Where are you from? საიდან ხარ?

“Saidan khar?” is something I hear a lot, meaning “where are you from?” I reply, “London”, because it is the simplest answer, since the Brexit vote, I don’t say “Great Britain”, “England ” or “UK”, because it is too embarrassing. Though I was born in London (at 102 Royal Lane in the borough of Hillingdon), I only spent six years of my life there. I have spent more years living in Slough (16), Worcester (almost 10) and Tbilisi (nearly 11).

Funny thing though when Georgians ask where are you from, they don’t mean where you were born, they mean where your roots are from. It’s like I have only once visited the village Ude in southern Georgia, but I am from there. I was raised in Tbilisi. And I was born in Ukraine.  Tamar

In England and Wales, I  lived in London, Slough, Aberystwyth, Hopton Wafers, Oxford, Llangammarch Wells, Llanfihangel-nant-Bran and Worcester. I put together a route between these places using Google Maps.

where I lived in England and Wales
England and Wales

I love maps, I studied Geography in Aberystwyth, I have always loved travelling and I don’t feel “home” to be a particular geographical location. I have lived in big cities and small cities, big towns and small towns and even some strange Welsh villages.

In 1987, I went to Australia on a working holiday visa, I lived in Sydney for 4 months and then travelled for 2 months, visiting every state except Western Australia.

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Australia

The map shows the route by road, but I got an air pass with Ansett airlines, after taking the train to Melbourne I flew to Launceston, then Adelaide, then Alice Springs and Cairns before returning to Sydney.

In 1991, I moved to France with my first wife, we lived in department 77 (Seine et Marne) in Lizy Sur Ourcq, Trilport and then Meaux. We spent the last six months of our six years in France in Corsica. If I could live in Corsica I would, it is an amazingly beautiful island, but as an English teacher it is not easy, in the summer everyone is busy catering for the tourists and in the winter they are not so keen on studying.

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France

I moved to Georgia (from Worcester, UK) in 2009, my most popular post has been  A Decade of Living in Georgia: the Good and the Bad…  unlike with the previous countries, I have stayed in just one city, the capital Tbilisi, moving from the district of Varketili to Saburtalo, then back to Varketili and now back to Saburtalo for a second time.

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Georgia (the country not the US State)

Where next? Who knows? I may very well live out the rest of my days in Georgia. Where am I from? my mother, the womb, cosmic space dust, everywhere and nowhere, …. I don’t want no bovver, I’m from London, init.

Have a good one!

Above the Clouds

rechargingSometimes we need to return to nature to recharge.

route to Gomismta
our route

The COVID-19 Pandemic has severely curtailed my travels this year, I made a trip to  Lagodekhi and the Ninoskhevi Waterfall in June in the far East of Georgia, and this past weekend, I went to the far West of Georgia with Adrenaline hiking club. Our first destination was Gomis mta (mta = mountain), a mountainous resort in the West of Georgia.  We would be camping here, there is no electricity or running water in the resort, inhabitants take water from the nearby mountain’s springs. Despite its limitations, Gomis mta is often called a ‘small heaven on earth’ by many locals because of its surroundings above the clouds.

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camping above the clouds

Looking down on the clouds is strange, like being in a plane. Here is a short video clip.

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above the clouds

Gomis mta at 2100 metres above sea level is characterized by its jaw-dropping panoramic views of mountains covered with pine forests. The location provided the backdrop for many a Kodak Instagram moment, some brought balloons as props, others coloured smoke flares.

 

The route was long and we had got up at 5 am, so I was very tired by the time we reached Gomis mta. The camping and smell of woodsmoke reminded me of camping with the scouts, 40 years ago (how time flies!). As with all Adrenaline trips there was plenty of food, on this trip a special chakapuli was made seasoned with tkemali (a kind of sour plum Georgians love), tarragon and half a litre of wine.

The temperature dropped as the sun fell in the sky.

