Archives for category: Ex-Pat Life
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Fifty Russian Winters by Margaret Wettlin (image from GoodReads)

Wettlin, Margaret. Fifty Russian Winters: An American Woman’s Life in the Soviet Union. New York: Wiley, 1994. Print.

Maybe I’m a little bit nosy, but I’ve always liked books that give me insight into other people’s personal lives. When I was a kid, I read my way through the biography section of the library and preferred novels that were written in diary form. I read more broadly now and will accept non-realistic elements in my books, but I still love a good memoir.

Margaret Wettlin’s story of planning to visit the Soviet Union on a one-month tour and ultimately staying 42 years certainly resonated with me now that I’ve been in Georgia longer than expected. (But I have no intention of staying THAT long!)

I think the most valuable part of this book is her recounting of her experiences during the war. Though I’ve read a decent amount of material about Russia and the Great Patriotic War (/World War Two), I haven’t before come across any first-hand accounts of the civilian experience outside the major cities or of being evacuated. Her short time in Tbilisi during the war was particularly interesting to me. I found it funny that they found a cheap “peasant’s house” in Bagebi “five miles of climb from Tbilisi”(196). Bagebi BARELY counts as a suburb these days, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a cheap anything there. It was a good reminder of the huge changes Georgia underwent as part of the Soviet Union, and the further and faster development I’ve seen even in my few years here.

The greatest weakness of the book was also the most interesting part: Wettlin’s underdeveloped and unsupported political views. She never joined the Communist Party, but she certainly supported the proclaimed Soviet ideals of equality and reform. She even became an informant for the secret police in support of this dream, but when she became disillusioned that her work didn’t seem to be making things better, she quit. She is critical of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev because they made people’s lives worse, not better. She never would have gotten a good grade on a political science term paper, as she offers no evidence to support her beliefs…but who does, really? How many Americans could give real, evidence-based reasons to explain why they are a Democrat or a Republican? Of course there are many people who can, but I would wager that for the majority of people, it just feels right, as the Soviet dream initially did to Wettlin. Her opinions in this field really shed a lot of light, for me at least, on why so many people continued to support the Soviet Union for so long, despite the hardships they faced.

The book is far from perfect, but that’s a large part of why it’s so interesting. Definitely recommended reading for those interested in Soviet history.

If you’re interested in how I eat and cook on an everyday basis, take a look at my interview “What’s in the fridge?” on my friend Chloe’s blog, Musings on Dinner.

Original Post, March 9, 2012:
My friend came to visit me here in Kakheti last weekend, and we decided to go on a daytrip to the tourist town of Sighnaghi.  We tried to go on Saturday, but had a false start on the marshrutka and got tired of waiting so we returned to my house (since then I have found this fabulous online marshrutka timetable for Kakheti (unfortunately now defunct)–would have saved us SO much time).  We almost couldn’t believe it when the marshrutka came, and were giddy to be on our way off to Sighnaghi!

It’s still rather early for tourist season, so the tourist areas were not at all crowded.  The main attraction of Sighnagi is the old wall.  Climbing it you can see for miles, and the view is stunning!  We played on the wall, admired the view, and took photos for quite a while.

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Em on the wall at Sighnaghi (photo from Marieka)

We then wandered around the old city–the architecture there really is beautiful!  Unfortunately, we then had a somewhat unpleasant visit to one of the old churches.  It is my understanding (and has been my experience) that in Georgia, as a rule, you do not have to pay to visit a church, though there are often  donation jars, and they often request that you leave a donation for the upkeep of the building, or buy the candle you will light in the church.  However, the man in the church (not a priest) seemed to disagree with this, and, as we were leaving, rather unpleasantly insisted we give him two lari because we had visited the church.

We decided not to visit the Sighnaghi museum, though I have heard it is good, and instead had Mexican food at the restaurant in Sighnaghi (there aren’t very many places to get Mexican food in Georgia, but this place is highly recommended).  We had a happily uneventful marshrutka ride home, and went back to our regular lives.

