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Day thirty-four - the only flight on my journey home

Sunday 29 September 2019

Taxi problems

After a rude awakening, I quickly got ready as the taxi was due at 3am. At about 3.10am it still hadn’t arrived. I discovered that the hotel hadn’t actually ordered it for me. One was sorted through Yandex ( a type of Uber) and to my relief it turned up 5 minutes later. However, once installed in the cab, it wouldn’t start. By this time I could feel the anxiety levels rising. My fears weren’t allayed when the driver proceeded to open the bonnet and started to bang away at something under the hood. With anxiety levels rising, the engine suddenly sprung into life and we were off. Now we just needed to make it to the airport. Although only 15-20 minutes away from the centre, anything could happen!

I was flying to Istanbul because there is no border access to Turkey from Armenia, only this one flight. To take the train through Turkey, I would have had to go back to Tbilisi and then travel from there, something I couldn't face doing.

Always allow two hours

One I arrived at Zvartnot Airport departures I breathed a sigh of relief. Check-in took two minutes but then I saw the queue at the departure gate. One person was checking passengers just to let them through the door to passport control. It wasn’t until a second person came along that the queue really started to move. Once through, my heart sank at the queue which snaked round for what seemed like miles. I had been advised by both the airline and hotel that arriving one hour before departure was enough. This advice went contrary to my better judgement as I am paranoid about missing departures. To anyone flying from Zvartnots, I would definitely allow two hours minimum to get through. What with the taxi farrago, There was now only 30 minutes before boarding. It took 25 minutes to get through - luckily security was swift. No time for sitting around - the plane was boarding as I got through into the departure lounge.

Arriving in Istanbul

The flight itself was uneventful, arriving at 6.50 local time at the new airport. There was -1 hour difference in Istanbul. Transportation to the city is good - best to take the Havaist buses - the IST-19 goes to Taksim Square. There is no metro or tramway yet. I had a lot of time to kill before check in so wandered about stopping for coffee intermittently at places with WiFi. Being a Sunday, there were a lot of people having breakfast - there is a really buzzy cafe culture here. On İstiklal Caddesi - one of the main shopping areas in this part of the city - I stopped for a late buffet breakfast. All you can eat plus copious amounts of Turkish tea which is served as soon as you finish a glass.

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Arriving at the hotel a bit early, I managed to check in with an upgrade - a room looking out over the water. The Taksim Terrace Hotel is in a side street fairly near the main drag. It is well placed close to Sishane metro, the Tunel funicular and Galata tower. Like the buildings around it, there is a narrow frontage that’s five floors high and, as it’s name suggests, a terrace. The room was quite small but had a great view. It was a relief to get rid of my bag, shower and go for a wander.

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Train tickets and Museums

Walking down through the steep and narrow streets to the waterfront I walked along the river by the fish restaurants and fish market that are close to Galata Bridge. I planned to go and sort out my ticket to Sofia first and then visit the Museum of Innocence in the Beyoğlu area of the city. Museums are closed on Mondays so best to do it today. Using my Istanbualkart travel card, I took the tramway to the station. It’s within walking distance but I love riding the tramway!

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There is a special booking office for international tickets at Sirkesi station and it was easy to purchase. I went for a double compartment on the sleeper. You pay for a ticket and pay an additional amount for a bed. The overnight train actually leaves from Halkali station 25k from the Centre and is reached via the Marmaray line that links Asian and European Istanbul. I spotted left luggage lockers near the ticket office and also found the lift access to the Marmaray line just around the corner from the station. All important knowledge when you have a large, heavy bag in tow.

I then took the tramway to Tophane as it’s the nearest stop to the Museum of Innocence in the Beyoğlu area. The museum is a beautiful collection of artefacts relating to the book by Orhan Pamuk. Although I read it a few years ago, the story came back to me as I viewed the installations. There were lots of young women there, clutching their own copies. I would definitely recommend a visit - even if you haven’t read the book - it’s an intricate art gallery of objects.

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An Early night

The breakfast must have filled me up as I only started feeling hungry late in the afternoon. As I wandered around the area I found a cafe near to the Galata tower. There is absolutely no problem finding vegetarian options in Istanbul. By now the lack of sleep started to hit me so I headed back to the hotel to have a really early night and catch up on much needed sleep.

Posted by Cath_Greig 06:15 Archived in Turkey Tagged museum istanbul railway coffee tramway Comments (0)

Day thirty-one - Gyumri or bust

Thursday 26 September 2019

overcast 16 °C

Gyumri

Basically, the day’s goal was about travelling non-stop to Gyumri. Although the guesthouse was cold and I didn’t have the best sleep, Zina produced the best breakfast I’ve had since travelling. She not only provided the usual offerings, but made cheese pastries similar to borek and a really crispy type of omelette. Karen doesn’t seem to be a big eater and I gamely tucked in but couldn’t really do the feast justice. Then it was time to be on our way. Zina poured all the cob nuts that hadn’t been eaten into my bag, which was lovely but without a nutcracker, they aren’t going to be eaten for a while.

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The Earthquake of 1988

The road to Gyumri took us through Vanadzor, a town of abandoned Soviet era industrial buildings. Vanadzor is the gateway to the Debed Canyon which is probably the most interesting part of the whole country. I’ve been twice before but would definitely revisit in a future. We also skirted Spitak a town that was completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1988 and was then built slightly further away from the original site. 4,000 of its inhabitants were killed and 25,000 died in total although some claim that this is an under-estimation. There is also a theory that it was not a natural event but a result of military operations, exploding munitions underground. Before arriving into Gyumri there is a huge cemetery on the hillside where many of the dead are buried. For survivors, they had no shelter in the coldest part of the year. Apparently, even to this day some people are living in makeshift metal shelters, waiting to be rehoused.

