Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus

Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus
Yerevan is Armenia’s capital city. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 August 2021

Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus

Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus
  • The ex-Soviet republic offers a dazzling mix of landscapes for the more-adventurous traveler

RIYADH: Armenia is a country most people are vaguely aware of but might have trouble placing on a map. Tucked away in the Caucasus Mountains between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran, this ex-Soviet republic is off the usual tourist track, but still attractive to curious travelers.

Landing in the capital Yerevan on a balmy July night, I am struck by the absence of COVID-19 precautions: A tight crowd has gathered outside the little airport and there is much kissing and embracing, and not a mask in sight. 

I’m booked at a good hotel — actually The Good Hotel. Owner Anna and her colleagues Nara and Artur have a touching concern for all their guests. A lavish Armenian breakfast is served up every morning: fresh fruit, homemade jams, omelets, cheese, salads, cold cuts and crusty matnakash bread.




Sanahin Monastery is an Armenian monastery founded in the 10th century in the Lori Province of Armenia, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Shutterstock)

Yerevan is a juxtaposition of high-end luxury and harsh poverty. Strolling down the tree-lined boulevards, with their elegant pink-stone buildings and boutiques selling $4000 alligator-skin handbags, you are just a few steps away from scrappy neighborhoods where time has stood still for half a century. Russian-made Lada cars from the 1970s, belching diesel fumes, are interspersed with Bentleys and Maseratis — a typical post-Communist scenario of shady oligarchs lording over ordinary people getting by on $300 a month.

“We all have big families,” my barber tells me. “And we depend on each other. That’s the only way to survive in this country. The other option is just to leave — there are nine million Armenians around the world, and only three million in Armenia.”

The cost of a visit here is cheap. I spend no more than S50 a day, including accommodation. Five of the pink plastic tokens for a metro trip cost just a dollar.




Lake Sevan is a large, high-altitude lake in eastern Armenia. (Shutterstock)

I embark on a road trip to the north, near the Georgian frontier. The smooth highway at times becomes a rough dirt track, winding through grassy hillsides and valleys before ascending into wilder mountainous regions. I stop in Alaverdi, a small town on the banks of the Debed River, at the foot of a steep valley. 

Irina, landlady of the charming Iris B&B, serves a delicious supper of charcoal-grilled chicken and vegetables. “I trained in Moscow as a cellist and orchestra conductor”, she tells me. “I had a good career there, but one day I had enough and returned here. It’s a simple life, but I love it and I love to share it with visitors.”  

The Soviet Union may be gone, but Armenia remains deeply stamped by it. Most older Armenians speak Russian as a second language; only younger people tend to speak English.




Yerevan shopping street. (Shutterstock)

Fortified by another legendary Armenian breakfast, I head to the alpine village of Sanahin. It’s Sunday, and a group of schoolchildren are performing folk dances in the garden of the monastery — the music and dances almost identical to that of eastern Turkey. 

Nearby is a museum dedicated to the Mikoyan brothers — two heroes of the Soviet Union. Artyem Mikoyan was the chief designer of the MiG jet, while his brother Anastas managed food distribution for the whole of the USSR. Outside the museum is an actual MiG jet. How it was brought up the mountain, I do not know.

I drive south, through the Debed River Canyon — a deep chasm that continues for at least 50 kilometers. After a night on the shores of the high-altitude Lake Sevan, I return to Yerevan and discover surely the most pleasant spot in the city: The café in Lovers’ Park.




Wings of Tatev is a 5.7 km cableway between Halidzor and the Tatev monastery in Armenia. (Shutterstock)

I head off once again, this time south to the town of Goris, near the recent warzone of Nagorny-Karabakh. The area is safe now, but there are still signs of the conflict. 