Sighnaghi has been the target of an intense campaign for the improvement of tourist infrastructure in the last few years.  There are some very obvious and helpful successes–there are signposts pointing to the various tourist attractions and “You are Here” maps throughout town.  Everything looks quite clean and well-kept, and buildings have been renovated and restored.  There’s a central marshrutka station, and public restrooms.  But some things still need work–the fantastic marshrutka schedule should really be better advertised.  Marshrutka travel is a bit haphazard, and for a major tourist destination, perhaps something a little more formal is in order (I assume most foreign tourists are expected to go by private car or chartered tour…)  Likewise, entry fees for attractions should be posted somewhere, and if entry is free no one should be demanding that visitors pay.

Despite a few hiccups, I highly recommend Sighnaghi as a tourist destination for a day–particularly if you’re interested in sampling Georgian wine (which we didn’t actually do.  This time.)

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View of Sighnaghi from Bodbe (photo from Giga)

Update May 3, 2016:

I’ve been back to Sighnaghi a few times now, and have a few updates to offer. I STILL haven’t been to the museum. It has been closed many times that I’ve visited. We spent the weekend there for Orthodox Easter, and stayed at Leli’s Guest House, which was a pleasant and affordable option. We ate 3 of 4 meals at the Mexican restaurant–it had closed for a while, but is back in business and serving up really delicious food. Definitely worth a stop. Our 4th meal was at the famous Pheasant’s Tears winery. The wine was very good–delicious, and not at all the usual fare. The food was good, though the increase in quality did not match the increase in price, and it seems that something bothered my friend’s stomach. The staff were all lovely–I’d definitely stop in again for some wine, but would be more conservative with my food choices.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that during the weekend days, there were huge groups of tourists rolling through town. It seemed that most did not spend the night, but rather returned to Tbilisi, leaving plenty of accommodation options, and quieter evenings.

I am an admitted lover of Georgian food, and there are of course many excellent options for that everywhere in Georgia (sometime I’ll do a write-up). Tbilisi, though, is home to a variety of restaurants featuring other cuisines for the times when you need something different. Foreign restaurants tend to be more expensive here because of the novelty–for the sit-down restaurants here, expect to pay at least 20 GEL for a meal, more at the really fancy places (but less at cafes!)

Asian:

Baan Thai: Is one of my favorite places for something a bit different.  It’s not as addictive as the Thai restaurant in my college town, but I’ve liked everything I’ve tried.  They’ll even deliver, so it was ages before I went to the physical location, which has quite a nice ambiance.  There’s another Thai restaurant in Vake (called “Thai”), but I didn’t like it quite as much.

Lemon Grass Thai Food: Though the name suggests a Thai restaurant, Lemon Grass in fact offers a wide array of international fast food options, ranging from Pad Thai and sushi to pizza, burgers, and even falafel sandwiches. With the feel of an American burger joint, the atmosphere is nothing special, but the wide variety of reasonably-priced and hard-to-find dishes make it well worth a visit. The Pad Thai is the best deal for Thai food in Tbilisi (though the quality isn’t quite as delicious and authentic as at Baan Thai), and it comes served with chopsticks for increased authenticity.

New Asia (Chinese): Is located just up the hill from Rustaveli Avenue, across the road from the conservatory  If you’re walking from Liberty Square metro towards Rustaveli metro on that side of the road, take a left up the hill after you pass Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. It’s the last place on that block on the right hand side.  I’ve been here twice, and the food has always been fine, though it varies a lot.  The dumplings are quite good.

There’s also a Chinese restaurant on Gargarin square that I enjoyed, though I have also heard that the quality there varies drastically (and I can never get the name properly, since they use a nearly-illegible font in both English and Georgian).

Asian Takeaway (next to Rosemary on Vertskhlis Kucha) has just a small menu and one table, but they offer cheap and tasty Indian, Thai and stir-fry dishes, and even are rumoured to deliver to lucky neighborhoods.

Also check out Strada‘s Korean menu (under American/European)

Indian

Little India/A Taste of India (there’s a name change causing some confusion.  The building is labeled “A Taste of India” but they haven’t re-branded all their media, the website is still “Little India”): One of the best Indian restaurants I’ve ever been to.  The ambiance is lovely, with private tables secluded by curtains and delicious food.  Try the garlic or onion naan, and a curry of some sort (I got some version of peas and cream, and it was AMAZING).  On the pricier end of things, but oh-so delicious.

