Hi again -
First, some good news. The cough has finally gone away and I'm relatively healthy for the first time in almost three weeks. Health on the road is always a bit iffy and I try to get enough rest and drink massive amounts of orange juice. Oh, and I practice my dodging traffic skills. There are no safe places on these streets. And I thought Hanoi was a nightmare.
Bad news is that photos are just going to have to wait until I can get more bandwidth. I managed a few but it is painfully slow and unreliable.
I left Yerevan for three days and headed south toward the Iranian border and the little enclave of Ngorna-Karabagh which is ignored by almost every country in the world but manages to limp along as a separate, quasi-Armenian state. Azerbaijan is not happy about this but hostilities are currently in abeyance. No one seems to want to enter the zones that still contain land-mines from the bloodletting in the late '80s and '90s. At least, none of the drivers would even take a small bribe to get me to see the deserted Azeri cities. But I did come in on the Lachin Corridor, which seems to be a sort of no man's land - 10 kilometers of road without an official state owner.
The road through south-eastern Armenia and on into N-K was quite scenic and diverse. At times I was reminded of the rocky landscapes of the Mojave, at others of arid western rivers snaking through bare hills, while later it was a gorgeous eastern Tennessee or North Carolina in the fall. And then there was snow-capped Ararat on the southern horizon. The world has so many beautiful places.
I managed to see one monastery there (Ghandzasar)and not much else. The draw is the scenery - too bad about the fog. But I probably needed the rest and was able to catch up on world events thanks to those great folks at Al Zazeera TV. Actually I think A-J International is as good or better than CNN or BBC. I did foray out to mail a postcard to Margaret. I send her one from each new country I visit. Unfortunately, postcards are rather rare in N-K (try explaining 'post card' in Armenian)so it took several hours with stops at various shops, travel agencies, post offices, and even USAID and the American University before I found a card. But we have our traditions and they must be observed.
In order to get anywhere and see the sights I've had to resort to using drivers. "Normal" is only about 30 cents a kilometer and something tagged on for wait time. So not expensive and the ride is better than being crammed into one of the ubiquitous marushkas. On one of the marushkas the entire lot wanted to take me on to their village for the night. I think. Either that or I had some sort of marriage offer on the table.
Back in Yerevan my day has settled into a comfortable pattern. Up in the morning for breakfast, then a museum, then my favorite cafe and bookshop, a nap, then a symphony in the evening. The Soviets have left a great tradition of classical music in each of the Republics. I was able to attend the premier of the Yerevan International Music Festival -Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Rachmaninov - beautifully played in an excellent concert hall - for 5000 dram ($15 bucks) Try that in San Francisco. The next evening included Beethoven and Bach. I tried the balcony for just 2000 dram. The Bach was superb.
The Yerevan National Gallery was also quite beholden to the Soviets as well as other Europeans from whom art was 'liberated' during and after WWII. There was a whole floor of European art that included Rubens, Van Dyke, Corbet, Rousseau, Rodin, Goya, Delacroix. Then a floor of Russian artists including Chagall and Kandinsky. On one wall were several Rockwell Kent's. He was a famous American artist and illustrator back in the 20s who donated a number of his canvasses to Russia. Finally two floors of Armenian artists, several of which were outstanding.
I'm living at a hostel. It's a hoot. And I'm not the oldest person here. A seventy year old German couple was here when I arrived. All ages, many nations. I quite like the communal atmosphere. You can always find someone to talk with if you want, or not. There's a Swede who has been cycling around for about eight months and forty countries. He tells a story about beer brewed in Kazakhstan from the waters of a lake used to cool a nuclear reactor. He said it tasted better than the fermented mare's milk they also drink there. I have to pause here and let the utter insanity of that statement sink in. There's also a steady stream of US Peace Corps volunteers that come to Yerevan to party. The lot at the French embassy is said to (over)excel at this.
My final visit in Armenia was to the Museum of the Genocide. Quite a moving place; very low key; very factual and well documented. Joe Friday would have approved. The cab driver went on a real rant all the way back to the hostel. Bush and Rice are exceedingly unpopular here, though Pelosi and Arnold are thought well of. It is odd that, in many places on earth, Arnold is much more highly esteemed than the Shrub.
Next stop? After all this relative inaction and sophisticated cultural stuff I'm feeling a need to visit some Soviet submarine pens and explore 'The Valley of Death.'
That's it for now from -
The Geezer Traveler