24 January 2010

Jarred's first skiing experience

Skiing is awesome! I was cordially invited to join a student and family to Tsakhkadzor ski resort and I had a blast! I was nervous with excitement and couldn't sleep the night before. I was up early and ready to go with my brand new ski clothes I bought the day before.

I started on a beginner slope where I learned to apply the Snow Plow to stop and turn. I nailed it my first try. I slipped here and there but otherwise, nailed it! I felt so comfortable in my brand new ski jacket and even though I looked like a beginner, my attire was completely appropriate and fashionable! Feeling confident and excited, I took the tow-lift, which required me to recall my water skiing skills where I stood beside a pully which at a set interval, an attached hook-bar-like plastic handle thingy hangs and swings so that skiers can grab onto it and be pulled up the 300 meter slope.

At the top, I switched gears and leaned forward like I'm supposed to and went down like a pro....beginner. More revved up, I lined up and wanted to ride again! A guy in front of me tried to grab but didnt have his skis straight, so he fell. I was right behind him and had to wait for the next handle so I wouldn't run him over. Since he shook the pully cable, it swung the handle coming up behind me back and forth in a pendulum motion. Remember, I said "hook-like" so passing up this handle, from behind, it "hooked" my 12 hour-old jacket by the pocket and tore it to shreds. It looked like I had been attacked by a shark. Nice looking insulation, though!

Disapppointed, but not discouraged, I trekked up one more time before heading to a Blue slope. Obviously highly experienced skiers frequent this slope to show off, go fast without dying, and otherwise frighten the beginners and kids all to hell because of how close they come and how much they spray the downed 1st-timers. I ran this course 4 times.

We were also paced by a 5 year old who was learning from my student's father. This was good since I didn't feel like I was holding anyone up, but I could go slow, then fast and stop often to practice, while waiting for them to catch up. My fourth and final trip down was super. The 5 year old did not join us on this last run, so I was free to follow the others with a little more pace and cross-slope agility. I slung myself up the side banks and hopped in the air to catch a little more momentum to fire off the bank with athletic speed and diagonal precision! I made it down to the final slope where I was overly-confident and picking up too much speed. I decided to cut way left and finally way right into the steep side-bank to slow down before the final drop off. I would have gone way too fast for my safety had I gone down the final slope without regaining control and slowing down. So, I cut right and slid all the way accross expecting to cut left again, which would have slowed me down considerably, and enough to dig in for a complete stop. Yikes! There was a small child and an instructor stopped at the base of the bank, which forced me to decide between trying to cut left before them, which would have resulted in imminent collision, or go to the right and up the bank and then around them going back left. Naturally, I went up the bank and avoided collision. But what comes up, must come down, and even faster. Desperate to avoid reaching the top of the final hill and going down the slope at dangerous speeds, I dug in my right leg hard, which you know takes a little bit of twisting to point the toe inward. Faster than I have ever gone that day, I felt my heel stick and my right outer ligaments of my knee twist and hyperextend while I fell in a few different directions, and since my skis did not come off, I had to twist my knee around to right the ski to avoid worse damage, but still pulling and twisting my ligaments.

I didn't move while begging for urgency to remove my boot from the ski so that I may straighten my leg and hold my knee in place to check for torn things.

So... Nairi Hospital is nice!

I didn't feel pain. I stretched and wiggled it and signaled that I was ok, and ready to fit my boot back into the ski. I stood and put weight on my right leg to stabilize myself for inserting my left boot. There was no support of my femur on my knee joint because the outer tendons and ligaments were injured. I crumpled like a piece of paper, not from pain, but from the absence of physical structural bone support. Diver-signal for man down, and an emergency call for the snowmobile stretcher was called. 100 meters to go and I bust!

I was 30 minutes in the ski clinic saying "No I do not want a pain killer injection, I just want to leave." Since there was no pain, I was and still am in surprisingly high spirits. I was humiliated since I was a guest and required a ride to the hospital for x-rays. I was in a silly mood trying to stay positive because I did have one of the most fun days in Armenia since I got here 18 months ago!

Knee, you better heal up good because I'd like to get back out there before the season ends. Check out the photos and video.



13 January 2010

Free attractions in Yerevan

Student travelers and others who plan to visit Armenia on a budget will be happy to know that most museums and attractions charge very little for admission, ranging from AMD 300 (less than one U.S. dollar) to 1,000 (US $2.60) for adults; the majority of the historic and religious sights around the country are open to tourists at no cost.