Shree Restaurant (apparently there’s been a name and possibly management change, I’ll update when I make it back there to check it out) is one of the many cheap Indian restaurants allegedly near the Medical University  (It’s the only one I’ve found, though).  It’s on Nutsubidze Street near the corner of Asatiani.  The mixed veg and chicken samosas are both excellent, though the butter chicken wasn’t our favorite.  Everything is made right to order, so things don’t necessarily arrive at your table in any sort of order that you’d expect.  I recommend asking the staff what’s good, they’ve never led us astray.  They scared everyone by closing for summer, but re-opened in fall.

See also Asian Takeaway, in the Asian section above

American/European:

Tartine (French): a cafe-restaurant with locations in Vake and Old Town with nice cocktails and salads. I’m not blown away by their lunch and dinner options, but brunch there is a fantastic deal–27 GEL for a hot drink, an alcoholic drink, soup, and a main (including service).  There’s also the option for brunch without soup for 22 GEL.  The huevos rancheros aren’t exactly authentic, but they’re tasty and satisfy the Mexican food craving..

Hangar Bar (Irish):  is the place to go and watch American sports. The nachos are good.

Café Gallery:  Renowned as Tbilisi’s most famous gay nightclub, Café Gallery, is actually open all day as a café which features a combination of Georgian and non-Georgian dishes. They make delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups at relatively reasonable prices. I’m a fan of the Cafe Gallery sandwich with a homemade lemonade.

Ronny’s Pizza: The best place in Tbilisi for American fast-food pizza.  The prices are shocking at first, but an XL pizza is gigantic, and it’s legitimately American-style pizza.  The small pizzas (personal size) are a decent value.

Pizza di Roma: A local pizza chain that makes something I consider pizza. Some of their toppings are questionable (coughcoughsulguniandmayonnaisecoughcough), but they also have proper mozzarella and parmesan, and all the item descriptions have been accurate. I haven’t had any surprise mayonnaise turning up on something that was listed as clean. The crust and sauce are good, so they’re starting in a good place. The pasta carbonara (made with ham, not bacon) and sea buckthorn “tea” are also worth a try. A real selling point for me is that at my local branch there’s a non-smoking section that the staff strictly enforce.

Ambrosiano: OMG this is the real deal! Imported mozzarella and toppings, truffle sauce–heaven! The crust isn’t perfect, but the toppings are so delicious it doesn’t matter much. Really nice staff, too.

Pita+/Pita Fresh: (name changed, seems to be the same menu and management, though): Discovering this place and their delicious falafel was one of the food-related highlights of Fall 2012.  Low prices and great food, but unfortunately far from my house.  I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever tried the falafel, but there are other sandwiches on the menu, too, like chicken and burgers.

Kiwi Cafe: a vegan cafe in the old town. Perfect location for when you’re being a tourist on a hot summer day and can’t bear the thought of heavy food like khachapuri and khinkali. Featuring an international, rotating menu. I love their food, because they make the type of things I make, but with some new twists. And I don’t have to cook it myself!

Factory 27: Cool atmosphere, and decent food. Offering some things that are hard to find in other places, like burgers, hummus, and nachos.

Pipes Burger Joint: The burger itself is good, but they’re still finding their way with some of the specialty toppings. I found the pepper sauce on mine TOO peppery (and I love black pepper) while the salad was a bit flavorless. However, they’ve got a great base (they’ve managed to get good meat and buns). Locations near the Philharmonic and in the Fabrika complex.

Big Smoke BBQ A few years ago this would have been the best burger in Tbilisi, but the competition is stiff now that burgers are “in”. The pulled pork was amazing, and I loved how generous they were with the fruit in the homemade lemonade.

Strada: Inconvenient location, but great menu. The American-style pancakes and waffles are a hit with me, and they have a fantastic variety of fresh fruit infusion “teas”. They also have a Korean menu that gets good reviews, though I haven’t moved beyond pancakes myself.

Localino: Locations in Vake and Saburtalo. Fantastic pasta dishes. I tried the pizza and it was good, but not memorable, whereas I have dreams about the baked cheesy pasta with spinach concoction I got there.

Rosemary: Southern food with Georgian ingredients. See my detailed review here. 

