Must See: Armenia, The Historical, Notable and Not-So-Traditional Sites of Our Homeland
Ani and Maro are two friends who met in Armenia and proceeded to have wild adventures together. At times they have dared called themselves archeologists, sociologists, modern-day explorers, gastro-bloggers and socialites. Today they merely call themselves freelancers (read: uninsured). These are a few of their favorite things:
Soviet choo choo: Head South down Mesrop Mashtots Ave and turn right after you pass Arami St. After a stroll through the old park with its defunct concrete fountains, a long graffiti-covered tunnel will lead you to Hrazdan Gorge. Head left as you exit the tunnel, travel past old carousels and walk down some stairs on the right and, as if from a dream, a Soviet-era children’s choo choo train will reveal itself in the distance. Hang out along the river here and watch underwear-clad local elderly gents as they swim in the river. That mysterious coke bottle they offer you is probably filled with homemade vodka, so beware.
Opera Square: Have a cup of the cheapest (and best) Armenian coffee in town at Cafe Meghedi, or sample the Beef Stroganoff (not the best…in fact, avoid it). Oftentimes there are concerts and events held in Opera Square, and it is also a favorite gathering spot for opposition protesters.
Attend a Soccer Game: Now that Armenia has a winning team (Ireland, we’ll get you next time), come out and show your support. You won’t see these boys taking cigarette breaks at halftime and you’ll be amazed to see them actually pass the ball. The excitement in the stadium is infectious and you will learn what hoop tur really means.
Roof and Cafe of the National Gallery: After a quick stop to see the world’s oldest shoe, head upstairs to the National Picture Gallery and check out works by Hovhannes Aivasovsky, Vardges Surenyants and Gevorg Bashinjaghyan. Then walk out onto the roof on the ninth floor and enjoy a unique view of Yerevan from above. The cafe there is usually empty and is a quiet place, sit and have coffee, and be ignored by the staff.
Vernissage and Cafeteria: Vernissage is an open-air bazaar where you can find anything from puppies to fine china. We personally enjoy Vernissage when it’s cold out and the sidewalks arecovered in a thick layer of black ice, but to each her own. Don’t miss the cheapest meal you can probably find anywhere in the world at the Vernissage cafeteria. It’s an unmarked, unnamed spot just off the bazaar on Aram St., and to the best of our knowledge the vendors also store paintings there. Half the fun is in finding the place, follow the scent of vodka and dolma or ask a ruddy art vendor for directions. The proprietress will offer you The Greasiest Comfort Food Ever.
Markets beneath Barekamutyun Metro and in the alley on Tigran Metz Ave on the left after the man who makes hats: Ani’s favorite gift for Maro has always been oversized underwear printed with glittery poetry and there are only a few spots to find just the right ones. At either of these markets you’ll be able to pick up a kebab and have your watch fixed all while selecting non-stick cookware and an Adibas sports-bag.
Juice Stand in Sakharov Square: Fresh juices in Armenia are simply called “fresh”. This spot is usually only open in the summer and serves the best fresh this side of Vernissage. Watch out for inferior, flashier imitations.
Pak Shuka (Covered Market) and Blue Mosque: Head to the back of the covered market to meet the tuti oghi vendor who will have you sample his wares in a back room with basterma hanging from the ceiling. Please be aware that you will be in close proximity of the spice lady who will insist on you taking one or several of her favorite mixes. Exit the market and cross the street to visit the beautiful 18th century Blue Mosque.
Parpetsi: Enjoy the night life on Ghazar Parpetsi St. Start off with a coffee and a crepe at Gemini, then continue on to check out the atmospheres at various local bars including 26, D.I.Y, Metro Music and Rock Bar. Take a break for a burger at newly opened Factory and stop in to hear a jam at Syncopat on Pushkin where you can join in if you’re feeling brave. Continue down Pushkin to check out the vibe at Calumet and Beatles, and finish on Saryan at Tro’s Pub wi th a game of foosball.
Master Levon’s Cave: Only in Armenia can a request from your wife to dig a potato pit result in a twenty-year quest to dig a cave by hand. The resulting wonder is 21 meters deep and spans 300 meters, a glorious cavern that is testament to one man’s vision. Located in Arinj Village.
Stop Club: The best place to hear rock music in Yerevan.
Sasuntsi Davit train station: Make use of new digital screens to catch a train to Gyumri, Lake Sevan, Tbilisi or other places from this beautiful Soviet-era train station. On longer train rides, please note hidden charges like pillow cases and be prepared for a stern knock on your door at 4am for passport control.
Old Houses in Yerevan: Search for Yerevan’s past in the areas near Northern Avenue and off Amiryan St. between Abovyan St. and Mashtots Ave. These homes are quickly disappearing and they are definitely worth a visit.
Luna Park: A psychedelic Soviet-era amusement park where you can lose your life on a roller coaster while watching a Rabiz singer and eating popcorn. If you want to take your beer on the Ferris wheel they won’t check your bag. Don’t miss the Haunted House where your only fear is that you may trip because there is not a stitch of light in the place.
Is it edible? While traveling through Armenia we suggest that you expand your culinary horizons. Visit different restaurants, don’t be afraid to point to and order random things off the menu. Go ahead, dip some dried lavash into a steaming bowl of khash (cow knuckle soup) and chase it down with a shot of vodka, your life will never be the same.
When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when you’re feeling sad…go do something crazy with your friends in Armenia. Stop by Cafe Meghedi for a coffee, maybe you’ll run into Ani and Maro and they can tell you about the time they ate questionable kebab and got sick in Abovyan. But trust us on the Beef Stroganoff.