Suitcase and World: April 2016

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Family Time in Yerevan.

Family selfie.  Gurgen, Arshak, Pat, me, and Anush.

One of the things that made our trip to Armenia so special and memorable was the fact that we spent a great deal of time with a very lovely family.

We first met the family patriach, Arshak and his son, Gurgen when they met us in Tbilisi.  They had driven all the way from Yerevan to Tbilisi, waited for a hour before we could leave and drove us all the way back to Yerevan.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Last Views of Yerevan. The Cascade.

View of Yerevan, looking towards the Opera Theatre, from the 2nd tier of The Cascade.

Pat and I started our last day in Yerevan (and Armenia) with breakfast at a small cafe called Crumbs, located on Mashtots Avenue, maybe about 50 feet away from our apartment.  It's a nice little place.  We had stepped inside yesterday and decided this would be a nice place for a light meal.

Thursday, April 28, 2016



Today was our last day of sightseeing with Gurgen. I am sad because we've really enjoyed our time with him and it will soon come to an end - we leave for home day after tomorrow.

Sevanvank  was on my list of places to see in Armenia and I was able to cross it off my list today.

It was another overcast day as we set out from Yerevan this morning.  Raindrops occasionally hit the windshield.  Not an ideal day for sightseeing.  I was grateful is was still cool weather.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Hour at the Theatre.

The Armenian State Dance Ensemble "Barekamutyun" in performance at the Opera Theatre in Yerevan.

We ended our long day back at the Opera Theatre in Yerevan for a dance performance.  Bless his heart, Gurgen got us the tickets.  They were only available for purchase in person so he called on one of his friends to get the tickets for him.

More about that in a bit but for now, we flash back earlier in the afternoon.

Tatev Monastery.

Gurgen, standing in front of the mausoleum of Grigor Tatevatsi, at Tatev Monastery

I'm sure it was sad for Gurgen and Anush to leave Papi and Artsvanik behind. They don't see Papi often and this was far too short a visit for them. I'm sure he felt the same. I'm thankful to them for introducing him to us as I leave with great admiration for the man.

By nightfall today, we were back in Yerevan.  It was a long journey and we had quite a few stops along the way, including one at Tatev Monastery.

Family Time in Artsvanik.

Pat and I with *Papi* and Anush.

If you are blessed in life, you are born into a family, hopefully a loving one. Sometimes you marry into one. Sometimes, one adopts you. Today, we were in a way, adopted, by a warm and loving Armenian family.

Years ago, on the occasion that I mentioned to my friend, Areg, that I wanted to visit Armenia, she immediately told me that I had to visit her father in his village.  "Oh yes, I must", I replied but never really believing that it would happen.  I figured she would have forgotten that conversation but she hadn't.  Days before I left on this trip, she told me she would tell her nephew, Gurgen, to take us to visit her father.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Sound of Beauty, Strength and Melancholy. The Duduk.

"Still-Life with Armenian Musical Instruments Duduk Thar and Qyamancha" by Meruzhan Khachatryan

I left Artsakh with a piece of music running through my head - it's been continuously looping in my hours for days now!  It's because of an instrument that I was introduced a few days ago when I was in Garni.

Walking towards Garni Temple, I heard the melancholic strains of a musical instrument that I had never heard before. It was such a beautiful sound, I literally stopped walking to listen to it.  I asked Arshak what produced the sounds and he told me that the instrument was a duduk.  I had never heard of the instrument before so I did some reading on Wikipedia.  It's a 3,000 year old woodwind instrument that is indigenous to Armenia and it produces such a rich sound that gives me chills every time I listen to it being played.

A Day in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

"We Are Our Mountains", by Sargis Baghdasaryan, 1967 is widely regarded as a symbol of the Armenian heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh.

We spent today visiting a part of the world that few people outside of this region know exists and if they've heard of the place, they unlikely know anything about it.

I created this blog with the sole intention of documenting my travels so I that in my old age, I could recall the places I've been so lucky to travel to.  I deliberately have avoided making any political statements about the places I've been to as I do not want to state my views for the world to see.  I prefer to discuss politics rather than write about them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ancient Cave Dwellings. Old Khndzoresk.

Old Khndzoresk.

It always amazes me where and how people build their homes. This afternoon, we made a stop to gaze out, over a narrow gorge to see some very ancient cave dwellings in a place called Khndzoresk.

Flash back a couple hours before arriving into Khndzoresk.  With our bellies full from a wonderful lunch, we continued our journey.  By days end, we would be in the small city of Shushi in the region known to Armenians as Artsakh but to the rest of the world as Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian Roadtrip. Khor Virap and Noravank.

