Trans Caucasus

Zvartnots International Departure Level

Planning my Yerevan excursion from Tbilisi was fascinating. The whole exercise of traveling between the two cities is worth a blog of its own.

I could have taken an overnight train to Yerevan, with the return in daytime – although it is an overnight train from Yerevan to Batumi (on Georgia’s Black Sea coast) and so it is a sleeper train with no seats. It arrives in Tbilisi about midnight.

The cost in a 1st class sleeper is 17,300 dram (or £30) one way. In 1st class the compartment is for 2 people sharing. 2nd and 3rd class are also available. The journey time is 10 hours.

The winter train service is different as the summer one is aimed at Armenians going to the coast on holiday.

Yerevan City Centre

I could have booked a shared minibus in either direction. It costs £18 one way, and takes 5-6 hours. The distance is 171 miles (276km).

I could have taken a rented car with a driver for £90 one way. The journey time is about the same as a minibus. I could have rented a car and driven myself. What put me off the latter very quickly was the need for an international driving permit in Armenia.

Until very recently taking a flight was a just theoretical possibility. In reality, the only flight (Georgian Airways) left Tbilisi at 5:30am.

Russia and Georgia recently engaged in one of their diplomatic crises, as part of which Georgian Airways cannot fly to Moscow. They used the spare capacity to upgrade their Yerevan service to 2/3 times daily and at sensible hours, and Armenia Air is now sharing the route too.

My Yerevan Apartment Building

Their cheapest fare was over €150 one way when I looked. Is that good value for a 30 minute flight? It is only 108 miles (173km) between the cities by air.

My decision was to book the minivan service. I wanted to see the countryside and was curious about why it takes so long. I have written a piece already about the Tbilisi to Yerevan trip.

Minibus Recovery Mode

To get back to Tbilisi I changed my plans and booked a flight. The thought of 5.5 hours in a cramped minibus was just too much! It cost me $162 one way, including a checked in bag. Unlike most airlines, their fares seem to stay fixed and the price does not go up close to the departure date.

The flight turned out to be an excellent decision. I had to hang around Zvartnots International for a couple of hours, but it was a pleasure. It is a lovely airport. Bright, clean, spacious, stylish, comfortable, efficient – built for travellers and not as a shopping mall.

Zvartnots International Chilling

The flight was interesting. Aircompany Armenia as a franchise for Georgian Airways. Moscow to Tbilisi via Yerevan. A mixed bunch on board. Some got off at Yerevan. We got on.

None of this is intended to put anyone off, and it is just an explanation of what my research and experiences produced. Things change quickly of course – like the sudden addition of extra flights. Those might disappear when Moscow’s attitude shifts.

ⓒ iain taylor, 2019


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