Sasuntsi David and Yerablur Military Cemetery

Today on “Random Places Lara Decided to Visit”, we have one not-random-but-just-happened-to-be-on-the-way place and one google-map-located place.

Ceiling detailing inside the train station

My plans for the day included visiting the Komitas Pantheon and Yerablur Military Cemetery… because why not just visit a bunch of cemeteries one after the next? Actually though, they’re just kind of in the same direction, and I thought I could visit both on the same day without much trouble.

I took the metro to Sasuntsi David Station on my way to the Pantheon and figured I’d pay a visit to the train station and the famous David of Sassoun statue out front while I was in the area (this is the not-random-but-just-happened-to-be-on-the-way place). Before that, the last time I had been at the train station was when I was moving to Yerevan from Gyumri and was too busy falling asleep/trying to carry my stuff to admire the building. My general thought stream was something like, “hm this is nice. I’m tired. I should come back when it’s light. ZZZzzzZZZzzzZZZ.”

Inside the train station… the Christmas tree is gone now, the weird red lines are still there

David of Sassoun is a mythological hero of Armenia from a classic folk epic poem. The oral tales about David date back to between the 8th and 10th centuries. They were passed down from generation to generation and were finally recorded for the first time in written form in 1873 by Garegin Srvantsdiants, an Armenian bishop. It took him days to record it as it was narrated to him. In 1903, Hovhannes Tumanian, a famous Armenian poet, created a rhymed version. During the Soviet years, the story was further developed and made into a more coherent work because as a previously oral work, there were well over 100 variations of the story. The entire epic is called “Daredevils of Sassoun”, and it’s like the Armenian Illiad. It is divided into four parts that tell the stories of four generations of a family.

Sasuntsi David appears in the third part of the epic. He is a giant with super strength. He is brave, generous, selfless, peace-loving, honest, upright, and patriotic. He will do anything to protect his land and his people. The overarching theme of the epic is good vs. evil and fighting for justice.


Sasuntsi David

David was the son of a king and queen who previously had no children. They were visited by an angel who told them that they could have a child, but they would die immediately after he was born. They agreed, and so David started his life as an orphan.


He was a very strong boy, and after he grew up, he took his place as defender of the Armenian people. Throughout the epic, he fearlessly defends his people against invaders from Egypt and Persia. In one battle, to avoid shedding the blood of the enemy soldiers, he challenges their leader to a duel and emerges victorious.

The statue was sculpted by Yervand Kochar and was unveiled in 1959. Kochar was an Armenian sculptor and artist who was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, lived in Paris while his career developed, and eventually moved to Soviet Armenia. Sasuntsi David is one of his most famous works, depicting David on his faithful steed and holding his sword of lightning. It’s a pretty… epic… statue (hehe).

Isn’t it a cool statue?

The train station is behind the statue, and it was built in 1956. I think the inside is really nice, but there are currently some weird red lines all over the ceiling and walls, and they kind of ruin things. I thought that they were just an addition for the holidays, but they’re still there now, so I’m not quite sure what’s going on.

Yerevan train station

Main hall of the train station

From there, I walked to the Komitas Pantheon which I’m going to write about separately, and finally, I made my way to Yerablur Military Cemetery. It’s on the outskirts of Yerevan, so I took a marshrutka there, and we wound our way through the surrounding neighborhoods before finally making it to the base of the hill where the cemetery is located. There’s nothing else in the area. It’s just built on top of a hill in the middle of a lowkey neighborhood. If I didn’t know it was there (and wasn’t following along on my phone map), I would have thought I was in the wrong place.

The cemetery was established in 1992 and is for Armenian soldiers who lost their lives during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. There are over 700 people buried there.

I just wanted to go and pay my respects. I knew it wouldn’t be a happy trip, but war isn’t a happy thing. I try not to shield myself from unpleasant things because then you can make yourself forget how unpleasant they are. Then you start to think things like, “Oh, Armenia is in a never-ending war, and that’s just the way things are,” instead of thinking about the fact that war is a horrible thing and it takes the lives of fathers, brothers, sons, and friends. Each number in a death toll statistic was a person, and that person’s death was heartbreaking for a lot of others.

Coming into the cemetery

Church at Yerablur

One of the things that makes cemetery visits even more emotional here are the faces of the deceased displayed on the headstones. Reading a name is one thing, but seeing a face makes each person a lot more real.

Memorial at Yerablur

Church doors

One thing that I noticed very quickly was the general youth of most of the people buried there. As much as I feel like I’m getting old, I’m really not. Meanwhile, I would say that at least half of the people buried there never even made it to my age. The youngest person I saw was 15. A huge number of graves were for 18-22 years olds. At 18, you haven’t even gotten to the best stuff in life. Things only get better from there, and none of those people got to experience that.

Most of the graves are from about 25-30 years ago, but so many had fresh flowers on them. Some of them smelled like freshly burned incense. Thirty years, and those families are still feeling the loss. Everyone else might forget or be able to put the war out of their minds, but they don’t have that luxury. Then, there are the families who have sons there now, the kids doing their mandatory two-year military service. I don’t doubt that those families, those mothers especially, don’t let a single day pass without thinking about the war. It’s not right. Life shouldn’t have to be like that.

I hate that this cemetery even has to exist, but they did do a beautiful job of landscaping and giving these families a place to grieve.

This memorial is to the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). I had never heard of it before seeing this at the cemetery and looking it up, but it was an organization that carried out various attacks and assassinations, primarily of Turkish diplomats and politicians. It seems a little shady… that’s all I’m going to say about it, and you can do your own research if you want to know more.

Unknown soldier grave

Cathedral of the Holy Cross

From the cemetery, I could see a shiny church that I wanted to visit since the first time its gold roof caught my eye. I thought it didn’t look too far away… so I walked there. Probably not my best call because despite the fact that the distance was quite walkable, it wasn’t terribly pedestrian friendly. Live and learn… and I did live, so now we can all just laugh it off as a funny story that happened in the past and isn’t a big deal because it all turned out okay (Mom – I’m fine.).

On the bright side, the church was very pretty and worth the visit. There was a groundskeeper who came out to see what I was doing, and I was so busy trying to reassure him that I wasn’t up to anything shady that I didn’t even think to ask if he could open the door and show me the inside. I did my best to peek in the windows, and from what I could see, it looked beautiful. I bet he would have let me in, too. Life lessons: you’ll never know the answer unless you ask. And here, the answer is so frequently yes.

Shiny, right?