Middle Eastern:

There have long been a number of Turkish cafeterias on Aghmashenebeli Avenue. I’ve tried a few and they have been fine, though I don’t know which is which

Amira: though I usually try to stay away from the fashionable restaurants in Vake, Amira is a pretty delicious Lebanese restaurant. All the dishes I expect to see are on the menu, and they all taste like they should. Can get incredibly expensive quickly, though. You’re paying for the nice atmosphere and fashionable address.

Coffee

Caliban’s Coffee House: the coffee shop attached to Prospero’s Books.  I quite like their cold drinks, and other things are fine, though not the best or the cheapest in Tbilisi. This is a place to go for the ambiance, and to feel like you’re back in England or America (or Canada, I suppose)

Entree: Is a chain in Tbilisi with locations throughout the city. The coffee and pastries (both Georgian and French) are good (though they’re always out of my favorites!), and the wifi is usually pretty fast.

Literaturuli: a cafe chain that’s also a bookstore, with locations throughout Tbilisi and in some of the other major cities. They do decaf coffee and have pretty cakes, but their lobiani is actually my favorite.

Wendy’s: The American fast-food chain Wendy’s now has a location on Rustaveli Avenue.  As one would expect, they sell burgers and fries and chili and frosties (all of which are pretty tasty), the real surprise here is the “Wendy’s Cafe” which has a wide-ranging menu of coffee drinks at some of the lowest prices in the city (only 4 GEL for a latte! Wow!)
Dunkin’ Donuts has now also opened a number of locations and is expanding fast. Wendy’s and DD often share a building, as they’re owned by the same parent company. They’re known for their coffee in the US, and by Georgia standards their prices can’t be beat.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: seems to be the only place in Tbilisi with chai tea lattes. Yum. It’s not cheap, but I don’t even care.

(Originally Published March 25, 2012.  Most recent update: February 28, 2017).

Some friends and I recently came across some very adorable puppies in the lobby of their building. We thought we should get them vaccinated and fixed, but weren’t sure how to do that or how to get enough money for it. We reached out to Dog Organization of Georgia for advice, and they offered to take care of these pups. The two girls are at the shelter getting vaccinated and fixed now, and they’ll keep an eye on the boy and the mother, and when he’s old enough and she’s calm enough they’ll take care of them, too. I’ve made a donation to help them cover expenses (though I don’t have enough to cover all the care for these dogs), and it would make me really happy if others could pitch in, as well.

One of the lobby puppies, who will get basic veterinary care thanks to DOG.

One of the lobby puppies, who will get basic veterinary care thanks to DOG.

USD Fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/3hr7pk

Georgian Bank Transfer Details:
Account Name: Dog Organization Georgia
Bank Code: TBCGBE22
Account No.: GE 17 TB08 5563 6080 1000 03

One thing about living abroad is dealing with a different basket of available consumer goods. I’ve discovered many new types of fruit here in Georgia, and have really learned to use herbs when I cook. But there are also those things from home that we miss, or can’t live without. I personally bring a lot of “suitcase food”, but sometimes that plan fails. Here’s a list of my recon on some popular items in the expat crowd, and where you can find them. The answer is often, though not always, one of the major chains of grocery stores. However, not all branches will have the same things in stock, so even then it’s a hunt!

Bagels Furshet supermarkets (cheap! more Lender’s-level quality, though), Le Gateau, Dunkin’ Donuts
Brown Sugar if you don’t need the texture, a German brand of dark sugar is commonly sold in the bigger supermarkets and will add that touch of depth to the flavor. If you need that specific texture, there’s a specialty baking supply shop near the corner of Paliashvili Street and Arakishvili Street in Vake. I’ve never heard anyone call it by name, but please fill me in if you have more information!
Chickpeas (dried are more common) Tursa, Furshet, sometimes canned at Goodwill
Cumin Carrefour, Tursa (the Georgian word კვლიავი kvliavi is used for both cumin and caraway, so make sure you check! I’ve sometimes seen it just labelled სუნელი suneli or “spice”)
Dental Floss GPC and PSP pharmacies, Carrefour (becoming more common, but still more expensive than you’d think. Lately, it has been worthwhile for me to get some fancy stuff shipped from the US–prices here are so high, that it’s not so much more expensive, and it’s much more comfortable)
Gluten-Free products Georgita, small section at Smart
Mosquito repellent Supta Sakhli stores carry Off! Brand products, there’s also usually something in didi Carrefour, and seasonally in the larger pharmacies
Quinoa Carrefour
Soy Milk sometimes at Carrefour, but only sporadically in stock
Sunscreen is becoming much easier to find. The “perfumeries” (like Lutecia and Voulez Vous) also carry international brands of make-up and skin care, and usually have some very good, though expensive sunscreens. Navne often has American brands like Neutrogena and Banana Boat, but their stock fluctuates a lot (they’re also basically an overstock place, so make sure you check the expiration dates). Big grocery stores and pharmacies also usually have some, though limited selection and not great prices.
Tortillas Smart (check the bread area on the lower shelves), occasionally Carrefour

