Day 437: Back In The USSR


I actually woke up at 7am, but Rati was still asleep, so that gave me an excuse to go back to sleep until noon. Rati’s apartment is lovely on the inside, but it is housed within just one of many ugly concrete tenement flats from the closing days of the USSR.

There is something tremendously soul crushing about Soviet architecture, maybe that was the idea – to invoke a dab and dreary landscape from which escape seemed impossible. The conspicuous lack of any elegance, refinement, beauty or romance is echoed in many buildings all over the world; not least in the UK, were I implore anyone with even a modicum of interest in architecture to go compare the graceful Liverpool Infirmary (designed by Waterhouse and built in the first decade of the twentieth century) to the painfully dispiriting home for the undead that is the ‘modern’ Royal Hospital opened in 1979 – the year of my birth.


Look at the statues from the era – not exactly slender, svelte and sinuous are they? Just brutal, ugly and overbearing. They look like they were carved by the Bitmap Brothers. Whilst wearing boxing gloves. But when it comes to all things oppressive, blocktacular and downright ugly, the former USSR wins hands down.

Right now the Azerbaijan Embassy doesn’t open until Monday, so I may as well go get another country under my belt: Armenia.

This entailed going to the bus station which looked like the cargo hold of the Nostromo, if it had been made of concrete. Rati came with me and plonked me on a shared minibus to the border, 70km away. It rained all the way there, but gave me the chance to catch up on my blog. Unlike Georgia, I do need a visa for Armenia, but you can get it on the border and it’s only a fiver for three days, which is way more than I needed. The border guards decided to take me to one side and go through all my things asking questions. It was only when one of them took out the Toblerone I had bought at the Duty Free shop and asked me what was in it and what it was for that I fired my best comedy “what is this guy on?” look to his mate who promptly cracked up laughing.

They let me in, no worries!

But by the time everyone was through it was dark and so then the bus drove through the Debed Valley, which the Lonely Planet tells me is the more picturesque bit of Armenia, at night – so it’s fair to say I didn’t see much. I stayed the night in the town of Vanadzon at the south end of the Valley. Arriving at 9pm, I thought I’d check into the cheap little hotel, find a nice little place to eat, maybe have a beer or two… no.

Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING was closed. Saturday night in Armenia is not my idea of fun. It’s not anyone’s idea of fun. Unless you’re Morrissey perhaps. It was pissing down with rain, the people where either glum or rude (or both!) and after a fruitless hour of pottering about getting very wet and even more hungry I found a 24 hour supermarket (wonders never end!) which actually had a kebab (souvlaki) stand in it. Thank the maker! The kebab, I have to say, was the BEST I have EVER had. If there is one (and there may be only one) redeeming feature of this place, I think that will have to be it – the kebabs. The secret? Ah – that’d be the crispy bacon!!

Welcome to Armenia.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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