Gorgeous Georgia: Batumi and its vibrant Summer Vibe

We failed to see Okatse Canyon but that’s alright because in between keeping awake and falling asleep (I was seated in front), the Black Sea of Batumi was a welcoming sight.

The stony pathway to the beach.

Upon entry to the city, I felt that it was finally summerrrrr! (insert Olaf singing here)

Batumi is definitely Georgia’s summer holiday capital. It has a very relaxing atmosphere with a subtropical climate. Located in a convenient natural Black Sea bay in the region of Adjara, Batumi is not only an important seaport for the entire Georgia, but also a tourism capital of the country.

The streets are lined with Palm trees, vibrant flowers and rich fruit trees.

In contrast to the black long skirts worn by women in Kutaisi, shorts and mini skirts are the trend in Batumi. In my mind, I felt relieved knowing that we can finally get out of our jeans and blend with the rest of the tourists, which are mostly Europeans.

We booked an apartment just a walking distance from the famous Seaside Park-Boulevard. For the price we paid, it is a great place to stay. It is spacious (with living room and with complete amenities). The owner and his family are very nice too.

You may pick fruits from the tree behind us. We did and it was fresh and sweet!

The city has also embraced the modern civilization as around the area are high-end hotels and structures featuring European and Asian architecture. From the articles that I have read, it is apparent that over the last ten years, Batumi has changed a lot.

The perfect cover photo, shot at the Europe Square.

After settling in and a much needed shower, we headed out to the beach and had a cotton candy stop-over. Why not?


The beaches in Batumi and its vicinities are stony without sand. They also have a magnificent skyline.



No matter how tired, I loved our evening stroll. We dined at one of the sea-side restaurants with some local music and dancing too. There, we had our first Georgian Khinkali and it is worth trying.

“Khinkali is a very popular Georgian dumpling made of twisted knobs of dough, stuffed with meat and spices. It is considered to be one of the national dishes of Georgia.”

Batumi at night is very alive. Families, friends, tourists and locals are everywhere in the Boulevard gathered for tours, talks, bike rides, night life and more.The modest structures in the afternoon transform into majestic sights at night.

The Alphabetic Tower on the right symbolizes the uniqueness of Georgian alphabet and people. 

One amazing structure along the Boulevard is the moving sculpture of “Ali and Nino,” which is believed to be a “celebration of true love without boundaries and prejudices.” I felt the heartwarming slow movement of the steel figures towards each other, creating a dramatic union for a moment and the heartbreaking separation afterwards. It was amazing to witness such a story told without words and yet, creates a great impact on the viewers.

“The two figures represent a Muslim boy, Ali, and a Georgian princess, Nino, from a famous 1937 novel by Azerbaijani author Kurban Said. The tragic story ends with the lovers separated by the invasion of Soviet Russia.”

It was already getting cold and we were dead tired so we walked back to our apartment.

On our second day in Batumi, I woke up at 5am (as always) and since my friends were still asleep, I thought of heading out to the beach for a short walk and to witness the sunrise. It was lovely walking in the cool breeze and having the streets to myself except for occasional joggers and still-not-home ‘late nighters’.

Hello, Mr. Sun!

Summer + Beach = Barefoot Sandals

After a breakfast of coffee and leftover Khinkali, we headed out to another direction towards the Europe Square. The streets were still empty, to my delight.


The Europe Square is one of my favorite places in Georgia. It is centrally located in Batumi and around it are unique and exquisite buildings. Our photos here looked like we really traveled to Europe. For both tourists and locals, this is a popular site for relaxation.

The square, entirely ours for that moment.

It would have been nice if we lingered more in Batumi (there are really great shops around) but knowing that we would need six hours travel time back to Tbilisi to catch the free walking tour, we started walking back to the apartment. All we managed to buy were these pretty-looking cherries.

img_1934And guess what? They’re very cheap too.

A picture-perfect spot in the park.

Although we had a very short stay in Batumi, this beautiful city treated as well. If you desire a resort-type ambiance, this is your best choice in Georgia. They have an international airport too!

Lasha then picked us up from the apartment and before we completely left Batumi, he took us to one last glimpse of the Black Sea.