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sunset from Gomismta

 

The following day we were up early again, this time to witness the sunrise before descending the mountain to Kobuleti for a dip in the Black Sea. I really miss the sea, this was the first time I’d been in the sea since  A Trip to Cyprus back in 2018. As a child, I remember the tremendous excitement on family holidays when we would finally see the sea as we neared our holiday destination. Coming from the biggest island in Europe, I was never far from the sea growing up. I also attended university by the sea in Aberystwyth. Now, living in Tbilisi, the sea is 300 km away, “Tbilisi Sea” doesn’t count being just a large reservoir.

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In the Black Sea at Kobuleti

NECESITO del mar porque me enseña:
no sé si aprendo música o conciencia:
no sé si es ola sola o ser profundo
o sólo ronca voz o deslumbrante
suposición de peces y navios.
El hecho es que hasta cuando estoy dormido
de algún modo magnético circulo
en la universidad del oleaje.

Pablo Neruda

After a swim and a copious lunch, we joined a long traffic jam to get to the newly opened Shekvetili Dendrological Park, spread over 60 hectares it unites thousands of species of local and foreign exotic flora. The Dendrological Park is financed by former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest man in Georgia, who has a passion for collecting  trees. Thousands of different exotic trees have been imported to Georgia from five continents over the past years. Entrance was free and mask wearers were few.

An artificial lake is located in the centre of the park.

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In addition to trees, there are pink flamingos, pelicans, storks and over 50 species of birds.

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Pelicans and storks

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Eucalyptus from Australia

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Shekvetili Dendrological Park

We rushed around too quickly in the heat, I would have liked to have taken more time. Then it was back into the minibus and that long journey back to Tbilisi. I returned sunburnt and tired.

 

 

A Decade of Living in Georgia: the Good and the Bad…

I moved to Georgia in September 2009, the year after their short war with Russia. Ten years on, I reflect on living in Georgia, the country not the US state (it needs qualifying every time). I am often asked do I like Georgia? Well, my answer is “Yes and no”. Everywhere I have lived (England, Wales, Australia, France and Georgia) has had positive and negative aspects.   Some things I like, and some I don’t (as with any country, there will be the inevitable few, who will say the tired “if you don’t like it go back to where you came from!“). On balance I’d say I’m very happy here and have no plans to move. This is my own very personal viewpoint, I realise others will have different likes and dislikes, particularly with regards to the Khachapuri (cheese-bread)! I have also lived exclusively in the capital, Tbilisi, which I appreciate is very different to living in a Georgian village.

So let me look at those likes and dislikes in more detail:

Light

I love the fantastic light. Lots of clear sunny days make for good photos. Coming from England, where sunny days are rarer, this is a great blessing.

light in the stairwell
light in a stairwell in Varketili

Mountains

The mountains are spectacular, some are higher than any in the Alps (Mont Blanc is 4810m, Mount Shkhara in Svaneti is 5193m). As a draw-card, I think this is what would  really attract tourists to Georgia.

Khevsureti
Khevsureti, one of many scenic mountainous regions in Georgia

Women

I might get into trouble for the next observation; but I find Georgian women are very pleasing on the eye, strangely many Georgian men seem to fantasize about Ukrainian women. I have been married to a wonderful Georgian woman for many years now.

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Georgian model in Old Tbilisi

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians rave about their cuisine, one list places Georgian Cuisine as 4th out of 48 European Cuisines ranked behind only Italy, France and Spain. This may be sacrilegious to state but I am not so impressed and miss English roast dinners and puddings (UK cuisine was ranked 13th) . I don’t really like khachapuri, their signature dish, a cheese filled pastry, I find it too salty. I do like khinkali and churchkhela. Georgian meals are important events and most birthdays and holidays are marked with a feast or “supra”. Georgians are also proud of their wine and claim to have been the nation which invented wine back in the mists of time, some  8000 years ago, a claim for which there is substantial archaeological support in the region. Georgian Wine

mtsvadi
Mtsvadi (მწვადი), Georgian Barbecue, a popular dish at supras (Georgian feasts)

The Georgian Language (დედა ენა)

The language is a real nightmare for me, using a different and unique alphabet and having long words with tricky consonant clusters. I lived in France for six years and can get by reasonably well in French, but Georgian is a different story. I explore this in a separate blog :  The Georgian Language is one of the most Difficult to Learn detailing my travails with the language. Maybe it is just my brain isn’t as malleable as it once was.

