Hessen, markets

A stroll around the Wiesbaden Christmas Market, 2023…

It was bitterly cold yesterday, but we had sunshine. As we were having leftovers for lunch, I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. Bill said, “Well, I guess we’ll go to the Christmas market next week.”

“You want to go to the Christmas market?” I asked.

“Well… yeah, but it can wait.” Bill said.

“We can go to the Christmas market.” I reassured him.

Bill just kind of looked at me as he handed me food.

“Are you just upset because I’m having a beer for lunch?” I asked.

“No…” Bill said.

“Do you want to go to the Christmas market, or not?” I demanded.

“Yes, I WOULD like to get out of the house.” Bill conceded.

“Then fucking say so!” I said. “We have plenty of time to go to the market if that’s what you want to do. No need to be a wishy washy people pleaser.”

Bill laughed, because what else is he going to do when faced with logic and profanity from his wife? I try to encourage him to make his needs known, and yesterday, his needs included going to the Christmas market. So that’s what we did. He doesn’t mind when I cuss, either. That’s why we’re still married after 21 years.

The Christmas market was very busy yesterday, and parking was somewhat scarce. We lucked into finding a spot without too much lurking, but not everyone was that blessed with good parking karma. I got some photos, but we weren’t really in the mood for shopping or Gluhwein. It was so busy that people were repeatedly bumping into each other. Consequently, we didn’t stay that long…

Below, are some photos from our short visit to the Christmas market in Wiesbaden.

After about 45 minutes or so, we were good and chilled, so we came back home, fed Noyzi, and I started the very first fire of the 2023-23 winter season. Then, Bill made me a delicious cup of Neuhaus dark hot chocolate. That stuff is the absolute bomb. It’s probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and I have had some really good hot chocolate in my day. It’s very rich, though, and not cheap, so it’s not very often that I indulge… Yesterday was a very good day for it, though. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out. Later, we made a video for Bill’s daughter, who is expecting her fourth baby, and is about to celebrate her 30th birthday.

Yesterday’s Advent calendar find.

Bill has to get his stitches from his recent dental implant surgery removed today. Then, he will wait a few months, and the dentist will deliver a brand new fake tooth. Having been through that process myself, I can state that it’s pretty amazing to see a new “tooth” that looks better than your old one, and feels very natural.

All in all, we had a good weekend, and a nice Sunday. Today, it’s supposed to snow again. I expect there will be new things to wrap and put under the tree, too. So, I hope you have a good Monday… Now I will close this post and write something less cheerful for my main blog. 😉


Hessen, holidays, markets

A few photos from the Breckenheim Adventmarkt!

It was extremely cold yesterday, and the skies were gunmetal grey. We decided to go down to the Adventmarkt for some Gluhwein anyway, because this is a one night affair in our village. It’s been some time since we last went to a wine stand. We’ve been doing some travel, and the weather hasn’t been agreeable… and, well, a lot of times, I just don’t feel like getting dressed and walking down the hill. Not when we can stay home and drink our own wine, speak English, and listen to music.

But, in spite of my occasional laziness, I seldom regret going to the wine stands and other events, when I do manage to get dressed and make the effort. We do know a few people in town, and there’s always something to see. People are very social and friendly, and it reminds me of how much we like Breckenheim. It really is a nice little town. The mood is very different from what we experienced in the Stuttgart area.

Last night, I put on a sweater we bought in Ireland in 2016, when we were there for our 14th wedding anniversary. I seldom get a chance to wear the sweater, because it’s seldom cold enough to justify it. It was in the mid 20s (Fahrenheit) last night. I also wore my Irish flat cap, which I usually only wear when it’s very cold. I don’t look quite as cute in the cap as Bill does, but I think I can pull off the look somewhat. I didn’t bother with makeup, because everyone in our town has already seen me looking like crap while I walk Noyzi.

Noyzi was sorry he didn’t get to come with us to the market, but we figured it would be too busy for him. And, as the event was very well attended last night, I think we were right not to take him. We didn’t stay long, anyway… just long enough for some mulled wine and photos. Have a look!

We have sun and cold temperatures today. I don’t know if we’ll go to the market in Wiesbaden today… I know Bill wants to pick up a couple of things at the market, but again, it comes down to whether or not I can be arsed to put on a bra. As I wrote yesterday, we’ll see…

chocolate, Hessen, holidays

Christmas time is here… AGAIN!

I can hardly believe it, but we are in the midst of the holiday season once again. It seems like every year, time flies a little bit faster. We got home from Armenia two weeks ago, and I’m already in the throes of buying and wrapping gifts. I put the trees up last week, and yesterday, we started our Advent calendar.

I usually buy a chocolate calendar and one with booze or beer. But this year, the high-end Belgian chocolatier, Neuhaus (which was founded by a Swiss guy), offered an Advent calendar for couples. Every day, you get two chocolates instead of one. Bill and I are big fans of Neuhaus. I actually used to sell it when I worked for a chocolatier in Williamsburg, Virginia, back in the mid 1990s. I remember being shocked that it was $35 a pound in 1994. Neuhaus chocolate is still expensive, but because I live in Germany, it’s pretty easy to get it, and they make buying it pretty tempting. If you join their mailing list, you can get freebies.

Bill opens the first door… This is a genius concept! More Advent calendar makers should do this!

I try not to order from Neuhaus very often, because I sure don’t need the calories. But Christmas kind of makes me nutty, so I figure I might as well order something that goes with nuttiness… Last night, we opened the first door. Bill used the flashlight to find it, because we don’t have the best lighting in our house.

Every once in awhile, a chocolate splurge is good for the soul.

Our annual Advent market is also going on today. It starts at 2:00 PM and runs until 11:00 PM. I remember we arrived here in 2018, just in time for the Advent market, which is just one night. We didn’t go that year. I think we were overwhelmed with moving into the new house and decorating for the holidays, as well as getting over the trauma of moving out of the terrible living situation we were in at the time.