Erebuni Fortress

I’ve been aggressively tackling my Armenia bucket list over the last few weeks, and this past weekend’s item was visiting Erebuni Fortress. The way I’ve been making my bucket list, especially around Yerevan, is this: I go to google maps. I click on random things on the map that look like they may be interesting. If it looks like anyone has ever been there and liked it, I add it to the list. That means that, besides the mainstream sights, I really have no idea what to expect from things because I don’t actually know other people who have been to them.

Erebuni Fortress was one of those mysteries. I found it while browsing maps and was like, “Oh yeah! This is where the city of Yerevan started!” and I added it to my list. I don’t know anyone else who has been there, besides one old volunteer friend who I found out actually volunteered there… but clearly, it meant nothing to me when she told me that the first time, and I immediately forgot. I suckered Olivia into coming with me, and the plans were set!

Me and Olivia

Erebuni Fortress, also called Arin Berd, is on top of a hill in the southern part of modern-day Yerevan. It was built in 782 BC by King Argishti I and was part of the kingdom of Urartu. It was one of a series of fortresses built along the kingdom’s northern border and became an important political, cultural, and economic center. The name “Erebuni” is thought to mean “capture” or “victory” (but maybe not because there are like 50 other guesses to what it might mean). If you visit the site, the location they selected makes perfect sense. The hill seems to come out of nowhere. Surrounded by flatness, it’s a random mountain, rising up 65 meters (about 215 feet).

Walls and walls and I don’t know what this is because it wasn’t labeled on the map.

A town was constructed at the base of the mountain, and the fortress had a view of the town, the surrounding settlements, and all roads leading to the fortress. They think that the walls used to be 12 meters high! And if that wasn’t enough defense, there were three layers of walls. And they tied in with the slopes of the mountain, making access seemingly impossible. The fortress had a triangular plan and included a main courtyard, temples to Haldi (the supreme Urartian god) and Ivarsha (some other god), the palace, grain storehouses, and guards’ and servants’ quarters.

The formerly-but-not-currently-12-meter-tall walls

Looking towards the center of Yerevan.

The existence of the fortress was forgotten until excavations in 1950 rediscovered it and revealed inscriptions crediting King Argishti with the construction. They also found the citadel walls, pipes for running water, frescoes, statues, ornaments, weapons, and over 20 cuneiform inscriptions. The water pipes were one of the craziest things because they’re made out of stone, and one of the signs in the museum said the water was piped in from GARNI. That’s like a 40-minute drive from Yerevan which doesn’t sound like much, but it is when you’re CARVING STONE PIPES to span the distance. Crazy.

These are some parts of the water pipe system. The extra hole in the middle one was for maintenance. Can you imagine having the job of carving out all of those stone pipes??? Do you know how hard it is to carve a hole through stone without splitting the whole thing apart?

This wine jug was in one of the temples. It’s also huge.

There are also some awesome mural paintings on the walls of the palace and temple. It’s amazing to think about the fact that those paints have survived for almost 3000 years! Mostly, the paintings are just patterns, but some of them also show scenes of the gods.

In celebration of Yerevan’s 2750th birthday in 1968, the fortress was partially restored, and a museum was built on the grounds to display some of the artifacts found during the excavations.

We visited the museum first, and it was kind of underwhelming. I’d still do it again though because it was only 1000 dram (about $2) for admission to the museum and the ruins, so it’s not like I felt gypped. We also didn’t get a guide which maybe would have been a good idea. Eh, it was still interesting enough, and they had some cool stuff in there like the stone water pipes. I think part of the problem was that it was kind of dark and the font on the signs was small, so I just felt like I should be falling asleep.

Museum views. Kind of dark, right?

They had a reconstructed model of the site, and when we looked at it and noticed the painted walls, we thought that the modeler had just taken some artistic liberties. When we walked up to the fortress and saw painted walls in the very first building, we were VERY excited and also made mental apologies to the modeler for doubting him/her. To get to the ruins from the museum, you have to walk up a LOT of stairs. Olivia and I pretended to stop periodically to “check out the view”, but we were both just pretending that we weren’t getting winded. I used the excuse that since we were walking up a mountain, the air was thinning out so it had nothing to do with our physical shape and everything to do with the lack of oxygen in the air.

Model of the fortress. the part at the bottom of the triangle is the religious part of the fortress with the main temple, the top left part is the palace complex including the smaller temple, and the top right is mostly servants’ quarters.

To be fair, the view was pretty great. If we had gone on a clearer day, it would have been spectacular. It’s without a doubt the best view of Ararat in the city, and you can see Yerevan stretching out in every direction around you. I always forget what a sprawling city it is because I live near the center, and if I don’t have a specific reason to go into the outskirts (such as a random sightseeing excursion), I never do.

Hey hey, Yerevan! And Ararat is lurking under a whole load of clouds.

I don’t know what I expected from the ruins, but I think I imagined them smaller and in worse condition. They are not small, and it looks like they did a decent amount of work rebuilding things. The walls are only maybe three meters high, and I can’t even imagine how imposing it must have looked when they were 12 meters. We entered through the original entrance to the fortress on the southeastern side, walking past the famous cuneiform stone about King Argishti coming to this place where there used to be nothing but desert and accomplishing great works upon it… or something to that effect. Very modest guy, that King Argishti.

This was the outer post where visitors came before getting admitted to the fortress. This is when Olivia and I realized the wall paintings were real

They must have looked amazing when they weren’t 2800 years old!

Entrance stairs into the fortress.

We wandered around the ruins for a bit and marveled at how extensive they were. We also both ranted about how no one respects history and “kids these days” because a bunch of the murals had names and other jibberish carved into them. Like come on… do you really have to do that? No one cares about your declaration of love or the fact that you “wuz here” (I don’t know if that was actually written anywhere, but probably). Why can’t people just go somewhere, admire it, and then NOT deface it? I know, crazy talk. Sorry for even suggesting it.

The main courtyard, looking towards the servant quarters.

Looking towards the temple area from the main courtyard.

Temple hall with vandalized walls.

If we had explored the entire fortress, we could have spent hours and hours there. Instead, we explored a decent amount of it and then decided we were hungry and went to get dinner. I think we were still there for a considerable amount of time though because I ate before we went and was famished by the time we left (we’re apparently going to reference my stomach clock instead of actual times… mostly because I don’t remember those).

Anyway, all I can say about the general experience is thank you, google map browsing, for preventing me from missing out on a Yerevan not-so-hidden-but-definitely-underrated gem. Why on earth don’t more people go there???

