Habitat for Humanity Armenia plus Turkey,Greece and Georgia

September 29th 2009
Published: October 24th 2009
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Armenia trip


waterfront track
I am one week away from leaving on my next Habitat for Humanity trip (my first as a leader) I will leave Canada on October 7th and fly to London on the usual direct flight from Vancouver to London. I will overnight there then fly to Thessaloniki in Greece on Easyjet. After a day or so there, I hope to catch a train to Istanbul and spend 2 days there. I will then take the famous Dogu Express across Turkey to Kars. From Kars things are less certain but I hope to catch a bus to Tblisi in Georgia. In Georgia I have lined up a homestay and will bus it from there to Yerevan on the 17th of October. Our Habitat build will run from October 18th to October 31st.

This time I am taking a mini-laptop and hope to update the blog as I go.-we will see how that works.

Jan is sitting this trip out -she is recuperating from a broken rib ( a tennis injury)

I arrived in London on October 8th on the direct AC flight from Vancouver -8.5 hours slept for 3-4 hours so got in to Heathrow in fair shape.(Interesting opening
The WhiteTowerThe WhiteTowerThe WhiteTower

a famous landmark
to trip was running into a friend who works for AC when I came in front door of YVR)

I got luggage at HR, changed some money then caught Tube to Fulham Broadway stn (3.2 pounds) The subway is a bit slow but it is cheap vs the high speed train which I think is about 20 pounds.I had prebooked the Easy Jet shuttle for 5.00 PM which was a mistake as I got to the bus stop at 12.30.I got on the 1.00 arriving at Gatwick at 2.00 and then took shuttle to Gatwick Best Western-OK place for $76 cdn-Had a nap and am now writing this blog in the restaurant over a piece of salmon and some white wine.So far so good -Having a mini laptop is a major breakthrough-thank you Gord......
Tomorrow will include getting up at 3.00 to get to Airport for my 5.50 flight to Greece....We will see how that works .
I wasnt able to keep up the blog in Greece as Internet connection at hotel wasnt very consistent.I am now in Istanbul and things are better with the Internet.
The early Easyjet flight wasnt a lot of fun but it got me

a short harbour cruise
to Greece by 11.00 am for $150 cdn so.........EJ has learned from Transat about cramped seats-so close together that they have nuked reclining.
In any case I got to Thessaloniki Airport and then took bus downtown for 0.50 euros.Helpful driver pointed out hotel sign and let me off. The Queen Olga appears to be a hotel locals would use -cost $76 Cdn. I ckecked in and then did a major walking tour -It was Friday afternoon,sunny and warm so a lot of locals were in the many outdoor cafes having beers etc. I ended up in the University section and stopped at a small outdoor cafe where I had an Amstel and salted tuna for lunch.I also got my train ticket from a helpful travel agent-100 euros,single compartment in what was described as first class.
I then worked my way back to the hotel past the famous White Tower with a small sidetrack for a harbour cruise just at sunset. I walked for about 5 hours so was ready for dinner when I got back to the hotel. Prices here arent bad -probably indexed to Iceland at about 5 on a scale of 10 (beer is about 3 Euros vs
modias marketmodias marketmodias market

fish and lots of them
6 Euros in Iceland)
On Saturday I flailed around trying to find the market which I did in the aftenoon. Typical very interesting scene especially the fish and meat sections-chaos with lots of yelling. I got a couple of spice packs and the inevitable flag crest for the pack.
After another long day of walking I returned to the hotel and got my luggage and taxied to the train station to catch the 19.50 train to Isatanbul. Station very easy to navigate and we left right on time.
The night brought a lot of exciting police and border encounters plus some short sleep events.It cost $45 Euro for my visa entry versus $15 for everyone else??? Turkey and Canada apparently have some issues...

