Another lovely example of a Soviet-era art project, The Cascade is a giant staircase built onto the side of a hill in Yerevan, Armenia. If you don’t want to walk up the stairs, there are escalators that will take you to the top. Seriously.
Located in Haghpat, Armenia, this monastery complex was built in the 10th century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is in a rather remote location, and when we arrived at the monastery we were the only tourists there. More on this trip (including a slight problem with our transportation) here.
In the background of this photo is Mount Ararat, the national symbol of Armenia. There are literally hundreds of products and institutions that are named after this mountain: Ararat wine, Ararat vodka, Ararat cognac, Ararat bank…it’s even on the Armenian coat of arms. In a sad twist of irony, however, Mount Ararat lies not within the borders of Armenia, but those of Turkey. While the citizens of Yerevan may gaze upon Ararat, they may not cross the closed Armenian-Turkish border and travel the mere 20 miles to actually visit it. Photo taken during our July 2006 trip to the South Caucasus.
While looking through my files, I noticed that I had a few videos that I never uploaded. While none of these are really entertaining or incredibly mind-blowing, I’m uploading them because I really have nothing else to post at this moment (37 days until North Korea!).
This clip is from July 2006, when Crystal, Laura and I traveled to the South Caucasus to visit some friends who were working in Yerevan. The three of us hired a driver and guide to take us to the Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries in northeast Armenia, about a three hour drive from Yerevan. Unfortunately, the Ford minivan we were riding in broke down shortly before arriving at the first monastery, forcing us to take a village bus, hitch a ride with an Armenian family from Los Angeles, and then enjoy an incredibly delicious meal of khorovats at a sketchy roadside restaurant while our driver and guide figured out what to do. Our driver had somehow managed to enlist the help of one of his friends, and we soon found ourselves speeding through small towns and villages in an old Volga. Unfortunately, I did not capture any footage of our driver swerving to avoid the occasional pig and cow standing in the middle of the road. Just massive potholes in this one. Bonus: Random small fire on the side of the street.
Deposit several scoops of ice cream into a tall glass, garnish with an entire orchard’s worth of fruit and one ice cream cone. Serve with a dash of disinterested Eastern European customer service.
This is the most bizarre sundae I’ve ever seen in my life, and that’s saying something, considering how much ice cream I eat. I love ice cream, and, in particular, that delicious soft serve ice cream that costs less than 25 cents and can be found throughout the former Soviet republics.
Late one evening in Yerevan, after finishing dinner at a decent Chinese restaurant, everyone hopped in their respective SUVs (American diplomats, natch) for a morozhenoe run. We ended up at some outdoor pseudo Middle Eastern cafe that looked as if it had been jacked from a Hollywood movie set and deposited in downtown Yerevan. All that mattered, though, was that they served ice cream and coffee. I opted for a traditional vanilla/chocolate combination, but Andrew decided to be the brave man in the group and order the descriptionless “Sharm-El” sundae. The above photo shows what he ended up with. I’m glad I stuck with my highly unoriginal ice cream order, as a smörgåsbord of fruit only serves to defile the ice cream. Too damn healthy.
In many cities throughout the former USSR, the utility lines (gas, water, etc.) were run above ground rather than buried below. This particular water line was right in front of Liz’s apartment, and surrounded by a large, and constantly growing, pool of water. Check out the awesome “repair” job performed by the local utility workers (or, most likely, a frustrated local). At the very least, the pipe was no longer hemorrhaging water.
Our flight out of Yerevan left a little after 10am. Prior to leaving, we had to pay a “departure fee”, which is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard of. You guys made me buy two visas and yet I still have to PAY to LEAVE your country? Whatev.
The flight to Heathrow absolutely sucked. It was full of wild diaspora kids (on their way back to LA, I’m guessing) who were running up and down the aisles screaming their heads off and knocking down the flight attendants who were serving everyone their drinks. I had to try very hard to restrain myself from sticking my arm out and clotheslining one of the brats. Hey parents, wanna control your kids? Oh, right, you’re too busy fidgeting with your iPod to notice that little Aram and Stepan are terrorizing your fellow passengers and convincing Lindsay that she will never EVER EVER want kids…EVER!
I had purposely spaced out my Yerevan – London and London – Washington flights (8 hour layover) so I could head into the wonderful city of London and have a few pints at a pub I used to frequent. We went to Churchill Arms in Notting Hill, which has the most amazing Thai food for six quid (yeah, the dishes went up a few pence since I lived there, but I’m not complaining). When I was at LSE, we’d eat or drink at Churchill Arms at last once a week, so I have some very fond memories of that pub. Saalim, a friend of mine from LSE, met up with us. Just like the old times, innit? (Thanks for the Strongbow and Pimm’s, dude, looking forward to seeing you in January.)
