August 2007


6,500 AMD (14,44€)

On the way to GyumriLast Saturday, my Armenian Host and I took a day trip from his home town of Vanadzor to Gyumri.

Our adventure cost us 6,500 Armenia Dram, which is the equivalent of 14,21€/19.27USD. Broken down, we paid 200 Dram to get from his flat to the city center; 1,000 Dram to take the bus from Vanadzor to Gyumri; 2,000 Dram to tour a museum; 2,200 Dram for a crap-tastic lunch; 900 Dram for a bus from Gyumri to Vanadzor; and, last but not east, 200 Dram to get from the city center to his flat.

In contrast, 14,44€ would be enough for two people to take the inexpensive day return “Hopper Ticket” on the train from Weimar to Jena and back, leaving 2,44€ for one bratwurst and a bar of chocolate.

Vivid FashionAfter our two hour, 59 kilometer (37 mile) trip, the first thing we saw, upon reaching the city limits, were a local mother and son out for a walk; despite their vivid fashion, they looked quite happy and enthusiastic to be out and about.

Gyumri is a fascinating city, and it was a shame that we had a limited amount of time to explore it—I would like to return. The city is especially interesting because, like Vanadzor, it suffered from the 1988 earthquake. In fact, its population went from 220,000 then, to about 80,000 today. By chance we wandered into the (and this is a mouthful) Museum of National Architecture and Urban Life of Gyumri, which had a map of Gyumri—in three colors. There was a red historic core, a white, old, but not quite as historic core, and then everything built during the Soviet era was in yellow—a substantial area of the city. Our tour guide then noted that none of the areas in yellow existed today: they were destroyed during the earthquake.

AmenaprkichThat’s something that constantly amazes me when I am in Armenia, or, for that matter, in Weimar: the Soviet Union and its satellite states built amazing collections of apartment blocks that seem to have been built for the sole purpose of warehousing people, often with little regard for quality, particularly of construction—and unlike the poorly constructed public housing in England, these apartments are still used. In Weimar they’ve been spruced up and painted, and are probably pretty safe, but I am less certain in Armenia—although the ones standing have withstood the test of an earthquake.

That said, there’s a lot of things about Armenia that are charming. My host’s sandal broke while we were in town, and he was able to find a shoemaker who fixed it in about 10 minutes. I can only think of one shoemaker in Bloomington, and, having used him once, I am under the impression that he is not especially overworked. Had it been my sandal, I would have tossed it and bought a new pair.

Mother ArmeniaWe wandered around town, seeing, in the distance, Gyumri’s “Mother Armenia,” walking by the Russian Army Chapel, and wandering through the market. Markets are a vibrant and important part of life in Armenia—even in big cities, one goes to markets and buys fruits and vegetables from sellers lining the streets—in Weimar, I’ve only seen similar markets at Marktplatz, but they are far smaller with no room for bargaining: one is almost compelled to buy vegetables and fruit at the chain supermarkets, or at the super-expensive bio-market.

We ended up having lunch at an overpriced restaurant in the city park—Oasis. I ordered a Greek Salad, with meat, but no tomatoes and got a small dish (and I mean “small” by any definition of the word) of an over-mayo’d mish-mash of stuff that might, under other circumstances, resembled the ingredients for a decent Greek Salad. Suffice it to say, it was gross—and I left feeling robbed—until I remembered, 2,200 Dram is less than 5€–and everything my host ordered (French fries with mushrooms, a Coke, and bread) would have cost a lot more in Germany.

When it was all said and done, we wandered back to the bus stop and hopped on the bus for our return journey to Vanadzor—it was a taste of Gyumri.

I am ready to go back: unfortunately, I am now in Weimar.

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