Monday morning, we got up and had breakfast in the rooftop restaurant. I was enjoying the delicious cherry juice they had. I remember I used to buy that all the time when I lived in Yerevan. I might have to see if I can find it nearby. I’d probably prefer that to orange juice in the morning.
It was kind of warm during our visit. I seem to remember November being cooler in Yerevan in the 90s… but then, I think that was true for almost everywhere back then. Bill and I discussed how to spend the day. I suggested climbing the Cascade Steps and taking a walk around Victory Park, where Mother Armenia is. I used to live very close to that park.
Bill agreed with that idea, so once we were finished with breakfast, we got on our way. I used to climb the Cascade Steps on a daily basis when I first lived in Yerevan. I didn’t know about the escalators until I’d been there awhile, and going up and doing the steps was the quickest and easiest way to get to the center of Yerevan, short of taking a bus or a taxi.
The Cascade Steps have changed a bit since 1997. The idea of creating “cascades” down a hillside was originally conceived by the architect Alexander Tamanyan (1878-1936) as a way to connect the northern part of Yerevan to the central part. The idea didn’t come to fruition until the 70s, when architect Jim Torosyan revived it, and added in his own idea to construct a huge limestone stairway. Work on creating the Cascade Steps began in the 80s, but halted after the 1988 earthquake. Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and the work stopped again.
In 1995, when I arrived in Yerevan, the Cascade Steps were still clearly not completed. Today, there’s beautiful landscaping and the complex houses the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. But in the 90s, I saw the halls in the steps used for other purposes. I distinctly remember there being a nightclub housed in one level at one time. My colleagues and I used to sit on the steps on Friday nights after training and play music and sing. Sadly, I also saw some pretty sad disrespect of the structure itself on the nights we did that. More than one intoxicated man would use the steps as a public urinal. As you can see in the photo below, there was a dirt road there and lots of trees– no sculptures, working fountains, or places to sit. And there were no bushes on the steps.
Anyway it’s much better there today, although the steps still aren’t quite completed. As of this writing, there are 579 steps that end at a huge, fenced off hole where, clearly, the steps will continue to be built, perhaps until they meet the monument for the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union.
By the time we reached the steps, I needed to answer the call of nature. We found a really great coffee shop nearby that offered all kinds of elaborate drinks and pastries. I was still feeling kind of flabbergasted, because in the 90s, we had nothing like this. The area around the Cascade Steps now has a whole bunch of restaurants. I think maybe one restaurant opened there in the 90s, and it’s long gone now. I took care of my personal business and we enjoyed a very nice round of drinks to fortify us for the climb.
Once we were finished at the coffee shop, we made our way to the impressive structure. I stalled a bit by taking pictures in the gardens in front of the steps. I hate climbing steps, even though it’s very good for one’s health. I always feel about 20 years older afterwards. 😀
We started the climb up the steps, pausing every so often to take in the view and catch our breaths. Unfortunately, the day we climbed the steps was not the best day for looking at Mount Ararat. It was a bit hazy and smoggy. But it’s still kind of a thrill to climb the steps, especially when you’re a fatass housewife like I am. 😉 A couple of months ago, after Bill and I visited the Crystal Cave in Hessen, I wrote a blog post about overcoming “physical challenges” when I travel. I’m very proud that I was able to conquer the ones I wrote about in that post. Not that it was easy in any case… I think the tower in Cesky Krumlov was the least challenging.
You can see the 50 year Soviet memorial in the last photo the gallery. To get there from the steps, you have to walk past the construction site at the top of the steps and past some housing. There was a guy up there trying to sell tours, and naturally he addressed us in Russian. But we were on a mission…
After we got to the top of the steps and clambered up the rickety steps to the Soviet memorial, we made our way to Victory Park. To get there safely, we had to use one of Yerevan’s many underpasses. I was relieved that one in particular was relatively clean and in good repair. Some of Yerevan’s underpasses are in pretty bad condition and serve as unofficial pee stations. For an example of one of the less desirable underpasses, have a look here. Most of the ones we encountered on our trip were looking decent enough. Some even had thought provoking and interesting graffiti.
Victory Park is the home of Mother Armenia, who stands guard over Yerevan, and shows up in everybody’s pictures. She’s been there since 1967, and is surrounded by tanks and even an old MiG airplane. According to Wikipedia, Mother Armenia’s statue replaced one of Joseph Stalin. Good choice!
