Saturday, March 4, 2023

Winter? We thought we had left you behind....and January expenses

Winter and other musings

Views of Tbilisi outskirts

Well, we've officially been in Georgia for around 6 months now and I can say that I truly do love this place.  The people, the food, the culture, and the history still astound me every time we go out.  With every location though, there are of course downsides and this place has its issues for sure. We heard an anecdote from another traveler when we first arrived that Georgians can really be stubborn about certain things (just like any other person) but specifically in this case about real estate.  The anecdote was along the lines of "it doesn't matter what a place is worth, the price is set by what a person has been told they should expect to get".  Over and over, you will see places for rent that are just beyond ridiculous for pricing in a country where you have to deal with power outages and water outages almost weekly in parts of the city; where the average monthly wage for a Georgian is around 1250gel or 475usd.  Whats that?  You want a 2 bedroom place?  In a desirable location?  That will be $2000usd please!  If you're lucky it may even have a stove!  Obviously, this has been caused by the recent and massive influx of Russians due to the war so of course there should be price increases but this is beyond any normal demand.  If people are getting these ridiculous prices, then I guess great for them, but over and over you can see places advertised for months on end with no change to pricing.  This is where the anecdote comes in, you see, they've been told to expect $2000usd because someones uncles, mothers, second cousin got that 2 weeks ago so you should too.  And so, it sits.....frustrating beyond belief as it's definitely pushing people out of the country at least in the short term as they can no longer afford the prices.  


Our now weekly khinkali meal with a side of nigvziani badrijani (stuffed eggplant)

The other major downside is that winter is a lot more 'wintery' then we expected.  It's not even bad honestly, it is above 0 every single day and the sun shines quite a bit but fall and spring are windy beyond comprehension which causes +3 to definitely feel like -10...and when you're walking everywhere it's just a rough reminder of Canadian winters and what we were trying to escape.  

A beautiful street in the Marjanishvili district of Tbilisi

 I don't mean to come off as unappreciative of our current home though, as we've absolutely loved our time here.  The history is evident everywhere and the people are very friendly; getting around with just english can be a bit of a trial in certain areas but for the most part you'll be able to get by with a smile and a gamarjoba (hello) and madloba (thank you).  With our time coming to an end in Georgia as well, it makes us realize that we have not done near as much as we had hoped while we were here.  There are so many sites that we're leaving undiscovered but that just means a return trip is probably in the cards.  

Just some of the beautiful graffiti around Tbilisi


Our first views of Armenia

Armenia is one of those countries that you hear about on the news and then forget about it.  You don't actually think that you'll ever get a chance to visit it but you think maybe one day...  It is one of those countries that is hard to get to and way too far away so it was always a relegated option in our travel plans.  It wasn't until I started to look into Georgia that a few photographers from Armenia started to pop up in my views and really brought Armenia to the forefront of my mind.  What I saw was amazing and I decided we had to see it. 

Armenian sweets!!!

Living in Georgia, expats go to Armenia for day trips...usually to reset their 365 day visa clock in Georgia.  You pay 50 dollars to get a taxi to take you to the border, walk across into Armenia and then back into Georgia and you get to stay another year in Georgia; it takes an afternoon.  We had no such plans to turn around that quickly as we had a lot to see in our 5 day itinerary in Armenia.  

Behind Haghpat Monastery looking at the main building

With our ride all figured out, we started the trek to Armenia and had plans to stop at every monastery and historical site along the way (THIS IS A LOT) and quickly realized that unless we planned to do a 275km trip in 2 days we would not be able to see all the sites, so we decided on Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries.  These are 2 of the most important monasteries in Armenia and just happen to be directly on the road to Yerevan from Tbilisi.  


Raeleen at the entrance in front of Haghpat

We definitely got lost in the town leading to Haghpat and ended up parking on a road and walked the rest of the way to the monastery.  It was only a short 10 minute walk but it meant we got to see a little of the surrounding town; definitely a lot more rural feeling than any small Canadian town.  As we had arrived in the middle of January, the locations are almost completely devoid of other tourists and you get a bit more of a realistic feeling of life around a popular tourist site.  The mountains that seem to cover the entire country of Armenia are so beautiful and rugged as well. 

