Friday, May 31, 2013

München und Köln

29 May 2013
I climbed up a tower in the center of Munich with my cousin's partner which had a great view. We then went to my aunt's house for dinner and talked.

30 May 2013
I went to the Deutsches Museum with my cousin's partner in the morning. It is a large science museum with some really interesting exhibits for all ages. We then went to my aunt's house where we spent a few hours. We talked about family and I told her how big our American family is. We had dinner and it was a good evening. After that we went home and I packed for my trip to Köln. I realized how much there is to do in Germany, and all of Europe. There is so much to do over here that I want to see and it is so diverse, it is a little overwhelming. It would be easier to spend more time with family if there fewer other attractions and it would be easier to see everything else if I didn't have so much family here.

31 May 2013
Today I went to the train station around 9:00 with my cousin's partner after dropping my cousin off at my aunt's house. The train system in Munich is extremely efficient and useful. If I lived in Munich I wouldn't bother getting a car until I had children. I met a nice man (about 32) and we talked about all sorts of things. He was a Political Science/Economics major like what I am looking at and we compared the systems of Germany and the United States. One thing I am a little surprised by is that the ICE train doesn't go full speed because the tracks are not maintained well enough for 300 km/h which they are designed for, except in a few areas. I hope that in the next 5 years the German government will seriously look at improving the tracks so that trains can go at the speed they should be going. I am a little worried that the creation of freeways will replace the great train system here in Europe, but since they are purchasing more trains along with building more motorways I think this is fortunately unlikely. It is a very smooth ride and very comfortable. On my way back on Monday I am going to go on the slower trains which will probably be similar to the AMTRAK trains back home. The German countryside is very beautiful, and I am enjoying everything about this trip. Mainz looks like a very beautiful city that I would like to explore someday. When we were between Mainz und Köln a man who is probably my age came through in a straw hat singing for people and selling postcards for 2 Euros each. Who says Germans have no sense of humor?

I arrived in Köln a few minutes late and met my friend, her boyfriend, and two of their friends at the train station. We went up into the Köln cathedral which is magnificent, the second largest cathedral in the world! We climbed to the top of a spire and looked out at Köln which is a great city. We took the train to where my friend lives with her boyfriend and then went to a restaurant in Frechen where we had some food. Northern German food and standard "American" food is almost identical. We came back home and talked about whether my friend and her boyfriend should move to the United States. I love my country, but given how they have inexpensive health care and education here, made sure they were aware of some changes they are not prepared for that Germany has set up. Would I ever say to a friend to move to the United States? If the person is European, probably not given the difference in distribution of wealth between Europe and the United States and how health care is statistically speaking of the same quality in the US but a lot more expensive, which when I explained the types of costs associated with health care at home they were shocked. When I explained how my university will cost $8000 for tuition alone and they pay €3600 a year for the same thing here, they need to keep it in comparison that raising a family might be easier in Germany. Of course this is comparing apples and oranges for the same career and one has to make careful planning to maintain his/her standard of living in a new country with a different set of rules. I hope in the future I won't have to be such a spoil sport, given how I have a good bit hanging on the fate of the USA. I shared some statistics with her boyfriend on distribution of wealth in relation to income so they can decide whether it will work for them and their particular situation. Only time will tell. It is really good to see her again.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Farm

On Monday I spoke with an old friend who speaks German and Georgian, but not English for about an hour. I haven't seen her for 10 years. Her husband is ailing, and a really kind man. I told them how my family is doing and other things. At the end I went with their American granddaughter-in-law to have some ice cream and to an art show at the University of Georgia for her aunt. It was good art, and some pieces were quite striking. I then met my friend's (the one I am staying with) parents outside, picked up her mother-in-law and then drove up north of Tbilisi to see one of their friends who lives on a farm. He used to be a doctor, but three years ago had a revelation and now dresses in Orthodox priest clothing and is a very kind man who makes food for the refugees and other people who need help. He has a nice sized yard half an hour out of Tbilisi and will have people move in to the old structures on his property that are falling apart after years of not being used. When I come back I will visit him. I met a nice Georgian soldier who worked with the US Army in Afghanistan and we talked about things, since he was the only person there I didn't already know who spoke English. We got home at Midnight and I am finally rested!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Birthday Party (#1)

