Today we woke up around 7:30am and had breakfast downstairs before making our way back to Las Vegas, where we will be spending the next two days. The drive back to Las Vegas took about 3.25 hours.
Our first stop once we arrived in Las Vegas was the Baby Birds Cafe, where we both had smoked salmon toast, and I had a Masala Chai, and my dad has a banana smoothie.
After lunch we drove to Area 15, a unique entertainment complex featuring sculptures, displays, bars, etc. Inside Area 15 was two areas that we visited; Meow Wolf Omega Mart and Wink World.
Meow Wolf has an interactive art installation in Las Vegas called Omega Mart, which is located in Area15, a new art and entertainment complex that was opened in September 2020. Omega Mart is a 52000 square foot (4800 square metre) grocery store that allows guests to explore American consumerism and corporate responsibility through an interactive environment. The exhibit features over 325 writers, painters, sculptors, actors, lighting designs, musicians, and support staff.
Wink World is a visual / audio exhibit created by Chris Wink, who is well known as one of the three co-founders of Blue Man Group. It was okay, but nothing to cry home about. I don’t have any photos of it, but I have some video of it, which I’ll post to my YouTube channel later.
Today we explored the three ghost towns of Old Irontown, Silver Reef, and Grafton. We woke up around 7:00am and had a complimentary breakfast at our hotel. I had some fruit, bacon, and an omelette. After breakfast we drove about 75 minutes to Old Irontown.
Old Irontown, originally known as Iron City, was originally founded in 1868 when there was a second attempt at mining iron from the nearby Iron Mountain. The first attempt from Cedar City was not successful. The city didn’t last long, only until 1876, when the Edmunds-Tucker Act (religious crisis) and the Panic of 1873 (economic crisis) led to the closure of the mine, which eventually led to the demise of the city. At its peak, the settlement included a school, blacksmith, charcoal furnaces, and a foundry. The ghost town is now a protected historic site since 1971.
After visiting Old Irontown we tried to visit a nearby historic aviation arrow, however the road was impassable, so we continued onto the second ghost town of Silver Reef, which was about 40 minutes away.
Silver Reef is a ghost town Northeast of St. George, Utah. It was established in 1875 when a silver vein was discovered in a sandstone formation by a prospector named John Kemple. Geologists were baffled by this, as silver is not usually found in sandstone. Originally established as the settlement called Rockpile, the town was eventually renamed Silver Reef. By 1879 over 2000 people were living in Silver Reef. Mines were starting to closed by 1884 as the worldwide price of silver dropped, and by 1901 most of the buildings had either been demolished or moved to Leeds.
In 1916, mining operations in Silver Reef resumed under the direction of a man named Alex Colbath, who started the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company to exploit the remaining mines in the area. These mines were eventually purchased by American Smelting and Refining Company in 1928, however due to the Great Depression, not much work was completed. In 1948 the mines were purchased by The Western Gold & Uranium Corporation, and in 1951 began mining uranium in the area. The mines were eventually sold again, in 1979 to the 5M Corporation. Today, the Wells Fargo office, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, and the Rice Building are the prominent remaining structures of the ghost town.
It was time to get some lunch so we drove about 20 minutes to Hurricane and ate at Main Street Cafe. We both had a cranberry turkey sandwich, which was delicious. I chose a side of salad with blue cheese dressing.
After lunch we drove towards Silver Reef; the last ghost town of the day. Along the way we stopped at Matt’s Offroad Recovery, which is an off-road recovery operation outisde of hurricane. Matt has a YouTube channel which I have been watching on a regular basis for the last 2.5 years, so it was neat to see his crew and the Morrvair in person. They were fairly busy, so were not actively taking tours of the site. I did see Lizzy and Matt’s wife Jamie though. After a brief stop we continued towards Grafton.
Grafton is a ghost town just south of Zion National Park in Utah. It is likely the most photographed ghost town in the Western states, and has been used as a filming location for several movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The town was settled in 1859 as a cotton-growing project ordered by Brigham Young, an American leader and politician at the time. The town grew quickly in the first couple of years, featuring 28 families by 1864. Each family farmed an acre of land. Continuous flooding and large amounts of silt in the land quickly lead to the abandonment of the town, and only four families remained by 1890. The last residents left Grafton in 1944. In June 1997 the Grafton Heritage Partnership was organized to protect, preserve, and restore the remaining townsite.
It was around 4:00pm at this time, and we had accomplished everything that we wanted to see today so we drove back towards St. George. My dad had found another aviation navigation arrow that we could stop at, which was right in St. George. These large 50 foot “Chrome Yellow” concrete arrows were built between 1926 and 1932 to help to guide pilots of early airmail flights across the United States. All arrows pointed East on West-East airways, and North on South-North airways. In the middle of the arrow was a 50 foot tall steel tower that had a rotating beacon to help aid in navigation, especially at night. During World War 2 the steel towers were dismantled to supply metal for the way effort. Towards the end of the war aircraft navigation systems were starting to be utilized, so the arrows became bleached and started to crumble. The arrow that we visited today is painted pink, but its originally colour would have been that vibrant yellow.
After that we drove back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going out for dinner. We decided to go back to the same place as last night. This time I had a lamb burger and a salad, and Dad had a pulled pork sandwich. After dinner we went back to the hotel to relax for a bit before going to bed, as we have a fairly early day tomorrow because we need to go for our hiking orientation in Kanab for our hike on Thursday.
Today I woke up at 7:30am naturally. After getting dressed I walked over to the sister hotel where a delicious complimentary breakfast buffet was being served. After breakfast I hailed a taxi on the GG app to the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex. The Armenian Genocide Memorial is dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide, and is located on Tsitsernakaberd hill that overlooks Yerevan. It was built in 1967 on the same site that was once an Iron Age fortress. Every year on April 24th the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is recognized, and thousands of people lay flowers around the memorial out of respect of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who died during the atrocities committed by the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) between 1915 and 1922. The concrete monument was designed by architects Arthur Tarkhanyan, Sashur Kalashyan and artist Hovhannes Khachatryanar. The monument features a 44 metre tall “stele” which symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Next to the stele is a circle with a depth of 1.5 metres featuring an eternal flame, which is surrounded by 12 concrete slabs, which represents the twelve lost provinces in the present-day Turkey. Along the edge of the park there is a 100 metre long wall with the names of towns and villages where massacres and deportations were known to have taken place. At the same site the is The Armenian Genocide Museum, which was very sobering to visit. I spent about an hour hear reading about what happened.
After visiting the memorial it was time to do something lighter. Located on the same hill is the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex. The sports complex is a futuristic looking sporting complex that was opened in 1983. It was designed by A. Tarkhanian, S. Khachikian, G. Poghosian, G. Musheghian. The sports complex has capacity for 8000 people and was only open for two years before a large fire broke out. After the fire it sat empty for two years until it was repaired by the end of 1987. In 1999 the complex received its current name after the assignation of Armenian parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan. In October 2005 the complex was sold by the Armenian government to Russian BAMO Holding Company for $5.7 million with the agreement that the name of the complex couldn’t be changed, and the functionality of the complex couldn’t be changed. Shortly after nearly $42 million was spent renovating the complex over a three year period into a modern sports / concert arena. In August 2014, BAMO Holding Company had accumulated a large amount of debt, and the Government of Armenia transferred the ownership of the complex to the Ministry of Defense. In August 2015 the government decided to sell the complex to NTAA Investment Group, who eventually has a plan to turn the complex into a family-oriented center that will include hotels, an indoor waterpark, concert halls, meeting rooms, restaurants, shops, and a casino.