Bill and I have already decided on where our next trips will be… That is, we did two more champagne bucket drawings. If everything works out, we’ll go to Spain and Iceland in 2024. And maybe we’ll go somewhere else exotic and interesting. Maybe we’ll go to Georgia. I definitely need to do a proper trip there. Of course, nothing is engraved in stone until Bill has the time off and I start paying for plane tickets. But Spain is a place Bill wants to visit again, mainly because I think he wants us to move there. And I have been dying to see Iceland. We’ll see what happens.

This morning, Noyzi was begging for tastes of our breakfast. He sure has come a long way since 2020. He’s attached to us, and no longer so terrified and shy. Now, he’s a charmer. I hope in 2024, we’ll find him a friend to play with– preferably one who likes to snuggle. I’ve been missing Arran lately, mainly because he loved to snuggle. This is the time of year for that.

Noyzi sure is an adorable little rascal. He’s always so polite when he begs. We want another dog, but we’ll be hard pressed to find one as well behaved as Noyzi is. I’ll always love hounds, but I have to admit, a street dog with herding proclivities is also a very good choice. He’s certainly less trouble and more trustworthy than most of our beagles have been!

I’ve been having a lot of dreams about Armenia, lately. That trip really affected me a lot. I hope we can go back and see more of everything. Yerevan may not be a very beautiful city– at least not right now– but the big hearted people and their beautiful souls more than make up for the Soviet architecture. And they really have come a long way. <3

Well… that about does it for today. I don’t know if we’ll venture out to the Christmas markets. The weather is kind of cold and gloomy, and I’m expecting at least one more package that will need to be wrapped. On the other hand, Wiesbaden is pretty, especially when it’s lit up for the holidays. So we’ll see.

Champagne Bucket trips

Ten things I learned *this time* in Armenia!

Now that I’ve finished writing my blog series on visiting Armenia again, twenty-six years after I finished my Peace Corps service there, it’s time for my obligatory “ten things I learned” post. I like creating these posts because they make me think, and because they’re a lot of fun to write. Also, readers seem to like them, because they’re comprehensive, yet concise. Or, they are as concise as I tend to be, anyway. Brevity is not one of my strong suits.

Armenia has changed a lot since 1997. Even though I spent 27 months there, I still learned new things during our trip. So here goes with ten things I learned in Armenia!

Lights! Unheard of and unseen in the 90s!

10. Yerevan is now a city that doesn’t sleep!

When I lived in Yerevan, things didn’t necessarily stay open all night. There was an energy crisis. Even though it technically ended in 1995, not everyone had 24 hour power until about 1996. So, even though flights would leave and arrive in the wee hours of the mornings, things did close at night. Now, I notice that restaurants and bars stay open very late. You can buy a SIM card 24 hours a day. And there are always lights on at night. That wasn’t how it was when I lived there.

Two different versions of 1000 dram notes…

9. The drams have changed twice since I left!

Armenian drams were introduced in 1993, just after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since I arrived in 1995, I was used to the first version of Armenian drams. Now, the drams have changed their look and denominations twice since I left in 1997. When I left, the biggest bill was 5000 drams (about $12). Now, they go up to 100,000 drams!

Need a ride to Garni and Geghard? You can find one easily!

8. It’s easy to find someone to drive you to Armenia’s most famous sites.

We didn’t take any of the many aspiring drivers up on their offers to take us to Armenia’s most amazing sites, but if we’d wanted to hire a driver, it would have been easy. Our hotel offered drivers for hire, and there were many of them hanging around different parts of the city. It’s no longer necessary to go to the bus station and look for a taxi, minivan, or bus to take you to Sevan or Khor Virap. Most of them have signs in English, too.

7. Speaking of English, it’s EVERYWHERE in Yerevan, now.

I saw so many signs in English. Some of them were hilariously incorrect, but just as many were hilariously witty. Obviously, there’s a movement for people to learn English, just as so many older folks had to learn Russian. I’m sure English is not required as Russian once was, but a lot of people seem to want to learn.


6. Armenia now has some really decent craft beers!

When I lived in Armenia, I used to joke about how bad the beers were from there. I had particularly salty things to say about Kotayk Beer, which when it was made in Armenia, was notoriously rough on the digestive system. Thanks to Dargett, a local craft beer company, you can find some good suds in Yerevan now. Now I wish I could get Dargett in GERMANY, a country well known for its excellent beers. That’s how good it was. You can also find real German beer in Armenia now. And not just the stuff made by InBev, which is a Belgian company that distributes a lot of mass produced beers. Naturally, if wine or fruit juice or even mineral water is your thing, you can find plenty of that, too. And wonderful brandy– the best I’ve ever had anywhere!

5. You can also get a beautiful meal in Yerevan…

When I first arrived in Armenia, there weren’t many restaurants at all. A few popped up while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, but they tended to have plastic chairs and tables, and served pretty basic stuff. Now, you can get gourmet food in Yerevan… They have fine dining restaurants! And even if you go to a casual place, chances are good what you eat will look beautiful. That was one thing that didn’t change. There’s much more variety now, and some items are better quality, or are just plain available. In the 90s, we tended to eat what we could get, which meant whatever was in season. That no longer seems necessary.

Don’t be afraid to venture inside!

4. Public toilets in Yerevan are now very clean and cost 100 drams to use.

I remember many times having to duck behind bushes to relieve myself, when I lived in Yerevan in the 90s. One time, when I was out with my former language teacher, we went to a porno theater so I could pee. It was actually very clean. But most public facilities in the 90s were pretty disgusting and smelled horrible. I was very pleased to find clean restrooms in most places during our recent visit. The toilet by the Opera House was sparkling clean, well stocked, and cost 100 drams (about 25 cents). Cheap!

No longer a traditional shuka… but at least it has parking.

3. Some historic places have changed forever…

I was sad to see that the historic landmark, the Pak Shuka on Mashtots Avenue, has become a regular supermarket. I would have liked to have taken Bill in there. Ditto for what used to be the GUM, a department store on Abovian Street, and the Hayastan Market (which had changed as I was leaving). But some things are better now. For instance, the eternal flame at Tsitsernakaberd now is a true eternal flame. They leave it burning all the time, instead of just on special occasions. And the door to the Blue Mosque is now very well marked, so you can’t miss it. When I lived in Yerevan, the door to the mosque was very plain, and easy to miss. Northern Avenue is a really nice street that makes it convenient to be a pedestrian, although who knows what happened to the people who lived in the houses that were destroyed so it could be built?

