The Bath House Experience

JR and I took advantage of President’s Day to spend an afternoon sans kids downtown. It was a gorgeous day and we decided to visit the Royal Bath House to relax in the famous Georgian sulphur baths.

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Tbilisi actually means warm river, and the hot mineral springs led to the development of the bath house district downtown called Abanotubani. There is some archaeological evidence finding Roman-style baths in the city as far back as the 1st century but the baths became increasingly popular at the height of the Silk Road. During the period of the Russian Empire, even famous bathers like Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas enjoyed the healing waters in Abanotubani.

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You can enjoy public baths and rub elbows with the locals or you can get your own private bath for more money. For 95 gel, we reserved a private room that included a cold bath, hot bath, sauna, changing room, and relaxation room with couches and chairs for 1 hour. Overall it was a very large space all to ourselves, and we felt comfortable as we changed into our swimsuits (technically you’re supposed to be naked but no thank you very much, we packed our suits).

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JR ordered a beer and we enjoyed soaking in the hot bath for awhile before there was a knock on the door. In walked a stern looking woman for my scheduled Kisa (part massage, part body wash and scrub). Even though this was on the edge of my comfort zone I wanted to try a traditional Georgian bathhouse experience. After looking at the historical pictures displayed on the walls of the bathhouse entrance, JR politely declined his own Kisa.

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She motioned me toward the marble ledge and indicated that I should remove my suit and lay down. I put my hand protectively over my chest and said “no thank you”, but she gave me a look and a hand motion that left no room for argument. I pulled down the top of my halter-style one piece and gave her an embarrassed look like, um will this suffice? (Interesting note, this is the same swimsuit I was wearing when I was borderline taken advantage of by a masseuse on the beach in Santorini!) She nodded yes. I am NOT a naked person, so this whole scene was particularly humorous for JR.

I laid down on the ledge and she immediately starting sloshing buckets of hot water on me and my now very exposed skin. I was trying hard not to laugh. She pulled out a loofah and rubbed it all over me, and then gave me a swift swat on my thigh to tell me it was time to turn over. This is when JR actually said “this is hilarious, can I get another beer?” since he knew how uncomfortable I was. I was facedown for a bit as she used the loofah on my back, and then she gave me another swat on my butt when it was time to flip back over.

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Next, she used some delicious smelling soap and a linen bag to create a ton of bubbles that she sudsed all over me. There was no room for modesty, there was nothing between me and this lady as she did a very thorough job with the washing. She briefly used a small sponge that felt like a brillo pad but luckily it wasn’t too intense and didn’t last long. Finally she doused me with more buckets of hot water, then gave me one final swat and proclaimed  “Bce” (pronounced “vse ” – Russian for all done!).

Once my Kisa was over, we had about 30 minutes left to enjoy the baths and the sauna. Despite my awkwardness, the experience was more enjoyable than I expected, and definitely something everyone should try at least once in Tbilisi!

 

Never again

Picture this.  It was 11pm on a Wednesday night and JR and I were headed to bed.  We were leaving for our R&R back to the States on a 5:15 a.m. flight, so we had our alarms set for 2:30am, and motorpool scheduled to pick us up 45 minutes later.

JR received this text message:  We’re sorry, your flight from Tbilisi to Munich has been canceled.

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Awesome way to start our R&R.

I called Lufthansa directly while he phoned the Embassy hoping to reach one of the ladies who handles travel arrangements.  While the Lufthansa guy was telling me we needed to wait until Friday to fly out, JR had much more luck with Khatuna from the Embassy’s office.  It took almost an hour and several phone calls, but she was able to reroute us on a flight to Warsaw at 5:50 a.m. and then a connection to Munich that would put us back on our original itinerary.  Huge thanks to the travel office for helping us in the middle of the night. An additional flight was not desirable, but manageable.  The catch?  One of us needed to be at the airport 3 hours prior to our departure to confirm and pick-up our tickets from the Lufthansa counter. Since the entire flight to Munich had been canceled we knew that others were probably trying to catch the Warsaw flight and we did not want to lose our new tickets.

