Thursday, April 26, 2007

Armenia - Week #3


Where to start... We have had so many adventures in the last week. We visited Garni Temple which is a pagan temple from the 1st century, Ghegard church which was carved out of the mountain, Saghmosavank where we visited the family Haig met during his volunteering in 2000, and Khor Virap where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years.
We also went to the brandy factory, Sergei Paragonov museum, saw Anoush opera, and had dinner with the mayor of the village Kar's dad brought gas to.
We've had a great time with Kar's dad, her cousin who came to visit from Iran, and the rest of the family. One night, we went to a club and it was so cool to hear Armenian music mixed in with the rap :) We have continued our Armenian studies and Haig has started taking dooduk lessons and is loving it.

April 24th was truly a somber event and a special time to be in Armenia. Amazingly, it snowed all day but we joined the crowd and marched to Tsidsernakaberd and visited the museum.

We still have a lot planned for the remaining 3 days in Armenia but will update you next week when we get to Eastern Europe. We are both healthy and happy. We miss you all.


-Kar and Haig

Monday, April 16, 2007

Armenia - Week #2

Barev tsez,

We are still loving Armenia! We've visited the Armenian History Museum, the Tumanyan museum (famous Armenian author), and Echmiazin which is the seat of the Armenian church and was build in 301 AD. The Armenian History Museum was fabulous. There were a lot of rugs, clothing, pottery, and jewelry. They even had artifacts from BC. We especially enjoyed the Tumanyan museum since we plan on going to the Anoush opera which was written by him and Kar has read one or two of his books including Gigor which is a very sad story.

We went to Echmiazin yesterday and saw a service which was cool. It was quite long since they were ordaining new priests.
We also visited Kar's dad's family who she had never met. They even had pictures of the family. It was great hearing all their childhood stories and playing with their kids. For Easter, Armenians have a tradition where they color eggs and try to see who can break whose egg. The winner gets the eggs. These eggs were from their hens and were super tasty. They live in a village and have a small vegetable farm. It was nice to be outside the city and see the beautiful countryside.

Other than that, we've been taking Armenian lessons with my cousin almost everyday and being spoiled by my aunt's yummy food. It's so nice to have them so close by. One night, they took us to a club where we heard an Armenian reggae band. It was so odd to hear but quite fun! We've also enjoyed watching American movies in Armenia though it's weird to hear Brad Pitt speak Armenian with someone else's voice.

And of course we need to say a bit about the food. Below are pictures of the Armenian pizza called lahmajon and a dessert made with walnuts called soujoughk. We've also tired pirachcki which is just meat, potato, or cream in fried dough. Those are quite yummy but we are eating them sparingly since we are trying to watch our figures!

The environmental festival was quite disappointing since there were no booths and it was mainly a concert and a few activities for the kids. They are having a cleanup in a few days so we'll go to that and Kar hopes to make some contacts.
We'll update you once more this weekend before we head to Eastern Europe. We miss you all.

-Kar and Haig

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Armenia - Home Sweet Home

Barev (hello in Armenian),

We made it to our motherland finally! Unfortunately, before we left Egypt, Kar wanted one last authentic meal and we went to a local restaurant. Haig had some bad meat and later when we were on the plane, he started feeling ill. He got progressively worse during our layover in Austria and 10 minutes before our flight, we decided to take the next flight which was the following day. Luckily they were able to pull our bags from the plane and booked our flights for the next day. Haig was too sick and it was really late so we decided to tough it out in the airport instead of dealing with the hassle of finding a hotel. That was one of the hardest nights we have spent together. Poor Haig barely slept :(

We have a beautiful place to stay in Yerevan, Armenia thanks to Adam and Rita (Haig's family). It is right in the middle of downtown and only 5 minutes to Kar's family's house. The first day we went to Victory Park and since it was women's day, Kar got to ride for free! We really enjoyed people watching and it was so cool to be able to speak Armenian everywhere!

We spent Easter with Kar's family and they are fabulous! We had so much fun and they are so hospitable we feel like we're back home. Of course, they sent us away with a bunch of homemade goodies! Thanks Armineh morkur (aunt in Armenian) :)

Today, Armineh mokur's daughter Aneis took us to the Matenadaran where we saw very important and old books. You'll be proud. We did the tour in Armenian and understood most of it! We then searched for Armenian books since Haig and I intend on taking some lessons to improve our Armenian. Tomorrow, there is an environmental festival which we will attend in the hopes of making some contacts and learning about the environmental issues in Armenia so we can see how we can get involved.