In contrast to its decaying Soviet-era buildings, the area around Goris is beautiful. It sits on the banks of a little river, and on the adjacent hillside are pointed sandstone rock formations, similar to the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia in central Turkey. It is a good base for further excursions; to the ‘Wings of Tatev’ — the world’s longest cable car (a breathtaking ride of 5.7 kilometers) — and Karahunj, the ‘Stonehenge of Armenia’ — a prehistoric circle of hewn rocks.

Driving back to Yerevan, I meander through lush vineyards, undulating grain fields and rugged mountain passes — all lingering images of a country unlike any other.


Luxury publisher Assouline celebrates Dubai in latest tome

Luxury publisher Assouline celebrates Dubai in latest tome
Updated 20 October 2021

Luxury publisher Assouline celebrates Dubai in latest tome

Luxury publisher Assouline celebrates Dubai in latest tome

DUBAI: From Ibiza to the Amalfi Coast, Marrakech to Mykonos, luxury publisher Assouline is known for a collection of globe-trotting titles. For the latest addition to its Travel Series, the publisher is putting the spotlight on Dubai. 

Titled “Dubai Wonder,” the new 296-page coffee table book was authored by Dubai-based arts consultant and editor Myrna Ayad, the brain behind Assouline’s retrospective on the late UAE ruler, “Sheikh Zayed: An Eternal Legacy,” which came out last year. 

While it was the arts consultant who initially pitched the idea to the luxury publisher, for her latest book, Ayad shares that it was Assouline that reached out to her.

Titled “Dubai Wonder,” the new 296-page coffee table book was authored by Dubai-based arts consultant and editor Myrna Ayad. (Supplied)

“After publishing my first book with Assouline, the house asked if I’d like to author a book on Dubai as part of its iconic Travel Series,” shared Ayad to Arab News.

An avid collector of Assouline books and a Dubai resident for four decades, Ayad did not have to think twice before agreeing to take on the project.

Taking readers on an immersive journey through the UAE’s bustling metropolis, the book delves into the beauty, diversity and rich culture of Dubai through a collection of images and text that show the city has plenty more to offer beyond the world’s largest shopping mall and tallest skyscraper.

An avid collector of Assouline books and a Dubai resident for four decades, Ayad did not have to think twice before agreeing to take on the project.

“Dubai is a tourism destination, that’s for sure; however, I wanted to portray that it is also a cultural hotspot, a city that is home for so many, and a city that constantly gives,” says Ayad.

Assouline describes Dubai as “one of the most important metropolises in the Middle East.”

Indeed, it is hard to imagine that only 50 years ago, the futuristic city was but a humble desert oasis that relied on pearl diving, fishing and trade.

Luxury publisher Assouline is known for a collection of globe-trotting titles. (Supplied)

With “Dubai Wonders,” the author hopes to also capture the side of Dubai that you will not typically see in a 90-second tourism advert.

“Because I have lived in Dubai for 40 years, it is important for me to show audiences the city’s urban evolution. Part of that means showing another side to Dubai, a side which is perhaps not seen as much, but forms the city’s identity,” says Ayad. “Some of those places include the Khor Dubai, which I feel is the very pulse of the city; the ever so charming Jumeirah district; the wondrous Deira Fish Market, the timeless Gold Souk and historical Al-Shindagha.”

On a more contemporary level, spots like AlSerkal Avenue, Jumeirah Road and the Expo 2020 Dubai are also highlighted throughout the book.

Additionally, the opus features insight from international figures like English footballer David Beckham and Iraqi beauty mogul Huda Kattan who describes Dubai as “an incredible place that she is grateful to call home.”


Scream queen Kiernan Shipka sets off spooky season in Elie Saab look

Actress Kiernan Shipka is the reigning queen of all things creepy, with leading roles in several spooky shows. (Getty Images)
Actress Kiernan Shipka is the reigning queen of all things creepy, with leading roles in several spooky shows. (Getty Images)
Updated 20 October 2021

Scream queen Kiernan Shipka sets off spooky season in Elie Saab look

Actress Kiernan Shipka is the reigning queen of all things creepy, with leading roles in several spooky shows. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US actress Kiernan Shipka took to Instagram in an all-black look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab this week — just in time for spooky season.

