Armenia: Food, Culture, and Travel Tips

When talking about Armenia and its history, it is impossible to skip mentioning 1915 Genocide, which has been almost a defining issue for the nation for many decades after. Carried out by the Ottoman Empire on the eve of WW I, almost 1.5 million people were killed. There were many witnesses to the massacre. Even though the international community was outraged, they didn’t take strong actions against the Ottoman Empire and to this date, didn’t acknowledge the Genocide officially. I visited the museum in Yerevan. It is very beautifully done, and it is impossible to leave it without feeling the pain and deep sadness how people can do such horrific acts against each other. Armenia is also very rich in unique art and culture. Historically, it has been under occupation almost its entire existence, by the Persians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Turks, and the Soviets. It gained its official independence only in 1991 when Soviet Union collapsed. You would think that being under oppression and cultural influence of other countries for centuries would make it impossible to preserve a unique culture. Armenian people are emotional and artists at heart and could not live without a creative outlet to release the pain. Art of pain always comes from the original heart. Maybe that urge for expression, allowed them to stay so unique and true to their origin for all these years. Now in Yerevan, you can find statutes, pottery, paintings, and music  everywhere in the city! Even though a big part of Armenian art is deeply and painfully sad, there is a big part of Armenian art that is rich and soulfully colorful and expressive. One thing I always remember about my life in Armenia that every weekend, from then to now, artists flood the city with their work, displaying them on the central streets and flea markets. To me, it was like a festivity every weekend. Then and now! The city’s famous souvenir store Dalan is also a must visit. From little figures to jewelry to rugs, every item is handmade by local artists. And I was absolutely in love with the store’s design (I could not refrain from my obsession of the store’s floor that is made of pieces of colorful glass!).  When it comes to Armenian food, there are a lot of influence of the Armenian occupant countries, in a really good way. I cannot stress enough how much I loved the food here, especially the delicate and flavorful taste of the fruits and vegetables. Every morning I would make my husband make me a tomato omelette there and was obsessed with the flavor and delicateness of the ingredients. The products are coming straight from the local farms which adds so much freshness to the taste! When in Karabakh, we also had a great fun when stopped by a small village eatery where we tried the local favorite, Jingalov Hats, a lavash bread stuffed with Here’s the Jingalov Hats recipe in case you want to recreate.   Travel Tips: The city of Yerevan is also overfilled with restaurants and there are no apps like Yelp that could indicate which one is good or not. The only indication we had there was that some of them were overly full and some were empty. So we would make reservations in the ones we liked because we were traveling with a big group and once the restaurants got filled for the night, people would stay there for quite a long time, and chances of getting a table were quite low.  A few of my favorite places were Baguette and Co. for breakfast, Tumanyan Khinkali, Lavash, and Hin Jrvezh, for lunch or dinner.  As to where to stay, my family staid in Airbnb right in the center of Yerevan on Abovyan street (a very happening place). I couldn’t ask for a better location. We had a clean place with a kitchen, and a produce store on the first floor of the building, and every attraction within the walking distance. Living in an apartment certainly gave us a feel of local life. But it is important to note that the buildings in the city are old, and we had to deal with the plumbing issue, which is not unusual, so I do feel that for a short stay I would prefer to be in a hotel where everything would be taken care for us.  When it comes to driving, I would definitely not recommend. Drivers in the city don’t keep distance between cars or pedestrians (I mean it!). The car speeds are low, so it is safe for those in the cars, but as a pedestrian, I needed to remind my boys to not just follow the traffic lights, but also be very alert and careful when crossing the streets. Having said that, all the attractions are clustered in the center of the city, everything is in walking distance (I racked up about 12000 steps daily, was so proud of myself!!). But if you need a car, there are tons of taxis that can transport you for a small fee, and most people speak enough English to explain directions (at least in the places where tourists are). If you decide to travel outside of Yerevan, there are lots of travel agencies that provide a vehicle with a driver with a guide or without, your choice. People are very friendly here, and most speak at least basic English, so finding your ways around is pretty easy.  And finally, the WiFi is available almost in every public park or restaurant, so communicating within and outside the country is easily available.  This is it for now! Make sure to check out the 48 Hour Road Trip Around Armenia to read about churches and breathtaking landscape of Armenia and leave your comments! I would so love to hear your impressions, opinions, and questions! xo  

