Tuesday, September 25, we left my sister’s apartment at 5:00 a.m. when it was still dark, but the moon was bright and guided our path. We arrived at the Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport in about 18 minutes after leaving the apartment. Those of you who have read my blog titled: Praise be to God, You are Here Safely – September 12, 2018, you know that it took us 3.5 hours to get to Bourj Hammoud from the airport and not 18 minutes – what a difference the time of day makes! Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived at the airport there was a huge line up for the first security check. Gary and I were perplexed as we have never seen a security check before getting to the airline counters – yes, this is how they do it in Lebanon. You go through a security check where your suitcases are scanned, along with your other belongings; then you go to the airline counter to check-in and get your luggage tagged and collected; then you go through border control; then you walk through the duty-free shops and then another security check; before you arrive to your boarding gate. As you sit in the boarding gate waiting area, a little duty-free mobile shop (designed to look like a plane) comes around to see if you need to purchase anything – consumerism at its best! From our boarding gate area, we saw that the gate across from us had a further security check as people were boarding their flight (I think it was British Airways).
Things were on time and for the first time in my life, and Gary’s life as well, we were flying to Armenia – where my roots, my heritage comes from. I did not know what to expect, as I remember horror stories from my childhood – But this Armenia surprised me – she is no longer under the U.S.S.R.’s oppressive regime and she has been independent once again, since 1991.
My assumptions were silenced from the moment we landed at Zvartnots International Airport. Of course, one of the first things most travelers like me do is use the facilities, and to my surprise what beautiful, clean, and sparkling facilities this airport has, much cleaner than a few other airports I have been in. Wow, Just Wow! However, the biggest wow for me, which brought tears to my eyes, and could not speak to Gary for a moment or two, was seeing Majestic Mount Ararat from the large windows of the airport. As we walked towards the customs officers and baggage claim area, I stopped and took pictures with my cell phone. I do not know what it was, but something in me moved me to tears when I saw the two mountain caps of the Greater Ararat and Little Ararat. I had heard about this Majestic Armenian Beauty, but now I have seen it.
After paying for our entry visas and picking up our baggage, we were greeted by our hosts (Five Dove Bed & Breakfast) and made our way to the B & B. It was a nice, short drive to our destination and we did not encounter any crazy traffic and drivers, as we did in Lebanon. Gary and I decided to rest for the afternoon after enjoying some snacks of dried fruits and Armenian goodies, we took a much-needed nap. With the help of our host we got a “GG” driver to take us to the city center in Yerevan to have supper. Our B & B was about 10-15 minutes out of the city center. “GG” is the Armenian version of Uber and Lyft. Our driver, Davit, took us to the city center, but before we arrived at Tumanyan Street, where many restaurants are vibrantly serving hungry clients, we had to stop at an exchange outlet at the supermarket, to exchange money, as Armenia only operates with Armenian money – Dram. Tourists need to exchange their money at the appropriate places, and there are many money exchange spots, as businesses are not allowed to operate with any foreign currency – even donations need to be exchanged.
Our driver dropped us off in front of the restaurant he suggested, Lavash, and promised to pick us up at 9:30 p.m. at the same spot. As the recommended restaurant was full and we learned reservations are a MUST, we promised the hostess that we will come another day with reservations in place. So, we ended up going to the restaurant next door, Khinkali (afterwards we found out that khinkali is an Armenian/Georgian Dish. A huge piece of dough stuffed with veggies, chicken or meat. We did not try any as it looked high in carbs). The ordering procedure is a bit different in Armenia, you literally order every single item, from side dishes to the basket of bread and bottled water. However, at the end of the day, restaurants in Armenia, just like Lebanon, are very affordable for a North American traveler.
As Gary and I were enjoying our dinner outside by the sidewalk, we realized there were many young adults passing by. We both agreed, as much as Armenia is an ancient country, her capital Yerevan celebrating its 2800th birthday in September 2018, there are so many young people – we ourselves felt old. These young people are truly a gift for an ancient country who is being “newborn” again. As we were enjoying watching the passers-by and enjoying a huge piece of desert split to two pieces (Mille-feuille), we ended up meeting a surgeon from New Zealand who came and sat at the table next to us that was for two, to finish his post supper beer, as they needed his table for four.
By the end of the dinner, we found out that two of the waiters, Aram and Harout, are originally from Bourj Hammoud, where I was born and raised. It is always interesting how people sense a different type of connection with those they share something in common, even oceans’ apart. We had a good hour before our driver was to come back and pick us up, so we went for a walk and ended up running into someone from Montreal, who was also having dinner near by – what a small world! We continued with window shopping at name brand stores, and ended up sitting at a park bench, where we enjoyed the surroundings with a body of water in the center, called “Swan Lake”. People were enjoying time with their loved ones – Gary and I sat down on a bench and absorbed the fresh evening air and a little dryer temperature compared to Beirut. I don’t know why, but maybe it was the change of air, no more garbage smells and clean streets, and I asked Gary, “If you had a chance to come back to this part of the world, would you prefer to go to Lebanon or Armenia?” His answer was, “Armenia” – just because of the obvious. In the nine hours or so that we have spent in Armenia, the cleanliness of the streets, the driving conditions, and the vibrancy of the young adults/ young families playing at a park safe and sound, all around us, had made the choice obvious that Armenia is the up and coming country of choice to visit, even live. Furthermore, with the new, acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, there is more hope than ever before – a life without corruption, and a better future for all – people spoke so highly about him, to me that I feel like I met him, but, no I did not. What a difference it makes to be welcomed in a country where there is Hope, a positive outlook, and a united attitude. There was an odd feeling for me in Armenia that I have never had it in Lebanon, U.S.A. nor Canada, everywhere we were I heard Armenian. I have never had that before. Even in my childhood as I lived in an Armenian neighbourhood of Lebanon, we still heard Lebanese Arabic all around us – this was so different, bizarre, weird, nice. Even with the different dialect it felt like home “in a minute”.
At the end of our evening, before we got home, we agreed with our young driver, Davit, who is a father of a one-month old Emilia, that he will pick us up tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. and take us for a day of explorations. We only had a week to visit Armenia, as much as possible, so we needed to plan well and get to “work”.
Beloved, I do not know what it is, but that feeling of belonging even at a place that you have never been before, is truly a gift that I cannot explain. Yes, Love and Respect can be spoken in all languages, but there is something about that language of your childhood, and the history of your ancestors awakening the language of the heart that no material nor money can offer. We are here, in Armenia and we will hang our hat for the next week and see what wonders we will find, as we explore this ancient beauty who is been born again.
Signing off… Tuesday, September 25, 2018, 11:46 p.m. – Five Dove Bed and Breakfast – Davtashen District, Armenia.