Just a short hop from Zürich to Yerewan via Wien, easy peasy in this day and age.
Only a few short years ago this trip took two or three days with loooong stopovers in Moskau or Kiew, depending if the pilot had bribed the ground crew for enough fuel or for fuel that did not contain 10% water.
I was returning to Armenia after twenty years, should be an interesting trip, let´s see what has changed.
The airport for one, the old crumbling concrete Soviet-Style UFO shaped building now has a steel and glass construction grafted onto it, a mix of styles almost too painful to contemplate, new was getting the visa, no more camping for days outside the Armenian embassy in Berlin, now you could just walk up to a desk and change money Euros to Armenian Dram´s at an exchange rate of 1 Euro = 525 Armenian Drams I am back in the land of funnymunny.
Along with your three thousand Drams you go to a guy at another desk and you get a form to fill in, stroll over to a desk jostling for space with 300 other people disgorged from out of two other planes.
Dusty and timeless, wild and serene, a very ancient landscape and as some would say the cradle of human civilization, Armenia has a culture going back thousands and thousands of years.
A Cattle herd being driven over the landscape, probably in the same way since Noah was a lad.
Three thirty in the morning, I do not fire on all cylinders but I managed to dredge up a smile and a "Bari Louis," a good morning greeting as I waited for my turn at the desk.
This, being Armenia took quite a while as some bugger had nicked all the pens.
Twenty years ago the street leading out of the airport to downtown Yerewan was lined by Aeroflot plots and a brace of Stewardae selling fuel out of oil drums that they had syphoned from their aircraft. They had used an old timey hand pump to fill passing cars.
I waved to our pilot and he waved back, we had flown in with an ancient Tupolev 134, for aircraft freaks it is the one with the glass "bomber nose" not for bombing runs but as a nod to the hit and miss Russian navigation of the day.
Sowiet domestic navigation at the time meant that you followed the railway tracks to where you wanted to go.
The glass nosecone was a bit of a money spinner for the crew, It had the kick that if you gave the pilot a few US dollars you could lay down in the nose when the aircraft was taking off or landing, yes I gave it a try, quite an experience and something to tell the grand kids.
In the bad old days of Aeroflot domestic flights fun and adventure were virtually guaranteed, on a flight back to Moskau we ran out of fuel, seems the guys had flogged too much and we had to make an emergency landing in Sochi, we waited for hours and hours in a baking oven of a plane until another plane landed that had enough on board to sell to our pilot, the crew had held a whip round for the money.
Planes wing to wing and with a hand pump EEEK, EEEK, EEEK, EEEK gave us enough to reach Kiew where the plane was filled up able to reach Moskau.
Roll on twenty, the pilots gone.
The streets of today are lined with the garish lights of all ´nite casino´s and strip-joints I am still trying to compute if this represents any kind of progress.
However, methinks you could still get Jet A-1 aviation fuel ladled out of a jerrycan somewhere round the back of the airport.
I had arrived on the Sunday morning expecting to be picked up, only nobody was standing around with a bored expression and a sign "Slammer gets it here." I milled around for a while until I gave a shout "Pickup for Slammer?"
A half hour later and I was in a generic hotel fast asleep.
I had spent over a half year in Echmiadzin, the "Vatican" of the Armenian church, I had done my upmost to assist building up a printshop, let me rephrase, bring a 19th century printshop into the late 20th century, I installed laser devices where a camera had stood built in 1888, the year Jack the Ripper ran amok and my grandmother was born.
Vagharshapat, the church in the monastery in Echmiadzin, built in 303 and the seat of the Catholicus, Armenia´s pope.
The printshop had been financed by the diaspora, the planning was given to a useless dimwitted half blind guy from Germany who normally sold stationary in a shop, somebody had thought that selling newspapers was a pre requisite for a international multi million dollar printing shop project, being totally out of his depth everything had descended into chaos from the word "go" the whole printshop was found to be using 6 inch nails in the fuse box but as we only had power for a few hours glowing nails was the least of our problems.
He also paid us on the spot in German Marks, 1000 Mark notes, that nobody could change, not even the bank in Yerewan, they simply did not have enough money.
A few days later he left us to our own devices and buggered off back to Germany among jaded threats concerning his health.
We was a tough bunch but still we had contracts to fulfill.
So even though we were rich beyond belief in a country where wages were calculated in a few hundred Roubles we had no money, even for food, the monks in the monastery had taken to feeding us but we could tell that feeding a group of forty was starting to be a strain.
In the end we had decided to sacrifice a 1000 Mark note and as I was the biggest and bad-assed looking I was elected to go to the local mafia to see what they could do.
I took Rick with me and we went down a flight of stairs into the basement.
After the usual vodka greetings we were asked what we wanted and I proffered the 1000 Mark note, this was scrutinized by all methods known to man and then some. Then the door opened and two knuckle draggers came in, each the size of a brick shithouse, one took out a beautiful stiletto and began to clean his nails, Rick made a stabbing gesture and I almost crapped myself when the gorilla grinned nodded and made a thumb to the kidney motion.
Then the lights went out and I found that it can be comforting to be able to hold onto another mans hand.
Watergames in Yerewan, supposedly the third largest after the ones in Las Vegas and in Dubai. You decide.
Try the vid
If you notice in the background the tower, that is the famous "Radio Erewan"
Satisfied with our 1000er the "Don" turned to a huge safe and creaked it open, brought out a neat staple of Roubles and used a measuring stick to mark off 10 cm high stacks, all in all 10 of them. We went back to the monastery with a plastic bag full of rubles and the two knuckledraggers as "protection."
A few days later a very pale translator came into the prepress room with two girls from the binders unit.
She said in a hushed voice: "the mafia is looking for you"
Of all the things you don´t want to hear, the sentence: "the mafia is looking for you" ranks among my personal top five.
But all he wanted was to make our lives a bit easier and if he could do anything for us.
We opted for a restaurant and in the evening we met up wondering how us 40 would get to Yerewan, Easy the guy went into the road and held up his hand to a bus, a quick word with the driver a few sharp commands, all passengers got off and we got on.
We paid for the privilege of course, if I remember it was something like 50 Marks for the entire evening for all of us.
Aaand the Ararat! Can you see Noah´s ark? look to the left, that rocky outcrop looking like a pile of stones, thats it.
Looking from the Armenian side the big Ararat is to the right and the little Ararat to the left. If you look at the picture of the Ararat in a Turkish Döner shop you see the volcano as a mirror image.
Twenty on and I took a bus (probably the same one) from Yerewan to Echmiadzin, the Lada eating pot holes had been filled in, probably by Lada´s but Armenia is timeless and doesn´t change much, the same sad and rusty children´s playground unchanged, the houses crumbling at the time had crumbled a bit more, the Don´s shop was now a Chemist, but the monastery looked as always spotless looking at how the older derelict buildings had been intensively renovated I would suggest that somebody had invested a lot of money.
On the busses, note the gastanks.
The printshop was there, but as it was Sunday nobody was around, looking through the windows everything seemed functional, I had done good if I say so myself.
I wandered around for a few hours before letting the ghosts back to rest and took the bus back to Yerewan.
I wonder if I will see Echmiadzin again in this life?
Some people tend to romanticize business travel, don´t get me wrong I love it, but for most of the time your days are: hotel, customer, food, hotel customer, food, hotel. You grab sights, sounds and impressions on the fly so to speak. But that can be enough.
This had been the first long trip since leaving Esko and like a junkie weaning off drugs I had very slowly and painfully gotten used to being more or less stationary, now I had had me a fix and it felt really good, I want more. Next trip is in the making.