I had another adventure day with Victoria! She wanted to go to the botanical garden in Yerevan, so we decided to go and check it out. We didn’t have any expectations, and that’s probably a good thing. The botanical garden was built in 1935, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding stopped and things started to fall apart. During the energy crisis in the late 1980s, the trees in the park (along with pretty much all of the trees in the country) were cut down for firewood. At its height, there were 1240 species of plants in the gardens. Now, I don’t know the exact number, but I can tell you that it’s far reduced from that number.
Our first struggle was figuring out how to even get in. The entrance location wasn’t very clear on Google maps, so we may have taken a less-than-official entry route once we got tired of walking around without success. That was another one of those “I would never do this at home” moments.
The thing about visiting a botanical garden is that you expect to see a lot of plants. And you expect those plants to be alive. Anyway, I haven’t been to a ton of botanical gardens, but this one was like if the world ended, all of the humans disappeared off the planet, and the plants were allowed to grow wild. Like so many other places here, it had that “former glory” feel where you can tell that it used to be pretty cool until *fill in the blank* disaster happened and nothing ever got totally fixed.
There was this big row of greenhouses where it was clear that someone was doing things with the plants inside, but none of them had intact windows anymore. The broken window fragments were still scattered on the ground. Like couldn’t someone spend a few minutes cleaning things up? Maybe my priorities are out of whack. Maybe they want it to look like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie.
The biggest confusion and frustration of the day was this one giant greenhouse that kind of looked like a spaceship. It was round and strange looking, and Victoria and I wanted nothing more than to go inside, but every little window hole that we could have squeezed through was blocked off with a collage of rusty sheet metal, fencing, broken glass pieces, and barbed wire. For as little effort as they put into actually fixing anything, they were very determined to keep us out of there. We circled the building twice, pounded on the door hoping someone would let us in, and tried in vain to find a ground-level hole to sneak through… I mean, to find a respectable entrance… obviously.
There were a few broken windows we could have made it through, but they were probably 10 feet up and I wasn’t in the climbing mood… plus I don’t think the “I don’t speak Armenian” face of innocence can explain “accidentally wandering” through a 10-foot-high hole. It looked like someone was taking care of things inside, and I was bummed that we couldn’t check it out more closely (you know, besides what we could see in the cracks between the sheet metal and barbed wire). But yeah, like I just said… no matter how much we wanted to see the inside, we would NEVER go in without a clear, official entrance to go through.
We wandered out the official exit to the botanical garden (simultaneously finding the way we were supposed to have entered) and across the street to a very green and empty looking park. It caught our eyes as we were walking to the bus stop, and we felt like we had to go investigate. There we found weird lollipop trees, questionable Christmas light wiring, random exercise equipment, and a large statue of a woman miming screwing in a lightbulb. Just kidding. Probably. I’m not quite sure about what her pose was supposed to be.
We couldn’t understand why so much effort and money clearly went into this strange park on the side of the highway that isn’t near any houses and really isn’t accessible. Meanwhile, across the street, there’s a botanical garden that could use a lot of love. And funding. And lollipop trees. I guess that’s just another one of those Armenia mysteries of life. Probably someone donated a bunch of money and wanted a park, so they made one even though it doesn’t make sense.
On our way back into the city, we realized that it was still visiting hours at the Blue Mosque. I stopped in for a minute when I first came to Armenia with Sarah, but we could only go into the courtyard because it wasn’t during visiting hours. This time, the timing was right, but I was completely unprepared for a mosque visit. Luckily, Victoria had a hood AND a scarf. She used her hood and let me borrow the scarf so that we could both go inside at the same time.
The Blue Mosque/Persian Mosque/probably some other names is the only functioning mosque in the country and was built in 1764. During Soviet times, it survived because it served as the Museum of the City of Yerevan. It was renovated in the late 1900s through a mutual effort with Iran who now also owns it. It’s a symbol of the friendship between Armenia and Iran, and with two out of Armenia’s four borders currently closed, maintaining friendships with the other two is probably a good idea.
I thought it was beautiful. The outside is tiled which is always fun, and the interior is simple but elegant. One of my favorite things in the whole world is stained glass, so the fact that they had some was enough to completely sell me on the building. Stained glass in churches unfortunately isn’t a thing here.
Anyway, it was fun to spend the day seeing something a little different. Rare for an excursion in Armenia, we actually visited zero churches. The botanical garden maybe wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but I’m still glad we went. It gave us some time to pretend that the world had ended and we were the only two humans left.