Driving School Armenian Style aka The Traffic Needed a Shepherd

Yerevan Travel Blog

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Brother do you want to buy a flower.

I wasn’t feeling well again so Rob took to the streets without me so I could sleep in.  He had this to add about the morning.

 

“Yerevan is a city in transition.  It has many new facades and buildings going up but you can still see the old behind the scenes.  The overall feel is much more modern and European than Tbilisi.  I went back to Republic Square and was struck by the coldness and blandness of it.

Building on Republic Square
  They have tried to create something grand and impressive, which it is, but it doesn’t have the character of other places.  I also went to the bazaar near the square.  It was tucked in behind buildings and had tarps stretched to block out the sunlight and protect from other elements.  The walkways were very narrow and tight.  This place is not for or about tourist.  It is about capitalism, survival, and providing for the local people.  There is great pride in the way the people set-up their wears to sell.  There is also an immense sadness in many of the faces and eyes.  You can see that this is their lives blood.  From the bazaar I went for a quick snack and then on to the National Gallery.
Clock tower on Republic Square
  The building on Republic Square houses the history and art museum.  I went for the art.  You start on the 8th floor in the European section and work down.  The 7th floor is Russian artist (many portraits) and then the rest is Armenian.  There are many older ladies monitoring the rooms.  I was by myself except for them most of the time.  I went through pretty fast as I need to get back to Brian.  They have a good collection.   From the Armenian artists I saw very little stood out as different.  I would like to go back and take more time to really evaluate it and absorb.  But it was time to get on with the real trip and be with Brian.
Building on Republic Square
”

 

We decided the afternoon would be best spent going to a monastery that has breathtaking views of Mt Ararat.  So we took to the car and moved it closer to where we wanted to have lunch.  We decided to go with a sure bet and went back to the Art Bridge CafĂ©.  Rob tried a semi-sweet Armenian red wine.  He said it was good but better with the food.  He wouldn’t just take a glass to sip and relax. I had an Armenian omelet.  After a nice lunch we were out on the road and on our way. 

 

The first order of business was to exchange the rental car we received when we arrived for one with air conditioning like I reserved.

Grand arch
  The guys at the airport pick-up sort of gave us directions to the headquarters in Yerevan.  Rob managed to navigate us in the right direction.  The drivers seemed to be a little aggressive and rude.  We wound up the hill behind the Cascade and found were in a jumble of streets and saw no streets signs at all.  We got off track and had no idea of where to go.  We tried calling the place to get directions.  Rob was told they would call us back in 5 minutes and they complained about us not having a local number.  I wasn’t going to just sit there so I turned around and headed back so we could at least see if we had passed it by accident.  At one point Rob got out of the car and tried asking some people for directions.
Details of building
  He used the map and the rental agreement with the address and pointed (A LOT!).  That didn’t work and no one seemed to recognize the street name.  When he got back in the car it had been more than 5 minutes and no call.  Rob tried to call back, but the line was busy.  Just as he hung up they called.  I could see the stream rising from his face as he was still furious form the previous conversation.  The man from Sixt Rental Cars (yes that is SIXT RENTAL CARS) verified that he was speaking to me (one of the beautiful things about a same sex couple, you can do business for each other on the phone with no questions).  He basically told Rob that they had checked and the reservation said nothing about AC, they had no cars with AC to replace the one we had, they could rent us another car with AC (conflicting with the last statement), and we would get no refund for the present car and have to pay the full price for the new car.
Entring the bazzar
  Now Rob was purple with rage, but maintaining a level of civil tone with the man.  He verified the crap that was spewed and then told me.  At this the conversation was just over.

 

We now decide the only option is to head out.  Windows down, sweat pouring down our backs we head back into the hustle and bustle of downtown.  Rob is doing his best to guide me through the maze of streets since we were routed down the hill a different way then we went up.  As we were pulling into a particularly busy and very large round about after a light had just turned green a cop motioned for me to pull over.  I was thinking this is going to be just one more reason to hate the experience of this trip.

