After our weird wedding anniversary, which was saved by amazing Armenian brandy, excellent service, live jazz, and delicious desserts, I was determined to show Bill two areas in Yerevan where I once lived. The beauty of this plan is that I lived near two major landmarks in the city, Barekamutsyun metro station, and Tsitsernakaberd, otherwise known as the Armenian Genocide Memorial. The memorial is also right next to the Sports and Concert Complex, which is a delightfully Soviet looking building. It looks a bit like a spaceship!
November 17th, 2023 was a nice morning, weatherwise. We had sunshine, and I could even see Mount Ararat trying to come out from behind the clouds. So, as we drank coffee in the rooftop restaurant, I proposed walking to Tsitsernakaberd. It really is a place that no visitor to Armenia should miss.
We could have taken a cab, or even the metro, to ease the physical burden on our bodies. But, because we had limited time left in Yerevan, and I wanted to show Bill some places along Marshall Bagramyan Avenue, we decided to walk. I knew we were going to be exhausted at the end of it… and we were. But, the journey was well worth the pain.
Below are a few shots of Ararat from the rooftop restaurant, as well as a few ads. Imagine, Tex Mex and KFC in Yerevan! Air conditioning and hot wings! Unthinkable in the 90s! And Charents– that’s a familiar name to any Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer.
The above photos, except for the ones of Ararat, were taken on Mashtots Avenue.
At last, we got to the big intersection where Marshall Bagramyan Avenue meets Mashtots and Sayat Nova Avenue. We took a short rest in the park near the Opera House, where old men smoked, drank coffee, and played Nardi (Backgammon) and Chess as they sold art. Then, I gathered up all my gumption and started walking, pointing out places of interest.
Marshall Bagramyan is a pretty important avenue in Yerevan. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, it was where the US Embassy was located. The Embassy had a restaurant, and I went there a few times to teach the Armenian ladies who worked there how to cook American style food. Of course, they insisted on putting their own Armenian spin on it! If I recall correctly, I think their “spins” on my recipes usually involved “matsun” (yogurt). The Embassy also showed movies, offered a laundry service, had a bar, and a library. I spent more time there as a Volunteer than my country director would have liked, and if I could do it differently today, I think I would. However, in my defense, I mostly interacted with the Armenians who worked there. 😉 Also, we were told in training that we were allowed to go there, and we were even kind of encouraged to go. I didn’t actually do so until about halfway through training.
The US Embassy has since moved to a huge complex near the Ararat Brandy Company. Stepan told me that they had considered moving the Peace Corps office to that complex. How’s that for irony? I’m glad they didn’t do that, as now I understand that the Embassy mission must be separate from the Peace Corps mission. I didn’t understand that in the 90s, because I was 23 years old and didn’t know anything about the world. 😉 I know better at age 51. Yerevan was a very different place in the 90s, though, and there weren’t many Americans in the country then. And when you live abroad, especially in a place where conditions can be rough, you tend to flock with your own kind.
Marshall Bagramyan Avenue is also where a number of other embassies are, or once were located. It’s where the Armenian Parliament building is, the Armenian President’s residence, the turn off for Proshyan Street (which we used to call Khorovatz Street) and where the American University of Armenia is. The Marshall Bagramyan metro stop is there, as well as the turn off to I used to walk up and down that avenue all the time, especially to visit AUA, where I would check email in their computer lab. As for Proshyan Street, we called it “Khorovatz Street” because there were a lot of khorovatz restaurants there in the 90s. I never ate there, though, because I never had money or an Armenian boyfriend. 😉
At the end of Marshall Bagramyan Avenue, you reach the Barekamutsyun (բարեկամություն friendship) Metro station. When I first got to Yerevan, this station was also called дружба (Druzhba). The canned announcements on the metro were done in Armenian and Russian, and they used both names for the station. The signage in the metro stations were also in Russian and Armenian. Soon after my arrival, they took down the Russian signage and stopped announcing in Russian. I noticed during last week’s trip that a lot of signs around Yerevan were in English and Armenian, with only a few in Russian. We didn’t ride the metro last week, so I don’t know if they’re now doing announcements in English, or if it’s just in Armenian. However, I can probably still recite verbatim the Armenian announcements on the metro!
