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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy To Be Home

We left our apartment in Astana to go to the airport early in the morning last Saturday.  Ever since this trip, flying out of Astana has made me very nervous.  Having a flight canceled and needing to return to our apartment would have been a particularly unwelcome development in this case since we had already gotten rid of our food in preparation for our leave of absence.  I decided that my main goal for the day was to leave Kazakhstan, and that I would try not to worry too much about how long it took to actually get home.

It was probably good that I didn't set the expectation bar too high because we had a very Kazakhstan-esque (or at least Astana-esque) exit from the country.  Not only did our plane need to be de-iced when it came in from Austria, but the high winds made it impossible to get it de-iced.  So after they boarded us late, we sat on the runway for a couple of hours, waiting for the winds to die down.  We did eventually take off and land safely in Austria, but by the time we got there, we had already missed our connecting flight.

There were no more seats on flights to the US from Vienna that day, so we had to fly to Munich, and from there, to Newark.  The flight to Munich was fine.  The layover was short, but we didn't need to go through customs or security, so we had enough time.  Newark was another story.  By the time we got through customs and rechecked our bags, the TSA had closed one of its security lines.  In order to cope with the influx of passenger in its other security line, the TSA instituted a cordoned-off multi-line system.  We stood in one order to get to another order to get to the line where we actually removed shoes/belts/coats and ex-rayed our carry-on luggage.  By that time, we were running against the clock, and the gate was far away.  We took off in that direction...only to find out that there was a last minute gate change that would require running in the other direction.  We then overshot the gate because it fell somewhat out of numerical order.

In the end, we had to beg to be allowed on the plane.  The employee at the gate was convinced that we were garden-variety dopes who had simply failed to arrive at the airport two hours early (I ask myself here why information like what flights passengers are coming from isn't more readily available to these employees).  Another gentleman joined us completely out of breath, having also come from an international flight.  Even though my primary goal was to get out of Kazakhstan, I was relieved to not have to spend the night at Newark.

Scott and I are now happily ensconced in my parents' house and pathetically grateful to be out of the clutches of the airlines for the foreseeable future.  Several of us in the house have colds at this point, but even being sick is a bit easier at home.  We are happy to be home, and anticipating a very merry Christmas tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Some of My Recent Creations

I am mostly packed now, and anxiously awaiting my trip home.  I find it hard to be very productive during these times.  For one thing, I always feel antsy before big trips.  Also, once I have something packed, I don't feel like unearthing it again until I reach my destination.  So, now seems like a perfect time to document some of the pieces of jewelry I made this semester!

Scott gave me this lovely silver bead with a gingko leaf as a gift some time ago.  It was made by Anne Choi.

I didn't think to photograph just the bead before making the necklace!
As is often the case when I receive a special bead, it took me some time to decide how to use it.  I received some unexpected inspiration when we visited Austria last spring.  One evening, when we went out to dinner, a woman at the next table was wearing an amazing necklace.  It was chain with long metal beads added in such a way that they rustled like leaves.  I knew then that I wanted to incorporate that concept into whatever I made with the gingko leaf bead, but wasn't sure how.  I decided that I probably wanted to use green beads of some sort to echo the leaf theme, but when I started experimenting, I discovered that may green drop-shaped beads didn't fit very neatly onto jump rings.  I finally tried the beads you see on the tassel below the bead with some jump rings made of fairly thin wire, and had success!  I didn't have very many of these particular jump rings, and I didn't feel like trying to source more exactly like them, so I decided to be content with just a small section of the necklace rustling like leaves.  One thing I like about the beads I ended up using is that they are shaped sort of like gingko leaves.

The entire necklace!
I beaded a ring to create a bail for the gingko leave bead + tassel.  I used cellini spiral (a variation of peyote stitch that incorporates different sizes of beads to create a spiral) for the rope it is on.  I added some spiky beads near the front of the necklace, both for added texture and to keep the pendant in place (and keep the clasp from migrating to the front of the necklace).

Following the theme of using different sizes of beads, I also made this bangle.

This time, I arranged the different sizes of beads in a different sequence so that instead of getting a spiral, I have more of a zig-zag or bumpy effect.  I'm looking forward to wearing it once I no longer have to wear long sleeves every day.

