Today we interview Grigori Yeghiazaryan, who is one of NomadMania’s External Communications Ministers. It isn’t every day you hear of a traveller from Armenia who lives in Finland and has a special interest in the Far East! While his origins may be in a small, landlocked country, Grigori has spread his wings very far!
Grigori, tell us something about your early life and where you are from.
I am from the wonderful and beautiful city of Yerevan. I finished school and university there and when I turned 22, I decided to try to study and live outside my small country. I got a unique chance to study abroad. There were various options but I chose Japan.
That magic and unique country, which I admired so much. My friends and colleagues often ask me – Why Japan? I always give them a sincere answer. it’s an unusual, travel-friendly country, a country which keeps traditions and can offer you a remarkable life experience. People, traditions, culture, food, nature, and high-tech all combined in one country. I had 5 wonderful years in Japan, full of wonderful memories, people, and positive emotions.
You are from Armenia. What are some typical characteristics of an Armenian person? In other words, what makes one Armenian?
Easy question, but a very tough answer. There are some typical characteristics that we Armenians have, such as language, land, family, culture, religion. We get these basic traits from our ancestors. Unfortunately, I only met my one grandfather, whose name was also Grigori. He had a very important impact on me and since my childhood, we spent much time together. He used to talk a lot about our history, culture, World War Two, where he and my other grandfather had a chance to participate.
Every Victory Day, he would take me to our famous monument in Yerevan – Mother Armenia. Family, cultural and regional values were taught me by my father and mother. Here I would also add kindness and being an open-hearted person. Armenians are very hospitable and open people. This is the crucial part because at the other end of the world, I could feel the importance of being able to talk with almost everyone and not be hesitant. Our nation struggled a lot, and we are one of the oldest nations in the world.
From early childhood, we are taught to be strong, engaged in different activities, try to take leadership and control. We can’t have a quiet life. We always worry about something.
And what are some gems of your country that travelers may not know about?
Armenia may be small, but it is a big treasure for travelers. As the first country that adopted Christianity as a religion, we have a lot of Apostolic Armenian churches across the country. Some of them are famous and travelers can get to them even without my recommendation. But some places you will not find in the regular tours or guidebooks. 1. Kirants Monastery in the North of Armenia.
It was built in the 13th century and is one of the most abandoned monasteries in Armenia. In order to get there, travelers need to have the ability to hike for more than 10km across forests. But the place is completely astonishing. 2. Climbing mountain Khustup in the south part of Armenia. Armenia is full of different mountains.
They have different shapes, heights, and levels of difficulty. We have the highest mountains, we have mountains with lakes, slopes where you can find ruins of ancient monasteries. Mount Khustup is one of the most beautiful mountains in Armenia. Especially, when travelers climb up early in the morning, with the sunrise they can see the beautiful and pink peak. The third one is a very famous place in Armenia but I want to include it here in this list.
Geghard monastery, which is not very far from Yerevan. A true treasure, a place where your soul will rest and place, where you feel powerful energy. Geghard monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Armenia. It was built in the 4th century. There you can learn and see a lot about Armenian ancient history and religion. The entire monastery is full of different creatures, symbols and manuscripts. An amazing place for people who value history.
You now live and work in Finland. What were a few things that have surprised you there? Some positives and negatives compared to Armenia?
I have been living in Finland for about 4 years. I was surprised by the number of lakes and small tiny islands in this country. It is difficult to compare with Armenia because both countries are on totally different levels. We can start from the negative sides. The weather – Armenia has 4 seasons, summers are long and hot, winters are cold.
Finland has a different location, that is why summers here are too short. The total absence of mountains. Recently I found out that the highest peak in Finland is only 1328 meters and located far on the north close towards the border with Norway. Variety of food and vegetables. Again we have this difference because of the location of both countries.
About the positive sides, I definitely mention people in Finland. They are very calm, friendly, very open, and organized. It is a great part of their character because if people are organized, then the country is also organized. Helsinki is not a densely populated city, it has a very well preserved old town, tiny streets. Other cities in Finland are also beautiful and cute.
But at the same time, Finland is not a typical European country. I do have a lot of respect for Finland and Finnish people, that they could build their country, have high-quality education, worry about ecology and food. It is not a coincidence that Finland is one of the happiest countries in the world. They have strict rules and they follow them. Everyone here is supported and protected. People don’t need to worry about their future after 60. I feel very comfortable and happy here.
Now turning to travel, what has been your main motivator to explore the world?
To be honest, I have never been a big traveler. After I came to Japan, my view of everything has changed. I met different people with different ideas and experiences. By communicating with that international society I decided to explore more of Japan. Because everyone was going to different places, different regions in the country and having loads of experiences while I could speak only of Armenia and few places outside. I decided to explore Japan.
