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Armenia Dispatch: 2 - Yerevan
So the short answer first (admittedly after just two days): I am hugely bullish on Yerevan.
The city so far has exceeded my expectations by a degree or two of magnitude. Coming into the airport, which is somewhat run down and dreary, and then passing by the weak and weary casinos on the edge of town, you might be led to believe Yerevan is a post-communist republic (aka: one of the Stans), struggling to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Stunted and confused. Not true. Yerevan is a vibrant, happening, hip, fun, interesting and culturally rich city...and it is pulling this off in a neighborhood where the neighbors are all, shall we say, rather ornery.
For those who don't know, Armenia is a Christian nation, the first in history, yet it is surrounded on all sides by Muslim countries...many of whom, have not treated Armenia particularly well in the past. I'll not get into Armenia's extensive (and sometimes tragic) history at this moment; but you can read more at this link.
No, I want to focus on today. The now. And tomorrow. I will forecast right here that Armenia becomes a viable and somewhat common destination for American and European travelers within three years. No it will likely never become Italy or the US in terms of attracting tourism, but the country has an immense amount to offer, and is only beginning to wake up to rediscover itself.
You can see this in the streets of the city. I spent the day exploring Yerevan's busy avenues, historic churches and a few tourist sites (including a somewhat disappointing tour of the Ararat brandy factory which ended well, though, with a tasting session). It is a busy city. People stride along the streets and sidewalks with purpose. Of course, many are just standing around. Or sitting in the park. But there is an upbeat vibe and hum to the city. Oh, one thing. Walk the streets with care. The cars don't watch for you much. Even New Yorkers should take their alertness up a notch in Yerevan.
In the early evening, I ate a marvelous meal of kebabs and fresh vegetables at a restaurant called Parvana. I attended a concert for the Armenian Day of Independence and witnessed some tremendous musical talent. A young violinist (whose name escapes me right at this moment, but I'll find it) blew me away he was so talented. Afterwards, I walked around and experienced some of the city's nightlife. At eleven pm, the streets and clubs and bars and outdoor cafes were teeming with people, most of them young, good-looking and bursting with confidence. Yerevan is a confident city, and you can tell that the youth here are making the culture their own. While everywhere you walk western music blares from the speakers, so does Armenian music, which, even though I can't understand a word, has a unique, upbeat sound that's very appealing. In fact, I hope to spend more time over the next few days checking out the Armenian music scene.
So that's all pretty positive so far. I have to say I've been very impressed in just a few days, although admittedly, I've been just a tourist and have done mostly tourist things. All that may change as I head out into the country tomorrow and after.