Courtyard in the palace area.

Palace… kind of… used to be.

The temple area is to the left, and the palace area is to the right.

Back to the Old Neighborhood

Included on my list of “must do” things before leaving Armenia was going back to visit Gyumri for a weekend. One of my friends, Lexi, had an apartment there until the middle of February, so I went a couple weekends ago and stayed with her. There wasn’t anything too crazy on the schedule… mostly I just wanted to hang out and enjoy being back in my old hood.

There are three ways that you can get to Gyumri from Yerevan without having your own car (excluding walking):

  1. Taxi – takes 2 hours (unless you have a psycho driver who makes it in 1:30… but that’s really not safe), costs 10,000 dram (about $20) so 2500 each when you have four people
  2. Marshrutka – takes about 2.5 hours, 1500 dram (about $3)
  3. Train – takes 3 hours, 1000 dram (about $2)

This may seem strange to you. In what universe is the train the slowest and the least expensive mode of transportation?? Answer: the strange, strange universe called Armenia. I guess it makes sense that when one of those is true, the other also is… but like, when is the train the slowest mode of transportation??

Inside the train

Despite this, the train is without a doubt my favorite way to travel. As long as you’re not in a rush, it’s fantastic! There’s space to stretch, you can walk around if you want, there’s a bathroom, you can get work done because you’re not cramped, and the scenery is beautiful. It’s slightly less beautiful in the winter when everything is brown, but at least the mountains are still there, and they look great coated in snow.

Enjoying all of my space on the train

I woke up bright and early on Saturday to take the first train of the day at 8AM. I had an incredibly productive ride… I worked on my blog, I worked on my journal, I studied some Armenian, I looked out the window… and then just like that, we were in Gyumri!

I didn’t have much of a plan for how to get from the train station to Lexi’s apartment, but turns out that I didn’t need one! I walked out of the station, saw a #12 marshrutka, and vaguely remembered that maybe it went to the right neighborhood. They do have a list of stops written on the side, but there’s no chance it was going to sit there while I tried to figure things out. And I guess I could have asked the driver, but sometimes I like to look like I know what I’m doing so I blend in better. I figured that worst case, I would get off in whatever random part of town I ended up in and call a taxi. Thankfully that wasn’t necessary because we ended up exactly where I thought we would. Score one for my memory!


I dropped my stuff at Lexi’s apartment, and we went to have breakfast at her friends’ house. They’re trying to start an animal shelter in Gyumri which is definitely needed. They still have to raise money and work out more of the details, but in the meantime, they’re rescuing dogs on their own and working to find homes for them, both in the US and in Armenia. It’s actually kind of amazing (you can check out their facebook page here). In general, people here don’t see animals as creatures with any value (though there are certainly exceptions to that). There are stray dogs and cats everywhere, and people mistreat them all the time. I’ve seen people kick dogs, people get paid to shoot them, dogfighting isn’t uncommon, and even people who own pets don’t necessarily know how to take care of them.

We went over to their house to see three puppies that they had found roaming around on the side of the highway the day before. After checking out the situation, they realized they had been dumped there and left to die, probably because they were all female puppies, and people want males for dogfighting. They took the puppies in, got them checked out by the vet, and were starting to look for permanent homes for them. Lexi loves puppies, so off we went. I’m not a huge animal person (as in, I’m not interested in picking up poop or getting my face licked, so I’m fine with not owning any myself), but who doesn’t like puppies?

Isn’t it a little weird?

After a little puppy time, we went to cross off the only three things I had on my list for the weekend. I hadn’t been to the Russian church in town, St. Nikolai the Wonderworker Church, so that was my first must-do. It was built in 1880 and is located in what is now a Russian military cemetery. It’s an interesting looking building because the bottom part uses black tuff stone which is classic Armenian, but the roof gives it away as a Russian church. Its nickname is “the shimmering chapel” because of the shiny roof.


The cemetery with the church in the background

Painting in progress!

Pretty cool!

I stopped by a few times back when I lived in Gyumri, but it was never open. This time, we were in luck! We walked around the grounds first and then went inside. I guess they’re in the middle of some restoration work because now they’re in the process of painting the walls and ceiling. They look awesome!!! I love painted churches. They still have a bit of work to do, but I can just imagine how incredible it will be when it’s finished.

Number two on my list was kind of stupid, but there’s this road in town that was under construction all summer and is finished now. I mostly was just impressed that a construction project was completed in a reasonable amount of time, so I wanted to check it out. We took a drive down the new street, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s probably the nicest road in town now.

Number three was really the most important. I wanted to have ponchiks at Ponchik Monchik. I am convinced that they make the best ponchiks in Armenia (they’re basically like the most wonderful cream/chocolate-filled donuts). They always make them fresh for you, they’re nice and crispy, and I love them. In their terminology, a ponchik is a vanilla one, and a monchik is a chocolate one. And they’re both delicious, so I got one of each. And I obviously didn’t take a picture of them because that would have kept me from eating them immediately, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. As if those weren’t already enough sugar, I got a hot chocolate too. If that’s not the perfect meal, I don’t know what is. WAIT. I do. Add ice cream to that, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Unfinished ceiling of the Russian church

The rest of the day/night was spent hanging out, talking, and playing Rummikub (best game ever). It was relaxed and fun, and I think it was exactly what I needed. Sometimes it can get exhausting living in Yerevan. I know that’s crazy to say considering I used to live in Philadelphia which is at least equally as chaotic, but it’s the truth. Yerevan feels like a big city, and Gyumri feels like home.

On Sunday, we took a trip to the vet to get the puppies and Lexi’s cat checked for worms. Ew. I was slightly less than thrilled with the situation because the vet’s office is tiny, and it was packed. There was an old woman with her little dog, a couple of guys with their cat, and a few other dog owners came and went. The woman was losing it a bit because they had to drug her dog. She was so hysterical that I wanted to give her a big hug, and I’m not a hugger. It was nice to see that there are some people who care about animals. She clearly loved that dog. When she and the other people in the office heard the puppies’ story, they declared that whoever left them was a monster. Maybe there’s hope after all!

Post-vet, Lexi and I spent some time wandering around the fields near the neighborhood. We walked around the same fields back in July when we first met (throwback here), so it was a fun full circle for our friendship. There was still some clean, untouched snow to play around in out there, and the mountains in the distance were beautiful and snow-covered. Field walks are also always good for conversations, and it was nice to have some time to catch up.

