(Two of my favorite Georgian heroes carved into stone in the famous Sno Valley – Vazha Pshavela and Ilia Chavchavadze.)
Hey! It’s been a while First off, I just want to say that wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re taking care during these absolutely bizarre and unpredictable times. A lot (and I mean a lot) has happened in the past year or so since I put together an update. I’ve been putting this post off because A.) I don’t particularly enjoy writing about myself and B.) I’ve just been plain old busy. Here goes!
Life in Tbilisi
When we lived in Spain, we moved quite a bit. Barcelona for a few months, Moncofar for a month or so, Valencia for a few months, and finally the longest – Las Gabias. As much as I loved seeing Spain from many angles, we were both ready to relax for a second. So we signed the dotted line and booked our apartment in Tbilisi for one year. The plan was to stay here for a year(ish) and head back west where we’d ultimately make it to Mexico City or Santiago de Chile for a while. But hey, plans are made to be changed, right? We fell for Tbilisi almost instantly. It’s such an incredibly unique, fun, and interesting city oozing with quirky bohemian charm and a patchwork of history just waiting to be explored. It’s a place that’s small enough (1 million) that it doesn’t feel too bustled and large enough that there are several different neighborhoods, each more unique than the last. We live in Saburtalo, a cozy little spot in the northern half of Tbilisi. Our apartment is just a 10-minute walk from the metro and the cities old hippodrome, which is now a big green area perfect for Ollie. When I walk down the back street behind our apartment, I’m met with a big, grinny, “gamarjoba!” from the ladies at the hair salon (miqvars, Eka da Marina!), a gritty nod from the man in the tone shop whos shotis puri I can smell from a block away and a sweet smile from the lady who feeds the cats in the alley between Tamarashvili and Kazbegi. Then I land at Delisi, where a silver-haired bebia named Nana always saves the prettiest flowers for me, and a rosy-cheeked onyx haired garden lady is eager to load me up with the usual. Then, there’s friends. When you travel a lot, you’re bound to meet a few folks who come and go. In Spain, it seemed like we were constantly bouncing in and out of people’s lives, and in turn, people were in and out of ours. Despite living in a country known for its elaborate celebrations, colorful nightlife, and friendly locals, we actually spent very little time socializing. But here, it’s just – different. On the one hand, the expat community is extremely developed, diverse, and well connected – there’s never a shortage of social events going on around the city. On the other hand, I’ve made so many quality friendships with Georgians that I know I will cherish for the rest of my life. We even have a Georgian Grandma! Anyway, the big picture is we have friends. And good friends. The kind that stick around and are your biggest cheerleaders – the kind that feel like family. I’m sure for some people having a good social life can happen anywhere in the world, but for me, that place is Tbilisi. I also think a side effect of being really, truly, wholly content somewhere is you tend to blend and integrate better. I haven’t really felt that prior to Tbilisi.
The life-changing magic of therapy
Ahhhh, the big T-word (or “th” word?)…anyway. I won’t drudge too much on this as I feel like I can’t give it the worth it deserves in a paragraph or two, but here goes. I’m in therapy. Whew, and you know what? I love it. If there’s one big thing I’ve learned, it’s that the more you value your life, the more you savor every second of happiness you can squeeze from it. I know it may sound a little obvious – but it took me a while to realize that. Once we got settled in Tbilisi, I felt this deep, powerful sense of belonging. I felt fulfilled and ‘on the right track’ like I was headed for something new and big and wonderful. I eventually thought to myself, “Wow, this feels good. I kind of want to hold on to it.” So I did what any stable person does – I allowed myself a few dozen more nasty cries, a couple of solid emotional breakdowns, and a dollop here and there of esteem crises before deciding to ‘talk to someone.’
You know, deep down, I think it’s the age-old you can’t run from everything – thing. The truth is, I’d been sitting on a mound of crippling self-loathing, social anxiety, and vicious cycles of post rumination for years. But it wasn’t until I found myself happy, like wake up in the morning with butterflies, smile at the sky, skip down the street happy, that I realized I needed to confront it. Was it scary? Yes. Did I think of canceling at least three dozen times before our first session? Yes. Do I ultimately feel a little kooky but also understood and heard? Big. Fat. Yes.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve probably noticed I spend a good deal of time at a place called Dog Organization Georgia or DOG. So clever! If I’m honest, DOG was the first ingredient in the love spell that Tbilisi placed on me. When we were moving from Spain, I had the most challenging time figuring out what was and wasn’t required for Ollie’s entry. After a few Q’s in the Tbilisi expat group, I was led to a woman named Sara who answered my million and one questions and gave me all the information I needed to get Ollie from Barcelona to Tbilisi. It was a piece of cake. Once we arrived, I decided I’d go to the shelter to say thanks and volunteer for an afternoon – the rest is history! Sara, together with Maite, run DOG and have since become two of my most amazing friends. I do their newsletters now, organize local volunteering, and help out with as many fundraising and adoption events as possible. It’s been one of the biggest highlights of living here – I really love those two and all the connections I’ve made thanks to them. And of course, the dogs! Pictured above is Hugo – one of my favorites.
