Monday, August 22, 2005

Halfway around the world

Cross-posted from

(this is my first entry, which I am typing in from a hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia--it is my first handy internet connection when I have had a moment to come up for air. I am in Georgia for two days, but returning to Armenia later today, where I hope to download some photos and write a couple more entries that cover the first three days in Armenia--check out the comments section of the last posting for some links that others have put on the blog.)

On early Friday morning, after an exhausting 23 hours of travel, we touched down exactly halfway around the world from Los Angeles in Yerevan, Armenia. (Since Yerevan is twelve time zones from Los Angeles, I didn't have to change the time on my watch!). At the airport, a television camera waited for us until 3 in the morning, and there was a table set out with fresh fruit and cognac (I opted for the former, considering the hour). While British Airways lost two pieces of our party's luggage, we were mostly intact. I did a quick interview with the television camera bringing greetings from the world's second-largest Armenian city—Los Angeles—and setting out our trip's goal of establishing a Sister City relationship with Yerevan. It was no easy feat after almost a day of travel.

The Yerevan airport is an architectural marvel—it is like a giant octagonal beehive, with arrivals in the center and departures leaving from above. Built in Soviet times, it is a cement sculpture. The airport is currently expanding and the operations are being handed over to a foreign company in an ongoing wave of privatization.

On the way into town, we saw many casinos with names like Caesar's and Hollywood Casino, which we learned have been banished from the city center to the outskirts of town. On the road from airport, they have formed a kinda Yerevan Strip. We also passed the brand-new American embassy, built on one of the biggest pieces of land of any American embassy abroad. It was impressive.

We drove through the city center in the waning hour of the night, but its stateliness was easily apparent—a seemingly well-planned center, with a real European feel. There were cafes everywhere, some folks were still out at 4am roaming the wide boulevards, and there was a video screen up where the statue of Lenin once stood in the main square.

We settled into our hotel and prepared for the next day's meetings with government officials and Yerevan representatives.