BeNe (Lux?) trip: Part 2: I heart Amsterdam: Day 1- Exploring the city

Amsterdam- the bicycle city.

Amsterdam- the bicycle city.

Before I dwell on the feeling and emotions overflowing me in this incredible city (read: pathetic women stuff), just one remark. You can skip the “lyrics” part and straightly go to the pragmatic part below: the lessons learned and tips to be shared. I won’t be upset, I promise. (Well, just a bit:)

So, I’m alone and free in one of the most classy and vibrant cities in the world, where weed is legal in coffee shops and it’s allowed to have sex in the largest park, Vondelpark. What should I do? Of course, behave myself, as most of the locals do 🙂 Forbidden fruit is sweet, but make it legal -and people are more relaxed about trying one.

As a “19th century aristocratic lady” (dubbed by a few friends for my passion for classical music, books and classy outfits), I couldn’t but pick up a hotel with a very “classical” name out of the bunch of cheaper choices: Hampshire Hotel Beethoven located at the Beethoven Street. Could there be a better choice? At least, I would remember the address of my 5-day dwelling. And at best, as I intuitively sensed, the Dutch people couldn’t place a hotel named after a genius in a crappy neighborhood. My intuition was right (as in 90% of cases). The hotel was nicely situated in a posh district (as all my Dutch friends kept on claiming later).

City view from Beethoven Hotel.

City view from Beethoven Hotel.

On the very first day, after an hour of rest, I stepped out of it to explore the neighborhood and get to the Van Gogh Museum – the only one on my must-see list (honestly, I managed to satisfy my hunger for the art in Italy, after the 3rd museum).

But before getting there I should have at least stay alive among the hundreds of bicyclists flocking in the middle of nowhere. I guess there are more bikes in Amsterdam than people. That’s proved by statistics. And that means you have more chances of being hit by a crazy biker than a drunk driver or tram.

Miraculously surviving the bike attacks and a few grumpy cyclists who threw a few Dutch curses to my direction, I got to the Museum Plein- home to a bunch of world-class museums: from the landmark Rijksmuseum up to Diamond Museum and even Torture Museum!

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Looks scary.

Sticking to my initial plan, I headed forThe Sunflowers and The Bedroom (read: Van Gogh Museum) instead The Night Watch (read:  Rijksmuseum). Colors, colors, colors…and.. some of Gauguin’s naked Tahitian women (yes, as Van Gogh’s friend, his painting were scattered in some of the rooms despite the fact he was the reason for Van Gogh’s ear cut off: real friendship outlives the minor quarrels, indeed:)

No photos inside the museum :)

No photos inside the museum 🙂

Splurging a bit in the museum store (I have a boon for sometimes unjustified price tags in all the museum stores, I confess), I went out to fully breathe in the fresh air after the rain and carefree faces of “selfie-stickated” tourists feeling behind the stress of the transfer and my fears that I wrote about.  My gut told me: this is going to be an unforgettable trip, which will fully change the course of my life.”We will never gonna be the same”, a tune was swirling in my head till I got to be bed and slept calmly since ages.

Watching raindrops and doves from Van Gogh Museum.

Watching raindrops and doves from Van Gogh Museum.

Lessons learned and tips to be shared:

  1. I liked the hotel, so strongly recommend for solo travels especially- safe and quiet neighbourhood, nice staff. I don’t know anything about the breakfast though.
  2. The best way to get around is by a tram. Just buy a 2, 3,4- day passes and enjoy the ride!
  3. Keen on burning calories? Relish the walking in one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities, as long as you don’t forget it’s the most bicycle-friendly city as well.
  4. So, logically, beware of bicyclists: they are always right, even if you’re hit.
  5. Skimp money on water. You can just drink from the tap- the Dutch water (as Armenian one) is drinkable.
  6. Keep your food expectations low. I’ll write about it later as well. 🙂
Green carpet of Vondelpark.

Green carpet of Vondelpark.

In the next chapter, I’ll focus on the Ent-Ex programme, my (self)-discoveries and, of course, lessons learned and recommendations.