Khachkars in the cemetery at Noravank.

urgen swung by our street bright and early at 9a this morning. Pat and I had both gotten up early and had our breakfast. We were well ready to leave when he arrived. The nice surprise was that his mom, Anush, was seated in the back.  He had said that he would ask her and I was hoping she would love to come along.  My first impression when I met her two days ago was that she's a very warm and friendly woman, a bit shy when you first meet her.  She's very different from her feisty younger sister, Areg who is a former colleague of mine.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A City of Culture. Yerevan

The Cascade Complex.

After three weeks of non-stop go, go, go, we finally had a down day. Today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. I don't know how you greet anyone today. Happy Genocide Day just does not sound appropriate. I think I'll just stick to the simple, "Hello, how are you?". In any case, today is a National Holiday and figuring that most places will be closed, Pat and I just opted to spend the day relaxing, reading....doing whatever.  The only thing we did commit to was going with Gurgen for an hour long walk around the city.  Apparently, he had to come into the city to meet up with some friends and so he came a bit early to be with us.  Very considerate of him as most certainly Pat and I could have wandered about on our own.  Of course, it's always nice to have a local person take you around.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Candle Light Vigil.

Candle light march through the streets of Yerevan.

When I planned the timing of this trip, it all revolved around the order in which we had to visit the three Caucasus countries.  It had not even dawned on me that we would be in Armenia on Genocide Day, more formally known as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which falls on April 24 each year.  That's tomorrow.

Medieval Geghard Monastery.

Khachkars at Geghard Monastery.

We headed to Geghard Monastery after visiting the Hellenistic Temple at Garni. Our drive took us through a part of the village of Garni.  The countryside was dotted with fruit trees in bloom.  It was so pretty.  I'm so glad we decided to come to the Caucasus in April.  We had a similar experience traveling through Central Asia at this time last year and we enjoyed the spring time scenery so much.

A Cathedral and a Temple. Etchmiadzin and Garni.

Looking up at the domed ceiling in the portico at Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

Today was our first full day in Armenia and it was long but very enjoyable and interesting.

I woke up this morning at 7:30a. Pat was still asleep so I headed quietly into the living room and kept busy with my iPad. In due time, she woke up and we got down to making breakfast which was a simple affair.

Friday, April 22, 2016

From Tbilisi to Haghpat to Yerevan.

At Haghpat Monastery.

We were barely out of Tbilisi when Gurgen pulled over to the side of the road. There was a small roadside nursery selling mainly trees. Gurgen wanted to see if they were selling a particular tree that he was interested in planting in his garden. We spent a few minutes walking about. They didn't have what he wanted so we left empty handed but it was nice to see what kind of plants they sell here.

Last Morning In Tbilisi. The Dry Bridge Bazaar.

Happy Earth Day, Passover starts at sundown. George Clooney arrived into Yerevan today, in advance of Armenia Genocide Day which is in 2 days!!  There is also a strike against Russia today in Yerevan to protest the country providing arms to Azerbaijan. And it will be a full moon tonight.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sameba Cathedral and More of Old Tbilisi.

Inside the Great Synagogue, Old Tbilisi.

As I write this post, I'm already getting sad as it means we only have a half day left in Tbilisi before we leave for Yerevan. It also means that our time in the Caucasus is almost two thirds over. That's the glass half empty side of me talking. That side of me crops up every now and again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wandering Tbilisi.

Old city Tbilisi.

We began our first day back in Tbilisi having breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts.  Don't shame us! After more than two weeks of Caucasian breakfasts, we needed a break.  Who doesn't love donuts?  Plus Pat could finally enjoy a cup of coffee.  Might not be the best brew but some coffee is better than none.  Besides all this, Dunkin' Donuts was conveniently located right next door to our apartment building.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Back in Tbilisi.

On Kote Marjanishvili Street.


have to begin this posting by admitting to a mistake.  For years, literally years, I have been spelling the name of the capital city of Georgia wrong.  Yes, me the geography nut has been misspelling Tbilisi and Tblisi - leaving out the first *i*.  That oversight only dawned on me as I was traveling in Georgia.  I shall never misspell it again!

Gori and Uplistsikhe.

The ruins of the ancient rock hewn town of Uplistsikhe.

We left Kutaisi at our usual 9a hour. First destination of the day was the town of Gori and by day's end, we would be back in Tbilisi. Our few days roaming the Georgian countryside is quickly coming to an end and I'm very sad about that. I've really enjoyed being off the beaten path and in the mountains.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Roadtrip Back to Kutaisi.

Posing with my blue slipper with Mount Ushba in the background.

