Newsletter June 2019 – Touring Georgia & Armenia, shitty Airbnb experiences, fake butts, remembering Jacques, and more…

https://bbqboy.net/newsletter-june-2019-touring-georgia-armenia-shitty-airbnb-experiences-fake-butts-remembering-jacques-and-more/
June 11, 2019

Greetings from Armenia!

Welcome to the land of the Kardashians where we’ve seen more duck lips and fake butts than any other place on our travels. If you think aspiring to be a Kardashian is a pretty damn sad commentary on life then I’d like to buy you a beer (but you’ll have to come to Armenia). The thing is that the women here are attractive – they don’t need the fake tans, the straightened-out long black hair, the Daffy Duck lips or the cheap, trampy-looking outfits.

It’s been a busy time with ups and downs. Here are a few things going on behind-the-scenes of the blog.

 

The above is actually in Tbilisi. Don’t you love people posing (no kidding, for 30 minutes!) for that perfect Instagram photo? I wish we were as good looking.

 

Touring Georgia and Armenia

A few years back an Armenian travel company contributed a guide to Armenia on the blog. When arriving in the region I wrote them – and they invited us to join their 8 day Armenia & Georgia Classical Tour Package. So while in Georgia we joined the group, a mix of 5 travellers from the UK. Australia and South Africa. They had started in Armenia and had loved their 6 days there. With them I spent 3 days exploring the Georgian countryside. There’s some spectacular beauty which I’ll be writing about soon. I’ll also be writing about what it’s like travelling with a tour group – it was a completely different experience and has both its pros and cons (note: Lissette didn’t deal with it as well as I did and after participating the 1st day bowed out days 2 and 3). But in countries like Georgia and Armenia it really is the best way to explore the country.

My post here on Group Tours Vs Independent Travel.

Starting next week I’ll be doing the 5 day Armenia portion of the tour with a whole different bunch of travellers. I’m looking really forward to it because Armenia has a lot of natural beauty.

 

Airbnb experiences

It’s been a really rough last few months on Airbnb. We had a really shit stay in Antalya which screwed up our sleep patterns. In Georgia the apartment was beautiful but we had a lot of noise and cigarette smoke wafting in (Turkey and Georgia will always be remembered for its chain smokers). We slept badly and were looking forward to the “New Luxury” apartment we would be staying in in Yerevan (Armenia). We arrived last week, after a long overnight train ride, to a dirty, ill-equipped apartment with the worst bed we’ve ever experienced. We had to get Airbnb support involved (for the 1st time in 5 years of travelling full-time). It took 4 days for the situation to be resolved. I’ve got a rant in my system and will be writing about our experiences as well as Airbnb’s help. We weren’t impressed.

For those who think travelling full-time is all a bed of roses….

My post: Bad Airbnb Experiences

 

People don’t want to hear the truth

Back when we lived in Montreal we had neighbours who lived upstairs with 2 kids. We would hear the boy yelling and screaming and riding a miniature car up and down the corridor of the apartment. It would drive us crazy but the father was a friend that I had known for a long time. He was also a lawyer (he ended up being really helpful when I had a dispute/was fired from my job. Never get a lawyer friend angry at you because you never know when you might need one…).

One day I ran into his wife in the downstairs lobby. She caught me off guard by suddenly asking me “do we make too much noise upstairs?”. I don’t remember what I said but it was along the lines of “yes, in fact you do”.

After that day she never spoke to me again. He was ok but even he cooled off towards me. That’s when I realized that even though someone might ask you your opinion, they don’t really want the truth. They just want to be made to feel good about themselves. The thing is that time and time again I’ve been too stupid to actually remember this lesson.

I was reminded of this again when giving constructive criticism to one of those Airbnb hosts that I mentioned above. She had a baby and was new to Airbnb and I didn’t want to slam her in the review. It was a mistake, because she didn’t want to hear my constructive criticism. I’ll write more about our experience soon. But if there’s one thing I can share here – be truthful when leaving a review on Airbnb or anywhere else. Sparing people from the truth only enables them to continue being crappy at whatever they do.

 

Remembering Jacques

On that note…Lissette and I were remembering Jacques. He was a trainer at our gym in Montreal, a gay guy who was tough on the people (95% girls) in our class. “Have you girls been eating croissants all weekend? Chocolatines? I can see how much carbs you ate…but today we are going to work it off!”. He wasn’t always nice and there was a touch of nastiness when he cut into the girls. But he was a great teacher and his class was always full.

