November 25, 2017

Things to do in Almaty Kazakhstan



Visited Almaty in October 2017 on a flight from Baku Azerbaijan, my first time travelling on Air Astana, good food and drinks, one of the better airlines I few on, on my Silk Route adventures in October/November 2017. Arrival in Almaty, immigration and costumes is quick and easy. I withdrew money from an ATM and got out looking for transportation to my hotel.

Airport Taxi Scam - 1 USD = 337.611 KZT Kazakhstani Tenge. Once outside the airport, I was approached by a taxi, I showed him on Google Maps where my hotel was, he said 1000 Tenge, that's 3 USD, a trip from the airport to my hotel would be somewhere around 15 USD, I asked him again twice and he was stuck at 1000 Tenge. I said okay. Before I got into the Taxi I took a picture of his number plate with my cell phone. 2 or 3 Kilometers down the road he said by the way that was 1000 tange per kilometer. That would make it 60 USD as my hotel was 20 KM away. Now I wasn't going to  get scammed without a fight, to cut a long story short after much haggling we agreed on 5000 Tenge, with sounded reasonable to me.

Food: After Checking in to the hotel, I went to explore the city on foot, and I wanted to eat when I discovered Kafahat, a cafe serving local food, for around 2 USD, one can get a decent meal. There are several Kafahat around Almaty, I went there 2 to 3 time a day during my stay in Almaty.

Kafahat Kazakhstan

Transportation: I used Uber a lot, now Taxis don't have meters or sign. Just stand on the side of the road with your hand out and someone will stop, decide on a price before you get in.

The grocery stores sell Camel and Mare (horse) milk in Kazakhstan.



Next day I went to see the Church of the Holy Ascension in Panfilov Park is a can’t-miss site.  The bright, yellow church is the second tallest wooden building in the world.  The colorful exterior is matched only by the exquisite interior and magnificent altarpiece. From I took the subway and went exploring the city, ended the evening at Presidents Park.

The following day after breakfast at Kafahat I went to see Kok-Tobe

Kok-TobeAbai Qunanbaiuly

Kok-Tobe is a hill with a Ferris wheel and a recreational area, I took a cab and a bus to get there and took  a cable car to get down. It was a nice sunny day, I sat at a cafe there, the only one, eating a pizza and overlooking the city. The second Picture is a statue of Abai Qunanbaiuly who was a famous  Kazakh poet.

From there tit was time to hit  the mountains and trek, burn off those carbs all the pizza I ate. I took a cab to Medeu. Medeu is a speed skating rink located in mountains just outside Almaty. From Medeu I took a bus to Shymbulak. Shymbulak is a ski resort, what was a sunny nice day turned to be quiet cold in the mountains. I walked the road to the top till it got real cold and headed back to the cable car to take me back down to Medeu.

medeu almatyShymbulak

The first picture above is Medeu and the second I took on my trek in Shymbulak. Of all the place in Almaty I highly recommend Shymbulak.

From Shymbulak I took the cable car to Medeu, at Medeu I was hoping to get s bus or a cab to take back to Almaty, no such luck and it had started to get colder. After waiting by the road side for half an hour when a Lexus SUV with 3 beautiful Kazakh girls pulled up and offered me a ride to the city. I took them on their offer, I didn't take any any picture, that wouldn't be right, though I did take a small gopro video, I'll edit and post it.

On my 4th day, I crossed the border to Kyrgyzstan, I wrote a border crossing post http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/how-to-get-from-almaty-to-bishkek.html 

I am leaving the city of Astana fora future trip, Air Astana offers several flights to Asia, and will catch a stopover soon. Until then...

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#shymbulak #almaty #kazakhstan

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November 19, 2017

how to get from almaty to bishkek

Woke up late and headed to breakfast down the road from the hostel at a local Kazakh for Almaty for some coffee and snacks, bus station coffee is usually shitty. Got Uber to take me to Sairan bus station to get a bus to Bishkek.

At Sairan bus station no one spoke English, everyone understood Bishkek and pointed me a minivan, the driver said 3000 Kazakhstani Tenge, I agreed. i was the first one. then came another tourist she also agreed to go, later she asked me if I would rather share a taxi with her and get to Bishkek Sooner. I told her once we agree with someone on a ride and fare we should not go back on our word. Besides I was playing it safe. 

