Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


No, it’s not a Hungarian war cry. It’s the name of the capital city of Armenia. South of Georgia, West of Azerbaijan, East of Turkey and North of Iran - tiny little Armenia. The former Soviet Republic of Armenia is next to fall to the Lukatch Travel Mania (my 70th country!). Like Georgia, Armenia lies in the mountainous Caucasus region between Asia and Europe. It’s also famous for being the site of Mount Ararat, landing place of Noah’s Ark. After my excursion to Tbilisi, Georgia, this past April, how could I pass up Armenia?

Since Yerevan is in Eastern Europe, I couldn’t find a direct flight from Budapest and had to connect through Moscow, as I did when I went to Tbilisi. I left Budapest around 8:30 the evening of Thursday, August 24, changing planes in Moscow and arriving in Yerevan just before six o’clock in the morning of Friday, August 25. I’d made arrangements with my hotel, The Hotel Tufenkian (gotta love that name!) to have their driver pick me up at the airport.

He was there when I exited Passport Control and whisked me off to the hotel. The Tufenkian is located at the southeastern end of Republic Square, just next to a large park in which the local flea market is located: Vernissage. Check-in time was 3 PM, so I was a touch early. I had originally thought I’d store my bag and sightsee until check-in time, but I was sleepy and sweaty and decided I’d take the half-room rate and catch a couple of hours sleep and a shower instead. So I did and, feeling refreshed, had the hotel’s buffet breakfast around 9 AM and then walked out into the bright early-morning sunshine of Yerevan, Armenia.

From the Wikipedia Voyage website:

“The capital city of the Republic of Armenia, Yerevan is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It dates back to the 8th century BC, when the fortress of Erebuni was built by King Argishti I. Its population is around three million people, and it lies less than 200 km south of Tbilisi, Georgia

“Yerevan is often pegged as the ‘Pink City’ because of the color of the stones used to build much of the city center, which is a compact area known as Kentron. This area, amongst others, has been greatly developed over the past decade, resulting in more restaurants, cafés, shops and hotels. Central Yerevan is a large circular area; the east half of the circle is enclosed by a green belt and the west half by a main thoroughfare. Republic Square is in the southeastern part of Yerevan.

“Armenia’s capital city is fast becoming a major tourist destination thanks to its numerous landmarks, extensive nightlife, great museums and lovely parks.”

Full of energy for the coming day, I headed out to my first stop: the local post office. Along the way I bought some postcards and then stamps, since I knew the post office wouldn’t be open on the weekend. Next, also probably closed on the weekend, I set off to find the University of Yerevan’s student store, to see if they had any t-shirts that would fit my daughter Morgan. Sorry, Morgan, a gimlet-eyed security guard informed me that there was no student store and no t-shirts. Better luck in Bruges next month.

After those two mandatory stops, it was off to explore a little bit of central Yerevan. The city is very walkable and not too hilly, so I enjoyed my stroll immensely. There are several very large and open squares offering inner-city vistas, but without any shade and, since the temps were in the high 80s (31 C) I felt like that proverbial egg frying on the pavement. Anyway, along about lunchtime I came upon a Georgian restaurant called, naturally enough, the Khinkali Gardens, so I stopped and had some….guess what? Yep, khinkali.
Along with a local Kilikija beer, it hit just the right spot. My waiter was from Lebanon originally and was pleased to have a conversation with a visiting American; leaving me with the admonition never to trust any Georgians, lunch was a bright spot.

I had booked one of Yerevan’s free walking tours, to start around 5 PM, so, what with the heat and my still sleep-deprived body, I figured a siesta would serve me well; plus my room was nicely air-conditioned. So, I headed back to the hotel Tufenkian for some afternoon delight (Hey! A mid-day nap and shower in air-conditioned comfort is usually the best afternoon delight I can expect at my age).

The hotel Tufenkian is one of those nice heritage hotels that seem to be springing up all over Europe. The outside facade of an old landmark building is preserved and the inner area is gutted and completely renovated to make a new, beautiful hotel. Tufenkian is just that. The inside is beautifully redone and is modern clean, bright and welcoming. And their staff are amazing, all English-speaking, helpful, friendly and eager to please. I often find this to be the case in Eastern Europe, which is why I am always excited to visit countries in this area.

