Woman Gives Birth Mid-Flight, Names Baby After Flight Attendant

No, we’re not making this up. A woman flying to Armenia from Siberia gave birth aboard an Armavaia flight, Huffington Post reported, and, after landing safely with a healthy baby in tow, named her newborn after the flight attendant who helped deliver the child. The woman claimed to be only 6 1/2 months along.

According to the Mayo Clinic, traveling at that stage of pregnancy is actually considered safe; healthy women can travel until their 36th week, generally their eighth month of pregnancy, although it is suggested that women over 28 weeks may not have a comfortable flying experience.
Still, we can’t imagine taking the long flight – at least eight hours – while pregnant, let alone well into our second trimester.

What do you think, readers? Was the woman crazy, or just eager to get home?

[Image Credit: Leonoid V. Kruzhov]

The Caucasus, Central Asia And British Airways

I traveled to Beirut earlier this year with bmi (British Midland International), the East Midlands-based airline partially absorbed into British Airways in the spring. My Beirut trip was meant to be the third installment in an ongoing series called “Far Europe and Beyond,” which reached a premature end in the lead-up to the airline’s sale to International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent of British Airways and Iberia.

“Far Europe and Beyond” was, as its title suggests, focused on several cities along on Europe’s margins and just beyond. I visited Tbilisi and Yerevan last year, Beirut earlier this year, and had hoped to carry on to three additional cities, one (Baku) within Europe and Almaty and Bishkek (see above), both indisputably outside of Europe.

BA has absorbed many bmi routes and withdrawn others. I did a little cursory research and discovered that two of the cities I originally proposed for the series (Bishkek and Yerevan) have been dropped – as has Tehran, where the Yerevan-London bmi flight I took last October originated.

Last week, in response to an email query, a helpful British Airways spokesperson confirmed that the above destinations have indeed not been included in BA’s winter schedule. When I asked whether or not BA had any intention to initiate new routes to the Caucasus and Central Asia, she told me that there were no immediate plans to do so, and added that she suspected that future route development would focus on destinations further east. She also pointed out that the airline has just begun to fly nonstop between London and Seoul, an exciting development in light of the ascendance of Korean popular culture and the recent debut of a Seoul-based correspondent at Gadling.

Here’s a little plea to British Airways: please bring these cities back, perhaps looped into other routes on a once-a-week basis. What about a stop in Bishkek coming back from Almaty or a stop in Yerevan en route to Tbilisi?If these routes can’t be returned to service, perhaps they could be replaced with similarly enthralling new destinations in the general neighborhood, all direct from London. What about a flight to Uralsk, gateway to the gas reserves of West Kazakhstan’s Karachaganak Field? How about seasonal flights to Georgia’s Black Sea holiday town of Batumi? What about making a big pre-Olympic fuss over Sochi? (The 2014 Winter Olympics are just 15 months away.) Why not resume a previously abandoned route to Ekaterinburg?

Pleasing me would form a terrible basis for route development decisions, granted, but there have to be profitable routes in this general region that are not served by other oneworld alliance airlines.

Do it for the love of commerce and industry in the post-Soviet space, BA.

[Image: Flickr | Thomas Depenbusch]

Other Countries A US President Has Never Visited

President Barack Obama will land in Myanmar (aka Burma) this week, a first-time visit for any President of the United States. Never mind that Myanmar is best known as a brutal dictatorship, not exactly in line with U.S. foreign policy. Disregard any political or geographically strategic reasons for befriending Myanmar. Today, this is all about the President being the first to visit Myanmar and the trip begs the question: “So are there other countries that no sitting U.S. President has ever visited?”

Out of the 190+ countries in the world, just 113 of them have been visited by a President of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian.

Countries not visited include close-by neighbor the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St Kitts, St Lucia and assorted tiny island-nations. Understandable, we would probably view a visit to the harmless Seychelles as a taxpayer-paid vacation anyway.

On the continent of Africa, more nations have not been visited than have been by a U.S. President. Again, probably not a lot of strategic reasons to stop by.But some big-name countries we might think that some President, somewhere along the way, might have visited; not one has.

  • Monaco, the second smallest country/monarchy in the world and the most densely populated country in the world boasts the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino.
  • Algeria, in northern Africa, famous for its vast Sahara in the south..
  • Nepal- famous for eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains. No visit.

Armenia is a country one might think worthy of a trip by any standards. Bordered by Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east, Georgia to the north and Iran to the south, Armenia does seem to have a strategic location. Still, no visit.