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signs in Georgian

Rubbish

One thing that saddens me is despite the Georgians singing so much that they are proud of their country, so many of them litter with abandon.

rubbish
litter near the roadside

Cars

I’m crazy about cars, though strangely I don’t drive here (see traffic later in the post). I love seeing the old Soviet cars around.

GAZ Volga 24 with crates
GAZ Volga 24

Work

As a native English speaking teacher with many years experience teaching English, I can find plenty of students here, many people want to learn English and there are not a lot of native English speakers with whom I need to compete. I have taught English since 1994, first in France, then England and now Georgia. The cost of living is relatively cheap, particularly public transport and accommodation, which are much cheaper in Tbilisi than in London, but wages are also much lower.

Safety

Tbilisi feels a safe city, I have had no troubles, apparently it hasn’t always been like this, in the 1990s there was a lot of street crime. Walking around late at night in an English city on a Friday or Saturday night is more intimidating than walking around Tbilisi at night.

Public Transport

The public transport, though cheap can be very overcrowded. The newer buses are better with air conditioning and less pollution. There are just two metro lines.

on the bus blog

Traffic

The traffic is scary at times, the drivers have little respect for pedestrians and won’t necessarily stop just because you are on a pedestrian crossing. When asked by Georgians what I don’t like I usually say “the traffic !” and they nod in agreement, though apparently it is even worse in Iran.

crossing by Drybridge Market
Traffic won’t necessarily stop if you are on a pedestrian crossing

Another gripe I have with the traffic, is seeing far too many drivers using their mobile phones with seeming impunity.

driving and using phone
driving and using the phone

Religion

Religion is important here, despite the Bolsheviks trying to stamp out religion in the past, there are many new churches and most Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. I have been baptised into the Orthodox church but I find their intolerance of other denominations rather un-Christian, I feel I maybe losing my religion. For example: Georgian Orthodox church takes aim at Armenian Church. My wife is quite devout and prays twice a day, every day.

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Svaneti Museum Crosses

Smoking

Smoking is very common here, it is cheap compared to Western Europe and many smokers seem oblivious to those around them, it pains me to see people smoking around children. Smoking has recently been banned in public buildings which is good, although it often means smokers congregating around the exit, puffing away.

smoking and kids
You can poison your own lungs, but do you really need to poison the children around you?

The 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone was entitled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly“…. for ugly, we have in Tbilisi the Biltmore Hotel.

Biltmore Hotel
The Biltmore Hotel

Zufa Jafaridze commented: “The ugliest building right in the center of Tbilisi, where it shouldn’t be, ruining the view and the beauty of the city, but wait, it gets even worse at night when the giant ad monitor flashes into your eyes when you go outside, it never should have been built there and I hope it will be removed.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Book Review : “Flight from the USSR” by Dato Turashvili

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the cover has the Jeans look, western Jeans were a precious commodity in the Soviet Union of the eighties

Flight from the USSR recounts the true tale of a group of 7 young people in the Georgian Soviet Republic in the early eighties, who wanted to flee the USSR. They came upon a plan to hijack a plane and land in Turkey. Some Lithuanians had pulled a similar stunt earlier. The actual hijack takes only a few pages in the middle of the book, most of the book is dealt with establishing the characters and the aftermath of the hijack attempt. The Soviet regime in Georgia is shown to be particularly ruthless, Shevardnadze, First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, the de facto leader of Soviet Georgia from 1972 to 1985, is shown to care more about his Moscow overlords than the Georgian public. The Soviet government sentenced most of the protagonists to death, even though the casualties resulted from Soviet special forces opening fire on the aircraft. I think such a story could have been told better and there were lots of typos in the text which suggests poor proof reading.

Wikipedia’s article on the hijacking

 

 

My rating: 3 out of 5

Nine years in Georgia: the good and the bad.