So, the sun was lower in the sky when I set out to meet my walking tour at 5 PM in front of the National History Museum on Republic Square, a three-minute walk from my hotel. The tour was conducted by a local named Vako; there were about 15 people in the group tour and we headed off to inspect Yerevan. Vako conducted the tour in English and he was very informative and fun, but, in order to fit in all the things he wanted to show his groups in the 2 ½-to-3 hours scheduled for the tour, he had to move the group at a good clip between sights. Unfortunately, my poor old legs didn’t relate well to his clip, and I only made about half the tour, preferring to amble along by myself, stopping whenever and wherever.
I eventually ended up at the Dargett Microbrewery, a large restaurant on the northwest edge of the main city’s circle. They had a large outdoor terrace, but, since it was air-conditioned inside, I chose to sit at the bar. They must have had 20 locally brewed microbeers on tap and, as a nice touch I’ve found generally common to microbreweries, they also had several tasters, which offered five 0.1L samples of several of their beers.
I chose my tasters carefully: Belle du Jour (a blond ale); Coney Island (American pale ale); Metamorphosis (Vienna lager); Vertigo (India pale ale); and 1984 (an oatmeal stout). They were all fresh and yummy, but I finally decided on a glass of the Vienna lager (it turned out a full glass, which I thought would be a pint, was actually 0.33L!). To offset the high alcohol content of the beers (from 5.5% and up), I had a Tarte Flambe, advertised as an Alsatian French artisanal flatbread, topped with spicy sausage (not very), roasted red peppers (small) and a white sauce. It was actually an “Armenian pizza” and it was satisfying without being particularly tasty.
I was nicely buzzed after my stay at Dargett and strolled back toward the hotel to take off a little of the fuzziness. I stopped at Republic Square to watch the Dancing Fountains for a while, which consisted of water fountains and sprays timed to accompany loud mostly-classical music. The square was packed, as this was obviously one of the major nightly attractions in Yerevan, a city lovely in its sights, but not widely-known for its divertissements. Nonetheless, the show was entertaining and melodic and the enthusiasm of the crowd was catching. My vision became much less blurred after taking in all of the dancing fountains and music of which I was capable at the time and I wandered the hundred meters back to my hotel for a nightcap.

The hotel dining room was still open at 10 PM and I decided I needed a luscious dessert: chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center. As a special dish, it required 20 minutes to prepare, but I was content to wait with my world-renowned Armenian cognac.
I presume most of the people reading this account of my visit to Yerevan are as unknowledgeable of Armenia as I was and so would not know that Armenian cognac is considered by many connoisseurs of same to be among the finest, if not the finest, cognacs in the world. Even Winston Churchill preferred it as his go-to nightcap. The hotel had a rather large list of local cognacs and my waiter guided me to the Akhtamer 10-year-old bottle. Well, it was aphrodisia. Nectar. It was the sun setting over a warm Mediterranean sea. It was the touch of a young woman’s lips promising a night of abandon. It was, in a word, in-frigging-credible! I wondered at the time how much of this amazing drink I could take home with me to Budapest. I hoped it was a lot.

So I savored my world-famous cognac and enjoyed my chocolate cake with molten interior at leisure and decided Armenia was a pretty good place to be.

Saturday, August 26. VERNISSAGE! Billed as one of the major attractions in Yerevan, this extensive flea market truly comes alive on the weekends. I love wandering the flea markets, souks, bazaars, swap meets, etc., everywhere I go in the world, looking for wondrous and strange and exotic items to give as gifts to family and friends and, of course, to keep for myself. Yerevan’s Vernissage is located in a park right across the street from my hotel, one of the primary reasons I chose this hotel. Guide books said this market is worth several hours of browsing and haggling and finding just the right gift for that someone who never knew s/he needed it. I was ready!

While there were merchants already set up by 9 AM, things didn’t really get heated until after 10 AM. I had a leisurely breakfast, sauntered across the street and began my search at the top of one row of tables, intending to go up and down until I could spend no more. Turned out three hours was just about right, what with the many vendors, the hot, hot sun and the need for a cold, cold beer. Got several Xmas presents for the family and a few others for special people, and I was ready for lunch. I dropped my goodies off at the hotel and walked over to Abovyan Street to a restaurant I’d found on the net called Vostan. It was known for its lamb, so naturally I tried some lamb kebabs and veggies. Very nice, but not world-class. But at least it was air-conditioned! And for the first half of my meal I was their only customer.

