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, 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 I used to walk up and down that 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!
art, Champagne Bucket trips

Live music, art, and another familiar face… part four of our Armenian adventure!

Sunday morning, we were still a bit jet lagged. We didn’t get up until about 9:00 AM (Armenian time). That’s unheard of for us, although it was 6:00 AM in Germany. After we got dressed and I put on some makeup, we went to the rooftop restaurant and sat outside again, mainly because the sun was very intense inside the restaurant. A tall, broad shouldered, European looking Armenian waiter was very attentively maintaining our table and seemed surprised when I asked him for “shakar” (sugar).

We had plans for Sunday evening. Stepan had bought tickets to see Mexican tenor, Rolando Villazón, and harpist, Xavier de Maistre. We would meet him and his wife, Lilit, that evening. To be honest, I wasn’t that sure about the concert. I had never heard of Rolando Villazón or Xavier de Maistre, and I’ve never been particularly excited about harp music. However, I am a music lover and a singer myself, and I know Armenians have great appreciation for the arts. I had a feeling it would be a good concert, and in the interest of wanting to do something new and unique, we agreed to attend. Stepan later told me he hadn’t been sure about the concert either, since he also wasn’t familiar with the musicians.

With our evening plans set, Bill and I decided to walk around a bit. We headed down Abovian Street, which is a major Yerevan location. In the 90s, it was the place one was most likely to find shopping or a decent cafe or two. I’ve always liked Abovian Street, as even in the 90s, it was tree lined and kind of elegant. In 2023, it’s still a hot spot, with a whole lot of restaurants and hotels, including The Alexander, which Stepan says is the best hotel in Yerevan. I see it’s owned by Marriott, and is considered “luxury”. Personally, my idea of luxury is less about posh looking properties and more about good service. But it did look like a very nice hotel when we passed it.

A little ways down Abovian Street, we ran into Northern Avenue, which is a street that didn’t exist in the 1990s. Stepan told me that there were some “shabby houses” that were demolished in order to create this very posh shopping district. My mouth dropped open as I took it in… Yerevan has come a long way since 1997, but this “walkplatz” is all new construction that definitely doesn’t match the many Soviet era buildings that are still in Yerevan. I noticed that there were quite a few new buildings constructed and little by little, they were replacing the ugly, cookie cutter Soviet buildings.

I did wonder about what happened to the people who had been living in the “shabby houses” off Sayat Nova Avenue. I also wondered how much it cost to live in one of the apartments on that avenue. No doubt Northern Avenue is an address for Yerevan’s wealthiest. But it’s also very handy, as that’s where we found a place to buy new SIM cards for our phones. It also makes it quicker and easier to get to the Opera House.

VIVA-MTS is a chain in Yerevan where you can get a new SIM card and pick up any accessories you might need for your phone or computer. I actually did need a new USB-C cable for my computer, but as soon as we walked into the store, we were summoned to sit near a young woman who set us up with new SIM cards. We just had to present a passport– one was enough. I should have bought a cable while I was in there, but it slipped my mind.

We walked out of the VIVA-MTS store and continued on to the Opera House. I showed Bill where I used to go when I attended rehearsals with the Opera Choir back in the 90s. That was a rather weird situation that developed when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. My second Peace Corps Armenian teacher, Rousanna, had once been a ballet dancer at the Opera House, and she knew people there. She declared that I had singing talent.

In those days, I did sing opera songs a lot, because I had studied voice (for fun) in college and those were the types of songs we sang in our studio. Anyway, I met the conductor of the opera choir, whose name was Karen (in Armenia, it’s a man’s name). He said I could come to rehearsals and sing. So I did. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have let Rousanna introduce me to Karen, because I think it caused some problems with the school where I was working. It wasn’t really why I’d come to Armenia, either. Rousanna insisted, and I was genuinely interested… and at 23 years old, I wasn’t all that assertive.

On the other hand, it was a golden opportunity to get involved with the arts in Yerevan, and I did end up meeting some interesting and very talented people. I learned new music, too. Maybe with a little more engagement, I might have been able to help the opera choir with some grants. I did learn a couple of new operas, thanks to that experience. I can’t say I’m sorry I worked with the opera choir in Yerevan, although I am sorry for any issues it caused at my school. But then, I usually had to “wing it” at the school, anyway. Many times, I would show up expecting to teach one class, only to be sent to a different one. So maybe it didn’t matter that much, in the long run.