BeNe (Lux?) trip: Part 1: Overcoming fears

Traveling solo: selfies are the solution

Traveling solo: selfies are the solution

It’s equally hard to write about an incredibly enjoyable as well as annoyingly failed vacation: in both cases, you come home a bit depressed and it lasts for at least 2 weeks (varies from traveler to traveler). But I finally fight my still lingering laziness (a natural byproduct of a 2-week-long holiday) and enter my online “room” to speak up about my BeNe trip. Why not Lux? Technically, I could manage the Lux part, but BeNe was already so exciting and honestly, pricey, that I left the beautiful Luxembourg unattended this time. It’s ok. Next time I visit the Low Countries (I learned a lot during the trip, by the way:)), I’ll traverse Luxembourg first thing.

Why Holland and Belgium?

“I’m slightly surprised why you decided to explore nordic states after sunny Italy last year”, my uncle confessed after I bubbled away all the (sharable) impressions from my trip at my granny’s. The short answer is – 1.I wanted to travel solo to a place  completely different from the ones I visited- Italy, UAE, Russia, Georgia, and first of all – Armenia.

2. I wanted to learn something simultaneously with traveling, and I enrolled in Ent-Ex Amsterdam program (I’ll touch upon this workshop in a separate post).

Not really short, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not going to dwell on the long one: it’s mostly personal and…stretching outside of the travel blog format 🙂

So, why solo?

I don’t believe in coincidences: I do believe in signs. So, I took the fact that all my friends with whom I’d feel like traveling were  unavailable in summer as a sign: it’s time to face one of your greatest fears- traveling solo. Not that I was afraid of being bored. I have always enjoyed my company and would surely find something to entertain myself. Nor was I afraid of being stolen or kidnaped. No, the reason was more technical and…silly.

“What if I get lost in the airport? What if I’m late to the second plane? What if I suddenly forget English out of fear and get lost? What if I hotel booking is wrong and I find myself “homeless” in, say, Brussels?” These were but a few endlessly stupid questions that were swirling in my mind keeping me awake at nights, no matter how much my friends tried to be supportive. Besides, as a person, who had the notorious story with Armavia and flew with pilots (this is yet another entry), I shouldn’t have been braver, indeed. Anyways, I was obsessing over these insecurities. That’s why, at a very crucial moment (was I drunk? I don’t remember), I declared to myself: “Drop the fears, Siri. You’re traveling solo this year”.

Surprisingly, I didn’t get lost in the airport. Astonishingly, I was on time for all my planes. Mesmerizingly, there were no wrong hotel bookings. And, fortunately, I retained (and even improved) my English during the whole trip. And learned a bit of the tricky Dutch 🙂 And I discovered I’m not that helpless as I formerly thought of myself. By the end of the trip I found myself traveling from Rotterdam to The Hague on the subway without a map (that was a moment of pride for me, honestly).

But first things first. The next entry will be devoted to the forever young city of Amsterdam, my first destination, my likes and dislikes, the people I met there and some travel tips.

Lesson learned N1: push yourself harder, pick up a fear a time and “work” on it.

Lesson 2: Traveling solo can be safe and fun, but don’t forget take your common sense, sense of humor and a few helpful gadgets wherever you go.

Lesson 3: Never ever eat the sandwiches during your Yerevan-Moscow or Moscow-Yerevan flight with Aeroflot. Just a tip for your stomach:)

A foreword to my BeNe adventures

I heart Amsterdam

I heart Amsterdam

What can be better than travelling? Especially after the pre-vacation overload at work. Perhaps, coming back home with fresh ideas and at the same time lingering sadness over the sweet vacation days and sharing the travel adventures on the blog post.  Actually, finding time- is the key phrase in the previous sentence, as I’m yet to settle after the vacation ( a kind of stay-cation after my va-cation):)

My dear followers, I do promise I’ll be sharing all (or almost all) the experiences in Holland and Belgium with some useful tips if you happen to traverse these wonderful countries, which I strongly recommend! So, the next few entries will be devoted to my trip and also the summer school I attended during these unforgettable 12 days in the countries of tulips and fries (yes, Belgian fries- NB:!).

P.S. Feel free to confront me if your perceptions of these countries are different from mine. What I learnt (among other things) from these people, is to be more tolerant to others’ opinions:)

Pre-vacation stress: yes, it happens

Getting ready for vacation? Don't stress out.

