Thursday, February 23, 2012

House Hunters International

I was watching House Hunters International recently, and noticed they aired an episode about Yerevan. Naturally, I was quite excited to see this. I recognized a lot of the landmarks and was stupidly excited while watching it, texting my HHI viewing buddy all about how "I KNOW WHERE THAT IS!!!"...lame. Anyway, the house the couple ended up buying overlooked the Cascade. Bizarrely enough, during my first week in Armenia I ate dinner at an apartment in that very building! Small world, eh?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Update

I thought it would be cool to check in and give an update on how everybody that I worked with is doing.

I am in medical school, doing what I set out to do. Yay? I'm hopefully about to finish my second year.

Matt is also in medical school, but a year behind me.

Nare is working on her Ph.D at a lab in Leicester, UK. 

Hayk is doing the same in Dusseldorf, Germany (Hayk how I am jealous of you!)

Astghik is married and has a son. I'm happy for her!

Of the four I speak to Hayk most often, and then Nare. Astghik I went a very long time without hearing from here, and then recently she popped up on Facebook. It's a small world!


Ok, slowly but surely, as promised I'm adding to this. The attached clip is a video of a song by the Armenian singer Andre. He represented Armenia in the 2006 Eurovision contest. One day we were watching television, and I came across this video: Sonne Le-Le
What caught my eye was that the video was shot on the Telekom Express 66 that runs between Bonn and Bad Honef along the Rhein in Germany. Why would I know that you ask? Well, because I lived in the town of Koenigswinter for about two months, and used that train more times than I can count to get to and from Bonn. I recognized the pink color of the train, and saw the sign for "Oberdollendorf," one of the stops on the train. Don't you love being a travel geek. In the process of being all geeky about the video, I started to like the song. I went out and bought the CD, and still have it almost three years later. Wow, memories!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Getting Home

The last two days or so of a long trip I get in full-on need to be home now. Usually this is because I have to start thinking about the things that need to be taken care of once I get home, and then I get a little antsy and am just ready to go. It was bittersweet leaving because we'd met some amazing folks, but I was going to miss three days of class by that point so I was eager to get home.

9 Jan 2008.

When things got interesting! Hayk dropped us off at the airport for our 0545 departure on Austrian Airlines (OS) around midnight. We had already given the keys to our apartment back so we just decided to chill at the airport (literally). Check in EVN is located in the old part of the airport and it is undeniably Soviet. Cold and dank, but hey, we only had to be there a few hours, or so we thought. About 0230 an OS representative tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was to be on the OS flight I said yes. Apparently the flight hadn't even left Vienna because these multimillion dollar machines can't land in the heavy early morning fog. We were told to head up to the OS office, where we would get hotel vouchers and a reroute.

My original route home was to be Yerevan-Vienna-Munich-Charlotte-ATL. Aren't you jealous? Upon chatting with the office I was given the choice of that horrendous routing, EVN-VIE-Frankfurt-ATL, or EVN-VIE-Chicago-ATL. Considering the last option involved one less connection and avoiding coach on Lufthansa, I pounced. Unfortunately, we already knew ahead of time that we were going to arrive several hours too late to catch the bank of Atlantic outbounds, so we would have to grace the Austrian Airlines offices again in Vienna to get a hotel voucher (not complaining as I didn't have to pay for it). In the meantime we were put up in the Marriot on Republic Square, which provided the best shower I'd had in a month. After a few hours much needed shut-eye we headed over to the OS office and then got our tickets and then off the airport once more, where this time everything went smoothly. My heavy baggage fee was waived for this leg. Departures is from the new part of Yerevan airport which is very nice, to me it resembled a scaled down version of the Munich Airport. The flight itself was very nice, I had 10A on an A320 that could have only been 30% full. I watched The Seeker and enjoyed a nice white wine with my nondescript meal. We landed in Vienna (my favorite city BTW) and collected our bags. I went in and started talking to the OS handler in my very bad German and she smiled (Austrians are much more prone to smiles than their German friends) and gave me a hotel in the 3rd or 5th District, I can't remember which at this point. My friend was placed in the 23rd, which sucked for him. Since we were no longer traveling together we parted ways and said our farewells. I was given a room in Hotel Ananas just down the street from the Karlsplatz and was thrilled. I had a night in Vienna to enjoy!

I went to the Volksopern and saw Die Opernball which was very impressive. I got back to the hotel and noticed that my standard room was going to cost OS 600 euro a night! My entire ticket before taxes was around US$600!The next morning I was shuttled to the airport where I checked in, paid my baggage fee and proceeded to board with little incident. One thing I love about the VIE is it's compact layout and free WIFI! Are you listening ATL and MUC??? I was able to check my email and surf the net for a while before boarding. Note to any first time VIE travelers (this was my second) make sure you're in the correct security line if you're departing from the A gates. The terminal is round and you go through security only just before you board you're flight. If you're not careful you could wind up in the line for Tokyo or New York instead of Chicago! A somewhat depressing note was the now discontinued nonstop Delta flight to ATL was at the gate next to us! I had just flown this flight about six months prior and would have done cartwheels in Times Square naked to get on that flight at that point! We boarded and I nabbed a set of three in the middle of our 767.

