• Andrej Spilevoj

ARMENIA (the first time visitor notes)


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The first exciting thing for us, those coming from Europe, are the desks that you meet right after the passport control: placed next to each other you find two tables of two different phone companies. Both selling new SIM cards for people like us (using EU SIM card in Armenia is a suicide - the prices are too high). "Good morning" - both ladies speak very fluent Russian and English. Both selling 100% same services: SIM cards, Internet, etc. We tried to compare them both, and we noticed that one of them is around 1000 AMD more expensive than the other. OK, I am the one who is obsessed with good Internet connection (most of my clients deal with me over emails). So naturally I headed to the lady with higher prices. My expectation is pretty clear: more expensive - better services, coverage, connection, etc. My brother was still in doubt, so I dared to ask the lady at the "expensive" desk what’s the difference between her services and the services of the cheaper option placed 1 meter away. To my surprise, I heard this:

-No difference at all!.

-Wait, whaaaat?- we, those from Europe, are quite emotional when it comes to money:

-So if there is no difference, why you have different prices?

-They are just cheaper, there is no difference in services or coverage,- she said, which sounded like: "Look, honestly, I don’t care if you buy the SIM card from my competitor, I am here only to accept cash and activate SIM cards…"

OK, we had a little giggle with my brother and continued our journey to this amazing country, with the SIM cards of the cheaper company in our phones, of course…

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Getting a taxi was too easy. While browsing the taxi app, we were approached by an old man, maybe in his 60s, who offered a "very cheap ride" to Yerevan city centre. Even though our app has shown the prices within 2000-3000 AMD range, the man told us that this is without extra airport tax and "sitting in" fees (which, as he explained, has to be paid by every person who gets into the taxi). The full price will be around 5000 AMD - the same price that he asked us to pay. Well, partly because we are still new and naive, partly because of his age and friendly manners, we agreed - the man in this age should be reliable enough, we thought. To our surprise we had to walk with our luggage around 500 meters (and fight few steps on the way) to the car park near the airport, and then we found out that our man was driving quite a shabby Mercedes, the sits of which were covered by a beautiful Armenian carpet. Oh, well… we made a few selfies, posted some happy emotions on social media and headed to our new journey - the heart of Armenia - Yerevan… later, when going back to the airport after our 7 days holidays trip, we found out that there is no airport tax or "sitting in" fee, and that the real price from Yerevan to the Airport is only around 2300 AMD.

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In the taxi (speaking in Russian) on the way from airport:

-It’s your first visit to Armenia?

-Yes, it is.

-Oh, you will like it here.

A huge military car full of soldiers overtakes our old Mercedes… me:

-So many solders… something wrong has happened in Yerevan?

-No, nothing special, it is our constant state - the state of being ready for war.

-And who is the enemy?

-Well, Azerbaijan, Turkey, America…

-America?

-Yes, they are everywhere. Look, we are now passing by the American embassy, do you see those huge antennas on their roof? Why they need such antennas? What are they doing there? Listening or watching us? And you guys, what part of Russia you are from?

-We are not from Russia, we are from Lithuania, from Europe…

After a short pause…

-Well, guys, what I said about America… I did not mean it … it does not matter where you are from, as long as you are a good person…

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We are heading towards a very beautiful Coffee House, which looks like a kiosk, but is coloured with banners and promos of their products. A young lady at the counter smiles at us and asks what we would like to order. In fact, it actually sounded exactly like that: “What do you want?”, only in Russian. This is quite surprising for us, since we kind of used to “Good morning, how are you doing? What would you like to order?”… but “What do you want?” was also good enough.

-One coffee for me, please…

-And… - my brother looked at their menu: and one beer, please…

-Sorry, we have no beer…

-But I can see that your menu includes several types of beer, and you have two beer taps at the desk…

-No, sorry, we have no beer, it’s finished.

-Finished? - we looked around - no people, no action, just about the midday.

-Sorry, it is finished.

-Where can I get a glass of beer then?

-I don’t know. There is no beer around here, it is finished. Maybe in the centre of Yerevan?

-OK, then two coffees.

We got our drinks and sat at the bench near the kiosk, wandering around and sipping slowly.