For a quicker project with less bead weaving, I designed a necklace with this bead that I bought from a coworker a few years ago.

Again, I didn't think to photograph the bead on its own before adding anything to it.  Check out the detailed barnacles on it!

I originally had grander plans for the necklace, but eventually decided that I didn't want the large seashell bead to be lost in a sea of other things.  So I ended up with a single-strand necklace with two glass beads covered in smaller beads, and everything else fairly simple.

One of the many things I'm looking forward to back home is slightly better equipment to take pictures of my jewelry.  The kitchen window sill and I had a good run, though, I suppose.  My beading projects provided a welcome distraction from some of the more challenging aspects of this semester, and as has happened many times in my life, I was grateful to have a portable hobby.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Scott's Masterpiece

Behold, Trunks the elephant, our fourth and only pachyderm office mate.  Scott's desk in our office had a whiteboard behind it, so he drew this elephant over time, changing details occasionally until he was happy with the result.

The three humans in our office liked to imagine that Trunks was a gatekeeper or bouncer of sorts who would take care of any less-than-stellar students who came to ask for extra points/extra time/extra understanding for excessive absences.

Farewell, Trunks.  May you never disappear from the whiteboard!

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Pack of Un-showered Academics Coming to a Civilized Restaurant Near You

Our apartment here loses water more often than any other place I have ever lived.  The only rival for this honor is the apartment where I spent a summer in Jordan years ago.  Jordan is a country with frequent water shortages; I'm not entirely sure what the problem is here.

We lost water around 10:30 on Wednesday evening.  When I brushed my teeth, it was fine.  When Scott went to brush his teeth, it was gone.  I always get antsy when this happens because we never know what to expect.  Sometimes it's out for just a few hours, and when that happens at night, it could be fine by the morning.   Sometimes it's out for considerably longer, though, and very little information is communicated to us about what to expect.

Scott had to get up early for a work function that started at 7 AM (!).  No water at that point, so he had to go stumbling out in the cold without the benefit of a hot shower.  I got excited when, a few minutes before 7, I heard water in the pipes.  I turned on the faucet, and it was running again!  The water is usually yellow or brown when it starts running after being off for a while, though, so I did not immediately leap into the shower, thinking that I'd have time to let the water run clear and still get a shower before needing to give a final exam at 1 PM.  But about a half hour later, when I tried to turn on the faucet again, the water was gone.

I figured maybe I would wait it out.  I fixed myself breakfast because I was hungry, and wanted to eat before the shower I would surely get to take before giving my exam.  Still no water, but I created a few icky dishes with food congealing on them.

As the morning wore on, I tried to get some things done, but I kept being distracted by the water situation, and getting up to try turning on the faucet.  Then I had to give myself a time limit for the water coming back on.  It takes time to walk to my office these days because of all the slick walkways, and going outside with dripping wet hair is not the best idea.  At around 11 AM, I received an email saying to expect the water to be out all day.  Grimly, I resigned myself to a sponge bath (made possible with tap water I had stockpiled in old bottles after having been subjected to a few too many water outages) and headed to campus.  At least there, there would be flushable toilets.

Maybe it shows how spoiled I am that not having a shower would cast such a shadow over my day.  But it did.  It's hard to feel as if I project any authority when I feel like stench waves are radiating from my body like in the cartoons.  Then there was the thought of food congealing to my dishes at home.  I'm not a great housekeeper, but the thought of a mess getting worse as time goes on really bugs me.

Sometime in the afternoon, a friend of ours suggested a group outing to Kakao Dak, a local Korean restaurant.  The main branch of Kakao Dak is located a ways from the university, in a large complex where faculty who either (a) have been here for several years, or (b) occupy higher positions, live.  So, a big, un-showered group of us piled on to the university shuttle that takes the people who live there home at the end of the day.  We then proceeded to take our unwashed selves to Kakao Dak and drown our sorrows in Korean-style fried chicken.  Fortunately, Kakao Dak wasn't very crowded.  I think we inspire mixed reactions from the locals even under better circumstances, and it's hard to see how descending un-showered on a restaurant would improve our image.  (In my opinion, it was completely worth it to avoid the problem of more dirty dishes that couldn't be washed, however).