I rode the Heathrow Express back to the airport in a semi-inebriated, near catatonic state. I couldn’t believe I had to go back to Washington-effin’-DC, that goddamn hellhole swamp. I missed London’s pubs, outdoor markets, black cabs, red double decker buses, efficient train system, and generally polite population.
Maybe…MAYBE I could just stay here…no, that would be pretty goddamn irresponsible, eh? Anyways, my visa’s long since expired.
Upon arrival at Heathrow, I purchased two bottles of Pimm’s from duty-free, because I needed some gin-based liqueur to blunt the trauma of my imminent departure from London. The flight was two hours late leaving Heathrow, due to the fact that it’s, well, Heathrow, and massive screwups seem to be par for the course at that airport.
Nothing memorable happened on the flight to Dulles, which arrived a bit past midnight. Customs was surprisingly easy. There weren’t any ridiculous questions that the agents at LAX like to ask: “How did you get to all these countries?”
“Uh, by airplane.”
Or, “Armenia? Were you participating in jihad against the United States of America?”
“Uh, Armenia is a Christian nation, but no.”
Got home at 1:30am, 21 hours after leaving Armenia. Four former Soviet republics down, eleven to go!
THE END…of the most drawn-out vacation description EVER. Took this trip in July and finished writing about it in December…way to go, Lindsay!
Anyways, this post wouldn’t be complete without a big thanks to Liz and Taline for putting us up (and more importantly, putting up with us). Thanks to Brian and Andrew for their brilliant toastmaster skills at our welcome dinner…and for ensuring that the Russki Standart vodka was constantly flowing.
I’m trying to figure out where to go for my next trip. I was thinking of hitting up London over President’s Day weekend, but might switch that to Berlin because flights are cheap and I’ve never been to Germany. A summer surf trip to Costa Rica might be in the works. Let me know if you want to come along.
Also, I’ll post to this “blog” (I still hate that word) a bit more often, so you guys can stop complaining about how I never update it.
Damn, dudes I’m on a roll. This entry includes two – count ‘em, two! – days worth of stuff. This has nothing to do, of course, with the fact that we didn’t do much those past two days in Yerevan!
With only two days left in Yerevan, we were trying to hit as many as the “must see” sites as possible.
Luckily, Yerevan is a rather small city, so the list wasn’t very long. We grabbed a taxi and asked the driver to take us to the Armenian Genocide Museum and Monument. Naturally, he was curious as to where we were from. When I answered California, he replied that had family members in (where else?) Los Angeles…Hollywood, of course. From my short time in Yerevan, I am now convinced that 90 percent of LA’s population is Armenian. He then asked me where my family is from.
“Your mother, father, and grandparents?!”
“NO!,” he replied angrily “America is NOT a nation!”
Uh, sorry dude, but some of my ancestors were in the United States before the Revolutionary War. I consider myself to be pretty goddamned American, thankyouverymuch. I didn’t want to use any brain power trying to explain this in Russian, so I just started listing countries that I knew some of my ancestors were from: Ireland, Germany, England, Sweden…typical Euro mutt heritage.
Our driver agreed to wait for us while we looked around the Genocide Museum and Monument. What to say about this museum? Depressing, to say the least, but very educational. I must admit that before visiting Armenia I did not know much about the country’s history, of which the genocide played a large role. You couldn’t help but be moved by reading the multitude of documents on display, or viewing the photos of grinning Turkish troops, proudly displaying their pistols, with the decapitated heads of Armenian men on a platter before them. And the Turks? Well, according to them it wasn’t a genocide. War is a messy business, they say. The Armenians were separatists, backed by the Russians. Sure, some 300,000 Armenians (the number the Turks use – more accurate estimates place the death toll at one million plus) died during the relocation process, but that’s hardly a genocide, right? Denial is official government policy. Those who stray from this policy are ostracized by the media and harassed by Turkish nationalist groups. When a foreign government recognizes the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government behaves like a petulant child and warns of “negative consequences.”
The U.S. government, by the way, does not dare mention the word “genocide.” When the former American ambassador to Armenia mentioned the “g-word” in a speech, he was subsequently recalled to Washington and removed from his position. We wouldn’t want to alienate Turkey, our dear ally, now would we?
The pillar and “Temple of Commemoration”
A view of Mount Ararat, the national symbol of Armenia, sadly located in present day Turkey.
