29 December 2013

Petak shuka

We were looking to buy a treadmill and other exercise equipment for the apartment, and Jarred got in touch with a sporting goods store that advertised items on list.am (the Armenian version of Craigslist).  We went to order everything today, and it turns out the store is located in Petak, a warehouse-turned-marketplace similar to the indoor sections of Bangladesh (which you can see in this post).


It has been an unusually cold December in Yerevan this year, with a high temperature of -16 degrees Celsius each day lately, and without any heating, shopping at Petak requires some serious fortitude (I can imagine the place would be an oven in the summer).  Also, because it's almost New Year's/Christmas, the place was very crowded. So if you're interested in checking it out (which you absolutely should), my advice is to go in May or October.

The sun was visible through the grey skies above Petak, but it didn't seem to make a difference.

You can find everything at Petak, from electronics...

...to holiday and party decor...

...from clothes and shoes...

...to fishing and hunting gear...

...from kitchenware...

...to the sports equipment that was our reason for coming.

And as at any shuka, the prices are negotiable!  So we got a great deal on a treadmill (1-year warranty), workout bench, and free weights, including delivery to our place tomorrow.

Nate found a chair and entertained himself while we shopped.

17 December 2013

Angela's Holiday Spiced (not spiked!) Punch

We had a few friends and students over for Thanksgiving this year, and my homemade punch turned out to be so popular, everyone asked me for the recipe.  So I'll share it here, along with some photos from Thanksgiving, the school's winter concert, and Yerevan's first snow of the season -- all to get you in the holiday spirit!

I did not take this picture.  Isn't it pretty?

Angela's Holiday Spiced (not spiked!) Punch recipe

Because this recipe is alcohol-free, it's my favorite straight edge alternative to mulled wine. Perfect for kids, teens, pregnant moms, and anyone who loves a tasty hot beverage! (Toddlers love it, too, but you may decide to dilute it a bit if you think they'll find the flavor too strong.)

Yields 2 liters of punch.
  • 1 liter apple juice or cider
  • 1 liter cherry juice (blackcurrant or something else tart would also work well)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • about 15-20 whole cloves
  • other optional spices, to taste: cardamom pods, star anise, orange peel, diced apple, etc.
Put the small spices in a tea ball or something that will make them easy to remove from the pot afterwards.  Boil all ingredients in a covered pot on the stove for 15 minutes or longer.  Keep tasting it until you can just taste the spices.  Important -- if you leave the cinnamon sticks and cloves in for too long (more than 30 minutes or so), the punch might get too "spicy."  So when the taste is to your liking, remove and discard the spices.  Ladle into mugs.  You can enjoy the punch while it's hot or put it in the fridge for a cold refreshment later!

28 September 2013

A family tradition: camping at Hnevank

One year after our first camping experience in Armenia, we decided to do it again!  This time we didn't have a 3-day weekend (Armenian Independence Day fell on a Saturday), so we just went for one night.  We invited the Alanis family, as well as Diane, so we had a nice group, and Nate had little Ruben to keep him company.

The weather was excellent most of the time, but it started raining in the evening, so we moved our tents into the half-restored church for sanctuary.  Because we got a new camera over the summer, I decided to use it to document the many varieties of flowering plants dotting the mountainside in early autumn.  (I seriously need a field guide to local plants.)  Overall, it was another wonderful experience, and we look forward to continuing the tradition next September 21!

Nathan and Rubencito enjoying the view -- and the chips!

A farm down in the Debed River valley.

This appears to be a subspecies of Argiope trifasciata, known in the US as a banded garden spider.

Can you spot the praying mantis in this picture?

A rusty trailer on the premises, probably used as shelter by shepherds passing through the area.

An awesome grasshopper of some kind.

Waking up, safe and dry in the main church at Hnevank.

I photographed some of these flowers last year.

A mountainside stream.

A view of Hnevank from higher ground.

Rose hips!

Armen grows vegetables and raises pigs on the hill just above the monastery.

Armen's mother tends to a large cooking pot outside their humble abode.

19 August 2013

Why we're still in Armenia... (Part 3)

This post is the third in a series that attempts to answer the question, "What is it we love about Armenia?"  To read the previous post, click here. To read the first post, click here.

The kindness of strangers

In the U.S., parents and teachers drill into their children the knowledge of “stranger danger,” and one of the maxims that falls into this category of wisdom is “never take candy from strangers.”  But back in our early days in Yerevan, exploring the city with a small child, we learned quickly that there is no such adage in this country.  In fact, if at any time we do not allow Nathan to accept a piece of candy from the kindly old gentleman we meet on the sidewalk, the friendly taxi driver or shopkeeper, or even the accountant at our school, aside from being completely baffled, the candy-giver would probably find us rude snobs, not to mention cruel parents.

