Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 6 - Traveling Home!

The last day of our adventure was a travel day back home.  Thankfully we were able to get ourselves up and out the door for our 4:45 AM taxi with no problems.  The airport was surprisingly busy for that early hour of the morning, but we were plenty early for check-in.  After check-in, but before security we used the last of our Georgian money to get some khachupuri and tea at a nice cafe inside the airport. We went directly from security to boarding without any wait, which was perfect, considering the long wait ahead of us in Istanbul.  Our flight from Tbilisi to Istanbul was about 2 hours, but because of the time difference it was as if we only traveled 15 minutes forward in time.  During the flight my congestion and plugged-up ears made for some unpleasantness and even a few tears, but thankfully Mario was there to make me feel at least a little better.  We had discussed the possibility of going into the city during our layover in Istanbul, but in the end I wasn't really in the mood to pay 15 euros for a visa, plus the cost of the bus tickets just to be in the city for an hour or so.  Perhaps if the weather had been a bit more appealing I would have gone for it. Besides, I'm good at entertaining myself during long layovers.  Add in the fact that we had wifi access and heck, I could have been laid-over all day with no problem! The second flight - Istanbul to Kharkov - also brought some ouchy ears, but not quite as bad as the first flight.  When we landed I was extremely glad to be back in Kharkov, but not quite so happy about being met by the biting cold.  
This trip was special and different in many ways.  It didn't feel like many of the trips I have taken in the past.  For one, it was the first time that I can remember being super sick on a trip.  It was special in that it was Mario and my's first time flying together.  And it felt more adventurous even than our camping trip, the territory felt more uncharted, making the adventure all the more exciting.  And now my friends, the question is...where to next?!?

Day 5 - Back to Tbilisi!

Monday morning we awoke to a beautiful surprise! For the first time since our arrival in Yerevan, Mt. Ararat was completely visible through clear blue skies.  Mario had been really disappointed to that point that it wasn't visible (he's really into mountains), so I was glad Yerevan granted him that one last request.  We snapped a few pictures of it from the cold open balcony and then gathered our things, ate our breakfast, and set off for the bus station.  On the way we made a short detour to the grocery store so Mario could buy Mt. Ararat brandy and Armenian wine for his parents.  We had a bit of trouble finding the bus stop we needed to catch a bus to the main bus station, so we eventually just took a taxi since taxi service is quite inexpensive in Armenia.  We gave the driver a nice tip since we had Armenian currency we were trying to use up and were at the bus station in no time.  We got some of the last seats on a marshrutka headed to Tbilisi, so we didn't have to wait too long for departure.
Just as we were leaving the city limits, the bus driver pulled over to let a mother and little boy onto the marstrutka.  There was only one seat left, but I assumed the little one would just sit on mama's lap for the 5-6 hour ride.  Well, not quite! Instead, mama sat the little boy into the seat, handed him a bag a little bit of money, kissed him on the cheek, and said goodbye.  He was an adorable little thing and no more than 4 or 5 years old.  He was also a confident little kiddo and didn't seem nervous to be traveling alone at all.  He didn't end up crossing the boarder with us, but was met by some relatives when we made a small break not far from the boarder.  Crossing the boarder back into Georgia was absolutely effortless and the trip in general was about an hour shorter than our trip to Yerevan had been. Mario got his picture with the Armenian boarder sign, but I was feeling too icky to want my own picture taken.  I was definitely feeling better than the day before, but runny nose, sore throat, and headache doesn't end up so great when paired with a bumpy marshrutka ride.  Thankfully after the boarder the roads were a bit better in Georgia and we were back in Tbilisi in no time.  We were really fortunate because the marshrutka which we really quite randomly got on to go back to the center stopped at the exact intersection where the street leading up to our hostel was!
After a bit of chilling out at the hostel we went on a walk and dropped by a few souvenir shops.  I bought my first and only souvenirs of the trip (I'm really not so much into souvies usually) - a pen, which has a part which pulls out to show pictures of Georgia, and a pretty pink bracelet.  For me, a bracelet which will always remind me of Georgia is much more meaningful than a t-shirt or other really "obvious" souvenirs.  When it came to that point in our walk when our stomachs started to get a little rumbly, we found ourselves in front of a big, bright, shiny restaurant called "Elvis American Diner".  Not exactly authentic Georgian food, but something about it drew us in and we ended up having dinner there.  I got some stir-fried noodles with chicken and vegetables and Mario got a burger and fries.  He said it was one of the best burgers he had ever had, so I think it was a good dinner choice! After dinner we wandered around a little bit more before heading back to the hostel for our last night (or more like half a night since we had a taxi to the airport at 4:45 AM).  We met a Canadian family who was in Georgia on a family holiday and it turned out that the wife and daughter had the same flight as us in the morning.  It worked out well because we got to split the taxi four ways instead of 30 lari (about 15 euros) for just Mario and I. We knew we had to get up early, but we still stayed up for a while so that we would be tired enough to actually sleep when we went to bed. I went to sleep happy, glad to have had one last nice night in Tbilisi to end our little adventure.

Mt. Ararat on our last morning in Yerevan!