Getting ready for vacation? Don’t stress out.

As the summer vacation is only a couple of days away, I’m getting more and more reflective and… stressed out. Vacation is kind of a small “coffee break” till the final New Year review. What did I change after my last vacation? What moods are overflowing me? What’s disturbing me most, and above all, what needs to be fixed in my life?

These are the thoughts that sometimes crawl into my mind at night causing sleep reduction (as a good 7-hour sleeper, it’s a bit of uncomfortable experience for me, indeed).

It’s always a good idea to take a breathe breath, or, better, a vacation to a faraway country before making life-changing decisions. That’s what I’m up to in this point of my life. I don’t know where I will land after my soul-search and re-search and re-discoveries of myself, but one thing is sure: I’ll not be the same, since every new experience, every new culture and people we encounter make notable changes of paradigm, attitudes and life philosophy. I don’t know where the changes will take me- but I do know that even a negative alteration of the fixed routine is more motivating than the warm stability of the already wornout relationships, careers and life beliefs.

So, if you happen to be in the same pre-vacation-stressed-out-yet-hopeful situation as I am now, don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll all come back with our mental hardware formatted and refreshed and will tackle our problems with doubled efforts.

Good luck, and have an enthralling holiday!

You should never ever swim! 10 weighty arguments

Summer is only a couple of days away, and many of us have probably thought: it’s time to at last learn how to splash in the waters of a pool or sea without resembling the Titanic. Are you sure of your decision? Here are 10 very weighty reasons why you should never ever jump into the water (irrespective of the season, place and circumstances!). Here you go:

  1. Swimming is harmful to your physical beauty.
Michael Phelps, N1 swimmer in the world.

Michael Phelps, N1 swimmer in the world.

  1. It’s dangerous, even in a pool.
Beware of sharks! They are everywhere

Beware of sharks! They are everywhere

  1. And leads to depression and sadness.

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4. It’s harmful to your health, especially for heart.

Swimming places a vigorous demand on heart

Swimming places a vigorous demand on heart

5.Swimming is not at all sexy,

Water has a magic power of making even the most average body look sexier.

Water has a magic power of making even the most average body look sexier.

6. or aristocratic,

Princess Charlene of Monaco:former South African Olympic swimmer

Princess Charlene of Monaco: former South African Olympic swimmer

7. or motivating.

Michael Phelps got Sportsman of the Year award in 2008.

Michael Phelps got Sportsman of the Year award in 2008.

8. Just the opposite – it’s the sport of losers,

Federica Pellegrini, holder of a few world records. No bad, isn't it?

Federica Pellegrini, holder of a few world records. No bad, isn’t it?

9. and overweight people.

Charlize came back to her slim body after "Monster" due to workout and swimming.

Charlize came back to her slim body after “Monster” due to workout and swimming.

10. And finally, never ever go in for swimming if you’re fighting insomnia.

Swimming is a perfect way of relaxation.

Swimming is a perfect way of relaxation.

I hope these powerful arguments will keep you miles away from anything like a pool, lake or sea for good.:)

The power of eating together

Dining together is a nice tradition

Dining together is a nice tradition

Every May, I involuntarily re-live the darkest period in my life 6 years ago. A tragedy happened in my family – we lost our aunt in a dreadful accident. I don’t want to go into the details of this bereavement – even now the memory of it is piercing my heart with thousand of darts. Human memory is an amazing mechanism: it filters the negative (even in our case) and squeezes the positive out of each experience.I mostly recall that feeling that the spiritual links between our family members strengthened at that time. We shared our grief and found consolation in each other during dinners together. Every day we would gather at granny’s, make food together, lay the table and eat in silence. We could feel that no matter how hard it was we ought to keep living and making each other happy.There was something very sacred in this dining ritual. It was only in those minutes together that we could forget about our grief for a few minutes – day by day, when the pain eased eventually. Then everyone got back to the normal life. And, unfortunately, we forgot the powerful ritual.