A lunch stop-over introduced us to this very unique and tasty dish made of eggplant, walnut-garlic paste and spices (Badrijani Nigvzit). Again, this was a repeater in our every meal from then on.
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Somebody got tipsy with the free Vodka and it was not me. Opppps!

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It was past 5pm when we were almost at Tbilisi and just before we lavish its charm, Lasha made one more stop and tested our balancing skills. We looked silly here but we had a great laugh.

Synchronization at its best.

I still can’t believe how we managed to sit in the car for six hours. Maybe because the gorgeous mountain views entertained us in between naps or we were on tourist mode so we had to be flexible. Nevertheless, hurray to us for making it through!

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Well, that’s about it for Batumi. Now, it is time to say Hello to the charming capital, Tbilisi.

Trip Details:

#marengsingeorgia – June 23-26, 2017

Gorgeous Georgia (the country)

I have been wracking my brain to accurately describe Georgia but no matter how I brush off this word, ‘gorgeous’ keeps on coming up. It is common, I know, but it has to be the perfect adjective for this little gem in the Caucasus region. Strategically located at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia has lush, green mountains taking center stage during summer, pretty wild flowers dancing in the breeze, vast bodies of water gushing peacefully, and rustic streets cradling interesting ancient Georgian-style architecture. If you adore nature and its rich, alluring beauty, this country is for you. My friends, Cristina and Mariecris, and I  knew that it was for us, no doubt.


Perched at the edge of Jvari Monastery.

We planned this trip for months, booked our tickets in January (so no one will back out), and had plenty of FB Messenger conversations about budget, outfits, weather, best places to go to, tours and guide, Georgian cuisine, matching bags, matching hats, matching passport holders, matching bag tags, and oh so many more. Yep, after six years of friendship, we are that deep haha. Nah, it pays to be organized for every trip. There were still mishaps of course, but to sum it up, we were prepared.

Chilling before our flight.

We flew with Fly Dubai and the moment we reached Tbilisi, it was a complete switch of scenery and temperature. Greens everywhere and even on an early morning of late June, it was still cold, the nice type of cold though. The excitement level at that point was already over the edge. You’ll see why.

The beautiful Ananuri Lake.

If there’s one great decision that we made for this trip, it is by booking a private tour guide (vehicle, airport pick up and drop off  included). We reached our wish list destinations and got to them at our own pace. Our four days became full-packed with adventures and that is also because of our guide’s input in the planning. If you fancy visiting Georgia soon, we strongly recommend Lasha of Tours in Georgia who definitely brought us not only to the best places, but also to the not-so-touristy-yet-picturesque ones. We got to try the most delectable local dishes also through Lasha’s recommendations. He knows his roots and is very capable of immersing you into the country’s splendor. Plus, he is kind and easy to talk to. We requested a few side trips with him and he willingly helped us through.

The jump for life shot with Lasha.

Our itinerary in truth, is hectic. We would be on the road for hours before we finally reach our destination. It is a good thing though that along the way, our eyes were filled with sights to behold.

Hello to farm life.

Georgia is rich in both scenery and activities that having only four days is quite tight if you want to cover everything. Since we only had this short amount of time, we picked the top spots and thankfully, managed to stick to our itinerary. Here is how we did it.

Day 1: Kutaisi and Batumi

Day 2: Batumi and Tbilisi

Day 3: Kazbegi and Tbilisi

Day 4: Signagi

There you go. This is our first international trip and I am looking forward to the next one. Solo travel is rewarding and refreshing but it is also fun and fulfilling to travel with friends. You get to share with them everything, which means that every expense comes cheaper. I even saved USD50 from this trip, yay!

There is a legend about Georgia that seemed fitting for its renowned charm.

“When the God divided the Earth among the people, Georgians were late because of their traditional feast, and by the moment of their arrival, the entire world had already been divided. When the God asked them to what they had drunk for, Georgians just answered: ”To you, oh Lord, to us, to peace”. The God liked their answer so He told them that although all lands were taken, he reserved a small plot for Himself and now He decided to give it to Georgians. According to the God, the land was incomparable in its beauty and all people would admire and cherish it forever “.

You be the judge.

The breathtaking view of Kazbegi.

Madloba Georgia! You are indeed gorgeous.

