What is the meaning of Shambhala, anyway? Some of us became familiar with the concept from the 1933 novel, by James Hilton, called, “Lost Horizon”, in which the writer changed the name, “Shambhala”, to “Shangri-la”. From what I’ve read, Shambhala is a mythical kingdom in Tibetan Buddist tradition, sought by Eastern and Western explorers, that has become synonymous with an earthly paradise. Why was I so curious about this mythical land? I think it’s because, I’ve often wondered, throughout our years of perpetual travel, if we’ve been searching for our Shambhala.
If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you know that my husband retired from the USPS in 2009, when we were living in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The information we learned from the internet about Ecuador, led us to believe that it would be a good place to get residency and to live on our government pension. We got our residency permits and settled in the capital city, Quito, but after 9 months, we decided we wanted to live in a smaller city with less crime. We had previously visited Cuenca, a city located in the southern region of Ecuador, on the Tomebamba River, and we decided to move there. After 8 months, though, we realized that our growing need for constant change wasn’t being satisfied, and we began to explore the possibility of traveling continuously as a lifestyle. From our research as to how long we could stay in certain countries, and which countries were most affordable, we came to the conclusion that a lifestyle of continuously traveling, from country to country, could work for us. After a brief visit to the States, in 2012, we began our perpetual travel lifestyle.
Last summer, we discovered the Republic of Georgia, a non-Schengen country, where we were allowed to stay for one year without a Visa. We first flew into Kutaisi, then took a train to Batumi, where we rented an apartment, for six weeks, on the shores of the Black Sea. While we were in Batumi, we began looking at properties online and discovered that if we bought property for $35,000, it would be possible to get a residency permit. We met with a realtor from the Orbi Group, who showed us some condos online that were available for sale at $35,000, with $5,000 down, at 10% interest. After talking further with the realtor, we found out that none of the condos for sale, had actually been built yet, and although there was an estimated time frame for completion, the buyer is obligated to start paying for the property as soon as the paperwork is signed, even though there are no guarantees as to when, or if the property will get built. We didn’t feel very secure about this transaction and went back online to investigate whether there were other options for getting residency in Georgia. We found a law firm in the capital city, Tbilisi, and after contacting them, we learned, that we could get residency, by starting a limited liability cooperation. It was our understanding that we could deposit $2,500, into a business account, and the lawyer would walk us through the residency process. When we got to Tbilisi in the fall, we decided we weren’t ready to apply for a residency permit. We enjoyed a mild winter in Tbilisi, before heading out of the country, in early spring, to do some more traveling in, Latvia, Poland and Bosnia.
While in Banja Luka, Bosnia, we revisited the idea of going back to Georgia and applying for a residency permit. The first thing we needed to do was line up a long-term apartment rental in Tbilisi. After many hours of searching online, we found a traditional style apartment, in the Vake area of Tbilisi, where we had previously stayed. It was listed with a realtor, who seemed to communicate very well with us in English. To rent the apartment through this company, we were required to pay first and last month’s rent, which we arranged to send through Western Union. When we called the realtor to let her know that the money had been sent and that she would receive it in 5 days, she told us that the owner would not be willing to hold the apartment that long, and if we wanted it, we would have to send the money immediately. We explained to her that our bank was not allowing a quicker transaction, and since it was the weekend, we were unable to straighten it out. We ended up having to cancel the Western Union transaction and go back online in search of another apartment.
After sending out a lot of inquiries, for listings on the Georgian real estate sites, and not being able to come up with anything promising, we finally decided to check out a site called InterNations . It was there that we found what we thought would be the perfect apartment for us. It was listed at $450.00 a month and was located in the historic area of Tbilisi, called New Tiflis. From the photos, the apartment appeared to be traditional in style, with hardwood floors, and high ceilings. We were thrilled when Ana, the owner of the property, replied back quickly, to our inquiry, giving us more details about the apartment. We were also able to go on Airbnb, where she previously had the apartment listed, and after reading all the positive comments from guests, about their stays, we agreed to rent Ana’s apartment.
