We made it safely to New York, and I have decided to take this time to write about the trip because I am procrastinating from writing an article that I am already three hours late in submitting. Yes, I’m taking a working vacation here in the Big Apple.
The first leg of our trip was taking a taxi from Kutaisi to Tbilisi airport. The driver had a car with the driver’s side on the right (which you do occasionally see in Georgia) which made for an interesting experience. Riding shotgun in a car with the driver on the right side makes it feel like you’re the one driving, or should be. It also makes passing on the left much more challenging and a little terrifying, which is sort of a problem given the general MO of Georgian highway driving. I reassured Tea that this was by far the most dangerous part of the trip to New York, in terms of our chances of a violent death.
We got to Tbilisi airport with a good amount of time to spare. Given that it was two adults with one baby, three suitcases, and a bunch of carry-ons, we were taking a little bit of time getting organized at the metal detectors you have to pass through to get into the airport. I was waving other people through while I prepared all the luggage to go through in a way that would let me keep track of everything. One of the security guards did not seem to understand what I was attempting and started barking orders at me to put my luggage through the machine. He apparently decided that I did not understand what he was saying to me, so he started putting our luggage through the scanning machine ahead of me. Since I wasn’t able to get to the other end of the machine with my luggage, one of our bags ended up dropping onto the floor on the other side of the scanning machine. As luck would have it, it was the bag containing the glass jars of baby food that we brought for the plane ride, but they turned out to be sturdy enough to survive the fall.
Now, I would usually interpret this as just the result of a miscommunication (a miscommunication with an idiot, but a miscommunication nonetheless), but the guy’s demeanor was just so rude and abrupt and he made no attempt to apologize for being nasty and impatient to a couple traveling with an infant or for causing our baby bag to drop onto a hard floor. This is also the first time that any authority in Georgia – a police or security guard or anyone else – has been rude to me, as a foreigner. I hesitate to describe a single incident involving a single asshole as a trend, but I couldn’t help but think that if Misha were still in charge of the government, that guy would have been too afraid of losing his job to be rude to a foreigner.
Maybe this is the influence of other foreigners reporting increases in rudeness, in violence, and in petty crime. Maybe it’s the result of my having heard from other sources that Georgians have become less welcoming, or having heard about the government’s considering reevaluating the visa requirements for foreigners entering Georgia. Maybe it’s partly my own anxiety about what would happen to me if the government and/or society became less welcoming of foreigners in general, and maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to add my voice to the chorus. But still, a polite and professional police and security service was the pride of the Saakashvili administration, and being welcoming to foreigners was one of Misha’s highest priorities for the country, and at this point, based on lots of anecdotal evidence, I can no longer give Georgia a glowing recommendation on either one of those criteria. It’s disappointing, really.
We tried to get a snack at the Burger King at the airport. Did you know that people are allowed to smoke in there? We ended up having to take food, baby, and luggage out of the Burger King and over to the benches to have our snack. Overall, the Tbilisi Airport gets a rating of zero stars for baby-friendliness. On the bright side, at least people in the airport didn’t try to get me to poison my baby, which makes them far more baby-friendly than Georgian doctors.
Warsaw gets a five star rating for baby-friendliness. They actually have baby changing rooms, with a clean changing table, a sink, soap, paper towels, and a thermostat that keeps the room much warmer than the air-conditioned airport so that baby doesn’t get cold when you change him. The staff was courteous, professional, and able to communicate in English without getting irritated or flummoxed or resorting to carelessly manhandling our luggage. Smoking was confined to special rooms away from the main areas. There were comfortable lounges and apparently even showers, although I did not inspect the showers and can’t comment on the state they are in. We had some kielbasa and crumb cake at what was apparently the only cafe in the airport, and despite the airport prices we enjoyed ourselves and the crumb cake was delicious. The only downside, I would say, is that the airport wifi makes you jump through irritating hoops.
LOT Polish airlines continues to please me. As I have said before, I find their food, service, and accommodations reasonably comfortable and acceptable, and despite lacking some of the niceties of Lufthansa or Turkish airlines, I never really felt like I was taking a discount airline (like, for instance, I have when I’ve flown AirTran or JetBlue). They were helpful and accommodating to us and the baby – including the Georgian Polish airlines staff at the Tbilisi airport – and on both flights we were given one of the empty seats (neither flight was full) to give us extra room for baby.
At JFK we got to skip to the front of the customs line because we were traveling with a baby. Everyone was super friendly – much moreso than they were last time I came into the US – and even after 27 hours of travel I basically couldn’t find a single thing to complain about. In fact, even with the nonsense at Tbilisi airport, the entire trip was actually one of the more pleasant travel experiences I’ve had on the US-Georgia or Georgia-US routes. It was nice traveling with my family to keep me company, and the baby slept a lot and hardly cried at all and didn’t seem at all disturbed or upset by the plane, the altitude, or the many rows of strangers.
And, of course, it was a huge relief, after months of preparation, after the visa application process, the TLG flights fail and subsequent rush to scrape together money for tickets, after all the worrying and thinking that there was no way we’d be able to make this trip – after all that, it was a huge relief to finally get to America safe and sound and, in the end, with no hassle. I’m probably calmer now than I’ve been since January.
I have a bunch of things to say about Georgia and what’s been happening over there, but right now I really have to get back to work on the work I’m actually getting paid for. For those who are curious, we’ll be back in Georgia at the very end of August. Hopefully I’ll have another post up before then!