Every September, I reflect on moving to Georgia, the country not the US state (it needs qualifying every time). I am often asked do I like Georgia? Well, my answer is “Yes and no”. Some things I like, some I don’t (as with any country, there will be the inevitable few, who will say the tired “if you don’t like it go back to where you came from!“). I’ve been here 9 years now, on balance I’d say I’m happy here and have no plans to move. This inevitably will be a very personal viewpoint, I realise others will have different likes and dislikes.

So let’s look at those likes and dislikes in more detail:

I love the fantastic light. Lots of clear sunny days make for good photos. Coming from England, where sunny days are rarer, this is a great blessing.

Light

light in the stairwell
light in the stairwell of our old block in Varketili

Mountains

The mountains are spectacular, some are higher than any in the Alps (Mont Blanc is 4810m, Mount Shkhara in Svaneti is 5193m). As a drawcard, I think this is what can really attract tourists to Georgia.

Khevsureti
Khevsureti mountain scenery

Women

I might get into trouble for the next observation; but I find Georgian women are very pleasing on the eye, strangely many Georgian men seem to fantasize about Ukrainian women.

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Georgian model in Old Tbilisi

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians rave about their cuisine, one list places Georgian Cuisine as 4th out of 48 European Cuisines ranked behind only Italy, France and Spain. I am not so impressed and miss English roast dinners and puddings (UK cuisine was ranked 13th) . I don’t really like khachapuri, their signature dish, a cheese filled pastry, I find it too salty. Georgian meals are important events and most birthdays and holidays are marked with a feast or “supra”. Georgians are also proud of their wine and claim to have been the nation which invented wine back in the mists of time, some 8 000 years ago, a claim for which there is substantial archaeological support in the region. Georgian Wine

churchkhela 2
churchkhela (walnuts in a grape jelly)

The Georgian Language

The language is a real nightmare for me, using a different alphabet and having long words with tricky consonant clusters. I lived in France for six years and can get by reasonably well in French, but Georgian is a different story. I explore this in a separate blog :  The Georgian Language is one of the most Difficult to Learn detailing my travails with the language.

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Georgian signs

Rubbish

One thing that saddens me is despite the Georgians singing so much that they are proud of their country, so many of them litter with abandon.

rubbish
Litter near the roadside

Cars

I’m crazy about cars, though strangely I don’t drive here (see traffic later in the post). I love seeing the old Soviet cars around.

Moskvitch x 3
Can you see three Moskvitches in this Tbilisi street?

Work

I can work here quite easily as an English teacher, many people want to learn English and there are not a lot of native English speakers. I have taught English since 1994, first in France, then England and now Georgia. The cost of living is relatively cheap, particularly public transport and accommodation, which are much cheaper in Tbilisi than in London, but wages are also much lower.

Safety

Tbilisi feels a safe city, I have had no troubles, apparently it hasn’t always been like this, in the 1990s there was a lot of street crime. Walking around late at night in an English city on a Friday or Saturday night is more intimidating than walking around Tbilisi at night.

Public Transport

The public transport, though cheap can be very overcrowded.

on the bus blog
on the bus

Traffic

The traffic is scary at times, the drivers have little respect for pedestrians and won’t stop just because you are at a pedestrian crossing. When asked by Georgians what I don’t like I usually say “the traffic !” and they nod in agreement, though apparently it is even worse in Iran.

crossing by Drybridge Market
there is no guarantee cars will stop for pedestrians on a crossing

Religion

Religion is important here, despite the Bolsheviks trying to stamp out religion in the past, there are many new churches and most Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. I have been baptised into the Orthodox church but I find their intolerance of other denominations rather un-Christian. For example: Georgian Orthodox church takes aim at Armenian Church. My wife is quite devout and prays twice a day, every day.

metekhi church
Metekhi Church

Smoking

Smoking is very common here, it is cheap and many smokers seem oblivious to those around them, it pains me to see people smoking around children.

smoking and kids
Do they have to smoke around a young child?