Equally surprising were the times we would go to a store and the employees would insist on holding and entertaining the baby while we shopped!  And, no, this was not a babysitting service being offered to attract customers -- these people just wanted to do it!

Something else that takes some getting used to is the idea that it’s ok to hitch a ride with strangers.  According to the Stone Garden Guide to Armenia and Karabagh, “Hitchhiking is generally safe, and it’s common among all groups, including…the elderly…soldiers and police…In the villages and towns, it is customary for drivers to offer rides to just about anyone, and pedestrians seem to expect that cars will stop for them.”  Our old Peace Corps buddy Ben frequently got from place to place (in Armenia and Georgia) by hitchhiking and never had any problems.  Another acquaintance is currently in the process of documenting on his blog his experience of hitchhiking the historical Silk Road: http://harebeat.com/2013/01/22/the-silk-road-trip-2012-prologue/ -- a fascinating read!  Though we haven’t been in a situation where we needed to do any hitchhiking ourselves, it’s reassuring to know that if our car ever broke down in some remote part of the country, we could easily hitch a ride to safety.

Now that we’ve been here a while, we’ve overcome our American fears of stranger danger and have become real human beings like the rest of the Armenian population.  Recently, on a particularly sweltering day at the park, Jarred saw a thirsty toddler who couldn’t reach the water fountain, so he simply picked the kid up and helped him get a drink.  A few minutes later, while I was sitting on a park bench, two children, probably three and four years old, approached me from the playground, greedily eyeing Nathan’s thermos.  I asked Nathan if he didn’t mind sharing his water, and he said it was ok.  They gulped down most of it, poor things!  A minute later, their mother came after them and thanked us.  A simple act of kindness makes us more than just strangers!

I know there are such human beings in the United States, too, but it sometimes seems they are hiding somewhere, waiting to emerge only in times of crisis to make themselves known.  Here in Armenia, the goodness of humanity is visible every day.

05 May 2013

Why we're still in Armenia... (Part 2)

This post is the second in a series that attempts to answer the question, "What is it we love about Armenia?"  To read the first post, click here. 

The influence of history and geography

St. Stepanos Church sits precariously atop a cliff in Aragatsotn region.

This one is true everywhere, but coming from Florida, we notice geographic features much more here (let’s face it – a mountain range is simply more visible, even from a distance, than a wetland).  We find the regions outside Yerevan so incredibly romantic: emerald hills, golden valleys, rocky canyons that follow the twisting paths of rushing rivers far below…I guess I just never imagined that I might one day live in the pages of a storybook.

Overlooking the Kasagh River gorge from Saghmosavank.

As if that’s not enough, just beyond every little village and atop many a precarious precipice is a historic fortress, church, monastery, or monument, untouched for centuries, waiting to be discovered by adventurous travelers and holy pilgrims alike.  A big plus is that such places are rarely crowded, and most charge no admission fee.  Regular readers have probably noticed that photos of tourist sites on this blog lack the elsewhere-compulsory throngs of visitors.  (And that usually makes for some great photo opportunities!)

Even at Garni, a major tourist attraction, you practically have the place to yourself.

Another American once remarked to me that all the Armenian monasteries were the same – “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all,” were his exact words.  I beg to differ!  Each place is unique in terms of architecture, history, situation relative to geographic features, and especially in important details such as inscriptions, natural variations in stones, and use of frescoes, reliefs, and other art.  All these features work together to give every historic site its own character – an individual presence that is impossible to deny.  Some are so charming, I can visit again and again (and I have), and each time, I discover something new and surprising: the way the sunlight illuminates – or casts into shadow – a ruined church at different times of day, the cooling reprieve from the hot summer sun or the bone-chilling cold of winter inside the same ancient stone temple, whether a long-forgotten graveyard is adorned with blooming wildflowers or fallen leaves.

Tanahati Vank, windswept in early April...

...and reborn just a few weeks later at the end of May.

Speaking of seasons, that’s another benefit to the Armenian climate – there are four very distinct seasons here (unlike in central Florida).  And as much as people complain about winter, how could we appreciate spring and summer without it?  It’s difficult to pick a favorite time of year – what’s the most appealing: the colors of the summer harvest, the freshness of spring, the wonder of a white Christmas?

When our time comes to leave this country, I hope our next location will have a similar climate because I'm not ready to go back to year-round flip-flops.  But I have a feeling we will be hard-pressed to find another place that can so completely immerse us in a fantastic carved-stone history.