lake sevan sunrise

Lake Sevan, Armenia

I’ve lost my patience with this new theme – it’s just not working with me. So if you see the site down over the next few days, it’s because I’m reworking things. I’m trying to come up with a final branding that I can use to create some much needed business cards. I’d love to hire someone but all travel and no work makes Polly a broke girl. So apologies for any unsightliness in the upcoming days!

I showed off some of Lake Sevan’s gorgeous views in my first thoughts on Armenia but it’s well worth a bit more of a look. The city of Sevan itself is hardly worth a mention: when we passed through for the first time it was dark but not that late. The combination of a steady rain, what seemed to be bombed-out roads, and ominously black apartments made it seem like an incredibly hostile entity. (We returned once to find an ATM – in the light – and it wasn’t that terrifying. Just don’t go at night.)

We ended up passing the night camped out in a small field that belonged to a small hotel slash restaurant. We were berated for attempting to camp in such cold, wet weather and plied with stolen 20-year cognac all in the same breath by the garrulous chef and owner. They were right, of course: at over 6,000 feet above sea level, it was COLD. Thankfully the bezplatny cognac helped us drift off to sleep all warm and toasty.
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tatev 1

Riding the Wings of Tatev

I’m skipping all over the place in terms of where and how we we drove around Armenia, but I figure it’s more interesting to hit the highlights rather than a couple of posts like we drove a really long way that day and yelled at each other for being terrible drivers but then we made up after we almost destroyed our car. Because that’s basically how it went. Rather than reliving those marvelous memories, I thought I’d jump right into our journey up to Tatev monetary.

If you don’t know anything about Armenia or Armenians, you need to know that it’s really really old and that they’re really really proud of accepting Christianity so early. In 301 AD Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its official state religion, meaning there are tons of ancient religious structures just begging to be explored. Tatev is incredibly interesting for several reasons. First of all, because of its location perilously high on a mountain plateau (seriously, how did all this get done in the 9th century?!). Secondly, it’s undergone major restoration in recent years in order to ensure its ongoing survival. It’s been added as an option of UNESCO’s tentative list so it might someday become a world heritage site. Finally, Tatev holds a great interest for tourists and locals alike because of the Wings of Tatev – the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car.
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lake kari 2

Lake Kari & driving woes

Aside from roads that practically rattled the teeth out of my head, I’ll remember Armenia best for its huge, unending mountain ranges. Seriously, this is not a country in which to rent a manual car lightly.

Initially we tried to rent one of the ubiquitous white Nivas that Armenians love so much (and with those roads, I see why), but we just couldn’t make it happen. Instead we ended up with the adorably small Nissan Micra. Cruising through the city we felt pretty good about its quick maneuverability, but once we got going into the mountains and measured our trusty little ride against the size of the endless potholes, we got nervous. Our first trip in our rented car was a jaunt to Lake Kari to see the high altitude lake and the roads… well, let’s just say they’d seen better days

A 60 km ride to a small lake high in the mountains – which Google assured us would be no more than an hour and change – turned into a white-knuckle drive well over two hours. The car skittered over the half-gravel asphalt and protested as I revved it over and around massive holes. It was the sort of road that had been so destroyed that people created a secondary dirt path next to it – which had also been long ago beaten into disrepair. We were almost constantly in first gear and even that seemed too high sometimes. Even though I hated it, I drove. Because I’m a control freak.
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armenia lake sevan sky

Driving Armenia: an oasis of isolation

Our first impressions of Yerevan are up on the Like a Local blog.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who’s as categorically, unabashedly able to fall in love with unusual locations as quickly as I am. I’m sure there are equally soft-hearted people tossed around the globe, unable to take a trip without falling down the rabbit hole of what if? and how hard can it be?. But I’m not talking about divine beaches or charming cities. The elegant, ever-repinned locations of the world hold little interest for me aside from a fleeting appreciation.

But every new city or country with an air of former elegance or calm dilapidation brings a swift wave of premature nostalgia, a little ache at the thought of missing what – in reality – never was. Riding a Greyhound bus through the US south evoked visions of a small cabin and homestead living. I’ve daydreamed of a small, colorful house in Central America as country roads redolent with the tropics flashed by. I begged the Russky to ask the taxi driver to stop along the desolate roads of Kyrgyzstan just to glimpse a sliver of farm life under the shadows of the mountains.

Aside from me being a hopeless travel romantic, the underlying theme of this all is unmitigated isolation. While I may lament growing up in the relative seclusion of a small town, at my core I think that’s the life I’m most suited for. There’s something in the forced solitude of living remotely that appeals to me greatly. I know, of course, that the situation’s totally romanticized – I know for a fact my visions include none of the hardship or struggle of such a life – but that’s what a fantasy is, right?
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Teaching ESL in Russia

Do you have a question about teaching ESL in Russia? I probably don’t answer it in any of these posts; however, you might learn something interesting. I’ve decided to compile all of my ruminations on living in Moscow and teaching ESL in Russia in one post as I’ve been getting more and more questions about it recently. If you do have a specific question about an aspect of teaching English in Moscow that I didn’t cover, ask below. I’ll do my best to answer it well.