Biltmore Hotel

The newly built Biltmore Hotel doesn’t fit in with the Tbilisi City Scape, there are many other examples of modern architecture at odds with the city skyline but the Biltmore really stands out like a sore thumb.

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Biltmore Hotel…

There are many other positives and negatives, maybe I will expand this post next September as I celebrate a decade in Georgia. Please add your thoughts in the comments.

A Canadian ex-pat who has been here even longer than me expresses his reasons: here

Merry Christmas

  Today (25 December) is a normal working day here in Tbilisi, Georgia. Christmas is celebrated on  7 January. The big celebration is on 31 December…a legacy from Soviet times…the communists wanted to distract people from the church-based Christmas festivities, so moved the present giving and feasting to New Year’s Eve….

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Merry Christmas

We don’t know when Jesus was born. Scholars debate the month of Jesus’ birth. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that Jesus was born in the summer. The Star of Bethlehem, Reneke told New Scientist, may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Using computer models, Reneke determined that this rare event occurred on June 17, in the year 2 B.C.

Other researchers have claimed that a similar conjunction, one between Saturn and Jupiter, occurred in October of 7 B.C., making Jesus an autumn baby.

Theologians have also suggested that Jesus was born in the spring, based on the biblical narrative that shepherds were watching over their flocks in the fields on the night of Jesus’ birth — something they would have done in the spring, not the winter.

We celebrate in mid Winter because of earlier Pagan celebrations of the Solstice and Saturnalia. By choosing this day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, the church could put their spin on the popular pagan festival, as well as the winter celebrations of other pagan religions.

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Whether you are working or celebrating today, I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Decades

Today 3rd September is my birthday.

Birthday Ana blowing out candles
my granddaughter with a birthday cake

Birthdays like New Year offer a time for reflection.

Looking back at different decades:

1967: Aged 3, I move (with my parents and baby brother) from my birthplace: Hillingdon, London to Slough. I was born at home not in a hospital. Living in many countries it is easy for me to communicate where I am from by saying I was born in London. I was born in the sixties but don’t remember much about the decade.

1977: The year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. The Sex Pistols single “God Save the Queen” released in this year is my current ringtone. I started at Slough Grammar School, where I would be educated for the following 6 years.

1987: I went to Australia, the first time I had lived and worked outside the UK. I loved Australia, visiting all the states except Western Australia. I worked in Sydney. My favourite part of Australia was Kuranda in the tropical rainforest of Northern Queensland. I wish I still had the photos of my Australian days, I took many but only a couple have survived my many moves.

me in swansea australia
This is me in Swansea, Tasmania wearing an Aberystwyth University Sweatshirt

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My route around Australia. 1.Swansea, Tasmania 2. Kangaroo Island 3.Kuranda, Queensland

1997: I returned to UK after six years in France. My first wife was ill, we moved first to Corsica then to mid Wales to give her a quite place to get well. The time in mid Wales (Llanfihangel Nant Bran and Llangammarch Wells) was probably the nadir of my life.

2007: Living in Worcester, England. Teaching at Worcester College of Technology and sorting mail at the Worcester Mail Centre. In my four weeks of holiday, I tried to visit as many places as I could, travel has always been a passion, I hoped to visit every country of Europe by the time I was fifty (I didn’t achieve this aim) but I did visit Sweden, Finland, Israel, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic in that year.

my-travel-map

I have visited Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France,  Georgia, Greece, Croatia (when part of Yugoslavia), Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia (but only in transit), Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Turkey, United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the United States (New York, Niagara Falls, Ohio and Chicago).

2017: Now I live in Tbilisi, Georgia. I don’t travel as much as I did, this year I have only been to Cappadoccia in Turkey outside Georgia. I have a wonderful wife, we will soon celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. I teach English, I collect model cars, take a lot of photographs and spend far too much time online (mostly Facebook). I really need to learn Georgian, it is a tricky language.

 

2027: Will I still be alive? Who knows? If I am, I expect to be still here in Tbilisi, Georgia. If the Russians invade again, I might have to move to yet another country. I hope the world is more peaceful.

This first blogpost is rather self indulgent but it is my birthday 😉