Until a few women complained and he was fired. To be replaced by a politically-correct teacher who was about half as good a trainer as Jacques…

 

Above: Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument in the Great Caucasus mountains.

 

Russians & Russia

We’re in a totally different sphere of influence in this region. In both Georgia (especially in Georgia!) and Armenia most of the tourists are Russian. Most locals have negative feelings about them and we’ve had many tell us exactly how they feel. We had one sales clerk in Tblisi tell us that while she speaks Russian she’ll answer Russians in English, it’s her personal “revolution” against Russians. It’s not that they’re worse than fellow travellers, it’s about their historical (and current) involvement in the region. We’ve met quite a few Russian travellers over the last 6 weeks and they’re honestly no different then any travellers we’ve met. We’ve actually met some very friendly Russian travellers taking that train from Tbilisi to Yerevan. 

What is really impressive are the mountains in the north and east that separate Georgia from the Russian province of Chechnya. The Great Caucasus mountains stretch from Sochi (remember the Sochi Olympics in 2014?) to Baku in Azerbaijan. They’re the natural frontier that has always separated Georgia from Russia. Some of the mountains are over 5,000 meters high including Mount Kazbek which I visited on the tour. Some seriously incredible geography and I’ll be writing about that in an upcoming post.

I’ve previously mentioned that we’re REALLY curious about visiting Russia. Maybe even later this year. Would love to see Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

 

Above: Mark and Anya

Meeting fellow Bloggers

Speaking of Russians, we met fellow bloggers Mark (Russian) and Anya (Ukrainian) during our stay in Tbilisi. We had the pleasure of seeing them a couple of times and talking/comparing lifestyles.

Speaking of which…

 

All signs pointing to Ukraine

The next 2 months will be spent in Ukraine, a place we loved last year.

Mark and Anya will be there and we’re planning to rent a car with them and doing some touring of the countryside. There’s lots to see outside the cities and it’ll be great having a Ukrainian showing us around. So while we’re going back to a place we’ve been we’ll have some new experiences.

Sometimes we wonder if our great experience in Ukraine was a fluke. But over the month in Tbilisi we met a few Ukrainians that have really reminded us what makes the country so special.

Above: This friendly lady from Odessa took a liking to Lissette. We’ve been invited to Odessa.

Above: If you’re in Tbilisi, the best coffee and breakfast is at Erti Kava. And they have a couple of Ukrainians working there who’ve given us a bunch of tips for this summer.

 

The next 3 months

So our plans? We’ll be spending the next 2 months in Ukraine, lying low during the busy summer months. In September we’re planning to go back to the Balkans, exploring the coast in Albania (the one Balkan country we haven’t visited) and Montenegro. In October I’ll be meeting my mom in Germany and will spend 2 weeks with her, re-visiting Dresden and exploring some of the small towns in Saxony.

Mid-October to the end of 2019 is at this point a big question mark. But it will be somewhere cold (Lissette has had it with heat) and in a non-Schengen country because we’re planning some time in Spain early next year. Any suggestions?

 

Thanks for Reading!!

 

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20 Comments

  1. I always enjoy your news letter, this one has not disappointed. Funny and honest…I love that you are travelling to places that I have not ever considered visiting. It is refreshing to hear about these places and has definitely sparked my curiosity. I have always been very lucky with all my Airbnb choices, although some have been better than others. So I will be interested to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with the issues…definitely travelling full time is not always a bed of roses. But it surely keeps life interesting 🙂

    1. Thanks Gilda. I’d say about 70% of experiences were good, 20% great, 8% under expectations, and 2% shitty. And we’ve come across the shitty experiences in the last little while, I think partly because everyone wants to get in on the act, making “easy” money without putting in the effort. Anyway, I’ll be writing about that soon. Airbnb is as much to blame.

  2. Great wrap up as always (and fun to read). Sorry Lissette did not enjoy the group tour. 😉 Different strokes…

    I am a big fan of constructive feedback, and yeah, it doesn’t always go well. I rent from the same guy in Yerevan. He has a handful of apartments, but he refuses to buy fitted sheets for the mattress, meaning everyday I wake up, the sheets have moved, and I am sleeping on the mattress. Every year I encourage him to buy fitted sheets, but it does not seem to connect.

    Hope you enjoy your time in Armenia!

