Friday, June 15, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Next we visited Noravank, 2 churches nestled in orange rocky hills that resembled the dry cliffs of Arizona. Same color and texture. The churches were quite interesting. One offered a narrow double staircase that led to the upper chamber. Climbing them was thrilling. Then we had lunch at a restaurant just behind the churches, where it was open to the orange and beige cliffs. Felt like eating in Sedona.
We returned to Yerevan for an afternoon of souvenir shopping. While shopping we came upon the Italian Arezzo day parade with flag acrobatics and complete with a marching band. We had a light dinner of good soup back on the street near the Opera House and returned for the fountain light show at the Republic square. Good way to end another day at Yerevan.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
First stop was the Haghtanak park on top of the hill for great views of the city. The statue of Mother Armenia with a sword, much like the one in Tbilisi, except this one is all black, stood on top of the Military Museum and guarded the city, facing the straight Mashtots Ave with the Opera House on its left. Spectacular sight! Biblical Mtn Ararat loomed in front but veiled in clouds. We hoped to see it tomorrow clear and imposing.
Next we explored the Mashtots Ancient Manuscript Museum and oh, so many illuminated manuscripts! Hippo's heaven! How she loved them!
We had brandy (Armenian cognac) tasting at the Ararat Brandy factory. Three kinds and enough to get the Hip tipsy. The weather was very hot and it thundered and then rained pretty hard on us. But I loved it as it was refreshing. And I even remembered to bring the egg yoke colored umbrella that we bought in Vienna.
During lunch break, Jonathan, Greg and the Hip went to smoke a bit of Shisha with mint and grape flavors, and snacked on olives, hummus, flat bread, and mushrooms. The French Fries never came! She got a bit stoned!
In the afternoon we visited the Armenian Orthodox Holy See at Echmiadzin and what did we know, the Patriarch was at the souvenier shop!
In the evening we dined close to the Republic Square (Hip had grilled rabbit) and on our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the square for the fountain show and mingled with locals. All the surrounding buildings were lite up. Close to the fountain, it was refreshing and Charles Aznavour was singing through the enormous loudspeakers. Great ambiance and lovely early summer eve.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
We left the Greater Caucasus by the same Jvari Pass, saw the same mountains and the Freedom Memorial again, the place with the orange iron rich rocks, the same snow tunnels, and drove southeast to Stalin's hometown Gori. We visited the Stalin museum which had nothing but part of the house he lived in when he was a kid, and photos upon photos of him. Poor museum. And didnt know he was so good looking while young. But in Gori, we had what Georgians called a kebab, which was a very tasty sausage wrapped in thin tortilla. It was outstandingly delicious! Then we came to our first series of cave towns, the Uplistsikhe, an ancient rock-hewn town in Eastern Georgia, about 15 kilometers east of the town of Gori, not very impressive. Our final destination for the night was the resort town of Bakuriani, in the Lesser Caucasus. Our hotel the Didveli was very colorful and the rooms were big with balconies. However the mountain views were now less impressive. I miss the Greater Caucasus! There was a billiards table in the hotel lobby and the bartender and I shot a round of pool and the Hippo lost miserably.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Saturday, June 09, 2012
Before dinner we explored town. A local museum, which was the poet Alexandre Kazbegi's house, a gorgeous structure with a garden where he was burried along with his parents, located just a few minutes walk from the town square by the Tergi river, and contained photos and original furniture. A local hotel by the square with the equestrian statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Some very small grocery stores (one named Google Market with the google ball colors). And a mere 4km to the Russian border. The mountaintops were covered in snow and fog and no views of the Kazbek mountain, one of the 5000+ ft mountains in the Caucasus, the third highest mountain in Georgia (after Mount Shkhara and Janga) and the seventh highest peak in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. In the evening, I had my tea on the university terrace, cold but at awe with the tranquility of the misty Greater Caucasus, veiled in fog and clouds. heaven!
Friday, June 08, 2012
Thursday, June 07, 2012
The first impression of the city was a disappointing one. It looked dirty and backwards. And the city, being the biggest in the country, was small.
We met up with the rest of the group later at dinner. ;A nice welcome from Jonathan and a bear hug from Greg. Almost immediately they've told us about what we missed in the youknowwhatcountry and asked how we didnt managed to get the visa. But we got Vienna to show off.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
It poured non-stop for an entire day the following day while we visited the Hapsburg's Hofburg Palace. The silver and gold collections in the palace were stunning and the apartments were gorgeous. Comprised of so many wings, this place was enormous. After that we've waited 30 mins in the rain to visit the world renowed Staatsoper, the Vienna Opera House. Sitting there in one of the historic velvety red chairs was a touching experience. The opera hall was smaller that I've imagined, but the stage was very deep, and I kept visualizing Mozart conducting one of his operas in the orchestra. Everywhere in the interior from the not overwhelming Grand Staircase to the walls and ceilings and side halls were lavishly decorated. The most beautiful was of course the Schwind Foyer with the stunning chandeliers. A beautiful place but not as big as I've imagined. Nevertheless, it didnt disappoint me.
The next day we took the u-bahn to Schönbrunn, the Rococo summer residence of the Hapsburgs. The front looked a bit like Versailles but the resemblance stopped there. Behind it, the imperial French garden, the great Parterre, gently sloped uphill to the Sun fountain and on the very top, overlooking the palace itself, stood Maria Theresa's Gloriette. The Parterre had a zoo and several mazes. We walked one but failed miserably and had to retrace our steps back out. Then we found out there's a direct route to its very center and got there to the platform where we video recorded the whole maze. It reminded me of the wizardly maze in harry potter. We've tried several other 'easier' ones which were created for kids. Later when the rain finally stopped, we dined at the famous Plachutta restaurant. We had emperor Franz Joseph's beloved boiled beef, which came in a brass pot steaming with a mouth watering aromatic broth filled with spices, onions, carrots and potatoes. And oh yeah, I had to try the wiener schnitzel, lightly breaded veal accompanied by mild vinaigretted potatoes. We've discovered the restaurant by accident and it's only a block from our hotel, the Hilton. We switched hotels to sample different parts of the city and the Hilton overlooked the Stadtpark and it's within walking distance to everywhere. Vienna is a very walkable city.
On our last day, we crossed the brown danube and went up to the Donauturm with a bungee jumping platform and a rotating restaurant on top, to admire the 360 view of the city. Later in the evening, we attended a wolfie's concert in the Brams Hall. The music hall was small, intimate and very grandly ornamented. The orchestra all dressed up in 18C attire and wore wigs. I admit it was the highlight of the visit, even though I'm not much of a Wolfie's fan. The music was heavenly recognizable. They even played Strauss' blue danube, which the audience enthusiastically applauded, even though it wasnt even a Mozart's piece.
The Hippo absolutely loved Vienna (who wouldnt). The visa fiasco has turned into a blessing in disguise. Even tho later we found from the group that the youknowwhatcountry offered great sightseeing, an ultra modern capital with a state of the art shopping mall, Zoroastrian Fire Temples, view of southern Caucasus, a hotel facing the Caspian Sea and evening promenade strolls by the Caspian, Vienna had trumped it several times over. The food was fantastic, the music heavenly, the city was safe and easy to walk, and the culture, well, nothing can beat the art. Definitely a city the Hippo will visit again and again.