You read the sign that says “Welcome Home” as your driver heads out of the airport. You may have many overwhelming thoughts running through your mind, and/or you may be so jetlagged that you’re barely keeping your eyes open. Either way, you’ve made an empowering decision not only to visit Armenia but to immerse yourself in the culture and history. Once you get home, whether that’s at your homestay, your relative’s place, hotel, or the place you’ve rented, get your beauty sleep and then get settled. Once you’re well rested, get ready to enjoy the ride.
Coming to a new country can be confusing, but hopefully, I can share some insight into what a week in Yerevan could look like. Just remember, this is your trip and enjoy it!
Getting Around Town
When arriving in Armenia, I’d encourage you to have Birthright Armenia arrange your transportation from the airport. It’s always nice to have a relative offer to pick you up, but if you landed at 4 AM, as I did, you wouldn’t want to inconvenience your family. You’ve most likely just endured a very long flight, now let someone take care of the rest. Your driver will take you to your place and also provide you with some great essentials, including a SIM card for your phone with a local number and a list of Birthright contacts. Receiving that SIM card allows you to be in touch with your family to let them know you’ve arrived. The card is prepaid with 500 AMD, which is enough for a call and some quick social media updates.
The great thing about being a newbie to Yerevan is how easy it is to navigate throughout the city. If you don’t already have Google Maps, I highly recommend that you download the app to your phone. When in doubt, download an offline map of Yerevan to have with you regardless of your Wi Fi connection.
Navigating through the city is fairly easy as there are many buses, minibusses called marshrutkas, and the metro available to use. Each ride is only AMD100. That’s like 20 cents!
Tip: For the bus, pay the driver when you’re exiting the bus. For the metro, you purchase a token right outside the entrance gates. If public transportation isn’t your thing, download the app GG to your phone and call for a taxi. The app is similar to use like Uber except that you pay in cash. Taxi rides start at AMD 600 and are very inexpensive compared to most other countries. Ordering a GG is more preferred and trusted than getting any other taxi ride.
Sights and Bites
If you’ve arrived on the weekend, or don’t need to report into the Birthright Armenia office for a few days, take some time and explore the city. Trip Advisor is a useful resource of ideas, but you can also start walking around. It’s hard to know what’s close and what there is to see as a first timer. As I hit the streets on my first day, I got acclimated to my neighborhood. I got myself a phone plan for the month at Viva Cell, internet for the place I rented from Ucom and found all my local grocery stores.
Once I felt settled in, I started to let myself get lost in the city. You can spend hours walking and shopping for local handmade goods at Vernissage. Its open seven days a week, but Sunday's is when there are the most vendors. I started my Christmas shopping very early and even ordered some custom Trchnakir embroidered names for my friend’s kids. The sweet older lady was so excited for the order that she also negotiated the price down even after I ordered because she felt bad! Who does that?
Cascade Complex is another beautiful location to visit. With so many art installations in the park, including my favorite Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture, it’s such a calm and beautiful open space. If Rocky Balboa is your man, run up those steps and enjoy your victorious view of the city and Mt Ararat. It’s also pretty magically during sunrise and sunset. Make it back here on the last Friday of the month for the open folk dance as it’s a night you should at least experience once. It’s a night full of fun and dancing… so much dancing! I’ve never seen a shoorch-bar with so many people! If you want to eat at Cascade on the weekend, make sure you make a reservation. The museums there are also free on Sunday.
Fancy the arts? Catch a concert or the ballet at the Opera. Tickets are so inexpensive; it would be a shame not to visit it at least once. I caught a night of Armenian dances and was beyond impressed by the dancers and the musicians. More info still art? Visit the National Gallery of Armenia.
Take the metro, bring some flowers, and pay your respect at Tsitsernakaberd. It’s hard not to get emotional here. Aside from the memorial, there is also a museum worth checking out.
If you’re more into organized tours, Birthright Armenia schedules excursions every Saturday. Looking for more? Hyur Service comes highly recommended. I embarked on the Etchmiadizin tour this past Sunday and loved it. We visited three churches, Hiripseme, Etchmiadzin, and Gayane and then also the Zvartnots temple and museum. I can’t wait to do another tour with them.
If you’re a craft beer coinessur like me, then a visit to Dargett is a must. The local brewery is always bustling with people. Try their special apricot ale; you won’t regret it. They also serve food, so get your munch on! Tap Station also has Dargett on draft.
There were so many delicious looking restaurants when walking down Martiros Saryan. It’s definitely a street I want to venture back and try. The hustle and bustle of Northern Avenue is a reminiscence of Champs-Elysees.
When you’re crusading the streets of Yerevan, you will come across many delicious looking fruits sold by locals. A cautionary tale, you may think you have an iron stomach, but you don’t. Accept that. Coming from the states, you think you’ve tried and eaten it all, but you really haven’t. The quality of food is very different from the processed setting we come from. To be on the safe side, when consuming the local tap water, fresh fruits, or red meat, have some Immodium or Pepto Bismol with you. You never know how your stomach will react.
On another note, if you have severe sinus and allergy issues, know that the air quality in Yerevan is very likely different than where you’re coming from. Smoking is not a taboo activity as the health ramifications isn’t as wildly informed amongst the public. It takes a while to adjust. Pack some Flonase, your Nedi Pot (Neil Med), and your daily allergy meds to prevent you from getting sick.
Well, now you’ve entered a city with endless possibilities and the best advice I can give is to jump right in. Make the most out of your first week and every week that you’re here. Talk to people on the streets. Say yes. Go on day trips. Attend all the festivals. Hang out in the main area of the Birthright Armenia office and introduce yourself. Make friends. When in doubt, there is always something to do every day of the week with other volunteers. If you want to reap all the benefits of Birthright Armenia, here’s a taste of all the goodies you can find during the week:
(Unsponsored) dance class to shake away your Mondays
Learn the Armenian ABCs on Tuesday and Thursday nights
Wednesdays are for forums
Havaks after work on Fridays
Saturday is for excursions
Sunday Fundays are for you to grab the new friends you made during the week and make some memories
And with work? Trust in the Birthright Armenia team to guide you to a job that you love. They have your back. You may know what your job is or you might still be interviewing. In the end, everything will work itself out. You’re with family now.