Looking out from Haghpat to the surrounding areas

Only 15 minutes down the road from Haghpat is Sanahin monastery which literally translates from Armenian to English as 'this one is older than that one' presumably meaning that it is older than Haghpat.  

Sanahin Monastery

We had a need to get to Yerevan before it was too late so we could check into our apartment for the next few days but I would absolutely love to transit through Armenia at a leisurely pace as the country is filled with beautiful nature and historic sites.  So, sadly we left the rest of the historic sites and finished our drive to the capital of Yerevan.  
The landscape the entire way was beautiful
Arriving in Yerevan, we were blown away by how cosmopolitan the city looked.  Where Tbilisi looks old and a bit run down (which in my opinion adds to its character and beauty), Yerevan reminded me much more of a European city with wide and well maintained roads, large sidewalks, newer buildings.  We checked into our apartment almost in the city centre and had our first meal in Yerevan before heading to sleep and getting ready for the next day of exploring Yerevan. 

Exploring Yerevan.  

We started the day with a visit to "The Cascade".  A series of steps and art installations running up a hill in the middle of Yerevan.  It is probably the most recognizable location in all of Armenia as it features heavily in all media of the city.  We spent the rest of the day exploring Victory Park, the Vernissage (a bazaar/market), and the Armenian Genocide memorial; a beautiful complex dedicated to the memory of 1.5 million Armenians that were killed in the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century.  

Mother of Georgia and eternal flame

Armenian Genocide memorial monument
The Vernissage

We ended the day with a beautiful Armenian supper in Tavern Yerevan where we got to eat tasty, traditional Armenian dishes such as ghapama which is a stew cooked inside a pumpkin.  


Day 2 was all about tours and getting out of the city.  We were headed to Noravank Monastery and Khor Virap which would bring us within 100 meters of both the Azerbaijan and Turkish borders.  It was on this day that we were given the chance to try Armenian wine during a winery tour and see an important archaeological site with the oldest leather shoe ever discovered.  

Khor Virap looking into Turkey.  If it wasn't for the fog we would have been able to see Mount Ararat

The beautiful Armenian countryside.  So rugged!
What is known as the 'birds cave'.  An important archaeological site
Noravank Monastery
Camryn, Madeline, and Rae at Noravank

Day 3 was more tours but this time we hired a personal driver and guide since there were specific sites that we wanted to see.  There was no way to do this tour unless we went the personal route but it was definitely the right choice as we had a great time with our tour guide and driver.  We started the day at Etchmiadzin which we've been told is the oldest standing cathedral in the world.  Sadly, the cathedral is undergoing restoration works so we weren't able to get inside but we did manage to walk the beautiful grounds and see some historical artifacts in their museum, one of which the Armenians believe is the spearhead used to pierce Jesus' side at his crucifixion.  

The spear, Etchmiadzin cathedral, and the entrance to the grounds

The rest of the day was spent driving to Zvartnots cathedral (a destroyed cathedral uncovered in the early 20th century), Garni Temple (an old Roman-era temple believed to be dedicated to a sun god), the symphony of stones (a rare geological stone formation similiar to the giants causeway), and Geghard Monastery.  

The remains of Zvartnots
Garni Temple

The symphony of stones
Geghard Monastery

With that, our trip had come to an end and it was time for the drive back to Tbilisi.  We of course, wanted to see the most famous lake in all of Yerevan so we asked our driver to take the optional route back past lake Sevan.  This, it turns out, was not the best idea as we ended up driving on a road that made even our driver a bit nervous as it had been the site of fighting only months earlier between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  We ended up making it through unscathed and happy to be able to experience the beauty of Armenia.  

Lake Sevan and the cathedrals on it.
Our last stop for food in Armenia at a little restaurant in eastern Armenia
Traffic isn't the only thing to worry about on the roads!

We cannot say enough positive things about our trip to Armenia.  It was filled with amazing history, food, people and we would definitely love to visit again.  Place this country on your maps folks, it's well worth the trip! 