Maybe we can go back and try visiting the Hrazdan Gorge again.

2. Yerevan is very safe, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t creepers there.

We ran into one of them on our wedding anniversary. He was up to no good, and not very subtle about it. However, he was acting this way in broad daylight, which was strange. I don’t know what he was up to, but I didn’t get a good feeling about it. We ended up going a different way than we planned, which worked out fine, and that was the only strange incident. It was a good reminder to always be aware and keep your wits about you. That’s good advice no matter where you go.

And finally, 1. Although Yerevan is now a lot more modern than it used to be, and more travel friendly, it’s still very exotic and will be quite interesting to most people… and if you can speak a few words of Armenian, it will open doors for you!

I was happy that some of my old, rusty language skills came back, and I was able to speak enough Armenian to be understood by a lot of the locals. Many of them were delighted when I spoke their language… and quite a few were shocked when it turned out I wasn’t Russian. I know they get more foreigners visiting now, but it’s still not a place that is super high on the tourism list for westerners. So I would absolutely encourage adventure seekers to come visit Armenia. I would especially encourage it now, because Armenians have so much to offer; they do need the tourism drams; and sadly, if a couple of neighboring countries have their way, Armenia might someday cease to exist. So please visit, if I’ve tempted you. You will be very warmly welcomed by most! And be sure to tip 10 percent!

I want to offer special thanks to Stepan, my former student and current friend. He made us feel like FAMILY… and was so kind, welcoming, and generous. Stepan, you made this trip unforgettable, and you showed us the warmth and hospitality that Armenia is known for. It was a vacation like no other, and I will always be so grateful for all you did to make it so. So շատ շնորհակալություն! I hope we can come back again… much sooner than 26 years from now!

Champagne Bucket trips, emergencies

The journey back to Germany… part eleven of our Armenian adventure!

We’ve finally reached the end of my Armenian series. What an amazing trip it was! Bill says it was one of the best trips we’ve done together, and we didn’t even go to many of the really cool ancient places for which Armenia is famous. Instead, we met people I knew years ago, saw places where I used to live, ate good food and drank wine, listened to great live music, and enjoyed being somewhere other than continental Europe, for a change. I almost hated to leave!

Bill arranged for a van to pick us up at 2:30 AM, giving us plenty of time for our 5:05 AM non-stop flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. We didn’t really need a van, but the guy at the front desk warned Bill that it might be best to order one if we had a lot of luggage. So, there we were– two of us with four bags between us. The driver looked at us and said, “That’s it?” For this, we paid a fare of 17,000 drams. He was a good driver, though, so Bill gave him 20,000 drams and told him to keep the change. The driver was happy, and wished us a pleasant flight.

We went up to the Lufthansa baggage drop, and the woman at the counter eyed the portfolio Bill presented and said she thought it should go in oversize baggage. I asked if it was absolutely necessary, and she asked a colleague, who said it was fine for the portfolio to go through the normal luggage queue. So, with our bags dropped, and our tickets printed, we headed to security. This is where things got a bit traumatic.

I mentioned in my first post in this series that I got groped by an aggressive female security officer. I’m not exactly sure what her problem was, but my problem was that there was a woman holding everybody up, because she had a baby stroller that she was struggling to fold. Instead of stepping aside to deal with the stroller, she was in front of the metal detector, blocking everyone’s egress. I don’t know about you, but when it’s about 3:30 AM, and I haven’t had any coffee, I’m not the friendliest person in the world. But I wasn’t complaining. I wasn’t saying anything or causing a scene. I probably just looked a bit annoyed.

I had gotten out of the habit of flying, thanks to COVID. And I live where advanced security screening is in place. Nowadays, travelers coming through Frankfurt don’t have to take off watches and the like. But Yerevan only has a metal detector. It doesn’t have a scanner. I forgot to take off my watch, and the metal detector went off. The security officer started frisking me, then noticed the watch. I had to put it in a bin and go through the detector again. The thing went off again, probably because there was metal in my shoes and my bra. She started her aggressive frisking, ordering me to put my arms out again and snapping, “I haven’t finished with you yet!” as she ran her hands over my stomach and between my legs. I was getting a bit pissed off, and felt rather violated.

Then she started speaking Russian to me, and I looked her in the eyes and said, very calmly and seriously, in English, “I don’t speak Russian.”

In retrospect, maybe I should have said that in Armenian, which I could have done. It probably would have really disarmed her. But English did the trick. She backed off immediately, and I got my stuff and got out of there. I don’t know if she was truly done harassing me, or if she’d thought I was Russian and was taking out collective Armenian hostility toward me… someone she might have thought was from Russia. In any case, while I understand that security screening at airports is very important, that woman’s hostile demeanor and lack of courtesy didn’t leave me with a great impression. Fortunately, most of the other people I ran into during our trip made up for her inappropriate and obnoxious attitude.

Yerevan’s updated airport is pretty nice, and it has a decent duty free shop that everyone has to walk through on their way into the secure gate area. We looked around for the business class lounge, which it turns out is upstairs. There’s an elevator in the duty free shop, or stairs for those who prefer them. The lounge is for business class or higher travelers using any airline. Those who are waiting there can enjoy snacks and beverages… coffee machines with Russian instructions, beer, wine, sparkling water, and the like. Bill and I had some coffee while we waited. The restrooms have showers in them, and only one toilet. I guess if you need a shower, you can lock the door, and all the other travelers would be out of luck.

Bill saw a sign that our flight was boarding, even though it was ahead of the time noted on our tickets. Not wanting to miss Lufthansa’s one weekly flight to Frankfurt, we went down to the gate, where a whole bunch of people were waiting. There were some cute girls in sweats who were wide awake, practicing what appeared to be cheers. I didn’t know Armenia had cheerleaders, and maybe that’s not what they were. But they looked like cheerleaders, and their early morning pep was both amusing and a little irritating.