Now I’m thinking of restoring this nice family tradition- eating together. At least once a week. We all are so busy carving out careers, building relationships, partying and networking, that we deem family traditions such as eating together outdated. We forget the simple joys of life- family gatherings and the luxury of sharing our ideas and emotions at a dinner or supper. Eating together is not a mechanical act. Sharing food made with love is an empowering and enlivening experience. And a tragedy doesn’t have to happen for you to get together and practice the fulfilling ritual of eating together. Life’s not short if we learn how to extend the pleasure of being with our loved ones.

Grab your mat and do yoga- no matter where you are

Lotus pose

When I tell someone I’m doing yoga here in Armenia, I face with two types of radically different attitudes: “wow, you’re great, wish we would have time/desire/ physical shape/money to do that” and – “oh, how frivolous of you to do those awkward poses instead of learning to, for instance, how to knit for your future children”. I won’t go into details explaining the roots and reasons for the latter attitude toward yoga – this is something peculiar to the society I live in (and maybe other conservative societies as well)- enmity to something undiscovered. Instead, I want you to share how this 5000-year-old physical and spiritual practice has influenced my routine, physical and mental state. Whether you’ll join the “wow” or “blah” posses, it’s up to you:)

  1. Flexibility and strength

It’s already 2 years that I have been practicing yoga. Of course, there was a major hiatus during this time (about a 6 months of non-yoga period) after which I restarted it a few weeks ago. At first, it felt awkward. Sometimes I would burst out laughing while doing Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog), especially when I failed to keep the posture for at least 20 seconds (20 seconds feel like 20 hours during the first yoga classes, I confess) and saw my tortured reflection in the mirror. But gradually I got accustomed to even the most intricate asanas, and my body and mind started loving it. From 20 seconds up to 1.5 minutes- this is the asana-holding progress of mine.

Downward-facing dog pose

Downward-facing dog pose

  1. Positive aura

From the first yoga classes, I noticed: when a group of people begin focusing on their bodily sensations and dropping their worries and never-ending inner dialog, a unique aura of tranquility is created. It’s shaped by the instructor in the first place. So, it’s important to find the one whose methods and aura aligns well with yours. Soon enough, you’ll discover and nurture deeper connection with him/her and follow the instructions involuntarily, naturally, without forcing – just going with the flow of series of conscious stretches (a very Zen- and yoga-like concept, indeed). I’m happy to have a great instructor whose overflowing positive aura is making the class a really serene experience.

  1. Self-discipline

Like any other hobby or pursuit, commitment is key for prominent results, and it holds true to yoga in the first place. Practicing yoga is never a route from tada-asana (mountain pose) to sirsasana (headstand). It’s a never-ending journey- full of self-discoveries, failures, challenges and fulfillment. Nobody (even the most distinguished gurus living in Tibet Mountains) can say they fully master yoga. So, what can we, common mortals, expect from practicing twice a week?

First of all, after a couple of months, expect to enjoy the classes and want more. The best time for yoga is indeed morning. Especially in spring, it’s such a bliss to wake up at 7:00, drink some water and start a 10-minute yoga warmup followed by OMM and a couple of morning asanas or Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). (Dear owls, don’t fret and justify your not doing yoga at least 4 times a week by your crazy sleep patterns. Do it an hour before sleep! It’s better than nothing). Believe me, the rest of the day will seem calmer and more stress-free. Besides, if you commit to asanas, you notice modifications in general patterns as well – more resilience, patience and even wisdom in decision-making.

Surya Namaskar

Surya Namaskar

  1. Relaxation

It’s naive to think that doing yoga twice a week is a ticket to blissful and stress-free routine. Neither does it prevent us from the negativity we face in every walks of our lives. If you seek nirvana, leave the urban life and go to mountains. Still we can control and reduce our stressful lives led at crazy city paces with yoga breathing exercises or pranayamas. These are simple yet powerful breathing techniques which reinforce our vital energy and slow down our rushing thoughts.

As I’m writing these lines I feel like standing up and twisting my body into a cobra pose or doing a simple pranayama (I’ve been sitting for almost 50 minutes in a row- it’s torturing for a beginning yogi!). A couple of hours and I’ll grab my mat to my room and breathe away the daily stress for a few minutes. And I strongly encourage you to drop your complexes and fears and try your yogi practice as well.