Today we returned to Kutaisi. But, before leaving Mestia, Salome wanted to take us to see the town's small ethnographic museum.  First, we had to say goodbye to our lovely hosts at Hotel Chubu.  They've been very friendly and accommodating.  Next, I had to say goodbye to our friendly guard dog - I did a quick run with him down the length of the chain he's tethered to.  Little did I realize my lens cap fell off during the run.  I would come back later to retrieve it.  Lastly, we had to pile our luggage into the trunk of the car.  Thankfully, Pat and I travel light so even with four people travelling, we'e been able to get everything into the trunk....with space to spare!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Svaneti and Ushguli.

Ushguli. The snow capped ridge is Shkhara which at 5,193 meters (17,040 feet) is the tallest peak in Georgia.

Pat, Salome, and I left Hotel Chubu at 9a. Shalva was to come with us today but decided to stay back to rest which was fine as we had a new car and driver today. Lasha, our driver, was already waiting outside with his Mitsubishi Delica 4x4. He would be taking us to the remote mountain village of Ushguli and back. After a quick stop to get gas, we hit the road.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

To the Upper Svaneti. Mestia.


Despite how excited I was to be going to the Svaneti region, heart of the Caucasus mountains in Georgia, this day turned out to be very inspiring. I barely took any least barely for me, and the videos I took pretty much all turned out to blurry. Was I not paying any attention to focusing? Well, I blame it all on the dreary weather that we had today. Everything looked drab to me. Anyway, flash back to this morning.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Roadtrip Through Georgia. Two Monasteries and a Cathedral.

Mural painting of Christ Pantocrator on the central dome of the Church of Virgin Mary the Blessed at Gelati Monastery.

Road trip!  We left Tbilisi today to begin a several day tour around the country.   We've not spent much time exploring Tbilisi but I've planned time for that later. 

Pat had set the alarm for 7a but I was awake well before then. I had had a really good night's rest. Pat and I shared a small piece of the cheese bread and some tea for breakfast.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Our First Full Day in Georgia.

Houses in the small town of Sighnaghi, overlooking the Alazani Valley below.

I was up well before my alarm was set to go off at 8a. Today, we begin our sightseeing in Georgia and I think I was much too excited to sleep!  I stayed in bed until I heard Pat's alarm go off and then it was time to get ready for the day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hello Tbilisi!

View of Tbilisi and the Mtkvari River from Narikala Fortress.  Parts of the old city can be seen in the foreground.

After Shalva left us in our apartment, we took some time to settle in.  We started with doing a load of laundry.   We had been hand washing items of clothing all during our time in Azerbaijan but with a washer in the apartment, we took the opportunity to do a big load.  There was no dryer so I hung up my line - stringing it up across the kitchen which by the way is small but functional. 

On the Train to Georgia.

Chilling on the train!

At 8:30p, the train pulled away from the station in Baku and it was time to say goodbye to Azerbaijan and switch our thoughts to our upcoming days touring Georgia.  We would be arriving into Tbilisi around 10:30a.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Last Views of Baku.

Pat with Yalchin Mammadov (owner of Gobustan Private Tours) and Rafael.

From Sumqayit, we continued our roadtrip to Baku, driving along a road that followed the shoreline of the Caspian Sea.  We had left behind the mountains, the forests and the fields.  We were back to arid lands. 

Last Views of Azerbaijan. Quba and Sumqayit.

Pat munching on popcorn in Sumqayit. She's a happy camper though she wished it had more melted butter! :-)

I can't believe this is our last day in Azerbaijan and tonight we'll be on our way to Georgia.  But we still had at least 12 hours to go before then and we made the most of it.

Pat and I had our last Azeri breakfast in the hotel dining room.  I was pretty certain that we were the only two guests staying at the hotel and the empty dining room confirmed that! 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Into The Remote Heart of the Caucausus Mountains. Quba and Khinaliq.

On the way to Khinaliq.

We arrived into Baku last evening.  It was already dark by the time Rafael parked the car outside his family home.

We got to meet the whole clan -  his mother, father, brother, sister in-law, niece, nephew, uncle and grandmother.  I still could not believe that he simply called home that afternoon, told his mother that he was bringing two complete strangers home not just for dinner but also to spend the night and then have breakfast!  Apparently, she was okay with all that.  If it was me, I would have  Thankfully, Azeris are far more hospitable than I am.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Posing with a pair of complete strangers, across the street from the Bottle House in Ganja.  They approached us and asked for us to
stand with them.  Oddly, the photo was taken with my camera!  We never got their names.

We woke up to a cold and very foggy morning in Sheki. The night mist had covered the hills. It would lift as the day went on.   We checked out of our hotel shortly after 9a this morning and went back to the place we had dinner to have light breakfast. We ordered bread, butter, cheese, egg which came prepared like an omelet, and a small pot of tea which we shared with Rafael. We've come to know his eating habits well these past few days. He only needs a cup of tea and a bit of something sweet to get him going in the morning.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


In Sheki.

