For those who have a bit of extra time, an aversion to crowded marshutkas, or enjoy the romance of ancient cities and rail travel, a day-long or overnight excursion to Gyumri by train is a fabulous way to see Armenia’s second city and escape the heat of a Yerevan summer for the cool mountain air of Shirak Marz. Trains leave the Sasunsi Davit railway station at 8:00am and 6:10pm every day rain, shine or snowstorm. You can buy your ticket for 950 dram at the station or on board the train. The train itself is a Soviet 1955 “elektrichka” model, a piece of living, working history. If you take the evening train, arrive early so you can have some time to see the Armenian Railways museum, consisting of and located in a 1930’s locomotive and railcar housing exhibits on the construction of the Caucasus railway system and a caretaker who will show you his 20, 30, 40 and 50 year service medals for working on the railroad system.
At the controls
As you leave Yerevan, look to your right to see the Erebuni airport, and if you’re lucky spot a MiG or Russian transport plane landing or taking off. Soon you’ll pass through Etchmiadzin and be in the valley of the Arax river, where you can watch the stunning panorama of Mt. Ararat pass by out the left window, while Mt. Aragats passes by on the right. Take the chance to get up and walk around, stick your head out of the window or chew some sunflower seeds. Unlike a marshutka or taxi ride, you can stretch out and feel comfortable.
No tourists were harmed in the making of this blog. The Armenia Tourism Blog does not endorse sticking your head out of moving train cars.
Soon you’ll be in Armavir City, capital of Armavir Marz, home to one of Armenia’s biggest wholesale produce markets. You won’t have much time to shop, but unless you’re looking to buy a crate of plums or an entire sunflower, you won’t be able to. This is a wholesale market, after all. Try to buy a single piece of fruit and the vendor will laugh and give it to you as a gift. Grocers from Gyumri come here to do their shopping, then load crates of produce on the train to take back to their shops. Help load a crate or two, or merely inquire what’s inside, and you can be guaranteed a few snacks to pass the journey. (See our post “The Fruit” for more about fruit in Armenia and pictures of the Armavir produce market.)
The evening train arrives in a village in Aragatsotn Marz
After Armavir, the train will turn northwards and skirt through the highland plateaus and small villages of Aragatsotn and Shirak Marz. If you’ve taken the evening train in the Spring, Summer or Fall, you can watch the sunset over the mountains of Anatolia and spot Yezdi herding encampments along the train track. Take the opportunity to snap some pictures, join a pickup card game with your fellow passengers or just relax and enjoy the view. You’ll be in Gyumri soon…
Stay tuned for To Gyumri by Train Part 2-Your Day in Gyumri
Sam is an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. He lives and works in Aragotsotn Marz, where he teaches English in village schools. The views and opinions expressed are his personally and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps. A version of this post originally appeared on the Author’s blog: www.heyamerikatsi.com