I was pathetically grateful when the water came back on in the evening.  Having running water in one's home is such a convenience, and I can only imagine the resourcefulness required of people who do not have that.  That being said, I'm looking forward to what I imagine will be fewer water outages next semester while we are on leave.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Trilingual Tissues

Yep, that's snow outside my kitchen window!
When I went to the little store in the dormitory the other day to buy tissues, I was more concerned with having something softer than paper towels to blow my poor nose into than I was with the design on the box.  But when I brought it home and took a look at it, I thought it was interesting.  The design on the box has cartoon hippos showing us how to say certain words (basket, flower, butterfly, and ball) in Kazakh, Russian, and English.

I've always had some trouble wrapping my mind around language use in Kazakhstan.  Both Kazakh and Russian are widely spoken, but since I don't speak either one, I get only occasional insights into when each of them are used.  I know that the government is working hard to increase usage of Kazakh.  It also seems that some parts of the country prefer one language over another.  When I traveled to southern Kazakhstan last spring, I was interested to hear from some of the Russian speakers I traveled with that some of the locals seemed to have trouble conversing with them in Russian.

Scott and I are taking a semester of unpaid leave in the spring, and one of my classes threw a lovely going-away party for me last week.  The language situation in Kazakhstan was one of the topics we chatted about during the party.  I asked them if they thought that the use of Kazakh was growing in Kazakhstan, and they thought it was.  They told me that Kazakh pretty much disappeared as a language of instruction in most of the schools for a long time, and that the textbooks were in Russian.  They said that even now, most films and literature are in Russian, so it was useful to maintain Russian skills.  One student pointed out that it was also useful to have a way to communicate with people from other former Soviet republics.

One thing that I found particularly interesting is that the students said that while they often mixed Kazakh and Russian together when they talked, there were certain words that they always said in Russian.  One student said that she had a four-year-old nephew who was saying those words in Kazakh because he heard them on a Kazakh cartoon show.  So, it seems that Kazakhstan's language use is evolving over time.

Interestingly, one of my students also asked me if it was true that Americans speak Spanish as well as Kazakhstanis speak Russian.  I had to reply that although Spanish is a popular language to study there, foreign language education in many parts of the US is very weak and many Americans did not think learning a second language was very important.

I do think American attitudes toward foreign language education are changing.  I know some communities are starting foreign language classes in elementary school, and I know preschool foreign language immersion programs have become popular in some areas.  But I will be surprised (and thrilled) the day I find an American equivalent of the trilingual tissue box I found in Kazakhstan.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Journey Into Insanity and Thanksgiving Adventures

One of Denver's cows!
If I were to give advice to anyone wanting to make a round trip between central Asia and the United States in less than a week, I could sum it up in one word:  Don't.

Scott and I went to Denver last week for a conference.  The travel portion itself went about as well as could be expected.  None of our flights were cancelled, like when we went to the same conference last year.  We didn't have to sit next to anyone objectionable, like what happened when we flew back to Kazakhstan after our winter break last year.  Still, though, it's an awful lot of time in planes and stumbling through airports between flights, with all sorts of opportunities for having jet lag and contracting minor diseases from our fellow passengers.

I used to adjust to new timezones very quickly, and never really understood the problem of jet lag.  Now, I totally understand.  I didn't do so badly in Denver itself.  I woke up several times each night I was there, and felt wide awake each time, but always managed to get back to sleep.  Coming back to Kazakhstan was another story.  We returned late Wednesday night, and I got some sleep then.  I then proceeded to put in a full day of work on Thursday, and thought for sure I would sleep soundly Thursday night.  Wrong.  I was up most of the night, and looking down the barrel of another full day of work on Friday.  I'm so disappointed; I feel like I've been stripped of my only (somewhat) super power.

Regarding the diseases we had the opportunity to catch from our fellow passengers, Scott was sick with a cold most of the time we were in Denver, and is still recovering.  I thought I might escape this one, but then I started coughing on Friday.  It's the type of cold with a dry, itchy cough that seems completely impervious to any cough suppressant once I lie down, and I'm looking forward to recovering.  I spent much of last night trying to arrange the neck pillow I take on long flights so I could sleep sitting up.