People who I met in my life, students, friends, or just travelers helped me to understand what I want from travel and to formulate my own opinion about what traveling is for me.
I am a big fan of nature, history, and literature. I remember, when I first came to Tokyo, I accidentally turned to the side of the Emperor’s palace. I saw the bridge, which connects the land and the Emperor’s park. I had seen that bridge in documentaries and finally could see it by myself. I started to read a lot about cities nearby, where to travel, what to see and what is special there.
I get really excited by different cultures and different historical events that took place over the entire period of human history. It is always interesting to see humans and creations with your own eyes. I have come to a very simple conclusion. Once you travel and if you love it, you will always find new ways and options to do that.
Have there been many difficulties and challenges travelling on an Armenian passport?
Yes. The mobility score of an Armenian passport is very low. A lot of countries are closed for us. Even if we apply for a tourist visa we can get denied. The only visa-free country in south-east Asia for Armenian passport holders was Malaysia. For all other countries, I had to apply for visas. In Laos, for instance, my passport was totally unknown.
According to the web information, Armenian citizens have a right to enter Laos without a visa. But immigration officers had another opinion, and they forced me to pay for a visa. Eventually, I paid twice more for a visa. I tried to ask questions, but no one could listen to me. I was afraid of not being let into the country. And I had to pay.
The most expensive visa I have ever paid for was a visa to Singapore. It cost me around 160 euros. The cheapest one was a Korean visa, it cost me around 15 euros. I hope that one day the situation will change and Armenian citizens will have more chances to travel without additional restrictions.
Shan state, Myanmar
Tell us a few of your travel stories, positive and negative.
The reason I love life is you never know who you will encounter. Sometimes these meetings can be carved in your memory and encourage you for more adventures. But this meeting showed me, whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever you are responsible for, you always have to be a human. So, here we go. On December 7th in 1988 at 11:41 the land in the northern part of Armenia began to move. It was the first earthquake in the history of Soviet Armenia, and one of the biggest tragedies in the history of Armenia.
More than 25.000 people were found under the ruins and more than 500.000 people became homeless. That’s a horrible day in Armenian history. Two guys from Laos had come to Armenia to study at our Technical University, which had a very high rating in the Soviet Union. Both of them lived in Armenia couple of years, but, on the day of earthquake they left everything and went to the destroyed region to help. Of course, everyone left for help, my parents, and everyone who thought that they have to help.
I met them in Vientiane in 2015. More than 25 years had passed since they left Armenia, but when they heard that I was there, they finished their business and came to greet me. I could never imagine that someone in Laos can greet me in Armenian. We had a beer the entire evening, enjoying the sunset and endless sounds of cars and motorcycles, sitting in front of the electronic shop, which was owned by one of their brothers.
Talking about their past, about the horrible moments of the earthquake. It didn’t frighten them, it made them stronger, they are humans and they really care about others pains. This was a good example for me, people do care about others and aren’t indifferent to others’ tragedies. I thanked them once again for their help, just for being there. I didn’t ask how many people they saved, it’s not important, just the fact that those guys were there, with everyone, was enough for me.
2015 – finally I decided to climb mountain Fuji in Japan. Being not a very experienced person in mountaineering, I got advice from a friend to take a raincoat and sneakers and just enjoy my time. When we reached the base camp, one of our friends saw the mountain and refused to climb it. She said, that she would wait for us there. The weather was fine. We start climbing. The road to Fuji is divided into different stations.
When we were around 1200m from the summit, I just turned back, it was 9 pm and clouds had covered everything around. Breathtaking view. After 2 hours the weather became colder. I took my raincoat but it didn’t help me at all. The weather was getting colder and colder. There were only three of us climbing the mountain at that time. The weather turned to be so cold that my fingers started to get frozen. We still had 2-3 hours to climb.
The situation was getting worse and worse. I have never felt so frozen. I couldn’t feel my mouth, fingers, cheeks, etc. I hadn’t taken any gloves or warm clothes with me, a terrible mistake. Finally, we reached the top. One of our teammates was prepared very well. It was almost 1 am. The sunrise was scheduled at around 4 am. I made a small round around the crater and returned back. I was so frozen that I could hardly speak, so I decided to turn back. I couldn’t stay another 2 hours. I had to go down.
I suggested to my teammate to climb down with me and she agreed. Another girl decided to stay at the top and meet the sunrise. We started to descend. After one-hour a thunderstorm started, the track was slippery, the wind was so strong that small drops of frozen rain were hitting my neck and face, I had no chance to cover it. I was praying the whole way down, the strong wind shaking my frozen body. The descent took 3 hours in that stormy weather. It was almost 4 am.
