The 10 questions you always wanted to ask about Russia Part 1

The iron curtain is long gone, but the mystery around Russia remains almost the same. For most, Russia is “a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” I would like to shed a bit of light on this issue and unlock a door to the mysterious Russian soul. Here are answers to the most common questions that are asked about Mother Russia:

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My crazy Armenian adventure- I have survived- Part 2

FINALLY!!

Out in the city alone.

You know, I like exploring a new country by myself. You can just walk around aimlessly, silently; purposely getting lost while snapping pictures, sensing and absorbing all the smells, sounds and sights of the city… feeling and immersing  the city vibe… chatting to locals or observing strangers while sipping coffee/wine in a cute cafe, hidden away from the tourists. A true moment of bliss to any globe-trotter.

Of course, I enjoy travelling with friends and family too- but that’s a different kind of travel. You spent more time talking to each other or arguing about a travel plan. You wouldn’t be able immerse yourself as much in the culture.

I am out in the center of Yerevan-after quickly grabbing a bite to eat – (a super delicious lajmajun – Armenian- style pizza –thin crispy bread with beef and cheese –yum! Thanks D for the tip)-I head towards my destination.

1024px-KohrvirabThe plan for today is to get a marshrutka – (public transport style mini van) to Khor Virap, a magical place with the best view of Mt Ararat.  Despite the fact that the majority of the mountain is not situated in  Armenia any more (due to the past wars the borders have changed and today,  the majority of the mountain is located on the territory of the modern Turkey) – this a beautiful mountain  is national symbol of the Republic of Armenia, being featured in the center of its coat of arms.  And I can see why- it is simply beautiful.  According to the Bible, Noah’s ark landed on the mountains of Ararat after the flood.  In Armenian mythology Mt Ararat is the home of the Gods, much like Mt Olympus is in Greek Mythology.

I would stay there for couple of hours, exploring the history, chatting to locals, snapping beautiful photos and enjoying the nature. I’d come back to Yerevan around 7pm to grab dinner with some Armenian friends in the city. That was a rough plan.  But it was never bound to happen…

Looking lost, desperately trying to find a marshrutka, I quickly earn an unwanted attention from a taxi driver who announces  that there aren’t any marshrutkas to Khor Virap since 3 years. 

 

Great…

Look, I am generally a very trusting person, a bit naïve, even, but I just don’t trust taxi drivers…

I don’t fancy exploring the country in a cab anyway- not because of the price- Armenia is far from  expensive, but just by principle. I make up a story and walk away, ‘looking for my friends’. Too bad-the kind lady from the flower shop confirms my fears -marshrutkas have been discontinued. Thanks, the kind owner of the guesthouse for your advise..  Ah, whatever! I get in the taxi with the guy since both the car and the fare are good enough and I don’t  have any other options.

Little did I know that this would be the beginning of Olla’s Big Armenian Adventure…

He is  chatty- even too chatty. Like most Armenians, he speaks excellent Russian, thus there are no language barrier which makes communication very easy. Ovik is full of energy, passion and excitement- so typical for people from the Southern cultures- and I love it.

I instantly earn a new name –Olya-jan ( “Jan”- Armenian for “dear”, Olya-the short version of my name in Russian).  He is so enthusiastic about showing me Armenia that I cannot resist. It is not difficult to convince me anyway-I am flexible and always go with the flow.  “Plan” and “organization” should stay home when you’re traveling- thats my motto. We change the route, spin around and drive towards Oshakan.

Let the adventure begin.

The road is terrible, the speed is way above the limit, the music is really loud, my new-found friend spends most of his time chatting away, paying attention to me way more than the road.

Gradually growing a bit nervous, I secretly put a seatbelt on-you know, just in case. He notices and laughs, suggesting to stop by and visit his friend on the way- a farmer, a wine maker and a great chef. Ovik knowingly hits my soft spot -I can never say no to wine 🙂 My curiously to explore a traditional Armenian village is stronger than the sense of security and we stop by the farm to meet this kind gentleman.   IMG_9357

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Wine. So much wine. Can I please have one of these at home?