From here I took a quick 8 minute taxi ride to Yerevan Cadastre Local, which is located at 35/2 Komitas Avenue. It is a neat looking soviet era building, however I couldn’t find any information on it.
It was already approaching lunch at this point in time, so I decided to walk to Cafe Aznavour, about 20 minutes away, to get some lunch. The Russian couple that I met yesterday had recommended this place to me, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I had some coffee and Borscht.
Across the street from where I had lunch was a very strange building that houses the Development and Investments Corporation of Armenia. The building is a neobrutalist apartment block located at 74 Nairi Zaryan Street. Despite the building looking fairly old, it was recently completed in 2013, and reminds me a lot of the “city gates” that were built in Belgrade, Serbia. You can read about that in my blog post here.
A 20 minute walk away was Haghtanak Amusement Park and the Mother Armenia Statue. The amusement park is located in… you guessed it… Haghtanak Park. Despite it looking fairly dated, it is a fairly new amusement park that was started in 2017. It features 24 rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, a ferris wheel, gondolas, etc. This reminds me a bit of the amusement park that I visited in Tbilisi.
The Mother Armenia Statue features a female monumental statue in Victory Park that overlooks Yerevan. It replaces a monumental statue of General Secretary Joseph Stalin, which was original erected in 1950. The original monument was designed by sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and architect Rafayel Israyelian. They designed the pedestal to allow statues to be easily replaced, because they “knew that the glory of dictators is temporary”. In 1962 the statue of Stalin was removed, with one soldier being killed and many others injured during the process. In 1967 the current statue of Mother Armenia, designed by Ara Harutyunyan, was installed. Mother Armenia symbolizes a 17 year old girl, named Genya Muradian, which Ara met at a store. The monument, including Mother Armenia and the original pedestal stands 51 metres (167 feet) tall.
After enjoying a nice walk through Haghtanak Park I exited on the North end, where I saw a huge obelisk. I walked over to it and realized I hadn’t done any research about this obelisk at all. Standing at 65 metres tall, it commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Soviet rule in Armenia. At the top of the monolith is a crown from the Urartian period, which dates back to about 850 BC. The obelisk was designed by architects Jim Torosyan and Sarvis Gurzadyan, and was completed in 1967.
I ended up walking down the huge Cascade Complex to get to my next stop, which was the National Centre of Chamber Music. The National Centre of Chamber Music is a concert hall in the Kentron district of Yerevan. The music hall is constructed in Armenian architecture style, and was opened in 1977. The hall has a capacity for 300 people, and was designed by Stepan Kyurkchyan, and constructed by Eduard Khzmalyan. The organ located inside the music hall is a unique pipe organ that was used in a few areas in the former USSR. It was designed in the Netherlands on a 17th century design that was used mainly for Baroque music, and features 4000 pipes. It was installed in 1979, and renovated in 2007. I also spotted an old soviet era playground while I was here.
A block away is the site of an abandoned cable car station. The abandoned lower station, located at 1,3 Charents Street was built in 1962 and served 600 people a day until a tragic accident occurred in 2004. One of the cable cars derailed and fell 15 metres into the steep hillside. The car was carry eleven people; five of the people died and the other six were seriously injured. The main cable was replaced a year earlier, and it was suspected that improper maintenance occurred. The owner / operator of the cable car ended up being accused of criminal negligence and was sentenced to up to ten years in prison.
My next stop was a fair distance away, about a 25 minute walk. The Tigran Petrosian Chess House is the chess center complex of Yerevan. It was opened in 1970, and is now recognized globally as being one of the best chess center in the world. The complex was named after the former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian in 1984. Tigran even laid the first stone of the building. The triangular shaped building was designed by Zhanna Meshcheryakova.
Another ten minute walk away was the Rossia Mall. The unique building is a well-preserved example of soviet brutalism, and somewhat resembles that of a saddle. Across the street was quite the monstrosity of a brutalism (modernism) apartment complex.
It was starting to get dark at this point, so it was time to wrap up my day. I didn’t need to take the metro, but I wanted to ride atleast one stop to get a feel for what it was like. The stations were essentially all original, as was the rolling stock. I took the metro one stop and then walked back to Lavash Restaurant, and had another local dish called Kinjura, which was basically a huge lamb wellington in the shape of those Georgian dumplings called Khinkali. It was delicious!
Today I woke up at around 5:00am to catch a 8:00am flight to Yerevan, Armenia. I decided to take a cab since it was only a $10 ride to the airport. My flight was out of Terminal 2 at Dubai, which is the low cost carrier terminal. It reminds me a lot of London Stansted airport, or Terminal 2 at Lisbon. Very basic, and extremely busy. I had my travel fork taken away from me at security, despite it completing dozens of previous trips with me without issue in the past.
After clearing security, I had a delicious three cheese toasted sandwich, and a coffee while waiting for my flight. My flight was on a Fly Dubai Boeing 737 MAX-8. On the flight there was this obnoxious Armenian who started vaping before we even took off. After reaching cruising altitude I went back to tell the flight attendants, who went and asked him to stop, and then he got confrontational with them. Eventually he drank enough and fell asleep. What a great start to my trip to Armenia…
On the descent into Yerevan there were breathtaking views of Mount Ararat, a dormant volcano, which stands at 5137 metres (16854 feet) tall. Fun fact; Mount Ararat actually resides in Turkey.
When I landed at Yerevan I was heavily scrutinized for having gone to Azerbaijan, despite reading online that it wouldn’t be an issue if I did Azerbaijan first, then Armenia. Apparently if it was the other way round I would have been turned away immediately. After being scrutinized for about twenty minutes the customs officer stamped my passport and let me go on my way.
I had downloaded a taxi hailing app called GG prior to entering the country, so that I could grab a taxi and go. While I was waiting for my taxi I was harassed by quite a few Armenians at the airport. This wasn’t giving me good vibes about the country, and I hadn’t even left the airport.
I ended up leaving the airport and walking to the very end of the terminal to get away from people. I noticed a very old brutalism (modernism) airport terminal. It was first opened in 1961 and is a well preserved example of Soviet Brutalism style architecture. The original soviet style terminal was designed by M. Khachikyan, A. Tarkhanyan, S. Qalashyan, L. Cherkezyan, and M. Baghdasaryan. It is a circular building, with the parking located underneath the bridge serving the departures. Alongside the original terminal stands a huge monolithic spaceship-like control tower, which had a luxury restaurant at the top. In the 1980’s a new terminal was built alongside the original terminal to increase with the increased domestic air travel. Cargo traffic increased significantly after Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and a new cargo terminal was opened in 1998. In 2006 a new gate area and arrival hall were opened. The airport consists of only one 3850 metre (11630 foot) long runway. While you can’t currently enter the original terminal or control tower, they’re both currently protected from being knocked down. Perhaps one day they can be restored to their former glory?
