When I served in Peace Corps Armenia, the local bus from Masis to Yerevan was a short thirty minute ride. The entire trip took the same amount of time as walking from my part of town, (pass my local bus stop) to the center of town. Beginning my journey at the main bus depot was the only way to get a seat. By the time the bus reached my stop, it was normally so full that I could barely get on the bus.
So, I would make the walk and wait. The buses in Masis run every fifteen minutes. If I arrived at the depot in time to get a seat, before the bus pulled out, I did. If I arrived and the bus was standing room only, I waited for the full bus to pull away. As soon as it did, the next bus driver would open the doors of his bus.
After thirty minutes, the bus would pull into the parking lot of the Sasuntsi Davit Metro station, across from the Yerevan Railway terminal. I would get off the bus and quickly make my way to the Metro, saying hello (Barev dzez) to the one vendor I knew. I would then wait in line, like a local, making sure that no one jumped ahead of me, while waiting to purchase a token. I would then drop the token into the slot by the escalator and ride up to the platform.
Two short stops later, I was at the Republic Square Metro stop and a world away from my site. Yerevan is a proper big city. There’s a Cinnabon, on Northern Avenue, a short walk from the Metro. Over a two year period, I would spent most weekends in Yerevan at different hotels. I would go back and forth between the Armenia Marriott Hotel, the Best Western Plus Congress (locals call it The Congress), IBIS Yerevan Center, Doubletree by Hilton Yerevan, the Holiday Inn Express Yerevan, The Republica Hotel Yerevan, or one of the local chains.
In less than an hour’s time, I could go from being at site (heating up water, for my sponge bath), to having a hot shower, in Yerevan. The Doubletree was my first choice. I spotted the hotel, during Peace Corps Pre Service Training. PST is a twelve week training period, prior to starting the two years of volunteer service. Trainees live with host families. Each weekday begins with four hours of language training. Then, it’s home for lunch. After lunch, there’s program, cultural, and safety training. Then, it’s back home for dinner.
One of our PST sessions was a day in Yerevan, to open up bank accounts. We were given the rest of the day to sightsee and have lunch. I took my lunch break at the Doubletree. I noticed the hotel as soon as I walked out of the bank. As I crossed the street and began making my way there, a group of young men asked if they could take a photo with me. I said yes. We took the photo and I said goodbye in Armenian, ts’tesut’yun. The young men laughed and said, “We’re not Armenian. We’re from Iran!”
Whenever I needed pool time, I headed straight to The Best Western Plus Congress Hotel. After a few weekends, of traveling back and forth, I figured out how to skip the Metro. I would simply get off the local bus, just down from the Yerevan Mall, and taxi to the hotel. The first few times, the drivers didn’t know where I wanted to go. Locals refer to the Best Western as The Congress. Until I figured that out, I would say the DoubleTree and direct them from there. The two hotels are less than five minutes apart, by car.
Around Christmas, I began a long stretch at the IBIS. I first stayed at the hotel, in the fall, as part of a week long staff diversity training session for Peace Corps Armenia. I fell in love with the hotel’s staff! The front desk always remembered me and put a plate of fruit in my room. I would quickly pack it away, to take back to my site. One of the bartenders always gave me grief, over my lack of Armenian language knowledge, like an old friend or younger brother. IBIS Yerevan became my home away home.
During my second year of service, the Holiday Inn Express opened in Yerevan. It was directly across the park from one of my favorite restaurants, Eat & Fit. I booked a room, during the opening weekend. I really liked the location, walkable from Republic Square. I arranged a sleepover, for my host family, on my last night in Armenia. It was a small way to thank them for making me part of their family.
For visitors, there was only one choice. The Republica Hotel offers airport pickup, a central location, a restaurant serving Armenian food (for dinner) and a pretty amazing breakfast buffet. For sightseeing, both Republic Square and the North Avenue pedestrian mall are both ten minutes from the hotel. I’m still friends with the bartender. We follow each other on Instagram.
What makes me homesick about Armenia! Everything! I miss my PST host mom, my siblings in Masis, my former students, and all the neighborhood kids. I miss my hotel friends, my restaurant friends, and I miss the Red Thai Curry at Thaiwine Republic on Northern Avenue. I miss being greeted by the staff at Angus Burger, my crew at Eat & Fit, and my other crew at the Coffeeshop Company, …. I could go on ….
But … we both know that COVID-19 restrictions are not going to allow me to visit home any time soon. Until then … I wish I was …. —GGT