Victory Park is also home to an amusement park, with lots of rides for kids. I didn’t see many rides operating during our visit, but I did notice places to eat and a huge, modern looking ferris wheel, along with one that looked more like the one that was in the park in the 90s. I showed Bill the artificial lake I used to pass on my way to my first home for about 9 weeks after Peace Corps swearing in. When I lived in that area, the lake was filled higher and boys would swim in it. When we visited, a guy was walking what looked like a street dog turned pet. The dog happily jumped into the lake for a swim.
We also passed a restaurant that replaced one I used to pass that had a fox in a cage. 🙁 In the 90s, it wasn’t uncommon to see restaurants where wild animals were caged. I remember one place in particular; it was near Republic Square. We called it the “Feed the Monkey Cafe”, because they had a live monkey there. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I remember seeing people using animals at restaurants as a gimmick to drum up business. I was glad not to see any of that on this visit, although the practice probably still exists in some of the regions.
By the time we were heading toward the entrance of Victory Park, I was feeling pretty tired and sore. We stopped at a bench and gazed at the Radisson Blu Hotel by the park. It didn’t exist in the 90s. 😉
Here are some more photos from the park and the Cascade Steps.
By the time we got back down the Cascade Steps, Bill and I were both really tired, a bit hungry, sore, and ready for beer. I started looking for places to go. We rejected the Mexican place that served Paulaner beers, because going in there meant climbing steps. 😉 We crossed the street and I looked to my left, where I saw a beautiful young woman with long dark hair. She was smiling and welcoming. At the same time, Bill noticed a sign that read, “You look hungry. We should drink.” Alright, then.
I looked at the young woman and said, “I really need a beer.”
She enthusiastically waved us inside, and we sat down at a table in the middle of the foyer. I discovered that we were dining at Food Industry, a restaurant I hope we can visit again if and when we visit Yerevan next time. We ordered beer and salads, which were absolutely beautifully presented. This is one thing I’ve noticed about Armenia– food presentation is usually exquisite and artistic. Even if the food itself doesn’t taste good, it will be served with style. In this case, the food was both beautifully presented, and tasted really good. And the beer was a real morale booster after the few miles of walking and climbing we did. Maybe it’s not a lot for younger, fitter people, but for us, it was a great achievement and worth celebratory libations.
After we finished our salads, Bill was trying to dislodge some food from between two teeth. The very attentive manager noticed and had toothpicks delivered to our table. I thought it was sugar and put it on the table next to us, where a lady was drinking coffee. But then Bill said they were toothpicks and praised the manager’s attention to detail.
The manager noticed I was speaking Armenian, so he came over and struck up a conversation. He said his name was Ashot (a fairly common name in Armenia) and welcomed us to his restaurant. When I explained I had lived in Armenia 26 years ago and was a teacher, he asked me if I’d been a Peace Corps Volunteer. I said I had. Then he said, I have a friend who works at the Peace Corps office.
And I said, “Is it Stepan?”
He laughed and said, “Yes! I used to work at the restaurant across from the Peace Corps office and he often came in for lunch. We became friends!”
I said, “Well, I was Stepan’s teacher back in the 90s. He was in my ninth form English class.”
Ashot got very excited and gave us complimentary pastries! We talked a little about schools in Yerevan. Ashot told us his brother had gone to a Russian school in Armenia and could speak Russian with no accent at all. He said he’d gone to an Armenian school. The school where I taught had been an English specialized school. I noticed that Ashot wrinkled his nose when the subject of Russia came up. I sense that many Armenians are quite irritated with Russia right now. I can’t blame them.
Anyway, for many valid reasons, Stepan is a very good person to know… but in Yerevan, he’s very well known indeed! I have a tendency to run into people anyway. Over the years, I’ve run into many people I either knew years ago, or people who know people I know. These kinds of meetings happen to me pretty consistently. I don’t know if other people have this knack, but I sure do… On the other hand, I think Stepan is simply one of those people who has a lot of magnetism. I would not be the least bit surprised if, someday, he’s famous.
As we were paying the check and leaving a tip, I told Ashot that I thought he should commend the waitress who welcomed us to his restaurant. It was because of her smile, warmth, and encouragement that we stopped by Food Industry for refreshment. I used to be a waitress myself, so I know how tough the job can be. I hope he passed on my compliment to her… and the tip, as her shift ended before we were finished. Kudos to her for still smiling at the end of her shift!
The salads were large enough that we didn’t really need to eat anything else at a restaurant that evening. We went back to the hotel and relaxed with more Armenian wine and light snacks, including the lovely pastries Ashot gifted us, and a huge fruit plate that was sent to us by someone mysterious (I think I know who). I really felt like I’d come home to family. Armenian hospitality is LEGENDARY!