Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vacation is Good; Cheap Vacation in Tbilisi Doubly So

I've been here a good 11 months at this point, through good and bad. So it was about time that I got out of Armenia for a bit to see another place. It just so happened that several other volunteers were planning a trip to Tbilisi, and they invited me to tag along.

In no way was that a bad decision.

The strange thing about traveling to Tbilisi by train is that even though it's incredibly close to Yerevan (all things considered) it still takes 13-14 hours to get there. The train is incredibly antiquated, having been built during Soviet times. In addition, it stops a ridiculous amount of times along the way, and the border checks take upwards of 2 hours. You can tell that neither country has had the money it would take to upgrade the train, as it's often tilting to one side or another due to the amount of time it's been since they've been able to do work on the tracks (which would, I assume, require either stopping the train or having a diversion route, neither of which Armenia at least can afford to do). Regardless of that--and regardless of the incident we had on the train traveling to Georgia, which I'll write about in a moment--taking the train was great fun. It's the first time I've traveled anywhere by train, and I actually quite enjoyed the experience.

Alas, not all was well on the trip. We managed to get several things stolen from us, because we were far too trusting, one of those things that you learn from being in this culture. This Armenian guy came up and started talking to us--let's call him Fox Sneakertonyan--and, having learned that the best way to react in Armenia to new people is to chat it up with them and drink with them, we started taking shots of vodka, and then cognac (well, technically brandy, but they call it cognac). He seemed to be a nice enough guy, and eventually we were all buzzed and tired, so we agreed to lay down for a while, stupidly letting him stay in the same compartment with us. Luckily I grabbed my iPod because I'm totally paranoid about losing it but my phone and the two girls' cameras were sitting out. Now, we weren't that drunk, but enough so to let our guard down in this situation. One of the guys was half awake and noticed Fox Sneakertonyan up and looking around in the place where we had put our stuff, and then suddenly leave. By the time we were all able to get woken up he was gone. Fortunately for us, the guy was an idiot and the train folks had his passport number so it's possible we'll get our shit back, but perhaps not.

We finally got into Tbilisi Tuesday morning (having left Monday evening), got set up in a hostel, and explored the city. Tbilisi is an incredibly beautiful city and such a stark contrast to any other place in Armenia, Yerevan included. Many of the buildings are rather old and have been restored, making for a city that feels like you're in Europe and not just a couple hours north of Armenia. The people are incredibly friendly (and the men decent looking), the food is phenomenal, and the sights are lovely. The main Georgian national dish is khatchapuri, which is essentially just bread, butter, egg, and cheese; but damned if it isn't delicious! It comes in a ton of different shapes, flavors, styles, and extra ingredients, but I have not had khatchapuri yet that wasn't delicious. And they make it so much better in Georgia than in Armenia.

I also managed to make it to the gay bar with a couple other people and had a great time there. I just discovered a gay friendly bar in Yerevan, but this one in Tbilisi was more open about it and so was a great ton of fun. I tell you, there is no more welcoming environment for a boy than a gay bar in a small country. All the Georgian homos were so happy to see us there, buying us drinks and chatting like there was no tomorrow.

If there's one place that you ever want to visit in the Caucasus, make it Tbilisi. You will not regret it.

Hopefully I'll be able to post some pictures in the next few days.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Landlords everywhere suck

There isn't much difference between this country and America in that department.

My current state is best summed up as follows: homeless and mooching.

I had been living in a really fabulous apartment (relatively speaking), and was extremely happy. I had a good amount of space, an awesome stove and refrigerator, and a good location close to my main work sites. It was good.

But my landlord up and decided that he wanted to try to charge me an exorbitant amount of money for the place. I was paying 40,000 AMD a month for January, March, and April. One of the problems was that I was paying him in dollars, and because the exchange rate here recently shot up (they stopped pegging the currency and it's no free-floating on the market) from 300 AMD to 370 AMD, I was already going to have to pay more. But he wanted even more money in dollars, so I was now going to be paying 65,000 AMD a month. To give you perspective, PC gives me a max of 30,000 AMD a month for my rent.

Fuck. That. Noise.

The landlord wouldn't really come down much. He came down to 50,000, as that's what I would be paying now at the current exchange rate if we kept the dollar amount I was paying him the same, but that was way too much for me to pay. Screw that guy; he was a racist and a jerk to begin with.

Now, I did find an apartment to move into. Unfortunately, it needed cleaning and renovation, so until they finish it I'm just basically homeless. All my stuff is at the other PCV's apartment here in my city, and I'm staying on his couch until they finish things. I'm hoping that should be done this week soon, as I hate to have to be mooching off my friend and invading his space.

Besides that one sore point, everything else is basically still good. Work's good, the weather's starting to get really nice, and I'm having a good time with people. I feel that at this point my language has come along so far from before. I still feel woefully inadequate next to a lot of the volunteers from villages when they are speaking, and even the other volunteer here in Vanadzor, but I feel pretty confident. I teach all my English classes to kids in Armenian, minus the words I'm teaching of course. I bought a couple new English-Armenian and Armenian-English dictionaries the other day to replace the crappy one PC gives us, and I really enjoy looking up words I want to use and trying to learn them. I'm confident that my language skills are going to be pretty damn good by the time I leave.

Enjoy spring, y'all; huzzah for warmth and sunshine!