Unlike Yerevan to Tbilisi where I had to wait 3 hours for the van to go, this van filled  up fast and we were on our way.

Important Tip - Use the bathroom at your hotel before going to the bus station

Bishkek

Above the minivan and the driver. we drive for almost 2 hours and stopped at a shitty rest stop. Armenia and Georgia has clean rest stops, Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan are dirty, glad it was only a 3 hour drive.

Finally we arrived at the border, first you will need to get an exit stamp on your passport from Kazakhstan side, that was somewhat quick. Then you need to walk through no Man's land to the Kyrgyz side. 2 pictures below.

BishkekBishkek

At the Kyrgyz side of the border control a Army officer took my passport and asked me to wait, I was a little nervous, but he was back in 2 minutes, handed me and 2 others their passport, opened a side pathway door and we left.

I turned on my gopro and was about to film when a Army soldier approached me,  and told me not to. I quickly put my Gropro away. We walked 100 meters and were approached by several cab drivers.

Kyrgyzstan

Then I waited for a good half an hour by the road side (above picture) with others riding from the van, finally the driver showed up and were on our way to Bishkek.

My Kyrgyzstan post link http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/things-to-do-in-bishkek-kyrgyzstan.html 

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Tbilisi to Mtskheta and Jvari Monastery

Mtskheta was the former capital of Georgia. The Holy Cross Monastery of Jvari, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery are 3 main site to see in Mtskheta. A walk down Arsukidze Street is another thing to do, thee are several BnB and eating places on that street.

Mtskheta is a UNESCO World heritage site. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/708


Svetitskhoveli Cathedral


Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Mtskheta
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral 

Minibuses ("Marshrutka" some people use this Russian word) run from Tbilisi to Mtskheta leaves several times every day. You have to go to Didube bus station. The price is 1 GEL one way, per person. I took the metro to Didube and finding a minibus is not easy as there are 100's of them there. Finally found one. Minibus was over crowded. From Mtskheta to Jvari and back I had to take a cab, the cost was 15 GEL.

If I had to do it again, I would take an organized tour to Mtskheta and not try to do it on my own. A tour will cost no more than 45 GEL. There are several tourist offices around Tbilisi that will get you on a half a day tour. Half a day is plenty to see all 3 site.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is beautiful inside, there is a wooden carved chair in the middle.



Monastery of Jvari


Monastery of Jvari was my next stop, its on a hill, with views of the town and where 2 rivers meet. Inside in the middle is a huge cross.

Jvari Mtskheta

Mtskheta

Picture taken from the Javeri Hill, where one can see River Kora and River Araguae meet.

The cab driver dropped me off  minibus stop in Mtskheta. Behind the bus-stop is Samtavro Monastery. There was construction going on, there was a Nun that looked at me and gestured photography was not allowed.

Back in Tbilisi I went for a walk along the peace bridge, and the casino across from it.

My things to do in Tbilisi post http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/things-to-do-in-tbilisi-georgia.html

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November 18, 2017

Things to do in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan

Took a minivan from Almaty to Bishkek, it was going to be a quick 3 day visit to see Osh Bazaar and few other sites along the old silk road. I was presently surprised on lively city this is, really wish I had planned better. The road trip from Almaty Kazakhstan to bishkek was little over 3 hours.

So I arrived in the evening and my hostel had closed for good, so I went to tourist office and got a room at a nearby Airbnb for $12 USD a night, breakfast included.  In October 2017 1 USD = 68.5492 KGS Kyrgyzstani Som. After checking in I went for a walking tour of Bishkek.

During the walking tour I saw stretch limousines and asked the tour guide what was going on, well October is marriage season in Kyrgyzstan.


Bishkek Kyrgyzstan

Wedding party picture I took at the Victory Monument, in Bishkek.

Victory Monument is more of a park with a structure in the middle with 3 arches symbolizing a yurt, and from there, We saw historical buildings and parks during the walk and came to the statue of Kurmanjan Datka. She has left her husband to be on the alter back in the 1800, it was unheard of back then, She was the Queen of the south. She is also on the 50 SOM Kyrgis currency bill. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country that has had a woman president, Roza Otunbaeva.


