Yerevan – September 2023

Day 6 (Yerevan) – The Zvartnots International Airport Experience

Today we headed back to Zvartnots International Airport on the outskirts of Yerevan (with the help of VMA Assistance and a wheelchair accessible van from Yerevan Home Care) to catch our flight to the UK via Rome. It’s always helpful when the airport is on the smaller side for two reasons; there is less chance to loose wheelchairs plus you aren’t rushing if you need to explain everything under the sun at check in.

Luckily we were assisted by a manager who spoke great English (and directed questions at me for a change – seems to be a thing in Armenia!) who explained that the airport has the same protocol as Oslo and Paris CDG with regards to leaving Superbunny at check in. However, this time they asked for one of the PAs to assist them taking the chair to baggage handling to ensure that the ground crew knew exactly how it operated i.e. the battery rather than ripping it apart, no surprises then that it arrived in Rome the way that we left it!

The wind blew us to Rome in good time meaning that we had a 6 hour wait in the Italian capital to sunbathe and eat at the Hilton. Although the assistance in Rome is debatable compared to Milan, it was still nice to be surrounded by ground crew who had some knowledge of electric wheelchairs…

My final adventure of the year begins in just under a week when I head back to the Mediterranean to explore Cyprus, in particular, Limassol and the ancient city of Kourion. Surprisingly this has been the hardest trip to plan this year due to the accessibility for Superbunny but let’s see how we get on regardless…

Day 5 (Yerevan) – Cascade Complex Accessibility

One of the main tourist attractions in Yerevan is the Cascade Complex which links the Monument neighbourhood with the downtown. As the name ‘Cascade’ implies, it consists of many many steps which isn’t great for a wheelchair user in addition to the lack of lifts inside the complex, just narrow escalators. No worries though as one can still enjoy the views presented if you know where to look (and prepared to wander down a few ‘not so glamorous’ streets!)…

As the above photo shows, there is also a sculpture garden at the bottom of said complex which comprises of some of the most strangest sculptures…

Now, if you look closely at the Cascade Complex on Maps, you will notice various bridges leading to backstreets at different heights. It is therefore possible for a wheelchair user to use said bridges to access different levels. However it is useful to be guided by a map as these bridges are not signposted and one wouldn’t recommend navigating the streets at night either…

We chose to hunt down the bridge that brings you halfway up the Cascade, it doesn’t feel the safest bridge in the world and Superbunny wouldn’t be able to get onto the structure as only the street end has a ramp but the bridge still provides panoramic views of the city if the step is too big…

Yerevan is also home to a metro system which only means one thing, I have to go for a gander! None of the stations have lifts installed (otherwise you would have heard all about it by now!), however I have it on good authority that the operator is currently working with a Spanish firm to do this in the future. At present (2023), stations either consist of steps or the worlds fastest escalators…no thanks!

As I keep mentioning, due to the current situation with Azerbaijan, it’s been a little difficult to walk around the city at night without encountering a protest, however, as we are leaving tomorrow, we took the plunge and explored Republic Square and the surrounding areas…

Whilst in Yerevan, we are staying at the Holiday Inn Express which, apart from the road outside being quite tricky for a wheelchair, is a pretty standard hotel, the bathroom is a little narrow though!

Tomorrow we head back to Zvartnots International Airport (which is named after the nearby cathedral…fun fact!) to catch the flight to Rome and then onto Bristol.

Day 4 (Yerevan) – Majestic Lake Sevan

As I mentioned yesterday, we ditched the idea of catching the train to Lake Sevan and ggTaxi’d it instead (seems like most people opt to do this) costing around $17.50 each way. Although the route is mostly motorway (the rules of the motorways do not make sense in the slightest I must say…who cares about road markings anyway), it provides an insight into life outside Yerevan. Once outside the city, the landscape changes into mountainous baroness akin to driving through Kazakhstan. However, there are occasional statutes and monasteries to marvel at…

Soon enough, we turned off the M4 to an area called the Sevan Peninsula which turns out to be one of the main tourist hotspots along the lake. When we pulled up, I was a little dubious as it seemed full of tourist ‘tat’, however one only needs to go 30 seconds towards the lake for it all to disappear.

