Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pros and Cons of Living in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Some of us bloggy bloggers are doing a little 'pay it forward' for the summertime bidders by describing some pros and cons of our post. So with out further ado, here are some for Tbilisi.

Pros:

1. Food - so being a vegetarian one of the key things we look at is availability of produce at a post. Happily, there are plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables available here. Things are obviously seasonal. Watermelons are appearing roadside already (I always associated watermelons with 4th of July...not late April), last June tons of blueberries (and I filled my freezer with a huge bag of them) and then mid-summer/early fall we couldn't find zucchini for a couple months. So it seems the seasons are a little different with some foods. Beyond cooking at home. There is plenty of good Georgian food, lobiani is my favorite (bean pie), Richard likes shashlyk (meat kabob), both kids like the tonis puri (fresh bread), and the Eastern European fries are soooooo good! Of course you can't forget the national dish, khachapuri, cheese bread/pizza type dish. Each region has their own twist, my favorite Imeruli khachapuri from Imereti region. If you look here on wikipedia, there is a huge list of national foods..... Still don't believe me that the food is good, well Thrillist ranked all 48 countries in Europe on food/drink.....good ole Georgia came in 4th place.

2. Wine - Georgia is consider the cradle of wine making. Evidence of wine making dates back 8000 years.......that is a long time! The Georgians have had time to perfect the craft. Many families have their own family wine that ferments in the qvevris (clay pots) in the basement of their homes. One thing Richard has enjoyed is due to the wine fermenting in clay as oppose to oak barrels is he doesn't have a histamine/allergy reaction like he does with US wines. If I remember correctly, there are 60 varieties of grapes that are grown Georgia (only a few are seedless though). For a good history, dinner and wine tasting, Pheasant's Tears is our favorite place to go. The best part of all this wine making....in the fall during harvest season you can go pick and crush grapes......mark that off the bucket list!


3. Day Trips - The Republic of Georgia is only about the size of West Virginia. So you can visit most of the country in under a day's drive from Tbilisi. Sighnaghi is about 2 hours away, Kutaisi is about 3 hours (and has very tropical/FL keys feel), Mestia is about 8 hours away (you go slower as you go through the mountains), Ushguli is another about 3 hours from Mestia (even though it is only 35 kilometers away), Batumi is about a 5 hour drive (or 5.5 hours on a train). Each of these areas are so different from each other and each so beautiful to see/hike around.

Sventi area just outside of Mestia

4. Household Help - We have a housekeeper, she comes three days a week and does the cleaning, laundry, ironing.....she has cleaned things I didn't even know could be/needed cleaning. We pay less per week then we did for a bi-weekly service in the States (and they just did your basic cleaning). Most everyone I know has a housekeeper, those with younger kids also have a nanny, and a good number of people also employ drivers.

5. Good for kids/families - I feel this a very family friendly post. Georgians are very friendly in general and they really love kids. Clarissa is super shy but has had many Georgians try and talk with her or wave at her. One night at dinner, a group of Georgian men danced with all the kids at our table. The schools are really good as well. We send our kids to QSI Tbilisi. It is the primary embassy school. We live close enough the kids can walk to school, but they also offer bus service to other parts of town (including the downtown area). We have been every happy with QSI, they got a new director this year and he has made many positive changes to the school. Beginning in 1st grade (6 year olds), kids start taking a foreign language (options are Georgian, Russian, French and German) five days a week. Mason is taking Russian and he talked with a Russian speaker last summer and she was very impressed with his accent. There are some special needs kids at QSI and the school helps with coordinating extra things they need. There is also a British School in Tbilisi that offers the IB diploma program, there are some embassy kids that go there as well. In addition, several families send their children to the French School. The French School teaches in all French but some English is spoken in the school, so if you want a French immersion that is the school to go to. A number of the schools are doing Destination Imagination and we get kids from all the schools together for events. There are a lot of parks and playgrounds and they are regularly used. The botanical garden in Old Town is one of the more fun ones we have been to with a climbing web and a kids zip line.

Cons:

1. Drivers - The drivers are crazy here, they all drive how you would imagine a 16 yo boy with extreme ADHD....all over the place and fast. In a way, it is kind of fun: missed your turn, no worries throw it reverse; can't decide which lane you want to drive in, no worries drive in both; can't find a place to park, no worries the sidewalk is open; gotta go potty, no worries just park on a curve in a lane of traffic and go up the hill a bit so no one sees your winkie as they swerve to miss your car. I'm not really sure the meaning of a yield sign here, maybe it is to warn people in the main lane of traffic to watch out. I think my biggest pet peeve is people who will go around you at stop sign/turn if they deem you are taking too long, I especially love it when they attempt to go around me and get stuck because there is truly no opening. Also, not only are the drivers crazy, BBC did a documentary on how dangerous the roads are in parts of Georgia are. You can watch it here.

