Day 1: April 15th, 2024 
Location: Vienna, Austria
Weather: Raining and overcast
Mood: Positive

After a nearly ten hour flight from Florida with no sleep,  I finally landed in Vienna, Austria. I know this sounds crazy but I had a few hours before my connecting flight to Yerevan so I left the airport and headed directly to a cleanup in Vienna with Felix Krainer, the 23 year old founder of Planet Matters.  Sixty students were there for the cleanup and worked through the pouring rain, on the edge of the River Danube, with total enthusiasm! I was amazed by the hundreds of tiny but deadly cigarette butts we were picking up. What most people don’t know is that these butts are made with a type of plastic and are super bad for the environment. 

Grabbed food with Felix – delicious Italian pizza – and with only an hour to spare before heading back to the airport I decided to explore Vienna – St. Stephen’s Cathedral was stunning. I noticed the city itself is very clean with barely any trash anywhere. As someone who does cleanups all the time I can’t turn my trash radar off. Made it back to the airport, fell asleep in a massage chair, and then jumped onto my flight to Yerevan.


St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Etchmiadzin Cathedral

Day 2: April 16th, 2024
Location: Yerevan, Armenia
Weather: Crips but sunny
Mood: Exhausted but excited to be here

Got to my room at 5:30 in the morning and CRASHED out. Woke up at 11am not knowing where I was for a few minutes and then met up with Hrach Sahakyan, the co-founder of Maqoor – who wanted to take me on a city tour. As an Armenian myself, this ancient city felt weirdly familiar to me despite never having been here before. Knowing my father, my grandfather, and great grandfather all walked these same streets made this adventure very special.  We explored Yerevan and checked out locations for our cleanups this coming weekend. One of them was an abandoned train station that had been converted into a children’s park. The train tracks had the late spring grass growing through the planks with a forest surrounding creating a glade like feeling. It felt really magical and such a clever way to use a former industrial type space. It was as if nature was reclaiming and we could hear the River Hrazdan flowing nearby.  

Exhausted, I turned in early to prepare for our work tomorrow.

Michael admiring Yerevan

Mount Ararat

Day 3: April 17th, 2024
Location: Etchmiadzin Cathedral & Yereblur
Weather: Sunny
Mood: In awe of beautiful Yerevan

Hrach and I went to the Etchmiadzin Cathedral to film promotional content for our cleanups this weekend. The ancient church was stunning, and Mt. Ararat was in the distance looming over us. The photos don’t do it justice.  My Armenian language needs a lot of work, but for a guy from Florida, I did OK – I managed to order lunch in Armenian! Which was delicious, everything had pomegranates somehow incorporated, my salad had the seeds and there was a gorgeous dressing.  Heading to Yerablur, the graveyard of the Armenian soldiers who died in the 2020 war to pay my respects – it was a humbling experience. Many of them were my age when they died in service defending their country. Video Here: The Cathedral 

Cleanup Volunteers sorting trash

Me outside of Etchmiadzin

Day 4: April 18th, 2024
Location: Gyumri, Armenia
Weather: Sunny
Mood: Happy

I woke up early this morning to take a train to Gyumri, to meet my family who still live in Armenia. Amazing train journey with the two stunning mountains, Ararat and Aragats, out the window. Worked all the way trying to make final arrangements as we have a ton of other clean ups going on in Malaysia, India, the US and all over Europe – so  I was on WhatsApp making calls and getting as many last minute emails out as I can. Spotty reception but got a lot done. Arrived in Gymuri just in time for a family dinner of traditional Armenian food and they shared stories about my grandfather that I had never heard before. They are all super interested in what EARTHDAY.ORG is doing here and have promised to let all their friends in Yerevan know the clean-ups are happening. I slept in one of their spare rooms and had the best sleep of my trip so far – I needed it. 

Day 5: April 19th, 2024 (Friday)
Location: Yerevan, Armenia
Weather: Sunny
Mood: Daunted

I had an hour to spare before a meeting at the US State Department, who are joining one of our cleanups. So I visited the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, The Armenian Genocide Complex which consists of a 44-meter high pyramid representing the rebirth of the Armenian nation, twelve slabs grouped in a circle protecting the eternal flame, a sign of mourning. My great grandmother witnessed the genocide as Ottoman soldiers raided her family home and slaughtered her family. Sobering. Later that day, Hrach and I were at the US Embassy and made plans for some of their staff to join the city clean up – probably the one  right outside the US Embassy! The rest of the day was about traveling around the city delivering clean up trash sacks and gloves and making sure everyone knew what was happening.  

The environmental movement in Armenia is young, but it is growing. The youth in Armenia, despite the instability of the world they live in, are passionate about taking care of their environment.  There’s a buzz about these cleanups and it feels like good news for the young people here. 

One of our impassioned cleanup crews

Maqoor Volunteers cleaning up Lake Yerevan

Day 6: April 20th, 2024 (Saturday) 
Location: Yerevan, Armenia
Weather: Sunny but a bit chilly today
Mood: Excited to get cleaning up…

Woke up early to speak virtually as part of the huge EARTHDAY.ORG conference we partnered on taking place in Penang Island in Malaysia. I spoke to the youth there, about the power of activism and how we can make a difference. Busted out some more work email, and then texted every person I knew to remind them it was Earth Day. There were still several cleanups going on across the country and decided to meet the leader of the team in Sevan.  Hopped into a bus and headed to the city. Met Rob, a 14 year old leader from Maqoor who had finished his cleanup that day. I was continually impressed with the youth of Armenia, still focused on what they could do to improve their environment. After all the months of planning and preparation – we’d got a lot done. Thousands of other clean ups around the world were feeling what I was I am sure – elated to have been part of such a global effort. Armenia treated me with nothing but warmth and hospitality and I know I will return – hopefully for more environmental work and even bigger cleanups. Armenia – thank you!

Hrachya and I at Sevan