Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I can't stop laughing at today's Woot Shirt.

*buys one*

Armenia - Day 2

Sunday, June 15, 2008
The second day here is one of the most awesome days I've ever had.

Due to jetlag I still way overslept (I woke up at 1 pm!), but I still had time to go out and about. I started out with one of the main things I wanted to accomplish this trip: A visit to the Aram Khachaturian museum. Aram Khachaturian was an Armenian composer who wrote some of my favorite music. Most of you are probably familiar with the Sabre Dance from movies such as The Hudsucker Proxy.

Unfortunately nobody seemed to know much about it. Luckily I had an address and a cab driver took me to an unusual building with a small sign on it advertising the museum.

The museum was kind of funny in the fact that they didn't seem to get too many visitors, much less visitors who didn't speak any Russian or Armenian. I was the only visitor there the entire time, and the two people working there seemed a bit surprised somebody showed up.

After paying my 500 AMD (about $1.66), they took me to the various rooms, having to unlock all the doors and turn on lights as I went. They couldn't explain very much because they knew very little English, but I pretty much saw what I wanted. They had a score for Khachaturian's 3rd Symphony locked up which I desperately wanted to look at, but it wasn't going to happen.

Attached to the building was Khachaturian's house he had in Yerevan (he later moved to Moscow). It was neat seeing the master's study and actual piano he composed on. I bought a few postcards and poster that I don't really need and was on my way.

Next stop on my itinerary was the Cascade, which is a serious of steps (500, I believe) built into the side of a mountain, with fountains and sculptures on multiple levels on the way up. There is also a series of escalators which you can take.

When I arrived there, I ran into two Iranians who were seeing the city too. I joined them and their tour guide for the rest of the day. I enjoyed talking with them, and they were quite excited to talk to me too, as they wanted a chance to practice their English. We talked about a variety of subjects. One thing I found interesting: Their president is very unpopular right now too. Also, a majority of the residents don't want this nuclear power plant built that Mr. A. is so keen on. So much money is being diverted to building the power plant that their other infrastructure is suffering.

This is the Fat Cat statue, created by a Colombian artist. This was the first piece of art of many to grace the Cascade

My new found friends (nor their guide) didn't particularly want to go to the top of the Cascade, so instead we headed back down the hill to the Opera House.

After this, the others wanted to head back to their hotel room for a bit, so I continued on my own. I wanted to go to the top of the Cascade, but first, a quick detour to Museum of Ancient Manuscripts, which unfortunately was closed by the time I got to it. I hear it's a must-see, so I'm going to try to squeeze it in tomorrow. The building is still neat to see from the outside though.

Also known as the Matenadaran

And now onto the Cascade! I believe I took eight escalators total, one right after another. The view was very impressive from the top, but I could actually still go higher! Near the top of this hill was a park with the Mother Armenia monument. So off I went...

This originally had a statue of Stalin, but was replaced within days of his downfall with Mother Armenia

And now, I was finally high enough to get the view I wanted! The mountain in the distance is Mount Ararat, with its second peak off to the left. If you look really closely you can see the remains of Noah's Ark.

At this point I was exhausted, so I started back toward my hotel room. As I approached Republic Square, I noticed I could hear music blasting. Apparently they put on a light and fountain show every night. While not as closely choreographed as, say the fountain show at Bellagio, this one seemed more "genuine" to the crowd. The crowd danced as various American and Russian hit songs played, along with a few classical favorites. The show went on for a full hour and ended with the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia by Khachturian. When I heard the opening notes of it, a shiver immediately went down my spine and through my whole body - this is what it feels like to be Armenian!

After the show ended, I took the opportunity to nail a few night shots of these buildings.

And I'm spent! Stay tuned for more adventures in Yerevan!

Armenia - Day 1

OK, so let's talk about Day 1 after the hotel.

The first day was not great - I was very jetlagged, and the weather was windy and stormy. I only wandered around for a few hours before I felt compelled to go back to the room to avoid getting rained on any more (not to mention caught up on some sleep).

I am two blocks from the main square in town - Republic Square. There are four buildings on this square. One was the premier Soviet hotel during the USSR days - it has now been converted to a Marriott. While they were rebuilding the hotel, they discovered a secret floor that the KGB used to spy on guests!