Our last stop before dinner was Ala-Too Square, the main square in Bishkek. There are 2 parts to the square from what I could tell, the main and then across the street with Government buildings behind them. There is a statue of Manas on a horse, He apparently had united the Kyrgz tribes to form a nation. Then there was a story about a poem, Here is the Wiki page on the poem https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Manas

For dinner we went to a cafe, and I the travelling I did that day, it was bed time, before bed my BnB host proposed he would drive me tomorrow to Ala Archa National Park, Ata-Beyit, a Monument to those killed during 1916 events, Burana Tower and OSH Market for 70 USD. I agreed, next-day after breakfast we left bright and early.


Hike Ak Sai Trail at Ala Archa National Park


An hours drive from Bishkek, with just Amazing views, the hike is a little tough if you take the route through the hills, one can also take the road. A pleasant surprise, if you go deep into the mountains, there is a glacier one can hike, use a proper hiking company if you want hike the glacier 

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After the hike we rested at a picnic table, ate fruit and bread with Kyrgis cheese and fed some red squirrels. 


Ata-Beyit Memorial 



Ata-Beyit Memorial is not a popular tourist destination, there is a road block with armed guards that will question you as to why and what you are doing there. , We were the only people there. There is a 
Memorial, a museum and a site where mass grave was discovered. Mass grave is possible people murdered during Stalin's times. The grave was a brick well, now enclosed in a glass wooden structure.

KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan

The first picture above is the memorial, the tripod structure has horseshoes hanging from it. The second Picture is Chinghiz Aitmatov.

Chinghiz Aitmatov is a famous author who wrote in both Russian and Kyrgys. The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years is among his best works.

The whole complex is peaceful and quiet with some music playing. 

Then it was Lunch time, we went to Mustafas, there is several of them in Bishkek. The Mediterranean Greek salad is very good. 


Kyrgyzstan

Burana Tower 


Life along the old silk road, tower from the 10 century as per my guide, UNESCO world heritage site. I was the only tourist there on a Friday. Being a Silk Road explorer, this was a must see.


It is an hour and half drive from Bishkek, the original tower was destroyed in an earthquake. The tower has been rebuilt, its missing the dome. The are swastika's all over the tower  symbolizing a point of reference for travelers from any direction. I tried to go up the tower, the staircase was locked. 

There is a museum and there are all these Grave Markers, these are not original graves and these grave stones were bought down from a hill nearby. These grave stones or bal-bals are images of people cut in Stone.

The Sun was going down and we had an hour plus drive ahead of us. On the way back we met with heavy traffic along the textile market, as far as OSH market goes there are all these stories about it being from from the days of the silk road, as per my guide, its not even a hundred years old.

Late that night I went to a Night club to celebrate with my BnB host, folks in Bishkek sure know how to have a good time. 

From there my travels continue to India, and in November before thanksgiving, I am back in Texas, I need to renew my passport and get a few Visas taken care of, china and India which offer 10 year visas.

I'll be posting video of  Kyrgyzstan in the next few days, stay tuned. Any questions, feel free to comment.

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November 15, 2017

Top 4 Reasons You Need to Visit Almaty, Kazakhstan

Visited Almaty in October 2017

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, this metropolitan city is the largest in the country and an excellent place to enjoy an unexpected adventure.  Once the capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty still remains a hub of culture and commerce in the region.  Check out these four reasons to visit Almaty—and once you do you will begin to fall in love!


Almaty Kazakhstan
First President's Park


A Great Intro to Central Asia


Almaty is one of the largest cities in Central Asia, and it has the largest airport as well.  This city is a great introduction to Central Asia and boasts itself as a multicultural hub—with Kyrgyzstan to the south, China closely to the east and Russia on the northern side, Almaty can give you a taste of all these regions. 
Once you are in Almaty, you can easily make your way around on the tram or the metro—there is even an app for the transit system with great route info. Almaty also has a decent-sized expat population.

Check out the Excellent Bazaar


Almaty can show you what life is like along the Silk Road!  The buzzing Green Bazaar is the place to immerse yourself in the multicultural nature of this city.  From spices and fresh produce to the oft-shocking (for Westerners, anyhow) butcher’s hall and freshly prepared and ready-to-eat foods.  Make sure to try some kurt and a fresh glass of kvas while you stroll around the bazaar.