Because of the clouds, I couldn’t see the sun and still heavy rain closed my view. I could see nothing. When we got to the base camp, I found a bench, I sit there and slept for 4 hours. One of the toughest mountain experiences in my life. Later, it turned out, that was the only thunderstorm on that day during an entire season.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Have you found that travel has changed you in any way?
Yes. Travel has changed me a lot. It is always great to explore new places, new regions, and cultures. I am at the beginning of my long way. But I have decided that I will not stop. Before I could go to one place for a vacation and stay there for 10 days or more.
But now, It is impossible. In those 10 days, now I would explore the entire country, and nearby areas as well. I definitely became an overland traveler. I try to cover as much as possible and be in as many places as possible during my trip. I became more organized in my travels. I prepare everything beforehand, draw my own map, planning every single day and all activities. I really enjoy that process.
You are NomadMania’s External Minister. Tell us something about your role and what you are trying to do there.
I took this role one year ago. I share the idea of making Nomadmania more popular among other travelers. I feel it is a complete webpage that every single traveler needs. My goal as External Minister is to make Nomadmania more popular among travelers and explorers and with others on the team, we want to contact more travelers and motivate them to explore more. There is a lot of interesting information regarding travel in NomadMania, it is much more than just a place to tick regions, and so in my role, I contact travellers and travel organizations.
Which places are high on your bucket list for future trips and why?
Easter Island and Machu Picchu are at the top of my list. I am a big fan of Latin America. I would like to live there some time, learn the language and of course, travel to every single country. Ancient Mayan civilization always attracted me. Another place is Ethiopia and Tanzania. I dream about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. One of 5000+ meter mountains in the world.
Ethiopia is a very Christian country, I also read and saw a lot of documentaries about different African countries. Australia. I so much regret that I didn’t visit Australia when I was in Japan. It is a country that I find perfect for living.
Also, I would like to travel to the Balkan countries, especially former Yugoslavia countries. Again, everything comes to history, books, and documentaries. Being a big fan of history, I heard a lot about former Yugoslavia. My grandfather used to tell a lot about the Soviet movements there and memorable places to visit.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. I have seen it on TV many times. When I was a kid, Brazillian TV shows were very popular, and the statue of Christ was everywhere. I would also like to take a ride across Cuba. Rent a car without a roof and enjoy the hot wind.
Finally, I will combine two countries, such as North Korea and Turkmenistan. Both countries attract me a lot. I had been thinking about visiting Turkmenistan in 2020. Interesting to see how closed countries survive, how people live there, what is their faith, what they think to do, so interesting.
Still, I don’t have many plans to travel in 2021. I just hope that I can return back to Armenia. I haven’t been there since 2019. Hopefully, in May I can get to the Faroe Islands and finally close all my Scandinavian countries. During the summertime Lofoten islands or Swedish Lapland can also be a good option. I hope to travel to Croatia or Serbia and Belarus this year. But everything depends on the situation in the world. Let’s hope for the best!
Seoul, South Korea
Here comes our signature question: If you could invite any four people, alive or dead, from any period in human history to dinner, who would you invite and why?
Being a big fan of Russian literature, I would pick Alexander Pushkin, for me the greatest poet and novelist of the Romantic Era. He made a huge impact on Russian literature. He is one of the most remarkable poets in human history. I would like to talk with him about that time, just to see his interests, and tell him a lot about nowadays and see his reaction.
Another one is Ernesto Che Guevara. He was not only a revolutionary but also a great traveler. Recently I read 23-year-old Ernesto’s memoirs. He traveled across all Latin America. He is a such great and iconic person.
Then, Leonardo Da Vinci. One of the most talented individuals in human history. Even if we meet now, I think he could still amaze me with his talent and mind, a true genius and mysterious person. I would like to listen to his ideas, thoughts, and how was Italy at that time.
And finally, if you let me combine a couple of people in one, I would like to meet my ancestors, the people from who my family came. My two grandmothers, whom I never met, and my one grandfather, who I did not have the chance to meet either. I would like to get to know them, talk to them, chat about everything, tell them about myself, about my family.
I’m sure it would be a great conversation. I would like to see my grandfather again. I miss him a lot. I would really like to know how he is and what he thinks about everything. I would like to walk with him again and talk about the world and history. So many questions I would ask each of them, like a little child who is interested in everything. Interestingly, my grandfather also liked to travel.
In Soviet times, this was very rare. But my grandfather was in Australia and he visited almost all post-Soviet countries. But he didn’t talk much about it, probably because I didn’t ask. I would like to meet my best friend, who passed away a couple of years ago. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to him.