On the bright side, Scott's conference presentation went very well, we got to catch up with some old friends and colleagues, and we got to eat some of the foods we had been craving.  While we didn't get to do as many Denver-specific activities as I might have hoped, the mountain views were very pretty.  Also, we shipped some stuff to my parents' house and I got a flu shot.  Try not to envy my glamorous lifestyle too much...

We celebrated Thanksgiving with some of our friends here on Saturday.  Thursday was a regular work day here and many of us had been traveling, either to conferences, or on student recruiting trips.  I volunteered to make a "pumpkin" pie out of butternut squash, using this recipe.  I was excited to try making the pie with butternut squash, and we had most of the ingredients we needed.  We didn't have any brandy on hand, but Scott suggested that local cognac would be a good alternative.

I had two problems:  I didn't have a pie pan (or anything remotely similar), and though I've made pie crust before, I didn't feel like doing it in my kitchen here.  Before we left for Denver, I purchased some sort of frozen pastry dough that I thought might work as a pie crust.  I intended to buy one of those disposable aluminum pie pans while in the United States.

On our first morning in Denver, we trekked out to Whole Foods to eat at the breakfast bar and pick  up some important provisions like peanut butter.  I kept my eyes peeled for an aluminum pie pan, and didn't see one.  What I did see were aluminum pie pans with graham cracker crusts.  For some reason, it didn't occur to me to just buy one of those and use the crust they came with.  I suppose my ability to reason was another casualty of jet lag, and I was kicking myself all day Saturday for not having purchased one of those.  There were no supermarkets particularly close to our hotel in Denver, so our Whole Foods trip was our only chance to take care of that problem.

As Saturday approached, I emailed everyone in our Thanksgiving crowd to ask to borrow a pie pan.  Our good friends/next door neighbors offered a silicone cake pan that they had baked a pie in, and I gratefully accepted it.   On Saturday itself, though, I started having doubts.  How would I get a crusted pie out of the silicone cake pan without having it crumble?  Also, would one pie even be enough for a crowd?

I doubled the filling recipe to take care of the problem of feeding a crowd, but was still at a loss for how to make the pie.  I did some looking on the internet, and came up with the idea of baking two things with the filling:  crusted mini pies in my muffin tin, and a crustless larger pie in the silicone baking pan.

I used a coffee mug as a template to cut out circular pieces of pastry dough to line the muffin tins.  I put it in the oven to bake.  When I checked back, the pastry dough had puffed up like giant flaky muffins, way past the point of using them for pie crusts.  So, that plan was obviously out.

My next plan was to bake two crustless pies, one inside the silicone cake pan and another inside a bread pan.  The one inside the bread pan was obviously not going to look very pie-like, but I thought ensuring enough dessert for everyone was more important than appearance.

Amazingly, in spite of the improvisation, the two crustless "pies" turned out well.  I would definitely make pie out of of butternut squash again.  I like using canned pumpkin for baked goods when I'm back home, but I think the roasted pureed butternut squash was somewhat more flavorful.  I'll look forward to having a pie pan and options for crust next time, though.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Slippery Cakes Up Ahead!

I received the following in an email, written as usual in English, Russian and Kazakh:

Due to the weather conditions, roadways and sidewalks areas were covered with icing.

Ha!  Icing would have been easier to walk through than what we actually had.  Scott and I had been out of town, and returned to ice so hard and slippery that I was sliding around even in YakTrax.  One of our friends told us there had been freezing rain in Astana right before we got back into town, which is unusual here.  Usually, we get snow instead.

I know how difficult it is to learn foreign languages, and I would never want to make light of anyone's attempts to try, but I'm very comfortable calling this one a Google Translate tragedy.  Just for fun, I plugged the Russian version of this email into Google Translate, and got the exact sentence that I saw in the English version of the email.  Interestingly, that's exactly the sort of thing that I and other instructors and professors here have gotten after our students about.  A cautionary tale on the importance of learning (i.e., studying and practicing) foreign languages, perhaps?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Last Day In Tbilisi

The clouds lifted both literally and figuratively on our last day in Georgia.  It was our only entirely rain-free day during our stay, and since we went exploring on our own, neither Nikoloz nor Lado were there to try to hydroplane us all off the road or anything.

