Getting home from Armenia was a challenge, but an opportunity arose at the last moment. The only problem was that my flight would depart from another neighboring country that I couldn’t reach by flight, bus, or train due to time constraints. I took a taxi instead and this was my experience.
No Seats For Me
One of the drawbacks of flying difficult itineraries at the moment is the lack of seats available, the rates airlines are getting even for the worst routings imaginable, which also reduces award seat availability at reasonable prices.
Yerevan has limited air traffic but good coverage from Star Alliance carriers. Here are the major hubs served from Yerevan:
- Frankfurt (Lufthansa – Star Alliance)
- Paris (Air France – SkyTeam)
- Warsaw (LOT – Star Alliance)
- Vienna (Austrian – Star Alliance)
- Athens (2x) (Aegean – Star Alliance)
- Doha (Qatar – oneworld Alliance)
Without getting into the details, there were no award seats out of Yerevan (coach was $5,000+ one-way, business class was $3,000+ one-way) but I was able to consistently find space from Tbilisi, Georgia, a five-hour drive, 10-hour train, or 45-minute flight away.
I had secured one flight home with a terrible routing I mentioned in this post, but it was longer than I wanted to stay and a really hard trip to take after what had already been an exhausting journey.
I checked back daily out of both Yerevan and Tbilisi for better routings and an earlier departure, alas I found one. I swapped a 38-hour, three-flight route home for 23 hours on just two flights getting me home on Monday night rather than Thursday night.
All that was left was the task of reaching Georgia. Should be a piece of cake.
Timing Is Everything
Flights out of both Yerevan and Tbilisi (perhaps everywhere in the caucuses) arrive very early in the morning and depart very early in the morning. The only time that causes a problem is during positioning.
I would have loved to have taken a train overnight, but the departures from Yerevan were at 9:30 pm so the 10.5-hour journey would put me into Tbilisi at 7 AM (assuming everything is on time) a full two hours after my flight departure.
The daily flight between the two cities, a short 45-minute affair runs $110-130 one-way but is normally timed at 6:15 pm departing Yerevan and arriving in Tbilisi at the top of the hour. That would have worked great for me (flying out of Tbilisi the next morning at 5:05 AM, however, on Sundays the flight is scheduled for a 10:15 AM departure and that made it impossible to execute.
Vans on short notice (cheap, cheerful, and frequent) require 24 hours’ notice but were all booked up for two days regardless. That left me with just one option if I was to save myself three days and a lot of hassle.
Trying To Take A Taxi (Yandex) From Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia
Yandex is a rideshare like Uber but also utilizes taxis. I have covered the service in this post for those interested in learning more about it. I selected the cross-border destination
The rate quoted was about $120, a reasonable price for a private car even if the train would have been cheaper and the flight about the same price with less riding.
The first Yandex driver had me waiting about 10 minutes before he bothered to message that the rate was insufficient for the journey (riders do not set prices, the app does.)
Another driver accepted the ride, and showed up at the curb only to indicate that he had no passport ad could not make the journey. He also feigned ignorance in canceling the ride which cost me $2, the least of my worries.
Another driver accepted and immediately indicated the ride amount was insufficient and tried to negotiate $200. This is where I get into trouble. Sometimes, in countries where costs are low, I reset my valuations in such a way that I lose sight of the goal. I also hate getting ripped off.
The driver suggested a price of $200 – not only against the rules of the app, but a pretty steep 40% increase. I pushed back on this and offered $150. No dice. The driver pushed for more, provided salient points as to why, and then offered to take me to the Georgian border where another car (his friend) could take me the rest of the way.
I countered at $170 for the whole journey and he declined.
I started to consider my options which included not making the flight but rather I pushed the button to offer the ride on the app again anyway.
The same driver came back accepting the ride again, taking another turn at negotiation. I was ready to quit and give up at this point and nearly accepted the $200 fare, but he went back to wanting to drop me short of the border and I’d be open season if I walked across alone with my bags in the Georgian countryside, 90 minutes from my destination.
I thought this might work, but there were danger signs all over it and I decided I would try one more time, before resigning to the fact that I would instead take the overnight train and delay my departure by two days.
A new driver messaged, but the same old message, “I can’t do it for that rate.” I instantly offered him the same $50 cash payment on top of the app payment of $120 and he accepted without further delay.
What ensued was a lovely drive filled with hand movements, agreed chuckles, and agreement in our eyes as we didn’t speak a common language. The Yandex app was able to translate the main points, and I had a general understanding of what I needed to do at the land border which made it easy for both of us.
The Border Cross Ride
The five-hour drive was a lovely experience and everything that makes travel worth doing. We wound through the rolling hills of the northern Armenian countryside slowing for cows in the road, passing cars with produce strapped to the roof, and families returning from weddings in the city.
Growing up in Nebraska, rural America was never far. My primary school had a farm across the street where the first grade teacher (her family owned it) would go to visit horses some days as a field trip. There was a certain comfort in seeing hay bales, golden wheat fields, and patches of corn six weeks from harvest. A shepherd moved his sheep down a valley, a staff in hand.
Rolling hills gave way to rocky mountain passes, switchbacks with no rails, and then we chased a river between the peaks that felt like Colorado. Colorado with stray dogs, roadside fruit stands, and occasional bakers hawking half-meter loaves in thin paper sheathes.
Before long, we approached the border. First, exiting Armenia required me to walk with my luggage through border security. Some were questioned and scanned, I was not. I appeared on the other side where I waited for my driver to join me. There was mild trepidation that the driver would abandon me here as the other drivers had suggested, even though he was kind and generous for the four hours to that point.
The driver pulled up, loaded my bags, and drove the short distance to the Georgian border where I repeated the process, unnerved as I was before, though more confident he would join me now than before. A taxi driver made his way through the crowd saying “Tbilisi” which would no doubt have been far more expensive than it should be but would have been a solution nevertheless.
My concerns were unfounded as my driver again pulled up next to me and helped load my bags.
The two of us, on this random, unexpected journey north became friends, bonding over drivers cutting passes far too close – some things are universal.
Along the way, my driver pulled cash out of his own pocket to bring me water, and an undeniably perfect khachapuri, flaky, savory, and satisfying.
As we descended into Tbilisi, I was surprised and delighted by the city. From the view out of the rear passenger side window, the city had all the charm of a European capital during patio summer evenings. Buildings are carved into the cliffs of the river banks in a way I’ve never seen before, and fear I wouldn’t be brave enough to visit.
Georgians and visitors to the caucus state walked along cobblestone streets talking and taking selfies, faces aglow by their phones. It was beautiful and normal and everything I’d expect but felt nothing like the Yerevan I’d just spent two weeks in and left. This felt far closer to Prague, Rome, or Lisbon.
As I was dropped off at my hotel, I thanked my driver and tipped him additionally to the point that I could have saved myself 45 minutes of sitting on the curb in Yerevan haggling via translation on the Yandex app as I’d paid him nearly the same in total. But it felt different. It felt like gratefulness both in the giver and the recipient rather than a demand.
Despite this, I had but one regret on my cross-border, half-day journey that descended into the evening. I’d only wished that I had put Tbilisi on my list sooner and that my family was there to enjoy it with me. This is LiveAndLetsFly, but in this instance, it was live and learn, and fix your mistakes. I’ll see Tbilisi again, but next time, I am bringing everyone with me and settling in for awhile.