One of the things that we had planned was to attempt to commandeer a boat to take us for a spin on the lake which is overshadowed by the Caucasian Mountains and the border with Azerbaijan. This was easier than expected as a few locals were waiting to ambush tourists with boats. After pushing health and safety out of the window by manhandling the wheelchair onto the boat, we were treated to a 20 minute trip providing majestic views of the Caucasians and the Sevanavank Monastery…

As per usual, it was only right for one to take a dip…

Taking a stroll along the waterfront (which is a little bumpy but manageable), it was clear that we visited ‘out of season’, however there were also numerous abandoned beach resorts (a few presumably constructed as part of the Soviet ideology of a ‘fun’ holiday by the lake) with a lot of potential if reopened. Taking a stroll through one of these abandoned resorts (legally that is!) very much gives you a glimpse of what was trying to be achieved.

One of the things about Lake Sevan is that my furry friends i.e. seagulls seem quite contempt simply chilling on roofs with the lake being a source of food rather than hassling people for fish and chips. This allowed one the rare occasion to eat outside with a mountainous view…

The Sevanavank Monastery is one of the main tourist attractions on the the Sevan Peninsula, however it is up quite a few flights of steps hence not accessible but offers panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains from the top…

Now, the plan was to catch the train back to Yerevan from the Sevan Peninsula station, however the only train was scheduled to depart at 6pm. This would have meant a 3 hour wait whilst the prospect of a taxi back was dangling under our noses. Eventually it was agreed that we would utilise the ggTaxi app back to the hotel. Whilst exiting, one passed said station which it seems as if you have to cross the M4 motorway using the ‘U’ filter lane to reach followed by a flight of steps.

Tomorrow is our last day in Yerevan with the plan of visiting the Cascade Complex (and seek out a walkway that I have been researching for some time!) followed by a general wander before the mammoth flight back to the UK via Rome.

Day 3 (Yerevan) – Trekking to The Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial

Well I can’t say that we weren’t warned about the lack of accessibility outside the city! One planned the route to The Genocide Memorial on Maps which looked pretty easy for Superbunny, however one forgot that we are in a former Soviet state. If you followed my travels around Riga etc, you may remember reading my quarrels with Soviet road design, mainly the construction of wide avenues that can only be crossed using underpasses with steps being the only way down and up. Granted, Yerevan has many more street level crossings and even a few stairlifts on some underpasses, however it still means extra planning.

Since I stepped foot in Armenia, society has been very welcoming and willing to lend a hand if they see you struggling or need help despite the language barrier. On our route to the Memorial, it was necessary to cross one of these avenues but unfortunately the stairlift down to the underpass was out of order. No worries though, a passerby pointed for us to cross the road and proceeded to stop 6 lanes of traffic for us (the drivers all seemed to adhere and stop).

Despite this, as soon as you step out the city centre, the road layout makes it difficult for even an abled person to cross, let alone an electric wheelchair…

The climax of all this happened when the pavement on a 6 lane road became too narrow for a wheelchair and the opposite pavement contained steps…we tried! It was thus back to the hotel for a change of wheelchair and a taxi (costing around £2) before eventually reaching the The Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex.

As we visited on Independence Day, the museum element was closed, however there is an accessible entrance. The memorial is situated atop of a hill overlooking the city of Yerevan and in the shadows of Mount Ararat (supposedly the resting place of Noahs Ark…fun fact of the day) hence providing majestic views…

The next mission was to reach the Dalma Garden Mall which is almost adjacent to said memorial, for some food, easy right? Well no, road designs strike again as there is a dual carriageway separating the two with the only safe crossing being a footbridge with steps, how many times are we going to dice with death on this trip? Dalma Garden Mall is just your average shopping mall containing a variety of shops and a food court, nothing special to see…

As one was using the manual wheelchair, we decided to try our luck using the ggTaxi app (the Armenian version of Uber) where 95% of the vehicles are big enough to fit such wheelchair, worked perfectly!

As the conflict with Azerbaijan worsens, it has been difficult to navigate the city without getting caught up in protests or road blocks so our eating options are limited this week, however, still enough to sample the Armenian cuisine.

The original plan for tomorrow was to catch the train to Lake Sevan (largest lake in the Caucasus), however the only train leaves at 8am with the station being a 25 minute drive from the hotel. As Superbunny is going to stay at the hotel regardless and the drive to the Lake is only around 67 minutes, we are now going to taxi it (costing around $17.50 each way), let’s see what Armenian motorways are like!

