We Need to Talk about Yerevan, Armenia

I’ve put off writing this piece for quite a while now.  It’s been over a year (15 months, in fact) since we were in Yerevan, and part of me hoped the distance from the place would make my heart grow fonder of it.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been quite the case.  And while I don’t actively dislike Yerevan – we actually had quite a good time there, all things considered – I have become sort of ambivalent about visiting again.  pak-shuka-covered-market-yerevan-armenia_16234624526_o marshrutka-yerevan_16397184971_o lada-yerevan_16398938915_o Read more

Top Markets in Eastern Europe (Flea and Otherwise)

As the title of my blog implies (the kitsch part), I am a collector.  I have mild hoarding aspirations that I attempt to disguise by portraying myself as a discerning collector of random, yet CLASSY things from around the world.  Most of the time, this turns out to be postcards, maps, pins and badges, and antique clothing pieces – among many others (including snow globes).  I’ve written a post or two about this, but thought it would be useful to provide a run down of my favorite markets in Eastern Europe for anyone with an eye for kitschy communist goodies from the former Eastern Bloc.

We’ll start from Tallinn, Estonia, before making our way south to the Balkans, and east to the Caucasus. Read more

Balkans, Baltics, and Caucasus, Oh My! 2015 in Review

So I know that the time for year in review posts has come and long gone, but, like your hoarder neighbors who leave the Christmas wreath up until Spring, I too have put off this seminal blogging event.  Blah blah, working 50-60 hours a week, I won’t give you excuses so you don’t have to read them.  Instead, let me jump right into a recap of what became my most eventful year in travel ever.

Tbilisians are not afraid of a little color.
Tbilisi, Georgia
Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.
Tbilisi, Georgia

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An Istanbul to Tbilisi to Kazbegi Odyssey – Christmas 2014, Part 2

And now, the continuation (and conclusion) of the story of the longest travel day of my life… (for Part 1, click here)

Scene 5: Didube Marshrutka Depot, 9am, Christmas Day.  We stumble into Didube metro stop and light is just breaking.  With our bags, we trudge across the dirt lot that is Tbilisi’s largest marshrutka stop.  In Georgia and Armenia, marshrutkas quickly became my favorite method of transportation – egalitarian shared buses or minivans that depart for their destination only when enough passengers board to turn the driver a profit.

TurkeyGeorgiaArmenia2-210-17

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Church and Monastery Fatigue in Armenia – Sevan and Dilijan

By our final day in Armenia, David and I were sick and tired.  I don’t mean that figuratively.  We were both actually sick and developing a tolerance for expired Russian Theraflu, and tired from sleeping on 1 thread count sheets in our “hotel” (a generous assessment if there ever was one) in Yerevan.

Ts'tesutyoon, Yerevan.
Ts’tesutyoon, Yerevan.

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Church and Monastery Fatigue in Armenia – Echmiadzin, Khor Virap, and Noravank

Day 2 of our Armenian architecture death march leisurely exploration was actually our third day in Armenia.  Our second day we kept to ourselves, and explored Yerevan on foot and via its super-awesome, and super-secret metro.  We wanted to love Yerevan, but the feeling wasn’t super mutual – so Yerevan was a rough go for us.  But that’s a story for another time.

Right now, though, it’s time to get pumped up – it’s time for more churches!  Boom, bam, pow!  Church time!

Tragic foreboding? The souvenir stand at Khor Virap, was closed.
Tragic foreboding? The souvenir stand at Khor Virap, was closed.

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UNESCO Industrial Landscapes – The Mainstreaming of UrbEx

While I was browsing my favored geography/travel news related outlets this morning, I happened upon a slideshow of the new UNESCO world heritage sites for this year.  I used to pay a lot more attention to the UNESCO lists than I do today – when I was younger, UNESCO’s curated lists seemed to apply more to my travel style than they do now.  That said, looking through the list of 2015 inscriptions was a bit surprising to me – included were several places I would have never thought of as being UNESCO World Heritage material.

Hashima/Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan - by https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefansgallery/
Hashima/Gunkanjima, Nagasaki, Japan – by https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefansgallery/

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The Accommodation Paradox – Apartment or Hotel?

I am not a graphic designer, clearly.
I am not a graphic designer, clearly.

I’ve been traveling in fairly offbeat/exotic places for a solid chunk of time now, and one thing I find myself talking to folks about over and over is how I choose a place to stay.  Now keep in mind that, despite having closed the hostel chapter of my life (temporarily, at least), I don’t crinkle my nose at staying at places that wouldn’t be considered luxurious.  Quite the opposite – as a story collector, I often find that a night or two at a grotty “hotel” in a random corner of the planet (I’m looking at you, Casa Iguana on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua) can yield some incredible memories that dazzle at cocktail parties.  And while I admire the long term travelers who stay at such places without qualms (as being thrifty with accommodation is one prong of a strategy that allows those folks to stay on the road for so long), putting in my time at my 9-5 for 11 months a year financially allows me to spend a moderate amount of coin to ensure relative creature comforts while on the road.

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Church and Monastery Fatigue in Armenia – The Debed Canyon

When I was planning our trip to Turkey and Georgia last year, I hadn’t originally thought to make a little jaunt into Armenia.  But after doing additional investigating into various places to see and things to do, I couldn’t help myself and booked a shoddy hotel in Yerevan – the Erebuni Hotel, if you’re wondering – for three nights in the middle of our 10 days in Georgia.

We had planned to spend 4 days and 3 nights in Armenia in total, one of which would be spent in Yerevan, one on a day trip, and two going to and from Tbilisi.  I arranged transport (with the help of lovely folks at Envoy Hostel in Yerevan) so that we could see different things coming to and from the border – an arrangement that basically meant we took two different routes when coming from the Sadakhlo-Bagratashen border to Yerevan and back.  Basically I was a total ninja in making sure we used our time in Armenia to see as many damn churches and monasteries as we could.

What could possibly go wrong??
What could possibly go wrong??

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Old Tiflis and Modern Tbilisi – A Controversial Metamorphosis

Georgia (the country, not the state) had been on my bucket list of travel destinations for many, many years before I developed the chutzpah to buy a ticket there.  When David and I were looking into places to travel this past December and January, we knew we wanted a more “difficult” vacation – that is, one that wasn’t relaxation focused.  We had recharged on the idyllic beaches of Little Corn Island the past March, and were ready for a real adventure.  So, as I do for every trip, I started obsessively watching plane fares, and when I found a cheap ticket to Istanbul, an easy hop away from the South Caucasus, I knew it was time to check Georgia off my list.

Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.
Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.

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