Why should you plan a visit here? Besides being ultra-affordable, Armenia offers an interesting glimpse of what happens to a culture when East collides with West.
It's not a place that most people automatically think of heading: just east of Turkey and north of Iran. Armenia's unusual position, pinioned between Arab and Western cultures, has given it a dynamic, 3,000-year-old history, although independence for the current republic dates only to its messy breakup from the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s. Being tucked into a corner of the world, however, has its price advantages.
Strong coffee, 28¢
Have it served in a demitasse, at one of the hundreds of sidewalk cafés in Yerevan, the capital. In the summer and fall, you can't walk more than a block without passing a street-side café where you can sit all day, even with just a single cup. It's considered rude to ask patrons to leave.
The country's ancient monuments, erected when Armenia was ruled by, at various times, the Romans, Byzantines, Persians, and Ottomans. The stone-arched cathedral at Echmiadzin dates back 1,700 years, and the spectacular Khor Virap Monastery, from the 17th century, overlooks the frosted peaks of Mt. Ararat, where Noah's ark came to rest.
A loaf of freshly baked bread, 20¢
You want a full meal with it? Figure on spending two or three dollars at most. Khorovats, barbecued pork, is the country's most popular dish.
A bottle of good wine to go with your meal, $2
Vintners in the Armenian version of Napa Valley, the wine-growing regions of Areni and Geytap in the southwest of the country, bottle mixed vintages while you wait and charge as little as $1.
A kilogram (more than two pounds) of fresh-picked organic tomatoes or cucumbers, 20¢
In summer, produce is sold along the roads of the Ararat Valley just outside Yerevan. Huge bags of apples and apricots are about 20¢, too.
A subway ride in Yerevan, 12¢
That's the new, inflated price; the fare was less than 10¢ a year ago. Spring for a private cab ride within the city center for about 85¢, or hail a minivan, to cover longer distances across town, for about 18¢. Planning to see the countryside? A bus from the capital to Stepanakert, a city 224 miles away in the tiny, self-autonomous region of Karabagh, is only $3.
A museum ticket, 18¢
There are dozens of state-operated museums, such as the National Art Gallery, which under the Soviets was the third-largest collection in the U.S.S.R. The country's bounty of artifacts dates to the infancy of Christianity--and earlier.
Color film, $2.50
To process 24 pictures (the country's common fire-red poppy fields are a popular subject), the price is about the same.
For $30 or less
A night at one of Yerevan's Soviet-era hotels (no-frills). A Western-style hotel (cable TV, gym) runs more like $130--a stay of five nights would cost about what most Armenians make in a year.