January Expenses
Our January expenses breakdown is as follows: 

Housing - 1749gel
Food - 1090.49gel
Personal Care - 65.45gel
Transportation - 453.70gel
Entertainment - 1392gel

Total: 4750.64gel which is $2478.88.  It was a bit more of an expensive month as we spent quite a bit in Armenia and to get there (costs have ballooned there as well because of the war).  This affected our food, transportation, and entertainment costs.  I would say that this month is a bit of an anomaly as it's definitely higher than we are hoping to spend each month. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

December Expenses and next update


 With the holiday season behind us, we have officially spent our second Christmas/New Years in another country; the first of course was in Slovenia in 2016.  Although it is exciting and interesting to spend time in another culture for the most important times of year you also can't help but feel a bit lonely being far away from friends and family and all that you are familiar with.  It's hard to jump onto facebook and see the pictures everyone is posting of the times spent together  Just like everything in life, there are sacrifices to be made for the choices that you make and as hard as it is, I think we're both still happy with our choice.  

Christmas lights in Tbilisi, Liberty Square

 December was a bit of a whirlwind with many events happening in the city and our attempts to keep ourselves busy.  We both felt great and the weather was mostly co-operating with what we were hoping for in a winter abroad.  We had only seen snow once at this point (although that has changed now) and minus temperatures were a thing for some overnights only.  All in all...a win in our books.  

Christmas lights along Rustaveli Avenue


In case you don't know, Georgia is orthodox Christian which means that they do not celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.  Christmas is 7th of January with the Orthodox New Years on 14th of January.  Oddly enough though, December 31st is the day where people celebrate New Years and is an absolutely massive holiday; more on that later.  So, our 25th of December was definitely a bit strange; shops were open, people were out and about and the Christmas market had only opened on the 22nd of December so it didn't feel very Christmas-y.  We did manage to celebrate on that day though with a party that we had been invited to by an Iranian student studying in Georgia that we had met.  It was a great night filled with a lot of laughter and, as with every party with Iranians we've since learned, way too much dancing.  Our Mennonite fathers would have been very disappointed in us. 

Winter snow in Tbilisi.  I'm sure it will all be gone within a week. 

New Years

Christmas lights in the downtown Christmas market

New years in Tbilisi is THE event of the year and we were told that the fireworks are unrivaled anywhere else in the world.  It's a bold claim as we've been in Beijing for Chinese New Years and that kept us awake for almost the entire night so we was excited to see Tbilisi could do.  As we got ready to head out for New years we were dreading the crowds of people.  However, upon leaving our apartment we were greeted with.....quiet....aside from the fireworks that would go off all day of course.  Barely any people on the streets..."well, maybe it will be busier in the metro".  Nope....dead quiet there too.  What is going on?  Well, it turns out that New Years is a family holiday and plays the part of Christmas as well.  Families will have their big holiday meal on New Years, spend their entire day together and then after midnight the younger ones will go out to party.  Even Christmas presents are opened on New Years instead of Christmas.  Georgia's communist history meant that religious holidays were not allowed, so they celebrated on the secular ones instead and this has now become the norm.  Although there are still celebrations on orthodox Christmas and New Years, they aren't nearly as popular as December 31st.  

Dolma.  Grape leaves wrapped around a mixture of meat and rice.  Usually topped with a yogurt sauce

We started the night with a visit to restaurant Kneina where we were treated to a delicious feast of Georgian specialties of which I only remember a few dishes and was too busy devouring everything in site to bother with photos.  I will not hesitate to return as it was extremely delicious and the owners were great hosts.  In fact, one owner was so disturbed by my lack of an alcoholic drink order that he insisted I have a drink of his home-brewed chacha, which is the Georgian home brewed alcohol.  I was informed that not ordering an alcoholic drink, especially on an important holiday, is extremely strange. I was happy to discover though, that he hadn't been lying, and his chacha was ACTUALLY good and didn't just taste like fire, like every other time I had drank it.  So, hats off to Kneina on being able to trick me into one more attempt at liking the stuff.  I guess I'm a slow learner.  

The moment of disaster!

We spent the rest of the evening in our friend's bar "The Tipsy Bee" chatting with friends and playing games.  Shortly before midnight we made the trek 5 minutes up to Betlemi rise, which is a little park on the hill below the Mother of Georgia statue.  It overlooks the city and gives a great viewpoint for the fireworks.  They had already started as Georgians really really love their fireworks but the closer it got to midnight, the more it appeared as if the entire city was setting off fireworks all at once.  It definitely was in contention with Beijing for just as impressive and is one of my favorite memories so far of our time here.  The sound was deafening and the sight was something to behold.  


