Hola, chicos! Or should I say, Gomarjoba?
We've been abroad for one full year as of May 8 - some days it feels like it's been a decade and some days it feels like only weeks ago we traded our new cars for more passport stamps. The past year in Spain has been a dream come true, I have learned and grown in ways I never would have otherwise and have gotten to know my husband in a unique way that still has me pinching myself!
The past two weeks since I've shown my face around here, have been a complete blur in all ways imaginable. It feels like I've spent the past twelve days on one of those sketchy Gravitron rides at a carnival that should've shut down six lawsuits ago. Lots of moments filled with nerves and a longing for Spain along with the natural stress that comes with, ya know, packing your bags and moving to a new country. But with that pesky angst comes the curiosity and the excitement that always seems to take over when we move on to a new place. A thrill that will always smack the fear where it hurts and will always encourage us to simply, keep on keepin' on.
As you can see, all the craziness has been in the name of a new adventure in a new country. Her name is Georgia, and she's cozied up in the sweet spot where Eastern Europe meets Western Asia. So, let's backtrack a little bit.
One Year in Spain
If you haven't, you should totally check out my other recaps on Spain to get up to speed!
I used to think that my ideas of Spain were romanced and sort of knew, in the back of my head, that I would have to come back down to Earth at some point once we moved there. But the crazy news is, it actually is that great. Every place that we lived, despite any difficulty (and there were plenty), I really do remember like a movie. Places like Barcelona and Granada are especially remembered as the magical days spent wandering on cobblestoned streets over the same footsteps that centuries of history have taken place on. Strolls through El Born, where we lived in Barcelona, feeling so damn lucky looking at all the tourists eager to taste even just a pinch of Catalonia. Evenings with a vino tinto de casa, outside on a terrace with a guitar coming from somewhere, surrounded by laughter with Ollie under the table and a sky still beaming golden over El Born at 9 pm in July. Or Sunday picnics in the park or at the Barceloneta beach always followed by a nap in the sun. Or Granadian nights with nonstop tapas and intimate flamenco in Le Chein Andalou tucked away on Carrera del Darro. Or the best, biggest, knee-slapping laughs at Cafe La Familia discussing Game of Thrones every Monday.
We started in Barcelona then made our way south to Moncofa, Valencia and then Las Gabias, Granada. Each place harder to leave than the last. Spain will always be such a special place to me, and I'll always be so proud to tell people about it. Spain was one of the best things to ever happen to me, and I say "happen" because still, I sometimes feel like I'm reminiscing on someone else's life. I guess suddenly uprooting and deciding to live life as colorfully and as boldly as possible can do that to ya. ;)
My biggest takeaway from Spain
So far, I have had two significant moments in life that I feel like wound up defining me for the better. The first is meeting my birth fathers family and the second is moving abroad. Only a few years ago, I met my paternal family, and that changed my life for good. I felt like; finally, I was on my way to finding my individuality. And I was, Spain just sealed the deal. Moving to Spain has forced me to take a good, long, hard look at myself. I plan on writing about this more later, but I can tell you that I've changed. I feel like, for the first time in my life, I've found my voice. It may sound a little melodramatic, but I am a new person. Sure, my cute and fuzzy little anxiety from Hell still taps me on the shoulder sometimes, and I'm working on that. But for the most part, I have such a refreshed perspective on life. When I say that I've changed I feel like I should mention that I was a decent person before. It's not like I was some loser who was reveling in selfish ways, causing trouble and now am some born again do-gooder. I was an alright person, okay? That said, I was always one to care what others thought. We all do, but I really took it to heart. I could give so many examples, but I want to write more in-depth on it later because I feel like this is important, to sum it up, somewhere along the way I started to get scared of living boldly. I always wanted to be liked, and I think that's natural. But somewhere inside, I had this desperate need for approval. I feel like I now have a deeper understanding of what I believe. What works for me spiritually, what works for my marriage and what works to make me try to be a better person. I feel like as a kid I always knew that everyone has been on this flying rock in space for a reason--but as I got older, it was easier to forget that. To fall into a routine and focus more on progress and less on savoring the little things. Spain has changed that. Not because of tapas or world class olives, but because of fear. And change. And more fear. And the excitement and forced introspect that comes with that fear.
Moving to Georgia
So, I'll be honest, Georgia, more specifically Tbilisi, has been on our radar for quite a while. I remember a few years ago, back when Brett and I spent all our time looking for the next place to travel to, reading about different cultures and daydreaming of starting a new life abroad. We came across Tbilisi - this seemingly magical and untapped ancient city with a complicated history, mountains nearby, one of the most unique and vegetarian-friendly cuisines in the world and also a record for the warmest, friendliest people. When Georgia isn't woo-ing people with it's ancient and seriously unsung history it's celebrating its language, which is one of the oldest in the world and when it's not doing that, they're making some of the best damn wine on the planet. (See: Saperavi) Simply put, it checked all the boxes and we knew, that someday, we'd make it our home.
Now, here's the kicker, we'd planned on moving to Georgia in late-ish July. Long story short, our Spanish visas expired May 8 but we still had 90 days to leave the Schengen zone, so we were planning on moving to one last Spanish city named Olvera after Las Gabias and before Tbilisi.