The little excursion is interesting-  apparently, the guy makes a fortune out of tourists here- he makes shashlik ( Shish kebab),wine and organizes tours around the farm. Who would have guessed, but  a lot of Japanese come here to explore. I  am offered a big glass of delicious home-made wine – it is light and fruity. For Armenia!

These big, beautiful vases full of wine left me very impressed.   I try to tip the guy for his time and hospitality at the end of the tour but he refuses to accept any money since I am Ovik’s friend Oh. That is so kind of him. Maybe this trip would not be another tourist scam as it was in Thailand -when a driver takes you around his friends’ shops where you are uncomfortably tricked into buying stuff that you don’t want… Maybe he is a nice guy after all. Maybe I am just a suspicious psycho after traveling around Thailand, Egypt and Turkey…

Now, we are on the way to Oshakan. This place is well known to historians and piligrims of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Did you know, that Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion in 301 AD ? Yes, I did not know this either.

Oshakan is best known for the Saint Mesrop Mashtots Cathedral which is the burial place of Saint Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet. The place breaths with history and I find it truly magical – the entrance to the church was decorated with 36 khachkars (cross-stones), depicting the 36 original letters of the Armenian alphabet created by Saint Mesrop.

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Armenian alphabet- A for Ararat . Don’t you love this beautifully carved cross? I love it

A kind lady from the shop -another friend of Ovik -offers me something interesting and odd–alani – pitted dried peach stuffed with ground walnuts and sugar. Sounds delicious? Trust me-it is! It has an exotic taste- very sweet, but I like it- and I buy a couple of pieces, as well as a walnut jam (amazing!) and some freshly made dried fruits- presents for my family.

We keep driving. I am getting a bit tired and car sick – honestly, I’m not the best person to accompany you on the road trips- not on these roads at least.

Ovik is restless- he wants to show me as much as possible before it gets dark -meanwhile all churches blend in one in my eyes now. We visit some more churches- and monuments- drive through Ashtarak, Saint George monastery, alphabet monument and some more churches.

I loved Saghmosavank the most- a 13th-century Armenian monastic complex. It is stands tall and proud on the cliff, boasting with its sublimity and historic richness.  IMG_9405

We keep driving.

And more.

And more.

I want to turn back but Ovik is determined to go further.

It is foggy. Too foggy to see the road. We drive up the mountain-higher and higher- and my ears slowly go deaf. One oncoming car stops and warns us not to go any further- it is too dangerous. The road is narrow- a cliff on both sides and no visibility. Meanwhile Ovik is determined to go further. I give up- and we keep driving.

Here we are- by the Amberd Fortress build in the 10th century. Its really foggy and  I really didn’t want to come here- we almost crashed couple of times while trying to get here and theres nothing else to see but the thick fog. Well, at least I took a nice nap on the way!

imageI go to check out the fortress and the church.

“I will stay in the car”– he says.

Please don’t drive away!”- I tell him jokingly. He smiles and nods.

It is so foggy-you can barely see anything.  It is mysterious too- and I get goose bums. Hope I won’t get stuck here.

I come back where I had left him.

He is gone. The car is gone too.

Holy mother.

Here we go,Olla. Well done. This historic fortress will be a symbol of your stupidity and the end of your adventures. Nope, no crazy travel stories to tell your grandchildren before sleep.

It is wet, windy and very cold. You are freezing already and there is no soul to be seen in the diameter of 15km.  That’s the end of ya, my dear.

Well, at least I will die in this beautiful, mysterious destination, that lives and breaths with history and culture…

I wonder if guides will tell tourists legends about my death? I could be a ghost roaming around Ambers scaring people off. Woooooooo!

Stop it. You’re going crazy already. It didn’t take long, huh?

Its so so so cold.. Its been about 20 minutes and its getting dark. And my Armenian friend is long gone.

‘Olla- jan!  ‘

My God..

Apparently, Ovik moved his car away from the cliff and it was too foggy to see each other..

I’ve never been this happy to see a human being. Ovik, you’ve got no idea how much I love you right now!!

