Armenia vs. Ireland – Yerevan, June 2022
Yerevan is 900m above sea level, has a population of about a million and is very hilly. Much of the city has become modernised in the 12 years since Ireland last played here but remains as scorchingly hot as it was back then, with temperatures above 30°C every day. Yerevan is also a wonderfully late-night city, with bars open until 4am everywhere.
The 3 hectare-wide Republic Square with the dancing fountains in front of the History Museum is the place to start. The Cafesjian Center for the Arts, also known as The Cascades, is a sight to behold too. But climbing the 572 steps of the exterior is not recommended in the blazing heat. The Armenian Genocide Museum is a must if this is your first time in Armenia.
Yerevanites tend to be young, two-thirds female, go around in gangs, and thankfully English speaking. Despite never having a significant Russian population in Armenia, the locals are curiously unsympathetic to the Ukrainian’s current plight. Possibly due to Ukraine’s support for Azerbaijan in previous conflicts against Armenia.
Tried the excellent Pelmeni; beef tenderloin dumplings with onion, garlic, greens, butter and spices served on an omelette bed. Dolma, the national dish consisting of ground lamb, rice, herbs and spices wrapped in grape vine leaves dipped in mint sauce was also worth trying.
Kilikia, Ararat and Kotayk were the most popular local beers and would have been downed in enormous quantities by the 470 visiting Irish fans anyway, even before taking the stifling weather into account. The Beatles Pub on Pushkin Street was the del-facto Irish meeting point. Goodness knows why because it was A) overcrowded, B) took over half an hour to be served at the bar, and C) they the inflated their beer prices on matchday (2,500 dram, c.£5.00, as opposed to about 1,000 dram elsewhere). Far more convivial was 26, the Irish pub who put on the Leinster and Munster Hurling finals on their big screens for us.
The Republic Stadium is a 14,000 capacity low rise neoclassical fronted ground 40 minutes walk south east of Republic Square. Despite an athletics track around the pitch, the place looked a small and compact. The gates were opened at half-time, allowing the number of home supporters to significantly swell. Also of note was the fact that instead of the usual Carlsberg or Budweiser, it was Dargett, the local craft beer that was sold here.
I dined at Aragil Caucasian Cuisine near The Cascades. The bill came to 5,450 dram (about £9.70) and I paid via contactless card. When I left the restaurant, a Revolut app notification popped up on my phone to say I’ve just paid 54,500 dram (£97.00!). I immediately returned to complain and was matter-of-factly refunded the difference in cash. The waitress who ‘accidentally’ added the extra zero on my bill didn’t look the least bit sheepish or sorry, which implied this was normal practice and they just happen to get caught this time. Always have a banking app on your phone when travelling.