My taxi driver showed up and drove me to my hotel; Elysium Gallery Hotel, about 15 minutes away, right in the city center.
After checking into my hotel, which was a small simple room, I started exploring Yerevan. Before I dive into Yerevan lets explore a bit of the history of Armenia and the capital city of Yerevan.
Armenia, originally called Hayk, is located in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat. Human occupation of the area dates back to about 4000 BC. There’s too much history that has occurred in the area for me to go over in detail, however Modern Armenia is comprised of only a small portion of what ancient Armenia, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, once was. During its peak, Armenia extended from the south-central Black Sea coast to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia, which is located in present-day Iran. Historic Armenia was constantly invaded over the years and eventually lost its autonomy in the 14th Century. The Ottoman Empire and the Persians ruled the area for hundreds of years, until Russia annexed Eastern Armenia during the 19th Century. Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule, and in 1894-1896 and 1915-1922 the Ottoman government committed awful acts of genocide by killing millions of Armenians. Eastern Armenia declared independence on May 28th 1918, however was quickly invaded by the Turks and Soviet Russia in 1920. The Soviet Republic of Armenia was established on November 29th 1920, and in 1922 Armenia became part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which was dissolved in 1936 to become part of the Soviet Union, where it remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. It declared independence on September 23rd 1991.
Yerevan is the largest city in Armenia, and is also the Capital city. The history of Yerevan dates back to 8th Century BC with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by King Argishti I of Urartu. Erebuni was designed as an administrative and religious center. Over the later years of the ancient Armenian Kingdom, new capital cities were establish, and Yerevan declined in importance. Under Iranian and Russian ruling it was the center of the Erivan Khanate from 1736 to 1828, and the Erivan Governorate from 1850 to 1917. After World War 1, Yerevan became the capital city of the First Republic of Armenia, and the city rapidly grew when it was under Soviet ruling, and further more in the 1990’s after Armenia declared its independence. Today Yerevan has 1.4 million people and is a popular tourist destination, and is an important industrial sector. Over 40% of Yerevans industrial products are produced in Yerevan, including chemicals, metals, machinery, rubber products, plastics, textiles, clothing, and jewelry. Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO.
My first spot to visit was supposed to be Freedom Square, but guess what? There was a massive protest there, so I quickly turned around and walked the other way. There was probably about 100 police officers there from my estimate. I presume they were protesting about the Azerbaijan conflict that’s ongoing, and got significantly worse within the last few days. Apparently they also annoyed Russia the morning I arrived by notifying them that they’re not allowed to practice military drills at their military base, which is located just outside Yerevan, this year, because its not tasteful with the current issues ongoing in the Ukraine.
Skipping to the next place to visit was the The Aram Khachatryan Concert Hall, also known as Yerevan Opera Theatre, was built in 1939. It was designed by Armenian architect Alexander Tamanian in 1933, and was designed to have over 3000 seats between two concert halls; an Opera Hall, and a Ballet Theatre. Construction had begun, and Alexander even had designed a miniature model to be presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937, however he died in 1936 before he could present his plan. The main theatre was finished in 1939 under the supervision of his son, however overall construction lasted until 1953! The final capacity of the the Opera Hall was 1400 seats, and the Ballet Theatre had 1200 seats.
Nearby was Komitas Statue. Komitas Statue is dedicated to Soghomon Soghomonian, also known as Komitas. He was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, and is considered the founding father of the Armenian National School of Music.
Also nearby is the Alexander Tamanyan Statue, which is dedicated to the Russian-born Armenian neoclassical architect, who is well known for his work in Yerevan. The statue was built in 1974.
Immediately behind is the enormous Cascade Complex. The Yerevan Cascade Complex is a giant staircase made of limestone. It links the downtown Kentron area with the Monument neighbourhoods of Arabkir and Kanaker-Zeytun. It was designed by architects Jim Torosyan, Aslan Mkhitaryan, and Sargis Gurzadyan. Construction started in 1971, and was only partially completed by the time construction stopped in 1980. There are several elevators underneath the steps, as well as exhibit halls connected to some of the landings. Construction of the final phase began again in 2002, and lasted until 2009. The project is still technically incomplete, as there is a large museum complex proposed, but construction has yet to begin. You really have to see this place to experience how large it is. I’ve never seen anything like this! While I was here I could see and hear fighter jets overhead, which made me feel more unsettled than I already was. I tried to use my VPN and google what was going on, but guess what? VPN was blocked. Never had that before… what’s going on here? I eventually found out later on that Russia was buzzing Yerevan because they were upset that Armenia announced earlier that day that they were no longer going to allow Russia to do wargame training because of the ongoing Ukraine war.
I continued exploring Yerevan, but felt on edge and was rushing through things. I would say that my photography wasn’t the best in this city because of that. Next stop was the Eternal Alphabet Wall, which is an art relief project showcasing the Armenian alphabet in beautifully cut out metal forms. The art project was designed by Bahan Balasanyan, and installed in 2015 in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian alphabet, which contains 38 letters (31 consonants and 7 vowels), was developed around 405 AD by Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian linguist. The alphabet originally had 36 letters, however three more were eventually adopted. The alphabet was also widely used in the Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.
From here I could see two unique buildings; the Museum of Manuscripts, and the NPUA 9th Building.
The Museum of Manuscripts, also known as Matenadaran, is a repository of manuscripts and a research institute. The building was built between 1945 and 1958 out of gray basalt. The reason why it took so long to build was because there was a lack of labour between 1947 and 1953. It was designed by Mark Grigorian, and is influenced by medieval Armenian architecture.
The NPUA 9th Building is a university building that was built in the 1980’s. The building, designed by Armen Aghalyan, is an excellent example of brutalism (modernism).
A short walk away is the National Library of Armenia. The building was built in 1939 and designed by architect Alexander Tamanyan. I ended up just snapping a photo of the exterior, because I didn’t feel like going inside.
Just up the street from the library is The Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, which was founded in 1921. I couldn’t find much history on the building that it resides in, however you can see some beautiful Soviet era motifs, so I have to believe that this building was built in the 1920’s, or as late as the early 1930’s.
A short walk away is the Yeritasarddaken metro station, which is a great example of brutalism (modernism). Yerevan Metro is the eight metro system that the former Soviet Union built. Unlike most of the former soviet metro systems, its stations are not very deep. The metro stations are also fairly basic on the inside.
Just up the road is the Holy Mother of God Kathoghike Church, which is a small medieval style Armenian Apostolic Church that was constructed in 1264. The complex was larger once upon a time; a large basilica named after the Holy Mother of God was built between 1693 and 1695, however it was demolished under Soviet rule to make way for residential buildings and a linguistic institute. The only remaining building is Katoghike, which measures only 5.4 metres by 7.5 metres. Due to its small size, it only serves as a prayer house.
A few blocks away was Cinema Rossia, a former soviet cinema that was built in 1975. It was designed by Spartak Khachikyan, Hrachik Poghosyan, and Artur Tarkhanyan.