After a shower and brief catnap, I set out to find the Cascades, Yerevan’s major tiered fountain monument, higher than the Empire State building. I walked and walked and couldn’t find the damn thing! And it is huge! (Ed Note: My internet-printed Google map must have been creased funny, as it turned out I took the wrong street, just one street to the left of where I should have been, but there are so many trees in the area I couldn’t see where I needed to go. Not a problem, I’d try again tomorrow via taxi).
Then it was time for a Saturday pub crawl. I taxied over to the 007 Pub on Pushkin Street. It’s touted on Trip Advisor as a “Must See” pub in Yerevan, so, of course, I figured I “Must See” it. Well, as seems to be the case too often, I got there too early for the main action. It was just me and the bartender and one waitress. At least Varkez (sp?) was friendly and spoke English, so we had a nice chat while I tried some of the local beer, Kilikija. I asked him if Sean Connery had ever been there and he told me, “No, but George Clooney was here last year.” Okay, a poor substitute, but what the heck, one must make do with what one has.
I polished off a couple of 6% alcohol beers and a chicken shawarma snack (actually, just a chicken burrito). Varkez gave me a complimentary shot: half vodka and half apple juice, with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. Yum.

Next it was the Liberty Pub, a short stroll away, which I needed to clear my head. This place, also a cellar pub, at least had some people in it, loud and boisterous and young. And it was also rather buggy. I tried one of the local bottled beers this time, Aleksandrapol. After pouring it into a glass, I noticed it had no bubbles at all, it was completely flat. The bottle’s expiration date was two weeks previously. I worried it until I couldn’t drink any more, then left to find a more congenial place that took better care of their wares.

This was the second night I tried to find the Iceberg Karaoke pub and for the second night I was unsuccessful. Don’t know where they hide the damn things, but they sure fooled me. Another brief stop at the Dancing Fountains (one can only take so much spouting colored water and classical music) and I headed once again to the sanctuary of my hotel for a late night baklava and cognac. Armenian cognac is truly marvelous; if you can find any in liquor stores near you, be sure and get some.
After my buffet breakfast Sunday morning, I taxied up to Victory Park on top of a tall hill on the north side of the city circle. It’s a large park, commemorating various military victories and complete with a statue of Mother Armenia. The statue looks suspiciously like that in Tbilisi of Mother Georgia, but who am I to judge? Lots of trees and shrubbery and even a childrens’ amusement park scattered throughout the park, but the park itself needs some TLC; for a national monument, it could be better maintained. I did enjoy the variou
s war machines in the park, however, like a Mig 15 and battle tanks. Defend Yerevan!

After a nice stroll through the park, I took the underpass across the road in search of the Cascades. I came out on top of a wide lookout area; I looked down but couldn’t see any cascades, and my lookout perch just sort of ended, outflung into space. But there were steps, so I followed them down, down, along a side road, over wooden planking and finally emerged at the very tip top of the Cascades! Mirabile dictu! This was a much nicer tiered series of steps and platforms, some with sculptures. It was all supposed to have water flowing and spouting down its length, but not the day I was there. Guess it was too hot.

Fortunately, inside the Cascades were an elevator (lift for my English friends) and a series of escalators to the bottom. The trip down was also dotted with various works of art, sculptures, etc, to give the riders something to look at. Finally at the bottom, I emerged out into a divided park complete with even more sculptures, one of which was the famous Smoking Woman. This black-stone marvel was a large woman lying on her stomach and smoking a cigarette. Now we know what the national pastime of Armenia is.
I was hot and thirsty by then and, as the divided park was lined on both sides by small cafes and restaurants, I decided it was time for a break from my morning’s labors. I am unable to tell you the name of the café I chose as it was always written in Armenian and even when it appeared to be in English was undecipherable. Something like “Returnius.” Anyway, the young waiter was pleasant and spoke English and was kind enough to bring me an entire pitcher of lemonade, which was about half-filled with ice. Definitely made me a happy camper. Along with an apple strudel with a small scoop of ice cream, it was the perfect mid-morning treat.
After the seemingly-long walk back to the hotel and a stop once again at the flea market, I decided lunch in an air-conditioned setting would be just the thing. My hotel’s menu was a good one and I chose the Mante and some meat Boereg. Mante is tiny little boat-shaped pastas, filled with meat and then browned. Very nice. Boereg is pastry shells also filled with meat and crisped. Accompanied by a nice house white wine, it hit the spot.