At this point it was midnight.  We had the option of all 3 of us leaving our house at 2am and waiting much longer at the airport, or one of us could drive to the airport right then, pick up the tickets, and drive back home and (hopefully) get a bit more sleep. I drew the short straw, so I cranked up the Taylor Swift and made my way to the airport in search of the Lufthansa counter – which doesn’t exist. Because of course it doesn’t. I talked to security and waited in a back hallway for the “office” to open.  Once the staff did arrive I waited while they had a chit chat and a cup of coffee before they were able to assist.  I was fading fast when they printed the tickets, but I was in a great mood because we had managed to overcome this big hurdle and surely we’d have smooth travels ahead.

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Our flight to Warsaw was uneventful.  The last minute change somehow gave Abby and JR premium class seats, and he very kindly allowed me to sit a few rows back and sleep most of the flight while he dealt with Abby.   We were late leaving so we landed at 7:20 – the exact departure time of our next flight.  The airlines sent a representative to meet us and a few other passengers and they rushed us through customs, security and the airport to the waiting plane.  This time we all had premium class seats and once again, we foolishly thought the worst was behind us.  Who would have thought the Polish have the best customer service?

In Munich, we found a small play area for Abby and spent over an hour there letting her burn off some energy.  It was relaxed and we were feeling good. We took our time walking to the gate for our next flight, and on the way we heard our names called over the loudspeaker.  I was confused because we had more than 40 minutes until take off, but we picked up the pace and walked up to the gate agent.  She kindly informed us that JR was not booked on the flight.  Abby and I had tickets, but during all the changes earlier the previous night/that morning, somehow JR was added to a Lufthansa flight leaving several hours later.

I was panicked.  That’s actually an understatement, I was internally freaking out.  For weeks now we’d been operating under the new plan with all of us flying together to DC.  To have this sprung on me moments before we were supposed to board was not okay. As JR calmly explained the mix up to the gate agent, I was going through our carry-on bags and separating our things in case we couldn’t fix it.  After what felt like forever (but was probably only 5-10 minutes) they acted like he would be able to go with us, but the other employees were insisting that Abby and  I  board immediately or we would miss the plane.

I pushed Abby as slowly as I could, but before long we were at the end of the jet way and the flight attendants were asking us to board.  I told them I was waiting for my husband.  Again, this wait felt like forever because I truly didn’t know if he was going to be allowed on the plane.   I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved to see his face as I was when he finally appeared.

Now came the hard part.  The 9 hour flight with an almost two year old.  We settled in and hoped for the best, and to her credit, she did really well until about the last 2 hours.  But that last two hours was really awful.  We tried every trick we knew to get her to sleep or at least calm down. She was exhausted (at this point she had probably slept for a total of 3-4 hours the whole day, and it was still Tbilisi time for us, so about 10pm and well past her bedtime).  She was screaming and crying and really could not be consoled.  She would snuggle up and close her eyes, but less than a minute later she’d be at it again because she couldn’t get comfortable. She kept saying “night night, night night” and I felt like the worst mother ever, because my poor kid just wanted to be in bed sleeping.  Although I had though it to myself several times, this was the first point where JR and I actually said aloud to each other “never again.”  We are never, ever doing this again. (Note that my sister is getting married in Ohio in October, so never again means we’ll have to find a way to cancel or relocate her wedding).

We finally landed, and bless the kind people who sat around us and told us what a great kid she was and how she did so well on the plane.  Seriously, I was so tired and stressed and just plain sad in that moment that their nice words nearly made me cry.

DC was the final stop for JR, and I started to mentally prepare myself for doing the final leg of our journey solo.  I thought we’d have more time together, but quite quickly after we left the plane we had to head in opposite directions.  We said a quick goodbye and then Abby and I made our way to customs.  I had to take her out of her stroller for her passport picture, which she hated.  Then we waited at baggage claim for our 3 checked bags.  When I had pictured this part of our trip I thought JR would still be with us, but since he wasn’t I had to make do and I gave Abby my iPhone to watch videos while I waited on our bags and loaded them on a luggage cart.

Pushing the luggage cart and stroller simultaneously was no easy feat, but we managed.  We rechecked our bags and made our way through security and then to our gate. We only had about 20 minutes before boarding so we used that time to buy some water and stretch our legs.  The plane was outside on the tarmac and as I took Abby out of her stroller, another passenger offered to help me.  I think he meant help with my bags, but at that moment Abby tried to take off while I collapsed her stroller so I asked him to grab her hand so she didn’t run under the plane.  He held on to her while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and I thanked him profusely.  Meanwhile, JR was in another part of the airport waiting for his luggage that never arrived.  He had work meetings the next day, so as soon as he made it to his hotel he had to run out and buy a shirt, tie and pants.