Major flood damage along tracks and so we were going slow-into Istanbul (pop 20MM) 2 hours late. I got a cab to Dedem Boutique Hotel -nice place in old city for $44 Euros-then did walking tour around the Grand Bazaar area-got a carpet pitch-these people are good but not in the class of Mexican time share people as they do take no for an answer-

The carpets are impressive but I was
Greek Orthodox ChurchGreek Orthodox ChurchGreek Orthodox Church

near Queen Olga Hotel
not thinking that I wanted to haul a heavy carpet around Turkey and Georgia-might look at table cloth? The big market is closed today but there were lots of vendors open anyway-managed to track down a flag seller-one TL for 2 crests.

I am gradually coming under the influence of Jans cold. Next few days may not be pleasant.

So on my last day in Istanbul I succumbed to the pressure and bought a small carpet -Kurdish knotted for $116 -we started after $175 and after yelling, screaming,threats, stompouts etc agreed on a price.
It made a small bundle and I was able to cram it in the suitcase.In the evening I took a free shuttle to an aptly named tourist trap called the FISH RESTAURANT -ended up at a table with 6 Canadians. For dinner I had the famous Bosphorous MultiBonefish (actually was fillet of sole)

THe next day I decided to nuke the train ride/bus ride to Kars etc and fly to Tblisi- arrived about 6.00 pm for homestay at Tinas guesthouse-very basic $20 euro per night.I went out for dinner and observed some local customs involving vodka consumption-what we used to call
night train to Istanbulnight train to Istanbulnight train to Istanbul

sitting at the station
industrial drinking in university. Not much English spoken here but people very friendly-I have had cognac offered to me at 9.00 in morning.

I had a good sleep and then spent the day exploring the city including the Dry Bridge Art Market.I met a former Cossack police officer who served in Afganistan-He sells Soviet artifacts on the street-I guess the Soviet pension program is a bit restricting.

I hope to go to Gori tomorrow to visit the Stalin museum-then off to Yerevan the next day(which would be the 16th)

Very interesting day at Gori including the Matruska ride-20 people in a 16 passenger van. I would use careening as a word to describe our progress down the highway- At times we were going 3 abreast on a two lane 2 way highway.All for 5 lari. I also learned how to navigate the Tblisi metro system which was a bit of a challenge as all the names were in Russian/Georgian.

In Gori we had a full blown farmers market including live pigs and chickens.

I then went to the Joseph Stalin Museum to see what kind of a spin they are putting on his life
train detailstrain detailstrain details

This is the Turkish model
now. I had an English speaking guide who kind of stuck to the facts but with a tinge of positive.I am now probably the only person in Canada with a Joseph Stalin Museum cup.

I also found another ex soviet soldier selling medals and pins- bought on old case watch off him which has a fisherman on the cover for 10 lari. Then back on a different Matruska for 4 lari for the return trip which perhaps had a bit less careening.

Then it was time to pack for tomorrows long Matruska ride to Yerevan.
The Tblisi home stay was a worthwhile way to see how average people live in Georgia. Tina and Swen will do anything to make sure things go well and even the cat is friendly.If you want luxury this might not be it but if realism is your thing then this is the spot.

Fridays trip to Yerevan started early as Swen dropped me at bus depot ( and on the right Matruska at 7.00) Tip of the day-take the side single seats-never sit right in the back.Todays driver was pretty good and could execute an uphill pass on a curve better than
 morning juice maker morning juice maker morning juice maker

works at fathers stand every morning before school
Mario Andretti. The passengers all decided to take care of the foreigner including getting me through Armenian customs-nice people.

We all arrived in Yerevan at 2.30 or so.I called our HFH coordinator who picked me up and installed me at the Envoy Hostel (a great place) The internet works great and we are also close to the central part of the city.Tomorrow is a free day and we start the build on Sunday.

Sunday night and things are going well- Yerevan is a clean and well organized city. The team is all here and we have had our orientation. We will start on the build tomorrow-we have 1.5 hours of travel time each day so work hours will be a bit limited.

Now Tuesday night and we have had orientation day plus 2 days of work-great so far-team is working well. We have been scraping paint and plastering. Tonight we spoke at an English Speakers Club-very interesting for all (we hope)

Tomorrow we will be going to our construction foreman's dacha after work for a barbecue.