A rest in my air-con room and a shower finished off the afternoon, and then it was time for dinner. I had passed a place on Tumanyan street called The Black Bull, and noticed its menu was filled with good-looking steaks, so for my last night in Yerevan I deemed one was in order. I walked back up Abovyan street and found The Black Bull not too crowded. It was somewhat windy out, so I settled inside in a fairly cool dining room which also boasted a piano player. Exploring the menu, I decided on the flank steak. Rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation of my chosen treat, I ordered it from the waitress who then told me – ready for this? – sitting down? – you know what’s coming, right? – “Sorry, we don’t have that tonight.”

Aaarrgghh!!! It IS me after all! Everywhere I go! The restaurant gods must have it in for me, as this happens to me all the damn time – or so it seems. Is there a warning on a special secret Internet site for restaurants that tells them to disappoint me whenever I travel and order something I really want? So I sighed and refrained from smacking the waitress on her head with my menu and ordered the Chuck Tender which, I must admit, was quite large and tender and very tasty. But that’s not the point, is it? I had a side of veggies (I’m so good!) and white wine, but passed on dessert. An evening stroll around the squares completed my time in Yerevan and I decided to turn in early.

I checked out of the Tufenkian Hotel Monday late morning and had the hotel’s driver return me to the airport. I was ready for a fairly easy flight to Moscow and then another to Budapest. I couldn’t hear Murphy laughing hysterically in the background.

Just when you (and I!) thought I’d successfully completed yet another fulfilling weekend adventure, it turns out I spoke too soon and my story was not nearly over. Read on.


When I checked in at the Yerevan Aeroflot desk for my return flight to Budapest through Moscow, I specifically requested an aisle seat as close to the front of the plane as possible. I knew I only had a little over one hour to make my connecting flight in Moscow and I also knew that the standard Gate at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for the flight to Budapest was Gate 58 – the very last Gate in Terminal F, so far from where we entered the airport that it was almost in Poland. I’d have to scurry and run and dodge and weave and hustle my bustle to make my connection. It was a long damn way.

In fact, signs posted at the gate where we entered the airport (Gate 1) announced it was a 25-minute walk to Gate 58. I suppose if I was the young OJ Simpson I could have made it in less time, but for my older legs and easily-out-of-breath lungs it was definitely a challenge. I’d made this connection in the past and let me tell you, without at least a two-hour window it was a close-run thing.

Anyway, the Aeroflot guy checked me in and gave me seat 11F – a window seat. I guessed all the aisle seats were filled, but at least I was near the front of the plane, able to hop out fairly quickly for a fast getaway. And of course it was a full flight and every seat in front of and next to me was filled, but OK, I was still near the front of the plane. And by the way, my second-leg boarding pass did, in fact, indicate my connecting gate in Moscow was Gate 58.

And so, with the smiles and laughter of Yerevan Passport Control’s happiest officer ringing in my ears, I cleared Security and cruised Duty Free to pick up one or two last items I just had to have.

So. The plane arrived in Moscow and parked on the tarmac. I thought we were at a docking bay in the terminal, but it turned out we had to board a bus for the journey. I scooted out of my window seat nearly as soon as the plane stopped and my seatmates rose and got out of the way. We all had to get to our connecting flights in a hurry, so we were all poised in our three-point sprinter’s stance, ready for the front door to open so we could run and jump and leap and hustle through the airport.

And we waited. And waited. No front door opening. What’s the problem? And we waited. Nothing. And then a passenger in front of me pointed to the rear of the plane to indicate they were disembarking through the rear door! I swear at that point I did hear Murphy’s laughter kick up a notch. Scheisse! Of course, it took twice as long to exit the plane that way, and the clock was ticking, but we made it and hustled again through a light rain onto an overcrowded airport bus, where running Muscovites pushed and shoved their way in front of me to get crammed onto the bus. Russian men are not the most well-mannered in the world. But at least I was on the bus, smashed against the crowd in front of me and the exit door behind me.