Check DOG out on Facebook here.
Dreams and the endurance required to chase them
Oh, oh! This is a good one So, what’s the point of doing the whole move abroad and chase your dreams thing if you don’t actually chase them? I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I love telling stories and bringing people to life with my words – it’s one of the only things that I can say I have *always felt called to do. Back when I was a wee lass, the idea of being an NYT Bestseller was right up there with astronaut, first female president, and main love interest in any Leonardo DiCaprio movie. Building a writing career from scratch isn’t easy, though. So I did what every other digital nomad on the planet does – I taught English. I don’t say that in an insulting way, either (especially considering about 70% of my closest friends are DNs and a lot of them teach English). I think it’s an awesome, sustainable, and fulfilling way to make money. But ultimately, I wanted to pursue the thing that I knew would be a lifelong career for me. So, anyway, I taught English until I could make enough money writing (about things I actually cared about) to stop. And that happened! A mix of working with local publications like Georgian Journal and Georgia Today eventually led me to a large travel publication called Big 7 and these were just the gigs I needed to justify leaving the classroom. Big 7 was instrumental in launching the rest of my career where I got jobs out the wazoo. Namely, with Matador, Wanderlust (both postponed due to virus :/), and Mental Floss who I’ll be doing regular write-ups on historical figures come November. None of this could’ve been possible without an eternally supportive husband who cheers me on through all of my endeavors. I think that’s a big piece of a healthy partnership – believing in and motivating each other is right up there with “in sickness and in health.” All this (aside from Mental Floss) happened earlier this year – things were really starting to take off! And then the pandemic happened. I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy, and travel writing is just not a good bet in this climate. Many culture publications are still not accepting pitches, and with big players like Lonely Planet closing publication offices, the future is pretty bleak. But I still feel very fortunate to be able to write at all and to continue to grow my portfolio – even if that meant switching gears a bit. It’s also given me more time to reflect on Savor & Yore, and what I really want this to be, so it’s certainly not all bad. Most of all, though, It’s given me time to dive into what I love most about Georgia and shift my focus more toward Georgian culture, food, and travel. In fact, I was even invited on my first press trip. (Wow, have I really MADE IT??) But more on that below.
Speaking of the Pandemic –
Many of you have wondered what the COVID situation has been like here, and I’m really pleased to say that the government has tackled it remarkably well. Georgia’s received loads of international praise and continues to be one of the least affected nations worldwide. The PM, Giorgi Gakharia, was instrumental in this as he enforced a lockdown nearly immediately. Since our first case on February 26 (7 months ago or seven years?? Who can tell anymore), the country has managed to remain under 2,000 total cases and less than 20 deaths. Overall the attitude toward the virus has been very good here with a sense of camaraderie and togetherness that just isn’t found in many places. Gakharia’s initial lockdown involved a 6 phase plan that would lead to Georgia’s reopening, and it’s gone pretty well. It’s been evaluated and re-evaluated and then re-evaluated again to be sure that Georgia is taking the right steps to remain a safe place – this means borders are still pretty fickle, though. They were initially expected to open July 31 but have since been pushed back and are now expected to be open on October 1. I must say, I can’t think of a better place to be “stuck” during this pandemic. With domestic travel now being encouraged, I’ve gotten to see and know a lot more of this incredible country and it’s only put a bigger hold on me. I’m looking at you, Kakheti, Guria, and Racha…
The meaning of shemomechama
In Georgian, there’s a saying that goes “shemomechama.” It doesn’t directly translate into English – but its literal meaning is “it was so good I ate it all.” I love this word because it encompasses Georgia and the person I’ve become here. Georgia made me fall in love with food. I had an appreciation for gastronomy and cultural traditions behind food before moving here, but Georgia really brought it to life. Georgian food is – well, it’s something that can only be experienced. It far surpasses words like “unique,” “flavorful,” or “mouthwatering” – it’s all those things, but it is also history, it is tradition, it is a deep love for the supra and family. You probably already know that I’m pretty obsessed with cooking. It’s my love language. But dishes like ojakhuri, khinkali, and the infinite types of khachapuri sparked a passion in me to learn all there is to know about Georgian cuisine. So far, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Georgian food is also a big part of what pushed me to change the name of this blog. It made me realize that I really want to dive into food and history within Georgia and elsewhere.
