So I took a walk along the train tracks.
The tracks run right past our house, just on the other side of our street. They're not very busy. There are just two scheduled trains per day, around 8 in the morning and 8 at night. They're reasonably punctual, which is nice: when the morning train passes, it's time for me to dress for work; the evening train comes right around the boys' bedtime.
Walking along the tracks was more interesting than you might think.
First impression: something slightly wrong. It took me a long time to figure it out. The tracks were too far apart. Russian train gauge, four inches wider.
Second impression: garbage. The tracks are a popular spot for fly dumping. Walking along them is just a long walk past refuse of every sort. It doesn't smell that bad -- I would guess most of the organic stuff gets scavenged by rats, crows and dogs pretty quickly -- but, wow, is it ugly.
In addition to the garbage, there's also a lot of junk. People dump things like old ovens and washing machines along the tracks.
Third impression: the tracks are in crappy shape. The sleepers were originally wood, but many have rotted away, or burned in brushfires. Some have been replaced by concrete sleepers, but many have not. The track bed is in visibly bad shape. Signs have fallen over or been vandalized; signals are obviously long dead.
I had vaguely noticed that the trains weren't very fast -- maybe 50 km (30 mph) tops. Now I know why.
We live in Arabkir (pronounced ah rab PKEER), which is a neighborhood that used to be a separate village. We're up on a plateau about 3 km from the center of town and maybe 100-200 m higher. From our hosue to central Yerevan is all downhill.
The tracks come up from the central station and make a big S-curve as they climb the steep slope above the city. If I followed them down long enough, they would take me right into the middle of Yerevan.
I didn't get that far. Partly this is because walking along train tracks is harder than ordinary walking, and I didn't feel like keeping it up for four or five km, even downhill. But mostly it's because it was depressing. Interesting, but depressing.
The constant garbage, of course. But also, the tracks went past abandoned factories, now rusting and empty. It was evening, and windy. The red light of sunset gave the rusting metal a peculiarly dark and dreary look, while the wind sent plastic bottles jumping and bouncing along the ground. Although the tracks ran through a densely populated neighborhood, there were few people around, and the wind blocked the sound of traffic. I could have been alone in a city left empty by some catastrophe.
And then there was the station. After maybe 2 km of walking: a platform, with stairs going up.
Once this had been a suburban stop for commuters. These things are pretty similar the world over. There was the little white building with a ticket window, and some business -- perhaps a small cafe -- around the back.
All dead now. The stairs were disintegrating and the railing had disappeared. The ticket window was shuttered. The station had obviously been closed for years, and was slowly surrendering to decay. Armenia's economy imploded after independence -- war, blockade, loss of their old markets. I suppose the commuter rail service was a casualty of that time.
It's not that Yerevan is generally in a state of depression. Far from it. The downtown is a maze of construction; cranes everywhere, and concrete dust hanging hazy in the air. Just a few hundred meters from the abandoned station is the top of the Cascades, a mammoth project that will connect the center of the town with the upper suburbs via a complex of stairs and escalators.
But there was something so unutterably dreary about the dead station that I couldn't go any further. I turned off the crumbling, garbage-strewn tracks and took another way.
And that was my walk along the railroad tracks.