Trains from Tbilisi to Yerevan only run roughly every second day, and take more than twice as long as a bus does, mostly because the train trip is an overnight journey. I would have preferred the train, but it didn’t work out for going to Yerevan.
Busses leave from several locations in town, the most convenient one being from in front of the main train station. Leaving at 11, all travelers were foreign, none from the Caucasus. Two were even an Iranian couple, who, another group of Iranian tourists which I met earlier told me, apparently don’t need a visa to travel to Georgia. Georgia, then, is one of the very few countries where Americans and Iranians can meet without having to extensively apply for a visa.
When I crossed the stream demarcating the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia, one thing I noticed was the cacophony of birds which welcomed me after going through immigration. It’s hard to believe the birds weren’t on the Azeri side, but it did seem so.
Armenia, the first country adopting Christianity as a state religion at the start of the fourth century, beating Georgia and Ethiopia by 2 decades and Rome by 8, shares the gorgeous plains and mountain ranges with its neighbors and here, too, birds are everywhere.
As, obviously, are churches. Dotting the landscape, both the circular domes and cross shaped floor plans are said to have originated in Armenia, eventually being brought to Europe by plundering crusaders.
It’s also obvious from the shapes of these early churches that both mosques and churches once shared the exact same designs, probably most typically exemplified in isranbul’s Hagia Sophia, which was a church before the Ottomen conquered Comstantinople.
Also, I noticed later, some of the Armenian churches even, somewhat suprisingly, contain vaulted ceilings so typical of many mosques (like this one in Iran).
Driving from Tbilisi to Yerevan is quite the spectacular ride. Besides the marshrutka driver thinking he’s a genuine Michael Schumacher, meaning you’re constantly and literally only inches away from death by crashing into the ravine right next to the road, it’s the scenery that’s as close to breathtaking as it gets.
First, shortly after passing through the efficient border post, where visas for Armenia now turn out only to cost a mere 6 euros, the rocky gorge you drive through is littered with defunct Soviet heavy industry, slowly but surely falling apart.
Then, leaving the gorge and entering the rolling hills towards Yerevan, it’s first mount Aragat and then Ararat, jutting up from the plains, both of which are truly a site to behold.
Ararat, intertwined with the Armenian identity, is actually completely outside of the country, even though the mountain starts only a few kilometers south-west of Yerevan. Furthermore, the closed border between Armenia and Turkey means that the very symbol of Armenia is off limits to Armenians.
Six years ago, I was on the other side of the mountain, in Dogubeyazit, a mere 60 kilometers away from Yerevan, as the crow flies. But to get to Dogubeyazit from Yerevan, you either have to travel up through Georgia, into Turkey, and then down to Dogubeyazit, or east into Iran, around Nakchivan province, a part of Azerbaijan which is also off limits to Armenians, then back into Turkey.