I was starting to get hungry, so I decided to eat at a restaurant called Lavash, where I had a local delicacy called Lavash. I figured the restaurant probably knew how to cook that dish properly considering its name. Lavash is a thin flatbread, however this restaurant did a bit of a twist. My meal included a delicious steak with melted cheese cooked inside lavash, cut open, and then spread over my steak. It was absolutely incredible!
After enjoying my delicious meal I walked to the Hard Rock Café, where I purchased another pin. I also found the building looked pretty neat.
I then walked to the former Ministry of Labour and Social building, which is another excellent example of soviet brutalism, and was built in 1972. It is located next to Republic Square and Republic Square metro station. The building was designed by architects T. Gevorkyan and V. Gusyan.
Speaking of Republic Square, check out the neat look of Republic Square Metro station.
Turning around 180 degrees you’re presented with the jaw dropping Republic Square. Republic Square, formerly known as Lenin Square, is the central town square in Yerevan. It consists of two sections; an oval roundabout, and a trapezoidal shaped section, which contains a pool with musical fountains. The square is surrounded by five major buildings (Government House, History Museum, National Gallery, Armenia Marriott Hotel, and two other government buildings, which were all built in pink and yellow volcanic rock in neoclassical style. The square was renamed to Republic Square when Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
It was starting to get dark, but there were a few more places I wanted to visit before calling it a day. A 15 minute walk away was the Yerevan History Museum. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside, however I did snap a photo from the outside. The Yerevan History Museum was founded in 1931 as the Communal Museum. The museum is located in a building designed by Jim Torosyan, and is attached to the Yerevan City Hall. The museum as originally located on the second floor of the Yerevan Fire Department building until 1936, then was moved to the Blue Mosque until 1994. From 1994 to 1997 the museum was located in a former gymnasium, until it moved to its current location in 2005. The main façade of the museum showcases what the original city core looked like.
Across the street is the Noy Brandy Company. There’s a bit of history with how Noy came to be. Original Noy started life as the Yerevan Brandy Company, also known as ArArAt, which was established in 1887 within the territories of the Erivan Fortess. It was started by a wealthy guild merchant named Nerses Tairyan, with the help of his cousin Vasily Tairov. In 1899 it was leased to Russian businessman Nikolay Shustov, who was well-known for his vodka and liqueur production. In 1900, Shustov fully acquired the factory and renamed it to Shustov and Sons. The company ended up becoming the main supplier of the Imperial Majesty’s court of Russia. Here’s a fun fact; In 1900, Shustov’s Armenian brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called “cognac”, which is usually only reserved for Brandy that is produced in the Cognac region of France. In 1948, the factory was separated into 2 entities; the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory, and the Yerevan Brandy Factory. In 1953 the Yerevan Brandy Factory was transferred to a new building, designed by architect Hovhannes Margaryan, in 1953. The new building stands on a high plateau at the western end of the Victory Bridge, opposite the Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory. It has a long flight of steps leading up to nine austere arches. Between 1953 and 1991, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was granted the rights to produce Armenian cognac within the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Yerevan Brandy Factory was sold by the Government of Armenia to French distiller Pernod Ricard for $30 million in June 1998, after a competitive bidding process. The other building entered a period of abandonment until 2002, when it was privatized and sold to Multi Group Holding led by businessman Gagik Tsarukyan. The building was completely restored and rebranded as “NOY”, after Noah’s Ark, because apparently it rested on the Mountains of Ararat according to biblical scriptures. Anyways so I ended up doing a tour here alongside a young Russian couple who were celebrating their 11th year anniversary together. They were absolutely wonderful and we had some great conversations. During the tour we got to taste delicious port from 1913 and 1924, and some 10 and 20 year brandy’s. The bottle from 1913 goes for a few thousand dollars!
After the tour I was decided to take some night photos, and get some dinner on my way back to the hotel. I stopped at the Dargett Craft Beer brewery for a delicious pizza. This is apparently one of the top destinations in all of Yerevan for food and beverages. It certainly didn’t disappoint.
One I finished dinner, I walked back to my hotel and did some blog writing for the remainder of the evening.
Today was my final day in Dubai, and again I had to wake up fairly early to ensure I was able to see everything that I wanted to see. I woke up at 7:30am, got ready, and took the metro to the Mall of the Emirates to have Tim Hortons for breakfast, since it was on the way to my first stop at Legoland. They have more unique breakfast options than we do at home. I had a chicken and cheese English muffin, alongside a large coffee. The coffee here tastes way better than the Tim Hortons coffee back home.
I hopped back on the metro until the end of the line, where I transferred to an express bus to take me to Legoland. All in all, the trip from my hotel to Legoland took nearly 2.25 hours, including my 25 minute stop at the mall for breakfast. While this took a while, it sure did beat a $100 cab ride each way.
Legoland Dubai opened in October 2016, and is the eighth in the world. I have been to the one in California, and I believe the one in Florida as well, and those ones were substantially better than this one. The park features a few rollercoasters, 40 attractions, and utilizes over 20 million lego bricks to create 15000 miniature models of different landmarks and structures from around the world. I was mainly interested in the Miniatureland section, more so than the rides.
After exploring Legoland I took the bus and metro to the Al Fahidi Historical District, almost back where my hotel was. Al Fahidi is a historical neighbourhood that is well preserved so you can experience what Dubai would have been like in the late 1800’s. Construction of the neighbourhood was started in the 1890’s, and features about 60 housing units. It was built primarily for Persian Merchants who were drawn to Dubai by trade opportunities and the incentives offered by the Emerati government. In the 1980’s about half of the historic neighbourhood was knocked down to make way for the development of a new office complex. The rest of the area was slated for demolition by the city in 1989, however British architect Rayner Otter worked with the city to stop the planned demolition. In 2005 a project was initiated by the city to restore the old neighbourhood. Located within the neighbourhood is Al Fahidi Fort, which was built in the late 18th Century as a defensive structure along the city boundary. The fort was expanded between the 1830’s and 1850’s.
From the Al Fahidi district I could see my next stop across the water; the Dubai Spice Souk. Dubai’s Spice Souk, also known as the Old Souk, is a traditional spice market located in Deira (East Dubai). The souk is comprised of very narrow lanes which are lined with tiny stores that sell spices. It’s a colourful and aromatic sensory overload. It’s also a bit overwhelming being harassed by dozens of vendors to buy their stuff. I had my headphones on for this part, because I knew it would get annoying. Too busy for my liking, but a must see.
The final stop for my day was the Burj Kalifa and Dubai Fountain. The Burj Khalifa is a neo-futuristic skyscraper that was built between 2004 and 2009. It holds the record for being the tallest skyscraper in the world since it was finished in 2009, standing at 830 metres (2722 feet) tall. The building, named after the former president of the United Arab Emirates, was designed by architect Adrian Smith who works for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the same firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago. The building has a staggering 57 elevators and 8 escalators! Each elevator (some are double decker cabins) has a capacity of 14 people per cabin and can ascent at 10 metres per second! Some additional fun facts about the building are that the building uses nearly 1 million litres (250000 gallons) of water per day, the building has 347 km (215 miles) of pipes, and the cooling system that uses 46 MW of power!
