There is something incredibly comfortable about returning to a place for a second (or third or fourth) time. You know how to get around, you know where to go, and you know how things work.
Things are so easy compared to arriving in a strange city for the first time.
This was certainly true when I returned to Yerevan in early June, less than two months after I finished my volunteer stint with the Armenian Volunteer Corps. When my taxi driver tried to charge me 2000 dram for the trip from the bus station to the center, I could scold him in Russian for trying to overcharge me (it should have been about 700). When I wanted to get a haircut and pedicure, I could return to the place I went back in April. And when I was craving gelato, I knew exactly where to go.
At the same time, they say nothing is ever as good the second time around. So as I prepared to return, I worried that I might be disappointed – that going back would not live up to my expectations.
And in a way, I was and it didn’t.
See, I have a little confession to make. The first time I was in Armenia, I kind of met a guy. It started out as just a little crush but eventually I had to admit that I really liked this guy, despite how silly it seemed given the circumstances. By the time I left, it seemed to be mutual – which made leaving even harder and which made me anticipate my return even more.
But before I even made it back to Yerevan, I realized that things changed (because who signs an email to someone they like with “regards”? Right. No one.). Feelings were no longer mutual and I questioned whether they ever were. Maybe I just imagined the connection I thought we had (maybe it was just all the vodka??). I wondered whether, after traveling for 8 months without meeting even one guy I really liked, I just wanted things be more than they actually were. My heart was ever so slightly broken and my ego was bruised (in retrospect, it was probably more of the latter – who likes rejection?).
So I arrived on Friday afternoon wondering whether I would even see the one person I had been looking forward to seeing the most.
I also realized shortly after I arrived that most of the volunteers I hung out with in March and April were no longer in Yerevan. Natalie, Patrick, Shirak, Jordan, Sevan, Michelle and Celine were all back home, Rita left a few days after I arrived and Sylvia, Allegra and Maria moved on to volunteer in Gyumri. As I scrolled through my phone to reach out to people about getting together, my list of contacts still in Yerevan was sadly pretty short.
But what began as disappointment turned out to be a blessing in disguise: my last week in Armenia ended up being one of the best weeks of my trip.
On Sunday and Monday, I traveled to Gyumri – a city devastated by an earthquake in 1988 that we visited on an excursion in March but that I really wanted to explore some more. I joined a group of volunteers for a picnic at Marmashen Monastery and watched the sunset from a hill on the edge of town. I got to catch up with Sylvia, Allegra and Maria and get to know a great new group of volunteers based in Gyumri. Then, I spent the next morning exploring the city on my own, following a walking tour that took me all over the historical parts of Gyumri, wandering through the city park and checking out the market.
After returning to Yerevan, I spent my evenings enjoying one of the best things about the city that wasn’t quite available when I left in mid-April – the outdoor bar and café scene that comes alive in the summer. With EuroCup in full swing when I was there, we seemed to start off every night watching the games outside at Melody. I kind of felt like I was back in Chicago, except that we’d probably be watching baseball or the NBA playoffs.
Not having to volunteer in the morning or return to my homestay by the midnight curfew meant I could just chill and have fun, staying out until 2 or 4 or even later if I wanted to. And with so many of my old friends no longer around, I found myself making new friends with people I missed getting to know earlier or who arrived after I left.
I also packed in several organized tours during the week, visiting places I didn’t make it to the first time around. I finally checked out Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery on Wednesday and then did a ridiculously long excursion to Khor Virap, Noravank Monastery, the town of Jermuk and Areni Winery on Thursday. Geghard and Noravank quickly became my favorite places in Armenia after Tatev.
And my second send-off from Yerevan frankly kicked butt over the first. In April, we were all dead tired and sunburnt from biking to Echmiadzin that day and still recovering from the previous night out. So while it was a good time, it was rather mellow. This time, it was simply a blast, bar hopping from Cactus (where I fed my Mexican food craving!) to Bourbon Street to Calumet to That Place, dancing the night away and stumbling into my hostel as the sun came up.
So sure, my return trip to Armenia didn’t exactly go as I expected, but I was far from disappointed.