-Damn, look, there is a huge beer kiosk just behind the kiosk where we got our drinks. Why did she say there is no beer around? People are clearly sitting there and drinking the beer!

This was our first, but not the last “I don’t know, there is nothing around”.

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Speaking in Russian:

-Bro, please take a blessing…

I looked around, it was an old man in his 60s or even 70s, pushing his hand towards me. He held a small card with Jesus painted in orthodox style. Since this happened in the middle of the street, and my brother was occupied with another seller a few meters away, I decided to get into the conversation and took the card.

-Bro, it is a blessing, take it, it is free.

Well, this country is amazing, this is my first two hours in Yerevan and people already giving me the gifts. Another man sitting next to him offered me a free strawberry from the box:

- Try it, it is local!

We started conversation and after opening all the cards about our origin (since everyone was thinking we are from Russia) both Armenians came to the same point that “it does not matter where you are from, as long as you are a good person…”. And here, just before leaving my new friendly comrades, I was asked to thank for the blessing that they gave me - in money, of course. Since I was not prepared for it, I started searching for the coins in my pockets, hoping to get rid of this awkward situation as soon as possible.

-Bro, the blessing should be repaid in paper money, not in coins. Please, check your wallet, maybe there is some paper banknote, otherwise the blessing would not count…

Not sure how I got rid of these strange “blessors”, but a few good days after that I was still looking at the card with Jesus in our car, thinking what should I do with it and if it remains with me till the last day of our trip. And it did. Even when I intentionally left it in the hotel, the cleaner chased me up and gave it back to me. I guess it is very important in Armenia, so do not disregard it.

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While landing the drone after taking some shots of the abandoned factory, I noticed a man approaching me. He was quite angry, but I knew I did nothing wrong, so I kept landing right next to our car.

-Who are you?

-Excuse me?

-Who are you? I will call the police. No drones here. Strategic object behind my house. I live here, I am ex-police officer, and who are you?

Man, that was not planned by me for tonight, I thought. I took out my Lithuanian passport, and showed it to him:

-Sir, I am a tourist, I am a photographer, I take pictures.

-No photos, here is a strategic building behind my house, - the man kept pointing to the opposite direction from the place that I filmed.

-Look at the footage, I filmed the abandoned factory, not your house or any strategic object.

-I call the police, no photos here,- he sounded like he is just about to destroy me even without the help of the police….

-Look at my portfolio (I showed him my beautiful Instagram page), I am a photographer, please don’t call the police…

He looked at my website, my gallery and my passport:

-Come with me…!

“I …. AM…. DEAD!!!” was in my head…

30 minutes later, we were eating Armenian dinner and drinking Armenian coffee that was prepared by the super friendly man’s wife. His son disappeared and reappeared in 10 minutes with a huge watermelon that was served to us as if we were the best family friends. The man showed me his watering invention in the garden and his own heating system (designed and created by himself), told me his life story and introduced us to his whole family, as if we were the best friends.

You never know what to expect in Armenia, but probably this is why everyone says Armenians are the most friendly people in the world...

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We are half tank of petrol, but here there is a good opportunity to get it full - finally a small town in the middle of the mountains. We see the petrol station and stop by:

-Good afternoon, sir, do you have petrol E95?

-No, only diesel and E98.

-OK, where could we get E95?

-Oh, no, there is no chance to get it around here, maybe only if you drive to the next town…

-OK, thank you, sir, have a nice day… - we still have a lot, so I do not worry, but getting a full tank while driving in the mountains is safer than getting it empty. We left the petrol station and drove only 10 meters away - here is another petrol station where it clearly says: E95. We stopped and with a huge misunderstanding of the whole situation. I came to the seller (yep, in Armenia all petrol stations are served by the seller, you do not need to even touch the injector) and asked as if I was not really sure:

-Good afternoon, sir, do you sell E95?

-Well, you can see, it says so on the pump - E95, do you want a full tank?

-Yes, sir, full tank, please. But why your neighbour just told us that we have to drive to the next city in order to get E95? You are like 10 meters apart…

-Because he is a cunt!!! (“пидарас”).

I remembered the coffee house now… but why?

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