We flew back to Tbilisi on June 22nd, and stayed in an apartment downtown, that we had rented on Airbnb until Ana’s apartment would be ready for us to move into on July 1st. When we met with Ana, at the Dunkin Donuts, in New Tiflis, on June 23rd, we felt relieved that she seemed like a nice person, and someone we could trust. she had never asked for any money upfront and didn’t require us to sign a lease. At the meeting, she answered questions we had about the apartment and explained how we would go about paying the rent and utility bills. It seemed like the perfect set-up. the only drawback was that we wouldn’t be able to see the apartment until the day we moved in.
On July 1st, Gorgi, our Airbnb host, called us a taxi to take us to our new apartment. Ana, who had been busy cleaning the apartment, greeted us when we arrived at 11:00 am. From our chat with her, that morning, we learned that she was a lawyer specializing in business law and immigration law. We told her that we were planning on applying for residency in Georgia and asked her if she’d be our lawyer, and represent us through the process. She insisted on representing us for free, but when we argued that we would have to pay another law firm $2,500, she agreed to accept $1,200 to represent us.
After Ana left, we started to really look around the apartment, something that we felt uncomfortable doing while she was still there. The hardwood floors were pretty, but most of the walls were dirty and the paper was peeling. The bathroom needed a new ceiling, there weren’t enough electrical outlets in any of the rooms, and the air conditioner in the kitchen was too small to cool the whole apartment. We debated about whether we wanted to put our own money into fixing the place and deduct it from Ana’s legal fees, or whether we should just find a new place. We had already paid Ana a month’s rent and since she had been so generous in giving us a break on the legal fees, we didn’t want to disappoint her by moving out and asking for our money back. At the same time, we knew that we couldn’t live in the apartment, in the condition it was in, or while it was being renovated. We prepared ourselves to lose the $450.00 we paid for the first month’s rent, and the next day we reluctantly called Ana to tell her that we would not be staying there. She and her husband came over a couple of hours later to discuss the situation. Ana admitted that the pictures we had first seen of the apartment were three years old and were not reflective of its current condition. She told us that the apartment could be completely renovated to our specifications and that while the work was being done, we were welcome to stay in a brand new apartment that the couple owned in Saburtalo.
That afternoon, Ana and her husband took us to see the clean, modern, 2 bedroom, apartment, on the 4th floor, of a new building in Saburtalo. Normally I prefer a more traditional style, but the apartment had some attractive features that I really liked, such as, an open floor plan, elegant crown molding,colonial-style doors, tile floors, with the appearance of hardwood, a modern bath with a large, glassed-in shower, and a glass door, off the living room, opening up to a balcony, from where there was a decent view of the city. Since we liked the new apartment in Saburtalo, better than the one in New Tiflis, we decided to rent it long-term. We were told the rent would be the same and we could stay at the New Tiflis apartment until the finishing touches were completed on the new apartment in Saburtalo.
Since we had arrived in Tbilisi, the streets were crowded with tourists from neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia. The crowds made it difficult to get around, but we were still able to make the most of the week before we moved by shopping for some of the things we’d need right away for the new apartment. Although there was a new queen-size bed at the apartment, we knew we would have to but sheets, towels, and pillows. I was very drawn to the French style decor at Madame Coco’s in the Galleria Mall, and that is where we purchased a mauve-colored sheet set, with a matching duvet cover, as well as some fluffy, burgundy-colored towels. Since having a good pillow to sleep on was something we really missed while traveling, we bought the best memory foam pillows we could find, at the Coin store in Saburtalo. While exploring our street in New Tiflis, we came across an art boutique called Estia, where we picked up a wooden tray, and coffee cups, handpainted, with Tbilisi houses, in shades of blue, rose and sea green. While shopping downtown, one day, we stopped in at the Antiques Bazaar, a warehouse where vendors sell old china, glassware, and furniture. We purchased a lovely pair of blue, Bohemian crystal, wine glasses, for about 50 Lari, or $17.00. The china that they were selling was very beautiful and I would love to have had the $12.00 Limoge set, but it just had too many pieces, and I didn’t know where I’d put them all.