It wasn’t a very clear day so you can’t see the mountains very well, but just trust me when I say they looked great

Me and Lexi

You can kind of see the mountains better here… kind of

We had just enough time to eat before I had to get to the train station to catch the last train back to Yerevan. It was kind of crowded this time, so I ended up in the window seat on top of the heater… which tried very hard the entire ride to burn my butt. Slightly less than pleasant, but at least I couldn’t complain that I was too cold! I still managed to be productive though, so it clearly wasn’t that bad (after I folded up my scarf and sat on it!). I finished my Armenian homework, made some flashcards, and by the time we were back in Yerevan, I had them memorized.

I thought the weekend might feel rushed since I was only there for one night, but I’m so glad I went. It was just the relaxing escape I didn’t know I needed!


I’m starting to have the feeling that I’m running out of time, and I’m not going to be able to do all the things I want to do before I leave Armenia. That feeling has given me renewed motivation to use my weekends wisely and start crossing things off my list again.

One of the big things that I’ve repeatedly put off is a visit to the Matenadaran, the manuscript museum and repository in Yerevan. Sarah and I tried to go when I first came to Armenia, but we went on a Sunday and it was closed. My family thought about going, but the week was already too museum-packed. I didn’t want to go alone, and that’s why it was put off for so long. Finally, I decided that I was going to go no matter what. I still asked a couple friends if they wanted to come along, and one said yes! I guess all it took was for me to make up my mind, make a firm plan, and THEN ask someone to join. That works much better than saying, “Do you want to do this together at some point?” because ‘some point’ never ends up getting scheduled.

Matenadaran on the approach

Me and Zoe

I met Zoe, my friend from church, outside the Matenadaran. It’s a pretty epic building, set at the top of a hill on the edge of the Yerevan city center. Aptly, it’s on Mesrop Mashtots Street, and out front, there’s a statue of Mashtots sitting next to a stone tablet displaying his prized alphabet. Makes sense that the creator of the Armenian alphabet would be the hero of the manuscript museum!

Can you find me in this picture?

The Matenadaran was completed in 1957. Before then, most of the manuscripts were kept at Etchmiadzin and the State Library. Today, the building houses around 20,000 manuscripts. Only about 1% of the collection is on display, and the rest is kept in environmentally-controlled storage for preservation purposes. They still receive new (old) manuscripts to add to the collection, mostly from the diaspora.

So epic!

Those doors weigh A LOT

Entry area of the museum

Inside the Matenadaran

Grand staircase (it’s a panorama picture which is why it looks warped)

One percent of the total collection might not sound like a lot, but trust me, it’s plenty. I knew that it would be a waste to go to the museum without a tour guide, so we sprung the extra $5 (split between the two of us) for a tour. As always, it was MORE than worth it. Zoe was a great museum buddy too. We both asked the guide a bunch of questions which she patiently and thoroughly answered. If we had just gone on our own, I wouldn’t have even gotten half as much out of our visit. Most of the stuff I’m going to say is based on what we learned from the tour, so if something is wrong, I’m passing off the blame!

The Armenian alphabet was created by Mashtots in 405AD in order to translate and record the Bible in Armenian. The first Bible was translated, and many other books followed. There were a lot of books translated from the famous Library of Alexandria in Egypt, and our guide said that when that library burned down, a number of books were translated from Armenian back into the original languages to replace those that were destroyed.

The materials used to make the different ink colors.

The first books were written on lambskin and later parchment. They used all-natural inks, so the colors have been preserved in their original quality throughout the years. Blue is from lapis lazuli, a rock known for its rich blue color. Green is from copper oxide. Red is from the Armenian cochineal bug, found in the Armenian highlands. The bugs live underground and only emerge for a few hours each morning from mid-September to mid-October to mate. Gold is real gold, and it’s attached to the pages with garlic juice. How on earth did people figure this stuff out?? (Excuse the upcoming series of horrible pictures because it’s not easy to take good pictures of things covered in glass.)

It’s amazing that the ink is unrestored! This copy of the gospels is from the 13th century.

That’s one serious Bible cover

The Bibles especially have very beautiful covers because the quality of the cover should reflect the importance of the contents. Mostly, Bibles had silver, leather, or velvet covers. One Bible that they have on display was copied at Etchmiadzin and has a 6th-century ivory cover.

After the alphabet was invented, Bibles and other books started being copied all over Armenia, mostly in monasteries. It could take around two or three years to complete one copy. That sounds like long, but when you look at the amazing penmanship and drawings inside, it almost doesn’t seem like it should be enough time!

The original 36 letters of the alphabet as designed by Mashtots. For the old numbering system, the first column is ones, second tens, third hundreds, and fourth thousands.

Until the 10th century, everything was written in all capital letters. They think that Mashtots only made the capitals, and lowercase letters were developed later on. They also used to use the alphabet for numbers. When the alphabet is written in four columns from left to right, the first column is ones, the second is tens, the third is hundreds, and the fourth is thousands. From top to bottom, the letters are 1-9. There’s no way to write zero, so don’t ask me how they dealt with that. For numbers greater than 9999, a horizontal line drawn over a letter meant that the value of that letter should be multiplied by 10,000. The western Arabic numbering system started being used in the 16th century… thank goodness because that old system is confuuuuuusing.

Ivory covered Etchmiadzin gospel

These are some books that were in very bad shape and had to be grafted onto new pages to keep them from falling apart. You can see the original pages in the little pictures to the left, and the book shows those pages attached to new ones.

Armenians also used to have their own system for music. There are 49 classical Armenian musical notes and the great tragedy is that no one knows how to read it anymore. They can’t find a key that explains it, so all of the music that they have is unusable. I feel like someone should write a historical mystery novel where the characters are searching for the lost key (if anyone out there wants to write it, you don’t even need to give me credit… just send me a free copy of your book when it’s finished).

I just love how museums look. So neat and organized!

There are more than just Bibles at the Matenadaran, though at this point it might sound like that’s the extent of the collection. There are definitely MOSTLY Bibles, but they have a bunch of other cool things too. There’s a 6th-century book written by David the Invincible, the first Armenian philosopher. There are 5th-century Armenian history books, including one written by Movses Khorenatsi that was the first attempt to create a complete history of Armenia from its origins. Armenia’s first legal text is displayed, written in the 12th century by Mkhitar Gosh (he also founded Goshavank Monastery). Since, as you know, everything was done first by the Armenians, Anania Shirakatsi’s work is also displayed, showing that he claimed in the 7th century that the earth is round and that the moon has no light of its own and instead reflects the sun’s light, though he had no way to prove either claim (Galileo didn’t come along until the 16th century). There are also 3,500 manuscripts written in languages other than Armenian.