January 2nd is known as Bedoba, another holiday in the Georgian calendar.  Bedoba literally translates to 'luck' and has become somewhat of a superstitious way for Georgians to gamble on what their next year will look like.  On Bedoba, they will attempt to spread positive cheer or do the things that they want to do more of in the coming year.  If you want to relax, you will relax on Bedoba, if you want to party more you will go out and party, if you want to spread get the idea.  It's a day to shape your entire next year.  We definitely took a more relaxed view of Bedoba and spent the day inside and wandering our neighborhood; hopefully a view into what our next year looks like.  

Our crispy Chebureki.  A pastry filled with meat and spices.  DELICIOUS!


Orthodox Christmas and New Years

We got to do all of the celebrations over again in just a week so by the time they rolled around we were rested and ready.  In case you don't know, the reason that Orthodox Christmas and New Years are on different dates is because they still celebrate these days according to the Julian calendar.  Non-orthodox Christian countries currently use the Gregorian calendar which caused the shift to celebrations on December 25th and December 31st. 

Even though the celebrations are much quieter on these two days, there are still some celebrations happening throughout the country.  January 7th in Tbilisi is the alilo parade which has Georgians walking through the city to the Sameba Cathedral chanting and singing while dressed in robes and carrying Georgian flags.  They collect donations along the way to the cathedral to later distribute to people in need.  

Orthodox New Years we honestly had even forgotten about.  January 14th came and we were safely at home lounging in our living room when the normal fireworks started to get a little louder then 'normal'.  As it got closer to midnight it really started to kick off with fireworks exploding literally outside our window.  After midnight it started to die off much quicker and within a half-hour it was back to the normal amount of fireworks for a Tbilisi evening.  


At this point we had scheduled our trip to Armenia and have just returned.  I will be writing our Armenia update shortly and have way too many photos of our time there.  

Till the next time!

December Expenses

Here's our breakdown for the month of December.  Our expenditures went up a bit but mostly related to Raeleen's unexpected hospital stay.  

Housing - 1580.40gel

Food - 1570.55gel

Personal (Medical, hair, etc) - 1658.60gel

Transportation - 96.20gel

Entertainment - 50gel

Total - 4955.75gel - $2476.39 Canadian dollar.  

Now, as you can see it was a pretty slow month with Raeleen's hospital stay and her getting better.  We made up for it a lot by going out for food and drinks with friends which is why our food expenditures are so high.   Raeleen's costs in the hospital were about $780CAD or 1500gel, so if you remove that one time charge we would have done the whole month for about $1750CAD. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Things about Georgia...

Observations on Georgia - Work in Progress

So, I've been thinking about writing this one for a while but I don't think it's one that I'll be able to just write in one go and so it has sort of sat on the sidelines.  With my lack of activity on this blog though, I think it's time to put it into action.  

I wanted to write a post about the things I've noticed about Georgian culture and things in the day to day that are different; not good or bad, just different.  I may write about them in a negative sense because they bother me but it's not that it's wrong, it's just not what I'm used to.  These are in no particular order.  

- Every road is an F1 race.  We had read that Georgian roads are some of the most dangerous in the world.  We have seen that this is very true, and it's not because of the conditions of the road....well, it's not JUST because of the conditions of the road.  Georgians speed EVERYWHERE!  

- Be prepared to never be listened to when offering directional advice.  It doesn't matter if you're asked to look up directions on google maps...they won't listen to it/you anyways.  

- Have you ever wondered what a car with no bumpers looks like?  Well, come on down to Georgia and see for yourself.  Maybe as a sign of how often there are traffic accidents, seeing cars driving around without any bumpers at all is something you get used to pretty quickly. 

- When ordering at a restaurant, food will come out when it is ready, not all together.  So be ready to eat parts of your meal all at different times.  This also means that at big meals, you should not fill up on a dish you like; there is always more and better dishes coming. 

- As a part 2 to the previous one, when you believe the table is full and there can't possibly be more dishes coming....there are...and they're the best ones.  Except for ajapsandali (an eggplant stew)'s always been the highlight every time we've had it.  