Trip Details:

#marengsingeorgia – June 23-26, 2017

 

 

 

 

Gorgeous Georgia: Kutaisi and the West – of caves, canyons and unexpected stops

It was a gloomy and cold Friday morning when, from Tbilisi Airport, we started our journey to Kutaisi (a drive of more than three hours). Although very sleepy from our early morning flight, we agreed that whoever is in charge to sit in front must stay awake until the next person’s turn. It was a long drive to the western side of the country, so we had to make sure that our tour guide  is awake too. That pretty much proved to be a good system during our entire stay.

The mesmerizing Martvili Canyon.

Kutaisi is one of the largest cities in Georgia and is the main city of the region of Imereti. Honestly, all I knew about this place is that nearby are caves and canyons. I barely did my research (shame!) but you know what’s good about it though? Having no expectations. Just like how we ended up on this semi-ruined bridge which totally perked us up. Lasha, our tour guide, must have noticed that we were sleeping a lot in the car and so he made a stop and led us to our first adventure.

Laughing our shaking knees out while Lasha leads the way.

As if it was not hard enough to balance walking on the metal railings, Lasha decided to make it harder by shaking the ropes. We were laughing trying to get our grip while he was having good fun taking awkward photos of us. Did I not tell you that he is nice?

Seroiusly, we couldn’t afford falling.  Not on the first day!

It was a hilarious experience. That totally woke us up better than caffeine would. Great job, Lasha!

Along the road, we passed by local sellers of bread, corn, fruits and souvenir products. This particular odd-looking bread caught our attention (as we were also hungry). It is huge and looked so yummy!

It is served hot so be careful.

We found out later that it is called, Nazuki or Georgian spicy sweet bread. It has raisins inside making it more palatable. Interestingly, this bread can only be bought in a few areas, predominantly along the highway.

Before we reached our destination, we made another stop at Chishura falls/river. It must have rained earlier as the grass pathway gave our shoes a mud bath. Nevertheless, this picture-perfect spot is Instagram worthy.

A few more minutes’ drive and we finally reached one of the region’s most visited spots, the Prometheus or Kumistavi Cave. It is located near the town of Tskhaltubo (20 km away from Kutaisi) and is the largest cave in Georgia. Entrance to the cave costs 7 GEL / 11 Dhs. Boat ride is another fee but there was no ride that day because of the high level of water inside the cave. We went with a group in an English-Russian walking tour.

The downhill steps going to the cave entrance.

If my memory serves me right, this is my first real cave experience. I was a bit worried of the 14c temperature inside but it was okay. Being underground surrounded by amazing formations of stalactites, stalagmites and stalacto-stalagmites is a brand new insight. I have not spotted bats during the entire walk, probably because of the spectacular illumination coming from the light system filled with LED lights.

Just few of the many wonders inside the cave.

The walking tour can last up to an hour and be ready to hone your imagination. The tour guide will test it for sure and will reveal amusing structures out of the cave formations.

One of the forbidden caves. Hmmm… I wonder what’s inside?

The tour ended with us riding the bus back to the main hall. Oh and I must not forget that there was joyful dancing and singing in the bus on our way back. I immediately felt grateful being able to be with free-spirited travelers.

He is sad that we are leaving.

Where did we go next? But of course, to make our tummies happy! Yay, we were so ready for a Georgian meal.

Lasha brought us to this lovely restaurant just a few minutes away from the cave. It is called Stalactida and we can’t help but take photos of the captivating landscape and structures.

The food did not disappoint, too. Their fried pork with potatoes and onions (Ojakhuri) is to die for. That must have fueled us to order the same dish every meal during the entire trip (Cholesterol alert!).

We also tried Khachapuri, their traditional bread filled with cheese and egg. Surprisingly, it was not boat-shaped but instead, triangular.

Our cucumber and tomato salad with walnut is interestingly delicious. I am not a vegetable salad person so it had to be very good for me to praise it. You have to try Georgian lemonade too. It has a variety of flavors but Peach and Grapes are our favorites.img_1992.jpg

For a full meal in a grand restaurant, we thought that it will come expensive. Just one more to love about Georgia is that food is cheap but very delicious. We only paid around 35 GEL /  53 Dhs. for four people. That’s thrifty, isn’t it?

We also had a grand sleep in the car (haha) except for the one seated in front, on our way to Martvili Canyon. It is located in the Samegrelo region.