I used to live in a building on Kasyan Street, which connects to the underground shopping area and underpass that leads to the metro station. Since I left there, they’ve put in an overpass, which Stepan says is a vast improvement. Before the overpass was built, people would get confused at the intersection, because there was traffic coming from all directions. Barekamutsyun is a busy area, and not particularly attractive. But I liked living there, as it was convenient to good shopping and not too far from my school. My apartment was owned by the Peace Corps doctor’s brother, who had moved to Ukraine. He decided to sell the apartment during the late summer of 1996, so I had to move.
Just across Kochar Street, which is the street I walked on to get to school, there was the Hayastan Market, which was kind of like a shuka (market). Now, it’s a grocery store. It was actually turned into one before I left in 1997. I used to go there all the time for powdered milk, flour, and sugar. 😉 My first year, we couldn’t get fresh milk, so I learned to tolerate the powdered kind (yuck).
We turned left on Kievyan Street, which would take us to the memorial and the last area where I lived when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Kievyan Street lasts until you cross the Kievyan Bridge, which overlooks the Hrazdan Gorge. Then, on the other side of the bridge, you’re on Leningradian Street, which is the street I lived on for the last nine months or so of my service.
That apartment was owned by a former Peace Corps employee who had gone to Hungary to study. Although it wasn’t as convenient as the last apartment was, I paid twice as much to live there. It was still a lot less than a US apartment would have been, but it was a lot of money for me. So, I continued teaching business English at American non-governmental organizations for rent money. Technically, we weren’t supposed to do that (and I wasn’t the only one), but it was the only way to cover rent costs without starving.
When it was time to close my service, that former Peace Corps employee accused me of not paying her father for a month I lived there. Of course it wasn’t true, and I was fucking PISSED that she made that accusation. I was even more PISSED that she and her dad ambushed me one Friday night when I was out with friends. They had let themselves into the apartment and were in there waiting for me, smoking cigarettes, when I returned there at 10 o’clock at night.
For about a week before that confrontation, my former landlady and her son would let themselves into the apartment to get some of their things… and they helped themselves to my food, while leaving dirty dishes for me to clean up. I had a full on panic attack in front of my former landlady and her dad, which made them uncomfortable enough to get them to leave. I think she thought she could shake me down for an extra month’s rent, but she made me so very angry that I went on the warpath. And when I handed over the keys to her apartment, I had Peace Corps representatives there to make sure they didn’t try to rip me off for another month’s rent.
I have mentioned a few times in this blog and my main one that I was angry and burned out at the end of my service. This situation is one of the reasons why I was so angry. This woman knew what the Peace Corps’ mission was, and I think she knew very well that her father had been paid for every month I was in that apartment. She was also getting much more money for that place than any Armenian would have ever paid. She actually accused me of spending the money I had earned for rent money… (how did I know that her dad hadn’t spent the money?) Naturally, I was very hurt and offended… but she mistook my sensitivity and quickness to cry for weakness. She fucked around and found out… which makes me kind of proud of myself. Years later, I found that same resolve not to be screwed over by our former German landlady, who made the same mistake and tried the same shit with Bill and me. That time, we sued… and we won!
Sorry… I really don’t mean to be negative, but I did write at the beginning of this serious I was going to be honest. And thinking about that situation still really pisses me off, because it’s a bad memory that developed at a time when I should have been feeling very accomplished. I had made it through 27 tough months, and I should have been elated and focused on success and plans for the future. Instead, I felt like someone was trying very hard to take advantage of me and paint me as a person I am definitely not. Moreover, it was hard to fathom that someone who had worked for an organization that was dedicated to doing good things in her country wanted me to leave with bad memories. And this was all over a lousy $100 (which was a lot of money to Armenians at the time– and too much rent for her apartment)!