Since we all had a better feel for Tbilisi at that point, we started out in the old city and just wandered around.  We had lunch at an outdoor cafe.  I was enjoying watching all the cats scurrying about outside while we ate, until three of them got into a scuffle right at my feet!  I was eating a vegetarian bean pastry, so I'm not sure what they thought they were fighting over, but I ultimately resorted to spilling a little of my water on the ground to get them to disperse.

It was a pretty relaxed day, and the best part was that by going in search of an old Zoroastrian temple, we stumbled upon a walking path up to the Narikala fortress.  It was great to see so much up close; plus, it was on this walk that I encountered my favorite of Georgia's furry friends.

I liked the idea of having so many birdhouses on one wall.

My best picture of Mother Georgia!

The domed buildings are the old bath houses.

After this wonderful walk, we had a dinner in which we shared copious quantities of our usual favorite Georgian foods, as well as some new ones, like a spinach and walnut dish.  It was the perfect ending to a trip to a country I had not thought of visiting prior to coming to Kazakhstan, but would happily visit again.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Linguistic and Housekeeping Note

As I was trying to be a responsible adult and clean the apartment today, the following occurred to me:

Depending on which definition of the word you choose, our vacuum cleaner either does or does not suck.

Maybe trying to be a responsible adult is overrated.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tbilisi and Mtskheta

The other tour we signed up for in Georgia was one of Tbilisi and Mtskheta.  We had signed up for it mostly because it presented an easy way to visit Mtskheta, a very old city whose monuments have been designated UNESCO world heritage sites.  But we thought it would be a chance to learn more about some of the sites in Tbilisi, also, even if we had already visited them or planned to return on our own.

The day probably got off to a questionable start the night before, when Nikoloz suggested we get a later start in the morning.  In retrospect, that probably should have clued us in to the fact that we weren't going to get to see everything we had planned on, but part of the reason to hire a guide in the first place is to let someone else do most of the thinking and planning.

The first thing we planned to see on the tour that morning was the open air ethnographic museum in Tbilisi. turned out to be a holiday in Georgia, so it was closed.  Again, we hired a guide in part to let someone else do most of the thinking and planning....

After that, we took a walk around Turtle Lake in Tbilisi, which was pleasant, but perhaps not a top must-see with limited time.

On the trail around the lake, we found this advertisement for ajari khachapuri, one of Scott's favorite Georgian foods.  It's a bread with cheese and an egg in the center, and you mix the egg with the cheese before eating it.

Then, for reasons I still don't understand, we were driven up one mountain to this weird theme park.  It was closed that day because of the holiday, but we could walk around.  It looks like a theme park that nightmares are made of.  Not a place I would recommend, especially not without exhausting sites in old Tbilisi and museums.

It was clear that most of the Tbilisi old city portion of the tour was falling by the wayside, but we insisted on taking the cable cars to see the Narikala fortress, which is something very worth seeing.  Nikoloz, meanwhile, was flipping out because so much of the day had passed and he was still supposed to take us to Mtskheta.

Picture taken from below.

Picture taken from cable car.

And a view from the top!

Mother Georgia in the trees

Narikala fortress

Another view of Narikala fortress
 We then visited a modern cathedral in Tbilisi.  On the way out, a group of people were taking wedding pictures, and were using a drone to get an aerial shot.  I had never seen a drone up close before (evidently Nikoloz hadn't either, as he stood transfixed for several minutes despite his worries about the time), and I have to say that at best, I think they're a very annoying technology, with the buzzing noise they make.

A drone shattering the tranquility of the day.  I've seen videos of animals trying to knock these things out of the sky, and I think I understand why now.

To Nikoloz's dismay, we insisted on stopping to buy some khachapuri (a cheesy bread) before getting on the road to Mtskheta, as it was getting way past any sort of normal lunch time, and we had sites to see there before eating our scheduled lunch around dinner time.

Mtskheta was almost magical looking, especially with the clouds and the mist rolling in.  Mtskheta on its own made up for the somewhat slapstick nature of the tour up until that point.  I wish we could have spent closer to a whole day there.  Maybe on a future trip to Georgia!