Entrance fee is also 7 GEL / 11 Dhs. and sightseeing can also be done by boat. Unfortunately, the weather was not ideal for a ride so we just walked around, surrounded by lush trees and plants along the concrete pathway and wooden bridges. The feeling of being very close to nature while hearing the gush of water from the falls is very calming. Just what we needed.


We were supposed to explore Okatse Canyon as well, but the heavy rainfall made it impossible for us to go. After convening hard on what to do next, we decided to just head out to Batumi as it was also getting late. It is a good thing we did, or else, we would have missed the vibrant summer vibe of Batumi.

Trip Details:

#marengsingeorgia – June 23-26, 2017

 

 

 

 DIY Barefoot Sandals

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It can not be more obvious that it is already summer in Dubai. The screaming 40C temperature signals that it is not good to camp out anymore (boooo!). But hey, there is no reason to sulk because hot days are synonymous to beach season! Having this in mind must have tickled my imagination to awaken my longtime obsession for beads crafting. I salivate when I see beads in different shapes and colors. My happiest day would be waking up one day and discovering that beside the house is Divisoria, Daiso, Day to Day, Satwa and Dragonmart. I just go frenzy over beads, period.

How can I not? Just look at these beauties.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I started making beaded accessories and sold them with the help of my Auntie and friends. I was really having good fun back then while earning at the same time. School got me hooked up though, so I was not able to sustain it. For years, I have been wanting to revive my passion for this craft but to procure materials here is not easy and a little bit costly. Until one evening, when I just quit the “what ifs” and started making barefoot sandals out of the meager materials that I have. This is my first finished product.

In two weeks after I started, I must say that I have been productive. Although this project has shortened my sleep hours and even makes me want to skip meals (opppps!), there is no denying that I am ecstatic with every pair that I create and get even more thrilled on starting a new pattern.

If you are hitting the beach soon, planning on a beach wedding or you just want to go barefoot (who cares?), these sandals are lovely and pretty adornment for your feet.

A combination of pearls, sequins and a touch of blue is perfect for the lovely bride. You may also make a few for your bridesmaids.

Here is how to make a basic single pattern:

Materials

  • Beads of your own choice
  • String or cord
  • Scissors

Procedure

Warning: Too much feet exposure below.☺️

  1. Measure the string by looping it around your second toe and pulling both sides around your ankle. Leave a good extra length for tying later on. Make two pieces of this.
  2. Fold the string into half, make a loop ( just the right size for your second toe) and seal the loop with a knot.
  3. Hold the ends of the strings together and begin adding on your beads until you reach your desired length (as shown below). Tie the ends to secure the beads.
  4. Wrap the remaining strings around your ankle, add more beads on both sides, tie into a knot and ribbon.

What’s good about this project is that, you are free to create your patterns. Just play along with your imagination and you will be surprised by the many ways your end result will come out amazing. It can be a great gift for your friends and loved ones too! Caution though, this is addictive.

Here is what I made for my friends on our upcoming adventure. I can’t wait!

For twinning moms and daughters, this is an adorable gem for your OOTD collection.

 

For the little one, all you need is an elastic (I used a headband), then sew or glue on top a pretty patch. It is very comfortable and chic for that yummy feet. My goddaughter loves it!


For couples, an anklet for him is just the right match.

Tips:

  • Look out for your old accessories. Usually, they are the best ones to recycle. I found my treasured colorful necklace, cut one loop and voila!

The pair goes well with white. Photo taken by my love who is always patient and supportive of my craft and sometimes, eccentricities. 

These beads on the other hand, are from my old bracelet.

 

  • The choice for materials are just endless (to my delight). You may also experiment on laces, bling-blings and wooden ornaments.

  • Make sure that your string is smaller than the hole of your beads. For ease in adding beads to your chosen string, use a soft wire, bend it into half and put your string at the middle so it can slide easily through your beads.

  • Rest your eyes and hands from time to time. A good amount of sunlight makes it easier to thread through the beads.
  • Do not limit your options to beads. You may also use buttons, sequins, shells and a lot more!
  • The tie and knot method looks more natural and cute but I have discovered  that using these locks is more convenient for securing the strings around your ankle.

