Apparently People In Georgia Live Longer

According to this recent release from the Independent, a woman from Georgia has documents, which claim she passed away at the tender age of 132. Contrary to what you might think, however, Antisa Khvichava didn’t live a long life thanks to eating buckets full of peaches. Mrs. Khvichava instead spent her years in the village of Sachino, a remote village in the Caucuses Mountains in the country – not state – of Georgia.

Allegedly having spoken Mingrelian, a language that is classified by UNESCO as being endangered, relatives unfortunately hold no legal documents that date back to Mrs. Khvichava’s actual birth. Instead, all of her legal birth documents were destroyed during times of civil war, and those legal documents which remain – including the one stating her birth as July 8, 1880 – were created long after her actual birth.

Nevertheless, everyone from townsfolk to relatives all vouch that Mrs. Khvichava was, in fact, 132 years old. Furthermore, they claim she attributed her longevity to a daily dose of brandy.

The U.S. state of Georgia, on the other hand, has the ninth worst life expectancy of any U.S. state, with the average resident living for 77.1 years.

Nevertheless, the world’s oldest verifiable living person at the time of this writing was Besse Cooper, a 116-year-old resident of, you guessed it, the U.S. state of Georgia.

[Image courtesy of justin_vidamo on Flickr]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: The Best Foreign Service Blogs

smoking huge joint womanThe World Wide Web is saturated with amateurish blogs created by people who’d be lucky to command the devoted readership of their immediate family members, let alone the wider public. There are scores of blogs managed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and while many of them are worth reading, some are downright bizarre. This post will steer you toward some Foreign Service related blogs that are well worth your time.

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I started this series nine months ago to help people get a better understanding of what life in the U.S. Foreign Service is like. Many of the posts have been about my experiences but I’ve also introduced readers to an intrepid, single female diplomat fresh off of tours in Syria and Pakistan, a diplomatic courier, a USAID Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Afghanistan and others. But spend some time at the sites listed below to get a flavor of what it’s like to represent the U.S. Government in The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Pakistan and dozens of other exotic locales.toothless woman with stretched earlobes peasantOne major caveat here is that FSOs have to be careful what they write because free speech only takes you so far in the precarious, uber-cautious world of government service. Most FSOs have disclaimers on their sites warning that the views expressed are their own, but many still tend to steer clear of tackling political issues or anything controversial.

Peter Van Buren, a now retired diplomat who wrote “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” was effectively driven out of the Foreign Service partially because he posted a link to a cable on WikiLeaks and made some disparaging remarks, which he later apologized for, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his website.

There’s no doubt that his experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.

Some of the blogs below contain little, if any biographical info, and I wasn’t able to read each one in its entirety, so my apologies in advance if my impressions of these blogs below miss the mark. That said, I would invite the authors of these fine sites to tell us more about themselves, if they dare, in the comments section.

Diplopundit

Domani Spero has no U.S. government connection and thus has the freedom to write about the world of diplomacy without having to worry about his career. Diplopundit is as close as you’ll find to one-stop shopping for a candid look at what’s going on in the Foreign Service community.

Adventures in Good Countries- Getting Along In The Foreign Service

I love this blog. The author, apparently a single female public diplomacy officer who, “doesn’t date outside the visa waiver program,” blogs with style and passion about life in Japan, Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere, coping with Multiple Sclerosis and whatever else pops into her head. How can you not like a writer who offers advice to protesters on how to construct a good effigy? (“Don’t just throw something together with the rationale that you’re only going to burn it anyway – take some pride in your work.”)

We Meant Well

You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.

