We’ve finally reached the end of my Armenian series. What an amazing trip it was! Bill says it was one of the best trips we’ve done together, and we didn’t even go to many of the really cool ancient places for which Armenia is famous. Instead, we met people I knew years ago, saw places where I used to live, ate good food and drank wine, listened to great live music, and enjoyed being somewhere other than continental Europe, for a change. I almost hated to leave!
Bill arranged for a van to pick us up at 2:30 AM, giving us plenty of time for our 5:05 AM non-stop flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. We didn’t really need a van, but the guy at the front desk warned Bill that it might be best to order one if we had a lot of luggage. So, there we were– two of us with four bags between us. The driver looked at us and said, “That’s it?” For this, we paid a fare of 17,000 drams. He was a good driver, though, so Bill gave him 20,000 drams and told him to keep the change. The driver was happy, and wished us a pleasant flight.
We went up to the Lufthansa baggage drop, and the woman at the counter eyed the portfolio Bill presented and said she thought it should go in oversize baggage. I asked if it was absolutely necessary, and she asked a colleague, who said it was fine for the portfolio to go through the normal luggage queue. So, with our bags dropped, and our tickets printed, we headed to security. This is where things got a bit traumatic.
I mentioned in my first post in this series that I got groped by an aggressive female security officer. I’m not exactly sure what her problem was, but my problem was that there was a woman holding everybody up, because she had a baby stroller that she was struggling to fold. Instead of stepping aside to deal with the stroller, she was in front of the metal detector, blocking everyone’s egress. I don’t know about you, but when it’s about 3:30 AM, and I haven’t had any coffee, I’m not the friendliest person in the world. But I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t saying anything or causing a scene. I probably just looked a bit annoyed.
I had gotten out of the habit of flying, thanks to COVID. And I live where advanced security screening is in place. Nowadays, travelers coming through Frankfurt don’t have to take off watches and the like. But Yerevan only has a metal detector. It doesn’t have a scanner. I forgot to take off my watch, and the metal detector went off. The security officer started frisking me, then noticed the watch. I had to put it in a bin and go through the detector again. The thing went off again, probably because there was metal in my shoes and my bra. She started her aggressive frisking, ordering me to put my arms out again and snapping, “I haven’t finished with you yet!” as she ran her hands over my stomach and between my legs. I was getting a bit pissed off, and felt rather violated.
Then she started speaking Russian to me, and I looked her in the eyes and said, very calmly and seriously, in English, “I don’t speak Russian.”
In retrospect, maybe I should have said that in Armenian, which I could have done. It probably would have really disarmed her. But English did the trick. She backed off immediately, and I got my stuff and got out of there. I don’t know if she was truly done harassing me, or if she’d thought I was Russian and was taking out collective Armenian hostility toward me… someone she might have thought was from Russia. In any case, while I understand that security screening at airports is very important, that woman’s hostile demeanor and lack of courtesy didn’t leave me with a great impression. Fortunately, most of the other people I ran into during our trip made up for her inappropriate and obnoxious attitude.
Yerevan’s updated airport is pretty nice, and it has a decent duty free shop that everyone has to walk through on their way into the secure gate area. We looked around for the business class lounge, which it turns out is upstairs. There’s an elevator in the duty free shop, or stairs for those who prefer them. The lounge is for business class or higher travelers using any airline. Those who are waiting there can enjoy snacks and beverages… coffee machines with Russian instructions, beer, wine, sparkling water, and the like. Bill and I had some coffee while we waited. The restrooms have showers in them, and only one toilet. I guess if you need a shower, you can lock the door, and all the other travelers would be out of luck.
Bill saw a sign that our flight was boarding, even though it was ahead of the time noted on our tickets. Not wanting to miss Lufthansa’s one weekly flight to Frankfurt, we went down to the gate, where a whole bunch of people were waiting. There were some cute girls in sweats who were wide awake, practicing what appeared to be cheers. I didn’t know Armenia had cheerleaders, and maybe that’s not what they were. But they looked like cheerleaders, and their early morning pep was both amusing and a little irritating.
It took forever for our flight to start boarding. In fact, we didn’t start boarding until some time after the listed boarding time. And business class passengers were boarded later. I guess they were loading the back of the aircraft first, which makes sense. I don’t know why people are so eager to get on the plane, anyway. I think most folks just want to get the whole ordeal over with, nowadays. Flying isn’t the luxe experience it once was.
Bill and I were in the third row. As soon as we sat down, an American guy took the seat behind me. He was sitting with a British guy who kept calling him “my brother”. They didn’t know each other before they were seated in the same row, but boy, did they act like they were buddies. The two of them immediately launched into a loud and obnoxious conversation about where they lived (both in England, near or in London), what they did for a living (retired orthopedic surgeon who supposedly worked with US military special ops, and a presenter for the BBC), what kind of luxury cars they drove or hoped to own (don’t remember that part), and how they get their news (American dude preferred reading the news to watching TV, because TV news is too biased). It went on for awhile, and I was worried I was going to have to listen to them blather for five hours.