After visiting the Burj Khalifa I had some ramen for dinner, while waiting for the 6:00pm show at the Dubai Fountain. The Dubai Fountain is a choreographed fountain system located in the artificial Burj Khalifa lake below the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. It was designed by WET Design, which has created some of the world’s most famous fountains including the waterfall I saw yesterday at Expo 2020, The Rain Vortex in Singapore, Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, 1988 Lisbon Expo Fountains, Fountain of Nations at EPCOT in Florida, etc. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) was founded by Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson in 1983. All three worked as Imagineers at Disney. Their original creation was the Leapfrog foundation at EPCOT. The Dubai Fountain features 6600 lights, 50 coloured projectors, and many jets that arranged into five circles, and two long arcs. The fountain can spray 83000 litres (22000 gallons) of water into the air at any moment, and the tallest jet can reach 152 metres (500 feet) in the air! You can watch the show on my YouTube page here.
After watching the three minute show at the fountain I took the metro back to my hotel, to blog for the remainder of the evening, before going to bed early, as I had an early morning flight to Yerevan, Armenia the next day.
Today I woke up at 7:30am because I knew I would have a lot of ground to cover. Dubai is a very spread out city, and it takes quite a while to get places. I got ready for my day and hailed a cab to take me to my first spot, Al Mahatta Museum. On the ride over the cab driver warned me that it would take 1-1.5 hours to return, despite the drive there only taking 15 minutes. The Al Mahatta Museum is an aviation museum located at the first airport in the United Arab Emirates. The airport was built in 1932 as a staging post for commercial flight routes from Britain to India. It features rare planes such as the de Havilland Comet and Vickers VC-10. Sadly, I couldn’t enter the museum due to flooding that occurred two days before, when they had a fairly significant rainstorm. I snapped a photo of the exterior.
Well… the cab driver wasn’t kidding about the return time taking a while. It took me over an hour to get a ride to the nearest metro station, just 6 kilometres away! I took the metro to the Museum of the Future, which was my next stop. The museum wasn’t open by the time I arrived, and I had yet to have dinner, so I sourced out a nice place to have breakfast called Flow. There I had a truffled steak sandwich, and a fancy Chemex coffee. I miss my Chemex maker, which I unfortunately broke a few months ago. I had a smaller one that I had I gave to my friend Arthur a couple years back.
The Museum of the Future is an exhibition space for innovative and futuristic ideologies, services and products. It is located in the Financial District, which isn’t too far from the Burj Khalifa. It was founded by the Dubai Future Foundation, and opened recently in February 2022. It was one of the more unique museums that I’ve visited, and I overall enjoyed my experience there. Plenty of special effects were used. I can buy into some of the futuristic ideologies, however most of them seem to be a far reach for the general status quo. I didn’t take too many photos inside, however I did take plenty of video. I’ll post something about that later, when I’ve compiled them together.
I was starting to get hungry so I purchased a donair for lunch from a mall located on Palm Jumeriah. The Palm Jumeriah is an artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree, and was created between 2001 and 2006. The luxury hotel was opened in September 2008. After lunch I went to the top of a tower to take pictures of the Palm from up top. What a unique creation! From the top you can also see Atlantis The Palm, Atlantis The Royal Dubai, and Cayan Tower.
Cayan Tower, also known as the Infinity Tower, is a 306 metre (1004 foot) tall skyscraper owned by Cayan Real Estate Investment and Development. It was built between August 2006 and June 2013. The building features a unique twisting design around a cylindrical elevator core, which features 7 elevators. Each of the 75 floors rotates 1.2 degrees between floors. The building, one of the tallest in the world, was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.
Atlantis The Royal Dubai isn’t quite open yet, but will be in a few months. It will feature 795 luxirous rooms, 17 restaurants, and the worlds largest jellyfish aquarium. The hotel is comprised of six seperate buildings that give the appearance of being stacked like legoblocks due to the use of multiple skybridges. The building is a modern twist on the The Bank of Georgia Headquarters Building that I saw in Tbilisi, Georgia. You can check that out on my blog post here.
Atlantis The Palm is a luxury hotel featuring 1500+ rooms on the apex of the Palm Jumeriah. After soaking in the views up top I took the monorail to see the hotel up close.
My feet were starting to hurt at this point in time, since I had already clocked in 25000 steps already. I took the monorail back to the metro, and then took the metro to the beach located near the Dubai Eye to relax for a few hours soaking in the sun.
Ain Dubai, previously known as Dubai Eye, is the world’s tallest and largest Ferris Wheel. It stands 250 metres (820 feet) tall and was constructed between 2015 and 2021. The wheel can carry 1750 passengers in 48 cabins and provides breathtaking views of the Dubai Marina and various Dubai landmarks. It’s not currently operational, but is set to open soon, although it looks fairly rusty and weathered already.
After relaxing at the beach I took the metro, and a bus to a restaurant called Asia Asia, where I met my friend Karen, who I met through my friend Krystylyn in 2016. Karen was running a bit late from work, so I snapped a few photos of the Burj Kalifa while I waited. Karen is a nurse living in Dubai, and has spent most of her career in Saudi Arabi and Dubai. It was nice catching up with her.
After dinner I took the metro and a bus to get a pin from the Hardrock Café, before heading back to my hotel. I had to take a cab back to my hotel because the bus was packed, and another one wasn’t coming for 55 minutes, and I was exhausted and ready for bed.
Today was a much slower pace than yesterday. I was quite surprised by how many things I got to see yesterday. I woke up at around 8:00am, and had breakfast downstairs. This time I opted for the “healthy” option, which was cheese, salami, yoghurt, olives, etc.
Even though that today was a slower pace than yesterday, the buildings were very spread out, so I had to spend a fair amount of my time on public transportation. My first stop was Heydar Mosque. I used the metro system to get here. Heydar Mosque is a massive Islamic mosque named after the former President of Azerbaijan; Heydar Aliyev. It was opened in December 2014 and has capacity for 75000 people!
It had already been over an hour since I left the hotel, and I had way too much coffee, so it was time to find somewhere to be. Ahhh yes McDonald’s comes saves the day. The catch is you need to purchase something, so I purchased… another coffee!
Next stop is an extremely ugly brutalism (modernism) building called the Gosstroy Residential Building. The Gosstroy Residential Building is a sixteen story apartment complex that was designed by Rasim Aliyev, a former Baku city architect. The building was constructed in 1975.
After taking pictures of the building I took the metro to Nizami Metro Station, which is the prettiest looking soviet metro station that I’ve ever seen. It has chandeliers everywhere on the platform area. Baku’s original metro stations were built quite lavishly, and were also built very far underground because they were built during the cold war and doubled as a bomb shelter.
I got off of the train at Nizami station and walked to the Azerbaijan State of Academic Drama Theatre. Theatre and dance are integral parts of the Soviet culture, and the theatre was created for a comedy called “Vizier of Kankaran Khanate”. The theatre was completed in 1919.
I then took the bus to check out the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, opened in 2009, contains 800 pieces of modern art. It was funded by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has created some joint collaboration projects with the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles. The museum doesn’t have individual rooms, but rather a large central open area where walls meet at different angles, which helps to create a multidimensional perspective of the exhibits. The museum was incredible, and had some hilarious pieces of art.