I can now report that the Dacha BBQ was a great experience complete with cooking over an open fire

right beside the Orient Express Restaurant
PLUS 67% alcohol home made vodka. I can also report that vodka does not mix with wine. We had enough food to feed an army (actually our host and his brother in law were ex soviet red army soldiers) In Armenia they always cook way more food than could be realistically eaten. We had BBQ pork - probably enough for 20 even though there only 7 of us,grilled tomatoes,egg plant,potatoes and huge bread pieces.

Thursday was an R and R day and I was in some pain. We toured Yerevan including the Holocaust Museum and the major city monuments. There is a major tendency to have huge statues. After the fall of the USSR, the big Russian statues (Lenin etc) have all gone to the great statue place in the sky to join Stalin who went there earlier. My capacity to absorb culture and history ebbed to zero at 3,00 PM at which time I returned to the hostel for a nap and the joy of close access to a toilet.

Friday it was back to work. We went to the Symphony at night and then to Cafe district for a late and light dinner.

Saturday work again and the a BBQ with the family. We had another BBQ/vodka extravaganza. Many toasts,songs,dances etc, We also saw how unleavened bread is cooked in a pit fireplace. ( As has been done for 1000s of years) I did some water/vodka substitutions but this vodka wasn't quite as strong.

Sunday more R and R as we went out into the country to Emarald Lake Sevan-huge deep lake.We also visited 3 monasteries which go back to the the third century and ended the day at a villager's house for a huge BBQ lunch.Usual feast including a dish which could be described as spiced lard slices-probably an acquired taste kind of item.

Tomorrow it will be back to work again. Our room is now full -two Brits who have been on more or less same path as me. One had worked in Sechalt.

Another day of work-more plastering and scraping. We packed up at 4.30 after work interrupted by three birthday cakes for Louise.Then usual exciting minibus ride back to Envoy and out to dinner. BF dinner including wine,beer cognac for three for about $39.00.

Tuesday October 27/09 -our second last day of work.We put big push on
The Blue MosqueThe Blue MosqueThe Blue Mosque

Very large place
to finish 2 rooms for painting tomorrow-success. We were able to get one room ready for painting and have done substantial work on three other rooms.

Wednesday was paint day as well as more plastering - we finished at 3.00 and then had a dedication ceremony for the renovated house. We all felt we could have done more but you do what you can....

Our next two days will be Armenian exploration with the world's best tour guide-Gevorg from the Envoy Hostel.

On Thursday web we went to climb Mt Aragats starting from Lake Kari-long drive up narrow road to start of hike-but we had to abort as road was covered in snow. We then went down to Amberd Forress and yet another 1300 year old church and started hiking down the gorge to the village of Byuragjan (birthplace of our guide) It was about a 12 km hike with lots of up and downs and a shephard herding goats. Excellent hike and a great day

After arrival in the village we had lunch at Gevorg's grandparents house. How many tour guides provide that kind of event? Virtually all the food came from the family orchard

dry bridge art market
and garden.

Next day we were all wondering how Gevorg could top the previous day and he came through with a trip to Garni and Geghard plus lunch at an aquaculture site-fresh trout and lots of it plus the mandatory home made vodka.

Dinner that night was the final banquet with the HFH staff-Very nice people and a great farewell'

Saturday was the start of the long trek home-Yerevan is 12 hours different from Vancouver so will have some adjusting. I flew to London on Saturday and spent the evening seeing London at its finest on Halloween night including attending Thriller the Michael Jackson musical. Home on Sunday on the AC direct flight on Vancouver.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25



Stalin's private rail car


start of build
dacha barbecuedacha barbecue
dacha barbecue

enough food for 25 people-there were 6 of us
our worksiteour worksite
our worksite

plaster preparation

no comment
bread ovenbread oven
bread oven

unleavened bread as has been made this way for centuries
eager helperseager helpers
eager helpers

from the neighbourhood
Amberd FortressAmberd Fortress
Amberd Fortress

through window looking at the church
gorge gorge

A great hike

Our tour guide does it again

10th November 2009

thanks Murray What a trip...how did you survive all that drinking!!! Another grand adventure. love Janet and Mike

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