Narrow ilse and lots to buy
  The cop came up to the car and started speaking in Armenian.  We looked dumbstruck and said English?!?!?.  His reply was “Ruskie?”. We said no, English.  He continued to speak Armenian…..which did none of us any good. He motioned for my license and registration while saying something.  We kind of knew what he meant.  He took the documents and persisted in trying to speak to us in his native language.  Finally he walked away with my license and the registration to speak to his counterparts.  When he came back he made some hand signals and finally just gave up.   He returned the documents and waved us on.  Before he could change his mind I pulled into traffic.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong direction and we had to do a curse correction.
Appliances anyone?
  We got onto what we initially thought was the right road and 15 minutes later in heavy traffic, Rob realized he had picked the wrong destination.  We turned around and headed back.  This should have a sign, but no.

 

We progressed back into the chaos of downtown traffic.  It was just groups of cars going in a direction and dodging and weaving with no attention to what lines use to be there to get to where they wanted to go.  Rob got us to the right artery out of town.  On the map it looked like it should be a straight shot.  The next problem came when there was a split in the road, and no road signs what so ever and the split was not on the map.

A little gambling on the side
  I should also mention that there are no speed limits posted or any other kind of driving directions other than hard to see stop lights.  Rob made the choice of direction and we were off.  We continued to drive though fairly populated areas. In order to not be run over I matched their aggression.  Rob was now a paler shade of grey going on white.  He clutched the “oh-shit” handle (as Rob’s grandmother called it) for dear life.

 

Ok, from here….there was a lot of guessing as there were no signs to assist from this point. Mt. Ararat was in view so I guessed this was the right way…….

Behind the bazzar
.then it wasn’t……then it was, again. Then their came a point that Ararat was to our south and we knew this was the wrong road. But, what to do now? We stopped on the side of the road briefly to get a look at the map and a man walked up and wanted money. How much, we didn’t know. We just gave him money until he walked away. We then moved on, frustrated. A couple of miles later we really decided not to go further without knowing our location. I pulled over to a section that I guessed was not being patrolled for parking fees.

 

Rob got out in search of location info and directions to where we desired to go….and a better map if possible. He told me that if he didn’t return in 15 minutes that I should leave and know that I would be provided for with the insurance money. About 20 – 25 minutes later, he returned. He found no one speaking English and no map. He did find some men to show him where we were on the map.

Tools of commerce
He tried to make them understand him….they thought his pantomime was funny and laughed at him as they played backgammon. He opened the map he had and making a hand gesture indicated it was a map.  They just shook their heads and one of them showed him a GPS of Armenia on his cell phone.  They were able to let Rob know we were in Yerevan, he even touched the ground and said Yerevan to confirm, and what road we were on at that time.  When they just were not getting further and Rob was ready to walk away, they phoned a friend who spoke English, but he didn’t understand the word map so, that was no help. We actually, after all of this time and extreme effort had not even left the city limits of Yerevan. We had gone south, then west and then north.
Old man selling seeds
We were closer to the city than away and wasted hours. I decided that I no longer wanted to be in this car …..going anywhere!!!!! We were going back to the hostel and park and not get back in until time to go to the airport. But, first…….we had to get back.

 

We turned around and started back. The traffic was even worse than before. It was 4:30 PM on a Friday……need I say more. The traffic around the city is very much like being in a heard of sheep. You are one of them and follow along with them and swerve with them. But, most of the time they don’t respect the worn away lines of the road, your space. We desperately needed a shepherd.  You are in a constant state of defensive driving. This was the case for the next 45 minutes or so. There were many points in which there were 4 cars wide on a 2 lanes in one direction…….AARRGGHH! The worst was when in this mass of moving metal, a big truck with tractor tires and a long bed for moving heavy equipment or rocks or something.

Policing the bazzar for pests
Started shifting left into my space while the person on my left had me blocked from moving……this is all while moving. I slammed on my brakes in order for the truck not to broadside us as Rob screamed like a little girl since he was on that side and saw the huge tires and sheet metal sides coming at us.  The truck hit the mirror on Rob’s side. It bent back and snapped. I was sure it was gone. We had to continue on as horns were honking and traffic piled up. So...off we go. Rob reached out and the mirror bent back and wasn’t broken. I don’t know how!!! This car was a cheap, low end, basic, Lada (with no a/c). Whatever……we kept going.  I traversed the way back into the city with Rob directing as best as possible. We were both so angry at this experience and the initial impressions that this city and its people had left us with. We made it through town and back to the hostel parked the car. I got out and slammed the door and vowed to not get back in, while thinking very bad thoughts about whole day!