After visiting the art museum I walked to Military Trophies Park, also referred to as War Trophies Park. It is a public park that contains war trophies seized by the Armenian Army and the Artsakh Defense Army during the 2020 Nagorono-Karabakh war against Armenia.
I was getting quite hungry at this point in time so I purchased a delicious spicy donair from a donair shop called FMD (Flame Manqal Donair).
Right outside of FMD was the bus that I needed to talk to my second last stop for the day, Heydar Aliyev Centre. Heydar Aliyev Centre is a beautiful Neo-futurism style complex that consists of a 1000 seat auditorium, exhibition spaces, a conference center, workshops, and a museum. The wavy white building was designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, and was constructed between 2007 and 2012. The building consists of a multitude of folds that connect various central spaces together in one single continuous surface. It was a very well thought out museum outlining the history of Azerbaijan, and all the wonderful things that Heydar Aliyev has done for his people, and I really enjoyed my experience there.
I then stopped in at the New Karavanseray Art Garden Restaurant for dinner. I had some delicious fresh bread and Dashbura, which is an Azerbaijani chicken soup. It was pretty tasty, and a bit salty, which I liked.
After dinner I took some night time photos. It’s really neat to see the Flame Towers lit up at night, as well as the Baku Ferris Wheel.
The rest of the evening I spent editing photos and blogging. Tomorrow, I jump on a mid morning flight to Dubai!
Last night I slept a lot better than the night before. I had nearly 9 hours of sleep, which was a marked improvement. I started the day off by having breakfast downstairs. The complementary breakfast included a few slices of spam, a hard boiled egg, yoghurt, pancakes, and some rice. I skipped the rice since I’m quite allergic to rice now. I should have skipped the egg, as egg whites make me itchy.
After breakfast I walked to Chreli Abano, a traditional Turkish bathhouse. I had a 1 hour soak there with a traditional scrub. It felt great, however it did irritate my skin a fair amount. It only ended up costing me about $40.
After soaking at the bathhouse I walked to Sioni Cathedral, just a few minutes away. Sioni Cathedral is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral. The cathedral follows a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land. In this case it bears the name of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was originally constructed in the 5th century under the order of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Starting in 575 AD a new structure was built under the order of Guaram, the prince of Iberia, however it wasn’t completed until 639 AD. The church was eventually destroyed by Arabs. It was eventually rebuilt in 1112 by King David the Builder. In 1226 it’s dome roof was heavily damaged by the order of Jalal ad Din Mingburnu. It was eventually repairs, and damaged again in 1386, and subsequently repaired by King Alexander I. During the Persian invasions in 1522 and in the 17th century it was damaged yet again. It was substantially restored between 1657 and 1710, however was destroyed again in 1795 by the Persians. The cathedral was restored again between 1850 and 1860, however this time it was restored by Russian artists Knyaz Grigory, so the interior looked quite different. It hadn’t been attacked since, however undertook additional renovations between 1980 and 1983.
After exploring the Cathedral I walked across the bridge to take the Tbilisi Cable Car up to the top of Sololaki Hill to see the Mother of Georgia sculpture, and Narikala Castle & Fortress. The Tbilisi Cable Car opened in 2012. The views on the way up were breathtaking!
The Mother of Georgia Statue, also known as Kartlis Deda, is a monument erected on top of Sololaki Hill in 1958 to celebrate Tbilisi’s 1500th anniversary. The original statue was wooden, however was replaced with an aluminum sculpture in 1997 after considerable environmental damage. The sculpture, which resembles a female holding a cup of wine and a sword, was designed by Georgian sculptor Elguja Amashukeli. It resembles the endless battles that the city has had to endure.
Narikala Fortress is an ancient fortress that overlooks Tbilisi. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulfur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi. St. Nicholas church resides in the lower courtyard. It was recently rebuilt between 1996 and 1997 to replace the original 13th century church that was destroyed in a fire. The history of the fortress dates back to about the 4th century, when a fortress was built during the reign of King Varaz-Bakur. At the end of the 4th century the fortress was overthrown by the Persians, and recaptured by the kings of Kartli in the middle of the 5th century. It underwent considerable expansion by the Umayyads in the 7th century, as-well as the 9th century by king David the Builder. The Mongols eventually renamed the fortress “Narin Qala”, which means “Little Fortress”. Most of the current fortifications were built between the 16th and 17th century. In the 18th century the Persians repeatedly attacked the fortress. In 1827 an earthquake damaged portions of the fortress, which were so badly damaged that they were demolished.
At the top of Sololaki Hill I had a Vanilla Chimney. Imagine a cinnamon churro rolled into a cone, which is filled with fruit and vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely delicious, however was fairly pricey compared to other food here, costing nearly $13, when most food is about $5-10. From the top of Narikala Fortress you can also see Juma Mosque. Juma Mosque, also known as Tbilisi Mosque, is the only Muslim shrine in the city. It was designed by architect Giovanni Scudieri, and built between 1846 and 1851 to replace the original mosque that was built between 1723 and 1735 by the Ottomans, but destroyed by the Persians in the 1740’s. In 1895 the mosque was completely rebuilt again by Baku-based millionaire and philanthropist Hajizinelabdin Tagiyev in a combined neo-Gothic and Islamic architecture style.
I walked back down from Narikala Fortress to catch a bus to a unique collaboration place called Fabrika. Fabrika was once a soviet sewing factory named “Nino”, and is now home to a hub of an old-meets-new meeting space of creative and artistic people to congregate. It includes studios, shops, co-working space, cafes, and a hostel. There’s some unique artwork on the exterior of the building. I enjoyed a cup of coffee, relaxed, and took in the art.
After exploring Fabrika I took another bus to see Laguana Vere. The Laguna Vere Sports Complex is an abandoned Soviet era sports complex built between 1965 and 1978! It was designed by Georgian architects Shota Kavlashvili, Guram Abuladze and Ramaz Kiknadze, with additional artwork and mosaics produced by Koka Ignatov. Construction took a very long time because the project was placed on hold for eight years. The complex was opened on October 13th 1978. It was the first open-air pool in Tbilisi open to all citizens regardless of their social class / status. It consists of three pools arranged side-by-side; an Olympic sized 50 metre x 25 metre pool, a 25 metre x 10 metre pool, and a 25 metre x 20 metre diving pool. It features a beautiful brutalist concrete tower fitted with three diving boards at 5 metre, 7 metre, and 10 metre heights. Laguna Vere went into private ownership in 2000, and went into significant decline and was eventually closed in 2014. There were over a dozen stray dogs, and there was signage notifying that it is private property and to not take photos, so I didn’t stick around too long.
Another bus ride, and I arrived at the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and the former Tbilisi Cable Car terminal. When I got off the bus there were two very angry Georgian grandmas fighting over a vendor spot, so I quickly walked by. I was quite impressed with how loud they were; they definitely had people looking.
The Georgian National Academy of Sciences (GNAS) was established in 1941. The building that houses GNAS was constructed between 1949 and sometime in the early 1960’s. It was constructed in two parts, the five-story horizontal array building that runs along the frontage of Rustaveli Avenue, and a 55 metre-high tower. Both buildings were designed by Georgian architects M. Chkhikvadze and K. Chkheidze, and are in a Stalinist architecture style.
