Hallo der ute - her er hjemmesiden min!

Armenia – Beyond Comparison – day 1

I really had no clue how cool this place actually is. Now, I am probably not the average traveler, and yes I did have my brain fully focused on Armenia before I even considered getting a ticket and making a dream come true. Still, today exceeded all of my expectations – and you are probably gonna think I’m exaggerating since I already fell in love with Armenia a long time ago, but I swear to whatever there is hovering above us – Today has been one of the greatest days in my life. It ain’t that I haven’t had crazy and totally interesting travel experiences prior to this one, but the fact is that I am here all alone, I don’t really know anything about being a sightseer in Yerevan – and I did not make any kind of schedule as to how I wanted to distribute my few days here.  Well, to tell you the truth I have been studying the Armenian Genocide for the last 4 years, and yes I have taken a crash course in Eastern Armenian right upon the day of departure, but I haven’t actually figured out what to see and where to go. Lonely Planet was opened for the first time today, but I figured to hell with it, better just walk around and be spontaneous – and I left it in my suitcase. I figured that way I’d have to talk to people in order to find my way around.


After having strolled through the streets of Yerevan, seen the Modern Arts Museum, had 8 cups of metz sev surch (large black coffees), talked to a dozen people who had no idea what I was talking about before I uttered my first funny phrases in hayeren – Armenian , I got a taxi and went to the Genocide Memorial and the Genocide Museum at Tsitskernakabert. This memorial has been built in memory  of the 1.5 million Armenian lives lost when the Ottomans decided to annihilate every single Armenian living within their borders.


Tsitskernakabert is situated on a hill overlooking beautiful Yerevan. From one side you get to see Mount Ararat on a clear day. Surrounding the memorial is an area with trees planted by different presidents and delegations from around the world. There was no tree from anybody Norwegian. Concealed speakers serve the best of classical music, soft and kinda sad as people walk up to the large memorial with the eternal flame burning inside and large masses of flowers having been brought by visitors from all over the world.


There were three primary school classes from Armenia proper with flowers lined up around the flame singing songs, lots of diaspora Armenians and the occasional Norwegian guy who had to talk to the school teachers and the guys from Glendale, California, about the Genocide and Turkey’s perpetuated denial.



The thing it is, this whole area sets strong feelings in motion. I found myself actually shedding tears. This had an extremely emotionally strong impact on me. Especially when I noticed that most of the other visitors must have felt the same way. My brain kept spinning around the atrocities committed by the Ottomans, the total disrespect of life, the actual evilness that human beings are capable of. Having spent a day observing and experiencing the beautiful, easy-going, industrious and welcoming Armenians it is totally incomprehensible how anybody could want to wipe them off the surface of the earth.

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I spent a long time just contemplating and then decided to check out the actual Genocide Museum. Unfortunately it was closed and the entrance guarded by two cops who possessed an English vocabulary below zero. To top it off, they didn’t understand my desperate attempts in Armenian to try to figure out when it would open, so I decided to go take some action or I might miss out on the museum – and that would just not be acceptable. So, on the other side of the building there is an office, similarly guarded by two policemen – but different in the way that they actually understood my attempts to utter phrases in baby-Armenian. What they did was they let me speak to the manager. The manager invited me in to his office, explained in a kind of English why it was closed and when the were going to open it. I quickly decided to use my Svenniecharms (if they’re still there) to get what I wanted, so I thought of the genocide, got tears in my eyes, and told him the truth: “I came all the way from Norway to see the museum and now you’re telling me you’re only letting Presidents and MPs get to enter it, and then you reopen it to the public the day after I’ve left. I am so sad – look here –and I showed him my tears. What happened was that he waved his hand as to “follow me”, and through the back door he led me into the museum and gave me a fabulous tour, explaining the concept of it, the history behind the museum, how it came into being and then we watched all the pictures and the writings on the wall together. He eagerly answered all my questions and thanked me for being an Armenian friend.


A less than 10 minute drive by taxi the famous Ararat Brandy Factory is situated, so I thought it would probably be a good idea to get some samples of Armenian Cognac to calm my emotional state of mind  a bit, and get thinking of something else. I grabbed a cab, and was sure that this time he’s gonna overcharge me. People had warned me more than once that taxi drivers in ex-Soviet Republics are eager to make an extra buck or two, and since it hadn’t happened up until this point, I was sure that this time I would have to pay more than the regular price. Well, to tell you the truth – it didn’t happen this time either. A cab drive in Yerevan usually amounts to 1000 Drams, 2 US dollars, and 7 out of 7 cab drivers charged that exact amount or less. Since cab rides are always a good opportunity for practicing Armenian I always gave them twice that amount, and so that obviously made their day.