The catch is that many places don't have signage in English - or any language other than Armenian and maybe Russian. So for those who actually want to understand what they're looking at, some museums offer multi-lingual guides for hire, whose services run as high as AMD 5,000 (over US $13) plus tip. But if it will make an otherwise meaningless visit more enjoyable, educational, and memorable, it's probably worth it.

The most expensive option is to go with a professional tour service. Depending on where you want to go, which service you choose, and how many people are in your party, a day trip can set you back AMD 5,000 to 55,000 (US $147) or more! If you can afford it, however, and if you don't mind touring with a group of strangers, the advantages to going this route are numerous: you're guaranteed a friendly, knowledgable, English-speaking guide and comfortable, air-conditioned transportation. Additionally, some companies advertise free hotel pickup/dropoff, and some even throw in snacks and bottled water. I wouldn't really recommend these professionally guided tours for families with very young children since they average 6-7 hours duration, and if you needed to leave early, you'd have quite a time trying to find a ride back on your own...plus you may want to make extra bathroom or food stops, which would probably annoy your driver, guide, and/or fellow passengers (I can't speak from personal experience, though, so I could be wrong).

With all that said, check out the below list of free attractions, which I made quite a while ago, but never got around to posting until now.

MUSEUMS

Armenian Centre for Contemporary Experimental Art
1/3 Pavstos Byuzand Street (facing the Vernissage)
Open Monday-Saturday, 10.00-18.00

Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
Memorial Complex of Tsitsernakaberd
Located on the hilltop behind the Demirchian Sport & Concert Complex, southeast of Leningradian and Kievyan Streets
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11.00-16.00

Mother Armenia Statue and Military Museum (inside the statue!)
Located at the eastern end of Victory Park, off Azatutyan Street
Open Tuesday-Friday, 10.00-17.30; Saturday-Sunday 10.00-15.00

Cafesjian Center for the Arts
Located within the beautiful Cascade complex, at the northern tip of the city center
Open Tuesday-Thursday, 10.00-17.00; Friday-Sunday, 10.00-20.00
Note: only Gallery One is free of charge; visitors must pay admission to see the other galleries. Alternatively, you can purchase membership, after which all your museum visits will be free.

WALKING TOURS

Envoy Hostel
offering free walking tours of the city by day or night.
54 Pushkin Avenue (corner of Pushkin and Parpetsi)
+374.10.530.369

Lonely Planet Travel Guide
Their guide to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (3rd Edition, 2008) includes a suggested walking tour, mapped out for readers on pages 156-158.

HISTORIC AND RELIGIOUS SIGHTS

Erebouni Fortress
38 Erebouni Avenue
Perched atop Karmir Blur (Red Hill) about 3 miles southeast of Republic Square
Note: The Erebouni Museum sits at the bottom of the hill below the fortress. The admission fee is AMD 1,000 per person, and it's definitely worth a visit, but if you're really only interested in the free stuff, take a left as you approach the main doors to find steps leading up the hill to the fortress.

Surp Grigor Lusavorich Cathedral
Facing Tigran Mets Avenue, across from the Zoravar Andranik subway station

Blue Mosque and the Iran Information & Communication Centre
12 Mesrop Mashtots Avenue
Open 10.00-18.00

Katoghike Chapel
At the intersection of Abovian and Tumanyan Streets

***
Hopefully, that should be enough to keep even the stingiest travelers occupied for a long weekend -- and that doesn't include the countless pleasurable hours one could easily spend browsing trinkets and souvenirs at Vernissage or one of the many shukas throughout the city. Please feel free to ask questions, make corrections, or add to my list!

06 January 2010

New Year's Celebrations


The Blackmer family spent a quiet New Year's eve at home, enjoying other people's fireworks from our balcony. In the days following, we ate, drank, and made merry at the homes of various friends. A week later, I'm still full, Jarred is still reeling from homemade vodka and cherry liqueur, and Nathan is still on an insane sugar high. By now, most new year's celebrations have come to an end, and just about everyone, including Jarred and me, will be back to school and work on Monday the 11th.

Here are a few photos taken at a New Year's gathering at the home of our nanny Mane (mah-neh) and her family.

Mane and Nathan

Another incident in which a serving dish must be placed atop the fruit bowl due to lack of space on the table. And yes, that is Maria in the background - she is a friend of Mane's sister, Nune (noo-neh), on the right.

Lovely desserts made by Mane

Jarred played several rather comical games of nardi (that's backgammon to us Yanks) with Mane's father Aram, Nune's husband Ara, and Maria.

Three types of homemade mooraba (sweet preserves - like jam, but a lot more syrupy), from left to right: walnut, yellow cherry, and blackcurrant.

One last toast for a happy new year...kenats!