The flight to Cleveland was only 50 minutes.  50 minutes!  We can do this, I thought.  Then we sat on the plane for an hour waiting for fuel.  Never again, I said to myself for the 100th time that day.

It was snowing and freezing when we touched down in Cleveland, but I didn’t care.  It was great to see my parents waiting for us.  Abby fell asleep in her car seat on the ride home, and barely woke up when we changed her and put her to bed. My mom and brother took the monitor so I could sleep as much as possible, and I actually felt well rested the next morning.  Once I showered and ate breakfast, I settled on the couch and watched Abby light up as she played with my parents.  She kept running to them and hugging them, calling for them anytime they left the room.  All I heard all day was “Nana!!  Papu!!” And pretty quickly I thought, yeah, we’ll do this again.

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Throw pillows and bed skirts: A House Tour

I’ve been waiting to do a blog post about our house until it’s perfect and I have everything exactly how I want it.  The problem with this plan is that JR and I are at odds as to which items we need for the house and which items are just fluff that I want to spend money on.  (Spoiler alert:  He thinks basically everything I want is unnecessary).  I’ll concede on one thing:  bed skirts.  Why why why in this day and age do I need a bed skirt?  The idea of them seems so old-fashioned.  Unfortunately, every bed frame in our house needs one but we only own one.  I just can’t bring myself to spend money on something I dislike so much, but I recognize the beds look bad without them.  Blah. I’ll buy them eventually, but not today.  Don’t judge me.

Another sticking point that was recently resolved: new throw pillows.  I had been asking for them for years months, but JR was of the opinion that we had perfectly good throw pillows and it would be a waste of money to replace them.  He’s really into the “if it ain’t broke” line of thinking, whereas I’m a bit more “ohh look something shiny and new, let’s buy it!”  Luckily, Christmas rolled around and voila, new throw pillows!

Aside from wanting to buy new things, I am so, so happy with our house.  It’s plenty big enough for us, we have a great little yard, and we love it.

Now for a photo tour. Standing in the foyer, there is a half bath to the right and a small set of steps down to the left that lead to the laundry room, garage, and the lamp closet (so named because the Embassy LOVES lamps and our house came with approximately 100, so I stuffed several in that closet).
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Our living room/playroom.  It’s important to note her toys are put away neatly like this approximately once a month, or whenever I need to take a picture to share publicly.
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Dining room and kitchen.  I am thrilled to have so many cupboards!  When we received our housing assignment, they included pictures and I immediately counted every single cupboard.
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We also have a good-sized pantry. We look like milk  hoarders.  And yes, we keep milk in the pantry.
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Our house is kind of split level so the master bedroom is located up a half flight of stairs.  Here’s our room and bathroom.
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Up another half flight we have a big landing space with JR’s bathroom, a linen closet (a linen closet!), Abby’s room and a guest room.  Separate bathrooms and a king-sized bed are keys to our marital bliss.
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Abby’s room is the biggest room in the house and has an attached bathroom.
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In the FS you don’t pick your house or furniture so sometimes it’s hard to make it feel like your own, but we feel completely at home here and we’re really looking forward to being settled for the next 3.5 years!

Back in business

I haven’t blogged in a LONG time.  I started a few posts and kept meaning to go back and finish them and well, I didn’t.  So I’ll just make a fresh start of things and do a little catching up here.