We visited the Jvari monastery first, and saw amazing views of the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, as well as the monastery itself.  While we were inside the monastery, someone's phone rang, and the ringtone was the theme music for Mad Men.  I was simultaneously entertained to hear the theme music to an arguably rather irreligious show in such a context, and relieved that someone besides me was probably committing the worst faux pas at that moment.

Then it was on to the town itself, where we saw the Svetitskhoveli cathedral.  I think we all could have happily wandered longer if it hadn't been relatively late in the day and if we hadn't been hungry.

Looking up at Jvari monastery from below.
Dinner was next!  We went someplace famous for lobio (a Georgian bean dish), and khinkali (large dumplings filled with broth and filling.  You are supposed to take a small bite, slurp out the broth, and eat the dumpling).  Someone innocently asked if we could get wine at dinner, to which Nikoloz replied that we'd had our wine tour the day before.  This prompted someone else to (quite accurately) ask what wine tour he was referring to.  This act of resistance proved too much for Nikoloz's ego.  He left his father Lado to eat with us and proceeded to passive aggressively order large pitchers of wine to our table from somewhere else.

After a very tasty dinner, we rode back to our hotel in Tbilisi--women in Lado's car, and men in Nikoloz's car.  When we arrived, the guys were already there, and one of our traveling companions was throwing up on the side of the road.  The last we saw of Nikoloz that evening was him dashing across the street, pretending not to see.  So, if anyone wants to visit Georgia, I have plenty of recommendations of foods to eat and sites to see, and one recommendation of a place not to say and a guide to not tour with.

Fortunately, our friend felt well enough to do some site seeing the next day.  Also, that evening, Scott surprised me with an early birthday cake!  It was possibly the tallest birthday cake I've ever seen, and was delicious.  I only regret not having time to eat more of it before we had to return to Kazakhstan.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Our hotel owner/guide Nikoloz decided that our second full day in Georgia would be the best day to go to Kakheti, which is to the east of Tbilisi, because it was supposed to be somewhat less rainy that day than the next.  So we got an earlyish start after another one of Mia's wonderful breakfasts.  When we got ready to leave, we found out that Nikoloz did not have a vehicle large enough for all of us.  He introduced us to his elderly father, Lado, who had brought his car.  We decided to divide along gender lines, with the women in Lado's car, and the guys with Nikoloz.

At some point, soon after we got into the car, I said something to one of my friends.  Lado asked me if I was speaking American English, and I replied that I was.  He said he couldn't understand me at all.  I knew then that I could say whatever I wanted during the drive.  But I also knew we wouldn't be learning much about Georgian history or the places we were visiting from him.

I found out later from the guys that despite Nikoloz's English skills, he wasn't providing much information about the sites, either.  Also, one of his favorite topics of conversation reportedly was going to the bathroom outdoors (!).  So, it seems likely that our language barrier with Lado didn't cause us to miss out on particularly sparkling conversation.

I spent the day seeing sites with little to no context provided, and with rain and fog sometimes obscuring the views, but enjoyed them all the same.  Our first stop was the David Garjeja monastery, which was amazing.

After exploring there, we got back into the car.  We passed a lot of livestock, including pigs.  Pigs are somewhat of a novelty to me while traveling, since I've traveled mostly in the Islamic world.  At one point, we drove through a very impressive flock of sheep, which I desperately tried to photograph while Lado yelled at me not to open the car door.

Next up was the monastery of St. Nino, by which point it was raining quite convincingly.

The next stop was supposed to be a wine tasting, since Kakheti is famous for its wine.  Our group of friends ranged from complete teetotalers to people who really enjoy wine and were very interested in the wine tasting.  I was somewhat neutral.  Under other circumstances, I probably would have been more interested, but (a) it was way past lunchtime, and I didn't particularly want to drink on an empty stomach, and (b) the "free" wine tasting turned out to actually cost 15 lari once we got to the wine museum.  The cost wasn't insurmountable, but on top of all of us already being hungry, it was enough to turn the non-teetotalers against it, much to Nikoloz's consternation.