Relax in an Opulent Russian Bathhouse


Perhaps one of the favourite attractions in Almaty, the Arasan Baths offer up a relaxing experience and the chance to see some 1980s socialist architecture.  Beginners should visit for only an hour—the bathhouse has the options of trying A Russian banya, a Finnish sauna, a Turkish steam, and a Moroccan hammam slightly hidden--but worth it--down a second set of stairs.  The giant domed ceilings are designed in a way so that condensation does not drip on bathers, and the intricate mosaics and tilework on the interior show a stark contrast to the almost bleak exterior.

Walk the Streets for Unique Architecture


Almaty Kazakhstan

Rocked by earthquakes now and again, Almaty does not have a large abundance of pristine historical buildings.  But, the Church of the Holy Ascension in Panfilov Park is a can’t-miss site.  The bright, yellow church is the second tallest wooden building in the world.  The colorful exterior is matched only by the exquisite interior and magnificent altarpiece.

The city also holds some interesting Soviet-era memorials, and the buildings offer a look at Socialist buildings—lots of concrete and harsh shapes, but, when you look closer there are still intricate details that are not commonly found.  There are specific walking tours for those interested in the historical aspects of the architecture of Almaty.

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November 14, 2017

Things to do in Baku Azerbaijan

flame towers baku
Visited Baku in October 2017. Flew from Tbilisi to Baku, there is also a train/bus option. Due to lack of time I decided to fly. Since I was in Armenia and Azerbaijan relation with Armenia and history of War,over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Immigration was a concern, anyways I had an E-visa that I got on line. US passport holder need a Visa prior to entering Azerbaijan.

Airport and Immigration: was quick and easy, since I had a Armenian stamp on my passport they did ask me a few questions and I was in and out in 5 minutes. Found an ATM, withdrew cash and was out of the airport. in October 2017 1 USD = 1.69 AZN Azerbaijan Manat. Once outside, located a bus to take me to the City Center, the bus driver pointed me to a vending machine and told me to purchase a Baku card for 2 Manat and add 1.50 for fare to the city center. All done and in 10 minutes the bus was off to the city.

My hotel was right in the center of the old city Baku, near historic sites, A minutes walk from the Fountain square, and right in the middle of where all the locals hang out on the weekends, hundreds of them. 

After checking into my hotel and a hot shower later, I was off to see Baku by the night.




Nizami Statue by the fountain square on the way to icheri sheher, Nazami was a famous Azeri Poet.

Exploring Baku by night, I met up with the Free Walking Tour of Baku by the night and we were off to see the city by the night, interesting thing the tour guide said, 'Azerbaijan is where Europe ends and Asia begins'. So we walked quiet a bit and I could tell we were heading towards the flame towers. We reached a point where the guide asked if we should take the funicular or the stairs, we decided on the stairs. Holy Guacamole that was quiet a climb, once on top the views of the Baku Boulevard made up for the stairway to great views. On one side the Baku Boulevard and the flame towers on the other side.




On the way back we took the funicular, it was only 1 Manat. We passed by a bunch of small Canals and the guide said that was the Venice of Baku, now having been to Venice I could tell that was no where close to anything like Venice Italy.

The last main attraction we saw was the Maiden Tower, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. My guide told me the king kept his daughter there till she was 18 in the 15th century. There are all kinds of stories floating around why the tower was built.

Maiden Tower baku
Maiden Tower

The walk took over 2 hours and we went to a cafe afterwords, Coffee Moffie, what a cool cafe, with old Hollywood movie posters all over and a young friendly crowd. Spent an hour at the cafe and went back to hotel for a good night sleep. It was midnight, tipped the guide 10 Manat, free walking tour is not free, they work on tips.

Next day after breakfast at the hotel, I went for another free walking tour, same guide, different parts of the city. We met in front of Icheri Sheher Metro station, old city. We walked to the walled old city, as per my guide this was all desert, since Baku was on the way to the old Silk road, city officials taxed anyone passing though Baku to bring fertile soil and plants, centuries later today its lush green.