Third Culture Children

This blog, which details the lives of a family of five living in Recife, Brazil, La Paz, Bolivia and elsewhere, is one of the very best Foreign Service related sites out there. It’s a particularly good resource for parents who are wondering what the overseas experience will be like for their children.

amy gottlieb usaidAmy Gottlieb’s Photography & Blog

Gottlieb is a doctor and a USAID FSO currently serving in South Africa. Her portraits from Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, South America, Africa and beyond are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

Adventures Around the World- A Foreign Service Officer’s Tales of Life Abroad

The author of this refreshingly candid and well-written blog is currently in Kabul and has previously served in Iraq and Nepal. Here’s how she described the “honeymoon” period at a new post: “The honeymoon period is the time frame after moving to a foreign country where the excitement of being somewhere new overshadows certain harsh realities of living in a foreign country. People burning piles of trash in the street give the place ‘character’ and bargaining with a taxi driver is part of the ‘adventure.’”

Worldwide Availability

This is a stunning photo blog from an American diplomat who was born on a farm in China and is currently serving in South Korea. Visiting this site is the next best thing to booking a ticket to Seoul. Also, for those who are curious to know how long it takes to join the Foreign Service, take a look at his instructive personal timeline for some clues.

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic

Anyone who features a photo of themselves (I presume) with a Gambian poached rat on their homepage is all right by me. This is a blog from a FSO posted in Conakry, Guinea, a place where “you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason.”

The Slow Move East- Thoughts on Being an Expatriate

Hannah Draper, a FSO currently serving in Libya, might be a “Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East,” but her writing is compulsively readable.

Where in the World am I? Notes from the Streets of Hyderabad, India

A FSO in Hyderabad who previously served in Burundi blogs about food and life overseas with gusto.

Cross Words- A Blog About Writing and Anything Else That Comes to Mind

Ted Cross, a FSO currently living in Budapest who apparently just signed up for Facebook last week (Friend him!), tells us on his homepage that his “dream is to be a published author.” I like someone who isn’t afraid to tell the world what he wants. He’s into fantasy and science fiction, neither of which interests me, but his blog is unique and his writing is lucid.

Four Globetrotters- The (Most Likely) Incoherent Ramblings of a Sleep-Deprived Single Mother Living Overseas with her Trio of Kiddos

Anyone who can pull off being a single mom in the Foreign Service is someone I want to meet. This blog, written by a former Foreign Service brat, isn’t nearly as incoherent as advertised.

Beau Geste, Mon Ami- The Chronicle of my Journey to and through The Foreign Service

Even a quick breeze through this visually appealing blog will give you an idea of how varied and interesting life in the Foreign Service can be. If nothing else, do not miss the photos of the tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea.

Zvirdins at Large- Jamie and Andrew’s Excellent Adventures

If you want a slice of life from the Marshall Islands, this is the place to go. I love this blog but I couldn’t bring myself to click into the video entitled “Pig Shooting” in a post on “Pig Butchering.” Yikes.

Talesmag

This isn’t a FSO blog per se, but the site’s stories and “real post reports” on hundreds of cities around the globe are an invaluable resource for those seeking insights into the Foreign Service lifestyle.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I’ve missed any great FSO-related blogs and if you’re the author of ones of the sites mentioned above, tell us a bit about yourself.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Gottlieb)

Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Tiblisi, Georgia

Why now? Georgia‘s investments in infrastructure and tourism over the last several years mean that the country is raring to go. Tourist facilities have improved and Tbilisi’s domestic travel agencies are well organized.

With a bustling capital city, Tbilisi, mountainous regions like Svaneti and Tusheti, a prime beach resort in Batumi, and the wine region of Kakheti, Georgia boasts a seemingly unending supply of exciting sites and experiences for visitors. And while Georgians may be feeling the pinch of rising prices, most visitors will experience Georgia as a great bargain.

In Tbilisi, dinner feasts at top restaurants can easily be had within the $10-$15 range; filling khachapuri dinners at hole-in-the-wall restaurants cost around $5. Taxis around town set passengers back around $1, once basic bargaining has been mastered. Tbilisi’s only drawback for budget travelers is its hotel cost index, which is geared toward visitors traveling on expense accounts; hostels and apartment rentals pick up the slack.

