I found myself in Tbilisi three times due to changes in plans. I LOVE this city and want to go back some day.
Mon, Nov 18, 2013
It was around freezing in the morning as there was a little bit of frost on the tent. I’m happy to say I’ve survived all the bush camps of the trip! The remainder of nights will be spent in hotels or hostels. We were leaving at 9:00 this morning so I had to get up earlier to fit in my morning walk. I set off at 6:30 under the light of a full moon towards a monastery I had seen the previous day. The walk was easy but after I continued along the road I found a sign for the monetary in Georgian as well as English: No tourists, No photographs, Women must wear proper headscarves. Strike three for me! So I walked to the top of a hill to appreciate he monastery and the sunrise from afar.
We arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia just before noon. We were lucky to be able to check into our hotel rooms where I took a great hot shower after 2 nights of camping plus I packed up my souvenirs which I hoped to mail home plus my laundry which was in dire need of washing. Anna and I set off for the post office which the Lonely Planet said was across the street from the National Gallery. We set off on foot but were confused by the map so we hopped in a very expensive taxi whose driver didn’t know where to drop us on the Rustavelli street so we ended up walked back quite a way to the place the post was supposed to be. After searching around that block for some time and asking many people who didn’t have a clue, we stopped into the Marriott Hotel for directions. They gave us a map and walking directions. It turns out the post office for parcels was only about 7 blocks from our hotel on the same street. They weighed my stuff and it was 3.8 Kilos (about 8 pounds) and the charge to mail it home was over $100 so I guess I’ll be lugging this stuff around for 2 more weeks.
Anna offered to take my souvenir bag back to the hotel as I headed towards old town to find the Envoy Hostel where I will be staying later this week. It took quite some searching – no one seemed to know it or the street it was on but I eventually found it on a hill behind the old city.
I met up with Bruce, Judy, Bruce, and Sue and they were going to sit at an outdoor cafe and have a beer so I joined them for two. We had some snacks on our way to the metro station where I rode the longest escalator in my life to ride the subway of Tbilisi back to the neighborhood of our hotel.
Tues, Nov 19
After breakfast at the hotel, we set off on a walking tour with our local guide, ZaZa. We took a taxi to the old town and had a walk around. He took us down a gorge in the middle of the old town to find a hidden waterfall. We walked around the old part and saw lots of neat architecture.
Such a mix of Asian and European and the Silk Road staples of a blue tiled mosque and hammams (baths). And a secret waterfall hiding in the middle of the city.
We were dropped off at Freedom Square where Bruce, Sue, and I had lunch at a little bakery. This time I tried the lasagna-like cheese pie. Very thin noodles with the local cheese but no red sauce or meat. This was probably my favorite of the cheese pies, or unofficial national food of Georgia.
I was hoping to buy a ticket to the ballet or opera for later in the month when I’m back in Tbilisi. However, the Opera house was all boarded up and I couldn’t find a box office. This is odd because a local activities guide was showing that there are events here in November. Just another wild goose chase in Tbilisi. My first impression is this is not my favorite city. There have been two occasions where someone has ripped me off in the last two days- once at a money exchange (a dodgy sign didn’t properly show the rate) and another for a taxi (faulty meter?). The number of beggars in the city is outrageous – I’ve seen several hundred in the last few days.
I did some more walking around old town and visited the local open air antiques and art market in the park. I went to the Envoy Hostel to pick up my laundry and walked back to my Hotel in the newer part of town to relax a couple hours before dinner.
For dinner, 11 of us headed off to a spot recommended by our guide for a bit of Georgian food and entertainment. There was a four-man singing group plus a woman and 3 men dancers. The dancers were amazing – in different costumes. It was sort of like Georgian river dance. After the show, a couple other singers came out and sang some slow songs and some fast songs both in Georgian and English. We appeared to be the only tourists there – lots of locals celebrating various events. The large table next to us was celebrating a 45th birthday and we took turns buying each other pitchers of wine and partying together. It was probably one of the most fun nights of the trip! So much dancing and flirting with cute guys.
Sat, Nov 23
It was very grey skies this morning – this might be the only day of the trip so far that I haven’t seen the sun at least for a little while. Overall, the weather has been quite amazingly good. I thought it would be very cold in Georgia in November but it’s a good time to be here – a light jacket is plenty and there are very few tourists around. This is both good and bad. Good in that I have whole sites to myself and bad because tours and transportation are a bit more difficult.
I found out that the hostel will be completely full tonight. The Peace Corps had a conference in another town but nearly all of them need to reconnect via public transportation to their rural towns via Tbilisi so they are spending the night in various hostels around town. So, my room to myself last night will now have 4 girls tonight.
I just had a lazy morning and hung around the hostel and went out for a walk. I was planning to go to the Georgian National Museum but found out it was closed today, presumably for the St. George festival which takes place today. This festival celebrates St. George, the patron saint and namesake of Georgia. All the churches were very busy today. So, I just had lunch and walked back to the hostel to drop off some things and prepare to go out to the Georgia vs. Samoa Rugby match. After asking several people, I finally was given directions and an address of a stadium, as well as the numbers of a couple buses that went there.