Well, that's all for now.

Stesootyun (bye in Armenian)

-Kar and Haig

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Haig and Kar's Tourism Rant

Yes, I know. We just posted an update but since the Internet is super fast here, we figured we would share with you some of our philosophical thoughts. As you all know, Haig and I try to be responsible tourists. This includes making sure our activities don't have adverse impacts on the environment or the locals. We also make sure that our money goes to directly benefit the locals. The latter has been really hard to do on the Sinai peninsula. We spent 3 hours in Sharm el-Sheikh trying to find an Egyptian run dive shop without any luck. We finally had to get a tour set up by the owner of an equipment rental shop who knew an Egyptian dive master. All the shops were owned by Europeans and even the prices were in Euros! The sad thing was, most of them didn't even hire Egyptians to help run the shop! In Dahab we had to go through a shop that was run by westerners but at least all their staff were Egyptian. Talking to some locals, you can tell they resent the Europeans and one of them made a comment that they come, earn some money, and just leave. This has a major effect on the local economy. For one, it drives up the prices. This is also true for big hotels like the Hilton etc coming in and all the fancy restaurants. Most of the locals can't even afford to live in the tourist towns anymore. That's why we stayed at the very nice Bedouin Lodge Hotel right on the waterfront for $7 a night and actually ate at Egyptian restaurants :) Anyways, just thought we would share our perspective.

On a lighter note, since we ran out of chocolate to bet and can't play poker or black jack anymore, we are stuck playing 11 and speed. We are getting bored and would greatly appreciate any card game suggestions you have. Please explain the rules because apparently, our minds are on vacation too and we can't remember any of the rules for any of the games we know.

Ma Salama (bye in Arabic)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Egypt (Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea)

Hello everyone,

We have been loving the Sinai peninsula! We got five dives in. Three of the dives were in Ras Mohammad including Sharks Reef and Yolanda Reef. Don't worry. Unfortunately there were no sharks. Kar got her Advanced Open Water certification. Yipee!!!! This prepared her to dive the Blue Hole and the Canyon in Dahab which were phenomenal. We took underwater pictures but only on film so it'll be a while before we can share those. The Blue Hole was by far the best dive we've done yet. The visibility and wildlife weren't as great as some other locations but the scenery and the technical aspects of the dive were amazing.

We took a camel ride into the mountains and had a Bedouin dinner. There are 5 tribes of Bedouins on the peninsula and some still live the nomadic life. We had a nice chat with our guide about their life and how tourism has changed things. The camels were cool!!!! Kar's kept whining. It must be all the yummy food we've been having.

Speaking of food, Kar's friend Daphne asked us to mention it. We've been eating in style!!!! There are tons of vegetarian options but don't worry, Haig's had plenty of yummy seafood for dirt cheap. Our breakfasts have mostly consisted of fool, felafel, and fresh juice. We've also tried koshari which is just rice, pasta, fried onion, tomato sauce, lentil, and garbanzo beans all mixed together. Yummy!!!!

We went to St. Katherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai. Only the chapel and the descendant of Moses' burning bush were open for viewing. Haig went inside the museum where they had several relics some of which are on loan to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and are on exhibit until May 4th. Then we climbed the rugged mountain (2,285 meters) where Moses received the 10 Commandments and watched the sunset over the dessert. Then we hiked back under a full moon. It was nice to work out for a change. Our muscles loved it!

Finally, Haig had to do surgery on Kar's little toe last night since somehow she got Tanzanian dirt and pebbles stuck in it and it got infected. We had ignored it long enough hoping her body would do it's magic, but it didn't. All is good though thanks to Dr. Haig.

In a few days, we fly out to Armenia which we're very excited about but we'll miss being lazy on the beaches of Dahab. Kar won't miss the saltwater showers though!

Miss you all as always :)

-Kar and Haig

Sign on the beach

Magic Lagoon of fertility in Dahab (Don't worry, we didn't walk around it 7 times to get it to work)