History books! Why did I never have any history books with such awesome pictures?

This is an example of a book that was copied from one at the Library of Alexandria, and now the original no longer exists

This inscription was found at a destroyed church. It is the only thing that survived. It was written by the builder and says that he gives it to his brother and his sons. Then, the brother adds on saying that anyone who destroys the inscription will not have God’s mercy. It was the only part of the church that was left untouched.

This is written on palm leaves in the Tamil language (spoken in parts of India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, etc)

The printing press was invented in Germany in 1440, and the first Armenian book was printed in 1512 in Venice. The first Armenian Bible was printed in 1666 in Amsterdam. Etchmiadzin eventually got its own press, and it printed its first book in 1772. All of those books are displayed in the museum.

There is also an entire medical section. Mkhitar Heratsi, the father of Armenian medicine, lived in the 12th century. Some of his books are there, plus many others. There are books talking about different herbs, Armenian and imported, and their medicinal qualities. At the Matenadaran, they have used some of the recipes for elixirs and lotions and other beauty products in the old books and recreated them! Isn’t that cool?? One of them, the “royal elixir” is made from 54 herbs that are gathered on specific lunar days in order to make the elixir stronger. It was used in the Middle Ages to give the kings “youthfulness and zest” and it “heals the heart and makes the spirit happy”.

These are the 54 spices used to make the royal elixir.

Medical book talking about herbs and their uses.

Looking out at the city.

Side tidbit: when we were talking about the royal elixir, our guide brought up the fact that at Etchmiadzin, they make myrrh every seven years. Armenian priests come from around the world to take some back with them and use it sparingly until the next batch is made. Each new batch is mixed with the old, so there’s continuity from the very beginning of the Armenian church. It contains over 40 herbs and is mixed in a big, silver cauldron.

Reading the biggest book. Captions courtesy of Zoe.

Finally, the funniest display they have is a contrast between the biggest and the smallest books in the museum. The largest one is 604 pages, and each page is an ENTIRE lambskin. That means that 604 lambs went into the creation of that book. Like what. It weighs 28kg and is the Homilies of Mush. It’s now split into two parts because two women decided to save it during the Armenian Genocide. They found it in the ruins of the church in Mush, split it in half, and both headed towards Etchmiadzin. One woman made it. The other did not, but before she died, she buried her half at a monastery. It was found years later by a Russian soldier. Those two women saved that book from sharing the fate of the estimated 20,000 manuscripts destroyed during the Armenian Genocide.

The smallest book doesn’t have a story to go along with it, but it weighs 19g and, in contrast, did not require one lamb for the creation of each page. It’s a church calendar, and apparently you can’t really read it with the naked eye which seems a little inconvenient to me… Oh well.

The biggest book and the smallest book!

It would have been a shame to leave Armenia after 9 months without visiting the Matenadaran. It was absolutely worth the visit, and absolutely x10000000 worth the tour. I am a lover of books, art, and architecture, so it was kind of like heaven to me, but I think that even if you weren’t, it would be an interesting and worthwhile trip.

Life Back in Armenia

It’s been a long journey, but welcome back to Armenia! It took me so long to write about everything that I did in Lebanon and Dubai that I’ve actually been back for a few weeks now. It’s amazing how much can happen in the city when you’re only gone for a week or so!

After I went home for Thanksgiving, I came back to a bunch of lights and light sculptures all over the city. When I came back from Lebanon, they were starting to take things down, and within a day or two after Old New Year (January 13th), it was like the holidays never happened.

I have a proposal. How about we stop calling them “Christmas lights” (note: this is not a religious or political statement. This is a “Lara like lights” statement) and start calling them “winter lights”? Here’s my reasoning: “Christmas lights” implies that the lights are decorations for a holiday, and once the holiday is over, the lights should go away. I don’t like that. Lights are one of the things that make the winter less sad and dreary and more like a winter dreamland. Why do we take them down when we’re not even halfway through winter? I could use some winter dreamland encouragement to keep me from winter sadness whether it’s December or February! If we start to call them “winter lights” instead, maybe people will think that it’s okay to leave them up until the end of winter, and then I… I mean “we”… can enjoy the twinkly lights for a couple more months.

Spring flowers!

Speaking of rushing things, before the Christmas lights were even taken down, people seemed to just decide that it was springtime aka flower time. All around the city, there are people selling little bundles of yellow flowers for 100 drams each. I asked my coworkers about them, and they said, “Oh, they’re selling them because it’s spring!” I was like, “Uhh… it’s January…”

To be fair, this has been an incredibly mild winter. Throughout the fall, anytime I told someone that I was planning to stay until March, they took it upon themselves to prepare me for the horrible winter ahead. They said that last year, the temperatures were frigid, and it snowed a TON. I was ready for some sort of snowpocalypse, and I was even a little excited because I haven’t had a good, snowy winter in a while.

All of that mental preparation ended up being completely unnecessary. I think that Yerevan and the U.S. east coast traded winters because while it’s been horribly cold and record-breakingly snowy there, here it’s been amazingly pleasant. The temperature has barely dropped below freezing, and we only had snow stick once… and it was about a centimeter of snow that melted by the end of the day. Now, in mid-February, it really is starting to feel like spring. The temperatures are usually slightly above freezing in the morning, but by midday, it’s around 8-10 degrees C (about 50 degrees F). I’m not going to complain because if we’re being completely honest, I would have been miserable in a real winter. I haven’t experienced an actual winter since 2015-2016 because I was in Peru at this time last year, and it was summer there!

It’s looking like springtime! You can kind of see Ararat in the distance.

Shiny kitchen!

Life has been hectic since I got back. Work has been seemingly nonstop with me running from one thing to the next. I honestly can’t even remember what I’ve done since I’ve been back because I’ve been here and there doing this and that, and my head is spinning. The most recent big and exciting thing happening is that the kitchen project I’ve been helping with since September is close to becoming a reality! They held a few events with various donors last week, and the construction work should be finished soon! I think I’ll be around to see the finished product, though it won’t actually open until after I’m gone. They’ve done some training sessions and stuff to prepare, but there is still a little logistical work to finish before it can open for real. Here’s an article that appeared in the Armenian Weekly about the project!