The Tbilisi Cable Car Station is an abandoned cable car station that was built on the Rustaveli Avenue – Mtatsminda Park cable car line, which opened in 1959. The station was abandoned after a tragic accident occurred on June 1st 1990, which resulted in the 19 deaths, and 42 injuries. The cable car system was comprised of two cars, and the haul rope broke inside the coupler of the upper most gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously, and the upper gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station, killing four and injuring others. The upper gondola picked up speed and eventually crashed into the lower support tower and was torn upon from the cable. In 1988, two years prior to the accident, the cable car underwent some major reconstruction. The cable car system originally used three supporting towers, with the lowest tower standing 20 metres (66 feet) tall, and the two upper masts standing at 10 and 12 metres (33 and 39 feet). The lowest mast was replaced with a new 25 metre (82 foot) tall mast, and the upper two was replaced by one 20 metre (66 foot) tall mast. The original 25 person gondolas were also replaced with 40 person gondolas. It was determined early on that the braking system of the new gondolas were not functioning properly, and that staff members had to manually climb on top of the gondolas to turn it off manually. To avoid this inconvenience, they brake systems were disabled. On the day of the accident both gondolas were over-capacity, with 46 and 47 passengers on-board.
A short walk away is the gorgeous Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater. The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi, formerly known as the Tiflis Imperial Theater, is a beautiful Moorish Revival style theatre that is situated on Rustaveli Avenue, one of the main roads in Tbilisi. The theatre, designed by Antonio Scudieri, was built between 1847 and 1851. In 1874 a massive fire tore through the theatre. The theatre was rebuilt and opened in 1896 with its current design by Viktor Schroter.
I was starting to get fairly hungry so it was time to eat. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find a restaurant that would serve some yummy local dishes, but I don’t think I was in the right area. All I could find was Americana style food. I had a cheeseburger at the Burger House for lunch. It was fairly good!
It was time to head up to Mtatsminda Park, located on Mount Mtatsminda. To get there I took the historic funicular to the top. The funicular was built between 1903 and 1905 by an anonymous Belgian man. Originally the railway was constructed to connect Upper Tbilisi on Mtatsminda (the Holy Mountain) with Lower Tbilisi. The original agreement, signed in 1900, was that the Belgians would be granted ownership of the funicular with a 45-year lease, after which it would then become property of the city. The new Upper Tbilisi district was unfortunately never built due to water supply issues, as well as the Russian revolution of 1905. The Funicular sat is near pristine condition throughout the years and was eventually utilized in 1938 when the park was opened at the top. Today the park includes an amusement park, TV tower, cemetery, and a restaurant. The funicular was shut down between 2000 and 2012 to undergo a complete renovation.
The Georgia Tbilisi TV Tower was built in 1972 and stands 275 metres (900 feet) tall. The tower is operated by Georgian Teleradiocenter.
The theme park contains a large Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other amusement rides.
The views of Tbilisi below are absolutely fantastic, including my favourite view of the Public Service Hall. The Public Service Hall building is a beautiful modern building that houses the National Bank of Georgia, the Minister of Energy, and the Civil and National Registry. The building, designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, was opened in 2012. The building is situated next to the Kura River, and almost looks like a tree canopy. There are even petals that form the roof over the seven different buildings that comprise of the buildings. Some people describe the building as an overgrown mushroom forest in the midst of some towering trees. The leaves are made of fiberglass and resin, and the rest of the building is made of steel and glass.
After walking around the park I took a bus back down to Old Tbilisi and had dinner at the same restaurant that I had dinner at lastnight. This time I had traditional Georgian soup with mini khinkali’s in it. After dinner I walked back to my hotel to do another hour and a half of blog writing, before taking the bus to the airport to board a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan on a Buta Airways Embraer E-190.
I was greeted at Baku airport with a private driver that I had the hotel setup for me, since I knew it would be very late by the time my flight arrived. The drive from the airport to my hotel took about 30 minutes, and it was neat to drive on the same road that the Baku Formula 1 race is held on. I checked into my hotel and immediately went to sleep, because it was 2:00am.
On January 1st 2023 I embarked on a trip to explore more of Eastern Europe. My trip will bring me to the cities of Tbilisi (Georgia), Baku (Azerbaijan), Dubai (UAE), and Yerevan (Armenia).
I had to take a bit of a milk run to get to Tbilisi due to it being so far East. My first flight was on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from Calgary to Frankfurt. I was originally booked in Premium Economy, however I was upgraded to Air Canada’s Signature Class for a couple hundred dollars. After arriving in Frankfurt I was prepared for the usual chaos of having to clear security, then passport control, and then security, however they appeared to have changed things since I last visited. You now just have to clear passport control, which was a breeze. Despite only having 1.25 hours to connect to my next flight to Warsaw, I had ample time.
The next flight to Warsaw was on a 28 year old Lufthansa A321. I was upgraded to the front area (for free), which has significantly more leg room. The 1.25 hour flight was a bit turbulent at the beginning, however smoothed out afterwards.
In Warsaw I had a nearly 9 hour layover, so I checked into the Courtyard by Marriot at the airport. The room was only $70, which is quite the bargain, however we have to consider that Poland is still fairly poor compared to Canada, so the prices are reflective of this. I slept for about 6 hours, which felt amazing.
It was then time to walk across the street back into the airport. There was no lineup at security so I probably could have slept for another hour, however I didn’t know what I would be in store for and didn’t want to chance it. I found a quiet spot in the airport and did some work until it was time to board my last flight to Tbilisi, Georgia on a LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8. The flight was about 3.5 hours and was one of the smoothest flights I had been on in years. It was really neat to fly over the Black Sea and see Russia on one side of the plane, and Turkey on the other side of the plane.
When I arrived in Tbilisi I picked up my rental car, a fairly old Renault Duster with nearly 200,000km on it. Apparently, this is quite common in Georgia to have older rental cars. When we were filling out the paperwork for the car the Alamo rental car agent ran out of room to mark up all the scratches and dents on the car. I would soon find out why this was the case, as the vast majority of roads don’t have line markings and people are fairly crazy drivers.
Before we dive into my adventures in Georgia, let’s take a brief look at the history of Georgia, and then at the history of Tbilisi.
The Kingdom of Georgia was very unified as a kingdom under the Bagrationi Dynasty by King Bagrat III in the early 11th century, after a number of predecessor states of the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia. The Kingdom of Georgia grew an immense amount under the ruling of King David IV and Queen Tamar The Great the Builder between the 10th and 12th centuries. By 1490, Georgia was split up into many small kingdoms and principalities, which struggled to maintain their autonomy against the Ottoman and Iranian empires, until they were finally annexed by the Russian Empire in the 19th century. After a brief independence with the Democratic Republic of Georgia between 1918 and 1921, Georgia was part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic between 1922 and 1936, and was then formed into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The current republic of Georgia has maintained it’s independence since 1991.