Shoes and Clothing are obviously available here, but it’s hard to find good quality, cheap, and in all sizes (apparently my feet are man-sized; I’ve been laughed at when asking for women’s shoes in my size). Tbilisi Mall has a variety of Western brands like Gap, Marks and Spencer and Zara (also on Rustaveli), but even low-priced Western stores are not low-priced here. You can buy anything at Lilo “Mall” though the quality is usually quite low; fortunately, so are prices. I’ve had some luck looking into shops on Pekini Street like KOTON and Promod, and I love Penti for colorful tights (all those stores have multiple branches). If you’re willing to hunt, there are second-hand shops on Pekini Street and surrounding the train station. My friends have had some great finds, but I don’t have the patience or innate sense of style to make it work. It’s worth noting, though, that tailoring is fairly cheap and easy to have done, so you don’t need to find the perfect perfect fit. I often find that I don’t care for the most common styles here (not a fan of either the bright and blingy fashion of many teens or the black and sacklike style favored by older women) and for me cheap online shopping and shipping through a package forwarding service like USA2Georgia has been better. Sierra Trading Post and thredUP have been my go-tos of late (Those are referral links which will give you a discount).

I’ll try to keep this a living document, and you can help by commenting with other places to find things, or asking if I know where to get something.

My friend Maggie and I were interested in The Millihelen’s Ex-pat Mall Makeovers, so we decided to go and do one of our own. We were curious to see just what a make-up artist would do with our non-Georgian features. Dramatic eyeliner is the major trend I have noticed in make-up in Tbilisi, so I guess we were expecting some of that. We met on a rainy Saturday, so although we’d thought about getting our hair done, too, it seemed like that would be a waste. So we just went for make-up. We met at the Karvasla Mall behind the train station, because we thought there might be a beauty salon there, but we weren’t actually sure. Fortunately, in the back corner of an upper floor we found Melange Beauty Salon, and it was hopping! The receptionist spoke English, and she introduced us to the make-up artist, who we communicated with in a mix of Russian and Georgian. We told her that she was the expert and we wanted to look pretty and in style in Tbilisi. Other than that, we pretty much left her to her own devices. She had good-quality products (mostly MAC), and everything was clean. They even gave us tea to drink while we were waiting and watching each other get our makeup done.

Em Before & After

Em Before & After

I went first, and the make-up artist spent a fairly long time evening my skin tone, concealing blemishes, and doing some light contouring. She definitely didn’t go nuts with it–it was very subtle. She went nuts on my eyes, but in a good way. I have blue eyes, which are relatively uncommon in Georgia, so I think she took that as a cue to play them up. I got a very meticulous smoky eye with liquid eyeliner, and even false eyelashes! (Totally a first for me). She finished it off with a light, natural-looking peachy-pink lipstick. I felt like I had Taylor Swift eyes, and I loved it! I kept wanting to start looking at people and opening my eyes in dramatic, Blank Space fashion.

Maggie Before & After

Maggie Before & After

Maggie was next, and our make-up artist took a different approach with her–medium emphasis on both the eyes and the lips. Like with me, she began with contouring, and it was likewise flattering and subtle. She lined Maggie’s eyes in very dark blue, which was surprising and looked great, and gave her a dark, plummy lip. It wasn’t at all what I expected her to do, but I think it looked really good.