For anyone itching to get into some gorgeous wilderness, there is Svaneti, a district that has slowly but surely become a backpacker destination; quick flights connect the regional capital of Mestia to Tbilisi. Another mountain region, Tusheti, receives far fewer tourists. Seasonal farmhouse accommodations in Tusheti can be had for $35 a night, including two or even three meals daily.

[flickr image via shioshvili]

New Georgia border crossing provides a whimsical welcome

new georgia border crossingCustoms checkpoints tend to be dreary, depressing places.

A rare exception is the new Georgia border crossing with Turkey, located right at the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. There, German architect Jürgen Mayer H. recently unveiled a modern, state-of-the-art border crossing that rises from the shores of the Black Sea in a white, whimsical squiggle. How’s that for a friendly welcome? The building houses standard customs facilities, a terrace viewing platform, a cafeteria, staff rooms, and a conference room. According to J. Mayer H., the project represents “the progressive upsurge of the country.”

Georgia, a former Soviet state, has only recently started to attract tourists drawn by the charming capital city of Tblisi, the ancient religious sites of Mtskheta, and the fresh, delicious cuisine. Hopefully off-beat architecture and design like that of the new Georgia border crossing continues to develop along with the country’s infrastructure.

[via Fast Co.Design, image via Jürgen Mayer H.]

Mtskheta: Easy day trip from Tbilisi

mtskheta

Mtskheta is Georgia‘s ancient capital, a little village about 15 miles to the north of Tbilisi. It is home to a number of very important Georgian religious sites and functions to this day as a kind of spiritual heart of Georgia. It was in Mtskheta that Georgia adopted Christianity in the 4th century. Today the town receives a steady stream of domestic and foreign religious tourists and hosts various official Georgian Orthodox Church ceremonies. To be clear, Mtskheta is no garden variety tour bus pit stop; its historical sites form a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There are several places in Mtskheta that should be included on a day trip from Tbilisi. One, Jvari Church, is actually located far above the town on a hill, above the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers. (For the view from Jvari Church over Mtskheta, see above). On Sundays, the 6th-Century church fills up with throngs of worshipers and tourists and feels quite intimate.

A second site of great interest is Antioki Church, located along the riverbank in Mtskheta. The church, rather incredibly, dates to the 4th century. It is a diminutive chapel, simple and beautiful, surrounded by a flowers and lawn. The church’s caretaking nuns can often be seen on the grounds, tidying things up. The interior walls are decorated with bright new murals.

The star attraction in Mtskheta is the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, an enormous church originally built in the 4th century and rebuilt in the 11th century. The throne of the patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church sits in the center of the church. Georgian kings are buried here, though the cathedral’s most incredible claim extends to Jesus Christ, whose robe, ostensibly brought to Mtskheta from Jerusalem following his crucifixion, is said to be buried underneath the cathedral.Mtskheta
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral interior.

Mtskheta can be a very inexpensive day trip from Tbilisi. Admission to all of the above sites is free. A guide is not required at any stop along the way, though multilingual guides materialize to offer their services for a fee at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Transportation to Mtskheta is also inexpensive. A marshrutka (group minibus) from Tbilisi’s Didube bus station (adjacent to the Didube Metro station) to Mtskheta costs one lari (60 cents). A taxi from Tbilisi to Jvari Church and then on to Mtskheta (with the taxi driver waiting at Jvari Church for a half hour or so) should cost no more than 30 lari ($18). A taxi doing a full Tbilisi-Jvari-Mtskheta-Tbilisi loop should run no more than 50 lari ($30). You may be able to arrange less expensive taxi fares if you’re traveling with a local. Here’s a general Tbilisi taxi tip: Always bargain down to your desired price before entering the taxi. If a driver is unwilling to drive you for your requested fare, wait it out. Another taxi driver will come along soon enough.

Be sure to check out other Far Europe and Beyond series articles.