The Soviet hotel
Yeghegnadzor, elevation 1,200 m, half past nine in the evening. The city is still under a blanket of heat as testified by different thermometers in the street displaying 34° or 35° C. My room is by no way any cooler. I'm lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling of a wallpapered room of this Soviet-era hotel that is something really extraordinary. Because, among other things, I'm the only guest of the establishment...
When I arrived the elderly landlady was sitting behind a paltry desk just inside the door. She was very communicative using her Russian, not put off by our language differences, and always making sure she was getting her message through to me, rephrasing if need be. She showed me along a wide dimly lit corridor, past a hall that must have once been the main lobby, and up the stairs to the first floor. A couple of Russian typewritten notices pinned on the wall dated back to the 1980's, probably the heyday of this hotel frequented by Soviet bureaucrats and businessmen. Since then, all frozen in time.
It may all seem spooky, but that experience just thrilled me. How I had been able to ferret out this gem of a place? I learned of its existence thanks to the tip of another traveller, but the hotel was not easy to find. There was no sign on the street, nobody knew about it. After some infructuous searching I had asked the same-named upscale hotel across the street, whose obliging owner directed me to the right door. On the side of the big building.
On the first floor another corridor opened up to my eyes, a broad passage lined with wood and a red carpet stripe on the floor, rooms at either side. It ended in a bay window that let in abundant light, but we stopped at the opposite end. The lady opened a door and said that would be the room. She gave me the key, not just to my room, but to the front door as well. As the sole and only occupant, I would be in charge of everything - of locking the door after me if I went out, and locking it back when I returned.
Still standing there I paid the fee, but the lady got so muddled with the change that we resolved to take back our respective banknotes and start it all over again that, this time with the technological support of a solar powered calculator. It was hilarious.
Before the lady left I asked her a favour: go up to the terrace for a top floor view. I had been impressed by the bare rugged mountains around Yeghegnadzor, and now the warm sunset was casting an incredible light. We ascended the stairs to the 4th or 5th floor passing through increasingly decrepit premises, all strictly abandoned, until we surfaced on the roof. An amazing basin of mountains hosted the drab city with a sad-looking ferris wheel looming in the distance. All around shapes of cones forming sinuous slopes, alternated with valleys. The hill sides yellow from the scorching sun. We walked to the parapet across sticky tar sheets supposed to stop water leakage if their surface hadn't been so patchy. The lady pointed out the mountains of Karabakh and the direction of Sevan.
When I went out for dinner I happened to find a restaurant in the amusement park under the abandoned ferris wheel. It was pleasant to be sitting there under the monster with the mountains slowly fading into the darkness. I was glad I had come to Yeghednadzor without any plan to stay, and my day had turned into an original, memorable one.