Presidential travel takes any given sitting head of the free world to countries all over the planet on visits of good will. Meeting face to face with world leaders, attending meetings and spreading good old American spirit around when they can, Presidents are a big ticket when they come to town, along with Air Force One and more as we see in this video

Oh, and that trip to Myanmar? While President Obama is the first U.S. President to visit, he’s not the first Obama. The president’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was a cook in World War II for a British army captain stationed in what was then called Burma.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user 0ystercatcher]

Yerevan day trips: Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery

There are two obvious day trips from Yerevan, both fascinating and absolutely worth the effort: Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery. Both of these sites are located less than an hour from Yerevan by car, along scenic roads that afford, here and there, great views of Mount Ararat. Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery are compact and easily reachable sites of broad interest to many different kinds of visitors.

Garni Temple dates back to the 1st century, if not earlier–so far back, in fact, that it predates Armenia‘s conversion to Christianity. The temple was originally dedicated to Helios, the God of the sun. Its first modern excavation took place in the early 20th century. The rebuilt temple’s physical setting is also pretty amazing, situated on a bluff surrounded by rock cliffs.

To the side of the temple is a Roman bathhouse, nicely preserved. The hill above the baths affords more opportunities for appreciating the site’s scale and enjoying views over the area.

At the parking lot leading into the complex, there is a souvenir shop and a cluster of people selling various products. The most interesting objects for sale include compact discs of recorded traditional music and ropes of pastegh, a delicious candy of nuts and grape juice, often translated as “fruit leather,” which is also found in Georgia.

Geghard Monastery, about five miles on from Garni, is a site of rich and extensive interest for visitors, with several churches and chapels within the complex. Some chapels are built into the rock itself. The monastery complex is reached by foot from a parking lot along a slippery cobblestone road.

The monastery’s central church and its vestry, constructed in the 13th century, are cavernous. The vestry’s carved ceilings and ghostly streams of light make for a striking impression.

It is the chapels, however, built as they are into rock, that are arguably the most exciting part of the complex. One features a stream of spring water deemed to be holy. Many Armenians visit Geghard Monastery in order to splash themselves with water from this stream.

An easy way to visit Garni and Geghard Monastery in tandem is on a five-hour tour from Yerevan. The going price for this tour is 5500 dram ($14.50), and it includes a small snack and a drink. I went with Hyur Service for my tour. The guide was lively though frankly I would have preferred to get my information from a guidebook. There are two advantages to setting up a tour with Hyur Service or another tour company: the convenience of not having to organize transportation by bus and taxi and its relatively low cost.

Be sure to check out previous installments of the Far Europe and Beyond series.

Two Yerevan tips: Lagonid Bistro-Cafe & Sergei Paradjanov Museum

Here are two Yerevan tips. Though both make it into some guidebooks, neither would probably be an obvious choice for a Yerevan sojourn: the Syrian-Armenian Lagonid Bistro-Café and the Sergei Paradjanov Museum.

I never meant to wander into Lagonid Bistro-Café (37 Nalbandyan Poghots), a Syrian-Armenian restaurant in Yerevan. I wanted to eat something distinctly Armenian, or at least something within the ex-Soviet sphere. But the best sounding restaurants along these lines in my rag-tag Lonely Planet to the Caucasus were closed, some apparently for several years, restaurants with enticing names like Color of Pomegranates (Armenian and Georgian cuisine, reportedly) and Bukhara (Uzbek cuisine).

I kept walking in search of a decent lunch, and Lagonid Bistro-Café looked like it might have potential. I ordered labne, hummus, mutabel, and pomegranate juice. The hummus was creamy with lots of olive oil, better than any hummus I’d had since an eye-opening feast at Fakhr El-Din in Amman several years ago. (After Fakhr El-Din I couldn’t eat hummus for months and months. Their version was so far superior to any hummus I’d ever had previously that I wasn’t willing to pollute my palate with bad hummus.) The labne was tart and the mutabel (a puree of roasted eggplant and garlic) was spicy and satisfying. That feast ran me 3300 dram ($8.70), and frankly the only thing on my mind as I walked away was if I should return later that day or the next.

Another Yerevan tip: The Sergei Paradjanov Museum (15-16 Dzoragyugh Poghots). Paradjanov, born to an ethnic Armenian family in Georgia in 1924, was a bad boy of avant-garde cinema at a time when dissident behavior had frightening consequences. Uncomfortable working within the social realist confines of Soviet cinema, Paradjanov was imprisoned several times on various charges, including immorality and bribery. He had many international champions in the arts, and many famous writers and artists campaigned for his release during a long imprisonment in the 1970s. Even when Paradjanov was no longer in prison, Soviet authorities monitored him and limited his ability to work creatively.

The museum presents a psychedelic hodgepodge of Paradjanov’s artistic activities and aesthetic influences. Especially interesting items include the shrine (above) and Paradjanov’s dolls and collages. Photographs, various objects, and the artist’s collages, some very intricate, cover the walls. Paradjanov developed the collage form while he was imprisoned.

Admission to the museum is 700 drams ($1.85).

Be sure to check out other Far Europe and Beyond series installments.