The other three buildings are government offices, banks, and the National Historical Museum/Gallery of Art Museum.

One of the buildings in the square.

The National History Museum. There is an underground bunker under the museum for officials in case of attack or emergency.

The third building, plus view of the huge roundabout in the middle of all this.

Cathedral of St. Gregory the Enlightener. Storm was moving in quickly here. I took better pictures today.

Europe Adventures - Days 8-9

Saturday, June 14, 2008
In order to get to Armenia via Skyteam, I had to either fly from Paris or Prague. Since I've already been to France but haven't been to the Czech Republic yet, I chose Prague, despite the fact that their Armenia flight had a horrible departure time.

I didn't really read up much on Prague beforehand. I knew I wasn't going to have time to see everything, and I didn't want to rush myself, so I just read enough to get into town and wandered randomly. Prague is a very walkable city, so I did just that without even having a map on me.

I don't know what most of these buildings are, although I could probably figure it out pretty quickly if I felt like it. But I don't, so screw you guys. Wait, I know the Charles Bridge, I'll give you that one.

OK, I know this was the opera house

I ran into a plaze where they had a huge screen set up to broadcast the Euro Cup soccer football match. The first round pitted Sweden against Greece. There were a bunch of people from both countries in the crowd, and they all dressed in their country's colors and made a big scene. It was actually very fun and I watched the first half of one of the games.

The guy in the gray shirt was quite drunk and having a great time attempting to party with all the girls.

Unfortunately the next day was very overcast which did not lend itself to great picture taking.

I call this "Neopolitan Street", because of the row of buildings in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That may even be an orange creamsicle on the end there!

Quick Armenia update

Friday, June 13, 2008
I promise, more pictures coming, but first of all, this update:

My first day in Armenia was less than stellar, but my second day was more than amazing. This country is awesome.

I am definitely not going to have enough time to get up into Georgia, and I wish I could extend this current trip as is!

OK, more details later - I need some food pronto.

Europe Adventures - Days 6-8

Thursday, June 12, 2008
From Malmo I traveled to Amsterdam. I bummed around the city for a few hours, then took a train to Rotterdam, where I met up with my friend Saskia. Saskia was a foreign exchange student back in my high school days, and we had some mutual friends. We recently came in contact with each other again, and since I was in the general area (read: the other side of the Atlantic), I thought I'd drop in for a few days.

Europe Adventures - Days 2-5

First off, I'm just stating that I'm posting all this right now because I accidentally fell asleep at 6 pm tonight and woke up around midnight. Stupid jetlag - that short redeye killed me.
Since I've been to Malmo a few times now, there's no need to post the same crap over and over. So here are some highlights.

I arrived during high school graduation week. Unlike the US, where we either do nothing or sneak off to a party to drink cheap beer smuggled in by an adult, the Swedes go all out for their graduation. They dress up, pile into trucks or other random vehicles and cruise around town, blasting horns, airhorns, whistles, etc. They scream, hold up pictures of themselves as kids, and drape themselves in flags of their home countries if their family has immigrated.

The next day consisted of me wearing Jenny's goofy clown sunglasses. Yes, I know most (if not all) of my female readers love these. I was hoping this fad would only last a few months, but sadly it is still going strong.

Later that night at a little cafe, I found a bottle of Good Stuff. I have unwittingly gotten several people to start saying "good stuff" over the last few years, and so it was only appropriate that I drink a bottle of it.

The final two days were spent picnicking and eating vegetarian Chinese food. Wait, how come the only thing I ever post about on my trips is food?

Europe Adventures - Day 1

On June 2nd, Delta Airlines started Salt Lake City's first ever non-stop service to Europe with a daily flight to Paris. I intentionally booked this flight because I figured there might be some cool stuff going on - and I proved right!

The gate area was decorated with a large archway of balloons.

There was tons of French food being served up by local French restaurant The Paris

There was also an accordion player jamming away at what I can only assume were traditional French tunes. I don't know much French music outside of the classical masters or the band Air.

Later, several dignitaries started showing up, including Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker, Salt Lake County mayor Peter Corroon, and Gov. Jon Huntsman.