- When we moved to Slovenia people always asked us how the food was and we always said "meh".  It wasn't just wasn't memorable aside from 1 or 2 things.  This is not the case with Georgian food because it is FANTASTIC!

- Georgians are very proud of their water.  If you ask if you can drink the tap water, they will say yes of course.  Rae and I most definitely had a different experience and so many of the people visiting that we spoke to also had mystery stomach bugs when they first arrived.  I think this is location specific but if your place is a new build in a good part of the city you're probably fine but bottled water is super cheap so if you're here for a short time it might not be worth it to risk it. 

- Cashiers will mostly refuse to take money from your hand.  You must place it in the money dish on the counter, they will pick it up and then put your change in the same dish after.  We've heard this is not related to covid but because of superstitions around handling small coins. 

- There is a real love for firecrackers and fireworks here.  You WILL hear them every single day, it doesn't matter what time of year it is.  We've also been told to not try and sleep early on new years because it won't happen.  The city becomes a war-zone with all the firecrackers going off.  

- A horn honk can not go unanswered.  It must be answered by a longer, more aggressive honk.  

- Do not wait at lights when driving....for any reason whatsoever.  Every single other car on the road will begin honking at you the second the light turns green and if you will come from miles around just to honk /s.  

- Georgians are not an early morning people.  Restaurants open for breakfast later, work starts later, rush hour starts later, etc etc.  It takes a bit to get used to but I honestly love it.  

- A bit of a follow up to the last one; because they aren't early morning people it would make sense to think that they are late night people and this is very correct.  Go to any restaurant late day and it will be packed.  Go to Mcdonalds at 10pm for a snack on your way home and it will be full of families with toddlers.  

- Have you ever gone to a pharmacy and wanted to buy just one pill, bandaid, whatever.  Well, in Georgia, you can!  It always shocks me when you go in for something and they ask how many you want.  Want just one bandaid?  They'll pull it out of the box and give it to you.  Want just one pill?  They have the scissors handy to cut out one.  Although to be fair it has definitely come out handy for us and I have started to really appreciate this.  

- Walking anywhere is a minefield...with all the street dogs, there is a lot of dog crap all over the city.  As i'm gawking at everything around us, Rae is constantly reminding me to watch out where i'm walking.  It's a real issue of making sure you don't step in a nice surprise.  

 - Districts.  So, you've just arrived to the city and your glasses break...shoot, well now what?  How about you go to the eyeglasses district!!!  We're not sure if it's purposefully set up this way but it seems like when you find one store selling a certain type of item, there will be another 50 stores on that street selling the same thing.  We've started calling it districts after the Simpsons when Homer goes to the "Hammock District".  You find one glasses store, there will be another 50 within 3 blocks.  You want your car oil changed?  Well, just go to the car oil change district.  Lighting for your home?  Go to the home lighting district!  It makes it quite easy to find an item and then compare prices.  

- Which brings me to pricing...doing due diligence is a must.  Never buy on the first sighting.  So many times we bought things when we first arrived only to find the exact same item very close for half price.  It pays to shop around.  

- Have you found an item that you like in the grocery stores?  Normally, you're like 'oh great, I'll grab the same thing next week.'  That kind of attitude will leave you unhappy since here if you find something you like you'll never know if it will even be there next week so STOCK UP!  Who cares what it looks like when you walk out with 8 bags of your coffee can't take those chances. 

I will post more and edit this as I notice them through our time here. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Good weather?

A long time coming

So, it's been way too long since I last updated this post and for that i'm sorry but honestly, this is my blog so just back off ok!  

the view from a hike above the city

 Our October was pretty full of stuff to see and do around our temporary home and we got to see a lot of the central and eastern part of this country.  It is NOT like Slovenia though where you can drive across the country in 2 hours and I think that people believe that it's small only because its beside monstrous countries like Russia and Turkey.  I can tell you though, that this country is deceptively large.  We have started to look at some locations in the western half of the country and realize that the drives to some of these locations will definitely necessitate overnight stays at the very least.  I guess this is one of those things that we just didn't really think about beforehand as we assumed that travel would be much quicker than it is, especially with Georgian drivers believing that they are in an Formula 1 race at all times.  