Meanwhile, the lady sitting in front of me appeared to be Armenian. She had a pretty girl with her who looked to be about 13 or so. The pretty girl went alone to the back of the aircraft, while (mom?) sat down in front of me. I caught her casting a furtive look at the two chatterboxes behind Bill and me, who were continuing to run their mouths about their luxurious lifestyles in England. We were all in on their conversation, whether we wanted to be or not! I asked Bill if he had any earbuds, since I didn’t bring my headphones with me. He misunderstood and pulled out ear plugs. Fortunately, he also had earbuds, and I tested them to see if they’d work on my tablet. They did, and I heaved a sigh of relief, although I hate wearing earbuds. They are usually too big for my ears and don’t stay in well.
We took off, and the lady in front of me immediately reclined. I didn’t mind it, though, because I had plenty of space in front of me. I’m short, anyway, so there’s usually ample leg room for me. Once we were in the air, I had to pee really badly. But the pilot kept the seatbelt light on for ages. Bill finally got up after about an hour or so, and asked when they were going to turn off the light so I could go to the bathroom. The flight attendants said it would only be a few more minutes. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the back. A woman came up to speak to the flight attendants, and they went to the back to see what was wrong.
A few minutes later, the seatbelt light finally went off, and I finally went to relieve myself. Meanwhile, the flight attendants were asking for medical personnel to come forward. The guy behind me got up, as did an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor from Wales. There were many Welsh people in Yerevan during our visit, because of football. I’m guessing that’s why the ENT doctor was there. Bill and I were a little afraid the flight might need to be diverted, since the flight attendants seemed so concerned.
But then a few minutes later, the ortho guy sat down again, and told his new British friend that there was a lady back there who had neglected to take her medication and was having some kind of medical issue related to that. He went on a little more about the woman, then said that he’d let the ENT doctor from Wales handle the emergency, since he’d retired from medicine in ’08. He didn’t look old enough to retire, but based on what he was loudly telling everyone in business class, he had done very well for himself and was now living a life of leisure. Anyway, he did mention that the woman would be alright. So much for healthcare privacy, but there is no HIPAA in the friendly skies. 😉
Then the American “doctor man” started talking about the wonders of Georgian brandies and his visit to the Genocide Memorial, as if he knew what he was talking about. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes… but in my defense, it was very early in the morning; I was still a bit traumatized by the aggressive frisking; and I’d already been listening to those two guys ramble on for over an hour.
Finally, the flight attendants served breakfast. We had a choice between sweet and savory. I chose sweet, and Bill chose savory. It was too dark to take a photo, although I don’t remember the food being inedible. I usually stick with a roll and some water or orange juice, anyway.
We landed in Frankfurt at about 7:00 AM. When we went through passport control, I was confronted with a handsome young German guy in a uniform. He was markedly more pleasant than the Armenian officials had been. He started leafing through my passport and said, “How long have you been in Germany?”
I said, “About nine years.” Bill was standing behind me, rolling his eyes.
“Do you have a residency permit?” the guy asked with a surprisingly flirtatious smile.
“I have a SOFA card in the back of the passport.” I responded.
The guy found it, noted that it wasn’t expired, and sent me on my way. When it was Bill’s turn, he said, “That’s my wife.” The guy stamped his passport and let him go.
It always amazes me when border control guards are confronted by Americans who are very casual about approaching them. They don’t see a residency permit, and ask how long we’ve been here. We tell them “SOFA City, sweetheart…” They roll their eyes and let us go. Wouldn’t you eventually just look for the SOFA card before asking about a residency card? SOFA, for those who don’t know, stands for “Status of Forces Agreement”. It’s basically like a special residency card for Americans who work for the US government or military and their families. It allows us unlimited entrance and exit privileges from our host countries, as well as legal residency, and some other privileges. But it’s not the same thing as a German residency card.
We made our way to the baggage carousel. I noticed there weren’t too many people there, which probably means a lot of people were on their way to the USA or England… or maybe somewhere else in continental Europe. Having flown to Yerevan from the USA before, I didn’t envy them. But I would rather fly from Yerevan to the USA than the other way around. It just gets earlier when you go west.
When I flew back to the USA after my Peace Corps assignment, I had been traveling by train around Europe for a month. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as when I went to Yerevan in 1995. Well, it wasn’t as traumatic until I met my father at Dulles Airport, and he treated me like something he’d scraped off his shoe, and told me he was going into rehab for his alcoholism the next day. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad he was getting treatment, but he sure spoiled my carefully cultivated “coming home” fantasy that was two years in the making.
After we found our bags, we were looking for that portfolio with our paintings that Bill had worked so hard to acquire the day prior to our journey. A German airport employee guy came around with it and seemed to know that it belonged to us. The Armenian lady at the Lufthansa desk had, sure enough, sent it to oversized baggage, even though it only weighed about two kilos and was flat. I guess it was too cumbersome for the regular baggage drop.
Bill and I easily found a taxi, which took us back to our humble abode in Breckenheim. The weather was cold and drizzly, just as it usually is in Germany at this time of year. I was glad to be back home, although we really had a great time in Armenia. It already feels like a dream, though… Like I can’t believe I went back there and felt so very comfortable. I still know the city of Yerevan like the back of my hand. Obviously, we will have to go back and explore some more. The good news is, now that Bill has had a taste of Armenian hospitality, he’s ready for a new adventure!
So ends my Armenian blow by blow blog series. I just have one more post to make, and that would be my highly entertaining “ten things I learned” list. Hopefully, some folks will read that. I learned an awful lot on this trip. So, by all means, stay tuned if you’re interested…