From Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia
Update 2016-12-17: Added Yerevan airport bus information.
When heading to Yerevan from Tbilisi, you can choose between train and marshrutka (minibus). Trains go only every other day, which did not fit our schedule, so we took a marshrutka. The trip was a bit of a hassle, but at the same time culturally interesting.
Ortachala bus station
Marshrutkas leave from Ortachala bus station, which is some 15 minutes from the city centre by bus. Metro doesn't go to the bus station, which is a shame, because it would be more convenient, but buses 44, 50 and 71 do. The trip costs 0.50 GEL and the buses go frequently from a bus stop nearby Freedom Square.
Ortachala bus station is a bit confusing, or at least we were made to run around because nobody seemed to know where exactly the marshrutkas to Yerevan leave from, or they just wanted to sell their own private chauffeur services. In the end, we found the marshrutka office downstairs. We were told that there are only two buses leaving every day: at 10 AM and 3 PM. On the Internet, we read that there should be marshurutkas every hour, but perhaps this applies to the summertime only.
Our marshrutka left late. Passengers arrived late and there were some passengers sitting in the bus who were not even going to Yerevan. They only realised they were in the wrong bus When the driver started to ask about passports. Luggage was taken in and out many times and the hassle continued on the way, because the driver was making his own business. He stopped a couple of times to buy mandarins and butter in order to sell them with good profit in Yerevan.
The border formalities were straightforward and quick at both sides, except that one of the Georgian passengers was travelling with an old passport. All the other passengers had to wait more than one hour while her papers were cleared. The lady was obviously very embarrassed about her mistake and apologised. In the end, everybody seemed very understanding and despite the delay, we arrived in Yerevan 4:30 PM. The trip took 6 hours in total, cost 30 GEL/person (6.500 AMD), and the driver was smoking all the time while driving.
Soviet style Yerevan
In Yerevan, we stayed in an artist hostel near the Opera house and had the whole apartment for our use — one of the perks of travelling during the low season.
As a city, Yerevan is less approachable than Tbilisi. It has Soviet style avenues, concrete architecture, and clumsy statues. Drivers are crazy and traffic lights mere decoration. People we met were very friendly and helpful, but in general they don't speak as much English as Georgians. There are obviously fewer tourists around, which was also evidenced by the fact that we seemed to be the sight most of the time when walking around.
To our untrained ears, Armenian language sounded a bit like German and looked like Georgian when written. Fortunately all the street signs in the city centre are also available in English. Most people speak Russian, but it is no longer an official language, and in school students can choose English instead. However, the Soviet heritage seems persistent. While Georgia is leaning towards Europe, Armenia has remained aloof. Depending on the perspective, this can be viewed as positive or negative — it's for you to decide which one you most agree with.
Yerevan airport bus
It was close to impossible to find any up-to-date information about airport buses in Yerevan. Some say buses 108, 107N, 17, N17 and N18 leave from the Opera house, but nobody there knew about these buses, not even bus drivers. We were advised to take a taxi. Finally, a friendly woman called Tatev, an artist, designer and photographer from Yerevan, came to our rescue asking around from locals and finally we made it.
The bus was not leaving from the Opera house but from Yeritasardakan bus stop in front of SAS Supermarket, and the bus number is 18. Tatev walked with us to the bus stop and made sure with the driver that it was the right bus. Before we had a chance to thank her and say goodbye, she had already paid for our ride and walked away. The bus is going every 15-30 minutes and the fare is 200-250 drams. After less than an hour, we arrived right at the modern Zvartnots International airport to search for a good spot to sleep the night before our early morning flight. Thank you so much Tatev!