Besides helping with the planning and the construction drawings for the kitchen, I’ve most recently been asked to help with the logo. That’s been a whole adventure in itself because I’ve done graphic design-type things before, but I’ve never made a logo. I had to learn a new computer program, and it’s been pushing me to be creative in a new way. I finally came up with something that I think is brilliant, but I’m not sure that they’re going to use it which is kind of a bummer… oh, well. Such is life. I can still put it in my portfolio though because I’m proud of it.

Check out my name on the presentation slide! It’s second to last 😀 it was nice of them to give me a shout out.

For the rest of my time here, I’m mostly going to keep working on developing new content and an updated layout for the website. Oh, and I’ve also been assigned the task of social media manager for the twitter and Instagram accounts which is another new adventure for me. I’m a woman of many hats… the twitter hat and the photographer hat are probably my two least favorite at the moment, but I’m still wearing them anyway. While I’m here, I’ll do whatever I can to help.

One of my ongoing sources of joy is the ridiculous English things they have here. This is on a school notebook… like what??

A bright spot in the chaos has been language class. Remember how, back around Thanksgiving, I finally felt like I was making breakthroughs with my Armenian teacher, Inga? Then, there weren’t enough people in my class, and Inga got switched to a beginner-level group. I was assigned to a different teacher, I started feeling like I wasn’t learning anything, not because my new teacher wasn’t doing a good job but because I needed to focus on different things than what she was covering.

Then, a couple weeks ago, one of the girls in my old teacher’s class told me that she thought I might be okay moving back if I wanted. Only she and one other guy were left in the class, and she said that they were mostly just working on speaking which is exactly what I need. I talked to Inga about it, she said she had been thinking the same thing, and I changed back!

Since then, class has been great!! It’s just me and the guy, and we’re both good at different things. I know more grammar than he does, but his vocabulary is MUCH better than mine, and he’s one of those people who will just speak with no fear of making mistakes. I know that’s how you should be when learning a language, but it’s something I always struggle to do. Inga is focusing on making us speak, and she doesn’t let me just sit there silently. That’s exactly what I need. I feel like I’m making big strides of improvement again which is exciting. She also gives us interesting but challenging homework, and I don’t even mind spending a lot of time on it because it’s fun to come up with funny ideas and practice writing. For example, for next class, our assignment is to write a biography of our grown-up lives if we had become the people our younger selves had dreamed of becoming. Little Lara was a riot, so I’m looking forward to working on that.

My neighbors are doing construction out in the elevator lobby, and it keeps on surprising me when I come home. This day, I took the elevator up to our floor and was greeted with this tape barricade. I had to go down a floor, walk up, and then shuffle along the one un-concreted strip along the wall to get to my door.

Another time, they were plastering the walls. The guy stands on this to get the upper part of the wall… but I was walking up the stairs and was less than thrilled to find this barrier in my way (then, of course, I refused to go and use the elevator, so I climbed up and over it to get home).

In general, I’m starting to get that feeling of time moving too quickly. Language class is great, and I don’t want it to end. I have some really cool friends here, and I don’t want to leave them just yet. At the same time though, I’m mostly okay with leaving. I feel like I’ve done what I came to do. I have some closure. I’m ready to embark on a new adventure.

Despite that emotional readiness, I’m still getting stressed/anxious about everything I need to get done before I leave. I’m trying to fight it because worrying is the quickest way to ruin an experience, but I’ll be honest, it’s not going incredibly well. I know it’s mostly irrational, but that doesn’t help to make it go away. I’m stressed and anxious about moving out of my apartment, the things I need to finish at work, the things I haven’t seen/done yet, the logistics for the mini-southern Armenia trip I want to do before I go, the plans for the week that my cousins are coming, and the plans for the little Euro-trip I want to take before coming home. I’m looking at that list and shaking my head at myself because they’re all good things that I should just be excited about, but anxiety is a cruel thing. I just keep praying for a sense of calmness and peace because there’s no way I’m going to get over it on my own.

Me and my coworkers! I’m getting close to them which is going to make leaving a little harder. From left to right we have Laura, Yelena, me, Olivia, and Hayasa. We went out to dinner together, and it was a lot of fun!

This was on the holiday of Trndez, another one of those pagan-turned-Christian holidays. It used to be a sun/fire worship ritual meant to help strengthen the sun at the beginning of spring. Young women would jump over the fire so that they would bear “strong and intelligent male children”… classic. Now, they say that the fire symbolizes God’s light and warmth. Newlyweds especially will jump over the fire symbolizing their joy and happiness (and not due to superstition/to chase away evil because that would be non-Christian).

Dubai Marina and “Old” Dubai

Funky balconies

I left off my previous post about my “world’s longest day” in Dubai at the Dubai Mall metro station…

I think they got their metros from Japan or something. They’re the same ones that they have in Hong Kong, if I’m not mistaken. They’re all automatically driven and perfectly line up with the glass doors on the platform every time. They are almost impeccably on schedule and can get VERY crowded (that has nothing to do with where the metros were made, it just seems to be a theme everywhere). Like I said in my Dubai intro post, the public transit has optional designated seating for women that I wasn’t going to use until I realized that I was the only woman on the platform NOT in front of the women’s car. When it came and we all packed in, I was happy with my decision.

I took the metro to one of the stops near Dubai Marina. Then, a bunch of people were running to catch a tram that was coming, and I remembered from the transit map that one of the stops was Marina Mall which is exactly where I needed to go. What I didn’t realize was that the tram does a loop from the stop I was at, and the mall is the last stop on that loop, not the first. Oops.

Dubai Marina

Awkward marina selfie as I sweated it out in my winter-appropriate attire.

I planned to take a ferry from the marina to the “old” part of Dubai. Due to my unexpected detour, I got to the ferry terminal at about 11:02, and the ferry left at 11. It was pulling out just as I walked up. I’m blessed with very good luck disguised as bad luck, though, because every time I think something has gone wrong, I end up being better off than if it had gone “right”. Okay, so I missed the first ferry, but the next one was in just two hours.

There’s a promenade that runs right next to the water, so I strolled along that for a bit and took in the sights. I spent a little more time sitting on a bench, soaking in the sun and warm air, watching people walk, run, and bike by, and wondering what brought each of them to Dubai.

Yachts. Everywhere.

I’ve definitely seen pictures of that little twin building in the front before… But there are so many highrises and funky architectural statements that things get lost.