Gyumri - known as Leninakan in Soviet time, was also badly hit. Evidence of the devastation could still be seen on my last visit, but slowly the town is being rebuilt or restored. The disaster was about the first time that the soviet government asked for international agencies to help.

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Villa Kars

I hoped my hotel would be better than the last guesthouse in terms of comfort. Last time I stayed at Berlin Art Hotel which is pretty classy. Villa Kara is in the Centre of town, about three minutes walk from the main square. It’s very quaint with rooms off a pretty courtyard. My room was comfortable, and pleasant, with a kettle and even better, a radiator in the bathroom. Although warm in the day, the evenings are cool.

I had a walk around to get my bearings. The main square has a cathedral being restored after it was destroyed by the earthquake, City Hall and a large theatre. Squares tend to be used as car parks which is a shame as a green space would be so much nicer, although there are lots of parks in and around the town. There is one park which I think was open when I last came. It’s a soviet era children’s park on Sayat-Nova Street, now abandoned. There was something quite eerie about it.

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Healthy eating at Herbs and Honey

I googled recommended cafes and found that I was next to one of them - Herbs and honey. Another healthy eating cafe with a good menu especially as a respite from carb overload. I had a healthy stir fry followed by herb tea that was purported to ‘freshen’ me up. I sent photos to the family thinking I was the first Greig to visit only to discover that my brother and niece had already been there earlier in the year.

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At a loose end

I was starting to wonder why my itinerary included Gyumri. It’s quite attractive with houses built of dark stone and it has a busy market but there wasn’t much else to do there so I visited the Aslamazyan sisters’ museum. They were painters who were heavily influenced by their exotic travels and who also produced ceramics. I thought the plates were beautiful especially the vibrant choice of colours. The museum offers ceramics master-classes and as I came in I saw someone working on a potter’s wheel.

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Yet another meal

For my evening meal I decided to go for Syrian again. The restaurant Nor Aleppo was just off Ankakhutyan Square at the top of Sayat-Nova Nova. Although cooler it’s nice to have an evening stroll with an extra layer for warmth. The food was really good but I have no idea how they thought I could eat four Syrian breads. Portions are not cut down to size for solo diners. I had cheese borek, fattoush and mutabal (more like the baba ganoush I make at home). I also had a Gyumri beer but no room for dessert.

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The walk back was fine and as I passed the rather spooky abandoned soviet era park in the dark it struck me that it would make a great setting for a horror movie. Generally, the streets are busy in the evening and so I’ve never felt unsafe walking late at night because there are so many people around, particularly families.

When I got back to the hotel I realised I had no idea when and where breakfast was served. I’ve found that in general, hotels and guest houses don’t furnish you with any basic, useful information when you arrive. We were leaving earlier than usual the next day at 9am so needed to make sure I breakfasted in time whilst avoiding the large groups who tend to breakfast early.

Posted by Cath_Greig 07:35 Archived in Armenia Tagged museum syrian earthquake gyumri herbs_and_honey nor_aleppo Comments (0)

Day twenty-one - Parajanov day

Monday 16 September 2019

sunny 26 °C

Parajanov Museum

Although most museums are shut on Mondays, the Sergei Parajanov museum is an exception. It’s five minutes walk away from the apartment, overlooking the Hrazdan gorge opposite the Ararat brandy museum.

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The entrance fee is 1000 lari. This was my third visit. If you like creative arts this is the place for you. Parajanov was one of these people who seemed to be able to do anything. Although principally known for his films e.g. the Colour of Pomegranates, the museum houses collages, sculptures, sketches, hats - a multitude of art created by him. I imagine that he was a man who just could not contain his creativity and had to make something from whatever came to hand. When he was imprisoned - he made reliefs of people’s faces out of bottle tops just using his fingernails.

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Lunch at Marilda’s

For lunch - i’ve been skipping breakfast - I thought I’d try out one of my niece’s recommendations - The Marilda cafe on Pushkin Street. It was quite small and very busy with just one table free when I arrived. I ordered fattoush salad, baba ganoush and lavash bread as well as a coffee and home made lemonade. The fattoush never arrived but it was probably a good thing as the generous portions meant that the baba ganoush was more than enough. The Armenian version is different from the one that I make at home using tahini. This version is a mix of chargrilled vegetables - mainly eggplants but with onions, tomatoes etc. Totally delicious.

Vernissage

After lunch I wandered down to the tourist information kiosk near Republic Square to get a map. For a major city, the tourist information is pretty poor. Although helpful, the women working there are stuck inside the kiosk and have to talk to you through a small window. This is where Georgia comes out tops, every town has a decent office that you can go into allowing you to browse through leaflets and other information. The Vernnisage market is close by so I decided to stroll through. The last time I’d been there it was a jumble of makeshift stalls with sellers stringing things like tablecloths on lines between trees. I hadn’t realised that the market has been upcycled so that there are now proper stalls in regimented rows. Somehow, a bit of the magic seems to have gone. Apparently it’s busier with more stalls at the weekend so maybe it’s more vibrant then.

Swimming in the City

I walked back ‘home’ via Shahumyan Park, just off Republic Squate as I wanted to remind myself of where the Congreve Hotel was in case I decide to spend time by their swimming pool. As a non guest you can pay to use their outside pool for the day, something my sister and I did back in 2010. I realise it was also only five minutes walk from the apartment via Khorenatsi Street. As I walked back up the street I bought a watermelon, something that I’d been craving for a few days. I managed to find one that wasn’t crazy big, although I have no problem polishing off watermelons as, together with figs, they are my favourite fruit.

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Another evening meal of salads, cheese and bread. Another dry evening of no alcohol, too!

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Posted by Cath_Greig 22:09 Archived in Armenia Tagged museum yerevan parajanov Comments (0)

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