The story behind my name, lost daughter and Genocide

Forget-me-not, symbol of Armenian Genocide Centennial

Forget-me-not, symbol of Armenian Genocide Centennial

My ancestors as those of majority of Armenians’ faced the horrors of the 1915 Genocide. My grand grandfather from father’s side, Baghdasar, lost his family during the massacres in Mush. Sirvard was the favorite daughter of my grand grandpa and he mourned her loss most of all. However, he had to settle in Tbilisi and try to start a new life with a new wife and continue the heritage of his ancestors as many survived Armenians resolved to do during those tragic years.

In Tbilisi, my grandmother was born and named Qnarik as her Georgian-Armenian mother Ghadiff wished. But Baghdasar couldn’t forget his beloved daughter Sirvard and secretly named my grandmother “Sirvard” by passport without telling about it to his new wife, my grand grandma Ghadif.

Only 16 years later, when my grandmother moved to Yerevan to enter the State University, did she find out that her real name was Sirvard. She was puzzled, indeed. And the story of long lost daughter was revealed.

Dad says she couldn’t cope with her new name for a long time. I remember her being referred to as Silva- short for Sirvard- but honestly, I like Sirvard more. I love the etimology of the name (literally meaning “rose of love”) and the touching story behind it. For me, the story has a definite life-asserting message: it’s hard to forget the past, it’s tough to lose beloved ones, but it’s our duty to be brave and bold and fight for our happiness and prosperity. It’s our duty to Live and Let Live.

One day from a tough girl’s life

Never be daunted

Never be daunted

The beep of the alarm signals – it’s time to be grateful for another day in her life. “I’m grateful for my family, friends, health and beauty”, this is her daily prayer, her most powerful driver to start a day in a major key. But something lacks. Even in the prayer, something very important is amiss.

She chooses to ignore the lingering blues (the faithful companion of her mornings) and fakes a smile (until she makes it at some point later, hopefully). “Never be daunted. Never been daunted. Never been daunted in public”, she made a motto, an empowering affirmation, out of Hemingway’s quote.

A few touches of mascara, blush and lipstick, a trendy suit, sleek hairdo and high heels (the sadder -the higher)- these automated actions create the usual image of a well-groomed and well-balanced young lady, alien to pillow- talk than pillow-cry. These are the criteria set by her and endorsed by her surroundings. And this is the protective shield against questions of “What’s wrong?”, “Why are you sad?” and the like. She hates the questions, and she hates having to fake the real reasons. She’s more comfortable being a “coconut”- the hard shell covering the soft “stuffing”- rather than a mild-looking and fragile peach. That’s why guys (including male friends) think her a tough girl. Sometimes bitchy and arrogant. And yet admirable. She doesn’t like labels, but perhaps, it’s the only one she’s ready to assume.

Walking her way to the office, she catches a couple of flirty glances of sleepy passers-by yet chooses to be absorbed with the music coming from the earphones. What comes next is mostly a repetition with some variations- over and over for already a couple of years.

She has a good job. Or at least better than her peers. Her ambitions are the driver of her success and financial independence. She knows her price at work. She knows her price outside of it, too. That’s why she’s still single, perhaps. She doesn’t want to compromise her freedom and feelings for merely changing her Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship”. (She’d rather adopt a pet, instead). She loves being alone and is comfortable with it, most of time. She had her portion of disappointments and heartbreaks and now she thinks twice before starting something new.

And she doesn’t expect the guy she’s going on a date with at 7:00 today is her perfect match. She doesn’t expect any more- that protects her against new disenchantment. Enough of heartbreaks. She just wants to give herself a try, a proof that no matter what happened she can still love and be loved…

…First -mascara, and then- blush and lipstick – “good-bye, makeup” and remnants of the day and hello, Morpheus. The date was …entertaining. She promised herself to use a whole bunch of attributes with “dating” other than “promising”. It’s the process of hoping and expecting and creating castles in the air that lead to clinging. The more she clang, the more the precious things and people in her life eluded her. So, enough of clinging as well. Only living in the moment and flowing with life (or at least, attempting it).

The last thing to do for the day is the ritual of picking a random music track. This one is far from a lullaby.