We stop by the petrol station LOM_9891to refuel. Or, at least that’s what I thought we’d do.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a gas station in my life. Don’t get me wrong- I haven’t lived under a rock –I mean with actual natural gas, not petrol. Apparently, most Armenians use gas instead of petrol because it is much cheaper  It looks something like this : there is a big gas tank in a car boot, you have to connect a wire to it to transfer gas from the station.. Or something like this..

Ovik is gone somewhere and I’m standing alone with about 7 young guys eating me with their eyes.

Ovik, darling, where are you, when I need you the most?

Funny. Seemingly, Armenian guys like to only wear either black leather jackets or sport costumes. Is it an unofficial trademark of Armenians?  Oh and tinted windows in cars. Like, super tinted. Maximum legally allowed multiplied by 2. Another observation/ stereotype is- you know you are an Armenian guy when you have as much body hair as it is on your  head and when you are over 30, live with your parents and drive a BMW 😀 Ah, Armenians are just awesome.

BOOM! Aaaaaaaaa

Suddenly, everyone is running away from the station, some drop tot he ground, protecting themselves, someone hits me and pulls  me down to the ground. And there is an odd smell in the air. What the…

Apparently, I was just inches away from dying…

Some idiot forgot to disconnect the wire and tried to drive away. Or I don’t know -some technical stuff. Wasn’t certain what the heck happened there, but there was a bit of explosion, everyone is dead pale and shouts at the guy. It was something like this.

Ovik and the rest get angrier and angrier , determined to punch the guy. Oh my. Will this day ever end?

” Its time for dinner ” -says Ovik. Oh really? I thought its time to go home…

He insists on having  dinner together in Echmiadzin- I agree-by now I’ve figured out that its pointless to argue with him. Ok..

Damn! These hot-headed damn Southern cultures…

We have a big private room in a restaurant. Weird, right? Apparently, it is a common thing in Armenia- and very convenient actually-when you want to have a private dinner with a group of friends.

Drinking with my taxi driver was not part of my plan when I woke up in the morning today- especially when he is yet to drive me all the way back to Yerevan. Especially when there is a bottle of vodka and a bottle of wine just for the two of us.

Ok, if he wanted to harm me- he would have done it ages ago. I am safe and just need to relax.

Just to tell you-Armenian food is a stomach feast. Shashlik, kebab, cheeses, salads..

We are having a great time- he is talking about his family, his job, the very generous Russians ( hmm-very nice hint) and life in general.

3 hours, a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka, I – don’t – know- how- much- food later-  I am super full and unable to move ( You should eat more, Olya-jan! Eat all of it! )  He is a bit drunk but you can barely notice. (You should drink more Olya-jan! Let’s drink for you/family/your health/friendship/us/Armenia/Russia/life.Surely, I promise-that is the last one!!) I am sober as I’ve never been before. Lots of food, even more water, Russian roots and a huge mental resistance to stay sober did the trick.

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Shashlik- a celebration to any meat lover’s stomach

I pay for the entire dinner myself -18000Dram-around 30euro since Ovik sort of disappeared when the bill came. A bit odd – he is a dilemma for me to figure out. It is cheap by the European standards for so much food and alcohol, but still- I did not plan to have a big feast like this and it’s not a great feeling to feel a bit used. Now I am completely out of cash that I brought with me today.  I secretly hope that at least a part of it will cover the taxi fare.

I am nervous- where is Ovik’s friend who is meant to drive me back to Yerevan? Ah, so. We have to drive to his office first… 5 min away? But haven’t you just finished 1L of vodka almost by yourself? Great..

With a big urge to drive a car myself I sit at the back and pray- to Jesus, Allah, Buddha- whatever- whoever hears me first – please save me!!! 

What a damn stupid situation to get into! Lets re-think the situation again:

I am out of money, with no phone or any device of communication, in the middle of nowhere with a drunk taxi driver. Fantastic. I can start screaming and get the police’s attention? Well, if he wanted to rob/kill/rape me he could have done it a long time ago up in the mountains. Maybe I am just overreacting.