2. Old Habits - Georgia declared their independence from Russia in 1991, so not that long ago (I am not a history buff, the length of Georgian history (from approximately 600 BC) is amazing to learn about). So there is a large portion of the population that lived/were raised during soviet times. Some habits are hard to break. The one we notice most is lines.....or lack of (probably left over from food line days). People will constantly cut in front of you, especially in the grocery store. You bag your produce and then take it to the weigh station to get a bar code label placed on your bag. Lots of pushing/cutting there. At the airport....boarding by zones....forget about it.

3. Smoking - It seems everyone smokes here. Having lived in California when the ban on smoking in bar/restaurants went into effect, it definitely takes a bit to get used to all the smoke. Most of the time when you go out to eat, there will be smokers at all the tables around you. Outdoor restaurants do help a bit. The smoking does deter us from going out to eat some. CLO came up with a list of restaurants that are smoke-free which is great.

4. Flights - Flying into or out of Tbilisi is painful! I would say about 90% of daily arrivals/departures occur between 3 and 6 am.....yes you read that right, butt-crack of dawn! Given those flight times, you typically end up with insanely long layovers en route to/from Tbilisi (Coming from DC, 13 hours in Munich...sounds great! CLO even did an article a few years ago about tips for surviving the layover since there really isn't anyway around it).

5. Hmmm -  Can't think of anything else, maybe check out the photos on this blog for more reasons to not come to Georgia....

Overall, we have really enjoyed this post. It is our first post, so we worry that the bar has been set really high for all future posts. If it is on your list, I recommend bidding it high!

12 comments:

  1. We are excited about the wine and the food! And you've inspired me to write a pro/con list for Kosovo!

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  2. We just came back from Tbilisi (privatepilotstories.blogspot.com) and loved the place. I like your pro and con's , seems very valid to me

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  3. This is really helpful thanks. I have applied for a job there and so may be there in September 2016. Are there many lone parents or is it frowned upon there? Is it safe, you know, what with bordering Syria and all?

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    1. Congrats! I knew a number of single parents (both in & out of the embassy community). Also a good number of grandmothers raising grandchildren....so all sorts of families.

      We never noticed anything with Syria. Given Georgia is more of a 2nd World vs. 1st World country I think it is not as "enticing" to immigrants. Keep in mind, by the time you arrive we will have been gone nearly a year, so things can change.

      Best of luck, hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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  4. OK your a vegetarian. How hard or easy is it to get meat and is it a good quality. Do grocery stores in Georgia come even close to grocery store in the U.S. Are the school really on the same level as the U.S.? Like already reading in kindergarten. How are the doctor's and hospitals? How tough is it to learn the Georgian language. How do they respond to Christians since my son and daughter-in-law are planning to become missionaries.

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    1. Meat was easy to get. Available at the local grocery store as well as served at every restaurant (most dishes were meat dishes). The cuts at the grocery store are different than you are used to, but still useable. I think the general grocery store selection was quite nice, just the brands are different that what you are used to (primarily German or French depending what store you went to) and stock was sometimes hit or miss. So if you see something you really like you buy a bunch to tide you over until the next time it might be in stock. I do not know about the public schools, my kids went to International School. That school seemed to be on track, my daughter was in the kindergarten class and they were learning sight words when we left mid year. We went to the MediClub (hospital in Tbilisi) on a couple occasions. My daughter needed stitches at 2am and my son need an x-ray. Both were quite affordable compared to US standards. We did have someone from the Embassy with us to help with the Georgian language/communication with staff at the hospital. I can't speak to any other medical offices or outside of Tbilisi. The dentist we went to was very nice and clean. We learned a few Georgian words but I can not read any Georgian (completely different alphabet....quite beautiful!). Most of the younger generations also speak English and most of the older generations speak Russian (which my son took in school and can speak a little), so we were able to communicate just fine for day to day things. The one time we had a tough time was in the Sventi area and the universal pointing/fingers for total due worked. The majority of the population is Georgian Orthodox Christians.

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  5. Hi my name is Ima, thanks for writing this. Georgia might be on our bid list this year and I am trying to find out as much as I can before hand. Question for you, how are people of color treated? Not worried about me but I have a 7 years old girl.

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  6. I don't think there will be any issues. There are few people of color in Georgia, so you will "stand out". But being an American your daughter should be fine.

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  7. Hello, Love your post. We are looking to bid in Tbilisi this year, wondering if you have any feedback on middle and high school?
    Thank you

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    1. Sorry for the delay. I can only speak to QSI. While my kids were not in middle/high school, there were a number of families at post with kids that age (always a good sign). Class size is very small (prom included ALL of the high school just to have a decent sized group) one year. I think that year the graduating class was about 10-15 students. They have a decent mix of international and local students. They have a good number of athletic teams, which travel to nearby countries for tournaments (fosters early independence). I hope this helps some.

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    2. Alison, send me a message on the contact us form and I can send you another little anecdote (positive too).

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  8. We're getting ready to move our family to Tbilisi. This was very helpful. Thanks so much!!

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