Monday, December 27, 2010

Sometimes it's about the destination

I am very familiar with the saying, "It's about the journey, not the destination." I have said it many, many times. And usually I hold to that philosophy. But today -- by the end of the day -- it was about the destination. But let's start at the beginning of the day....

Tbilisi on the Mtkvari River - pre-dawn
I got up for my pre-dawn run to a cold, clear morning. The lights in the city were amazing. I grabbed my little camera on my way out the door so that I could shoot a few pictures of Tbilisi lit up. Tbilisi is a much more beautiful city when the sun is not shining. I like it in the daylight - the run-down stone and rusted metal have character - but in the dark, it's really beautiful. I ran out to the main square beneath the citadel and took the steep, narrow cobblestone road that winds up through the multi-storied, balconied houses that cling to the hillside. The incline is so steep that in a couple of places, it was tough to keep going even at a jog, but the climb was well-worth the view! After snapping a couple of pictures, I thought that I would try to find my way to the church that sits on a pinnacle across a small valley from the citadel, so I ran part-way back down the hillside and took the first road that I found that went in the right direction. I kept following the roads that led alternatively up and east - the two directions I needed to go - but I kept running into dead ends. Literally. (The running part, not the dead part!) I ended up backtracking all the way back down the hill without getting to my destination. I would've kept exploring until I found my way there, but I had only 30 minutes to run. Katherine, James, Brad, and I planned a road trip today, and we were meeting at 9 a.m.

The citadel just before dawn
While I was winding my way back down the way I came, the sky started to lighten. The blue changed from midnight blue to Prussian blue. The citadel was still lit up, and the golden light contrasted against that distinct blue was gorgeous! I couldn't help stopping to shoot another few photos. I got back to the hostel in time to shower, pack, and have some breakfast just before 9. The four of us met in a plaza and grabbed a taxi to the bus station to find a mini-bus to Yerevan, Armenia.

I know very little about Armenia. I know there was a genocide that took place around 1915, but that's all I know. In my Lonely Planet guide book for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are also included, I have read a little about the other two countries, but nothing really piqued my interest. But, since I love going to new places - and my fellow-TLG teachers do, too - we decided to take a couple of days to check out the capital of Armenia.

We had planned to take a marshutka to Yerevan - a 5-hour drive south - but ended up getting a cab instead for only 5 lari more per person (not very much money). The cab was a Mercedes van that already held three passengers - some very nice college students from Armenia on their way back to Yerevan. The girl spoke pretty good English, so we talked a bit about Yerevan and Armenian language - she taught us a few words. The alphabet is another unique one, so we can't read it. But we weren't really concerned about lacking that skill. Since we'd only be in Armenia for two nights, how much trouble can we get ourselves into not being able to read??

Armenian no-man's land - well, it may belong to whoever lives
in those houses in the lower right corner...
After crossing the border into Armenia, the terrain changed completely. We entered a rough river valley called the Debed Gorge. The road was narrow and windy and rough - and our driver, being Georgian, treated it as if it were a newly paved, perfectly straight highway. I just didn't look out the front window! The cliffs and river and mountain sides held my attention. I kept seeing places that I wanted to explore and climb. Then we came to the Ararat Plain - a large, elevated expanse of high. rolling hills and smooth, treeless mountains that extends through much of the center of Armenia to Mount Ararat in the south near Turkey. (According to the Armenians, they have the "real" Mt. Ararat - not Turkey.) There was almost no civilization for hours. Every now and then we passed a small village tucked into a valley or an industrial plant of some sort, but overall, for mile after mile after mile after mile there was nothing but brown mountains. There was some snow as we climbed higher, but even the snow was brown. The air was brown, We were starting to feel brown. Our moods got a little drab as the nothingness dragged on and on and on. I found myself wondering what it would be like to live there. What did these people do everyday? How do they spend their time? What is normal life like for them? How different is it from my life in Shamgona? These musings entertained my mind for a while as the dreary scenery dragged on. The four of us were beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into with this un-investigated adventure! When it seemed that we couldn't take anymore brown, more appeared on the horizon, but there was some civilization in it - Yerevan! We had made it. We drove through the city to our hostel and were very excited to see a city that is vibrant, European, young, and much cleaner than Tbilisi.

After enjoying a night in the city - lights, color, Armenian wine and cognac, hummus and pita, olives, pedestrian-right-of-way, clean bathrooms, the list could go on - we decided that Armenia was fast-becoming one of our favorite places! Or, rather, Yerevan, specifically. I'm not sure I would like spending much time in the brownness of the "journey" that we took through the country. Today, I like my destination.

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