Sunday, December 29, 2013

Odds and Ends...

  • We are closing in on our fourth week here in Tbilisi. I'm slowly getting settled in at the job, and I think Deb and the kids are getting settled in at the house. I feel bad for them, I go somewhere each day, while they are stuck at home. Plus, up here in Z-town it is somewhat far away from anyplace. So to get to the store, we have to hitch a ride or take a cab (taking a cab isn't that expensive, it is like 5 Lari or so to get to the local Goodwill - a German supermarket) until our car gets here.
  • Some of our neighbors let us borrow one of their cars this weekend while they are out of town. Deb went to Goodwill yesterday, and today all four of us went to Carrefour at the Tbilisi Mall. I drove, and we survived. Granted it isn't a far drive, but you do have to be aggressive and defensive at the same time while driving here.
  • Carrefour was CRAZY today. We ran in to a few coworkers and the common consensus was it was the craziest people had ever seen. This week you have New Years, Georgian New Years and Georgian Christmas so I'm sure most of the crowds were there doing their last minute shopping. Mason got a little overwhelmed by the crowds (and lack of personal space). The big plus about shopping today was we got our Diplomatic ID's on Friday. By having those, we no longer have to pay VAT on purchases (which is something like 14%). It does save us some money and makes shopping a little cheaper.
  • After our shopping, we walked around the Tbilisi mall and had lunch at a Burger King there. One thing Deb and I noticed about the mall was it seemed a lot of people smoked inside of it (in fact, Deb went to the restroom and two women were in there smoking. They quickly went in to stalls - I guess smoking was not permitted in the restroom - Deb said there were quite a few no smoking signs in there). I've found that smoking is a lot more prevalent here than in the US.
  • Burger King wasn't bad, though I thought the burger was a bit dry. However it was nice to eat a piece of "America". And I was reminded that Europeans typically don't have ice in their drinks, but the soda was cold so it was fine.
  • One thing that has been wearing on us is our UAB shipment. UAB is Unaccompanied Air Baggage. We were allotted about 700lbs of UAB, and we have items such as good pillows, good sheets, our iMac, Drobo etc. Well it has been sitting in Cologne Germany for close to 3 weeks now and no movement. Our UAB was suppose to have been here last Friday, then on Sunday then no one knew. I finally reached out to transportation in DC to find out what was going on, and quickly heard back. They were annoyed that the shipment hadn't arrived yet (they were told it was suppose to arrive on the 20th and had not been notified it had been delayed). The transportation company replied that due to heavy volumes it had been bumped was suppose to arrive yesterday, the 28th. 10 years working with a shipping line has had it's advantages, as I've found the shippers tracking website and have been monitoring the shipment. It is still showing in Cologne. I'm hoping that the site hasn't been updated and it has actually arrived in Tbilisi, but I think it hasn't. I'm going to have to send another email tomorrow inquiring on the status, and if it's not here yet I'm not sure what I'm going to do. We have ocean freight that has already arrived in country and I'm partially expecting it to be delivered here this week. That's pretty sad that ocean freight may beat air freight.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Santa Claus and Tovlis Papa

Merry Christmas!

Tovlis Papa (or თოვლის პაპა in Georgian) is Snow Grandfather, a Christian gift-bringing figure in the Caucascus area of Europe (well according to wikipedia.....) and you know who Santa and we are......

Christmas has come and gone in our household....but the country of Georgia celebrates the orthodox Christmas on Jan it's the holiday season that doesn't end......well at least not until next year. It was quite surreal to run to the grocery store on Christmas day and everything was open and like any other day....

I will try and resist de-Christmasfying the house until at least the Georgian Christmas (that should allow some late straggling gifts that have been sent to arrive and be opened around the tree as well), but it will be tough given I've taken the tree down on the 25th Now if only some our belongings (such as the UAB shipped 3 1/2 weeks ago....meant to take 2-3 weeks) will arrive and it will feel just like Christmas being reunited with our belongings.....the joys of this new adventure.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Made It!

After what seemed like a series of flights that would never end (adding to the fun getting very little sleep on the flights) we have finally made it to Tbilisi.  We left a week ago last Sunday. Tbilisi doesn't have many flights, the primary way of traveling here is via Munich. However, if you go that way you get the joy of spending somewhere between 9-13 hours in the airport since the Lufthansa flight in to Tbilisi doesn't leave until after 9pm Munich time (and gets in to Tbilisi after 4am!). However, the great people at the State travel office found a flight on KLM/Delta that would only give us a 3 hour layover in Amsterdam! The rub is we would have to leave on a Sunday since Georgian Airways (our connecting flight to Tbilisi) had only 2 flights a week between Amsterdam and Tbilisi - Friday and Monday. So we opted to leave early and depart on a Sunday....