We paid 40 GEL (18 USD) each for our makeovers, which was more than we had expected–I usually only pay 4 lari to get my hair cut, so I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic price difference across salons and services.

My fake eyelashes stayed on for nearly a week (so  I got some extended pay-off from that investment). I initially thought that it was overboard, but I guess they actually looked quite natural, because only one person noticed (my colleagues usually comment if I so much as wear eyeliner, so I think they would have mentioned it had they noticed). To be honest, now that the fake eyelashes are gone, I’m kind of disappointed in my natural lashes by comparison. I probably won’t do it again, but wow, did I feel glamorous!

Mandatory post-makeover selfie

Mandatory post-makeover selfie

Maggie is making a video version of our adventure–I’ll link to it when it’s ready.

(Original Post published January 24, 2015)
I write this post as a follow-on to my previous post How To: Get Here.

There’s another airline that’s becoming one of the options to fly between the US and Georgia: Qatar Airways. On paper, it seems like a great option (5 Stars!), and their prices are competitive compared to the other airlines flying into Tbilisi. Seemed like a good idea? Oh, how wrong I was!

When my ticket was booked including a 14-hour layover in Doha, the travel agent confirmed with Qatar Airways that a hotel would be provided as part of the itinerary (this information is consistent with their website). Tickets on other carriers were available, and the fact that a hotel was provided was a key component of the decision to fly on Qatar rather than on Turkish Airlines, which offered more convenient travel times and a shorter layover, and is my favorite so far. The layover scheduled between flights was about 14 hours, and we landed a little early. However, upon my arrival in Doha, I was informed by the staff at the transfer desk that there were no rooms available, although I was eligible to receive one. They provided me with a meal voucher and told me to come back later to check. I then attempted to re-book or re-route my reservation so as to avoid the long waiting period, but there were no other options available. I returned to the transfer desk later, as I had been instructed, and was told there was still nothing available, so I should go through security into the terminal, where a Customer Service agent would be able to assist me.

In the terminal, when I requested help or advice from agents I was treated rudely and repeatedly insulted and berated. Really, really, rude things were said to me, and as I was already pretty tired from the previous 20ish hours of travel, I didn’t deal with the insults very well and spent a lot of time in tears.  I ultimately went to the Oryx Lounge, as had been suggested by a staff member. I intended to spend my own money in order to receive a service that should have been provided (a place to relax and rest between flights). Since I had been told that it was only possible to stay in the lounge for 6 hours, I went to the lounge 6.5 hours before the boarding time for my next flight, so I would have time to relax before I departed. However, I was not allowed to enter the lounge. At this point, I was quite upset and demanded to be allowed to return to the transfers desk, where a very kind and helpful agent, Sonia (the nicest person in Qatar) was able to get me a hotel room with no problem whatsoever. However, more than half of my layover had passed. With the delays going through immigration and awaiting transportation, and the limitations of return transport to the airport, I was only able to use the hotel for 2 hours out of the more than 14 I was in Doha. Though I ultimately did get a hotel room, it was of little utility for such a short time.

Then, to add injury to the insult I had already suffered, I got food poisoning from the meal served on the Doha to Baku flight. I was very ill, and had to take a day off of work to stay in bed and recover.

I’ve submitted a detailed account of my problems to the airline’s customer service, and after a few days I have received absolutely no response. I give you all this warning.

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 27, 2015:
I have received replies from Customer Service, but they have been entirely unsatisfactory. The gist is that my travel agent messed up, and the airline was blameless. The issues of rudeness and food poisoning have been ignored completely. My employer, travel agent, and I are continuing to pursue the issue.

I had managed to avoid the Tbilisi real estate market for a good long time by starting off living with host families, and then moving in with S, who had already found an apartment. When S moved back to America, though, I decided to reduce the length of my commute and had my first foray into House Hunters: Tbilisi. And then my landlord turned out to be a stupidhead, so I had to find another apartment and move again. And then she also turned out to be terrible, so I moved again. I sincerely hope I’m done. (This is a partial explanation for my recent stretches of minimal posts; I’ve been busy packing and unpacking). But now that I have some practice in this field, I feel qualified to give a little advice on the topic. Firstly, though, I recommend trying to circumvent a traditional apartment search if it’s at all possible–ask friends if they know anyone with an empty apartment. A referral will generally result in a better, more respectful living situation.