On Sunday I had a quiet morning, and went to my friend's parent's house around noon. We got ready for the birthday party there and then went with the people who own the summer house in the hills above Tbilisi Georgian style (as in four people in the back seat that is designed for three). We got up around four and people came in over the next two hours. I talked with a number of people while I was there, one of whom is studying law at Yale, and a friend who is looking at investment banking and is an American like me, and danced with people in one room. It was a really great night. We left around 3 in the morning (way past my bedtime) and went to have some dinner of Khachapuri at a restaurant in Tbilisi. Getting home at 4 I collapsed as soon as I arrived. I woke up four hours later and hope I make it through Monday! My flight to Germany is tomorrow.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Today I went on a road trip to Gori with an old friend who moved to Georgia from my homestate about 10 years ago and her friends, a 6 year old girl and her parents. Gori is about one and a half hours west of Tbilisi. We left home around 11:00 and drove through Mtsketa and then onward to Gori. It was really beautiful seeing the Georgian countryside. We went to the Uplistsikhe Complex which is an ancient city (about 3000 years old) that was abandoned in the 19th century that was on the silk road. When I realized I was standing right on where the Silk Road passes I got goosebumps all over. It was an absolutely stupendous place that can only be described when you stand on the same spot where people had lived for thousands of years, longer than most cities exist regardless of location. King Tamar of Georgia was there, one of the greatest Georgian Kings (who was in fact a woman). We then went south to a church that was being rebuilt after an earthquake south of Gori. This church was pretty, and very crowded. The villages we went through were better off than the villages I saw a week ago going to Tavkavta fortress just 20 km west of Tbilisi. The road was well built, and the church was really crowded and extremely Orthodox. We went back into Gori and drove to the very center of the town where Gori fortress is. We walked to the top and the top was surprisingly empty. I could see evidence that there used to be buildings inside the walls (which were shorter than they used to be for sure) but got an amazing view to all directions. I could see South Ossetia and visualized the Russian invasion five years ago and imagined what it must have been like for Russian soldiers to be crawling through the city I was in. Gori is a nice place, and I hope to return someday.

We then drove back home and went to my friend's house. I saw her husband and two children who are quite young. We had dinner and then went to her husband's grandmother's house, who I hadn't seen for 8 years. I saw her, her husband (who I had never met before) and their son (who I also had never met). Her son and I had had an interesting conversation talking about economics (he is a stock broker) and talked about what makes America so different from Europe, which I blog about here. It was a great day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday and Friday

On Thursday I spent time with my friends Mom and brother. We walked around Tbilisi, had lunch and went home. For lunch we had kinkhali which are best described as Georgian dumplings that taste delicious. At home I learned some Georgian from my phrase book with his mother and great-aunt. I went to my friend's brother's English teacher who teaches in a way similar to Rosetta Stone  and had been doing it for about twenty years. An amazing person! I then went home and had a quiet evening.

On Friday I went to the phage therapy center with my friends grandmother and said bye to some patients who were leaving. We went to the Georgian national museum which is one of the best museums I have ever been to. The exhibitions of the great purge and ancient artifacts were stupendous. After that we went home to rest and then went back out to meet two Russian friends from Saint Petersburg I hadn't met before. They were here for a conference. We had dinner and they were really nice.

I leave on Wednesday night and I already miss Georgia.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Art and walking

Today was good, I talked to some Canadians who were here for phage therapy who are going home tomorrow, so I won't see them again, unless if they come to Washington or Oregon to talk to some naturopaths I put them in touch with. I went to see some Georgian treasures at the National Museum which were absolutely amazing. Some were as much as 800 years old, and mostly religious artifacts made of gold and ivory. My friend's grandmother and I walked through town and had lunch, and got home around 6:00. It was a good day.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Old friends in Tbilisi

23 May
Yesterday I went to the Eliava Institute where my friend's grandmother works, and saw an old friend who moved to Georgia from my homestate about 10 years ago. I helped her with translating some Italian (I took some Spanish and they are very similar) and am working on some Romanian. We then went to the Georgian National Museum and looked at the art. There were some very beautiful pieces of art of the Georgian countryside that I enjoyed seeing. We had lunch with her husband and another friend who works at Eliava, and I had some khinkali, Georgian meat in bread, which is absolutely amazing and a must have when you are in Georgia. We went to a supermarket (Goodwill) as she got her food, and Georgian supermarkets are extremely similar to American supermarkets. We went home and I watched some Doctor Who because I am behind and want to see the last episode which everyone has told me is amazing, but since I am traveling I have fell behind by a few weeks. In the evening I went for a walk with my friend's grandfather who I am living with, ran into a new friend from the past weekend, and then ran into my friend I am living with and his aunt who we went home on a bus with.