One night, only a few weeks ago, we were sitting outside, discussing getting to Olvera. Each time we moved in Spain, we'd rent a van and drive wherever we were headed--this time, we'd be more remote than ever, and we were excited about that. Olvera is a stunning pueblo blanco in the province of Cadiz which by the way, is one of the oldest cities in all of Europe at 3100 years of continued habitation. (WHAT?!) Annnyway, despite the charm, it is very remote, and without a car, we knew our last few months in Spain would be a little limited. Along with this, our flat in Olvera was pricey. And by pricey, I mean about $700/mo. --we are very cost conscious, so this was another drawback. We were discussing how excited we were and how at that time, in only 3-4 short months, we'd find ourselves in one of the most unique and overlooked countries in the world. We were calculating the costs to get to Olvera, and they were starting to add up. Brett was rubbing my shoulders, and I said, "Why don't we just go ahead and go?" we sort of looked at each other, and then, like all big decisions, we discussed it over a bottle of wine. One thing led to another, and by the end of the night, we were searching for apartments in Tbilisi and booking flights. It was another one of those moments where I found myself all giddy and excited as if some new, big reinvention of ourselves was coming. I have been fortunate enough to see many of these moments. The next week and a half were followed by hundreds of "I'm going to miss Spain so much"s and "I'm so excited we are finally doing this"s.
I've got to say, it's a strange feeling because part of me was so thrilled at the thought of a new adventure, etc. but another side of me was already starting to miss Spain, and I worried if maybe I was closing that chapter too soon. I thought, constantly in those days, about how strange it was to feel as if Spain was truly my home even though I'm not Spanish. I thought about how Spain would always have such a strong familiarity to me in ways that places I've only visited never will.
Nonetheless, we began packing our bags and purging things the way we always do before a big move - only this time; it was more because, well, airline limits. We crammed all of our belongings into four suitcases and took a deep breath. We were ready.
Getting to Georgia
April 30, we rented a van originally intended for Olvera and drove to Barcelona instead. I've mentioned before that I will go to just about any lengths to ensure the safety of little Ollie and that means no flight connections if I can avoid it! We drove from Granada to Barcelona since it had the only direct flight to Spain to Tbilisi and stayed overnight by the airport since our flight was at noon on May 1.
We made it to Tbilisi and spent the next few days looking for an apartment. We had some big asks, an oven, dog-friendly and located in Saburtalo or Vake neighborhood. We found a perfect place on the 20th floor of a new building off of Kartozia Street in Saburtalo! It's $450/month and is lovely. Our landlords are the sweetest and have gone above and beyond to make sure we feel welcome here.
Unfortunately, I developed a nasty case of something called giardiases. I drank some contaminated water... about 3 liters of it. That took about five of these 11 blissful first days in Georgia to get over. And let me tell ya, it was absolute Hell. Giardiases is a vicious goblin that takes up shop in your small intestine and wreaks havoc for a few days. It's similar to food poisoning but lasts longer.
We have been in our apartment for exactly a week and have started making ourselves at home in Tbilisi. We have our first Georgian lesson tomorrow night, and I am so excited about that! The next thing on the to-do list, a cooking class! I mentioned that Georgian cuisine is one of the most unique in the world and it's also one of the most delicious. I have also been debating signing up for a half marathon in September, and I am excited about the challenge and opportunity to push myself harder but - que sera, sera. ;) I am meeting with a lad named Sara this week from an organization called DOG (Dog Organization of Georgia) to work with them. There is a massive stray dog/cat issue here, and I have made it my business to get involved. I even have rawhides in my purse specifically for when we walk to the grocery or bus stop and come across a dog. The funny part is, I started with bread. It was easy to keep in my bag, and I usually pick up some bread for Ollie or bring him some home whenever we go out to eat. But the dogs here, despite being homeless and on the streets, are very well taken care of by locals. I have seen so many dogs with communal dog bowls nearby, and I've seen so many people petting them and giving scraps, and this makes me so happy. I don't think I've seen an emaciated one yet. That said, they've developed a palate. Yes. Most of these dogs don't even take my bread!?! Thus why I've resorted to rawhides. I could just not give food and only give belly rubs but where's the fun in that?
Anyway, DOG helps to gather many of the strays and either get them adopted or spay/neuter them to help the problem. They also have opportunities for writing and editing their English which I'm excited about as well. Also, I am still an ESL teacher and loving it! I have even taught a few lessons on and in Spanish which was completely unexpected. I have played with the idea of teaching in a Georgian school here, but the pay is very poor compared to my salary with DaDa. I'm also wanting to learn guitar. I really love to sing and its something I've always wanted so who the Hell knows? I may get one soon. We've done some super fun things, too. Like try even more Georgian foods, explore ancient Tbilisi and even visited the Europe Day festival that celebrates Europe as a whole and Georgia's relationship with the EU (and how much they desperately want to join). Other than those things I mentioned, I am simply just so damn happy to be here. I am so eager to try my hand at some new recipes, and since I obviously love Georgia so much, I feel it's my personal duty to spread the gospel of Tbilisi, and it's distinctive culture and food to the rest of the world! Hehe.
I hope you've enjoyed this incredibly long, 2,500+ word, in-depth look at our move from Spain to Georgia. I am so, so excited about this new chapter. Excited in the giddy, girly way that makes just waking up every day some profound adventure with opportunity around every corner.
Spain, I owe ya one. Ciao, chicos.