Just after takeoff I stretched out and reclined the empty seat in front of me so I could watch the seatback television! I watch Ratatouille (sp?) three times and the Bourne Ultimatum twice. I find Westbound transatlantic flights to be much more comfortable and therefore enjoyable. Of all the flights this trip involved (I'm counting six) I was most impressed with and remember the most about was the VIE-ORD leg mainly because it was the one that I was fully awake for! First off I find that a 767 (5x now across the Atlantic) in any configuration is more comfortable than Lufthansa's A343's. Personal opinion, though the A340 was quieter. However, quieter does not mean that I will willingly choose Lufthansa in Economy ever again. Too cramped, and the cabins both times were stifling. Meal service began about an hour after takeoff. I chose a pasta dish, white wine, and stilleswasser (or non-carbonated water for my American friends). My flight attendant was very friendly and had fun teaching me a few things about Austrian German! The food on Austrian was the best I've ever had crossing the Atlantic. We hit a few spots of turbulence, which is for some reason my favorite part of a flight, though today I was rather irritated to have to sit up from my stretched out position! About two hours before touchdown the second meal service came around. This consisted of a smoked salmon salad. VERY TASTY! I also asked for ginger ale, but the FA said that she had some similar to it, an Austrian drink in a red can. During this meal service I struck up a conversation with a gentleman across the aisle. He represented a ski company and was headed to Vermont. He was very friendly and we chatted for about an hour.

Before I knew it we landed in a stormy Chicago at O'Hare International Airport. I made my way through security and all that noise. Upon baggage recheck some confused worker informed me that because my ticket was issued by US Airways I would need to proceed to their counter even though the flight was operated by United Airlines (are you confused yet). Considering T2 is on the way to T1 I stopped, and was met with a laugh. Apparently I was not the only one this misguided fool was sending to T2. I proceeded to T1 where a nice check-in lady put me on standby for an earlier flight home to ATL. Since this flight was leaving in exactly twenty minutes I had to move and because God has a sense of humor I got the SSSS! For those of you who don't travel a lot this means you get the full pat-down and bag search in the security line. Also since I had no thinking ability whatsover at this point I embarrassed myself and just put my stuff in bins that a nice Hollander had taken out for himself! I got searched and patted and had seven minutes to get from security out to the Satellite! I rushed past some people who apparently had no concept of a hurry (ie blocking the LEFT AND RIGHT sides of the moving sidewalk) and hurried to the gate only to find the flight had been delayed by twenty minutes -_-. Luckily I got on the flight, as just after it took off the everything was delayed at least an hour. Another delay was the last thing I needed at that point!!!

Immediately after takeoff we hit the worst turbulence I'd ever encountered, though it was quite comical to be in the back of an A320 and watch 85 heads all jerk in the same direction. The flight attendants on this leg were very friendly, though they could only do a limited service as there was severe turbulence the entire way down to ATL. United only provides a drink service on flights blocked less than two hours. This flight was 1hr 56 min. When I flew Delta from Atlanta to Chicago and back in March 2007 we were blocked a 2h 2min and had a snack service. I was initially seated between a man from Nebraska who did not stop talking (though this could have annoyed me more so than usual because I was very tired) and a college student my age who was flying United to ATL and then catching Delta to Houston???? I wondered to myself why he didn't just take one of the two dozen flights offered by United, Continental, or Southwest between Chicago and Houston. Anyway, due to our late departure he was flipping out about missing his connection. Having spoken with my parents on the phone I knew there was weather in ATL so I told him that there was a 90% chance that because of the combination of weather and ATL his flight would be delayed. Turns out I was right, though I walked him down to Concourse A because he didn't seem too briht (confusion aside), poor guy, because he was nice

After landing had a short reunion with my parents, then a two hour drive back to school! I got to class the next day as if nothing had happened!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Christmas and New Year's

By the time Christmas rolled around we have developed a good camaraderie with our labmates Nare, Astghik and Hayk, and were enjoying working with them and Tigran. They had taken a lot of time out of their schedules to work with us, so we thought it would be nice to have them over. We picked Christmas Eve because we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas with our families and Christmas isn't celebrated in Armenia until New Year's. So, we prepared what I think was a pretty darn good meal considering we didn't necessarily have access to the foods we would typically cook with.