Learning a thing or two about not knowing a thing or two
A big lesson I’ve learned is that it is okay to be a student and not an expert. With writing especially, I had to be okay with not having a lot of experience. I had to get used to learning and all the stumbles and falls that come with finding your voice and niche. This is hard for someone like me, who is not only a militant perfectionist but a tyrannical self-critic with a big-time case of imposter syndrome. I’m working on it, okay? Being surrounded by other writers I admire and look up to made me realize that it’s okay to be at the beginning of my journey. The old me used to be intimidated by this scenario, but now I enjoy it – it inspires me to learn and gives me new challenges. Slowly but surely, the intimidation faded to inspiration, and my fear of not knowing everything there is to know turned to openness and willingness to learn.
Oh, yeah. Travel.
One of the biggest things I looked forward to on our move to Georgia was travel across Eastern Europe. I’m infatuated with the Balkans and have been wanting to explore the region for ages. Last October we traveled across Romania via car and to date, it’s one of the best trips we’ve ever taken! We stayed in Brasov, a super charming medieval city known for its centuries-old bastions, picturesque town square, and gorgeous gothic church. We road-tripped across Transylvania taking it slow with time spent in Bran, Sighisoara, Sibiu, and of course, Hunedoara. I’m obsessed with folklore and local legends so there was no better time to visit one of the most superstitious places in Europe than October! I especially recommend it by car – I’m a big road trip person so being able to stop off wherever we wanted and go at our own pace was a real treat.
A few months later, we headed for France where we met my cousins for NYE. We have a tradition of celebrating the New Year with them abroad and it’s always one of the highlights of our yearly travels. Two years ago we rang it in Rome and this past New Year it was Paris. Honestly, I love Paris. it’s one of those cities that sort of gets bad rap the more you travel because it’s so touristy and not really considered authentic anymore. The thing is though, places like Paris, Rome, NYC, London etc. are ‘touristy’ for a reason which is why I think it’s more important to highlight the local culture and travel ethically in these places. Paris was actually our last trip before the lockdown and consequential travel ban so I’m really glad we were able to enjoy that time with my cousins.
We’d planned on visiting the States sometime this year to see family but that seems really far from possible at the moment. With cases continuing to spiral out of control in the US, the odds of us being able to travel freely between Georgia and the States without at least a strict quarantine or barred entry on the way back are really slim. In terms of domestic travel, we’ve been doing our fair share! Last summer we headed north to Kazbegi, one of Georgia’s most beautiful regions, and spent a few days. Later in the fall, we did some hiking in Birtvisi with our friend Vakho and of course, Ollie! In February we hopped on the Russian Imperial era train from Tbilisi to Bakuriani where we were surrounded by snow, emerald forests, and lots of chacha.
Then, this summer once travel between regions was allowed again, we headed to Lagodekhi with Ollie and had some quality road tripping while exploring East Georgia. A few weeks later, Brett and I spent time in Telavi – or, as I call it, the wine country within the wine country. I really fell for Kakheti as a whole and look forward to visiting again and again. Then I left for about two weeks on a massive press trip across Georgia courtesy of Karavanly! It was the experience of a lifetime and definitely a milestone for me careerwise. I felt so lucky to have been invited to dive into Georgian culture and then get paid to write about it – that’s the dream, right? During the trip, I realized that this is exactly what I want to do – forever. It’s one of the few times in my life where I have become so impassioned about something and felt this, this is it, this is the good stuff.
What’s up next?
We are planning to hit the road once the leaves turn and do a road trip across what is now one of my favorite regions – Racha. Aside from that, we are currently working toward getting residency status here. The thing is, Americans (and loads of other nationalities) can stay in Georgia for 365 days and restart the clock by leaving and coming back. For example, when we came back from Paris, our time started over. However, with free movement becoming much more difficult worldwide due to the pandemic, we figure it’s the smart thing to do. Besides, we *are* residents, and we do plan to be here a while longer, so better to make it official. How long? Who knows. Ideally, I’d like to get to a place where we are comfortable enough here to do long visits home annually or bi-annually – but we will see. Brett is considering pursuing a master’s here, and I’m in the process of some pretty intensive Georgian lessons. It’s hard to say when we’ll leave, but for now, I’m looking forward to getting to know this place better. I’ve noticed that Georgia has this thing where the more you know about it, the more you don’t know about it – and that gets me going.
Thanks for reading my 3,000-word diatribe on the latest happenings for us here in Tbilisi. I hope you enjoyed it. If you’re a regular reader, I’d love to know what you’ve been up to in the comments below. Wherever you are in the world, stay safe, sane, and super.