It took forever for our flight to start boarding. In fact, we didn’t start boarding until some time after the listed boarding time. And business class passengers were boarded later. I guess they were loading the back of the aircraft first, which makes sense. I don’t know why people are so eager to get on the plane, anyway. I think most folks just want to get the whole ordeal over with, nowadays. Flying isn’t the luxe experience it once was.

Bill and I were in the third row. As soon as we sat down, an American guy took the seat behind me. He was sitting with a British guy who kept calling him “my brother”. They didn’t know each other before they were seated in the same row, but boy, did they act like they were buddies. The two of them immediately launched into a loud and obnoxious conversation about where they lived (both in England, near or in London), what they did for a living (retired orthopedic surgeon who supposedly worked with US military special ops, and a presenter for the BBC), what kind of luxury cars they drove or hoped to own (don’t remember that part), and how they get their news (American dude preferred reading the news to watching TV, because TV news is too biased). It went on for awhile, and I was worried I was going to have to listen to them blather for five hours.

Meanwhile, the lady sitting in front of me appeared to be Armenian. She had a pretty girl with her who looked to be about 13 or so. The pretty girl went alone to the back of the aircraft, while (mom?) sat down in front of me. I caught her casting a furtive look at the two chatterboxes behind Bill and me, who were continuing to run their mouths about their luxurious lifestyles in England. We were all in on their conversation, whether we wanted to be or not! I asked Bill if he had any earbuds, since I didn’t bring my headphones with me. He misunderstood and pulled out ear plugs. Fortunately, he also had earbuds, and I tested them to see if they’d work on my tablet. They did, and I heaved a sigh of relief, although I hate wearing earbuds. They are usually too big for my ears and don’t stay in well.

We took off, and the lady in front of me immediately reclined. I didn’t mind it, though, because I had plenty of space in front of me. I’m short, anyway, so there’s usually ample leg room for me. Once we were in the air, I had to pee really badly. But the pilot kept the seatbelt light on for ages. Bill finally got up after about an hour or so, and asked when they were going to turn off the light so I could go to the bathroom. The flight attendants said it would only be a few more minutes. Suddenly, there was a commotion in the back. A woman came up to speak to the flight attendants, and they went to the back to see what was wrong.

A few minutes later, the seatbelt light finally went off, and I finally went to relieve myself. Meanwhile, the flight attendants were asking for medical personnel to come forward. The guy behind me got up, as did an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor from Wales. There were many Welsh people in Yerevan during our visit, because of football. I’m guessing that’s why the ENT doctor was there. Bill and I were a little afraid the flight might need to be diverted, since the flight attendants seemed so concerned.

But then a few minutes later, the ortho guy sat down again, and told his new British friend that there was a lady back there who had neglected to take her medication and was having some kind of medical issue related to that. He went on a little more about the woman, then said that he’d let the ENT doctor from Wales handle the emergency, since he’d retired from medicine in ’08. He didn’t look old enough to retire, but based on what he was loudly telling everyone in business class, he had done very well for himself and was now living a life of leisure. Anyway, he did mention that the woman would be alright. So much for healthcare privacy, but there is no HIPAA in the friendly skies. 😉

Then the American “doctor man” started talking about the wonders of Georgian brandies and his visit to the Genocide Memorial, as if he knew what he was talking about. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes… but in my defense, it was very early in the morning; I was still a bit traumatized by the aggressive frisking; and I’d already been listening to those two guys ramble on for over an hour.

Finally, the flight attendants served breakfast. We had a choice between sweet and savory. I chose sweet, and Bill chose savory. It was too dark to take a photo, although I don’t remember the food being inedible. I usually stick with a roll and some water or orange juice, anyway.

We landed in Frankfurt at about 7:00 AM. When we went through passport control, I was confronted with a handsome young German guy in a uniform. He was markedly more pleasant than the Armenian officials had been. He started leafing through my passport and said, “How long have you been in Germany?”

I said, “About nine years.” Bill was standing behind me, rolling his eyes.

“Do you have a residency permit?” the guy asked with a surprisingly flirtatious smile.

“I have a SOFA card in the back of the passport.” I responded.

The guy found it, noted that it wasn’t expired, and sent me on my way. When it was Bill’s turn, he said, “That’s my wife.” The guy stamped his passport and let him go.

It always amazes me when border control guards are confronted by Americans who are very casual about approaching them. They don’t see a residency permit, and ask how long we’ve been here. We tell them “SOFA City, sweetheart…” They roll their eyes and let us go. Wouldn’t you eventually just look for the SOFA card before asking about a residency card? SOFA, for those who don’t know, stands for “Status of Forces Agreement”. It’s basically like a special residency card for Americans who work for the US government or military and their families. It allows us unlimited entrance and exit privileges from our host countries, as well as legal residency, and some other privileges. But it’s not the same thing as a German residency card.

We made our way to the baggage carousel. I noticed there weren’t too many people there, which probably means a lot of people were on their way to the USA or England… or maybe somewhere else in continental Europe. Having flown to Yerevan from the USA before, I didn’t envy them. But I would rather fly from Yerevan to the USA than the other way around. It just gets earlier when you go west.

When I flew back to the USA after my Peace Corps assignment, I had been traveling by train around Europe for a month. It wasn’t nearly as traumatic as when I went to Yerevan in 1995. Well, it wasn’t as traumatic until I met my father at Dulles Airport, and he treated me like something he’d scraped off his shoe, and told me he was going into rehab for his alcoholism the next day. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad he was getting treatment, but he sure spoiled my carefully cultivated “coming home” fantasy that was two years in the making.

After we found our bags, we were looking for that portfolio with our paintings that Bill had worked so hard to acquire the day prior to our journey. A German airport employee guy came around with it and seemed to know that it belonged to us. The Armenian lady at the Lufthansa desk had, sure enough, sent it to oversized baggage, even though it only weighed about two kilos and was flat. I guess it was too cumbersome for the regular baggage drop.

Bill and I easily found a taxi, which took us back to our humble abode in Breckenheim. The weather was cold and drizzly, just as it usually is in Germany at this time of year. I was glad to be back home, although we really had a great time in Armenia. It already feels like a dream, though… Like I can’t believe I went back there and felt so very comfortable. I still know the city of Yerevan like the back of my hand. Obviously, we will have to go back and explore some more. The good news is, now that Bill has had a taste of Armenian hospitality, he’s ready for a new adventure!