48 Hour Road Trip Around Armenia

Just like most immigrants, my relationship with my homeland is a bit complicated. I haven’t gone back to Armenia ever since I left it twenty seven years ago, until this fall. As my kids grew up here in America, they have heard many stories about our life in Armenia at our dining table. But, one day I suddenly realized these were just stories to them and not the experiences they can feel and understand with their heart. I suddenly felt that it is my responsibility to take them to Armenia and introduce them to the land of their ancestors, understand the history of Armenian people and see the beauty of Armenia as a country in much bigger depth. When there, we got on the road to explore and discover as much as possible about this absolutely gorgeous country, rich with color and history. I have to be honest and say that in twenty some years I lived in Armenia, I have not taken a trip like this. It all felt new to me… but yet very familiar. Armenia is truly a beautiful place and at the early stages of a tourism boom (1.5 mil in 2017 and the numbers are dramatically rising!), I am very happy to share my finds with you. The Churches: Did you know that Armenia is the first sovereign nation in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion?! So yes, Armenia is a small country, but it certainly has an important place in history. In about 300AD, Gregory the Illuminator, came to Armenia to spread Christianity, but was persecuted by the king and thrown into a deep pit where he spent 13 years. The legend says that after a 13-year ordeal down in the dungeon, Gregory was let out by the same king who persecuted him because the king fell terribly ill and his sister had a vision that only Gregory the Illuminator can cure him. Once Gregory was out, he cured the king and, naturally, converted him to Christianity. The king, out of gratitude, accepted Christianity as a state religion. I got to climb down into the pit where Gregory the Illuminator spent long 13 years, and honestly cannot imagine someone not to go insane after spending so many years down there. I am sure it wasn’t so lit and dry as it is now, and there were no stairs to go down… But that’s just me… There are many medieval churches spread throughout Armenia. Most built on top of hills or on the edge of cliffs. They are composed almost entirely of volcanic stone and stand out beautifully in the middle of mostly uninhibited countryside. As we drove on the rugged roads through the endless rows of hills and mountains, we could see the churches’ pointed domes peak out above the trees and rise tall at the edges of cliffs. This struck me as truly unique, impactful, and incredibly beautiful.  Garni, a Greek temple that was built in the 1st Century AD, is also worth visiting. It is one of very few structures left from the times prior to the spread of Christianity in Armenia. It was built for the son of God in Armenian mythology. Just like other temples, it was destroyed when King announced Christianity to be the official state religion. Garni temple, however, survived enough to be restored. You can easily spot the stones that were added new and the ones that were two thousand years old. Incredible! The Nature: The nature in Armenia is absolutely breathtaking, and was justifiably glorified by painters and poets. Truly magnificent mountain rangers surround Armenia all around and almost the entire Armenian territory is located on the height of at least 3000 feet above the sea level. No matter where I stood, I could see the vast canyons. There are no rails or gates that protect you from getting too close to the edge, so approach using your common sense. But at the same time, there are also no rails or gates to obstruct your absolutely breathtaking view. One of the most beautiful ones, is where Tatev Monastery located. To reach it, we took a reversible cableway, recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest in the world. It travels high above the ravine of Vorotan River at the altitude of more than 1000 feet!  Armenian lakes and waterfalls are beautiful and lush. There are stories and legends attached to many of them. The one I loved the most was form Jermuk Waterfall, a nobleman who lived in a steep cliff had a beautiful daughter, and men all over the world wanted to marry her, but her heart belonged to a shepherd’s son. Every night she would throw a long rope to the boy so he could reach her house, but her father found out, destroyed the rope, and cursed her that if she meets him again, she would become a mermaid.  Of course, when she threw her hair to the boy the next night, she became a mermaid and her hair turned into waterfall… Armenian scenery is absolutely amazing. It is so beautiful how the churches are designed with nature in mind, almost as if they are here to enhance the nature’s beauty. Armenian people enjoy art tremendously, and I wrote about it in Armenia: Culture, Food, and Travel Tips. Make sure to check it out, and leave your comments! I would so love to hear your impressions, opinions, and questions! xo