During that same visit in 1995, Rousanna and I also visited the then conductor of the Armenian Philharmonic, Loris Tjeknavorian. Mr. Tjeknavorian surprised me by knowing who I was. He even knew where I lived! Back then, there weren’t many Americans in Armenia, and I stood out with my blonde hair. He knew my name was Jenny, that I sang, and that I lived in the part of Yerevan called Zeytoun (although I didn’t live there for long).

Mr. Tjeknavorian is apparently still living; he’s 86 years old and now retired from the Philharmonic. In retrospect, he might have heard about me because I was in the AUA Choir during training, and that choir had an honest to god maestro. But there wasn’t enough money for sheet music, so we were singing Christmas carols in July! We also did a few Armenian nationalist songs, and a folk song named “Im Chi Nare Yare.” I was supposed to do the solo for that song. The Philharmonic conductor might have also heard of me because of the accompanist for the AUA Choir, Anahit, who was one of the very best pianists I’ve ever met… and I’ve met quite a few. She was a graduate of the Yerevan Conservatory, and she even got me hooked up with a Russian voice teacher there, who later introduced me to her Armenian protege. Who knows? Anyway, it was an interesting experience at the time, meeting and working with real, professional musicians in Yerevan.

Today, next to the Opera House, there are a few cafes and other amusements. As we were passing, we noticed little kids driving toy cars around the grounds. There was also an electronic game with a punching bag. A couple of young lads were amusing their friends by seeing how hard they could punch. They were trying to beat the record. Although the young man who threw the punch was impressive, he fell far short of the record. I guess that’s one way to keep people pumping in drams. They pay for another chance, even though they’ll probably just hurt their hand and fall short of the goal. It was fun to watch the guy’s friends cheering him on, though. He was one of a few young guys we saw punching that bag as we passed the Opera House over the course of the week we were there.

We crossed Mashtots Avenue. On the other side of the street, there’s a tree lined park where people sell art. When I lived in Yerevan, they only did it on the weekends, but now they do it every day. I wanted to see what was available, because I wanted to buy new paintings for our house. I never had the money to buy art in Armenia when I lived there. It’s also a cool place to visit, because you’re sure to see old guys sitting around playing chess or nardi (backgammon), drinking coffee, smoking, and holding court. That was as true in 2023 as it ever was in the 90s.

There was some stuff there that was either not my taste or kind of “cheesy”. Some people had signs up requesting no photos to be taken. The funny thing is, the artists who made that request were selling art that I wouldn’t have been interested in, anyway. One guy had what looked like black velvet art, which I’ve just learned actually originated in Kashmir and usually depicted religious icons from the Caucasus region. I’m sure there are some beautiful black velvet creations, but whenever I see them, I just think of Elvis Presley.

Toward the end of our stroll through the park, I spotted some art that made me pause. The artist cautiously approached. I didn’t want to start talking to him until I’d seen everything, so we walked away. But a few minutes later, we came back and struck up a conversation. The man said he is a printer who lives in Ashtarak, a village northwest of Yerevan. I knew some Volunteers served there, and had visited there myself. I could picture where he lived.

When he asked me why I could speak Armenian, I told him about how I’d lived in Yerevan 26 years ago and taught English to kids in an Armenian school. I apologized for not being able to remember a lot of the language, but we were able to carry on a conversation. He told me his son lives in Switzerland as I admired two similar paintings he was selling. One was a church in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city in the northwest, and the other was a landscape of Yeghegnadzor, which is a city to the south of Yerevan. We decided to buy both paintings, which really excited the guy. He offered individual prices, but came down when we offered to buy both. I could tell he wanted me to haggle, but I hate haggling. So he kind of haggled for me, and we ended up settling on a price of about 110,000 AMD for the two paintings… Maybe an Armenian would have paid less, but I know a lot of work went into that art. And the conversation was also worth something.

Bill went to get some drams from an ATM, and I stayed and talked to the guy some more. He had a beautiful painting of Mount Ararat that was very unique. I wish I’d bought it, because I later decided I wanted a painting of the famous mountain, but most of the ones I saw were kind of representative of “bad art”, or there was nothing interesting or unique about them. Unfortunately, we didn’t run into the guy again before we left. But we did buy two very nice paintings from him, which he put in a rather well used plastic bag. This really distressed Bill, who spent the rest of the week worrying about how we were going to get the paintings home to Germany. More on that, later.