  3. Yasss, I have been waiting for this post and wanted to know how you are guys doing!! I am so sorry to hear about your Airbnb experience! I didn’t understand if you moved to another place or the owner put some effort and improved his apartment, but hope it all worked out well!
    If you had to answer a question about Armenia in a few words, what would you say? Is it worth visiting?
    Mark and I have just recently arrived in Ukraine and can’t wait to see you guys again and hear about your trip! 🙂 we’ve been thinking and talking about you, and I am really glad to receive a newsletter from you to know your whereabouts.

    By the way, what a nice surprise to see our picture in this post! You just made my day, Frank! 🙂

    1. Been meaning to write you privately Anya (and will today).
      I think Armenia is worth visiting, it has some similarities with Georgia but at the same time is very different. The cuisine in very good, the city is easier to navigate, it really has a lot of trendy restaurants and stores which has surprised us. Also lots of Soviet era monuments. They’re much more Russian-friendly – do you know they have 6,000 Russian soldiers stationed here? Their brandy is fantastic. So yes, it’s worth visiting.

      1. I tasted many cognacs, and the favorite ones became Metaxa Private Reserve (Greece) and… Armenian 5 stars. So yes, their brandy superb!
        Happy trips!

        1. You are absolutely correct Victor. Do you know that Armenia is the only country (outside of France) that has the right to call their brandy “cognac” (story here). It’s great and we’ve been drinking lots of it 🙂

          1. I did not know. Very interesting history. Thank you.
            Anyway, I often have a small bottle of Ararat 5* in my kitchen.
            Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to buy Armenian cognac outside of former Soviet republics.

  4. Oh…. we loved Dresden! We spent 5 days there in 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The history of the city is fascinating and I’m probably preaching to the choir, but don’t miss the Green Vault Museum!

    Suggestion for Spain? Leon.

  5. well i will be on the same continent mid november for a little over three weeks. Planning like 3 days in Minsk…. just a suggestion! lol. Looks like you’re going to have a great summer. The more I hear about the Ukraine, the more I want to go! I would be interested to hear about Georgia as it’s now 7 years since I was there and I’d like to see how the place has changed and progressed.

    1. I’d go to Minsk just to say I’ve been to Minsk. But requires a Visa and from what I hear it’s not easy. Ever been to the Baltics Andy?

  6. Touring Ukraine outside Kyiv or Lviv – keep in mind it’s going to be slow and bumpy. And I’m curious whether it’s going to be western or eastern part of the country… Probably western with all the fortresses and Austria-Hungary’s era city-centers. I really hope you keep your high mark of Ukraine after driving our roads

    Going to Carpathian mountains makes small sense because you’ll be visiting Montenegro afterwards, where you can find both Carpathian and Caucasus mountains, and even more. Hope you will go to the north of Montenegro

    1. Thanks Andrii. Yes, Western part of the country. You’re the 2nd person who mentions now how bad the roads are. As I say, lucky I’m not doing the driving 🙂 But thank you for the advice.

  7. Armenia and Georgia are way “off the beaten path” destinations for western travelers and I’m looking forward to learning more about the countries in your upcoming posts. However, your photos and writing are great reminders that, however foreign a place and culture may be, there is much that we have in common with people wherever we go. Just look at all the smiles. ? Have a great time exploring the Ukraine!

  8. Frank,

    A friendly bit of advice…

    Let them do the driving. Actually taking up space behind the wheel in Ukraine (for a westerner) is beyond
    anything my words can describe. It is terrifying, thrilling, confusing, and takes a bit of your man card away
    from you. And that is just from the condition of the roads!

    Four lanes suddenly merging to 2… Traffic lanes that are simply impossible to remain in.. exit ramps with
    posted speed limits that would be impossible to remain “inside the lines”.. in places where there actually
    ARE lines.

    Potholes, that can total your car are routine. Buses, marshrutkas, even wagons and horses on the roads….
    Wait till you experience the “pedestrian crossings” on the main HIGHWAYS!!

    And the “me first” attitude, with simply zero manners of the road…?

    Surprisingly, I don’t see a lot of accidents here, but still, driving here is not for the timid.

    Have fun!!

    1. Thanks Michael,
      Actually my thoughts exactly. I would never drive there and am happy to have met someone used to driving in Ukraine.
      BTW – they’ve been driving around Georgia and find it barbaric compared to Ukraine. Have a look at their post. So I can’t imagine how bad it is as a driver (although did get nervous getting toured around in a minivan…)
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

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