So ends my Armenian blow by blow blog series. I just have one more post to make, and that would be my highly entertaining “ten things I learned” list. Hopefully, some folks will read that. I learned an awful lot on this trip. So, by all means, stay tuned if you’re interested…

art, Champagne Bucket trips

The last full day in Hayastan… part ten of our Armenian adventure!

Saturday, November 18th was our last full day in Armenia. I had some mixed emotions about it. On one hand, we’d had a really good time in Armenia, and there are still some things I want to show Bill. The weather was surprisingly mild; we had several nice, sunny days, and I had a feeling Germany wouldn’t be quite as temperate.

But, on the other hand, I was really missing our street dog, Noyzi. Yerevan has all these sweet, adorable street dogs, now. Unlike many of the ones I remembered from the 90s, the ones who are now in Yerevan seem gentle and wise. They made me miss our dog from Kosovo, and reminded me that I want another one. I also wanted to do laundry. It’s not that I enjoy doing laundry. I just like wearing clean clothes, and I was running out of clean underwear. 😉

I was still a bit sore and tired from our long walk to Tsitsernakaberd. And Bill was still very worried about the paintings we bought from the guy from Ashtarak. He had done some research and found an art supplies store at the Rossia Mall near the Zorovar Andranik metro station, which was just one stop away from Republic Square. So, after breakfast, we headed that way, first stopping by the art sellers by the Opera House. I was hoping to run into the guy from Ashtarak again, because I wanted to buy his Ararat painting. I might have been inspired by the clear sight of Ararat that morning. It finally came out in full glory on our last day.

Unfortunately, the art guy wasn’t there on Saturday morning, so we headed back toward the Vernissage, cutting through Northern Avenue and Abovian Street, then using the underpass by the Republic Square metro station. I thought maybe we’d shop at the Vernissage again, especially since there were a lot more sellers there. But, as we walked, my body cried out in painful protest. I was hurting!

With every step, I got crankier… and when we were confronted with the traffic on Khandjian Street, I got downright pissy. To get across the street safely, we had to use one of the overpasses, which required us to walk up steps, go across a bridge, and then walk down again. I did not want to walk up or down any more steps.

The overpasses, by the way, didn’t exist when I lived in Yerevan. We’d either use the underpasses, some of which were pretty awful, or we’d take our lives in our hands and dash across the street. But Yerevan now has pedestrian lights and crosswalks at most intersections, and from what I understand, people are expected to use them, or risk getting a ticket. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to cross Khandjian Street directly from the Vernissage, so we used the overpass. My old body complained the whole way, and so did my mouth. 😉

We made our way toward Zorovar Andranik, passing an amusement park and Queen Burger, a notoriously “bad” fast food place that opened in 1996. I actually remember when that place first opened. It had very new and modern looking equipment, to include fountain drink dispensers, and an actual “burger” on the roof (since removed after renovation). But I guess they couldn’t get fountain drinks in Yerevan back then, because I remember I could see through the windows that they had plastic liter bottles of Coca Cola sitting under the dispensers. The restaurant has been expanded and renovated since 1996, but it still gets pretty terrible reviews on TripAdvisor and Facebook. I have never eaten there myself, so I can’t confirm or deny the veracity of the terrible reviews. Somehow, they manage to stay in business, anyway.

Near Queen Burger is an underpass I remember well. In the 90s, it was lined with people selling stuff. There are still some people selling things in the underpass– mostly cheap purses, sunglasses, and cell phone cases. But then on the other side is the Rossia Mall, which was built in 2016. If I hadn’t been so exhausted and sore, I might have been more excited. In the 90s, the area where the mall now stands was basically a big lot where people set up stalls and sold food, booze, and various other odds and ends. I remember shopping there occasionally, when I was in that part of the city. Now, there’s a mall.

I was rapidly losing patience with Bill, who was trying to figure out which door to enter. There was a department store that was obviously not what he was looking for, then we had to climb more steps to enter the main part of the mall. It wasn’t a very big mall, and it was crowded with stores. We went up an escalator into a store that was selling a lot of luggage.

A surreal feeling came over me as I took in the scene. I was in an actual shopping mall in Yerevan! But it still wasn’t as strange to me as the sight of the water park. I still have vivid memories of people living in Yerevan who had no running water and had to leave their taps on, in the hopes that they could fill their bathtub and water bottles in the middle of the night. Now, Yerevan has an actual water park! I wonder if that means that kids stay out of the fountains in the summer, now. Probably not, since it doesn’t cost anything to play in the fountains. 😉

Finally, we found the art supply store. It was tucked in a corner, and pretty much overflowing with stuff for sale. The store’s space was small, but they had a lot of inventory. In fact, there was so much inventory that it was kind of hard to walk through there. We had to look for several minutes to find the art portfolios. A couple of women working at the store noticed us and followed, while the male cashier seemed completely disinterested. I’m not sure if they were running security, or if they were just curious about the obvious foreigners.

Bill and I ignored the gawking women, and searched through the portfolios. Bill finally found one that looked large enough to accomodate our paintings. He paid for our item and we walked out of the mall. I looked around some more for any sign of the large market that used to be there. I saw no evidence of it, but the huge apartment building that was there in 1996 was still there in all its ugly, Soviet era glory. I’ve seen that building in a lot of pictures. It really is impressive in its brutal Soviet look. We made our way to the crosswalk and I said, “If we head this way on Tigran Mets, we’ll end up at Republic Square.”

Originally, I had thought maybe we’d go to the Vernissage and look for another painting. But I was just too tired, and too testy… and my body was over all the walking. I didn’t feel like trying to converse in Armenian anymore, or explaining why I know ANY Armenian. I didn’t want to haggle with anyone, either. So we headed back, which gave me the chance to show Bill yet another major Yerevan street I used to know.

