We were breakfasting at 7.00 so it was still dark as we packed up the Ritz. It had stopped raining but was still damp and I was on breakfast duty. Despite all this, we were on parade on time, but once again sleeping bags had touched the edge of the tent in the night so could not be put away and my trousers were distinctly wet in places when I put them on. Not ideal….
We left the bushcamp at 8.00 and were at the Armenian border by 9.00. Our crossing was particularly easy as UK citizens do not need visas for Armenia – all other nationalities represented in our group had to buy visas at the border while we trotted through and chatted to the border control police. They were great fun. We felt sorry for the others filling out forms in the rain, but I was a bit concerned about what the British had done to be visa free. This trip has made us much more politically aware of the issues of these countries and the sensitivities between them. The border is closed between Armenia and both Turkey and Azerbaijan. We were warned not to mention some of the countries we had come from or were going to for fear of reprisals……
The young border police said we would like Armenia better than anywhere else we were going. We mentioned the rain that was at this time falling fast – their view ‘you are from England – the English like the rain!!’ I am not sure.
The countryside carried on where Georgia left off – not surprisingly as they were both part of the moving borders game. The windows on the truck became steamy for the first time and the floor is covered in mud, but it is no longer my problem. I have moved from cleaning duties to security and waste – a rather amusing turn of events given that most things are pretty insecure when in my possession and wasteful is my middle name. Hey ho!
The first town we passed through had the usual Russian look of crumbling concrete and greyness, but the scenery started to get hilly again and through our steamy windows the autumn colours of trees became evident again. We passed through wooded valleys and then the concrete and washing festooned tenements of towns with lots of rusting carcasses of cars, the all wheels gone. These are rural settlements where money is scarce and employment hard to come by. The natural gas pipes are still with us.
Mountains came into view with towns and villages nestling in their foothills. The sun came out and we had a camp lunch by a pine plantation. Some German travellers stopped to chat and said that they had decided not to venture further east because it was getting too cold and that they were going to turn back.
We stopped at an Armenian memorial site – the letters of the Armenian language picked out in rust coloured stone on the hillside with a large cross made of thousands of small crosses standing proud on the skyline. Armenians are staunchly Christian. Shortly afterwards we drove into the city of Yerevan the proud capital of Armenia. My first impression was the number of florist shops we passed – apparently Armenian women are constantly given flowers by their men – a trait I hope Keith picks up.
Tree lined wide boulevards, huge Russian buildings, parked stretched limousines (the first sighted since we left England), hundreds of taxis and fashionably dressed young people all indicated a buoyant social elite in the city. We are staying for three nights. Time to get clean and maybe purchase a warm sweater as it is cooler than anticipated.
Doing our homework, we had identified a Lebanese restaurant and we set out to have supper there. Despite instructions from the hotel staff, our taxi driver had difficulty finding the place and at one stage got out to search for the address on foot! The people here are really lovely. Eventually the restaurant was found and six of us had a terrific Lebanese meal.