  • Although they are primarily worn barefoot, they are also gorgeous when worn with your favorite flip-flops. Go mix and match!


Through this project, I have learned that if God has blessed you with a gift, a skill or even just a desire, no amount of time can completely bury it. It may just sleep for a while but it will resurface no matter what. I guess, this is one of mine. This maybe one of yours too.

I hope that you will try out this tutorial. If you like it or you have questions and suggestions, please leave a comment below or send me an email at kevinroxas@yahoo.com.

Happy crafting and keep on creating!

 

 

 

 

 DIY Pippi Longstocking Costume

I was looking for an easy character to portray for our Book Character Dress Up Day when through Google, I stumbled upon Pippi Longstocking or originally written as Pippi Langstrump (Swedish). Based on my brief research, she is a quirky, supernaturally strong, nine-year-old girl created by Astrid Lindgren in 1945. The children’s books have been translated into 70 languages and made into several films and television series.

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Having known Pippi’s interesting background, I decided to dress up as Her.  After all, as Pippi said, “I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.”

Here is my take on how to make a Pippi Longstocking costume:

The Outfit

What I love about the outfit is its thrift factor. All you need to do is rummage your closet for a denim jumper, a similar dress, or shorts with suspender. Stitch or pin some patches on them (I used Felt, which I bought for AED7 at Daiso), to create a more rugged look. Next, is to look for a bright-colored, checkered or stripes undershirt. Go on and improvise, the sky is the limit!

The key here is to mismatch every item, so throw in a bright stocking (mine is retro orange) and two different socks. I bought my purple and black knee-high for only AED10 from Brands for Less and the green one is an old favorite. Finish off your ensemble with boots or sneakers and a pet monkey.

Hair and Make-up

What makes Pippi stand out is her red, braided, firm and standing pigtails. It was hilarious seeing parents and children burst into laughter when they saw me in my super cool wig. I am always in my Nurse uniform so you can imagine the drastic change.

If you have long hair, you are good to go. Since I cut my hair very short recently, I needed to wear a wig, which is a first. I could not find a red wig though, so I opted for a brown one instead from Daiso, priced at AED32. The wig as I found out, turned out too long for what I needed. I had to cut the bangs and shorten the back a bit. Now, to make that standing U-shape effect, you will need a wire (I used a hanger wire) or a thick pipe cleaner and insert it inside your braids. Shape them as you like, and accessorize with colorful ribbons, to make your look more youthful and vibrant.

Here is a useful Youtube link (from Jamie Pettito of Gurl.com ) for a more detailed procedure.

You can play around with the make-up. For my look, I just applied a pink blusher on my cheeks and dotted them with pencil eyeliner to create freckles. Piece of cake, isn’t it?

Pippi may be an orphan but she has plenty of friends!

I really enjoyed being Pippi Longstocking for a day. It is a very economical and an awesome costume idea for Book Character Dress Up Days and Halloweens, fit for both children and adults.

If you have other ideas on how to make the costume or if you have done the Pippi look before, please leave a comment below.

Meanwhile, here is Pippi with another Pippi.

Have fun in your Pippi Longstocking transformation!

Falling in love with Armenia

I can not begin to imagine how and when, but I have fallen into a love affair with Armenia. You know how it is in fairy tales? It comes as a dream, and then suddenly, it is real! Whatever the reason is and however it started, I am so glad that when I joined the solo travel bandwagon, I did it in this beautiful country. Yes, solo in a foreign country and I survived!

Why Armenia?

 A picturesque view of the city and Mt. Ararat from Victory Park.

Armenia as part of the Caucasus Region boasts of breathtaking mountain views, historical monasteries, a very rich culture, lovely people, and a city to love. Having lived most of my life in Asia (The Philippines) and moved to the Middle East (Dubai) six years ago, the combination of  European and Asian ambiance is totally new and revitalizing to me. Somehow, I have romanticized the idea of walking in the streets of Yerevan (capital city) in a chilly April weather, clad in my backpack and just absorbing the interesting sights along the way.

park4Yerevan streets are almost empty in early mornings.

My hostel is along Mashtots Avenue, which is a perfect spot and is just 18 minutes away from the Republic Square, the heart of Yerevan.

The fountains are alive! They dance to songs at night giving more life to the square.