Bed head, pajamas, and Mt. Ararat :)

German fuel pumps in Armenia

With the boarder sign

Republic of Armenia!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Day 4 - Yerevan

The "I'm not feeling so well" of Saturday night quickly spiraled downwards into all sorts of unpleasantness.  Saturday night I was miserable - shivering and achy with fever! I even found myself sneaking out of my bunk to go steal some of Mario's warmth and comfort.  Sunday morning, despite feeling icky, I got myself out of bed so that we could go see more of Yerevan.  We went to a large market where Mario bought several souvenirs and then to the Cascade.  At the top of the Cascade we checked out the statue celebrating 50 years of Soviet Armenia, a small park of attractions, and the Mother Armenia statue, which replaced a statue of Stalin in 1967.  By the time we had been out and abouting for a while my sick little self couldn't take it anymore and around 3 we headed back to the hostel where I curled up in bed for the rest of the afternoon.  I hate not being able to explore from morning until night while on a trip, but my body won out in this battle. Mario went out to see a few more things and then we went together to get something to eat.  We drank tea and chatted with other guests at the hostel for a little bit before bed.  We especially had a nice time sharing travel stories with a traveler from Japan who was basically on a trip around the entire world.

Right outside the "Republic Square" metro stop entrance

Market where Mario got his souvies 


We had a lot of stairs to climb!

big, fat, cat!

Headed up!

Another shot of Yerevan from a little higher up

monument marking 50 years of Soviet Armenia and Mario is accidentally in the picture making a silly face

park entrance

Mother Armenia

Zoravar Church - Mario went to check it out while I was resting

It was very crowded because of the holiday

Ok, so this picture isn't so terribly appropriate, but let me explain.  There is a lot of conflict between the Armenian and Azeri governments concerning the Najorno-Karabakh breakaway region in Azerbaijan.  This conflict really makes it way down to the level of average citizens harboring great amounts of hate for the Azeri people and vice versa. 

Day 3 - Yerevan!

Saturday morning we were Yerevan bound! Like every traveler's "fool-proof plans", our's also fall apart from time to time.  In short, it turns out that no marshrutki would be leaving to Yerevan from the main train station, so we were directed to a city marshrutka headed to one of the main bus stations in Tbilisi.  At the bus station a man was again trying to get us to hire him as a driver, but I really just had to say no.  It's not even that we wanted so terribly much money for it, in fact he said it would be the same price per person as the marshrutka, but something in me just had to say no.  Maybe it was just the fact that the marshrutka had been our plan from day one and I wasn't in the mood to switch anything up.  Whatever the reason, we eventually found the marshrutki headed to Yerevan and made our way to Armenia in the company of Armenian, Georgian, and Russian traveling companions.  There was a cute little old man sitting next to Mario and I with whom we made some small talk throughout the trip. He may have been very somewhat confused, but he was funny, kind, and interesting.

At the boarder, I was the only passenger who needed to get a visa.  It's a very easy process, but the dilemma came in that I was lead to believe from what I read on the internet that I could pay for the visa in euros or dollars.  It turns out I had to pay in Armenian dram, of which I had none.  There was an automat for changing money near the visa window, but it wasn't working, no matter how many times the guard tried to tell me that it worked just fine.  Honestly, I don't think it was even turned on! Mario had already gone on to the boarder to explain to the waiting driver and passengers what was taking so long.  The guard offered to take Mario's passport and let him unofficially cross the money to get Armenian currency to bring back across the boarder to me.  The guards were so relaxed, chilled out, and friendly and I eventually got the money I needed to pay for my visa.  Soon enough we were on the road again.  The roads in Armenia were definitely worse than those in Georgia.  We bounced around a lot more after the boarder and swerved this way and that as the driver attempted to avoid the meter wide potholes and unexpected dips in the road.

By the time that magical marshrutka ride had ended we realized that we would be able to follow essentially one main street straight to our hostel from the bus station.  It was somewhere between a 2 and 3 kilometer walk, but who's counting? The weather was great and we had plenty of time on our hands, so the walk was well worth it.  At the hostel we checked in and then were headed out again to do some initial exploring of the city.  We bought ice cream from a little shop directly on the central square and joked about it being "the most expensive ice cream in Armenia".  It probably wasn't, but it certainly was delicious! Our first impressions of Yerevan were excellent! We walked until we were chilly enough that we needed to fetch our jackets from the hostel and then set out again.  For dinner we decided to go to an Indian restaurant and I was overjoyed to eat Indian food for the first time in almost a year.  Yummmmmmm!!! A little while after dinner we had drinks at a Cuban bar where we listened to some live music and tried the "Special Cuban Cocktail".  It still wasn't terribly late when we got back to the hostel, but I started to not feel so well and called it a night sometime after midnight.

Armenia time!

Taking pictures on the drive to pass the time

more pictures from the marshrutka - snow-covered mountains

Main bus station in Yerevan!

Mario and his "wide load" :)


Yerevan bench)))

Being not so far from the Iranian boarder, we saw lots of Iranian cars and met many Iranian people

City center walks

Opera Square

The most dangerous (round) intersection madness!

Pedestrian street

Republic Square

The most expensive ice cream in Armenia ;)

Cuban bar!

Mario drinking the special cuban cocktail

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