Step 1: Make a good Georgian friend.
Unless your Georgian is nearly perfect you’ll need help. Many landlords are initially apprehensive about renting to a foreigner*, though most come around quickly once you meet in person. Some will also try to take advantage of a “rich” foreigner and increase their asking price. Having a Georgian make initial phone contact will smooth over many of those problems, and they are generally better aware of which questions to ask and what might be a red flag. (Shout-out to my amazing boss, who was fantastic in this role)

*This being said, there are a minority of landlords who have had positive experiences with foreigners in the past, and generally prefer to rent to us since, as a rule, we pay our rent on time.

Step 2: Brush up on your apartment vocabulary.
Angela has written a fantastic House Hunting post, complete with a vocabulary list, so I’m not going to duplicate her efforts (her post is rather centered on the central neighborhoods, though, and I live out in the suburbs, so some things are a little different). One note, though, she translates “ბუნებრივი აირი” as fireplace, and while it might mean that, too, in my experience it’s usually used to mean “natural gas” (its direct translation). In an apartment listing, this usually means that the apartment has a gas-powered hot water heater. Things like heat, hot water, refrigerator and washing machine access aren’t givens, so make sure you consider which “basics” are important to you, and check on them in any apartments you visit. You can look for either a furnished or unfurnished apartment–both are widely available.

Step 3: Hustle.
Use your new vocabulary when scouring the classifieds for apartment listings. In my experience, saqme.ge had the most extensive listings, but that site is exclusively in Georgian. Some friends have found good places using gancxadebebi.ge and I’ve also heard recommendations for myhome.ge (which has an English version, but is rumored to be pricier), but I didn’t find any listings on those sites that met my criteria. There’s also an English-language Facebook group for apartment hunting (Flatshare in Tbilisi), that may be fruitful, particularly for short-term stays, or apartments in the city center. Once you find a potential place listed, it’s important to call (or get your Georgian to call) ASAP. Good places go lightning fast. Schedule a time to see the place as soon as you can. If you have any questions about the listing, you can ask them now. When looking at the place, take into account all sorts of things–condition of the apartment, what furniture is provided if it’s “furnished”, the situation with bills and internet, etc.

Step 4: Make an Agreement
If you’ve found a place you like, you also have to make sure that the owner likes you, and that they are willing to rent to you. Then, you can try to bargain on some specifics–you might be able to get a discount if you pay multiple months up-front, maybe you can negotiate which currency you’ll pay in, or you can ask for more furniture or appliances to be provided, or you might be able to buy them for a discount in the rent. In theory, everything’s negotiable, though that doesn’t mean your landlord will want to negotiate. This is all personal preference. Then you need to decide if you need/want a lease, or another type of legal agreement. Many landlords will be unwilling to give you one (if there’s a legal document, they’ll have to pay income tax on the rent). To be honest, it isn’t the norm to have a lease, and they’re fairly unenforceable, so this is a matter of personal preference and risk tolerance. Keep in mind, though, that depending on your situation, a formal lease may be required for immigration or employment purposes. My longest-term apartment, with a lovely landlady, had no written agreement. The place where I had a written agreement, I was tossed out after a month and a half. If you choose to have a formal agreement, it can be done quickly and relatively cheaply at a notary’s office.

Step 5: Move in.
Congratulations!

Turkish Airlines Aircraft
 By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an unfortunate fact of geography that Georgia and America are quite far away from one another.  This necessitates the frequent use of airplanes in order to see my family and then get back to work.   Due to some negative experiences and very good reasons, I’m not the biggest fan of planes in the first place, but I view them as a necessary evil that I have to deal with in order to make things work.  As such, I’ve figured out a few strategies to make my life a little less miserable.  Between Tbilisi and home, I usually need three separate flights and roughly 36 hours–this trip is not for the faint of heart.  Before I get into specifics, allow me to share with you some of my advice (which has been hard-won) on flying in general:

  1. Bring snacks.  Seriously, did you not notice the bit where I said this takes about 36 hours?  I know they technically provide food on the plane, but who knows if it’ll be something you like.  Also, they serve the food at weird times and you’re likely to have some very long layovers, where food is not provided.  My favorite thing to bring when I’m departing Georgia is churchkhela, while my favorite leaving the US is hummus.  I recommend something with a little bit of nutritional value, and maybe even some protein.
  2. Moisturize!  Bring lotions, chap stick, conditioner, all that sort of stuff.  It’s dry on a plane, and I always feel less zombified when I land when I haven’t accidentally dessicated myself on the way there.
  3. Hydrate.  Drink water–see above.
  4. Bring clean clothes–it can really perk you up to clean off and change clothes during a layover.