If you are planning a trip to Armenia sooner or later, here is a walk through of my adventure, with travel guide and tips along the way which you might find handy.

Do your research. Believe me,  this is vital in every country that you are about to visit. Reading blog posts about Armenia, which more likely will reveal travel guides on visa information, weather, flights, accommodation, and everything else you are curious of, will save you a lot of unwanted stress. I did my research three months before my travel because at times, I am an organized freak and I was very excited to say the least. It also helped a lot that I have friends who have traveled to Armenia and an Armenian colleague (lovely!) who fed me with firsthand and reliable information about the country. There are lots of nice reads online too. Google is my best friend when it comes to that and Youtube has interesting documentary videos. I also realized that the more I read about Armenia, the more I was mesmerized by its beauty. That was like my stress-reliever after a hard day’s work.

Keep a Travel Journal. I like to organize things and so a travel journal made me  keep track of my itinerary, budget, checklist and gave me a good excuse to be creative again!

My DIY travel journal.

Check for airfare and accommodation that fit your budget. My first consideration on pushing on with this travel was the budget. This may not be a problem to some but I always want to keep my finances intact–to have the time of my life while traveling and still have something to live by when I come back.  It pays to look out for cheap ticket fares online (I use Cleartrip to compare prices) and searched for good hostels/hotels via Booking.com. There are package tours which are really cheap for airfare and hotel accommodation combined so you might want to check on those too. Always read your chosen accommodation’s reviews as it will give you 80% of what you are going to experience once you are there. Honestly, if you are looking for an adventure, you will be out all day so a clean room with a comfortable bed is all you need.

I booked my flight with Fly Dubai three months before my travel (it was even cheaper a week before I booked) and stayed in Domino Yerevan Hostel and Tours. The Hostel owner, Mr. Arthur, and his staff are a lovely bunch. Mr. Arthur loves to offer his homemade wine to his guests and I must say that the Cherry Wine best suits my taste buds!

Mr. Arthur with two other guests. Those two empty glasses were mine. I skipped the Vodka.  Errr..

Make an itinerary. This is probably the most exhausting part, but you must make one anyhow. After thorough research, I realized that it was difficult to squeeze all the amazing sights in Armenia in just five days. For an ideal travel, I think a week in Armenia would be lovely as that will give you two days in Yerevan, four days in the outskirts, and a day to just wander, relax and catch up. Three to five days is a fair, good enough length of stay in Armenia as long as you know what you’re after. I am the type that would “conquer it all” and so in five days, by God’s grace, I was able to reach as many places as I can. I would come home at 10pm (thankfully, Yerevan is safe) sleep late, and wake up early, still able and excited. I guess that is what Armenia makes of you – a gentle conqueror.

Plan your tours. Yerevan can be explored on foot. Come on, stretch out those legs! For other destinations, you may take a taxi. Usually, if it is just within Yerevan, they won’t charge you more than AMD1,000. There are also regular group tours outside of Yerevan, which is way cheaper than going for a private tour. Check out Viator.com, Hyur Service, Envoy Tours and Domino Yerevan Hostel and Tours for their daily tour schedule.

Make a packing checklist and double or triple check it. This is where I half failed. I made a packing checklist but my aging brain (ouch!) managed to leave my engagement ring, lotion, and sunscreen in Dubai. Nevertheless, my super excited aura did not let this mishap ruin my trip. My mantra, “Nothing will go wrong if you don’t allow it” worked. So as to make sure that you don’t forget any essentials, only tick items off your checklist when they are already physically inside your luggage or carry-on. Also, make sure to pack clothes appropriate for the weather. I was constantly checking the weather forecast in Yerevan through Accuweather and it gave me a good idea to pack layered clothing because. true enough, it was still chilly in Armenia during my stay.

Lake Sevan, still icy in April.