Growing up in New Zealand taught me that people great, Love & Peace are everywhere. Everyone is nice and you just have to go on with life smiling to people. Growing up in Russia taught me that everyone is an enemy, wanting to take advantage of you. Okay, I’ll should stick to the Russian attitude today since we are not very distant neighbors, shall we? …

I ask him to pull up and run to the nearest Internet cafe. Well, if I get in trouble I need to let the world know.  I quickly write a message to the organizer of the forum that I took part of for the past 4 days

Excuse my grammar/spelling. I guess, at this stage, I was pretty scared.

“… in troble and i think im about to get kidnapped/scappem

just please if you receive this message and dont see any \thing else by tomorrow moring know that im in a big troble..

“… but for the sake of humanity conact police if i dont sat anything by tomorrow morining-my life is in your hands

Not the ideal message you’d want to receive.., but I don’t have a choice and decide to overreact, just in case.  Sorry to make you worry, A!

I click send and get back in the taxi. We drive to the office of Ovik’s friend-a big group of his relatives exchange glances, smile and frantically start discussing something in Armenian while looking at me. Sure, I can be a local celebrity.

We get in his friends’  car and about an hour and a half we are in Yerevan-I  arrange to meet Ovik tomorrow infront of my place at 10am-to continue the journey and explore Khor Virap, Echmiadzin,Zvartnots and more..

I open the door of my room and fall on my bed face down. It’s over. Its time for some lounge music… I deserve it.

Wait. I still have to meet Ovik tomorrow- I haven’t given him money yet. Another adventure? Or should I not give a damn about my “moral principles” and simply ditch him for the sake of my own my tranquility? Subscribe and find out soon…

😀

Thank you for reaching the end of it!!

Hope you enjoyed it 🙂

Leave your feedback below-whether it is grammatical/spelling errors or facts mismatch- my Armenian friends-let me know what you think!

Love to all of you!

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I have survived!! Or Olla’s crazy Armenian adventure. An introduction

The day did not  start well from the very beginning.

Maybe it was a sign from above.
If only I  listened to my intuition, the tiny voice inside of me, I’d wrapped myself in the blanket and stayed in my room, not setting a foot outside of the guesthouse till the end of the day.
But No. If I did this, this very eventful, bit scary day with some near-death experiences wouldn’t happen. Quiet frankly, I’m glad it happened-now I have a story to tell and I am not afraid of anything anymore. Continue reading

The only 10 tips you will ever need to learn ANY language Fast and Free.

 

1. Immerse yourself in the environment of your chosen language Look, I am not pushing you to move to the country of your desired language -this post would have ended right now otherwise. Not all of us have the financial or time ability to take such a step.  However, there are some realistic ways that would assist you in language learning without you having to leave your hometown.

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Belarus-everything you wanted to know about the youngest Russia’s sister

Belarus. No, hold on, it’s Belarussia, right?! Or Whiterussia?..
You don’t hear much about small countries like these in the news. It’s always about the bad deeds of Russia, the wars in the Middle East, hunger (or viruses) in Africa or bad working conditions in Asia…A small unknown country like Belarus is hidden away and is a rare bird on any travelers bucket list.
Nevertheless, I’d like to introduce you to this country and give you an overview of Belarus. It’s not going to be a Tripadvisor-style – boring list of what to see, where to eat and where to stay. Instead, it is an essay-style writing – a mix of history, culture, mentality and a bunch of things very unique to Belarus.

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Hungry Planet: What The World Eats

Ever wondered what kind of food do people eat around the world ? And how much do they pay for it? Here is an intetesting sneak peak into kitchens from Norway to Kuwait!

TIME

Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio traveled the world documenting that most basic of human behaviors — what we eat. Their project, “Hungry Planet,” depicts everything that an average family consumes in a given week–and what it costs — laid out in thought-provoking detail. Their results will be exhibited by The Nobel Peace Center to give viewers a peek into kitchens from Norway to Kuwait, and to raise awareness about how environments and cultures influence the cost and calories of the world’s dinners.

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