In all honesty, aside from a couple of day trips (more on those later), I was quite lazy during my week in Yerevan. I spent my days wandering tree-lined streets, sipping Armenian coffee in one of hundreds of cafes that dot the parks and alleyways, and eating some pretty delicious food. I didn't visit a single museum (not even the genocide museum, which I do regret missing) or art gallery or anything remotely cultural. I did manage to take the walking tour from Envoy Hostel, which I highly recommend if you're in Yerevan for the first time! (It's free for guests of the hostel and about $5 for non-guests.)
|Yerevan loves street art.|
I also recommend the tour and tasting at Noy Brandy Factory. While the tour itself is a little dry, you get access to some pretty cool areas, and the tastings are fantastic. We tried a 1924 Madeira, and a 10- and 20-year brandy. I'd never had brandy or cognac before, but it was surprisingly tasty!
Yerevan is a relatively new city, rebuilt after many earthquakes and invasions. The streets are clean and well-planned, the buildings are not crumbling, walls are covered in beautiful street art, there are international shops and restaurants like Mango and KFC. It's a very easy city to be in, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there... but it feels sort of like it could be anywhere in the world. At least in the city center, there's not much that makes it feel very essentially Armenian. It's an interesting contrast to Tbilisi, which though more touristy, has more old school charm and general Georgian-ness. It's also interesting because the Armenian people identify so strongly with their culture and heritage, and are so very proud of being Armenian - which doesn't really jive with the generic European feel of the city.
|Armenian Bookstore with a good English-language section|
|It was cloudy/rainy most of the week, so I never got a good view of Mt Ararat, the symbol of Armenia (though it is located inside modern-day Turkey). This was the closest I got - the shadow of Little Ararat.|
My last night in Yerevan, I did come across one spectacular display of Armenian culture - a casual meetup of mostly young Armenians dancing in the park. Someone had set up speakers, and as each new song started a circle would form. Girls would throw their purses in the middle and everyone would clasp hands or arms and start these energetic dances with lots of yelling and direction changes. When the circle got too big, a new one would form in the middle or along the side, until the whole plaza was filled with dancers. Maybe 20 minutes in to the dancing, it started to rain rather hard. An Armenian woman who knew my friend stopped briefly to chat and he mentioned that it was impressive they were all still dancing in the rain. She replied "what rain?" and, grinning, returned to her place in the circle.
So perhaps the heart of Armenia is not so outwardly noticeable in the streets of Yerevan, but it clearly beats strongly in the people who live there. I wish I'd given myself more time to explore the rest of the country!
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