Thursday, September 25, 2008

First Two Days in Armenia-Some Surprizes Already!!

Hi there everyone!

I just wanted to briefly blog about my first two days in Armenia.

This place has already been full of surprizes for me. First of all, "Where is Armenia?" is probably your first and most pressing question. It's a former Soviet republic, sandwiched in-between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Turkey, and Iran. They say that it's culture is a mixture of Europe and Asia, and I have already noted that this is true.

I arrived Wednesday night September 24th into Yerevan, the Armenian capital. When I arrived at Zvartnots Airport, everything was set up well and went extremely smoothly. I had already been in contact with a couple of Armenians by e-mail. I had prearranged a pickup-the youth hostel where I'm staying did it. I walked out into the Arrivals Hall, and saw a huge crowd of people. I had to look hard until I saw the sign that said "Envoy Hostel". Then, right next to that sign, somebody was holding a separate sign with my name on it. My friend here, Karine Arakelyan, had come to meet me with her niece Hasmig. They showed me around the downtown a bit after we arrived. Being that this was the first time we had met, I knew I had found an instant friend.

The Envoy Hostel is spotlessly clean, and the staff are friendly, it's centrally located, and you can come and go as you please. Karine and Hasmig showed me around the center of town a little bit. I have to say, Yerevan is quite active in late summer! People were all out on the street, eating drinking, walking, chatting. Restaurants seem to be open late. Just before flying, I had been in New York City, and people had given me weird looks, during broad daylight. Here, people go about their business and just leave you alone.

The next day, Thursday, I took it slow. I went to visit the Matenadaran, the National Archives of Armenia. I got an English-speaking guide who showed off some manuscripts, which were hundreds of years old, some more than 1000. One book, the Homilies of Mush, was taken out by two Armenian women who fled the Genocide in Turkey, and the two parts were matched together later. Some books had dyes which were made from coal, gold, and other rare materials, and took much time and labor to prepare.

That evening, I climbed the Kaskad (Cascade). This goes up a hill, there are sculptures all over, and the view of the city gets progressively better as you climb. As the sun set, and as I got higher up, I could see Mount Ararat, the symbol of the Armenian nation, which now lies just over the border in Turkey. The view was hazy, but it was visible. It was a pretty powerful view. At the very top was monument to the 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia.

Then I went down to the bottom again to meet Karine and her friend Lidya Elbakyan. We chatted over dinner and a beer. We went to the Aragast Jazz club, and sat outside. It was all very leisurely. Yerevan is really laid back and I like it. After showing me where to go to meet some more people the following evening, they guided me back to my door. Armenian folks really seem to be kind this way.

I think that I'm in for some interesting times here, and although Yerevan is crowded and polluted, it has its share of beautiful views and cool stuff.

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