Our Azeri roadtrip continued. This morning we left Qabala and tonight, we're in Sheki.

I woke up very well rested.  Nothing beats sleeping in a cool, quiet, dark room on a comfy bed with a blanket to keep me warm.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Chef Rafael.

Chef Rafael.

We spent the rest of our only day in Qabala in our guesthouse.  As far as guesthouses were concerned, we only checked out one place.  We probably should have checked out a couple more but I think we were feeling really lazy and the first place we went to got Pat's thumb of approval so that's where we ended up.  The owner, his wife and their young son were there to greet us when we arrived.  They were so friendly and hospitable from the get go that even if the accommodations turned out to be so so, I would have stayed just because they were so kind.

On the Way to Qabala.

Riding the ski lift at the Qafqaz Tufandag Mountain Resort Hotel in Qabala.

Pat was still asleep when I opened my eyes at 7:30a. But just a few minutes later and she was up.

At 8a we walked out our front door.  The sun was out but brrr....It was another chilly morning.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Day's End in Qaraqaya.

Rafael with our host who is getting the grill ready for cooking our dinner!

After visting Lahij, we returned to the house in Qaraqaya and got ourselves settled in.  As we unpacked a few items from our suitcases, we both commented on the weather.  It was a cold and chilly afternoon.  We were both glad we brought some cold weather clothes with us.

Road Trip to Lahij.

In Lahij.

We finally left the big city today to explore places in and around the Caucasus mountains! We'll be spending the next several days in small towns and villages around the northern region of the country. According to our itinerary, we would be spending some time in the small mountain village of Lahij("La-heej").  On the way, we would make a quick visit to Juma (Friday) mosque in the town of Shamakhi.  It was a long day's journey!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Mosque, An Icon and Somethings Teeny Weeny.

Posing in front of Shirvanshah Palace Complex and a sculpture by Nail Alakbarov.

After spending a few hours in Gobustan, it was back to Baku. On the way, we made a short pit stop at Bibi-Heybat Mosque, located just on the outskirts of the city. The current structure, which was built in the 1990s, is a recreation of the mosque with the same name built in the 13th century by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad II Ibn Ahsitan II. The original 13th century mosque was blown up by the Bolsheviks in 1934 as part of the Soviet anti-religion campaign.

To Gobustan We Go!

Posing among the mud volcanoes at Gobustan National Park.

I was off to a great start this morning mainly because I had an wesome night's rest last night.  I woke up feeling well rested and ready to go! My foot felt 100% better. I think the cast kept my ankle straight through the night so there was no chance of further injuring it as I moved around in my sleep.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Oh No, Not Again!

Getting a plaster cast on my left ankle.

Ishall start off this post with a big THANK YOU to Pat and Rafael. Without them, by my side today, I would not have survived today as well I felt I did.

Today I had a flashback to when I dislocated my left elbow on my 2007 trip to Aswan Egypt. It was exactly on the 3rd morning of my time in Aswan that I fell and injured myself. I ended up with my left arm in a plaster cast which I wore for the duration of my trip through Egypt and Jordan.

Monday, April 4, 2016

More of Baku.

Taking a photo of the old walls of Icherisheher.

I woke up around 6:30a. I was toasty warm under covers.  There was enough light filtering through the curtains that I could tell it was a sunny day.  A quick check of the weather on my phone told me it was cold day.  I guess it's not yet time to pack away my down vest.

The bad news is that my left ankle is feeling sore from walking yesterday.  It looks like I've not fully recovered from my sprain nearly 2 months ago!! I decided to switch from my walking shoes to my hiking shoes and will just wear them from now on.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Greetings from Baku!

Greetings from Baku!  Photo taken on the promenade alongside the Caspian Sea.  The Flame Towers in the background.
Pat came out a bit fuzzy in the photo but she was happy to be where she was!

Pand I arrived into Baku Heydar Aliyev airport with no issue. We cleared through immigration in a breeze- our evisas were all in order.   As we exited the arrival hall, I scanned the room looking for someone holding up a sign with my name - I had arranged for our local guide to come pick us up at the airport.

Then I saw a man approaching. I heard him ask "Julee?" I nodded and replied, "Yes". It was our guide, Yalchin. I was relieved to see him!  I greeted him with a huge smile and while he did not exactly smile back, there was a kind look to his face.

Before we left the terminal, we had to get some local currency.  So, Pat and I each exchanged $100 USD at the exchange counter. In return, we each got 145 manat. I made a mental note to see how good or bad that rate is when we get to our hotel.