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, was the starting point of my second Eastern Europe trip. The name Tbilisi is derived from the word “tpili”, which means warm. The city was given its name because of the areas surrounding sulfuric hot springs. The city was originally named Tiflis until 1946, when it was ordered by the Soviet leadership to use official Russian names that closely match the local language, in which it was renamed T’pilisi, or Tbilisi in English. The capital city was founded in 455 AD, and is home to 1.2 million people.
After picking up the car I drove to my first stop; the Chronicle of Georgia. The Chronicle of Georgia is a historical monument located near the Tbilisi Sea, which is not actually a real sea, but rather a man-made artificial lake. It was created by Zurab Tsereteli in 1985, however was never officially finished. The monument sits at the top of a large set of stairs and contains 16 pillars that are 30-35 metres tall, with the top half featuring kings, queens, and heroes, and the bottom half depicting stories from the life of Christ. There is also a chapel, and a cross of St. Nino. The reason why the monument was never finished was likely due to the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The views from the top were breathtaking.
Next stop was the Former Archaeology Museum, which is a fantastic example of Soviet architecture. The museum was established in 1988 by Georgian archeologist Rostom Abramishvili. The museum houses monuments that were discovered by archeological excavations in Tbilisi. Sadly, the museum hasn’t been operational since at least 2017, and it’s hard to find information online as to when it shut down. There was about a dozen stray dogs here that were barking a fair amount and approaching me, so I didn’t stay too long.
It was then time to leave the city for a bit to explore some Monastery’s and a Cathedral. The first monastery was Jvari Monastery. Jvari Monastery is a sixth-century Georgian Orthodox monastery located near the historic town of Mtskheta, Georgia. It is a recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. Jvari is a rare example of the Early Medieval Georgian style that survives to this day, relatively unchanged. It was built atop of Jvari Mountain, which stands 656 metres above sea level overlooking the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, and the town of Mtskheta. In the 4th century Saint Nino, a female evangelist erected a large wooden cross on the tie of a pagan temple. The cross reportedly was able to work miracles on the locals and drew people from all over the area. A small church was eventually erected over the remnants of the wooden cross in 545 AD during the ruling of Guaram I, and named the Small Church of Jvari. The small church wasn’t able to satisfy the needs of the huge influx of Pilgrims, so the present building, known as the Greg Church of Jvari, was built between 590 and 605 AD by Guarum’s son Erismtavari Stepanoz I. In 914 the church was set alight by the Arabs, and was able to survive with only minor repairs. The importance of the complex increased over the time, and was fortified many times, especially during the Middle Ages, with the introduction of a stone wall and gate, many of which still survive.
Georgia is home to a very unique scenario where the White Aragvi and the Black Aragvi rivers meet, however don’t technically combine. You can see this from the top of Jvari Monastery. The rivers both have their unique colours, and don’t really truly mix or combine. I can only think of one other confluence like this, which is the Rio Negro and the Amazon River meeting in Brazil.
Also, from the top of Jvari Monastery you can see my next stop, which was Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which was about a 15 minute drive away. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is an Orthodox Christian cathedral located in the historic town of Mtskheta, Georgia. The cathedral is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. The cathedral dates back to the 4th century, and is currently the second largest church in Georgia, after the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Throughout the centuries the cathedral served as the burial place for kings. The current structure on site was completed between 1010 and 1029 AD by the medieval Georgian architect Konstantine Arsukisdze.
The final monastery for the day was Shiomgvime Monastery, a medieval monastic complex near the town of Mtskheta. It is located in a narrow limestone canyon on the northern bank of the Kura River, which also flows through Tbilisi. The history of the monastery dates back to about the 6th century when Monk Shio setup the monastery. The earliest building, the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, dates back to 560-580 AD. The church has an octagonal dome covered with a conic floor. The monastery underwent many changes throughout the 11th and 18th centuries, however it has largely maintained its original structure. An archaeological expedition revealed in 1937 a 2 km (1.2 mile) long aqueduct supplying the monastic communities of the nearby village of Skhaltba. The aqueduct was constructed by Bishop Anton of Chkondidi in 1202.
I noticed early on after leaving the airport that my phone wasn’t getting any data signals, which was making it hard to navigate, so I decided that it was best to get a local sim card. I stopped at a Beeline location and picked up a 2GB sim card for $4. I had to wait about 40 minutes in line, and submit my passport, but it was worth it being back on the grid.
I then ventured out again about an hours drive away from Tbilisi to Didgori Battle Memorial and Memorial Estate Statue. Wow, what a drive that was going through the mountains. It’s extremely beautiful in the Georgian mountains. The Didgori Battle Memorial is dedicated to one of the most famous battles in Georgian History, the Battle of Didgori. IN 1121, the king David the Builder won the great victory in the Battle of Didgori against numerous Turkish-Seljuk armies.
Close by is St. George Church, although I couldn’t find much information on the church. It is a small domed church that looks to be built relatively recently.
Continuing along my drive I completed a loop back into Tbilisi from the South side. The decent back into Tbilisi provided incredible views of the city below. I stopped to enjoy the view, and also saw an interesting old bus that was setup on the side of the road as a display piece.
I dropped off the vehicle and settled into my hotel; Hotel Myriam-R. The hotel looked nicer online that it did in person, but provided a clean and comfortable bed. After checking into the hotel I walked around Old Tbilisi for a while, but I won’t go into detail of the buildings I saw until tomorrow when I cover them in more detail.
It was eventually time for dinner. I ended up having Khachapuri, also known as Gerogian Cheese Bread, at a restaurant called Kebab House. Khachapuri is a warm boat-shaped yeast bread stuffed with multiple kinds of cheese and features a runny egg in the center. It was delicious!
It was about 8:30pm by the time I got back to my hotel room. I was barely able to keep my eyes open so I went to bed. I was woken up fairly regularly throughout the night with the noise of fire crackers going off, however it settled down around 3:00am. This is apparently a common issue in Tbilisi and they’re trying to crack down on it. I find it extremely inconsiderate, however I’m becoming a grumpy old man that doesn’t like noise.
Recently we completed a very short trip to Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs is a desert resort city that was founded in 1938, and currently has a population of about 45000 people. It is a popular destination for retired people, Canadian snowbirds, the LBGTQ+ community, and more! It is also one of the best preserved mid-century modern capitals of the world. I captured some photos of my favorite buildings while I was here, and I also visited the Living Desert Zoo, and Joshua Tree National Park
Palm Springs Living Desert Zoo
The Palm Springs Living Desert Zoo is a non-profit zoo and desert botanical garden located in Palm Desert, California. The zoo is home to over 500 animals representing over 150 species. The zoo receives over 500000 visitors annually, and despite its small size, is one of my favorite zoos. The zoo is home to gazelles, giraffes, ostriches, wallabies, kangaroos, rhinos, cheetahs, turtles, bobcats, and more!
Joshua Tree National Park
An hour’s drive from Palm Springs is Joshua Tree National Park. It is named after the Joshua Trees, also known as Yucca Brevifolia, which are native to the area. The park was declared a national monument in 1936, and redesignated a national park in 1994. It spans a huge area of 3200 square kilometres (1240 square miles). The park features rugged rock formations, the famous Joshua Tree, Chuckwalla Cholla Cactus, the Cailfornia Fan Palm, and more!