Saturday, August 31, 2013

I'm in Armenia!



And for the second time in less than one week, being befuddled by a somewhat baffling alphabet. Georgian and Armenian are simultaneously kinda similar and completely different, and trying to learn both concurrently might be scrambling my brain a little.

I'm in Yerevan earlier than expected. After chatting with the guy who runs the Tbilisi guesthouse, including a weather check, I decided at short notice (9:00 pm at night) to come to Armenia first (leaving at 8:00 in the morning) and to return to Georgia in a week or two. I've sort of been flying by the seat of my pants for the past few weeks. I have a general itinerary in mind, but the when, how, and even where are decided sometimes on a daily basis. The downsides - an occasional worry about finding accommodation, and at times paying premium prices for last minute tickets (I'm looking at you, British rail companies*) - are offset by the advantage of really having complete freedom to do whatever I want when I want, instead of being locked into a booked itinerary and route. It's also making me confront and challenge my inner control freak, and pushing me out of my comfort zones a bit, which I want to do. I relinquish control to transport timetables, weather, and whimsy.

Here's a little story from yesterday. It requires three introductory points.

1. I'm easily identifiable as a foreigner here. This despite efforts to wear understated and unbranded clothing, not having a camera dangling around my neck, not carrying a guidebook and map openly in my hand, and in general making a very conscious effort to not look lost even when I am. I don't know how they know. Possibly from some combination of footwear (unfashionable but functional), small backpack (ugly but a daily necessity), canteen (hydration is important, and it's approaching sultry temperatures here), and sun hat (it's also quite sunny). Or maybe it's just my looks.

2. People speak to me in Russian. I don't know if this is because they think I'm Russian, or because Russian is a common second language for many here, and therefore the default language with which to engage a foreigner. I think it's mostly the latter, especially with older folks.

3. Snacking on sunflower seeds is popular here, both in Tbilisi and Yerevan (I assume elsewhere as well). The sidewalks are lined with women (usually) who have a small table or crate with a selection of seeds, and small paper cones. Park benches as often as not have a spray of sunflower seed shells underneath them. Both of these cities have more park benches than I've seen anywhere else, and most of them are occupied most of the time. These people are highly advanced in the art of leisure.

So I'm sitting on a bench, discreetly referring to my Kindle e-book guide to figure out some eating options, and I realize there's a little old lady in front of me speaking some Russian words. At one point a couple of years ago I knew some emergency Russian, but time and German lessons have pushed that vocabulary deep into the dusty crevices of my brain. So I just smile at her, and maybe say something to the effect that I'm American. I don't really remember. She chatters on a bit and then reaches onto her bag and gives me a handful of sunflower seeds, says goodbye in Russian, and wanders on. I sit there eating my seeds and wishing that I'd  had the guts to ask if I could take her picture (taking photos of people is also out of my comfort zone), because she's a character. After a bit I move down the street, and there she is, sitting on a low wall. So I ask if I can take her picture, at first she demurs, but then relents, and here it is. I wish she had been smiling, because she had a great cheerful smile, with lots of gold teeth. But I think she also looks sort of distinguished, if serious, in this picture. I have no idea why she decided to talk to me and give me some sunflower seeds, but I'm glad she did.

A short write up of Scotland coming...at some point. Spoiler: it rained.

* And, British rail tip: The guy sitting next to me on the London to Inverness train fed me a useful tidbit of info. If one's train is 30 minutes late, one is entitled to a return of half the fare. If an hour late, one is entitled to a return of the entire fare (in the form of a voucher). Both my trains being on time, I did not get a chance to test this out. So, if you have an expensive rail ticket, hope that your train runs late.

Friday, August 2, 2013