My extra hours at the marina flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to go and buy my ferry ticket! Based on the information I found online, the ferry was supposed to take 60-90 minutes. Ha. The route was a little different than anticipated, and it ended up taking TWO hours! I was excited because we went around one of the palm islands which is something I wasn’t expecting to get to see. Maybe other people would have chosen to spend their day differently, but I thought it was great! It only cost 50 dirhams (about $14), and I got to be on a boat in Dubai which kind of just felt right since boats are such a big part of the identity of the city.

I wish we were a little closer to shore, but you can see the Burj Al Arab (the taller one), Jumeirah Beach Hotel (the short one to the left of the tall one), and in the foreground, there’s a sailboat which is kind of funny because the Burj Al Arab is supposed to look like a sail.

Check out how ridiculous the Burj Khalifa looks, popping up above all of the other buildings

When we finally landed, I was right in the middle of the things I wanted to see next. I was worried that I wasn’t going to have enough time to see everything based on my time estimates, but you know what? It worked out perfectly. I made it to everything on my list, and I didn’t feel the least bit rushed. I actually don’t know what I would have done if I’d had all the time I planned. It would have been way too much!

First, I strolled around Heritage Village. I didn’t realize at the time that it’s currently closed for renovations, so nothing much was going on. It’s a rebuilt neighborhood that is supposed to show “the traditional lifestyle” with demonstrations of the customs, traditions, professions, and craftsmanship of old Dubai. It has a mix of different building types to show building traditions across the different parts of the emirate. That probably would have been cool to see, but instead, I just wandered a bit and looked at the buildings.

Look at those pristine streets

My next destination was Al Fahidi neighborhood. This and Heritage Village are right along Dubai Creek, where the oldest settlements in the area were located. Apparently, they wanted to tear the neighborhood down and develop it, but people fought to preserve the history there. The result was that they didn’t build big buildings… but it’s still been developed. It feels like something straight out of Disney. A brand new historic village. It was still interesting, but I was a little disappointed, to be honest.

After I’d had enough of that, I went to the Dubai Museum. I was ready to be slightly disappointed again since the last two things I planned to see were such bummers. If the museum was a similar failure, I was going to be left with all sorts of extra time.

Thankfully, it was much better. It’s in an old fort, Al Fahidi Fort, and that building actually looks like it was preserved instead of rebuilt. The walls aren’t perfectly finished and fresh looking. I mean, I’m sure they did plenty of work on it, but it was at least less obvious and fake looking.

The “historical” neighborhood of Al Fahidi

Cool trees in the hood

Dubai Museum/Al Fahidi Fort

They’re kind of hard to see, but these little wire guys trying to climb the wall made me smile.

The museum itself was fairly well-done. In a few parts, there was so much information that it was actually exhausting (and I have a high tolerance for museums), but otherwise, it was good. There were also parts where the text was so small that I literally couldn’t read it from the distance I was required to stand at. By about the halfway point, no one besides me was even attempting to read anything anymore. Everyone else was just trying to get through it as fast as they could manage.

I thought it was really interesting because it talked about the history of Dubai and of the UAE in general. I haven’t been to many countries in that part of the world, so the history wasn’t the same old story that I’m used to, and the culture is completely different from many of the things I’ve seen before.

Not awkward

HOW COOL ARE THOSE SPIRAL LIGHTS? But also… what would you do with them?

From there, I headed to the river. I walked through the textile souks and admired all of the pretty fabrics and scarves. The unfortunate thing about the souks, at least when I was there, is that you can’t just walk around anonymously. People are constantly trying to get your attention, talk to you, and get you to look inside their shops. I wish I could wear a sign telling them not to waste their time with me because I cannot be persuaded to buy something when I have literally no interest in buying anything. I had no interest in buying anything. No, I don’t want a pashmina scarf. I don’t want any spices. I don’t want a fake designer purse. What am I supposed to do with these things? Where am I supposed to put them? I’m currently living out of a backpack, and the rest of my life is in boxes/my childhood room at my parents’ house. If there’s one thing I definitely don’t need, it’s more stuff (I’m sure my parents would agree).

When I got to the river, I watched the abras, old boat “buses”, pull in and out of the dock. It was mesmerizing! It looked like they were doing a dance, and I was amazed that they weren’t constantly bumping into each other. The passengers sit on this raised middle part of the boat, and it’s only 1 dirham (30ish cents US) to get across. After I watched long enough to understand what was going on, I hopped onto a boat to cross the river. I think this was my favorite part of the whole day because it was the only thing that felt authentic. The boats were old and a bit sketchy, they were constantly packed, and the ride was cheap It was fun to be out on the water like that.

Abra docks

Organized chaos

Just living that solo travel selfie struggle

Coming into the dock

Clearly amped about getting to ride on the abra… things got better after this.

On the other side, I walked in the direction of the gold and spice souks. I spent a lot of time pretending that I was oblivious, pretending that I didn’t speak English (which is kind of hilarious because I pretended that I could only speak Armenian), and telling people that I didn’t want anything. People also kept trying to guess my ethnicity (this is a common occurrence in my life) with guesses ranging from Iranian to Arab to some mix of those with other things.

When it was about time to leave, I decided to take a boat back across the river just because I wanted to. If I had the time, I could have been happy riding back and forth all night. From the dock, I walked to the metro and spent the rest of my money on plane snacks. I had 12 dirhams left, and I strategically planned what snacks I could get, trying to get as close as possible to 12 without going over. Guess what I ended up with? 11.90. It doesn’t get much better than that! I left with a very healthy haul of three cookie varieties.

I’m kind of obsessed with these lamps

Classic spice market picture


Blurry night abra picture

Getting back into the airport was a breeze because I didn’t have to check my bag. I was at the gate in less than 20 minutes. Turns out my speed was completely unnecessary because about an hour before take-off, we were informed that our flight was cancelled because of weather conditions in Yerevan. In classic Armenian fashion, everyone started calling their relatives in Yerevan, confirming that the weather was fine and that planes were landing, and arguing with the airline staff. None of this resulted in our flight getting un-cancelled, but they did agree to give out food vouchers which was enough to satisfy me.

I ended up sleeping on the floor because the chairs in the terminal all have armrests on them (how rude). It wasn’t the most restful night of my life, but of course I managed to sleep. I always do. I went to sleep around midnight, woke up about every two hours to change position, and got up for good at 8AM before our flight finally left at 2PM. Not exactly the ideal end to Dubai Day, but I survived and got free KFC out of it, so it could have been worse.