Alaska In September

As a traveler, I always look forward to experiencing local flavors and the culture of each destination. However, the experience of traveling to Alaska was a bit different. Here, the experience and feel of the place itself took the center stage! (You can also watch the video here.) Alaska in September Alaska in September is just absolutely beautiful. It is not as crowded as the tourist season dies down before mid-month. But, at the same time, days are still long enough to have plenty of time to explore. Weather in Alaska in September fluctuates. Some days it was cold and we needed jackets, some days, tee-shirts would do, and yes, rain is a hit or miss. Having said that, don’t let rain stop you! Alaska in September is absolutely GORGEOUS! During our trip, it rained only one day when we went to explore glaciers, but we were in and out of a boat the entire day, and the best part, the glaciers’ gorgeous blue color is the most visible in a gloomy weather. Cruise to Alaska vs. Alaska by Land To truly experience Alaska, the culture, and the wilderness, flying and exploring the state by land is the way to go. You will see the amazing sceneries and meet many people. Alaskans love Alaska, and they love sharing about life here with everyone who is interested! However, if you are looking for a luxurious experience, you should travel to Alaska by cruise, because the idea of comfort inland is nowhere near the comfort of a cruise ship. Experience is certainly very different, but Alaska will not disappoint, even from the far.  Day 1: Anchorage and 26 Glaciers The first thing on the itinerary was a tour to see the glaciers and explore 140 miles of Prince William Sound.  The boat ride to see the glaciers was absolutely amazing, and even though it rained that day, we didn’t feel that. The glaciers’ amazing blue color is visible best in a gloomy weather. This was the first day of our trip, but I could feel how vast, cold, wild, and absolutely incredible Alaska is.  Anchorage eateries: Anchorage has many wonderful eateries. My favorite breakfast place is Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop and nothing can beat Moose’s Tooth pizza and beer after a long cold day. Keep in mind that as soon as you head out of big cities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks in the Northern part of Alaska, the food selections are limited, and sometimes VERY limited, so make sure to plan accordingly! Day 2: Train Ride Through Denali to Fairbanks The train ride on Alaska Railroad Depot was absolutely gorgeous. It passes through different vegetation zones and the Denali Mountain is spectacular. However, the views when passing through the Gulch Bridge absolutely blew me away. Almost 300 feet high, it stands over a stunning (stunning times a million!!!), view. And experiencing it in person is a must. *Keep in mind that after mid-September, the train stops its daily rides, so make sure to check the schedule when you make your plans. Day 3 and 4: Chena Hot Springs  Did you know Alaska has Hot Springs resort?! It is in a village about one hour away from Fairbanks. The village is so remote and quiet, especially in the mornings! I LOVED getting up early and going for a walk when everyone is still sleeping, except for ducks and the raindeers. Soon after breakfast in China’s (only) restaurant where they serve locally grown food, II spent some time in the hot springs… that is hot hot hot! And it is really cool when the weather is cold and crisp. In the afternoon we toured the dog kennel and learned about dog mushing. There is so much nuance that goes into the craft of dog mushing! It is fascinating, and I definitely put visiting Alaska in winter to see their annual dog race on my bucket list.  In the evening, we toured the Ice Museum. Inside, everything, all the rooms, and decor is made of ice. it is negative 7 Celsius all year long (23 F). Impressive construction. Northern Lights – Chasing Aurora Northern Lights are visible in September, and it is easy to follow the updates on sun activity. There are apps for that (there are apps for everything!!), and the Chena Hot Springs Resort informs everyone if there is a strong solar activity. And if the sky is clear, use the opportunity and get outside (even if you have a scheduled Northern Lights tour, because you cannot guarantee that during the scheduled tour, the sky will be clear. (China Hot Springs has an option to wake you up once sky lits up. It is absolutely amazing and worth waking up for!!) The Villages (Drive one way, fly back)  Originally, our plan was to take a tour to cross the Arctic Circle. But we got a recommendation to visit remote villages instead and meat with local Athabascan tribe elders, get introduced to their lifestyle. We did this with Northern Alaskan Tour Co., Robert, super nice and knowledgeable. I mean, I would never dare to get into Alaskan wilderness on our own without a knowledgeable person. It is super unsafe for a Californian city girl. I would say ignorant, but I’ll leave it out. This was a truly authentic and fascinating experience. Get to talk to the locals and learn about their lifestyle, what and why they do what they do, how they managed to keep their traditions, teach their kids, and prepare for long winters. I was surprised to learn that many of the villagers serve in the US Army, and many of the elders are Vietnam Veterans. We were treated there as guests of the tribe. Definitely an experience of a lifetime.  Since the villages are about four hours away by car, we took a small airplane to get back to the city. I do have to say I was a little nervous, especially that snowshoers were in the forecast, but it all worked out and this ride was very smooth and was an amazing highlight of the trip. What to Pack Okay, please spare yourself from carrying heavy bags with stuff. You will NOT use most of it. Just take a couple of changes of layers – tees, sweaters, and a light parka jacket, and booties. Make sure to bring good moisturizers. As it gets cold here, it also gets dry, and your skin will be very thirsty.