Four years ago, I had only ever considered Armenia an inconsequential part of the Eurovision Song Contest.
‘Are they even in Europe?’ I would ask as they came on the screen. I would spend their entire song on Google Maps looking for the country only to deem it, ‘not really European’.
But that was it. That was the extent of my knowledge.
I didn’t know the country had to rebuild in the north after a deadly earthquake shook the ground and shattered buildings and lives. I didn’t know there was tension between the country and its neighbors. I didn’t know they had suffered an inexcusable and unacknowledged genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. …
Part III: The Sea Snake
We knock again.
The sign on the door says they open at 8pm.
We turn to walk away. The door swings open.
A short, bald, grey-bearded man stands in the doorway, a kitchen cloth draped over his left shoulder.
“Hi! Can we reserve a table for tonight?” We ask enthusiastically.
“Come in,” he grunts.
We follow him down three steps that lead us through the door and into the restaurant.
Part II: The Artist
We lug ourselves and our backpacks up the decrepit staircase to the top floor and are welcomed in by our host, Ivo. The opera music is still on full blast as we exchange handshakes. Ivo tries to ask us something, realizes we can’t hear him, then moves to turn the music down.
We look around, the apartment is beautiful: high ceilings, spacious, light. Paintings adorn the walls, photos and books line the shelves, and a grand piano sits peacefully in the center of the room.
This is definitely the apartment of an artist.
“Cafe?” He asks with a smile. …
Part I: The Labyrinth
We walk past prostitutes smoking in doorways, and rough-looking men whispering in secluded alleys. Their eyes follow us as we pass.
My boyfriend has his phone in his hand for directions. I’m on edge. Perhaps he should put it away. It’s drawing too much attention to us.
We continue walking. The twists and turns of the narrow streets disorient us. My backpack feels heavier by the minute.
The small, faded street signs are no help. Every alley is labelled “Vico della-something,” and the Italian names, when legible, are frustratingly similar and confusing.
“Am I allowed to be in here?” I whisper to my boyfriend.
We’ve just walked through the front door of what, at first glance, seems a rather unremarkable triangular Soviet building in Yerevan, and all heads have turned towards us. As the only woman in the room, I feel the weight of their stares.
“Maybe cover up a bit,” he whispers back.
As I pull my cardigan over my shoulders, a short, stout, elderly man hobbles towards us.
He speaks to us in Armenian. My boyfriend answers, and I assume explains that we are interested in having a look around.
My limited Armenian means I can’t follow the rest of their conversation, although I do pick up a few words. …
I hover in the air, two meters above the mat, paralyzed. My grip tightens, my hands begin to sweat, and the panic sets in. I am unsure of my strength and unsure of my abilities in this new and unfamiliar terrain.
I look down at my boyfriend, who urges me on. But I’m frozen. Tears fill my eyes. I look up at the colorful blurry bulges still ahead, leading to the top of the wall.
It’s my first time bouldering and I am terrified. I feel very aware of myself, my fear of heights, and my anxiety on the wall, and assume everyone has stopped what they’re doing to look up at me and judge. …
We walk down the dimly lit hallway, following the hostess who let us in, past a series of closed doors through which we hear shuffling feet, muffled voices and occasional laughter. Apart from that, it’s quiet. A mix of smoke and grilled meat lingers in the cool air. Another hostess with dyed blonde hair and dark, thick make-up passes us. I look behind to see her open a door and quickly slip inside.
We move on, passing another door, slightly ajar, with smoke seeping through the gap. Through the haze I catch a glimpse of the scene inside. Four serious-looking, middle-aged men sit around a small, square table staring at the chess pieces set out in front of them. …
“Your beautiful breakfast”, she says as she places the colourful masterpiece that is my fruit granola yogurt in front of me. Each strawberry, kiwi, melon, banana is perfectly sliced on a bed of thick Greek yogurt, but it’s the waitress’s theatrical performance that steals the show. As if in a musical, elegant but quirky, her movements complement her generous manner in such an exaggerated way that we question what we’ve done to deserve such devotion to our service.
Philoxenia, or love towards strangers, is the Greek word and the sacred relation between host and guest that guides us from our breakfast in the crowded city of Chania, across the island, and into the heart of Crete. …
I shut the front door to the building securely behind me and breathe in the fresh, cool air. My feet already know the way. They lead me past the local flower shop and around the corner to the right. I overtake a lady with a pushchair and dodge a cyclist. I pass the store front where all the mannequins are dressed the same, and the hairdressers that is always full of employees, but never customers.
My feet take me towards the river Main, which in German sounds like the word for “my”. …
For quite a while now I’ve been intrigued by the floods of neon, lycra-wearing cyclists whizzing by on their way to work, cycling through parks I only know exist because I’ve looked longingly at them through the window of a crowded, stuffy rush-hour train. The freedom of leaving when you want and not having to rely on unreliable trains. The draw of simplicity and the outdoors.
I was terrified of facing London’s streets: buses bulldozing by, navigating the more than overwhelming clockwise roundabouts, and the suffocating fumes filling dense streets. …