OK, so, on the bus, like a herd of cattle. When we reached the terminal we disembarked on my side of the bus, so when the doors opened I was popped out like a champagne cork. Backwards, of course. I whirled around and took off for my flight through the terminal(s). Without boring you as to my journey, I arrived at my gate (they’d switched it to Gate 50, so I didn’t have quite as far to go) at 5:20 for my 6 PM flight, just in time to catch the initial boarding call. Whew. Gasping and heaving and with sweat pouring off me, I handed my crumpled and sweat-stained boarding pass to the attendant and staggered onto the plane to find my seat: 26A, another window seat! At least this time the flight was almost empty and there was no one else in my row, so I had it all to myself. Not too bad.

An easy 2 ½-hour flight to Budapest, an easy disembarkation, a fairly quick clearance through Passport Control, but a longish wait for our bags to start down the conveyor belt. I did hear a faint chuckle from Murphy somewhere in the background, but ignored it; what could go wrong now?

I soon found out, as bag after bag dropped out onto the belt and none of them were mine. Finally, the last bag came out and the shutter came down and I still didn’t have my bag. Well, Double Scheisse! I found the Aeroflot desk and entered my information with the clerk so the airline could track down my bag and hopefully deliver it to me within a day or so. Nervous sweat and exhaustion were the order of the night, but I finally exited the airport to catch the new direct-to-Kalvin-Ter airport bus. There were quite a few people waiting for that bus, but I figured I had arrived in between buses, so no problem.

When I checked the Next Arrival sign, however, it was gaily repeating the message, “Bus 200E and Bus 100E do not service this platform due to road closures by police.”

Hah?! What was this? When I asked one of the BKV operators on site what was going on, he spat out the word, “Putin!” Turned out Mr. Putin was still in the area, which meant no vehicular traffic whatsoever into or out of the airport until he left. Roads closed by police. No buses, no mini-buses, no taxis, no private cars, no bicycles, no old ladies in wheelchairs….nothing with wheels was coming into or going out of the airport. Man, the Transportations gods really had it in for me that night!

OK, so I had to wait about 45 minutes until Mr. Putin’s plane left and I could finally see traffic moving in and out of the airport again, taxis and cars, etc. Finally, along came the Number 100 Airport Bus and I hopped aboard and rode it to Kalvin Ter, just a three-minute walk from my flat. Home! With nothing to unpack, I showered and hit the sheets.

The next morning my alarm went off at 7 AM and 15 minutes later all the power went off in my building. Did I do something to offend everyone? Incredible. Now I couldn’t work on my computer, iron any clothes, do laundry, watch TV, go shopping (as the elevator wouldn’t work and I’m on the fifth floor!), etc. So I settled in and read a book. Around noon the power came back on and I could finally use my PC. I checked my email and then made an online reservation for the coming weekend at a local ruin pub for myself and two old friends who would be visiting from the states. I also wrote my doctor to set up a brunch for the coming weekend, as it was time to have my prescriptions renewed; we met every couple of months for that and to catch up on each other’s life. Always a fun time.

Around 1 PM I got a call from Aeroflot that they’d deliver my suitcase between 3 and 7 PM; no problem, I’d be home. Checking my email again, I had one from my old friend Monica saying her husband had caught bronchitis and they’d gone back to the states and wouldn’t be visiting Budapest after all. Well, Scheisse, would nothing go right? So I cancelled my dinner reservation.

As I was ready to exit Yahoo Mail, another message came in from my doctor. This was a real doozy! She’d been visiting her son in Denmark and had fallen and broken her hip! She’d had an operation the previous weekend and was now in a Danish hospital, but she was supposed to return to Hungary the following weekend. She would then take up residence in a recuperation facility 80 kilometers from Budapest for several weeks. I knew it was bad for her, but, since we all almost always consider our own situation in light of what happens to others, I wondered how I’d be able to get my meds renewed. As of this writing, I still haven’t figured it out. Don’t know what happens if I can’t get my meds, several of which run out in two weeks, but it can’t be good.

And so, Dear Reader, I sit here typing my blog and wondering what the near future holds for me. There just couldn’t be any more crummy things lying in wait for me --- could there? I’ve been good, really I have. I help old girl scouts across the street and I always tip the bartender. I have another trip scheduled for the end of September and could only hope I’d be able to get my meds before I ran out and that nothing else went wrong.

So I’ve decided to get back in bed and pull the covers up over my head and just cower there until the black cloud that has hovered over my life for the past few days goes away. Until then, think good thoughts for me. Hasta la Vista, Babies!

Oh, yes, I did get my suitcase back!


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