The contrast between Iran and Armenia is huge, which made crossing the border between the two countries a pretty bizarre experience. One is an Islamic country that bans alcohol, and the other proudly boasts being the world’s first Christian nation and making, according to locals, the world’s best brandy.
On the Iranian side of the border the guards questioned me about my Norwegian passport being issued in New York (uh… I was on holiday in the U.S.?) and then threatened to detain me because oops, my visa to Iran had technically expired two and a half hours before I made it to the border.
Hot tip: if you ever find yourself in trouble with Iranian border guards, summon the queasiness you had been feeling from the bus ride and puke in their waste bin. They will kindly offer you some tea and then practically shove you across the border for Armenia to deal with.
Once the blonde immigration officer stamped me into Armenia I shed my headscarf and was embraced by one of my Iranian bus mates.
“We’re in Armenia, time to party!”
Were these the same guys who had shyly offered me cucumbers while I was battling motion sickness on the bus from Tehran? They were clearly headed to Yerevan for some serious New Year’s partying, and were very excited to be nearly there.
As for me, I was sad about leaving Iran, but also happy to be greeted by a group of taxi drivers in Russian. Finally, a language I understood!
I ended up spending one week in Yerevan, whose eclectic mix of European and Asian vibes pretty much made it my dream city. As Armenia is such a tiny country, the capital was also an ideal base from which to make day trips out into the countryside to see several of Armenia’s historic churches and monasteries.
Um, did you guys know that Armenia is home to some of the most impressive and beautiful churches and monasteries in the world? I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as after all, Armenia became the world’s first Christian nation in 301 A.D. Armenia’s stunning mountains make for some dramatic backdrops to these old monasteries, too.
Things to do in Yerevan
Yerevan is small enough to easily wander around by foot, stopping for frequent breaks in any one of the city’s many, many cafés. Seriously, Megan Starr was not exaggerating when she wrote that Yerevan has the world’s best café culture – I was loving it in chilly spring, so I can’t imagine how amazing it is in the summertime!
But anyone who knows me knows that actually I almost always would rather it were winter. For my first few days in Yerevan the city was enjoying some nice warm, sunny spring days. It was nice.
But then it snowed, and Yerevan totally stole my heart. The city went from this:
Not only did the snow turn Yerevan into a winter wonderland (okay maybe most people weren’t as excited about that as I was), but it also offered the perfect opportunity for Armenian men to show off their chivalry.
I had already been impressed by how quick cars were to stop for pedestrians crossing the street, and now walking through the narrow shoveled pathways in the snow I was surprised to see every man I encountered practically leap into snowbanks to let me pass. The women weren’t as keen to step into the deep snow, and neither was I, so we would usually just cross really close to each other in a bit of an embrace. All in all the experience left me with even more affection for Armenians.
The bus from Tehran to Yerevan took about 22 hours and cost $50.
If you’re on a budget in Yerevan then definitely stay at Zebra Hostel, which is centrally located and run by a super friendly group of young Armenians. Check current prices for Grammy Hostel
Seeing Yerevan as part of a tour of Armenia (and Georgia!)
While I traveled through Armenia and Georgia independently, if you don’t speak any Russian, want something more organized, or would prefer traveling in a group a tour can be a really good option.
My friends recently did the Best of Georgia & Armenia 10-day G Adventures tour and it sounded amazing. I wish I had managed to see so much of both countries! They said that their group was really fun, and they certainly had a more relaxing time than I did having to organize everything myself.