Rae and I in front of Gergeti Trinity church in Stepantsminda

As full as our October was though, our November was the exact opposite.  We were very quiet in November, only making small excursions around the city and enjoying the beautiful fall weather here.  Speaking of the weather, there are definitely things about the weather here that we haven't been enjoying.  For one thing, the WIND!  It is unlike anything we've experienced before and I imagine it's like living in Lethbridge but much worse (as bad as living in Lethbridge already is).  On the days that its windy, it is relentless.  It seems that it comes and goes for now but when its windy, it can easily sustain 70km/h for days at a time and it definitely takes our enjoyment of the country down a few notches.  On one of the days that it was so windy I was talking with our neighbour who mentioned that this was nothing yet and to wait for February and March where it's I guess we have something to look forward to!?!?

Our meal on one of those windy days.  You can see the cucumber and tomato salad with walnut sauce on the right along with a dish with the spoon thats called Ghomi.  A cheese dish with chicken. 

On one of those windy days we decided to spend the day inside at a museum suggested to us by a friend.  

Traditional Georgian swords and a royal garment (recreation from a movie)

Mtatsminda Park

While in Tbilisi, you can look up at any point in the city pretty much and see a large ferris wheel and tv tower.  This is Mtatsminda Park, a popular location for people in Tbilisi to spend the day.  There are loads of restaurants and rides for families and just a nice park to chill out in and spend a day.  The park is accessed by a funicular, bus, or hiking.  We had kept on saying that we were going to go and check it out but had still not made it up until late November.  So, on November 20th with a beautiful 20 degree day, we decided to finally head up to Mtatsminda park and see what the fuss was all about.  It was nice to chill out in the sun in a fall that was warmer than normal.  It was definitely a plus to be able to see that we had escaped a terrible start to a canadian winter with all the pictures we had been seeing of the snow that western canada had already been hit with.  

The ferris wheel in Mtatsminda park

Monthly breakdowns: 
I promised with my last update that I would post our tracked expenses per month.  It's been a while since I wrote that but I now have data from two months and they couldn't be more different from month to month.  October was the month that we moved into our apartment though and so there were a lot of costs of buying things for the apartment to make it feel more comfortable; better cooking utensils or things that were missing, better bedding, water filter, etc.  We also did a lot of traveling around in October which adds to the monthly costs.  I think it is a good look at what it costs to move to a country with a cheaper cost of living then Canada and can show how accessible it is to move somewhere else if you have the ability to make a bit of cash while traveling. 

I've broken it down into multiple categories based on the type of purchase.  
Housing - includes rent, cell bills, all related bills for the apartment (gas, electric, internet) and supplies that we purchase for the house.  
Food - This may have some overlap with housing as sometimes we purchased items for the house along with our groceries but they weren't edible but we tried our best to keep it separate.  This also includes nights out for drinks with friends.  
Personal Care - Medical, hair, clothing, skin care, or other personal costs. 
Transportation - Includes metro, airline fees if we had any, private drivers, and car rentals (uber/bolt/yandex)
Entertainment -  Includes trips, movies, live theater, and other types of things.  

NOTE: All prices are in Georgian Lari but the conversion is around 2gel for 1cad. 
Here's the breakdown for October: 
Housing - 2050.79
Food - 1864.25
Personal Care - 167.20
Transportation - 427.40
Entertainment - 890
This is a total of 5399.64GEL which translates to 2648.52CAD at the current exchange rate.  
We spent a bit too much on food as we were eating out a lot at first and we spent a lot on housing as we bought the things needed for day to day life but as you can see, it still is less than you would spend monthly in Canada. 

Here's the breakdown for November: 
Housing - 1576.25
Food - 1019.33
Personal care - 95.77
Transportation - 69.10
Entertainment - 10
This is a total cost of 2770.45GEL which translates to 1358.91CAD.  You can see that November we slowed down a LOT.  We got COVID and that put us on our butts for 2 weeks and the days where it was very windy or colder we didn't do a whole lot.  

And that's it for this time! 

Winter? We thought we had left you behind....and January expenses

Winter and other musings Views of Tbilisi outskirts Well, we've officially been in Georgia for around 6 months now and I can say that I ...