Matt made a really good beef dish, though I don't remember the cut, and he mixed it with onions and I think garlic and put it all in a pot lined with lavash (YUM!). Lavash is a very thin bread that most closely resembles a tortilla, but not really. It's very thin, and comes in strips about two feet long and six inches wide.

Because we had about ten people to feed and we had very limited space in the kitchen I made a quick pasta dish. As it turns out I made way more than we needed, so I ended up taking it to the lab the next day and we ate the rest for lunch. Even if it wasn't the best food I was still happy I could bring something because we had been provided lunch every single day! Hayk brought this very interesting drink called tan. It's apparently made from yogurt that has been fermented and then diluted. To me it just tasted like really salty Alka Seltzer. In other words it didn't tango with my taste buds. I stuck with the really good Armenian wines.

Tigran's grandson sang for us. He's a good singer. I sang one or two Christmas songs, and we then proceeded to do the normal party thing, a little dancing, and a lot of drinking. It made understanding each other much easier!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yerevan Nightlife

Nightlife in Yerevan is comparable to large college towns like Athens, Ga or Clemson, SC -- a lot of bars and a few places to dance. Our first week Nare took us to a bar called Wild West. Needless to say this bar was themed like and Old West Saloon, complete with wannabe slatted doors and wagon wheels and horse saddles on the wall. The waitress recognized us after the first night (we went there several times) so she helped us out with the menu. Apparently, that first night, a table full of younger Armenian men were giving Nare a very hard time, and the waitress had to intercede on her behalf.

One of the specialties of Wild West was crawdads. I have no idea what they call them in Armenian but that's what they amount to.

Also in that first week we hit up a very cool karaoke bar. For those not in the know I love karaoke and have no qualms making a fool out of myself in front of even friends (when singing karaoke). Imagine if you can how ridiculous I can be in front of strangers 7,000 miles away from home! That night lasted until at least three am and by the time we left the club most of the city lights had been turned out.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Language tips

There are two main languages spoken in Yerevan: Armenian and Russian. The level of proficiency in Russian varies from person to person, but nearly everyone understands it. Georgian (the country right next door is The Republic of Georgia) also floats around. All three have a different alphabet (AHH!) and are very easy to pick out from one another when heard and when seen written. Of the three alphabets, I found the Russian Cyrillic alphabet the easiest of the three to understand, though that's not really a fair assessment as it was the ONLY one I could ever decipher,lol. Armenian and Georgian script to me looks very elegant, but ultimately to my eyes looks like scribble. Georgian, to me, resembles Greek slightly in written form.

As I mentioned earlier, due to political influences the older crowd uses Russian much more frequently than the younger crowd, which uses Armenian almost exclusively. The political influence being that Armenian was once until recently (1991) part of the Soviet Union, and much of the education was in Russian. Incidentally, most of the lab equipment was Russian.

Personally, I found Russian on the whole easier to pronounce as well. Many Armenian words have guttural sounds made in the back of the throat that are very difficult for people who aren't used to making those sounds. Don't get me wrong, Russian can get very hairy, and they do have a few guttural sounds as well, but they aren't nearly as difficult as Armenian (for me at least). The Russians also have a particular fondness for twenty-five letter words (only two of which are vowels) for words like "ice", so you end up spitting on yourself trying to say some words. You think I'm kidding. **Bear in mind this is being written after I have visited Russia, as well**

To me, Armenian is characterized by hard, hard sounds with a lot of "g's" and "cha's". Russian, is characterized to the ear as a lot of hard soft hard soft hard soft hard soft sounds with a lot of "z's" and "ka's", and "nyeh's".

Some useful Armeinian phrases (bear in mind I'm spelling these phonetically):

"Inch ka" -- What's up

"Voncets" -- How are you? (formal)

"Yes ozoum ___" -- I would like ____

"Hashiva bereq, khndrumem/khndrem" -- basically equates to "Check please"

"Shnorakalutsyun" -- Thank you very much (they really like it when foreigners use this one)

"Merci" -- thanks (it's not quite as accented as in French)

"Yes chem haskanoum" -- I don't understand (you'll use this one a lot)

"Ayo/Ha" -- yes/yeah

"Knereq" -- I'm sorry/excuse me

"Che" -- no

"Che ha!" -- like no way! or "Really?!"

"Chegidem" -- I Don't know

"Genazig" -- Let's go/let's move

And of course knowing numbers is infinitely helpful.

And how about some Russian?

"Kakh dzela?" -- how are you?

"Min yeh zavoot ___" -- my name is

"spasiba" -- Thanks

"Stop!" -- stop ;)

"pazhalstahn/dobra pazhalstahn" -- "welcome/you're welcome"

"Yeh nyeh poonamayhoo__" -- I don't understand

"Prosti" -- Sorry/excuse me

"Da vai" -- go/move it/let's go

"Maladyetz" -- well done/good work

"Yeh hachoo __" -- I would like __