 

We went inside and to the room, threw our stuff on the bed and just looked at each other….

Coffee and slippers for sell
.I think both wanting to cry. After a few minutes, we decided to cook dinner in and Rob went to the basement grocery down the street while I went down to check email. We he came back, there was an hour and a half class in the Armenian language starting and I thought that it might help to refocus all the negative energy. So, we joined in. It was quite informative and even a bit fun as the instructor, Gevorrg, liked to tell jokes, also. After about 30 minutes Rob slipped out of class to cook dinner.  He had gotten a really nice, thick streak (his words not mine!) for himself and praise the Lord above vegetables, fresh and streamable.  It was so great to have a meal I didn’t have to stress about.

 

After the class and while we ate, we got to chatting with a couple of guys…….Steven (from south Louisiana) and another from Jackson, Mississippi.

Street life
How about that! We all commented on the lack of accent amongst the four of us. After a lengthy travel conversation, Rob and I decide to go to bed. Actually, we wanted to finish the first season of Mad Men, which Rob hadn’t seen before. He’s now addicted and ready to order the next season so it is at home right after we return.  I want him to watch season 2 before season 3 starts so we can enjoy it together.  While we were watching we heard a serious cat fight happening outside.  They were really going at it.  We were amazed that it almost drowned out the sound of the DVD.

 

We planned to take one of the four interesting tours the next morning so, to bed…….at 1:00 am. But, at 3:30 the room next to us filled with LOUD girls from the Peach Corps waking us up.

Marchshutka stop, HURRY!
Rob had to go to the front desk and report them after he had attempted to knock on their door and tell them to be quiet.  Unfortunately for her, one of them walked out and right into Rob as he was returning to our room.  He reported that he was not pleasant and I’m sure looked scary as he had 3:00 AM bed head….which is now a little wild since he has grown his hair out so much.  Just more for the bad day!

travpro11 says:
Awesome blog! You took me down memory lane when I encountered the same driving problems in Rome :)
Posted on: Jan 23, 2010
moshers_moll says:
Sounds like you're having quite an adventure to say the least, and with such informative blogs it's almost as if we're there with you! :-)
Posted on: Jun 05, 2009
Africancrab says:
Incredible blog, wow I feel like I was present on your tour. I should love to tour the former Eastern bloc countries and most of the East of Europe. Lovely blog as always Brian, love reading about your travels.
Posted on: Jun 02, 2009
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Brother do you want to buy a flowe…
Brother do you want to buy a flow…
Building on Republic Square
Building on Republic Square
Clock tower on Republic Square
Clock tower on Republic Square
Building on Republic Square
Building on Republic Square
Grand arch
Grand arch
Details of building
Details of building
Entring the bazzar
Entring the bazzar
Narrow ilse and lots to buy
Narrow ilse and lots to buy
Appliances anyone?
Appliances anyone?
A little gambling on the side
A little gambling on the side
Behind the bazzar
Behind the bazzar
Tools of commerce
Tools of commerce
Old man selling seeds
Old man selling seeds
Policing the bazzar for pests
Policing the bazzar for pests
Coffee and slippers for sell
Coffee and slippers for sell
Street life
Street life
Marchshutka stop, HURRY!
Marchshutka stop, HURRY!
National Gallary
National Gallary
Still Life with a Mandolin by Juan…
Still Life with a Mandolin by Jua…
Baba (A peasant-woman) by Philip M…
Baba (A peasant-woman) by Philip …
View of Yerevan from National Gall…
View of Yerevan from National Gal…
City in transition
City in transition
Northern Ave.
Northern Ave.
Ararat brewry - home of the cognac…
Ararat brewry - home of the cogna…
Brian behind the wheel
Brian behind the wheel
In the flock of cars, Wheres the …
In the flock of cars, Where's the…
Lite traffic
Lite traffic
Safty is to the left
Safty is to the left
Sign for 16 years of independence
Sign for 16 years of independence
Yerevan
photo by: herman_munster