After we bought our paintings, we headed back to the hotel to drop them off. We walked down Mashtots, and I showed Bill some places of interest. Mashtots is one of the most important avenues in Yerevan. Back in the Soviet era, it was known as Lenin Avenue. At one end, the Matenadaran stands– it’s a museum full of some of the oldest books in the world. At the other end is the overlook to the Hrazdan Gorge. It’s where you’ll find the entrance to the Blue Mosque, the one mosque in Yerevan, and what used to be the Pak Shuka and is now, sadly, a supermarket.

After we dropped off the art, we took another walk, and I took more photos…

After all the walking, we were a bit hungry. I was a little unsure about my restaurant skills, though. I speak decent restaurant German, but I never had the ability to do the same in Armenia. We went to a place very close to our hotel, Кавказская пленница (Caucasian Captive– apparently named after a 1967 Russian film). It was a nice place that offered a lot of different options. It was also a bit campy in its decor…

Our waitress, name of Arev (sun), was surprised by my Armenian skills. Then she offered us “Khash”, to which I blurted out was “disgusting” and I didn’t like it. Amot indz (shame on me). Khash, for your information, is a very garlicky soup that is made with boiled cow or sheep parts, including the head, hooves, and stomach. It was a food historically made by poor people, who used all of the least desirable parts of an animal to make themselves a nutritious meal. I did try it once, when I was in training, even though it’s something that is usually only served during the “ber” months. Most people eat it in the morning with a lot of lavash and vodka. It’s supposedly a good hangover cure.

I ended up having chicken and fried potatoes that were absolutely delicious. Bill had some kind of stew that he loved. I don’t remember what he had… but he’s a more adventurous diner than I am.

After we ate, we went back to the hotel for a rest. We had plans to meet Stepan and Lilit at about 7:00 PM. We had purchased a couple of gifts for them, both because they were so kindly hosting us, and because it was Stepan’s birthday on the 15th. I said I thought it would be good to give them the gifts at the concert. Bill, being the consummate overthinker, worried that we wouldn’t be allowed into the concert hall with them, because they were wrapped. I had to laugh at that… He’d forgotten that the night previous, we had just walked into the school where I used to teach. I said, “Stop overthinking this. It’ll be fine.”

So we walked to the Opera House and met Stepan, then enjoyed the concert put on by Mr. Villazón and Mr. de Maistre. I found out that Rolando Villazón is my age. He was very entertaining, and I have a feeling that if we’d known each other as kids, we would have traded fart jokes. He and his wife now live in France, and my friend Susanne says he speaks excellent German and is often on German talk shows. She was impressed that we got tickets to the concert. Stepan, of course, was greeting his many friends. I swear, he knows so many people in Yerevan! More on that, later. Below are some photos…

And a video…

A short video from the concert. They got a bunch of encores! People kept trying to leave, and they came back for “just one more”. It was hilarious!

We had a wonderful time at the concert, and being exposed to the talented musicians would have made the evening special enough. But something else happened that really made our night forever memorable. During intermission, Stepan went outside to smoke a cigarette. While he was out there, he ran into his classmate and another of my former students, Sima. He told her she needed to come inside to meet someone.

Sima blurted out, “Is it Jenny?”

Stepan said yes, I was indeed in the house. Sima said she’d actually recognized me outside, but was sure it couldn’t be me, back in Yerevan after so many years. She didn’t approach me. That was probably a good thing, since I would not have recognized her. The last time I saw Sima, she was about fifteen or sixteen years old, and she had long, brown hair. She was very glamorous, and reminded me a little of a young version of the actress, Fran Drescher, who was very popular in the 90s.

Since then, Sima has cut her hair into a very short, spiky haircut, and it’s now jet black. Sima is still very beautiful and glamorous, but she looks quite different now than how I remembered her. However, she’s still very tiny, and I felt like a mama bear when I gave her a hug. I was so moved that she not only remembered me, but actually recognized me, after so many years. I seriously wanted to cry! It was more validation that my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer wasn’t a waste of time. I was finding out that what I did meant something to people besides myself. It wasn’t unlike seeing the end results of planting a seed and coming back years later to find a fruit bearing tree in its place.

