Armenia, opera, relationships and a 2,800 year old city
Day 1,838 since October 10th 2013: 159 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross)
The clock keeps ticking
Time management is a natural part of my everyday life. Stay to long in each country and you will never make it to them all. Don’t stay long enough and you end up wasting years of your life. The benefit in staying longer adds to an increased knowledge of where you are…not always but mostly. Meanwhile I need to consider the overall timeline as I am not interested in spending my life on the road. I want to go home and that end date stays afar.
Many busses, many trains, many taxis and much transport later the Saga has reached Caucasus which is a region at the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It comprises three countries in full and “spills into” parts of the larger surrounding countries. The three countries which are completely within the Caucasus are Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. And by taking the overnight train from Tbilisi in Georgia to Yerevan in Armenia the saga reached the last of the three. It is truly a breathtaking part of our world! Anyone would be lucky to lay their eyes on these lands. The train was not unlike the train that took me between Baku in Azerbaijan and Tbilisi. It was not the most modern train but it did the job. And unfortunately, for the most part, the train ride took place at night so I did not get to see the landscape. But I had the chance to remedy that a few days later. Thankfully I’m not Chinese! Not that I have anything against the Chinese…it’s just that they were treated differently from me onboard the train. For whatever reason there were a lot of Chinese onboard and I had to bunk up with three. Great companionship in spite of a very limited English on their part. When the train reached the Georgian/Azerbaijani border all the Chinese passengers had to disembark the train and stand in the cold darkness next to the train for a while. When they finally returned one of my fellow passengers asked me the obvious question: “why you not need come out train? Why only Chinese?” It’s a good question.
Well, the train reached Yerevan which was only days away from celebrating its 2,800 year birthday which is no small thing. 2,800 years brings us back before all major religions and long before Paris was founded – and actually very close to when Rome was founded. Armenians speak Armenian which is yet another unique Indo-European language with its own unique writing system. What is it about the Caucasus that makes it so special? Armenia however feels slightly more different than its two neighbors. One reason could be Armenia’s political environment as there are issues both east and west. In those directions the borders are closed while the borders to Georgia (north) and Iran (south) are open. Keep in mind that Armenia is a rather small country compared to most regional countries and if you’re not exactly friendly with your neighbors left and right then you might want to hold on to a powerful ally. In this case that ally is Russia and the presence is somehow felt. Mind you the Caucasus was a part of the Soviet Union just thirty years ago so that influence also prevails in the region. Armenia is a real pearl for visitors and I’ve had several people write me that it is their favorite country. It is definitely a country I had a good time within and for the Saga it became country number 159 in a single unbroken journey completely without flying.
In Armenia I had a surprise in store for most of you! Because my fiancée and I had been organizing her flight tickets into Yerevan so she could fly in and join me for the 2,800 year celebration. In reality the celebration was just a bonus. We always try to meet up when it fits into her and my schedule and Armenia just happened to be the lucky winner. I say lucky because I have a full program and rarely get to see a lot of most countries I pass through. However when my fiancée visits then it turns into a lot more tourism and a lot less work. When her plane touched down in Yerevan a day after I arrived it became the 18th time that she found her way out to me somewhere in the world since I left home in 2013. Just think about that for a moment? Could you manage a long distance relationship for five years without returning home? I state “manage” because it does not take care of itself as many will tell you. Long distance relationships take a lot of effort and most of them break. It is a luxury for both of us that she holds a strong passport (Danish), is financially strong and that she can venture out to meet with me every 3-4 months. And that certainly helps us make it work. We communicate more or less daily and we are honest with each other. And it has not all been a bed of roses! However it has mostly been good and we managed to work out the issues we have had. So what can I say: still going strong! ;)
My fiancée and I got engaged in Kenya when that became the 10th time she flew out to visit. That was an engagement which reached millions of people and resulted in having thousands of Kenyan’s following the Saga. Welcome one and all! The engagement is a good story but not one for this blog. This entry will be relatively short as I will just list a few of the things we managed to do. I would however also like to list a few things we observed across Armenia which if nothing else are different from life back home in Denmark. First of all we noticed that all vehicles from the size of a van and upwards had their license plate painted or otherwise added in an enlarged version on the back. It is certainly handy as you can read it from far away but other than that? We also noticed that a lot of petrol stations would often have concrete walls between the lanes where you park to fill your vehicle. But why? For some sort of protection maybe? Yerevan is a rather magnificent and in many ways modern city. But once we got out of the capital we also noticed the rural conditions were somewhat different. This showed in many ways and is in itself not strange as you will find a difference between city and the countryside in a great deal of countries. However what caught our eyes in the rural villages was that the water pipes appeared to run above ground along most properties? First off all it doesn’t look esthetically pleasing but more so it must become problematic during the winter when the pipes freeze – no? The water pipes would bend upwards and over the entrance to driveways and then come back down again on the other side. It is no doubt a lesser costly affair for the installation so perhaps that is why? Water is really good in Armenia and for most people around the world you would be able to drink it straight from the tap or from one of the many faucets you find around cities and towns. A final thing I will mention is that we noticed that we never sat down at a table which did not have toothpicks. Toothpicks are not an uncommon item around the world but every table we sat down at across Armenia literally had toothpicks available. I guess that is just a testament to the great and abundant food which Armenians seem to enjoy as much as we did.