Day 2 (Yerevan) – The Pink City

Before I start discussing the accessibility of Yerevan aka The Pink City, I have been reliably informed that the cost of the accessible bus from the airport costs around $0.70 each way, we were definitely ripped off there!

Before visiting Yerevan, I found little information on the accessibility of the city bar the fact that there are drop curbs in existence (only from a quick scout on Google) so I was unsure what to expect. One was therefore surprised to discover that the city centre is very easy to roll around in Superbunny with drop curbs in appropriate places in addition to ramps wherever steps are located.

One of the only good things of the original Soviet built streets is the wide pavements as we also saw in Zagreb, perfect for a smooth roll.

As today was a recovery day from the mammoth travel day, we took a general wander around the city (which is very walkable) taking in the sights such as Republic Square…

As I mentioned yesterday, we had planned a meeting with the president of the Disability Rights Agenda NGO. We discussed various subjects gaining an insight into the lives of disabled people in Armenia and the negative consequences that the current conflict with Azerbaijan is having on said individuals. Regarding the accessibility of Yerevan, we learnt that it has increased in the past few years with the introduction of low-floor buses etc.

Tomorrow we take a stroll outside the centre to Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex. We have been warned not to expect the same level of accessibility outside the centre, see how we get on!

Day 1 (Yerevan) – The Charles De Gaulle Airport Experience

Can you believe that it has been 4 years (nearly to the date) that one has ventured outside of the Europe region? It’s about time therefore that one returns to veering off the beaten track into the unknown in terms of accessibility. The next few years are shaping up to be a very exciting time to explore the world in an electric wheelchair as major infrastructure projects, especially in Asia are expected to be completed which will, not only open up said countries to disabled travellers but also change the lives of residents with disabilities…more details will be revealed over the coming months! Anyway, let’s discuss this Armenian adventure…

As there is no direct flights from the UK to Armenia, one planned to fly from Bristol to Paris (Charles De Gaulle) where we would have a 7 hour stay before heading onto Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. As Easyjet arrives at T2 at CDG and FlyOne Armenia departs from T1, it gave us ample time to explore the airport and the CDGVAL transportation system.

Now, I have heard bad things about Charles De Gaulle and wheelchairs hence one was expecting some kind of drama so was pleasantly surprised when Superbunny was waiting on the jet bridge less than 15 minutes of landing! Once through the usual border control, we began our jaunt through the various T2 sub terminals to the free CDGVAL which transports you to T1 and T3. As T2 is home to a TGV station and the last time one visited France was 2015, it was only appropriate to have a gander around…

The CDGVAL has it’s own dedicated station away from said TGV station complete with elevators and level boarding making for a smooth roll and off albeit when the doors trap you…

In a matter of minutes, the concrete jungle of T1 appeared where we would spend 5 hours of our lives at. Before coming to Armenia, one purchased a few Apple AirTags so I could keep track of both wheelchairs in case we got separated. This came in handy as the policy at CDG (like Oslo) is that electric wheelchairs must be left at check in before passing through security etc. AirTags are also useful to ensure the wheelchairs are on said plane.

After another 4.5 hour delayed flight on a rather relaxed airline (don’t know if that is a good or bad thing?) , we touched down in Yerevan where one had organised an accessible taxi to take us to our hotel courtesy of VMA Assistance. Until very recently, buses to and from the airport were not accessible, however, I believe that a new bus route was inaugurated in the summer with low-floor buses. The only issue is that the schedule ceases at 11pm and we landed after this time, ahh well, times are definitely changing for the better though?

Before exiting the terminal, we still had the issue of reuniting with Superbunny. There was some confusion as to whether or not the Ambulift would be utilised, however as it was past midnight, I think the staff simply wished to clock off hence it was a manhandle down the steps! The AirTag proved useful again in tracking Superbunny which had been put with the rest of the luggage.

One paid 370 Euro for a return trip to the airport in Yerevan. For this price, we gained THREE staff and TWO taxis (one for the luggage and the other for the wheelchairs)…can’t complain with that! As predicted, one received a fuss and has already been asked to return to Armenia…

As we eventually reached our hotel at 2am, tomorrow is a rest day with a gentle wander around Yerevan planned and then one has a meeting with the president of the Disability Rights Agenda NGO for Armenia to discuss rights etc in the country…should be interesting!

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