Shipka, who plays teenage witch Sabrina Spellman on Netflix’s hit show “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” opted for the chic look while on a press tour.

The actress showed off a below-the-knee cocktail dress by Saab, complete with a tulle skirt and lace detailing on the cap sleeves and high collar. The glamorous dress hails from the designer’s Fall/Winter 2021 ready-to-wear collection.

Shipka’s character is set to make an appearance on hit show “Riverdale” as part of a crossover event between the two popular series.

She will appear in five episodes of the sinister teen show, which showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa called “really fun and special.”

“We’ve been talking about having Sabrina visit ‘Riverdale’ since season 1, so it’s thrilling that this is finally happening as part of our ‘Riverdale’ special event. It’s also perfect that she shows up to help Cheryl Blossom during her hour of greatest need. Everyone on set lost their minds — I think fans will, too. It’s really fun and special,” he said in a previous statement, referring to one of the show’s lead characters.

Sabrina will arrive on “Riverdale” in season 6’s fourth episode, titled “The Witching Hour(s).”

Proving she is the queen of all things creepy, Shipka also stars in a Halloween podcast movie called “Treat,” which will debut on all major podcast platforms on Oct. 25. In it, she plays Allie West, a high school student in a seemingly perfect American town that makes a deal with a mysterious outsider possessing supernatural powers.

“I’m thrilled to be playing Allie — she’s a strong-willed, complex young girl with a true weight on her shoulders: She has to be the adult in her family, but she’s still just a teenager coming of age, and being able to play her and navigate her world is really fulfilling,” Shipka said in a previous statement reported by Variety. “‘Treat’ is a one-of-a-kind thrilling audio movie and story, and I’m so excited to be part of this experience with C13Features,” she added, referring to the studio behind the feature-length podcast.


El Gouna Film Festival screens award-winning films ‘Amira,’ ‘Feathers’ to mixed reactions

El Gouna Film Festival screens award-winning films ‘Amira,’ ‘Feathers’ to mixed reactions
Updated 20 October 2021

El Gouna Film Festival screens award-winning films ‘Amira,’ ‘Feathers’ to mixed reactions

El Gouna Film Festival screens award-winning films ‘Amira,’ ‘Feathers’ to mixed reactions

DUBAI: Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival on Tuesday screened Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s award-winning movie “Amira,” which made its global premiere at the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival this year.

The film revolves around Amira, a 17-year-old Palestinian who has gone through life believing she is the biological daughter of a Palestinian prisoner serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail.

The film, which is set in Palestine’s West Bank, features a stellar pan-Arab cast, including Jordanian star Saba Mubarak, Palestinian-Israeli actor Ali Suliman and emerging Jordanian actress Tara Abboud, who landed her first leading role as Amira.

The film revolves around Amira, a 17-year-old Palestinian who has gone through life believing she is the biological daughter of a Palestinian prisoner serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail. (El Gouna Film Festival)

“Amira” won two prestigious awards at the Venice International Film Festival — the Lanterna Magica Award and the Interfilm Award.

It is competing for the Feature Narrative Award at El Gouna.

The movie was also screened at the recent Toronto Film Festival. 

On Monday, the festival screened the Egyptian film “Feathers,” directed by Omar El-Zohairy. 

However, the film — which won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week — sparked controversy at the event and on social media. 

Some Egyptian filmmakers and actors, including Sherif Mounir, Ahmed Rizk and Ashraf Abdel Baqi, left the screening of the film because they thought the movie offends Egypt. 

Some Egyptian filmmakers and actors, including Sherif Mounir, left the screening of the film because they thought the movie offends Egypt. (AFP)

“Feathers” tells the story of a mother who dedicates her life to her husband and children. When a magic trick goes wrong at her four-year-old son’s birthday party, an avalanche of coincidental absurdities befalls the family. The magician turns her husband, the authoritarian father, into a chicken. 