Here are some other suggestions for long flights and layovers: How to Survive a Ten-Hour Flight Like a LadySleeping in Airports, Best Airports for a Long Layover

Now, for the Georgia-specifics.  If you’re planning on making the trip between Georgia and the US on one ticket, you have three major options–Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, or LOT Polish Airlines.  All three of these carriers are members of the Star Alliance (though getting mileage credit from LOT hasn’t been easy), and all three of their flights to and from Georgia arrive and depart at ungodly hours, though Turkish occasionally has an afternoon option.  (If you want to buy separate tickets to Europe and then to Georgia, you may also have the option to fly to Batumi or Kutaisi, and can fly regional carriers like Wizz, Pegasus, or AeroSvit.  This can save money, but it can add hassle depending on your final destination.)  Many Asian and Middle Eastern airlines also fly to Tbilisi, but they’re often impractical for flights from the West,(I’ve never flown them) and I’m trying to keep this post at a somewhat reasonable length.

Turkish Airlines–layover in Istanbul Ataturk Airport

In my opinion, Turkish is the way to go.  It’s more comfortable, the flight attendants and other staff are pleasant, and their  free baggage allowance is the most generous.  They offer the best selection of in-flight food and entertainment.  Ataturk Airport has lots of duty-free browsing opportunities and a decent food court.  The Greenport Cafe in the terminal has wireless.  If your layover is long enough, it’s easy to access the major tourist sites by public transportation.   If your long layover falls in lucky hours, Turkish Airlines offers free city tours.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to take advantage of this service.  NB: There’s a very good chance you need a visa to enter Turkey, and word on the street is that the procedure is changing, so make sure you look that up before you fly!

Lufthansa–layover in Munich Airport

Service on Lufthansa is normal–nothing special, but nothing missing.  They have more flights that are code-shared with American companies, so if that’s a consideration in your ticketing, you’re likely to wind up flying them.  Munich airport isn’t too bad–it’s fairly spacious, and you can pay for a shower or nap pod. Last I was there, there was supposedly free WiFi, but I couldn’t figure it out.  For a really comfortable layover, go through immigration and into the Kempinski hotel next door.  You can buy an hourly pass to the spa (last I was there 15 Euro/hour–same as for a nap pod or in-terminal shower).  They have comfy chaise longues to catch some sleep, showers with fancy products, and free fruit, tea. and water  In the airport but outside the terminal there’s a little grocery store, which is more budget-friendly than any of the restaurants or kiosks inside the terminal, though still not cheap.  Apparently it’s relatively easy to get into the city center, as well, though I haven’t tried.

LOT Polish Airlines–layover in Warsaw

Tickets on Polish are usually cheapest, so I’ve flown them with the highest frequency.  Unfortunately, they’re my least favorite.  The service has a strong surly streak, and despite the fact that they fly Dreamliners, the in-flight entertainment is pathetic.  The ladies in their Tbilisi office are fantastic though, and hold my personal award for Best Customer Service in Georgia.  I should also point out that they are actively trying to become “the best airline in Europe”, and every flight I’ve taken with them has been less unpleasant than it’s predecessor.  So, that’s something.  Though Warsaw Airport effectively killed any desire I once had to visit Poland, it does have some amenities.  The terminal is pretty small, so shopping and eating options are limited.  The “relaxation room” is relatively comfortable, and hasn’t been too crowded while I’ve been there.  There is also a free shower, but you have to supply all your own stuff.  Free WiFi is available for 30 minutes (tied to your boarding pass), so choose carefully.  There are public buses to the city center, though I haven’t used them.

Bon Voyage!

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