Apply for a visa. For Filipinos and most nationalities, it is visa-on-arrival. Finally! You can even obtain a visa online. I wanted a sticker on my passport though so I opted to acquire visa upon arrival. Applying online is highly recommended during peak months to avoid long queues. As you arrive at Zvartnots Airport, go where the flow is and either head straight to fill up the visa form (make sure to write legibly bearing in mind your passport details and address in Armenia) or exchange your USD (US Dollar) to AMD (Armenian Dram) first. You may download the XE Currency Converter app for live conversion rates. Remember, you must exchange your AED (Emirati Dirham) to USD before you fly out because they don’t accept AED for conversion. It is also wise to consider exchanging only USD 50-100 at the airport to cover the visa cost (AMD 3000/AED 23/USD 7) for a short stay and exchange the rest in Yerevan where the exchange rate is much higher. There are numerous money changer stalls/shops in the city. A few steps from where I stayed is a 24/7 supermarket called Pak Shuka, where a money changer stall operates. After filling out the visa form and obtaining drams, head next to the visa section, present your passport without the passport holder, pay the visa fee, and marvel at your visa sticker! You are good to explore Armenia. Congratulations!

Arrange your airport transfer. There are taxis in the airport but you may also arrange pick-up and drop-off  with your hostel/hotel. You will easily see their representative as he would be beaming at you while holding an A4 paper printed with the name of your accommodation. Feeling like a tourist already? For a planner like me, that is tasty security. The ride from the airport to Yerevan takes approximately 15 minutes. Transportation cost would be around AMD2,000-5,000.

Get connected. Don’t worry about your social media life or access to your emails. You can still be connected even if you didn’t buy a roaming pack. The first minute I arrived at Zvartnots Airport, I immediately checked my phone to see if I have a network signal. Surprise, surprise, there was none! So after I checked in at Domino, I purchased a local sim by Ucom (a mobile network operator and internet service provider) for AMD1,000. It already included voice calls and data. I was then a happy bee to have internet during my entire stay (300mb per day) which is good enough for Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and Google Maps (very helpful in my walking tours in Yerevan). For the price I paid,  it is very cheap, and convenient, too. If you are not keen on buying a local sim, wifi is easily accessible in public places, cafes, restaurants and hostels/hotels.

Gear up your gadgets. Whatever camera you are going to use, make sure that it is fully charged with extra batteries or power bank. You will not resist taking photos and feel free to take a lot! I used my mobile camera, and carried with me a power bank and a selfie stick, which I have not used for its main purpose other than serve as a stand whenever I’m taking timer shots. I am just no good with selfie sticks. Make sure also to bring adapters with rounded pins. The lifeline of your gadgets depends on them.

Meet Locals. Generally, Armenians are kind and helpful people. Many times, I asked for directions and instead of just being pointed to my destination, I ended up being escorted towards them. One taxi driver even accompanied me in my tour of the Genocide Museum and was very apologetic because he doesn’t speak English. Mr. Arthur, on the other hand, fed me with sumptuous Armenian delicacies while on our way to Tatev, all for free! English is quite alien to some but the youngsters are able to converse in the language confidently. They are also the technology-empowered group who would take out their phones and direct you through Google Maps. If you happen to be stared at a lot, don’t freak out. They just see you different but a warm smile always does the trick.

A selfie with the ladies of Tatev.

Indulge in local cuisine. I must say that when it comes to food, I am not very adventurous, but since this is my first solo travel, I tried as much degustation as I could have. I wish that I had explored more Armenian food though because they are delicious! Gata, an Armenian sweet bread is perfect for afternoon snack. Their Lavash (traditional Armenian bread made with flour, water, and salt) is made thin to perfection. Wait until you see how much effort and coordination are used to bake this bread and you will appreciate it more. I even brought some with their local cheese (yummy!) back to Dubai along with dried Apricot, Prunes, Grand Candy sweets, and Sujuk/Armenian Snickers (made from walnuts which are strung on long strings and thickly coated in fruit syrup).

sujuk3

On one tour, I experienced having lunch in a home in Noratus Village. The Ikra (Armenian dip made with eggplant and tomatoes) is my winner. It is so good with Lavash and also when eaten on its own. So we had fresh vegetables, salads, breads and dips as appetizers and Kofta with Pasta as main dish. How filling is that?!

Meanwhile, in this serene restaurant in Dilijan (sorry, I didn’t get the name), I opted for Beef Kebab with potatoes on the side.

If you want to experience traditional Armenian music while dining, I recommend Pandok Yerevan (Tavern Yerevan). They have four branches in Yerevan: Amiryan, Paronyan, Teryan and Khorenatsi. They tend to be fully booked so it is a must to reserve a table beforehand. I went to their Khorenatsi branch and after being late for an hour (I got lost walking, took a taxi in the end), I still have my table waiting for me and right in front the performing group. Sweet! They have delectable food choices, a great way to reward yourself after tours.