I don’t cry much at all anymore. I noticed that after I took antidepressants, I no longer felt the need. But when I was in the Peace Corps, I cried a lot… Some people think that people who cry easily are wimps or pushovers. Well, that was never true in my case, and if you cross my red line, you will soon find out how strong and resolved I can be. And she certainly did, because I was determined… and I totally went on the fucking warpath! I still get a surge of energy just thinking about that, 26 years later!
Anyway… enough about that story. That idiot doesn’t deserve any more of my precious mental energy. 😉 On with our visit to the memorial, which was very moving, even if we were pretty tired by the time we got there. I used to take a side road to get the memorial, and back in the 90s, when I was younger and fitter, I’d even go jogging in the park there. But now that I’m older and fatter, we decided to walk up the steps at the sports complex. The side road appeared to be undergoing construction. Below are some scenes from the walk up the steps and the park at the memorial. Bill and I were both delighted to find a զուգարան (zugaran– toilet– one of my favorite Armenian words) up there. It even had toilet paper!
It turned out the Georgian Minister of Defense was going to be visiting the memorial on the 17th, so there were a lot of police there. There was also a military band, and a group of soldiers with rifles. Bill was fascinated, of course. Meanwhile, I went into the memorial, which was so moving. A woman was cleaning the memorial, with its eternal flame. Some people had left bouquets. When I lived in Yerevan in the 90s, the flame was only lit on special occasions, such as Genocide Memorial Day, on April 24th. Today, it burns constantly, and there’s beautiful music piped in. I felt a lump in my throat as I took it all in.
After we visited the memorial and gawked at the soldiers and musicians, we started the long walk back to our hotel. By the time we reached Tsitsernakaberd, we’d already done about four miles. But we got a second wind, and headed back down the hill, across the bridge, and into cheap Armenian culinary heaven…
On our way to the memorial, I had noticed a group of Armenian restaurants just on the other side of the bridge. It smelled really good, and experience has taught me that when a restaurant smells good, one should pay a visit. So we did. The place we went was kind of a “fast food” place of sorts. They had table service, but the food was cheap and quick. Bill and I both had delicious shawarmas with Coca Cola… It cost about 3 euros each for these huge “wraps”. I couldn’t even finish mine. I remembered having similar lavash wraps when I lived in Yerevan as a Volunteer, but I don’t think they were called shawarmas. They were also even cheaper. I think I paid about 200-300 drams back then– (50-75 cents).
After we ate, we got back to our long walk. I decided on a slight shortcut on Orbeli Brothers Street, which cut out Barekamutsyun and put us on Marshall Bagramyan Avenue. I remember using that street in 1997, and at that time, I think it was where the Russian Embassy was. I remember the flags and the stern signage with lots of exclamation points. But the embassy has since moved, even though I did notice some stern Russian signage. We passed a high school, which didn’t really exist in the 90s. Most schools handled all levels, which only went to “tenth form”. Now they go to 12th grade. And we kept walking, even though we were tired and sore. My Apple Watch was going crazy with all the unusual activity! Below are a few photos I took along the way, including signs from the Moldovan Embassy and a medical clinic that is now well advertised. It was probably there in the 90s, but I don’t remember it.
By the time we got back to the hotel, we’d walked over eight miles! Luckily, we had the bottle of wine the food and beverage manager sent to us to help kill the pain until dinner in the hotel restaurant. And when we arrived there at 7 o’clock, Narek, the awesome waiter who had served us the night before, was ready to help us enjoy a great evening of live Latin styled music and more wine… of course! Armenia is a wonderful place to be if you love music.
It may be a good thing we didn’t go to the rooftop restaurant for dinner earlier. Otherwise, I might not have gone anywhere else. It was never crowded; the food was good; and the music was wonderful. I’d book this hotel again just for the live music in the restaurant. It was awesome!
After dinner, we were understandably tired, so we headed back to the room and went to bed. The next day, Saturday the 18th, would be our last day in Yerevan. Stay tuned to my next post for the story of that last day…