  • The holiday season in Tbilisi was wonderful.  We spent Thanksgiving with friends, enjoying a delicious turkey and all of our other favorites, including pumpkin pie (Abby ate her piece AND JR’s.  I knew better than to offer to share mine!).  They did an incredible job hosting 10 adults and 8 kids, and it reminded us of all of our Thanksgivings back in the States.
  • December flew by.  There were work parties, the Embassy kids’ party (see below for Abby’s pure joy at meeting Santa), and about 87 boxes from various retailers and family to sort through. We spent most of Christmas day in our pajamas, taking our time opening gifts and playing with Abby’s new toys, before having dinner with our friends and their kids.  Our favorite part of Christmas was giving Abby her play kitchen,  which we bought for $50 from the next door neighbors who were leaving for their onward assignment.  JR loved it because it was already put together.  With all the parts and screws, it probably would have taken him hours to build.
  • My mom came to visit!  She was here for about 10 days and we had the best time.  We  Skype with my family almost every night and it’s part of Abby’s evening routine to talk to Nana.  (Even when she plays with her toy phones and we ask who she’s talking to it’s inevitably “Nana” or “Papu.”) Abby was thrilled to spend time with her Nana, and Nana clearly felt the same way.  I had planned a lunch and trip to the spa for facials and massages, and when I was telling my mom the details, she started crying.  Not out of joy, mind you, rather she said “I’m just going to miss Abby.”  All because I wanted to spoil her for an afternoon!  She pulled it together, though, and we had a fun afternoon at the Radisson Blu spa.
  • We’re making plans for our first R&R, and although we could travel just about anywhere in the world, we’ve decided to visit Ohio. In March.  That’s what missing family (and Dairy Queen and Target) will do to a person!  The plan is for Abby and I to fly back a week before JR, so I have less than two months to panic about traveling alone with her.
  • JR and I each turned a year older.  Crazy that we met and started dating when I was 22!  Oh our youth.
  • That’s basically it. We’re boring.  But I’m determined to blog more frequently in 2016.  Until then, here are a bunch of pictures from the last few months.

 

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Swinging in Rike Park

 

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Playing in the big sandbox at QSI (the international school nearby)

 

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Abby was really excited to see Santa and Tovlis Papa, the Georgian Santa

 

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Showing off her shades and playing with stickers in her new tutu

 

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TbiliKids and Christmas market with Nana

 

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Sopo, Abby’s nanny, has been putting her hair in pigtails the past few days and I think it’s the cutest thing ever.

 

Halloween fun

We had the best Halloween weekend here!  JR and I haven’t lived in a neighborhood with Trick-or-Treat-ers in a few years, so we were really looking forward to passing out candy and taking Abby around to a few houses.

We started the weekend with trick-or-treating at the Embassy.  Sopo, our nanny, dropped Abby off in her costume all ready to go with braids in her hair. She does the BEST job with her hair.  I don’t know what kind of Jedi-mind tricks she uses to make Abby sit still, but I have no such luck!

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Blurry but cute!

Abby was immediately interested in putting all candy in her mouth, wrappers included.  She was displeased when I took the candy away, so in a quick attempt to appease her, I handed her a fun-size Twix.  JR was quick to point out that I’d made a huge mistake.  Chocolate everywhere.  Not a good plan when you a) are carrying your child around in your work clothes and b) need her costume clean again the next day.   We didn’t take any pictures of her chocolate-covered face, but once she had her first taste of that sugary goodness, she was hooked.

The CLO did an amazing job organizing the event.  There were over 150 kids, most offices decorated and passed out candy, and they had games, food, and activities for the kids as well.

Saturday was the neighborhood trick-or-treat.  JR and I had considered a few different costume ideas, ideally something that wouldn’t cost much and was easy.  As always, my mom helped with a package that included some granny clothes from Goodwill and a very classy nightgown in a 2XL to help us pull off our family costume:  Little Red Riding Hood, her grandma, and the big bad wolf.

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We realized Abby might be afraid of the wolf mask, so we had it sitting on the counter for a few weeks and occasionally took turns trying it on.  She was not into it at first but by the weekend she didn’t seem bothered at all!

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It was so much fun seeing everyone dressed up and spending time with our friends and their kids.  After we passed out candy for a while, we walked down to a friend’s house for snacks and a special Witches Brew beverage while the kids played.  When I commented that I didn’t think I Abby received any Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, my friend E handed me her very last one, stashed in her pocket.  That’s true friendship.

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Little Red Riding Hood, worn out

Can’t wait to do it again next year!

Weekend Update

Friday was a local holiday so we all enjoyed a long, three-day weekend.  We started the fun a little early with a trip to the Tbilisi Mall.  We actually go to the mall every weekend because Carrefour (the big French grocery store where we shop) is located on the first floor, but we haven’t really explored the mall itself.

It’s huge, and in addition to Carrefour it has a movie theater (with showtimes in English!), a Banana Republic, Gap, and a few other familiar stores.  On the top floor they have what sounds like a 1930’s speak-easy, but it’s actually a kid’s arcade/play place called the “Boom Boom.”  It’s kind of like a Chucky Cheese with arcade games and then a large play section for toddlers.  For admittance into the children’s play area, it was only 6 lari ($2.50) for one hour of play.  I think technically it may be a drop-off play zone for parents who want to eat or entertain older kids there, but we both went in with Abby.  She had a ball running from toy to toy and playing with a few other kids.  It also had a McDonalds type indoor-play structure and we went in there with her, but we were both questioning the weight limits so we didn’t stay too long.