The tour took 3 plus hours, we went though the old Old town historic sites. From the happy house where marriages take place to a girls education school. From the early 1900's Azeris believed when you educate a man you educate one person, when you educate a woman you educate the whole family.

kissing fountainbaku

On the tour we also passed the kissing fountain where couple come to kiss, lots of people come there to propose. If marriage is on your mind head to the kissing fountain in Baku.

Ateshgah of Baku

Later that afternoon, I visited Ateshgah of Baku, fire temple. Its a Hindu temple and the writing on the stone were in Sanskrit and Punjabi. Now Azerbaijan is not a Hindu country,  the people that built the temple traveled thousands of miles on foot From India in the 15th century.

Ateshgah of Baku
Ateshgah of Baku

Fire Temple is half an hours drive from Baku, I paid the cab driver 15 USD for round trip. On the way back, the cab dropped me off at 28 Mall, and later that night I walked the streets of old city and ended up at fountain square.

From  Azerbaijan, I continued my travels to Almaty, Kazakhstan


2 Girls outside the Old City wall of Baku taking a selfie

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November 13, 2017

From Yerevan to Tbilisi

To get from Yerevan to Tbilisi, One can take either train, bus or taxi. Train takes longer than bus or taxi, with bus or taxi it take around 5 hours. I took the minivan,  they leave from Kilikia station. The morning ones often are nicer minivan that go for 8,000 AMD - 10,000 AMD. Noon to late afternoon are the cheaper Marshutkas from 6,000 AMD.

I had met a traveler in Tbilisi in my hostel who took the night train, they loved it. I wanted to experience the drive through the mountains and took the minivan option. The minivan I was travelling in was a nice Mercedes, Natural Gas powered.

Night before my trip to Tbilisi, I had gone out to a couch-surfing meetup in Yerevan, after the meetup we went to an Irish pub and cut a long story short, by the time I got back to my hotel  it was 2 AM, I had a hard time getting up. Dragged my self out of bed by 8 AM, and there was no hot water for a shower, it was a cold October morning. Should have never stayed at a hotel next to a massage parlor. They the hotel did have a good breakfast though. The hotel was full of Filipinos waiting in Yerevan for their Dubai work visa to come through, nice folks.

Kilikia station
Kilikia Bus Station Yerevan 
I arrived at the bus station before 10 AM, there is no information desk and no one spoke English. So I looked for minivans with Georgian, the number plates have Armenia and Georgian flags. Then I met an Italian tourist who pointed me to where I would find my ride. And I found to Tibilisi Van. The driver told me 8,000 AMD. I was the first one, he said we'll leave in 10 minutes. So I waited 10 minutes, an hour and another hour, minivans will not leave till they are full. So 3 hours later I decided to find another room for the night and try again tomorrow when 2 cabs with Brit and Iranian tourist showed up and wanting to go Tbilisi, we had a full VAN and wee off to Tbilisi.

I got to give it to the driver, he drove fast and had good control of the vehicle. We drove a good 3 plus hours and stopped twice to stretch our legs and if someone wanted to get a coffee/snack or use the restroom.

Then we arrived at border control, first you go through Armenia side to get an exit stamp. At the Armenia side the immigration officer asked me to remove my cap so he could verify my picture, stamped my passport. I exited and got in the van, the van drove a block and we were at the Georgian side. The immigration was quick and easy, got my passport stamped and got in the van, and off we went. At the Georgian side the customs will scan your bags, I only travel with a handbag and didnt have any issues.

In Tbilisi we did meet some rush hour traffic, I am working on a video I took of the whole trip and will post it, so check back in a few days.


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November 5, 2017

Things to do in Tbilisi Georgia

I had arrived from Yerevan by minivan in Tbilisi after a 6 hour drive through the mountains. The minivan dropped me off at the main bus station. There were several money changers at the station, after changing money, 1 USD = 2.46085 GEL Georgian Lari in October 2017. I went to talk to  a cab driver to take me to my hostel, the cab driver said 6 Lari, I smiled and said to myself another cheap travel destination.

After checking into my hostel, I got few tips from the helpful staff and was off to explore the city by foot.

Some of the best places to visit in Tbilisi include the old city and charming old houses. The area between Freedom Square, Meydan, and Baratashvili Bridge contains several gems and is always in good shape. Also, Sioni Church, the old Synagogue and the lively Chardeni Area with restaurants and bars are great places to visit as well.

