Rolling hills and charming landscapes greet me as I enter Armenia. It’s sunny and beautiful with a cool breeze offering some relief to our crowded minibus, though I am lucky to be one of only three in the back row. Had there been another passenger, there would certainly be four of us wedged uncomfortably together. When we pull into Yerevan, where I am supposed to get internet on my phone but don’t, I just tell the driver to let me off at a corner and I have to find a new way to my hostel. Nothing on my map is loading except my position and the position of my hostel in a blank grid so I simply navigate my way through empty space until my dot is atop the blue flag of my destination. I look up and see several young people smoking outside what is obviously my hostel. I have arrived.
This country’s accommodation is a standard backpacker joint, wherein all the male visitors have “rugged” yet somehow neat beards. I haven’t shaved in awhile, so I reluctantly count myself among them, though my facial fuzz is closer to man-who-sleeps-in-dumpster than Spaniard-on-his-third-consecutive-Gap-Year. In the night I am excited to visit a restaurant with pizza and not be neglecting the local culture. At Zatar’s Pizza I order a small olive “lahmacun” for hardly a dollar and gobble it up in two bites, then get some snacks at the local market before returning to the hostel. I sleep the night in a makeshift cot as the hostel is overbooked, but still sleep well.
In the morning I decide it is time to see the city memorial of the Armenian Genocide. I did a project on this tragedy in the seventh grade, and ever since have wanted to see this larger-than-life complex dedicated to those lost. On this day, as I have neither internet to hail a ride nor trust that a cabbie won’t rip me off, I decide to walk the few miles to the memorial and take in this fine fall day in this new city. Words cannot describe the power of visiting this site, and I urge everyone to visit when in Yerevan. Come, learn, and shed a tear. When I visit, the eternal flame flickers in the wind and no one visits except for an old woman, pulling old wilted flowers and sweeping up dust. Over a century separates today from the events of the Armenian Genocide, and I can’t help but think if the world is forgetting. When visitors arrive, they are all clearly not Armenians. No one mourns loved ones, for there is no one left alive on earth who remembers the lost. Still I stay, pay my respects, and zip through the museum. But the museum is not why I am here. I visit not to learn, but to feel.
Evening takes me to the nightly Yerevan dancing fountain show at Republic Square, and I am mesmerized. If the fountain performance back in Dubai is “Pomp and Circumstance,” that of Yerevan is “Sounds of Silence.” French singer and genius Jacques Brel mourns the loss of a thousand loves as the crowd sits in rapt silence for nearly an hour. There is no cheering. This is the least tacky light-and-fountain show on earth; it feels like, somehow, there is a man at the control booth pumping his own tears into the pumps as fools try to sell light up toys to kids around the perimeter. For the second time today, I tear up. To hell with Disney, and to hell with fireworks. Yerevan brings the waterworks and does it incredibly well.
In the morning, I’m sad to leave Armenia, as the Russian-speaking part of me (who is conveniently also named “Victor”) will have to go to sleep for awhile, and who knows when I will see him again. I have no plans to return to any of these former Soviet republics, which means my one-on-one Russian practice, and my consumption of potatoes, are soon to decline rapidly. As I chat with the cab driver, who never learned English as a product of Soviet schools, tells me I am always welcome in Armenia, and must come back and see the countryside. I tell him I’ll be back to Yerevan as soon as I can. До свидания друзья!
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.