Getting to Georgia was an experience I am not sure I would recommend to the faint-hearted. The trip began at 2 AM in the morning as I got up for the drive to the airport. I had hoped that by flying out of San Francisco I would avoid changing planes domestically, but alas that was not the case. I was set to change planes in Chicago and Amsterdam and then would arrive in Tbilisi.
The airport was stressful as usual with my family and I running between two different United counters that were separated by a huge elevator column. It was not apparent there were multiple counters. My bags were both a little overweight. The guy gave me the “look” but did not charge me for them. I was one of the last people to board the Chicago flight and smacked people in the head with my guitar the entire way back to the plane. I was very flustered by the time I sat down. Since it was a 6 AM flight most people were sleeping. I never sleep on planes unfortunately. I just cannot. So I mostly stared out straight ahead for 4 hours. It was a long 4 hours.
In Chicago I met up with 2 other people going to Georgia, Jim from Arizona and Kim from Benicia, CA. We sat and talked. We roamed the airport. We ate lunch. It was a 6 hour lay-over, but it mercifully did not feel that long. Time passed quickly. We made out way to our gate only to find out there was some problem with the plane and we needed to wait for more info. In the meantime we met 2 more Georgia travelers: Jason from Arizona and Bran (short for Brandall) from Georgia. Our gate was changed and we made our way there. We continued to meet more people going to Georgia. It was a convivial group. We discussed luggage, expectations, packing, etc.
When we finally got to board, I was glad to sit down and get rid of my carry-ons. Jason carried my guitar on for me because my 2 bags had multiplied into 3 and the stewardesses were death on anyone with more than two. My row-mate was a nice girl from Amsterdam who slept most of the time. How I envied her. Again, all my books, journal, iPod, and other activities sat unused in my bag as I zoned out the window and was transfixed by the map on the screen of our progress across North American and Europe. I watched movies, lots of movies, but not really watched them, just sort of gazed at them. I was always glad for the distraction of meals, snacks and drinks being served.
In Amsterdam we went straight to our gate for Tbilisi. We only had a 40-minute window. It was one of those “hurry up and wait” situations. We ran to our gate and then waited what seemed like a very long time on the bus that was to drive us out to our plane. I’d read some unflattering things about the Georgian air carrier and I had to say they were fairly accurate. First impressions were not so good. A very small plane that was quite old-looking, with all the seat covers a bit frayed and tread-bare. All of that became rather irrelevant as I seemed to pass into what felt like an out-of-body experience. I was there but not there. I would be staring straight ahead and then wake up with a jolt some time later. This was repeated for 4 hours. I could have wept when we finally got the word we were landing. I woud have ran off if I could have.
We went through Passport Control and down to Baggage Claim. I found it odd that a few minutes ago I would have killed to be able to stand and now I would just have easily killed to sit down. No bags. No bags. No bags. Someone from the program came to check us in. She then announced that all our bags had been lost. Incredible. I was so glad that I had read that had been happening and had packed some extra clothes and toiletries in my carry-on bags. So then we had to fill out the paperwork for lost baggage. Sigh. Finally that was done and we went out the lobby and were greeted by more TLG team members. Nametags, money changing, etc. Then we loaded up onto a bus and were off to the hotel. I was pleased by the large Pepsi sign outside the hotel. I made a mental note to tell my Dad. We’re huge Pepsi fans. (Down with the Coke monopoly!)
The view from the bus was very interesting. Everyone’s heads were whipping around to look at everything. We arrived at the hotel and checked in. I met my roommate Ashley from Kansas City, MO. I was able to Skype my mom and it was amazing. Then we had dinner and a brief meeting and then I crashed. But not for long. I came awake at 1:30 AM so suddenly it was as if someone had switched a on. Victim of jet lag, I presume.
And the traveling was not done yet, oh no, another 3 1/2 hour bus trip awaited us the next day. And this one was over mountains in a tour bus. Always fun doing switchbacks in one of those, especially in Georgia where driving is all about aggressively passing other people, even if you are driving a tour bus. And after our week of training, there was another 3 1/2 hour bus trip to my village. Agh!
Let’s just say that even though I would love to be home in California for Christmas, that is not a journey I would like to repeat!