Well just over a week ago, a winter storm descended on the Northeast and snow and ice started to fall in Washington DC. We kept an eye out to see if our flight would be delayed, but we lucked out and it wasn't (whereas quite a few other flights that day, and then later that week quite a few of my classmates who were departing to their respective post got delayed due to the storm). Deb's dad picked us up from the Oakwoods and took us to Dulles. We had to get a cab to take some of our luggage and Mason rode with me in the cab. We had a total of close to 13 pieces of luggage, which made for an interesting check in....

We arrived at Dulles. We were dropped off at the Delta entrance but then had to ferry all our luggage to check in with KLM. We knew we were over our "free" allotment of luggage and were going to have to pay for the extra pieces (State authorizes 2 pieces of luggage per person, so we should get reimbursed for the 1 extra piece per person). However, we still had to pay for it all. The lady with KLM started to argue with me about our amount of luggage and I wasn't sure if she was trying to talk me out of taking them?! I finally had to say "look, I'm going on a two year work assignment. Unless you are going to ship them for free I have to take this luggage and I'm fine paying with it!". Total tab before reimbursement, $975!

Since we had some time to blow before our flight, Deb and I had some free United lounge passes we decided to use. It was nice to get some snacks and drinks and charge up our various iDevices before boarding the plane. Soon enough, it was time to board the flight. We knew our flight was going to be full, and since we had 2 carry on bags per person, the KLM gate agent gate-checked some of our bags free of charge. We did have one casualty as a result - we had Deb's laptop in one of the bags (outside pocket) and now the lcd panel no longer works, probably as a result of getting thrown around by the luggage handlers. The employee checking our bags told the kids there would a surprise onboard, which prompted Mason to ask the first flight attendant he saw on the plane for it (which she had no clue what he was asking for). Once the doors were shut and the plane was being prepped for departure, the flight attendants did come by with a little goody bag for the kids. It was a drawstring bag with a finger puppet, some colored pencils and activity pages (trip passport/diary type thing). Due to the previously mentioned weather, departure took a little longer than usual as the plane needed to be de-iced.

The KLM flight was relatively uneventful. We all enjoyed watching the flight tracker. After we ate, Deb tried getting Clarissa to get some sleep and made a pallet for her on the floor. Just as Clarissa fell asleep the flight attendant came by and told Deb that Clarissa couldn't sleep on the floor. Getting picked up woke Clarissa up and caused her to have a complete meltdown, crying kicking and screaming. I decided to switch places with Deb and let Clarissa sleep on my lap - Deb was at her wits end, mad at the flight attendant for causing her to wake up Clarissa, tired and unable to do anything to calm Clarissa down. Clarissa fell asleep in my lap, and Deb got some dozing (along with Mason, who had made Deb his bed). Oh, personally I got a little ticked at the lady sitting in front of Mason. As soon as we were airborne she reclined her seat fully right in to Mason's lap. Then once we started our descent in to Amsterdam, she told the flight attendant she needed to sit in the front of the plane because she needed to be the first off or she'd miss her connection. So when she went up front, she kept her empty seat fully reclined (which the flight attendants didn't fix when they did their final walkthrough before landing).

We got in to Amsterdam. First stops were to grab some breakfast and brush the funk off our teeth. Schipol has a kids play area, so we let the kids run around there to burn off some energy before we caught our next flight. Interesting thing was you go through security again at each individual gate. Luckily we hadn't brought any food but the partially drank bottles of water had to be abandoned to get on the plane.

Our next leg was on Georgian Airways - which was interesting to say the least. The plane wasn't even 1/4 of the way full, so Deb stayed with Clarissa and Mason and I had our own rows. Only one of the two bathrooms on the plane was in operation, and the working bathroom, appeared as though it got skipped on cleaning when the plane was turned around (time wasn't an issue, since the plane was parked and unloaded before we ever arrived). There were "liquids" on the floor, and they kept running out of toilet paper (I think the last hour or two there was none in it).

When they served "lunch" you really didn't have a choice. Mason and Deb had some pasta with a couple saucy meat like chunks to the side (even though vegetarian had been ordered), I had some couscous and a meat like substance. I ate it all because I was starving, I don't think Deb and Mason ate much of theirs. Clarissa and Deb fell asleep and slept most of the flight, Mason slept a good portion of it. I didn't get any sleep. After a 4-5 hour flight we prepared for landing in to Tbilisi. We came in over the snow covered mountains and landed in our new home.

Some embassy staff and my office sponsor met us at the airport and helped us through Customs. Georgia takes a digital photo of everyone who comes through, and Clarissa decided she didn't want her photo taken. We finally got through customs and claimed all of our bags. We had checked Clarissa's car seat and put it in the car (Embassy staff won't drive a child who is not in their car seat). Clarissa decided she didn't want to be in the car seat and proceeded to have meltdown #2. We finally got her buckled in and started to make our way to our new home. Which will be a post of its own!