We crossed the street from the mall, and I pointed out a building that I remembered from my last weekend in Yerevan in 1997. There was a French charity called Saberatours that was bringing mail to Armenians via France. Up until a few weeks prior, we Peace Corps Volunteers had enjoyed diplomatic pouch privileges. But, as Armenia’s postal system improved, the privileges were taken away. The trouble was, I had plans to go to Europe after my service was finished, and I bought a Eurail ticket. I needed to get the ticket before I got to Europe. So I used the Saberatours service, and my Eurail ticket got to me just in the nick of time. The building where I got my ticket was historic, too. It was the government building where Aram Manukian had declared independence in May 1918.

We reached Republic Square, where I noticed workers were putting up Christmas decorations. I’ve seen the huge Christmas tree they now put up in the middle of the square in photos. When I lived in Yerevan, Christmas wasn’t a big deal. They celebrated it on January 6th, rather than December 25th. New Year’s was the big holiday. Today, I’m not sure what Armenians do for Christmas. I have noticed that, like many European countries, Armenian now has Christmas markets. Those were NOT a thing in the 90s. But it seems that a lot of countries have taken Germany’s lead and offer the festive stalls selling arts, crafts, and food. Google tells me that religious Armenians still celebrate Christmas on January 6th, but maybe some people do it on the 25th, and have Santa come and all that other shit… 😉

We decided to take a short rest before venturing out again. Our room hadn’t been made up yet, even though it was afternoon. I used the time to upload photos and do some writing. Bill used it to pack, and arrange for a cab in the middle of the night. I think we were a bit tired of sightseeing.

At mid afternoon, we decided to try one last restaurant we’d noticed… Dors Craft Beer and Kitchen, which was just around the corner from Paris Hotel Yerevan. Like just about all of the other places we noticed in Yerevan, Dors Craft Beer and Kitchen was selling Dargett craft beers. That was fine with me. On our way out of the room, the housekeeper asked me in Armenian (or Russian–I don’t remember) if we’d like our room cleaned. We said sure. At that point, it didn’t matter. We’d be checking out at about 2:30 AM, anyway.

After we visited Dors Craft Beer and Kitchen, we headed back to the hotel and tried to rest before our super early departure. More on that in the next post!

Champagne Bucket trips

A LONG walk to Tsitsernakaberd… part nine of our Armenian adventure!

After our weird wedding anniversary, which was saved by amazing Armenian brandy, excellent service, live jazz, and delicious desserts, I was determined to show Bill two areas in Yerevan where I once lived. The beauty of this plan is that I lived near two major landmarks in the city, Barekamutsyun metro station, and Tsitsernakaberd, otherwise known as the Armenian Genocide Memorial. The memorial is also right next to the Sports and Concert Complex, which is a delightfully Soviet looking building. It looks a bit like a spaceship!

November 17th, 2023 was a nice morning, weatherwise. We had sunshine, and I could even see Mount Ararat trying to come out from behind the clouds. So, as we drank coffee in the rooftop restaurant, I proposed walking to Tsitsernakaberd. It really is a place that no visitor to Armenia should miss.

We could have taken a cab, or even the metro, to ease the physical burden on our bodies. But, because we had limited time left in Yerevan, and I wanted to show Bill some places along Marshall Bagramyan Avenue, we decided to walk. I knew we were going to be exhausted at the end of it… and we were. But, the journey was well worth the pain.

Below are a few shots of Ararat from the rooftop restaurant, as well as a few ads. Imagine, Tex Mex and KFC in Yerevan! Air conditioning and hot wings! Unthinkable in the 90s! And Charents– that’s a familiar name to any Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer.

The above photos, except for the ones of Ararat, were taken on Mashtots Avenue.

At last, we got to the big intersection where Marshall Bagramyan Avenue meets Mashtots and Sayat Nova Avenue. We took a short rest in the park near the Opera House, where old men smoked, drank coffee, and played Nardi (Backgammon) and Chess as they sold art. Then, I gathered up all my gumption and started walking, pointing out places of interest.

Marshall Bagramyan is a pretty important avenue in Yerevan. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, it was where the US Embassy was located. The Embassy had a restaurant, and I went there a few times to teach the Armenian ladies who worked there how to cook American style food. Of course, they insisted on putting their own Armenian spin on it! If I recall correctly, I think their “spins” on my recipes usually involved “matsun” (yogurt).

The Embassy also showed movies, offered a laundry service, and had a bar and a library. I spent more time there as a Volunteer than my country director would have liked, and if I could do it differently today, I think I would. However, in my defense, I mostly interacted with the Armenians who worked there. 😉 Also, we were told in training that we were allowed to go there, and we were even kind of encouraged to go. I didn’t actually do so until about halfway through training.

The US Embassy has since moved to a huge complex near the Ararat Brandy Company. Stepan told me that they had considered moving the Peace Corps office to that complex. How’s that for irony? I’m glad they didn’t do that, as now I understand that the Embassy mission must be separate from the Peace Corps mission. I didn’t understand that in the 90s, because I was 23 years old and didn’t know anything about the world. 😉 I know better at age 51. Yerevan was a very different place in the 90s, though, and there weren’t many Americans in the country then. And when you live abroad, especially in a place where conditions can be rough, you tend to flock with your own kind.

Marshall Bagramyan Avenue is also where a number of other embassies are, or once were located. It’s where the Armenian Parliament building is, the Armenian President’s residence, the turn off for Proshyan Street (which we used to call Khorovatz Street) and where the American University of Armenia is. The Marshall Bagramyan metro stop is there, as well as the turn off to Orbeli Brothers Street. I used to walk up and down Marshall Bagramyan Avenue all the time, especially to visit AUA, where I would check email in their computer lab. As for Proshyan Street, we called it “Khorovatz Street” because there were a lot of khorovatz restaurants there in the 90s. I never ate there, though, because I never had money or an Armenian boyfriend. 😉

If you’re Indian and need a place, have a look! I did notice a lot of Indians living in Yerevan now.

At the end of Marshall Bagramyan Avenue, you reach the Barekamutsyun (բարեկամություն friendship) Metro station. When I first got to Yerevan, this station was also called дружба (Druzhba). The canned announcements on the metro were done in Armenian and Russian, and they used both names for the station. The signage in the metro stations were also in Russian and Armenian. Soon after my arrival, they took down the Russian signage and stopped announcing in Russian. I noticed during last week’s trip that a lot of signs around Yerevan were in English and Armenian, with only a few in Russian. We didn’t ride the metro last week, so I don’t know if they’re now doing announcements in English, or if it’s just in Armenian. However, I can probably still recite verbatim the Armenian announcements on the metro!

