stamped back into Georgia i managed to find a shared taxi to bring me through the drizzle and the autumn greens and browns to Tbilisi. We drove away from the border and after about 500m we promptly run out of petrol. Fortunately we were going downhill so the driver just slapped it in nuetral and we let gravity do the driving all the way to the next village where we filed up and eventually arrived back in grey, damp, Tbilisi. It almost looks like England.
And i'll be back there soon. I've got six weeks left of this trip and there are mountains, Turkey and Europe between me and home.
Thanks for reading. See you soon.