The gorgeous rose city of Yerevan Armenia is one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. Full of history, great food, and welcoming hosts, Yerevan is a jewel in the southern Caucasus nestled between Europe and the Middle East.
After our brief visit to Lake Sevan, we headed into Armenia's capitol city, Yerevan. Yerevan sits close to the border with Iran and Turkey, in the shadow of Mount Ararat- which used to be a part of Armenia, but has been a part of Turkey since the Ottoman Empire. The mountain is still very important to Armenians, and is very much a religious symbol for the country's Christian population. Among the mountain's important significances is that it is the rumored resting place of Noah's Ark. It was amazing to see the base of the mountain, and I only wish the days we were in Yerevan were clearer, so we could see the huge peak clearly!
If you're planning to head closer to Ararat, know that passage into Turkey from Armenia is not possible. There are important Armenian religious sites neat Ararat, but you can't get to the mountain itself from Armenia. You can fly from Istanbul to Yerevan, but Armenia's border is closed with Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan- so you must come in from land from Georgia (or Iran, which is not possible for Americans), or through another city in Turkey. I'm hoping to travel through Turkey soon as well!
One of my hardest issues in Yerevan was the currency- in Georgia, it was easy to remember that Lari equalled about 2.5 dollars. Armenian drams are about 500 to 1 dollar. While prices in Yerevan were similar to an American city (a little less expensive, but nothing drastic), rural Armenian prices were insanely low- I bought a massive loaf of bread, gelato, cheese, and a few bottles of water with gas for something like 1,000 drams- or $2 at one stop just south of the border with Georgia.
I strongly recommend downloading the XE Currency app for iPhone and Droid- while I didn't have current information, as I didn't pay for roaming data, I did have a good idea of exactly what I was paying for items. It is incredibly worthwhile!
Our first stop in the city was Victory Park and the Mother Armenia Statue. From the monument and memorial, you can see the whole city (though it was intensely hazy, so while we could see the faint outline of Mount Ararat and lower Ararat, we couldn't see the peak, or further into Turkey/Iran).
The intricate designs on the doorway into the military museum inside the Mother Armenia statue's base were gorgeous. It was odd to see so many nods to the Soviet Republic though- as we toured throughout Georgia, it was clear that former USSR icons had been removed- but we saw many throughout Yerevan and the rest of Armenia. Our tour guide mentioned they were still removing many, some places didn't have the funds to remove them, or they just hadn't been re-done yet.
While Victory Park wasn't a main draw for my husband and I, we did stroll through the entire park while looking for a restroom (there weren't any public bathrooms available at the military museum). The rides looked really fun, and the park was quite scenic.
The bathrooms, however, were quite notable- as in Victory Park (and a few places around Yerevan and rural Armenia), they are just the ceramic coated holes in the ground. They are about $1 to use, and another couple hundred dram (about fifty cents) for crepe-paper like toilet paper. While in Poland I carried around some extra coins and tissues for bathrooms, as many places in Europe charge you for using restrooms and sometimes TP is extra- but I had completely forgotten to do so in Armenia, so we had to buy some bottles of Fanta to get change for the bathroom as the attendant didn't have change for our 5000 something drams (I am sure in some places in Georgia it is good to remember this as well, but we were always near our hotel rooms which were pretty westernized, so we never ran into the issue).
I didn't think I'd ever talk toilets on my blog, but it is a really good idea to keep about $5 in coins and tissues with you while traveling really anywhere in Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, just in case!
Since we were really only in Yerevan for an afternoon and an evening (WAY too short for such a gorgeous city), we didn't really get to do much. We did, however, walk all over the city, and found our way to a small flea market so I could buy some local copper goods, at an amazingly low price. I bought some Armenian coffee pots and a few small crosses for our kids. We spent the rest of the afternoon gazing around the gorgeous rose-colored stone buildings around the city before we had a tour at the Ararat Distillery.
Ararat Brandy Company is gorgeous- it is all made of rose colored stone, and the walls have tons of intricate ironwork.
Ararat Brandy Company sits high up on a hill near the soccer stadium, opposite the radio tower and Mother Armenia statue, and has an amazing view of the city. Unfortunately, we were a bit rushed to get in to tour tour to take any pictures of the city. Ararat offers tours in numerous languages all day long, which include a tasting. We went for the slightly more expensive tasting with four varieties, including Dvin, which was rumored to be Churchill's favorite Brandy, and was served at the conference of Yalta.
Touring the Brandy Company was quite interesting- we didn't see any of the production (as we did on Whiskey tours in the south and in Scotland), but we did get to see some amazing historical artifacts. We saw casks meant for world leaders- when Nation heads come to tour the company, they are given a barrel of brandy they can drink anytime they are in Yerevan visiting. The company used to have leaders get in a barrel and weigh them- and they were then given a barrel as heavy as they were. Some of the barrels included former President of Poland Lech Walesa, and Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus, which we were sure to take pictures of for my new Belarusian sister-in-law).
The company also has a room with the "Barrel of Peace"- which they say they will open when the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has been peacefully resolved.
The final stop for our tour was a sampling- one I do not recommend missing while in Yerevan! I am not a huge fan of Brandy, but Ararat's line was smooth, nicely oaked, and had a rich, caramel flavor. The Dvin was definitely my favorite- I am glad we can order it in the States fairly easily.
Where to Stay
Paris Hotel- you can't beat the price of the Paris Hotel, and it's fabulous rooms. It was truly a luxurious hotel, with a large soaking tub, huge balcony, and comfortable bed. The free breakfast buffet- which was in an amazingly gorgeous rooftop restaurant- was delicious. At around $120 a night, the Paris is truly the best hotel in Yerevan! While a few blocks off the main circle, it was a great place to tour the city on foot from, close to great shops and restaurants.
Marriott- The location in Yerevan's main circle can't be beat. We didn't stay here, but it was gorgeous from the lobby, and is in a wonderful location.
Where to Eat and Drink
Shaurma Club - this fast food spot is all over Yerevan, and is one of the best quick eats you can find. The pork shaurma was unique, as many schwarma joints in the states are halal and don't serve pork- it was juicy, fresh, and delicious. The chicken shaurma was also divine.
Mon Cafe- this cigar cafe and Starbucks hybrid serves delicious coffee and cuban cigars out of the Paris Hotel lobby. Grab a spot on the patio and watch people stroll through town!
Ararat Brandy Company- Tours run all day in aa few languages. Opt for the four brandy tasting, and sip Churchill's favorite brandy while contemplating the companies colorful history!