After the concert, Stepan, Lilit, Bill and I went outside. We were trying to decide what to do next. Lilit wasn’t feeling well, but Stepan was still trying and succeeding in being an excellent host to us. I decided to make politely parting easy by asking Bill if he was tired. Bill, trying to be a good guest, said he was “okay”. And I said, “Do you mean it, or are you just being NICE?” Then I turned and smiled at Stepan, who laughed. He asked if I minded if he opened the gifts at home, so his kids could watch. I was fine with that, and we parted ways… after I, once again, expressed shock at all the lights on in Yerevan!

Below are a few photos from our walk back to the hotel…

Sunday was a full day, and we were tired… so after our concert, we decided to enjoy some wine, watch a little TV, and go to bed. However, there was a lot of noise outside from traffic and a nearby nightclub, so actually falling asleep was an entirely different matter. More on that in a later post. 😉

Champagne Bucket trips

Our rainy day in Prague… part eleven of our 2023 Czech tour!

On Monday morning, Bill and I enjoyed our first fabulous breakfast at Hotel Nerudova 211. I had already read about the wonderful breakfasts offered at this hotel, which are available until 4:00pm. Yes, that’s right, they serve breakfast all day, in their cafe, which is also open to non-hotel guests. I had booked breakfast with our room, so we were invited to have whatever we wanted from their extensive a la carte breakfast menu.

I ended up having Eggs Benedict, mainly because the receptionist had recommended it so highly. I wanted to see if it would be as good as the Eggs Benedict I had at Monastery Garden in Cesky Krumlov. Bill had scrambled eggs in a croissant. We both had cappuccinos and fresh orange juice, but they also brought out very fresh bread and butter that was absolutely delicious.

I got a kick out of one of the waiters, who deftly handled one rather demanding fellow who showed up and started barking orders. He calmly said, “Yes, of course. Go take a seat and I’ll be right with you.” I could be wrong, but I think I caught a hint of a smirk on his face. Frankly, I couldn’t blame him for that.

After we finished breakfast, we had some filtered coffee, and the same waiter offered us a piece of cake. They had strawberry cake and banana bread. He called the whole piece of cake a “sample”, but was wise enough to bring two forks. It was so good, but boy were we full afterwards! I had asked for cream in my coffee and the guy looked a little panicked as he asked if steamed milk was okay. Yes, of course! I’m just American, and some of us take cream (half and half) in our coffee. I forget sometimes that isn’t how the Europeans do it.

Once breakfast was over, Bill and I set out for the old town in Prague. We made our way to the Charles Bridge, marveling at the number of people walking across it. Somewhere in the middle of the bridge, I looked down and saw evidence of vomit. I remarked to Bill, “Ooh! Someone threw up! It was a lot, too!”

I noticed some guy overheard me and was laughing. I will admit, it was kind of funny… for us, anyway. I’m not so sure about the person who puked.

As we got closer to the other side of the Vltava River, we heard some really great jazz swing music. There was a band of four buskers, just jamming on the bridge. They were great! And they had a CD, so we bought one and brought it home. I’d have to say they were the best of the whole bunch of great buskers we heard in the Czech Republic. I love supporting them with applause and tips, and when they have CDs, I buy their music.

This is the Charles Bridge Swing Band, and they rock!

We stopped near the end of the bridge and looked down at the water. That was when I noticed a furry critter swimming past some paddle boats. I later identified the creature as most likely a nutria, which apparently have invaded Prague in large numbers to the point at which they are considered a nuisance. I got a video of the little fellow, swimming among the ducks.

A nutria is busily swimming in the Vltava River.

Then, thanks to all the fluids we drank at breakfast, I needed to pee. I was trying to get to the nearest pay WC, but was soon accosted by a couple of Black guys in sailor suits. They were selling boat rides. We didn’t take the bait, but maybe we would have, if the weather had been better. Instead we looked at another church, then continued on toward the famous astronomical clock and the cathedral.

We were pretty slack about taking in touristy stuff, mainly because we were kind of tired and ready to go home. Maybe it’s good that we did Prague last, if only because it was the grandest stop on our trip, and had the best chance of keeping us engaged in our travels. But we had such an eventful vacation that we were kind of overloaded by the time we got to Prague. Still, we managed to take a lot of photos and do a lot of walking in the main areas. At one point, we sat down and watched pigeons fight over ham.