With all the travelling and walking I had done that day, the excitement of the new city kept me going and I wasn't tired, but my camera battery died and I headed back to the hostel.

 Back in the hostel travelers were sharing their fun experiences, someone offered me a glass of wine, I am not much of a drinker , I thanked them and accepted the wine. Tbilisi has a high and long wine-making tradition. In fact, it dates back 7000 years. But Georgia is still a newcomer to the international wine scene. Nevertheless, you will find several varieties of indigenous grapes grown here. Thus, when visiting Tbilisi do not hesitate to sample some authentic Georgian wines, which are made by small wineries and are very rare to find in North America. If you are looking for some decent wine bars, you can start at the Kote Afkhazi Street, which goes all the way through the Old Town. Kote Afkhazi Street is a beautiful walk by itself.

Out of the 3 cities I visited in the Caucasus, Yerevan, Baku and Tbilisi. My favorite was Tbilisi. From the nice smiling people, the arts, the culture, theater, ballet, cinema and great cuisine, Tbilisi has it all. Poet and writers like Rustaveli are from Georgia,there is a whole street named after him, with Rustaveli Theater on that street, I waked that street several times during my 3 days as my Hotel was 10 minutes away.

Rustaveli Theater

Bridge of Peace below Picture, Its a pedestrian bridge over a river Kura. Walk the bridge, its a tourist thing to do.

Bridge of Peace Tbilisi Georgia

Below: The sulfur springs gave Tbilisi its name, "tbili" meaning "warm" in Georgian.
The hot springs are still in use today (they are arguably what gave Tbilisi its name). The hot springs is a place where one can enjoy in the sulfur water and get scrubbed.



The bath houses above, picture I took while on my way down from visiting Mother Georgia statue, I took the Tram to get on top of the hill and on the way back I walked down, Great view from he hill. I didn't take a bath, the place smelled of sulfur.

Food: My favorites, stuffed flatbread called khachapuri or simply put it Georgian Pizza. I had the stuffed with mushrooms, it was delicious. The shop was just outside the Holy Trinity Church, I sat outside enjoying the views and the stuffed beard.



My plan was to spend 2 days in Tbilisi, a day in Mtskheta and a day in Gori. I did skip Gori (birthplace of Stalin) and spent more time in Tbilisi. My Mtskheta post link http://www.arvinder.com/2017/11/tbilisi-to-mtskheta-and-jvari-monastery.html

Travel Tip: Get a Tbilisi Metro Card, cost is 2 Lari, top it up with money as you go.
Tip #2, there is a sightseeing hop on hop off bus, the ticket is good for 24 hours, I spent all day exploring Tbilisi using the hop on hop off bus.

The metro Stations are really deep and serve as a bomb shelter, see video below




Monument of King Vakhtang Gorgasali
Monument of King Vakhtang Gorgasali
Tbilisi was founded by King Vakhtang Gorgasali during the 5th century.

There is so much to write about Georgia and my travel there, I'll have to make time and write more, for now hope you liked this post.

Do comment below.




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Things to do in Yerevan Armenia


I visited Armenia in October 2017. I arrived from Kiev Ukraine on a Ukraine Ar lines flight, pretty good flight.

Armenia is a beautiful, full of history and a cheap destination.

Airport Immigration and customs is quick and easy and Taxis are cheap. My hotel was less than 10 minutes walking distance from the Republic square. The cab ride from the Airport was $12 USD. At the time of writing this 1 USD = 478 AMD Armenian Dram. The cab ride from Airport to Republic square is about 15 minutes.

Weather: October is a little chilly but not too cold, very nice.

Republic Square is the center of Yerevan and its not square, its round. I went there during the day and night, it was always busy. Lots of people there all the time. Picture below of the Art Gallery and government buildings.

National Gallery of Armenia
National Gallery of Armenia Yerevan

I am not a artsy fartsy guy so I didn't go inside to stare at some painting, I did sit on a bench and did some people watching.



Republic Square at night had some pretty cool fountain show with music, in front of the art gallery.