After the genocide museum, we went to the Matenadaran, a manuscript museum. I know what you’re thinking, “Lindsay, a manuscript museum? How totally boring!” It was actually really cool. If you’re ever in Yerevan, make sure you stop by…and pay the few extra dram for the English-speaking guide. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Statue of Mashtots (inventor of the Armenian alphabet) in front of the Matenadaran manuscripts library
The rest of the day was spent attempting to log into my GMail account from an internet café with a ridiculously shitty internet connection, and lounging around an outdoor café eating the Armenian version of a hamburger (not bad, but it ain’t In-N-Out). We had decent Chinese food for dinner, and afterwards piled into everyone’s SUVs to make a run for some morozhenoye
Andrew ordered the craziest ice cream concoction the world has ever seen. Seriously, WTF is this?
Our last day in the South Caucasus was rather relaxing, as we opted to spend the day at Lake Sevan. As usual, our driver was stopped by police on the way there and forced to pay a bribe. It wouldn’t be a proper post-communist vacation if you weren’t witness to a bit of corruption every day.
No surf here, either
We were offered fish, lavash, and beer by some hospitable Sevan locals:
When leaving, a group of Armenians playing volleyball in ridiculous looking speedos asked us where we were from. When I replied that I was from California, they mentioned that they were from “the OC.” Goddammit, people, don’t call Orange County “the OC”!!!!!!
We arrived back in Yerevan and caught a taxi to the U.S. Embassy, where we had earlier planned to meet up with Liz for happy hour at the Marine house. I told him we wanted to go to the American embassy. He responded by pulling out a map and pointing at the offices of the Peace Corps.
“Uh, no, we want to go to the embassy…at 1 American Avenue. This is the Peace Corps office.”
Then WTF are you showing me this map for?
The usual small talk ensued, Where are you from? I have relatives in LA, blah blah blah. And then….AND THEN…he says “Many Armenians love America, but I do not. I hate America.” At first, I thought that perhaps I just wasn’t translating the Russian correctly. Did this guy really just tell me, an American, that he absolutely hated my country? Yes, he did, as he then proceeded to lecture me on his hatred of our foreign policy.
“You bomb Yugoslavia! You bomb Iraq! Why? WHY?!?!”
I just sat there silently, held hostage to this crazy taxi driver’s rants against my own country. Christ, who do you think I am, Donald Rumsfeld? I vote, my dudes never win, I pay my taxes, and the government does with the money as it pleases. Oh, and by the way, great job your former Soviet masters did invading Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan! But I’m not gonna blame ya, dear taxi driver, for the munitions dropped back then or the protesters crushed by T-72 tanks, because I know how to distinguish the policy of a government from the citizens of that country. My eyes glazed over while he continued his rant, and my silence must have bothered him, because he kept shouting at me, “You do not understand! You do not understand!” I just grinned and shrugged, “Whatever, dude” and we stopped conversing. For those of you familiar with Russian, he kept addressing me as “ty” (informal), which irked me for some reason. Dude, I don’t know you, you better be addressing me as “vy” (formal).
At last, the embassy was in sight. I have never been so happy to see the stars and stripes. He asked me if I worked at the embassy.
“Uhhh…no…my friend does. I, uh, work in America.” I do not live in Washington, D.C., the capital of the country you so hate, and where all the bombing decisions are made.
We stumbled into the embassy, where the security guards proceeded to strip us of everything: passports, cameras, memory cards, batteries, flashlights, Advil. Compared to these guys, the TSA is full of a bunch of amateurs.
The embassy itself is an impressive, albeit architecturally bland structure. Think of a typical D.C. federal building with impeccable landscaping. The complex exudes raw, American power. The entire complex was immaculately clean, with its perfectly aligned concrete sidewalks and freshly cut grass. Even the damn parking lot was perfectly laid out with proper “suburban” asphalt and white lines to separate the gleaming SUVs parked side by side. It was almost hard to believe you were in Armenia at that moment.
We headed over to the Marine House, which, as you might suspect, is a home away from home for the U.S. Marines attached to the embassy. You can drink Corona, eat pizza, listen to American music, and play pool and air hockey with the Marines and diplomats. As much as I enjoy immersing myself in the local culture, it’s nice to take the occasional break and enjoy the familiarity of home. We hung out there for awhile before meeting up with some people at a restaurant called “Beirut.” (“Hey, isn’t Beirut getting bombed right now…ha ha!” Yeah, that not-so-politically correct joke got old quick). Anyways, the food there made me sick, which was convenient, considering we were leaving the next day. After nine days in the South Caucuses, we were finally headed home.
(Next up: We leave Yerevan and venture into London for Strongbow during our layover. And then I am forced to leave London and go back to the United States…well, not really forced, per se, but that whole concept of responsibility rears its ugly head.)