Monday, May 20, 2013

20 May journal, Tbilisi

Today was a quieter day, I left to go to a museum (we forgot it was Monday, so they were closed) but instead went to a flea market. I saw some coins from different European countries that were reasonably priced for the contents and got them, and looked at some bookstores (small wooden cabinets next to the river) that were opening. I saw some books and didn't know how much they were worth so I didn't buy any, but checking now it appears that their prices were the same as on the internet. I went walking down the street and got a milkshake. In America at our local American food drive in near where I live the milk gets flavoring into it, which gives a large amount of options to choose. The restaurant I ate at put ice cream in the cup and then put milk in it and mixed it up. It was quite delicious (based on an Italian cake).

We then took the bus to where his grandmother was and he went off to school. His grandmother and I went to a gigantic church on the east side of the river (Tbilisi runs roughly north to south around downtown and the Mtkvari river defines and divides it into east and west) which was built three years ago funded by their Prime Minister. The first thing I noticed was they were selling candles (I immediately remembered Mark 11 but didn't say anything.) which were put in front of your favorite saints. We got five and I got two. I put them in front of Jesus since he was amazing. It has pictures around the church on walls which were very beautiful and in a medieval style. I found the pictures of different hard to distinguish who was who, since they were simply the saints with a halo standing up holding crosses or other things, but that was just my impression, which reminds me of old medieval paintings from across Europe. Anyways, it was a magnificent church with wonderful architecture which is quite impressive. It has generated a lot of controversy lately over here, because it took millions to build three years ago as refugees from across Abkhazia and South Ossetia looked on in poverty. The Prime Minister has been building housing apparently and given how he is reported to give millions to charity I find this very believable. Long story short, if you are in Tbilisi, it is free and quite impressive.

It started to hail just as we left, we grabbed a taxi and went home, had dinner, and then I spent the rest of my day educating myself about Georgian politics (I found the most informative on the differences between the parties) and reading other things online.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Georgia updates

On the 18th I spent the morning at Zemphira house while Giorgi was at a meeting. At 1:00 we left with his father and went to a mall in north Tbilisi, walked around a little bit and then met some friends there and got food for our overnight camping west of Tbilisi. We are in a valley south of tsinarhetki. We had diner and had a little vodka which had a depressing effect on me. I remembered that today was the two month anniversary of the house fire and took a nap. I woke up around 11:15 pm and then talked with my new friends.
This morning we got up and a few people stayed in bed really late (from my perspective) as we burned a fire and talked. (mostly in Georgian, so I just sat back and asked for translations, which happened a lot.) The people were friends of my friend who he has from school, and they are all really nice people. We had two older adults with us who guided us to the fortress. The vegetation below the trees is similar to that of home here, except while there are evergreen trees, it is mostly deciduous with a few evergreens mixed in. We walked deep into the valley and one part of it we had to walk over a rock wall basically because it was so narrow. This is extremely rural land, and completely beautiful. It is amazing how it is only about 30 kilometers from my friend's grandmother's house in Tbilisi and so completely different. We were the only group on the trail. Tavkavta fortress is a 900-1100 year old castle and church which is absolutely stunning. There is an old church in it (which is kept up with photos) and a fortress. There is very little information available online, which probably is a good thing because it is so remarkably undisturbed, and I personally want to keep it that way, so it is a gem for people who know the locals. Getting into Tavkavta Fortress is a real adventure, because the trail is extremely narrow (at some points maybe only 1 meter wide above a gigantic cliff, which if you are smart is not a problem) and windy. At parts you are going over sliding rock faces which is dangerous but helps make it so very few people can see the gem inside. There are caves opposite the valley from the large hill which Tavkavta stands (which is where some of the very narrow pathways are) are very beautiful and demonstrate the geological history of the area. It clearly shows how the land has been slanted as the Caucasus and Middle East Tectonic Plates meet, which is stunning to see it. There are medieval caves there with records of Orthodox monks that are to date undisturbed according to our guide. It is a hidden gem, a true backdoor as Rick Steves says you need to look for when you travel and today is a day I will never forget.
I had a great time getting to know new friends, and will definitely see them later in this trip.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Istanbul and Tbilisi, May 16th and 17th.