The Guv. doing the traditional ribbon cutting:

And then jamming with the accordion player:

As we boarded, we were given a tacky tacky tote-bag. Each bag contained a t-shirt with the same image and a little pin I could wear if I wanted.

The first line ("A MONUMENTAL, TRIUMPHAL, AND DELICATE EVENT") makes me laugh - I'm not entirely sure those are the adjectives I would use to describe this, but whatever.

We departed right on time with a full police escort and media trucks following the plane all the way to the runway. On the way to the runway, we paused for a water canon salute, which is when several firetrucks spray water in arches onto the plane. It's really neat to see from outside, but from the inside it's just like going through a car wash. Still, the hosing off was greeted with loud applause from throughout the plane.

Armenia - Day 1

OK, I promise I'll post about the previous week here shortly.

But first I have to get all this off my chest.

After lusting with the thought of visting this country for, I don't know how long, I'm finally in Armenia.

Unfortunately, my first impressions aren't that great.

The flight from Prague to Yerevan is a brutal red-eye, leaving at 9:30 am and arriving at about 4:00 am. The flight length is only about three and a half hours, leaving you only about two and a half hours to sleep once meal service has concluded.

I arrived to find a very nice airport, with well-lit spacious passages and signs in both Armenian and English.

Upon reaching the immigration area, I was directed to the Visa section to get a visa. I told the person at the counter that I had an e-Visa, but I don't think he understood, as he wanted me to pay the normal $60 visa cost. I dug through my backpack and pulled out a printout of my e-Visa, and the guy looked as if I had given him his pink slip. At this point he had already placed my sticker visa in my passport, so he painstakingly pulled if off and waved me over to the other side of immigration.

At the new counter, the lady stared at my passport for a while and quizzed me on my name. I guess I didn't look enough like my picture. After asking me which flight I came in on, she cleared me and sent me on my way.

Baggage had already arrived, and there was somebody stationed at the exit to match up baggage tags with ticket stubs. I'm not used to this, so I had to dig through all my crap to find my boarding pass.

The exit of the airport is small, and was crowded with families awaiting loved ones. Some guy started pestering me for taxi service at a grossly inflated rate. I ignored him and worked my way over to the change booth to exchange some foreign currency. There was only one person in line ahead of me, but he was taking a lifetime. After 15 minutes, I gave up in frustration and just did an ATM withdrawl instead.

The Information Desk at the airport was out of maps.

Finally satisfied I had accomplished all I needed to at the airport, I headed out. The decency of the airport quickly ended - everything outside the airport doors was ghetto-fabulous, with some half-assed lighting and no sense of organization. The original taxi guy kept badgering me too, but I kept ignoring him.

I finally made my way to the taxi stand, where, guess what, there were no taxis available. I finally had to give in and use my new found "friend", who charged me about 5x the regular rate (according to my guidebook, which is admittedly a few years old).

The hotel I originally planned on was already booked up, so he took me to another place (and charged me an additional $5 for the two block drive).

So now I'm laying in "bed" at the Hotel Chirak. It was built in 1981, and some of the rooms were renovated, although I can't tell if mine is one of them. If it is one of them, I'd hate to think what it was like before.

The room consists of:

- A large dead moth on the floor
- A 13" TV
- A queen size bed (actually two twin mattresses placed side-by-side). The mattress feel as if they're stuffed with cardboard ... they're slightly squishy, but not at all soft. The sheets are nicely folded up and placed under the duvet for you, meaning you have to put the sheets on your own bed.
- Two pillows which weigh about a metric ton each
- A fairly nice bathroom considering the rest of the room.
- A large window with black-out curtains that cover only 2/3rds of it.
- A balcony you can walk out onto, although most of it appears to be taken up by an air conditioner.

I'm standing in the doorway to the bathroom here. Room is tiny if you can't tell. Curtains have been extended almost as far as they go.

There is also a huge flock of geese somewhere in the near vicinity, and they are squaking like I have never experienced before. Do you remember in the movie Sneakers, where the guy who was kidnapped remembers hearing a party, and they find out the "party" noises were actually a huge flock of geese? That's the level we're talking here.

I managed to somehow sleep about three hours. I've since checked out and moved down to a Best Western down the street. It appears this one has functioning windows that mute most of the outside noises, and the bed is somewhat pliable too. I think I'll be staying here for this visit.