So, I set off for bus 61 and got off at the address I was given. It was a bank. Luckily the guard knew a little bit of English and he pointed out the direction to the stadium. After I walked a bit I saw large stadium lighting towering over the trees of a park. I was a bit early so I hung out outside the stadium. In several places around town, there are guys running a gambling type game where someone pays some money and if they can hang on a bar for over 2 minutes they will win some money. I haven’t seen anyone win yet. This location in front of the stadium was particularly good as 75% of the spectators were young men.
I met Patrick, a guy from Manchester, UK in line so we decided to sit together. We bought the most expensive tickets for about $1.80 that put us right at midfield. At some point an announcement was made before the match and all the people with the 60 cent tickets filled in the empty spaces. Overall, the stadium was about 75% full. Both national anthems were made before the match and the Samoan team did a Haka dance (a chant with arm and leg motions, most famously done by the Maori and New Zealand sports teams). The match was good – the score was always close and both Samoa and Georgia lead at various times. With about 10 minutes left, Georgia went ahead at a score of 16-15. Samoa was getting close to scoring but then the whistle blew that time had run out. Georgia (the 18th best team) had beaten Samoa (the 8th best team).
It was too busy to catch a bus so we started walking back to the city. We ran into a guy from New Zealand who was also headed there so we hailed a taxi. I said goodbye to the guys and headed back to the hostel. There were a couple dozen Peace Corp volunteers hanging out in the common room and I talked to a few of them. At 8:30 I headed to a local place that was to have singing at 9pm. I ordered wine and my favorite Georgian dish – mashed kidney beans in a clay pot. I listened to the music for a while but felt a bit lonely and tired so I went back to the hostel at 10:30.
Sun, Nov 24
My main aim for the day was to get to Armenia but I had to wait until 1 pm until my van would leave. So, I relaxed at the hostel for a bit and then walked up to Rustavelli Avenue (again, it seems like I’m there multiple times every day) to go to the National Museum. Exhibitions there included:
* National Treasury: mostly gold adornments that were found in graves around Georgia. Many had Roman, Greek, and Hellenic influence.
* An Oriental Collection that had paintings and other art from Iran, Egypt, and a few other Asian countries
* Old military goods: swords, uniforms, and guns
* Info and relics from the Soviet occupation from 1921-1991. The Soviets executed 100,000s of Georgians at this time and there are still a couple regions that are under dispute.
I walked back to the hostel and got my things and walked to the subway station that also would have the vehicle that I would take to Yerevan, Armenia. I was happy to see a blue Mercedes van with a “Erevan” placard in the window. Immediately, they asked “Lisa?” and helped me with my bag. I waited until 1:00 and eventually a couple local ladies and man showed up and we were off by 1:07. This driver went fast! He was going as fast at 140 Km per hour and at one time was doing 100 in a 40 zone. I was glad to have a seat belt.
Fri, Nov 29
Today would be the first of 3 travel days to go home. Today’s journey would be by “Marshrutka” or Russian for “Van” from the capital of Armenia to the capital of Georgia. I was happy that the Marshrutka left right on time at 10am. I had heard they sometimes wait until they fill up as a couple that tried to get a 7:30 am van last week told me they waited 2.5 hours, but the van was quite full and the passengers were verbally complaining when the driver left even 1 minute late.
It was another spectacular drive thru the Armenian countryside. I was happy that the van took a different route than the shared taxi did five days ago. Today’s drive took us over a mountain pass with rain, snow, and slush. Then past Mount Aragats (sort of the little sister mountain of Ararat, but only 4000 meters high compared to the 5000+ meters of Ararat). Next, we entered the Debed Canyon, named for the river that cut the canyon. I was getting a bit of harassment by a Georgian guy – the other locals in the van were getting a laugh out of it. When he asked me if I was married (a pretty standard question on this trip) all the locals yelled “YES!”
We arrived in Tbilisi before 4:00 and I went to the hostel to store my bag. Since I had to be at the airport so early, I decided to save the money and just pull an “all-nighter” and stay at the bar until it was time to get my bag and go to the airport. It was drizzling again – it seems the only rain on this trip has been in Tbilisi. I went out for a walk up to Rustavelli again. My first stop was the ticket sales for the Tbilisi State Ballet Company. I had seen and advert for the Nutcracker the prior week and I hadn’t bought a ticket because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be back in time. I bought a ticket for about $6.50. I next went to a local chain restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner. This restaurant is like the Georgian version of Cracker Barrel or Perkins. I had the mashed beans in a hot pot with pickled veggies and the local corn bread. There were some interesting veggies in the mix – one I’ve never seen before plus so green tomatoes.
I dressed for a night out and headed out to the theater to see The Nutcracker. The theater was nearly packed and there were lots of kids. The version was quite a bit different from the version I saw in Seattle a couple years ago. The opera house where they normally would perform was under construction so they now perform in a smaller theater. There’s no room for an orchestra so they danced to recorded music. There was a program printed in both Georgian and English and I noticed that 2 of the 4 lead dancers were Japanese.
After the ballet was over, I had about 6 hours until I needed to be to the airport so I went to a bar and had some cheap local beers then headed to one of the more expensive bars with live music. I was talking to a couple guys that were on a software project in Tbilisi. Then some local people started talking to us and trying to share their vodka (no vodka for me – I was not forgetting that I had to be to the airport in a couple hours). I hung out with them for a while to spend the waiting time.