Take notice of the instruments, truly Armenian.

Explore the outskirts. You will never regret it. The drive may be long but the mountain views are amazing. At times, I felt very sleepy but I just couldn’t let the moment pass without basking in Armenia’s beautiful scenery. I have read blogs about how lovely Goris is and it is a good excuse for me to come back.

Dilijan, Armenia’s little Switzerland.

Learn their culture and tradition. For one, the centuries old monasteries are sights to behold. They are authentic, ancient, and filled with rich history. It is indeed a blessing being able to be inside these structures which have stood the test of time. Here are my favorites:

sevan2Sevanavank Monastery

Geghard Monastery

Khor Virap Monastery from afar

Noravank Monastery

Tatev Monastery

And Garni too, a Pagan Temple

Khachkar or Armenian cross-stone are everywhere, predominantly in churches and graveyards. It is a carved stone bearing a cross surmounting a rosette or a solar disc as its common feature. The remainder of the stone face is typically filled with elaborate patterns of leaves, grapes, pomegranates, and bands of interlace. Occasionally a khachkar is surmounted by a cornice sometimes containing biblical or saintly figures. Most early khachkars were erected for the salvation of the soul of either a living or a deceased person. Otherwise they were intended to commemorate a military victory, the construction of a church, or as a form of protection from natural disasters. (Wikipedia)

khachkar3Interestingly, no two Khachkars are alike. Armenians also believe that when you step on a Khachkar, whoever is inside will pull away all your sins.

casing2I even got one on my phone to mark my adventure in Armenia.

Walk around the city. A city to love, that is my personal definition of Yerevan. If I will have the chance to come back, I will definitely take slow walks around the city, sit on a bench in Republic Square, drink coffee, smile at people, and just admire the sights around me. I had a hurried last day so I was only able to visit Vernissage and Genocide Museum. There are more to see like Cafesjian Museum inside Cascade, Echmiadzin, Matenadaran Museum, Armenia History Museum, a show at the Opera Theatre, Ararat Brandy Factory and a lot more. They say that Kond is another interesting place to explore as it is one of the oldest quarters of Yerevan.

My glee on seeing the Pink city.

Side note: The water in Yerevan is safe to drink. Water fountains in public places are thirst-quenchers after long walks.

Visit the Vernissage. Vernissage is an open-air market in Yerevan that functions only on Saturdays and Sundays. For those looking for gifts and souvenirs, this is the best place to go. I really enjoyed my time going around as the Armenian culture and art are visible everywhere. Gotta love those preserved Pomegranate key chains and fridge magnets. The handmade accessories and carved wooden Armenian letters are precious too. Just make sure to bargain, and bargain hard!

The colorful world of Vernissage.

Bring home Armenian wine. I am no expert when it comes to wine–I rarely even drink alcohol, but I liked the white wine from Areni Factory. Unfortunately, they don’t export yet to UAE. It is also worth checking out the wines in supermarkets and the homemade wines in Areni as they really come cheap. Just make sure to pack them well in your check-in luggage. Check with your airlines too how many bottles you are allowed to bring.

wine2Wine tasting in Areni Wine Factory.

Did I already say take a lot of photos? If you are traveling with a group, having photographed is not going to be a problem. As a solo traveler, I had to be creative in my timer shots or just be bold in asking random strangers to take my photo.

cascade2Exercise, anybody? Timer shot at the top of Cascade

Taken by a Chinese solo traveler

Timer shot in Sevanavank


Don’t miss the Wings of Tatev ride, Guiness’ longest aerial tram. Photo taken by the crew.

Surprisingly, going on a group tour was a good way to meet other tourists and learn from them. Meeting seasoned travelers made me realize that at 35, I’m a late-bloomer when it comes to traveling. I wish that I started earlier but hey, God is always on-time and this is my time.

I believe that there is more to discover in Armenia and the stage is now yours. Please share it to the world. The country definitely deserves more attention as a tourist destination.

Here is my dreamy self trying to absorb it all.

I am looking forward to say “Barev Armenia” again soon!