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Amusing Armenia

Construction WorkerThere were so many great things that I experienced in Armenia, that it’s difficult to talk about all of them in a sensible fashion. I’ve chosen to avoid my typical linear travelogues in an attempt find themes. However, this has left a lot of amusing asides out, so I thought I’d share some of the more amusing aspects of the trip.

CowboyTraffic in Armenia is absolutely, positively, insane. The white lines weren’t even suggestions; rather they appear to have painted solely to give people a job painting lines. People drove on either side of the road depending upon the location of potholes and the fastest way around the cattle that might be crossing the road. At one point my car did have to stop as cattle were completely clogging the road. A cowboy happily posed for a photograph. In Yerevan the traffic was worse than anywhere else I have ever seen—complete with construction workers working in the middle of the road—without any warning signs for the drivers at all. Drivers come around the curve and the construction is right there.

Yerevan MetroTaking the Metro in Yerevan is incredibly inexpensive: 9 Euro Cent (50 dram). Unfortunately I never found a map of the metro that included both the Armenian alphabet and the Latin alphabet—so I was unable to tell where I was going. I asked every time I got on the Metro I asked somebody to make sure I was headed in the right direction. The system seems to have been undiscovered by advertisers—in fact compared to London, Berlin, New York City, and Kyiv, there is no advertising in the Metro at all.

Mayr HayastanThe Soviet Union must have had a thing for enormous statues. Mother Armenia sits atop a hill overlooking Yerevan and is a 23 meter tall statue on top of a 50 meter pedestal, for a grand total of 240 feet of statue goodness. This makes the second enormous statue that I’ve been to—I visited Mother Ukraine in Kyiv back in January.

Armenian PoliceArmenian police drive incredibly small cars and, to boot, are incredibly ineffective. It took them a long time to get people off of the review stand after they suddenly realized, 30 minutes after the parade was over, that citizens were crawling all over it and taking photos. I never had a direct interaction with any of the police, but I cannot say their behavior inspired confidence.

Men and women in Armenia hold hands. It was confusing for me, as you might imagine, to see boys and fully grown men walking down the street, arm in arm or holding hands. Women also held hands and walked arm in arm. Personal space in Armenia is closer than in the States, but not as limited as in Korea or China.

One thing that Soviet city planning got correct was compact city cores. Even though Kapan has a population of only 35,000 people and Vanadzor’s population is at 70,000—numbers that compare to Laramie, Wyoming, and Bloomington, Indiana—both have functional public transportation systems. Laramie, when I lived there, had nothing, and Bloomington’s bus system has infrequent service at best and if you live far off a bus route, its hard to get around. Soviet cities seem to have a critical density that allows frequent bus service (albeit it private) even within small cities.

SquattingMen Squatting Around: Unemployment in Armenia is high and men seem to spend their days standing, or squatting, around. And I do mean squatting around, oddly enough. Apparently if there’s no place to sit, men squat and talk. They squat and wait for buses. I tried to do it briefly, and my calves hurt. Late at night in Kapan, 95% of the people on the street were men—the only women I saw were with men.

My last morning in Yerevan, I happened to turn on CNN for the first time. I was rather disappointed to see a commercial airing encouraging people to visit Armenia: “Noah’s Route, Your Route.” I suppose, at least, that I have visited Armenia long before it becomes a common tourist attraction. However I wouldn’t say Armenia is a destination for a beginning tourist, and I have to say that had Katya not been such a fantastic and wonderful host and guide in Kyiv, Armenia would have been a heck of a lot more challenging.

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