May 15th
My cousin's fiance and I had breakfast together and drove around Munich. The flight to Istanbul was pretty for the parts that I was awake for. The smaller Istanbul airport has a lot of alcohol and tobacco, this is a very liberal nation by Muslim standards. There are people here from around the world. I looked for Turkish food (I can have Burger King whenever I want at home, and I never want it anyways) and had a simit, and instantly fell in love with Turkish culture at the first bite. It had a delicious cheese and the bread was great. A simit is like a bagel, but with a larger hole in the middle and has a different texture to the bread.

I flew then to Tbilisi and slept on the overnight flight, I got to my friend's house around 3 in the morning and after a snack fell asleep immediately. I woke up about half an hour before I arrived in Tbilisi and watched the lights of the city of over a million people as I woke up. Customs was easy, and I went home with my friend and his father. We drove home and had some really good bread and cheese. The bread was baked with the cheese inside it. Georgian cheese (at least the one I tried) is salty and tasty.

May 16th
The next day (waking up around 12:30 in the afternoon, as opposed to 2:30 my overnight in München) we drove around the city. It is CRAZY! Georgian driving has people doing basically whatever they want.

May 17th
I just got home and had some dinner and it was a partially wonderful and partially eye opening day. I went with my friend's aunt and his brother (who is 8 and has just started to learn English, so he isn't comfortable with it yet) to a Georgian arts in the old city which is both beautiful and somewhat sad. There was some Armenian food, a wrap with what I think was beef inside and some bread very similar to what is made in Western European culture, wonderful people, and beautiful Georgian music. We walked to the top of the mountain on the south side of Tbilisi where there is a large statue that is less than 100 years old made of steel (coordinates: ) which gave Ilia some much needed exercise.When we were done we went to get some food, and then some ice cream. As we were there a small boy came up and asked me for change, I politely said no and he went away. It shook me a bit because I have never had a small child (maybe 8, the same age as Ilia) come up to me and ask for money, we don't have that in the United States. We took a taxi home (there are taxis and buses which are usually vans everywhere in Tbilisi, which is really convenient) and I had some dinner while talking to my friend's grandmother about my day. She explained what I heard a while back, but I didn't realize when the child came to me, that the 2008 war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia has displaced tens of thousands of people of all ages which is a huge crisis right here in Tbilisi. The Georgian government is doing everything they can, giving them 28 Lari (about $4) a month as a stipend, With over 280,000 refugees, this becomes a large price tag for such a small country. That is over 4% of Georgia's population. I see people of all ages on the streets. It's downright heartbreaking. I wish there was something I could do. I feel like this is truly life changing and that once I have got my life together this is one issue I would be willing to take on a part of, maybe a monthly donation of $100 or something like that to a charity to help these people. All in all, it was a very educational day with great music, great food, and a depressing realization.

I try not to publish politics on this blog, but this is not just a political issue, this is a moral issue.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

First day in Germany

May 13-14, 2013
I got up at 6:00 in the morning and got my bags ready after worrying that I lost my passport. My mom and i drove to the airport and had a bite to eat. I went through customs easily by myself for the first time and went to my plane. I talked with a nice woman who was going to Sweden (I myself am in Munich as I write this entry) to see family, cousins, and an elderly aunt and her nearly centenarian brother. Something one just cannot miss. I boarded the airplane and found my seat. Amazingly I was in between two other twenty year olds on the same flight. I talked with the woman to my right (who is my age) about our different countries politics and other things (she is Canadian, I am American). She is in Ghana now as I write this on may 14th starting to teach English. The woman to my left lives about an hour away from me and is visiting family. I couldn't sleep which frustrated me, but talking to my 1st cousin's fiancé (twice removed) he explained that isn't unusual given how I was gaining hours by going east. The sun didn't set for me for over 24 hours because I was going over Greenland. I watched game of thrones and listened to podcasts and music.

I arrived in Amsterdam Schippol on time and found it to be a really well designed airport I had no trouble navigating for the first time. I sat next to a nice English student who teaches in Austria (a few years older than me). I was amazed at how very flat Europe is,  and stunningly beautiful. I arrived at Munich on time and found my 1st cousin twice removed's fiancé and one of my 2nd cousin once removeds who I am staying the night with. We went to a small Biergarten in a small town about 10 minutes west of Munich and had great food and great conversation about what we are planning to do when I get back from Tbilisi. We drove into Munich where they live and I talked with my second cousin for a few hours about her grandmother and family. There are a lot of stories still to share. We had a nice snack with my second cousin's fiancé as we continued to talk about my plans when I come home. It was a great day.