WALES AWAY BLOG: Armenia Calling – Day One, the Journey (11/11/23)

First day of our last international trip of the year: Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  following Wales, we get to visit some obscure places that you wouldn’t ordinarily consider for a ‘holiday’. Armenia certainly fits that description. Yerevan would make a good answer on a Pointless round on capital cities of the world.

Tucked away on the other side of the Black Sea, Armenia is a landlocked country, with Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Georgia as neighbours. It ain’t easy to get to and our journey from Bristol Airport involves a stopover in Frankfurt. We decided quite early in the planning that if we were going to go to all that effort to get out there, we would make the most of it, so we are flying out a full week before the game.

Sadly, with a few days to go, our favourite travelling companions had to pull out of the trip, so we will have to find someone else to take the piss out of. But my favourite fiancée will be joining me, so I’m sure we can struggle on.

Having had the trip sorted several months in advance, the withdrawal of Posh and Becks off the team sheet prompted us to take a look at what exactly we had booked. Firstly, we noticed that Posh had booked the wrong dates in the hotel (she might not be coming, but it wouldn’t be fair to exclude her from the piss taking). No problem, I made a booking in the same hotel for the correct dates. Then I looked at the reviews for the hotel. Then I cancelled the booking (what were you thinking Posh?). The reviews on were fantastic, but they are trying to get you to book. Other review sites were less favourable, to put it mildly. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy” was one of the kinder reviews.

Megan was soon on the case, and we had an Air B’n’B sorted in no time. We found loads of reasonable looking places in the city centre in the £250 – £350 range for eight nights. You can pay more than that for one night in Central London. Hopefully the beer will be similarly priced. Our new apartment even said they would be happy to hand over the keys at 5am. For some reason, Yerevan Airport is renowned for flights coming in at stupid o’clock in the morning, so they are used to guests arriving at stupid o’clock.

With eight days in the city – most of which would be on our own before the Red Wall arrived – we decided to pre-book some day trips and tours etc. By the time the day of departure arrived, we were looking forward to what was promising to be quite an adventure.

As we head to the airport the news is full of stories of the war between Israel and Hamas, and the tragedy unfolding. We are not quite heading for that neck of the woods, but Armenia and Azerbaijan have been going toe to toe in recent months with their own conflict. The world seems to be going downhill every week.

We are not flying till 17:15 so slowly mosey over the Severn bridge around lunch time. Bristol Airport is incredibly quiet. I know it is out of season,  but there’s hardly anyone around. We fly though security and are soon having the obligatory over-priced pint.

The aircraft is just right. Only two seats on each side, so we don’t have to worry about anyone being crammed in middle next to a stranger. With the exception of a quick run through with free bottles of water, we are undisturbed by staff going back and fore trying to sell us shit.

I look out of the window and look down at the city lights twinkling away and the headlights streaming up and down motorways. I contemplate the sheer magnitude of the mark human kind is leaving on this planet, the buildings,  the vehicles, the electricity.  It is both disturbing and impressive at once. The sheer scale of  the collective effort to keep it all going is mind boggling.

We actually arrive in Frankfurt early  which is a relief,  as we only have fifty minutes to get to the next flight. It’s a big old airport though. Once again mind-boggling. At its pre-covid peak it handled seventy million passengers in a year. It is the biggest Airport in Germany,  sixth busiest in Europe and thirteenth busiest in the world.

After landing we seem to taxi for miles to get to our drop off point. Then there’s a five minute bus ride from the plane to the terminal.

We have to get to gate B20. There are 63 gates with the prefix ‘B’. There are also A, C, D, E and Z, presumably with a similar number of gates. We embark on a ten minute walk only to find we have to get on a train for another five minutes. When we finally get close to B20 our corridor is blocked by a gun-totting rozzer who does not explain anything and just shouts at us; “Polize incident,  fuckenzie off”.

Luckily,  there is a member of staff nearby who explains there is no alternative route, we just have to wait for the police to finish doing their police shit. If we miss the flight, they will book us on another one. One girl heading for London burst into tears,  a gang of Germans got angry and a Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.

After resigning ourselves to becoming residents here, like the Tom Hanks character in the film Terminal, a slightly more polite cop tells us we can now go through. We have a mad dash and are one of the last to board the, fortunately for us, delayed flight.

It’s a much bigger, and busier plane. But again the crew are efficient and don’t spend any more time going up and down the aisle than they need to. I think that’s the most annoying of the many annoying things about budget flying,  the constant trying to sell you shit.

With the plane being much bigger, disembarking takes a lot longer. And nobody seems to be in a rush, but fortunately, this time, neither are we.

When we get to border control the dude asks about the Azerbaijan stamp in my passport. They are, after all, on the verge of war. They don’t want to let in anyone who has been selling them arms. But when I mentioned Aaron Ramsey,  he was cool.

I had booked a transfer on a wicked little website that would track our flight, send me a photograph of the driver and send a live location to our accommodation host. All very clever. And there he was, our man Vahe, holding up a hand written sign with my name on. He was a bit quiet,  but pleasant enough as he loaded our gear into the roughest Mercedes I’ve ever seen. The website said our journey would be like a guided tour with the driver pointing out things of interest.  That didn’t happen, but it’s now 5am and with the exception of the odd all night titty bar and casino, everything is in darkness.

True to their word, our hosts are up to meet us and show us around our spacious,  ever so slightly dated, but full of character, home for the next week. He is going to the football as well!

We plonk ourselves down. It’s a bit weird. If we were at home it would be 1:30 am. Which is not very late in our books.  But it’s 5:30am here. The telly looks modern,  but as the menu is in Yerevanese, which doesn’t have many letters recognisable to European eyes, Netflix and chill is not an option.

We considered powering through and hitting the pub as soon as it opens, but eventually decide the sensible thing to do is go to bed.

Here endeth the first chapter.