What laundry day looks like (Saga style).
Okay, here’s a quick update on what we did. Unfortunately I did not engage with a lot of Armenians in a deep way as my fiancée and my togetherness kind of took over and dominated the visit. However the Armenians I met in small conversations and various interactions seemed really nice and open. In and around Yerevan there is plenty to do. We immediately sat off to visit the “Cascade” which is an iconic structure which is part hanging gardens of Babylon and part museum all at once. Climbing the many stairs provides a spectacular view of Yerevan with the famous Mount Ararat in the back drop. And the Cascade connects the entire inner city with a pedestrian avenue that runs all the way across it. Yerevan has obviously gone through a lot of change over the past 2,800 and most recently it has been dubbed the Pink City due to the color of the stone used for building. In Soviet years Yerevan underwent massive reconstruction following architect Alexander Tamanyan's new plans to make a perfect city. His vision was a neo-Classical town with wide avenues to resemble Paris, Vienna and Saint Petersburg. It worked out quite well if you ask me. Now what about this 2,800 year nonsense!? It’s not as if it has been carved into stone?? Well, eh…actually it was carved into stone. The name of Yerevan began as Erevan and its name was carved in cuneiform (ancient writing) on a stone in 782 BCE. So there you go. Pretty impressive and it makes Yerevan one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.
Mt. Ararat in the horizon. It is in Turkey. The dabate with mountains is sometimes if its better to have the mountain or to have the view of it?
My fiancée and I have been set on seeing an opera since her last visit which was in the Sultanate of Oman. Oman’s capital, Muscat, has a nice opera house but we never quite managed. Fortunately Yerevan is famous for its opera house and we managed to secure tickets for “Tosca” by Puccini. I haven’t seen many operas but I do like the ones I have experienced. The Armenians did not disappoint and the only downside was that we had no English translation (subtitles) for the performance. The scenography, the orchestra, the singing and everything else came together really nicely. A few days before we attended the opera we saw a cultural show at the opera house and got a feel for some of the traditional music of Armenia. I’ve got to conclude that Armenians are well into chilling out at cafes, eating well and enjoying music. Not bad at all.
Khinkali...I originally had it in Georgia and somehow thought the Armenians would claim it as a local dish. To my surprise the first Armenian I spoke to about Khinkali said: “no, no! It’s definitely Georgian. We just make it better!”
After a few days we rented a small Chinese car for two days and got around the country. In just two days we visited: Zvarnots Cathedral, Khor Virab, Garni Temples, Geghard Monestary, Lake Sevan, Hayravank Monastery, Dilijan old town, Sanahin Monastery, Saghmosavank Monastery and Hovhannavank Monastery. Yup! Armenia is a very religious country and one of the first to turn Christian some 1,700 years ago…and there is no shortage of churches, cathedrals and monasteries. We really felt that after seeing a few of these sights the inside of the buildings were not as impressive as the outside and overall I think it was the drive itself that held most value to us. Armenia is truly a beautiful country and it has so unbelievably much to offer its visitors. The road conditions ranged from horrible some places to medium or good. That’s what you would expect anyway.
That is mostly it. We naturally did a lot of couple stuff, dined, wined and dined some more. The food is delicious and they know a great deal about wine in this part of the world. We watched a few movies, played some cards, went for a run, walked the streets and finally we enjoyed the “Yerevan 2800” event with all its artists, events, happenings and crowds joining in on a special celebration.
I met the Armenian Red Cross Society (ARCS) during the Francophonie 2018 which is an international festival that takes place every second year and for 2018 it was set in to take place in Yerevan! The ARCS volunteers were busy attending heatstroke, minor injuries and what else the 58 participating member states would throw at them. The ARCS volunteers were also at the festival to show visibility, interact with the thousands of participants and make first aid demonstrations. I especially noticed how popular the first aid demonstrations were with the children which is an amazing asset for building a resilient population! Within just a few minutes at the first aid station I witnessed a lot of activity from the well dressed, well trained and highly motivated “Red Crossers” on site! When they are not participating at events you will find them all over Armenia dealing within a large range of humanitarian services. Their main beneficiaries count: the most vulnerable elderly, vulnerable urban and rural communities, youth, refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people from Syria, tuberculosis patients, families of missing persons and people living with HIV and HIV risk groups. Do you ever wonder what the world would be like without the RC movement?
One morning we went to a bakery for breakfast. Then we sat down at a nearby beanch. Minutes later the baker came running with these two pieces of complementary cake. Have a nice day ;)
We visited "NOY" wine and brandy factory. Armenia is famous for one of the worlds finest brandys (cognac).
Some of the metro stations under Yerevan look very impressive.
Armenia doas autumn VERY well!
Now please keep in mind. I’m not out here for fun. The Saga serves a purpose which can be divided into several subcategories. I’ve been away from home for a VERY long time. I’m very determined and after five years of this I feel capable as well. There aren’t many countries left in the big picture. However it will still take more than a year to get me home. And we will now be heading east for a while so I’m curious to see how that will effect a lot of things for me and those I know – you know – with the time difference and all. Let’s keep on keeping on people! ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - heading east.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga