Flight To Armenia

The flight to Armenia was rather brutal; all told we spent 33 hours in airports and planes. We set next to some interesting people, which helped to pass the time. I got to practice a bit of my German on one leg, which was fun. But the interesting experiences didnt show up until we landed in Moscow. We arrived with a 12 hour layover ahead of us, speaking little Russian and not quite knowing what to expect. We had to stay in the terminal since we didnt have visas. The terminal was surprisingly deserted and ragged for Moscow, considering its such a hub.

We hadnt eaten in a long time nor slept in two days, so eating was getting important. We found a restaurant in the terminal, looked at a menu which had an English translation, and decided to get some juice. I pointed at a bottle of juice I saw in the window and asked how much it was, and she dug out the menu and said 90 rubles (3 dollars). Well, that was a bit high but we were hungry and needed to relax and unwind. However, they wouldnt take dollars. They said there was a place to change them down the terminal a ways, so I went to see if I could figure it out, leaving Crystal with the bags.

Money Changer

Money Changer

Well, I found a machine that looked like it should change dollars; I tried to figure it out, but it didnt seem to work (I later found it was out of order, but no one bothered to hang a sign). So I wandered around, asked someone else, Dollars Rubles? with a hopeful look seemed to convey the idea. They said I needed to go this way and turn there, and so on. So I went there, and found this machine.

Now Im pretty sure that this is a machine invented by Stalin to torture capitalists. Granted I was famished and lightheaded, but it was the weirdest thing Ive ever seen. I looked around all over for a place to insert bills, and nothing seemed to work. I stuck bills in all the orifices around the machine, hoping it would grab them and do something, and nothing happened. Finally I decided to try to decipher the machine using my almost nonexistent Russian, and then discovered that it offered an English translation. I selected that immediately, which took me to a Russian translation anyway!

Well, I navigated more or less by guess through several pages and finally the machine creaked and whined, and this slot (lower picture, center, right side, silver spot) opened up to reveal a box; the idea, judging by the pictures inside the box, was to lay the bills inside, on the bottom, and the machine would take them, count them, and give you rubles instead. That was the idea, anyway.

Money Changer 2

Money Changer 2

In practice, I gave it a 5$ bill (I wasnt about to risk more than that!) and it spit it back out. I tried again. This time it took it, I had to work my way through several menus, starting over once or twice, but I finally got 150 Rubles for my trouble. I went back to the restaurant, relaxed over a bit of juice, and then we decided to move on. I went to settle up the tab and gave the 90 rubles, and they informed me that it was 90 rubles *per glass*, or 450 rubles (14$) a liter!

Mind you, this is a liter (about a quart) of orange juice! I naturally raised a stink, but they pointed to the menu where it was marked that 200ml of juice is 90 rubles. There wasnt much I could do, but I let them know it was criminal. I also let them know I didnt have enough rubles, so I had to take another trip back to the Stalin torture machine.

If I thought it was hard to get along with before, it was downright cruel now. It didnt like any of the bills I submitted. I even tried a twenty. It rejected it time and again, then started saying The phone number you have entered is invalid. This was to change money, cash, it had not asked for and I had not entered a phone number!

I tried this for probably 15 minutes, then sat down in despair to think out my options. At this point a dutch traveler, guessing the source of my frustration, approached me and confided that hed had the same problem with the same machine, and that I needed to tell the restaurant that if they wanted paid, theyd help me change the money. This seemed like good advice, so I did it. They came down to operate the machine, I gave them a twenty to change (sure that it would work for them and make me look foolish) but to my relief, it gave them the same obnoxious message as it gave me!

So he tried a few times, then reluctantly conceded to accept 15$ American and leave it at that. I again let him know I considered him one step removed from a highway robber and we parted.

With that initial hurdle passed, we started wandering around looking for a quiet place to nap. Finally we found a way out of this terminal into another terminal, which was much nicer, much more modern and clean. It had a huge stretch of carpet, which we used to our advantage.

Sleeping

Sleeping

We werent the first to have this idea either.

Others Sleeping

Others Sleeping

After that we were hungry again. We went through all the restaurants, where hamburgers cost 30$ and bottled water was 5$ a liter. I decided I would drink water from the toilet like a dog before I paid 20$ a gallon for water. I also decided to skip a few meals rather than give the Russian airport Mafia another dime. Well, eventually we got on the plane for Armenia, which arrived in Armenia at 4am local time; by which point we would have been up, not counting about an hour of catnaps, for about 40 hours.

The annoying thing about this flight is that we arrived in Armenia at 4am local time; too late to really use a hotel room, but to early to just start wandering around. I had stewed over this problem for weeks, not wanting to waste 40$ on a few hours in a hotel, but not wanting to just wander a strange city before dawn.

Well, I set next to an Armenian who was returning from a business trip to China; we started talking about his country, where to go, things to see, and so on. One thing led to another and he offered to let us ride in the taxi with him and hed see to it we got dropped off in a 24 hour restaurant where it was safe and quiet. He also gave me his phone number in case we had any trouble or needed anything translated.

When we arrived, we had to get a Visa, change some money, and then stand in a LONG line to get our passports checked and into the country. When I saw how long it was going to take us, I told our friend, Narek, to go on ahead and not to worry about us, wed be fine. It took us almost an hour and a half to get all our visas, through the immigration line, and to get our checked bag – we came out the other end of customs and discovered hed decided to wait for us anyway, just in case we needed help. Him having had no sleep and us complete strangers. I guess this is that Armenian hospitality wed heard about.

Im glad he was there, because navigating through the taxi sharks would have been a bit creepy on our own, we had to follow him and the taxi driver through some dank alleys to get to the taxi, then he dropped us off at the restaurant and refused to allow us to pay for the taxi! It seems someone to help is always there when we need them as we travel. Like Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire Ive grown accustomed to the kindness of strangers  :)

At the restaurant we had spas, which was a thin yogurt soup with cucumber and dill, and a hamburger which wasnt too good and a khachapuri, which was mostly a big tortilla with cheese in the middle. We left the restaurant while it was still dark and wandered the city streets. I felt safe there and as the dawn came up we watched the city come alive too. Finally we worked our way to the local market, here called a Shuka, and thats where our next entry will pick up

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Posted on August 23rd, 2010 by Natnee and filed under Georgia/Armenia |

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