Fortunately, our next stop was lunch, albeit at an hour much closer to what many of us would think of as dinner.  Wine was available for those who were interested, as well as great quantities of badrijani, a dish I particularly like that's made from eggplant, walnut paste, and often pomegranate seeds.

Unfortunately, the weather had not improved at all, it had gotten much darker outside, and we had a long drive over hilly terrain and roads dotted with potholes.  I've written before about not terribly smooth rides I've taken, often on roads in a bad state of repair with drivers swerving all over the place.  But this ride was the first one in a long time in which I actually felt in danger.  Lado didn't slow down even for potholes filled with water, and I felt the car skidding a number of times.  I finally put on my best obey-me-if-you-want-to-live voice and told Lado to slow down.  He understood me, despite the language barrier, and protested that he was driving slowly.  Fortunately, as we got closer to Tbilisi, the traffic picked up, and he was forced to slow down so as not to crash into other cars.  Rarely have I been so grateful to see traffic.  In fact, I probably would have refused to get into a car with Lado the next day, except that we were going to see parts of Tbilisi and Mtskheta, where I anticipated there being enough traffic to slow him down.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Arrival and Day 1 in Tbilisi

When we were planning our trip to Georgia, we had hoped to get the direct flights from Astana that we heard were available.  Sadly, none of these were available during our fall break, and we had a layover in Almaty.  Almaty is a lovely city, but its airport stresses me out.  This time going through, the major excitement was that the woman who was processing me at passport control abruptly ran out of her booth to help a coworker who was dealing with some young guy who slumped over while being led away.  I never did figure out what was going on there, but I was selfishly concerned at the time because my passport and boarding pass were still inside the booth and out of my reach when she ran off.  Fortunately, she eventually returned to stamp my passport.

The flight from Almaty to Tbilisi was raucous, due in large part to members of a Georgian judo team who were flying with us.  I was glad to get in to Tbilisi and have Nikoloz, the hotel owner and tour guide, waiting for us.

Glad, that is, until we got to the hotel.  One of our friends with whom we traveled had booked an apartment with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  I think we were all picturing three bedrooms of roughly equal size, where each couple could sleep comfortably.  I, at least, was also picturing two bathrooms that were both equipped with showers, so that six adults could realistically not have to spend all morning cycling in and out of one shower.  What we found was two relatively normal bedrooms....and one room only barely large enough for the broken pull-out sofa it contained.  Also, only one of the two bathrooms contained a shower.  But, it wasn't a total loss because featured prominently in the living room was a liquor cabinet with lights that changed color!  Too bad I'm neither a big drinker nor a twenty one year old partier with a large decorating budget.

Only four of us arrived that night:  our other two friends were due to join us the next day.  Scott and I took one real bedroom, and the other couple who was with us took the other one.  We figured there was no point in anyone sleeping on the broken sofa bed until absolutely necessary and that we could figure out what to do the next day.

The next morning, we decided we would ask nicely for a second room to put our friends in.  Nikoloz's mother, Mia, who was decidedly the bright spot of the entire operation actually beat us to suggesting that.  She also served us a very tasty Georgian breakfast.  We had had a bean dish called lobio many times at the Georgian restaurant in Astana.  She served us lobiani, which was a pastry filled with lobio.  She also served some sort of soup, pickled vegetables, and tea with local honey.  Optimism restored, we went forth to explore Tbilisi.

It took us a little while to get our bearings, and it started raining in the afternoon, but we did see some interesting things.

I'm always interested to see how American logos are adapted for other alphabets.

They had a variety of donut that for some reason, I never see in the US.  I can't imagine why not...

A street stall with candy made of strings of nuts dipped in a grape juice syrup, spices, vodka, and honey

A cool alley and a big, beautiful tree!  Living in Astana has made me appreciate big trees.

A lovely church with more trees

An inspirational message spray painted on a wall

A synagogue!

The Peace Bridge

When we ate dinner out that night, we had a Spanish-speaking waiter!  It turned out that he had lived for several years in Valencia.  I felt that my Spanish was embarrassingly rusty, but it did get the job done.  The next day, we were scheduled to take a tour of Kakheti, and we all were looking forward to that.