There were some awesome views on the way back to Armenia! I usually fly at night, so I never get to see anything

Mount Ararat on the way into Yerevan airport

Dubai Day!

Dubai Day started bright and early… and after an INCREDIBLY restful four hours of plane sleep on my flight from Beirut. My flight landed at 4:45AM, I zoomed through immigration, and I tried to somewhat pull myself together in an airport bathroom before venturing out into the world.

My first stop was the Burj Khalifa, aka the tallest building in the world. You can schedule a time to go up to one of the viewing decks (I opted for the lower one because I’m not rich), and I signed up for a sunrise time slot. I made the mistake of going to Dubai on a Friday. That was stupid because Friday is the Muslim Sabbath day, and in the UAE, it’s a “non-work day”. It didn’t mess me up TOO much, but most things opened later in the day which wasn’t ideal since I got in so early in the morning. The metro wasn’t open yet, so I took a cab from the airport and got dropped off next to the building.

It’s endless

The thing about being “next to the building” is that when the building is 828 meters tall, the base of the building is not small. I had NO idea where to find the correct entrance to go to the viewing decks, so I just walked in a direction that I thought made sense until a guard told me I was going the wrong way and redirected me. No doubt that’s a normal occurrence in his job.

The walk to the right entrance was about 15 minutes, and I didn’t mind one bit because the world was quiet, and the city was still asleep. That’s one of my favorite times in a city (though I hate being awake so early).

Nighttime city view

One of the best parts of going to viewing platforms in tall buildings is getting to learn about the building. They always have information about the design and how it was built. Learning about the process makes the experience so much more interesting!

Excavations for the Burj Khalifa started in January of 2004, and it was officially opened in January of 2010. Even though it boasts a height of 828 meters, the top floor is located at 584 meters. The rest is just a ridiculous spire to make it taller.

The piles that make up the foundation system are 50 meters deep. They also had the challenge of making sure that the in-ground structure could withstand the harsh minerals found in the soil. After a year of construction to prepare the foundation, work started on the floors. They created a process that allowed them to pour the concrete for one floor every three days!

See the area of brown out in the water in the upper right? That’s where they’re building the world islands. There’s an island for each country… It’s like Epcot on steroids.

During the summers, temperatures easily reach over 44 degrees C (about 110 degrees F). In order to keep work going through the summer months, concrete was poured at night when the sun was gone and temperatures were lower. Also, as the tower’s height increased, workers were subjected to stronger winds, making their work more challenging and dangerous.

The building’s shape was determined by its structural requirements. A Y-shaped floor plan was selected to add stability, and the weird shape and setbacks were designed to reduce the impact of wind on the building. The occupied levels were built with poured concrete floors, but the structure of the spire is entirely steel. It has 54,000 windows. Can you imagine being in charge of window cleaning??? I wonder if they ever do clean the windows because it seems like that would be terribly unsafe. Haha I just looked it up… it takes 36 workers 3-4 months to clean all of the windows. The top 27 levels are cleaned by unmanned machines. (Also, the window-cleaning system cost US$6.3 million which I personally think is insane.)

Looking up

It holds the titles of: tallest building in the world, building with the most stories, highest occupied floor, and highest outdoor observation deck. It houses a hotel, apartments, a restaurant, and offices. At its base is the Dubai Mall, filled with expensive stores and ridiculous attractions such as an ice rink and an aquarium.

After my brain was filled with knowledge, I took an elevator to the 124th floor. I think it only took a minute, and the elevator was so smooth that you could barely even tell it was moving. For reference, I live on the 7th floor of my building in Armenia, and I’m fairly certain that the elevator there takes longer to go 6 floors than this one takes to go 124. Not sure if that’s a compliment to the Burj Khalifa elevator, an insult to the one in my building, or a little of both. Apparently, the building is so tall and the elevators are so fast that you can watch the sunset twice from the building, once from the base and once from the observation deck.

Yes, I’m wearing a scarf in the desert. It was a chilly morning! (But it came off VERY soon after this.)

At the top, I wandered around a bit before the sun started to rise. It was still completely dark outside, so I got to see the city lights all the way around the building. About half an hour before sunrise, I claimed a spot next to the windows with a good eastern view and waited.

It was awesome getting to see the world light up and the city wake up. The streetlights gradually turned off, along with the building lights. The world got brighter and brighter and the sky more and more orange. Then, finally, the sun broke over the horizon, and everyone cheered.

In that moment, I had one of those “we’re all people” realization moments. There we all were. People from all over the world, together in one place to watch something so basic. The sunrise. Something we all have in common, that exists in all of our countries. Something we all look at and think is amazing and spectacular and special, even though it happens the same way every day. In that moment, it didn’t matter where we were from or what language we spoke. We all were sharing an experience, watching the splendor of the world. A little community, up high in the sky. I thought it was beautiful.

The sun is cominggggg. I love that the roads are little lines of light.

The sky is brightening…

The sun peeks out! The city lights are all off.

Heyyyy sun!

After the sun rose, I walked around again and took another look at the city. It’s cool how light transforms things. The city has a completely different personality during the day. It was like I got double the value for my ticket because I got to see two different Dubais, or maybe even three. Night Dubai, waking up Dubai, and daytime Dubai.

More buildings, of course

I stayed there longer than anticipated. By the time I got downstairs, it was about 8AM. Part of the sunrise deal was a drink and breakfast sandwich, so I still had to eat before moving on to my next activity. The only drinks included were different types of coffee (the ongoing struggle of eating and drinking like a child), so I just asked for a cup of hot water. The guy working there thought it was weird (who drinks a cup of hot water in the desert?), but I conveniently had a hot chocolate packet in my backpack. Score!

I was originally planning to take a bus to my next stop at 8:30, but at that point, I figured I might as well take my time and wait for the metro to start running at 10. After breakfast, I headed into the mall to poke around a bit. The stores were mostly still closed, but I wasn’t interested in those. I got to see the aquarium from the outside (you can pay to go in, but even without entering, there’s a huge tank visible from the mall), the ice rink, the “human waterfall”, and the general ambiance of the mall.

Divers in Dubai Mall

The aquarium!

And a dinosaur because why not?

Between the mall and the metro, there’s a crazy long “metro link”, aka a series of above-ground tunnels connecting the two. I didn’t mind the walk because the tunnels are lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, and it was cool to see the city from a VERY different perspective than the top of Burj Khalifa.

To spare you from spending one day reading this post about one day, to be continued…

Check out the continuation here.