The Ararat Brandy factory produces high quality brandy and was even allowed to call their brandy Cognac at one stage when their products came to be highly appreciated by French connoisseurs and won a prestigious price. Nowadays the EU won’t allow it, so the brandy exported to non EU countries are labelled Armenian Cognac in Russian and Armenian letters, while brandy sold to Europe is called Armenian Brandy.


Another problem arose when I was kindly told that one can’t just drop by the factory and expect a tour. There is a booking in advance system, and so there was actually no organized tour in English, no tour in French and none in German – but wait a second – there was one in Russian and in an hour I might be able to join a group of Argentinians who did not speak English but still had to take the tour in English. I met up an hour later and begged the Argentinians to join them – and I was allowed on one condition – If I translated the whole ordeal into Spanish. So that was decided – and I gladly did it – these were all diaspora Armenians from Cordoba. They had kept their Western Armenian language and culture and were here to commemorate the 24th of April.


All the Presidents who visit the factory gets their own barrel of Brandy designed for them. When they come back, the barrel is opened and they get to drink the contents.

No less than three glasses of quality Armenian Cognac was included – the oldest had been stored for 70 years. To tell you the truth I had forgotten that I don’t like Cognac, but I gotta admit – since it is Armenian I just convinced myself that I like it – and so I did. But, yes I did feel shaky after consuming the full three glasses.


Contact info was exchanged with the Argentinians, and I started noticing the symptoms of a very unhappy stomach. I went through the day’s consumption and figured it hadn’t been all that much. Actually just the 8 cups of coffee – no breakfast, no lunch, not a single snack. I grabbed another cab and told him to take me somewhere where there is food. I didn’t much care what kind of food, as long as my stomach would stop nagging and my brain would start focusing on other matters than just food. He took me to a street nearby where there were some fast food places. Thanks to my Armenian teacher I was now able to read the letters which make up the Armenian kind of flat wheatbread called lavash. That was the first sign I saw and my feet automatically took me there. I waved to the woman inside and showed her the sign and read it out to her. “Lavash”. She obviously could not believe what she just saw and heard – and got a hold of the rest of the staff – told them something incomprehensible in Armenian, got one of the guys to get no less than 3 large lavahses and handed them to me. I told her – no only one –I don’t wanna be fat. She either didn’t understand or she didn’t listen. The three lavishes were mine, no discussion –and as to the charge: 0 drams. There was just no way she was gonna let me pay. She took one lavash out of the pile in my arms and prepared it with greens and cheese. Then she made a cup of tea, and the guy handed me a glass of wine. I told them my usual phrases in Armenian and I guess I must have made their day. They certainly made mine.


Back to my hotel room, I considered calling it a night, check my Facebook for exciting messages, the Armenian International Press App for any news on recognition, but waiting on my large King Size Super bed was a message from the Argentinians to please join the for “karmir gini” – red wine and some snacks in their room later on. I couldn’t let these acquaintances down the drain, so I thought for a sec, and just left the 20 year old cognac purchased for my upcoming wedding on the bed, changed into something warmer, and went out to grab some fast food before the party in the Argentinians’ room.

This would probably be the end of today’s events, but I just gotta tell you about what happened at the fast-food place.

The place was highly recommended by some young guys desperately sucking on their cigarettes right outside, wearing Norwegian Heavy Metal t-shirts. I’ve never met anybody so happy when I told them I was Norwegian – and they could not stop mentioning all kinds of bands originating in Norway. To be honest, I had no idea, but then to be polite I had to tell them I knew some of them. They were so thrilled.


Then I went upstairs and went through the next Armenian phrases to come out of my mouth as I was going to order something to eat. Now, lolikner, havemiss, varunk, garejour, hats – tomatoes, chicken, cucumber, beer and bread. If I should be so lucky as to get all of that – well that would actually be worth the effort of  twisting my brain to come up with some kind of  Armenian. Actually, as I uttered the words, the whole fast food place went form a cacophony of human chatter to a silence you can’t even imagine having in Maths lesson at OPG. Nobody said a word, they were all just staring at me. Then I said: I’m not Armenian – I am spjuyrk (meaning diaspora), and then corrected myself saying: I love Armenia,  but I am Norwegian. There was a roar of laughter and people clapped their hands. One of the waiters had this t-shirt condemning the genocide, written in Armenian letters. I complimented his t-shirt, and his reaction was to remove it from his body and then just give it to me. He said: For you, and then a lot of stuff in Armenian that I didn’t understand.


The Argentinians had bought red wine and masses of pomegranate seeds, so I must have spent most of the night with them – cause when I got back to my room I fell asleep in the chair holding my laptop. I was awoken by my cellphone: “Sven I am taxidriver –remember 9 o’clock”. So that was it – another great day today in Armenia, which you will get to read about later.