I used to live in a building on Kasyan Street, which connects to the underground shopping area and underpass that leads to the metro station. Since I left there, they’ve put in an overpass, which Stepan says is a vast improvement. Before the overpass was built, people would get confused at the intersection, because there was traffic coming from all directions. Barekamutsyun is a busy area, and not particularly attractive. But I liked living there, as it was convenient to good shopping and not too far from my school. My apartment was owned by the Peace Corps doctor’s brother, who had moved to Ukraine. He decided to sell the apartment during the late summer of 1996, so I had to move.

Just across Kochar Street, which is the street I walked on to get to school, there was the Hayastan Market, which was kind of like a shuka (market). Now, it’s a grocery store. It was actually turned into one before I left in 1997. I used to go there all the time for powdered milk, flour, and sugar. 😉 My first year, we couldn’t get fresh milk, so I learned to tolerate the powdered kind (yuck).

We turned left on Kievyan Street, which would take us to the memorial and the last area where I lived when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Kievyan Street lasts until you cross the Kievyan Bridge, which overlooks the Hrazdan Gorge. Then, on the other side of the bridge, you’re on Leningradian Street, which is the street I lived on for the last nine months or so of my service.

That apartment was owned by a former Peace Corps employee who had gone to Hungary to study. Although it wasn’t as convenient as the last apartment was, I paid twice as much to live there. It was still a lot less than a US apartment would have been, but it was a lot of money for me. So, I continued teaching business English at American non-governmental organizations for rent money. Technically, we weren’t supposed to do that (and I wasn’t the only one), but it was the only way to cover rent costs without starving.

When it was time to close my service, that former Peace Corps employee accused me of not paying her father for a month I lived there. Of course it wasn’t true, and I was fucking PISSED that she made that accusation. I was even more PISSED that she and her dad ambushed me one Friday night when I was out with friends. They had let themselves into the apartment and were in there waiting for me, smoking cigarettes, when I returned there at 10 o’clock at night.

For about a week before that confrontation, my former landlady and her son would let themselves into the apartment to get some of their things… and they helped themselves to my food, while leaving dirty dishes for me to clean up. I had a full on panic attack in front of my former landlady and her dad, which made them uncomfortable enough to get them to leave. I think she thought she could shake me down for an extra month’s rent, but she made me so very angry that I went on the warpath. And when I handed over the keys to her apartment, I had Peace Corps representatives there to make sure they didn’t try to rip me off for another month’s rent.

I have mentioned a few times in this blog and my main one that I was angry and burned out at the end of my service. This situation is one of the reasons why I was so angry. This woman knew what the Peace Corps’ mission was, and I think she knew very well that her father had been paid for every month I was in that apartment. She was also getting much more money for that place than any Armenian would have ever paid. She actually accused me of spending the money I had earned for rent money… (how did I know that her dad hadn’t spent the money?) Naturally, I was very hurt and offended… but she mistook my sensitivity and quickness to cry for weakness. She fucked around and found out… which makes me kind of proud of myself. Years later, I found that same resolve not to be screwed over by our former German landlady, who made the same mistake and tried the same shit with Bill and me. That time, we sued… and we won!

Sorry… I really don’t mean to be negative, but I did write at the beginning of this serious I was going to be honest. And thinking about that situation still really pisses me off, because it’s a bad memory that developed at a time when I should have been feeling very accomplished. I had made it through 27 tough months, and I should have been elated and focused on success and plans for the future. Instead, I felt like someone was trying very hard to take advantage of me and paint me as a person I am definitely not. Moreover, it was hard to fathom that someone who had worked for an organization that was dedicated to doing good things in her country wanted me to leave with bad memories. And this was all over a lousy $100 (which was a lot of money to Armenians at the time– and too much rent for her apartment)!

I don’t cry much at all anymore. I noticed that after I took antidepressants, I no longer felt the need. But when I was in the Peace Corps, I cried a lot… Some people think that people who cry easily are wimps or pushovers. Well, that was never true in my case, and if you cross my red line, you will soon find out how strong and resolved I can be. And she certainly did, because I was determined… and I totally went on the fucking warpath! I still get a surge of energy just thinking about that, 26 years later!

Anyway… enough about that story. That idiot doesn’t deserve any more of my precious mental energy. 😉 On with our visit to the memorial, which was very moving, even if we were pretty tired by the time we got there. I used to take a side road to get the memorial, and back in the 90s, when I was younger and fitter, I’d even go jogging in the park there. But now that I’m older and fatter, we decided to walk up the steps at the sports complex. The side road appeared to be undergoing construction. Below are some scenes from the walk up the steps and the park at the memorial. Bill and I were both delighted to find a զուգարան (zugaran– toilet– one of my favorite Armenian words) up there. It even had toilet paper!

It turned out the Georgian Minister of Defense was going to be visiting the memorial on the 17th, so there were a lot of police there. There was also a military band, and a group of soldiers with rifles. Bill was fascinated, of course. Meanwhile, I went into the memorial, which was so moving. A woman was cleaning the memorial, with its eternal flame. Some people had left bouquets. When I lived in Yerevan in the 90s, the flame was only lit on special occasions, such as Genocide Memorial Day, on April 24th. Today, it burns constantly, and there’s beautiful music piped in. I felt a lump in my throat as I took it all in.

Half a minute at the memorial…
Mount Ararat visited, too.

After we visited the memorial and gawked at the soldiers and musicians, we started the long walk back to our hotel. By the time we reached Tsitsernakaberd, we’d already done about four miles. But we got a second wind, and headed back down the hill, across the bridge, and into cheap Armenian culinary heaven…

On our way to the memorial, I had noticed a group of Armenian restaurants just on the other side of the bridge. It smelled really good, and experience has taught me that when a restaurant smells good, one should pay a visit. So we did. The place we went was kind of a “fast food” place of sorts. They had table service, but the food was cheap and quick. Bill and I both had delicious shawarmas with Coca Cola… It cost about 3 euros each for these huge “wraps”. I couldn’t even finish mine. I remembered having similar lavash wraps when I lived in Yerevan as a Volunteer, but I don’t think they were called shawarmas. They were also even cheaper. I think I paid about 200-300 drams back then– (50-75 cents).

