Georgia and Armenia!

Vacation update! I went to Georgia (Tbilisi) and Armenia (Yerevan, and a lot of other places) in mid-October.

Georgia highlights: All of the food! Between khachapuri, khinkali, lobiani, pomegranate juice, walnut stuffed eggplant, pumpkin soup, delicious unidentified sour sauce to put on shashlik, and everything else, I could basically just eat only Georgian food for the rest of my life. I would also need all new clothes, but whatever — look at this GIANT PIECE OF BREAD. I got it out of a window (wrapped in this paper with some sort of notes on it)  or $0.80 lari which is about 35 cents (in USD). It was more than I could eat, but the amount that I managed (about half) was amaaaazing.

GIANT BREADI stayed in a private room at Nest Hostel in Tbilisi, where I learned that hipsters are hipsters regardless of nationality. Hi nice Australian guy with a weird mustache making everyone listen to his music of preference on a sticker-covered MacBook Air. (The hostel was actually really fun, because I got the benefit of a private room but also the benefit of drinking strange wine with nice strangers on the patio at night.)

There was a relative dearth of information on stuff to do/eat in Tbilisi online, but I followed a lot of The Guardian’s recommendations — and also searched for stuff on Foursquare — and that worked out pretty well.

Armenia: I was originally going to take the train from Tbilisi to Yerevan (and I still kind of regret not doing this!) but I got talked into taking a taxi with a guide that a friend recommended, so that I could see more places (Haghpat Monastery (I was told to try to walk along the wall…didn’t do so well), Dilijan, the house of a wood carver who told me I would get married because I walked under this arch, etc).

The coolest thing in Armenia (ok, and the major reason behind why I went) was going to Byurakan, where my great-grandfather‘s observatory is located. Look at the photo below, I’m FAMOUS!! The table in the middle of the room at the museum at the observatory in Byurakan has photo family trees of Victor Ambartsumian. Somehow I’m in four of these photos, once as a baby (note: this is literally the only baby photo of myself that I’ve ever seen [to my parents, who I know are reading this and calling me a liar in their heads, GO AHEAD — PROVE ME WRONG, and also while you are at it, where is the photo of me as a 4 year old in Russia with a bear, which was in the photo album that had an oval cutout on the front? One of you lost it. I’m never going to forget this, and will bring it up any chance I get, just you wait]), and three times as a chubby 11 year-old.

family tree

A man at Byurakan (I feel bad for not getting his name) gave me (and an RFE/RL colleague who was with me) a tour. It seems that my great grandfather was a genius in part because of what he did, but also largely because he completely changed the way people understood the world.

My colleagues at RFE/RL (we have a bureau in Armenia) were amazing and set up a bunch of day trips for me — and came to keep me company, too. Sometimes traveling alone gets lonely, but definitely not in Armenia! I got to visit Garni, Gerhard (after which we ran into a SHEEP TRAFFIC JAM), Lake Sevan, Echmiadzin (here is me lighting a candle [idk if I’m supposed to do this, I was never baptized and am an atheist?], here is me looking awkward in photos).

The food situation in Armenia was not as good as Georgia (I am sorry to anyone from Armenia reading this! I really am!). I know that Armenian cuisine is actually fantastic, so I suspect that this is because fewer tourists head to Yerevan. I really liked my meal at this hotel restaurant (cheese and meats and wine make me happy every time), and I also tried Anteb (which the New York Times mentioned), but although the manti were good (garlic heaven) the service was horrible. If I had my way, I would have spent the whole time in Armenia just drinking wine (Armenian wine was FANTASTIC) and eating basturma.

Overall, great trip! Two countries I’ve wanted to visit for a while, wonderful people to talk to, fantastic food, and good sightseeing. Unfortunately I got sort of sick after the trip (…this is becoming an unfortunate trend) so spent the next week recuperating. Worth it, though! More photos here.


I booked a weekend trip to Beirut before I really knew anything about Lebanon, and before their #YouStink protests started. When the protests hit the news, I started reading a lot more about the city and the country.

Did you know that two breweries (961 and Colonel) comprise the microbrew scene around Beirut? That there’s confusion on if that dude with a large beard is a hipster or a jihadi? That street names aren’t really a thing in Beirut? That Lebanon has a generally pretty free press (until it comes to some religious issues)? That the ALIENS landed at Baalbek? (Or not.) Hey, I didn’t either.

Aside from a few features and articles, it was had to find news and information about Lebanon that wasn’t about trash piled up on the streets of Beirut or protests about trash being piled up on the streets. And then Beirut released a shitty new album, and it was even more difficult to find news about the city.

So, my experience in Lebanon? Amazing. After being in Prague where people are typically cold and reserved (as an extrovert, I am HAVING A HARD TIME OVER HERE), it was extremely pleasant to be somewhere where everyone was open and friendly. On both of my flights (Prague->Frankfurt->Beirut) when they heard that I was going to Beirut, people talked to me about my travel plans, wrote down recommendations for where I should go, and told me that I should have booked a longer trip. My taxi driver from the airport told me about the history of the city (originally it was divided Muslim/Christian). All of the people I met on tours, though not always Lebanese, were friendly (sometimes a bit odd — like the Iraqi guy who I asked to take a photo of me, and he took one from far away, then got closer, then got even closer, and then even closer — and told me very seriously that for Facebook it is important to have close-ups). It was a great time.

I went on an organized tour of Baalbek, Anjar, and Ksara Winery the first day I was there. The second day I went on an awful walking tour (if anyone googles this: do not go on Beirut old city walk), but met some new friends and drank wine at this bar which serves carrot sticks in lemon/salt/water as bar snacks (genius!), this bar which had awesome sounding cocktails, and this bar which was surprisingly hopping for a Sunday night (and kinda sucked, but we tried to figure out which women had plastic surgery, which was a fun game). My last day there I just walked around, ate a huge delicious meal, and got on my flight (after about four security lines, mrrrgh).

Some stray thoughts/observations: Taxis are a huge thing — the streets are relatively empty for walking. I saw more women wearing full niqab in London than in Beirut (where I saw zero) — women’s fashions ranged from shorts to wearing a hijab. There were barriers (walls / barbed wire) erected around the Place de l’Etoile and it was guarded by soldiers (I didn’t take photos because I didn’t really want to take that risk). Street harassment by soldiers/police was ridiculous (they catcalled every woman). The hummus and baba ganoush were the best I’ve ever had. Prices were closer to DC prices for things like lunch and drinks. Use of both U.S. dollars and Lebanese lira is acceptable, and sometimes you’d get both back as someone tried to make change.

I have some photos here. Takeaways from this trip are that U.S. travel warnings are a bit exaggerated (especially considering all of the mass shootings in America, hi guys), and that media depictions of a city aren’t sufficient to actually know how it feels to be there.