Interview: Living in Russia
Moving to Moscow: A Slacker’s Guide
TEFL in Russia Q&A
ESLing in Moscow: the transport time-suck
An English Teacher’s Horror Story
Things my LOL-worthy ESL students say
Future ESL Teachers Beware: the worst teaching day ever

my neighbor and me - paper lanterns

What to do in Berryville: My Neighbor and Me

This is a pre-scheduled post while the Russky and I are gallivanting across Armenia. Don’t forget to check out our quick-fire impressions of Yerevan over on the blog.

For this post we’re heading back over the Atlantic to an amazing little shop in my hometown of Berryville, Virginia. A Russian town of equal size (around 3,000 people) likely has a post office and a produkti (a small shop with food and house products). In contrast, most small towns in America have some amenities of a larger city. Berryville has several different kinds of restaurants, a full grocery store, and even small artisanal shops that are excellent of a healthy economy.

One such shop is My Neighbor and Me, a small fair trade shop set up in what used to be the town’s police department. My Neighbor and Me sells hand-crafted, fair-trade products from marginalized producers from around the world. Imagine: in a tiny Virginia town you can buy someone a gift from Ghana, The Gambia, Peru, Guatemala, and many other countries. It’s a humbling reminder about how fortunate we are in America to be so connected, even in the smallest of towns.
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lambada market moscow

Moscow Day of the City: In Photos

We arrived in Yerevan yesterday and, despite some travel-induced sniffles, the Russky and I feel pretty good and ready to explore the city. We’re planning to do a big touristy tour today to get the lay of the land and then plan our Like a Local adventures further. This space likely won’t have too many Yerevan posts, but I’ll always shoot you over to the magazine’s site when we’ve got something new up!

Today’s post is just a quick photo set of our wanderings this weekend. It was chilly enough to require sweaters and jeans, but I ain’t even mad. It is fall now, after all…

drunk pomeranian moscow
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Creating the Perfect Expat ™

As evidenced above, I’m obviously the perfect expat as I fit myself seamlessly into any new environment.

As someone who straddles the line of being a loner but conditioned to be relatively social, I feel like I’ve been quite lucky in terms of my expat experience. I’ve heard of and seen plenty of perfectly nice people wash out from expat life because they can’t get over the isolation and otherishness (definitely a word) inherent in the experience. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m basically the Perfect Expat™. Jokes! But I do think I’m naturally disposed towards weathering the ups and downs of expat life quite well even if there are several areas where I feel I’m not quite meeting Perfect Expat™ levels.

Here are my guidelines for what makes up the Perfect Expat™:

1. Be able to spend a lot of time alone. It’s not necessarily that you will spend a lot of time alone or that non-loners can’t succeed in expat life, but – particularly at the beginning of your expat experience – things can be quite lonely. You might have an apartment to yourself and not know anyone in the city. Maybe you have a ton of colleagues who invite you out but can’t really speak your language. Maybe you’re just too exhausted from every day life to go out and socialize. It’s bound to happen and the ability to be alone and not mind it can serve you really well.
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Writing the Guidebook: On my Desk

(My desk will never be that zen – photo credit: Kevin_Morris)

As I wrote about before, I’m in the process of writing a Moscow guidebook. It sounds pretty exciting but unfortunately it’s mostly a lot of trolling websites and sitting in front of a desk, with occasional wanders through Moscow for research purposes. So, because I’m an avid snoop and assume you are too, here’s a look at what’s on my desk as I slave away.

What’s on my desk?

My Day-Timer, Mom Planner edition, which I didn’t see on Amazon but this one is quite similar and about a $1 more than I paid (affiliate link). I mean, my blog is a bit like a very needy child, but in fact this was just the planner that most closely fit my needs (and was in-store at the time). I have tried and tried to keep notes on my computer or on my phone – I even have the Samsung Galaxy Note tablet which has an awesome pen to scribble down notes. While I do use the tablet when I’m out and about, my primary planning is always done by hand; otherwise everything just flies out of my head immediately. Every meeting, blog post, magazine scheduling issue – it’s there in the planner. I love it.
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10 Reasons You Should Travel Before Marriage [ugh]

I read this post yesterday about why you should travel before marriage. I kind of just had to laugh. I mean I know that writers are often tasked with condensing posts to list-form (sentence + gif) which can remove nuance from an otherwise useful argument, but… I’m not sure a well-written, GIF free post could have saved that argument.

Before I get into it, I’ll start with the one good point about the article: I expected to be offended as a young married person. I wasn’t… really. While the writer attempts to mask what they’re actually saying with a bunch of LOL-worthy GIFs, in fact they’re buying into the trite idea that marriage is sad inevitability. But that wasn’t what really bothered me. Far worse in my eyes was the fact that the article basically derides every relationship not made legal as something easily tossed aside. Apparently if you’re not married, your actions count – they just don’t matter.


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