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I’m sure we will visit there again during the winter.

On Friday we drove into Tbilisi to see the Old Town.  We rode the cable car up to Narikala Fortress, overlooking the river and Old Town.

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We took some selfies which turned out really well, I must say.

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Oh well, maybe next time.

Saturday we stayed at home and had perfect weather for playing with the kids in our neighborhood.  They went crazy with the sidewalk chalk.

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And today we checked out Turtle Lake, just outside of town.  It was another beautiful day to be outside and we’re enjoying the last few weekends of summer.

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(this picture isn’t mine, thank you Google!)

 

Six weeks in!

We’ve already been in country for more than six weeks – I can’t believe it!  So many things have happened in the last few weeks, but here are the highlights.

– We moved from our TDY (temporary) house into our permanent house and it’s beautiful and we love it.  Due to a scheduling conflict, I was actually not here the day we had to move, and of course, on that same day we were scheduled to receive ALL of our shipments, not just UAB (which usually arrives quickly) but also our consumables and HHE (which usually arrive later).  We are super grateful to have all of our clothes and furniture so fast, but it made for a crazy day that JR had to handle solo.  So far we only know of one major casualty:  the power cord for our TV has not been located.  We ordered a replacement cord online, but it hasn’t arrived yet so we’re lucky that a new friend had one we could borrow for a bit.

– We are almost done unpacking and getting settled into our new house.  When I arrived, despite giving JR and the GSO guys what I thought were really clear instructions, I found every.single.bed in the wrong bedroom.  That meant that we spent the first few hours taking apart every.single.bed and moving each one to the correct room, instead of unpacking.   Lesson learned, nothing will keep me from being here for move-in day in the future.

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– Our neighborhood is awesome.  In real life, it’s everything JR would prefer to avoid – small gated community, identical houses very close to each other, and far from the city center.  But this isn’t real life and we don’t own it, and it’s perfect for our time in Tbilisi.  We are so grateful for the little community, and especially how many little kids live on our street.  A few times now we’ve come home from work to find Abby outside with her nanny playing with other kids, and it’s exactly what we wanted.  Our yard is even bigger than I had expected, and we have a beautiful view from our back patio.  After living in an apartment most of our adult lives, it’s awesome to be able to walk right outside from our front or back doors!

– I started working and I’m really enjoying it so far.  I barely have a clue what is going on, but my co-workers are patient and nice, and so far it seems like it will be a good fit for me.   Things are also going very well with our nanny, and that makes it a lot easier to leave for work in the mornings.

– We are street legal!  Although we bought our car the day after we arrived, we couldn’t legally drive it until we completed our registration.   And we couldn’t be registered until we received our Diplomatic IDs which took 3 weeks.  In the meantime we had to rely on taxis, which was a huge pain with Abby’s car seat, and annoying for JR to get to work because sometimes they pull up within 2 minutes and other times it takes 15.  Being able to drive ourselves around is so much easier and we feel like we can finally explore the city.  On the one hand, I feel prepared to drive here after living in Kosovo, but at the same time Tbilisi is a much bigger and busier city (with poles that come out of NOWHERE. Yes, I already backed into a pole), so there will still be a learning curve.

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– Many people talk about the honeymoon phase of arriving at a new post.  For me, I definitely experience that, but with intervals of “oh my gosh, this is terrible, I can’t live like this” – typically in reaction to something that is relatively trivial, like for example the pedestal sink in my bathroom (why, why why would ANYONE ever want one of these in their master bath!?).  Other issues, like the serious ant invasion, stress me out but I’m hopeful we will get them resolved soon.   I was just talking to a friend about this sort of thing, how the highs you experience are very high, but the lows can be really low.  Being able to react rationally and keep a sense of perspective is something that I’ve tried to work on with all of our travels.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, and all that jazz.

 

– Having friends wherever I am is really important to me.  I’m lucky to have so many great friends from various stages and places in my life, and while sometimes the prospect of making new friends is daunting, I know I need to do it to make this place a happy home.   Everyone we’ve met has been so welcoming and helpful, but at first you still wonder, will I really make close friends here?  If I had any doubt, a text from a new friend that ended with “pick me up, Thelma!” helped me realize that we’ll have lifelong friends here in no time.

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