After we ate, we got back to our long walk. I decided on a slight shortcut on Orbeli Brothers Street, which cut out Barekamutsyun and put us on Marshall Bagramyan Avenue. I remember using that street in 1997, and at that time, I think it was where the Russian Embassy was. I remember the flags and the stern signage with lots of exclamation points. But the embassy has since moved, even though I did notice some stern Russian signage. We passed a high school, which didn’t really exist in the 90s. Most schools handled all levels, which only went to “tenth form”. Now they go to 12th grade. And we kept walking, even though we were tired and sore. My Apple Watch was going crazy with all the unusual activity! Below are a few photos I took along the way, including signs from the Moldovan Embassy and a medical clinic that is now well advertised. It was probably there in the 90s, but I don’t remember it.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we’d walked over eight miles! Luckily, we had the bottle of wine the food and beverage manager sent to us to help kill the pain until dinner in the hotel restaurant. And when we arrived there at 7 o’clock, Narek, the awesome waiter who had served us the night before, was ready to help us enjoy a great evening of live Latin styled music and more wine… of course! Armenia is a wonderful place to be if you love music.

It may be a good thing we didn’t go to the rooftop restaurant for dinner earlier. Otherwise, I might not have gone anywhere else. It was never crowded; the food was good; and the music was wonderful. I’d book this hotel again just for the live music in the restaurant. It was awesome!

A sample of the live music!

After dinner, we were understandably tired, so we headed back to the room and went to bed. The next day, Saturday the 18th, would be our last day in Yerevan. Stay tuned to my next post for the story of that last day…

Champagne Bucket trips

Pictures from our 21st anniversary… part eight of our Armenian adventure!

As I mentioned in today’s earlier post, I’ve already written about the weirdness that occurred on our 21st wedding anniversary. I did a pretty good job covering that day, so rather than repeating myself, I’m just going to share more photos from our anniversary. I have already written the story, probably because I was a bit freaked out and upset, and writing helps me calm down and focus. But I didn’t share very many pictures at all in that rant… So I’ll share some photos and video with this post, with minimal commentary. If you want to read the gory details about our messed up anniversary, click here.

We tried to cross the street to go to the brandy factory, but the light wasn’t working properly. We got a green light, but cars still sped through the intersection. It wasn’t safe to cross there, so we walked the road down past the stadium.

A few hours after we went to “The Garden”, we had dinner at a highly recommended place called Sherep. It was just across Amiryan Street, steps away from our hotel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great experience for us, although maybe we would have liked it if it hadn’t been our anniversary, and if we’d ordered beer instead of wine… Again, you can read the juicy details in last week’s post, linked above.

I should have probably waited to write about our anniversary, but I was so aggravated and pissed off that I had to get it out of my system. But I was right when I wrote at the end of that post that the next day would be better. It was a prophetic statement. And even though it was a “weird day”, it certainly could have been much worse. At least we managed to walk several miles, and we made a friend in the food and beverage manager at the hotel.

A complimentary bottle of wine sent to us by the food and beverage manager, when I told her it was our anniversary… Such a nice and welcoming gesture!
Champagne Bucket trips

Rainy Wednesday at the Vernissage, and a meaningful chat with a waitress… part seven of our Armenian adventure!

On Wednesday morning, it was still a bit rainy outside. We decided to eat breakfast inside the hotel, instead of in the outdoor dining area of the rooftop restaurant. As usual, there was a good spread and plenty of different items to choose from, although I tended to stick with the same things most days.

Our plan was to visit the Vernissage, which in the 90s used to only run on the weekends. The “flea market” is still held near the metro station for Republic Square (Հանրապետության Հրապարակ), just like it used to be back when I lived in Yerevan. However, now there are long, permanent stalls set up, so vendors can enjoy protection from the rain and sun. There are also a couple of actual stores on the grounds that sell everything from art, to khorovats grill sets, to chess sets.

My goal was to look for more art for our house and some toys for Bill’s grandchildren. I also wanted to show Bill around this market, which is a great place to go for souvenirs, even if some of what is sold there is legitimate crap. The Vernissage is often kind of festive, although it’s probably best to visit on the weekends, when there are a lot more vendors and things to choose from. In retrospect, it was probably better that we went on Wednesday, because by Saturday, I was pretty tired, cranky, and sore from all the walking we did.

As we walked through the stalls, people encouraged us to stop for a look. I said to one woman, “Heto, k’gam.” (later, I will come), but that kind of turned out to be a lie. Nevertheless, we did find a few things. I bought a couple of supposedly cashmere scarves that the saleslady assured me I could put in the washing machine. They were the same design, but different colors. I’ll probably wear them when I make YouTube videos. I like to wear shawls and scarves over my nightgowns, so I don’t have to change clothes! 😉

Our second stop was where we bought a few magnets for our fridge, and to send to Bill’s daughter. Next to the magnet lady was a very friendly guy who was selling coffee grinders and Armenian coffee pots. He was laying it on thick, too, even showing us a pot that had a stamp that read “USSR”. I asked him if it was old, and he said it wasn’t. Hmmm… Well, I guess I can’t blame him for trying.

I’m not sure that stamping USSR on stuff is the best way to make a sale, since the USSR wasn’t really known for putting out high quality products, unless you’re discussing booze. Naturally, they were both surprised I could speak some Armenian, although he was actually talking to Bill a lot. Bill bought a pot and a grinder, and the friendly coffee pot guy threw in a “free” spoon. Besides, if the coffee pot had been produced in the Soviet Union, I would have expected the stamp to read CCCP. Maybe we should have bought one just for the laughs.

We had to stop at that point, because Bill needed to get more drams, and it was soon getting close to lunchtime. So we brought our items back to the room and walked around the block behind the hotel. There, we found a gastropub called Bambak.