At 7am the streets of Yoshkar-Ola were dark and empty. As I shuffled over dirty snow and treacherous black ice, the only sound was the bickering of ravens overhead. The shops on ulitsa Kremlyovskaya – Apteka No. 67; Evroset; Moda 21 vek – told me that I had arrived in provincial Russia. Except that ul. Kremlyovskaya is also Kreml urem: street signs and building plaques are written in Russian and Meadow Mari, the most widely spoken of the four Mari dialects.
I made a beeline for the peculiar buildings in the distance.
Cricket in the small Balkan republic of Montenegro took another big step forward last week, as the fledgling Porto Montenegro Cricket Club played two matches against a visiting team from England. The games were played at PMCC’s ground, a football pitch in the town of Budva on the Adriatic Sea – and both went down to the last over, with the hosts twice taking victory.
Zorats Karer means Army Stones in Armenian, but they are also known as Carahunge – Speaking Stones, for the whistling sound that fills the site when strong winds blow through the holes. The best guess is that the rocks were placed 7,500 years ago; at the time that Stonehenge was created the army stones had already been standing in Sisian for over two thousand years.
For my first few days in Armenia my mind was elsewhere. I was searching for signs of the two worlds that overlap in the South Caucasus, where wild Eurasian land is punctuated by the Cyrillic – and the shambles – of the post-Soviet space…
Taking the train between Yerevan and Gyumri was going to be the highlight of my time in Armenia – especially the journey through Ararat province. But on the day I went, Mount Ararat was hidden by clouds. Instead, the best part of my trip was the beautiful sight of white storks gliding above the farms and fields next to the train, and making their nests on top of the station buildings at Masis and Etchmiatsin. In Armavir province, hoopoes fly next to the train tracks.
Khor Virap monastery, 30km west of Yerevan on the border with Turkey, for the vivid and important story behind it – and the beautiful sight of Mount Ararat looming over the church. In Yerevan, the Sargis Muradyan gallery (on Isahakyan street, near to ‘Cascade’) is a great place to spend a free hour.