The mother is now forced to come to the fore and take care of the family while trying to bring her husband back. As she tries to survive, she goes through a rough transformation. 

In a phone interview with Egyptian host Amr Adib on his show “Al-Hekaya,” Mounir said: “When I left (the screening), I was followed by others right after me. What I saw, and the film’s picture, portrays us (Egyptians) in a negative way. It shows people suffering in an abnormal way.

“Even poor areas, that ‘were’ there, didn’t live that badly. I was disappointed to be honest. I was also disappointed that when it premiered abroad, it won awards,” he said. “I no longer see this picture (or these struggles) in our country.”

Egyptian film “Feathers” is directed by Omar El-Zohairy. (Supplied)

“I don’t know what the people who awarded the film liked in this movie,” he added.  

Egyptian news agency Al-Masry Al-Youm shared a released statement by the festival that says: “El-Gouna Film Festival values and appreciates all filmmakers in the world for their art and their outstanding cinematic experiences. The festival team selects films based on artistic and cinematic qualities, according to the standards of international film festivals.

“This year, in its fifth edition, the selection of the film ‘Feathers’ by Egyptian director Omar El-Zohairy is in line with the film selection process, based on his success in other international forums,” added the statement.  

Speaking about its Cannes award, the festival’s organizers added: “It is the first Egyptian film to receive such a prestigious award. It also won the Grand Prix of the Pingyao Festival in China yesterday. It will be screened at the next Carthage Film Festival.

“Regarding the views of many Egyptian and international critics, the film’s setting and time were not identified… the festival did not and will not show any film without obtaining official permits, to confirm that it does not bear any offense or grudge in any of its films,” read the statement. 


Six DIY resistance exercises to build muscle at home

Six DIY resistance exercises to build muscle at home
Updated 20 October 2021

Six DIY resistance exercises to build muscle at home

Six DIY resistance exercises to build muscle at home

DUBAI: Nora Hameidani, founder of Dubai’s Barre Effect fitness studio, shows you how to build and maintain strength in or out of the gym. Try these simple yet effective barre moves to help you build lean muscle in the comfort of your own home.

Pushups

Start with hands slightly wider than shoulders, fingers pointing forward. (Shutterstock)

Targets: Arms/chest/shoulders

Start with 10 reps, build up to 3 sets of 10

Start with hands slightly wider than shoulders, fingers pointing forward.  Place knees slightly behind your hips, tuck hips under.  Bend your elbows wide and slightly downwards, hips lower with chest, keeping abdominals engaged, then press arms to straight.  For a challenge, legs can lengthen.

Tricep Dips

Bend and straighten your elbows, lifting and lowering your hips, keeping your elbows pointing backwards and your chest proud. (Shutterstock)

Targets: Triceps/shoulders

Start with 15 reps, build up to 3 sets of 15

While sitting tall with your legs bent in front, place hands under shoulders, with fingers pointing towards your hips.  Bend and straighten your elbows, lifting and lowering your hips, keeping your elbows pointing backwards and your chest proud.

Forearm Plank

Keep your legs straight and a hips distance apart, keep hips in line with shoulders or slightly above shoulder height. (Shutterstock)

Targets: core/arms/shoulders

Holding still for 30 sec, build up to 3 sets of 30 sec

Lying on your front, place your elbows under shoulders, pointing your fingers forward and keeping your forearms parallel.  Keep your legs straight and a hips distance apart, keep hips in line with shoulders or slightly above shoulder height. 

Bicycle Crunches

Start lengthening one leg at a time to the high diagonal, simultaneously rotating your chest, shoulders and arms towards the opposite, bent leg. (Shutterstock)

Targets: abdominals/obliques

Alternating sides for 30 sec, build up to 3 sets of 30 sec

Lying on your back, bring your legs to a tabletop position with your knees bent 90 degrees on top of your hips.  With your hands behind your head, elbows wide, engage your abdominals to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor.  Start lengthening one leg at a time to the high diagonal, simultaneously rotating your chest, shoulders and arms towards the opposite, bent leg.