Day Trip to Garni, Gegard Monastery and Lake Sevan

So basically my hotel had organised a tour for a Day Trip to Garni,Gegard and Lake Sevan, they had one more seat left in the comfortable Mercedes Van, the cost for the whole day was was under $20 USD. I asked them for a discount and they knocked 2 USD off.

First stop Views of Mount Ararat, Mount Ararat Turkey in the background, Picture I took from the Armenia side. Noah’s Ark is said to be on Mount Ararat.



The views were breathtaking, we stopped there for 20 minutes, I did take shoot some video. Next stop was Garni, we drove through some very scenic roads. Garni is an hour drive from Yerevan and is from pre christian times, 1st century pagan temple Armenia. Actually it was more of a sun worship temple. The is an opening in the ceiling with the rays if the Sun coming in. Picture of me at Garni.
There is an entrance fee to Garni,under 5 USD.


Garni armenia

The whole area is very beautiful with hills in the back. It was t-shirt weather. Check out the video below.


We stopped there for  45 minutes, and were off to Gegard Monastery. Gegard is a UNESCO World heritage site, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/960



All these Greg and Gregory's you'll meet or hear about in you lifetime get their name from Saint Gregory of Gegard.



According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was stabbed in his side by a spear while hanging from the cross. Gegard Monastery claims to have this spear, I didnt see it, Just like when I was in Ethopia I didnt see the Ark of the Covenant,  Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant. http://www.arvinder.com/p/ethiopia.html

Last stop was Sevan Lake, what was a nice sunny day had become rainy and freezing and I didn't get to swim in the lake. There is a beautiful church on top of a hill. Pictures below.




The whole trip took about 10 hours, later I went out with strangers in the night, to the Northern ave, which has some high end shops and plenty of places to eat.

As much as I loved the food, the sites and the people in Armenia, it was time for a road trip from Yerevan to Tbilisi.


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October 11, 2017

Layover in Kiev Ukraine

In October 2017 I was travelling from Austin Texas to Yerevan Armenia and had a 18 hour stopover in Kiev Ukraine. Immigration is quick and easy, no long lines. On a chilly October evening, my flight arrived at 5 PM, I had researched before going to Kiev on transportation from Kiev Boryspil Airport to the city center, a cab river approached me and offered to take me to the city center for 50 USD, I laughed at him and negotiated the price down to 20 USD. There was an ATM, I changed money and was off to the city center. At the time of writing this 1 USD = 26.0485 UAH Ukrainian Hryvnia. So basically 500 UAH was my price for the cab ride.

I was staying at a Soviet era hotel, Hotel Ukraine.The location was just perfect, hotel overlooks Independence Square. Walking distance to Eating places, entertainment and shopping.


Independence Square kiev


The first picture above is the Independence Square, taken from outside the hotel and 2nd is the Hotel Ukraine, a part of Soviet History. The biggest advantage was it was right next to the main street in Kiev, khreschatyk street. I was there on a Saturday,  khreschatyk street was blocked off and there were bands playing on the street and tons of other entertainment like street performances.


The Ukrainian revolution of 2014

Outside the hotel is also a shrine to pay homage to people that died in the Ukraine  revolution of 2014



After checking into the hotel and a warm shower later, I was off to explore the city on foot.

I was there on Oct. 14th and it was Ukraine Defender’s Day with celebrations and a rally going on, right outside my hotel. Streets were blocked off to traffic, so I asked a few people whats going on and they barley spoke English, then I asked a young student who explained it was Ukraine Defender’s Day celebrations. Video I took is below of the parade




Then I took off on foot to explore the city by foot, Kiev has beautiful Churches and Monasteries, below St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, photography and video was not allowed inside, it was beautiful though.

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery


Walked the streets taking photos, if anyone knows whats the name of the building below, please leave in the comments.




I ended up getting a bite to eat at a sandwich shop on my way to the hotel as I had an early morning flight. Then I thought its a Saturday night, might as well have fun, so went to khreschatyk street where people were dancing on the street.




Made it back to the hotel just after midnight and the had the reception do a early morning wake up call. Woke up at 6-30 AM, shower and free breakfast, which was awesome and at 7:30 AM cab ride back to the airport. Again the cab cost was 500 UAH.



I was off to the Caucasus. First stop Yerevan.

Whats your favorite thing to do on a layover?

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