Tough girl

In the fast lane
No time for love
No time for hate
No drama, no time
For games
Tough girl
Whose soul aches…

”I’m grateful for being strong enough to accept and love being fragile sometimes”, is her last prayer each night…

10 reasons why I love the world

“Spin the globe. Pack a bag. Break bread with strangers. Soak in radical beauty. In short – travel”, this is what BBC Travel article “50 Reasons to Love the World” inspired me to do again on a chill depressing March Monday. Suddenly I recalled my own unforgettable trips and it sparked a desire to live and travel again.

Of course, with my modest traveling experience, I couldn’t come up with 50 reasons, that’s why I tried to encapsulate my passion for traveling and love for our amazing world in 10 reasons, which I hope will inspire you to discover new paths and sensations 🙂

So, why do I love (and sometimes adore) the world?

  1. Because after an exhausting 30km night walk in Rome, with our feet swollen and eyes closing of fatigue and cursing our enthusiastic “guide” Armen, we were eventually rewarded with the most delicious gelato at Piazza Navona in Rome and …of course, the view to jaw-droppingly beautiful Piazza Navona itself.

    Piazza Navona and us after the 30km marathon

    Piazza Navona and us after the 30km marathon

  1. Because after the 3 hours of turmoil at the Zvartnots Airport, stressful flight and furious fights with the whole airport personnel, three of almost desperate friends- Sima, Sossi and I- found paradise in the caressing waters of the Indian Ocean in Fujairah UAE, catching the naughty waves and feeling grateful for happiness to have each other as friends.
With crazy adventurers Sima and Sossi by the Indian Ocean, Fujairah

With crazy adventurers Sima and Sossi by the Indian Ocean, Fujairah

  1. Because over the mystic Vorotan river canyon on the world’s longest Wings of Tatev ropeway, I strived to imprint every meter of this amazing scenery and the miraculous Tatev Monastery itself with every cell of my eyes and brain.

    Stunning Tatev Monastery

    Stunning Tatev Monastery

  1. Because after the 12 days of relaxing “internet detox” vacation with my mom in fun-filled Batumi, I came back a different person- literally- 50% darker due to the chocolate suntan “awarded” by the Black Sea sun and near-nirvana state of mind .

    In Batumi

    In Batumi

  1. Because while tasting Georgian rosé, pigging out khinkali at Tbilisi Maidani with my friend Ruzanna and flirting around with handsome Georgian guys, I experienced the joy of delicious food, a heart-to-heart conversation and – the pleasure of being likedJ (no matter how superficial it may sound).
Exploring Tbilisi with my friend Ruzanna

Exploring Tbilisi with my friend Ruzanna

  1. Because the waters of the Adriatic Sea are so inviting despite the rain and storm that I cast away all the precautions and divedin the dark blue depths, sensing for a moment a very Italian “I-don’t-care attitude” attitude toward life- light-hearted and light-minded.1606930_10202516229446604_577791386292240251_n
  1. Because together with my colleagues, I felt the inconsolable sorrow of Shushi – this widowed, slaughtered but still charming beauty, and came back home changed- influenced by the maturing power of catharsis, praying for peace and harmony in my homeland and in the world.

    One of the 4 mosques in Shushi (Armenians destroyed none of them)

    One of the 4 mosques in Shushi (Armenians destroyed none of them)

  1. Because the nature of Artsakh is so arresting that I forgot the fatigue of the 7-hour-long bus trip on twisted roads and felt ready to traverse another 7-hours in this mystic land to explore it to the fullest.

    Jdrduz canyon, Artsakh

    Sunrise at Jdrduz canyon, Artsakh

  1. Because Florence is so unforgettable that I sometimes dream about it, miss it almost painfully like my home town –miss its specific aroma, hear its peculiar music coming from the narrow streets and become speechless like Stendhal seeing the unmatched beauty of Duomo and Basilica of Santa Croce.

    On top of Duomo, Florence, with my friends

    On top of Duomo, Florence, with my friends

  1. Because after each journey, I involuntarily sing “I’m coming home” and smile to the thought I’m back in Yerevan. After overcoming the jet lag and realizing my whereabouts, I confess to myself that no matter how bored/bogged down/stuck/ frustrated I feel in my home town at times, for me this sweet feeling of coming home Yerevan- is the first and foremost reason why I love the worldJ.

    Spring at Abovyan street, Yerevan

    Spring at Abovyan street, Yerevan