Wide 2nd Pulses

Pulse hips at knee height, in small, controlled movements for only about an inch. (Shutterstock)

Targets: Inner and outer thighs/glutes

Pulsing for 30 seconds, build up to 3 sets of 30 sec

Place your feet out wide, bending your knees so they stack on top of your heels. Externally rotate your feet so that your knees track through the middle of your foot. Pulse hips at knee height, in small, controlled movements for only about an inch.

Lunges

Keeping front leg still and stable, pulse back knee in small, controlled movements, only about an inch, toward the floor. (Shutterstock)

Targets: Thighs/hamstring/glutes

Pulsing 1 set of 30 seconds on each leg, build up to 3 sets of 30 seconds per leg

With your feet parallel, hips distance apart, bend both knees and step right leg directly back.  Bend both knees to a 90-degree angle, front knee on top of heel, back right knee bending slightly behind the torso. Keeping front leg still and stable, pulse back knee in small, controlled movements, only about an inch, toward the floor.


From Beyonce to singer Tinashe, Arab label Marzook snaps up celebrity fans

From Beyonce to singer Tinashe, Arab label Marzook snaps up celebrity fans
Updated 19 October 2021

From Beyonce to singer Tinashe, Arab label Marzook snaps up celebrity fans

From Beyonce to singer Tinashe, Arab label Marzook snaps up celebrity fans

DUBAI: Kuwaiti label Marzook is continuing to snap up celebrity fans, with US singer Tinashe and superstar Beyonce spotted sporting its curved creations in recent days.

Tinashe, famous for her hit song “2 On,” showed off a pill-shaped bag by the brand during a photoshoot for A Book Of digital and print magazine this month.

The singer was photographed in a retro look, complete with a white hairband, larger-than-life hair and a sleek cat eye. Styled by Wilford Lenov, the ensemble featured a glittering Marzook bag called the Pill Dusty Pink.

Meanwhile, Beyonce was photographed with the Kuwaiti arm candy in Italy over the weekend.

The world-famous singer was photographed outside Alexandre Arnault’s wedding to Geraldine Guyot in Venice, Italy, on Saturday. Guyot is the founder of the French brand D’Estrëe, while Arnault is the son of one of the world’s richest men, LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, and the executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany & Co.

The singer showed off a bag by Marzook during a recent photoshoot for A Book Of magazine. (Instagram)

For the occasion, Beyoncé opted for a Tiffany-blue silk gown and heels with a Dolce & Gabbana double-breasted wool coat. She accessorized the look with a Marzook crystal orb purse and Lorraine Schwartz diamond jewelry.

Helmed by Kuwaiti siblings Fahad and Shouq Al-Marzooq, the Beirut-based accessories brand was established in 2014. The brother sister duo started off in the fashion industry by designing pieces for their family and friends and quickly went on to garner worldwide attention and sign celebrity collaboration deals.

In 2019, US influencer and model Sofia Richie, singer Lionel Richie’s daughter, collaborated on a new line of handbags with the label.  

 “When you’re one of social media’s most popular style stars, your style influence is extremely crucial.  Sofia’s style is very much aligned with the Marzook girl, who rather than follows trends, creates trends,” the fashion label wrote on its website at the time.

The collaboration featured Marzook’s perennial favorite, the spherical Lucid Classic bag, in a new set of neon shades — “Powerful Pink, Neon- Z Green and Traffic Cone Orange.”

And those are not the only celebrities who have shown love for the Arab brand.

Kylie Jenner showed off a crystal-covered orb bag by the label on her birthday in 2018, triggering many a newspaper headline.

The accessories house’s bags have been sported by the likes of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, actress Lupita Nyong’o and model Cara Delevingne.

The label’s line of accessories consists of exotic leather and skins, precious metals and resins in pill or spherical shapes.