Georgia on my mind… (Tbilisi)

Days: 541-544 (18 December 2015 – 21 December 2015)

Total distance travelled: 137,296.5 kilometres (85,277.34 miles)

You can take a train ride from Kutaisi to Tbilisi they said…

The scenery is beautiful they said…

When we both awoke with splitting headaches (after I’d vomited from alcohol for the first time since a random night in Laos over six years ago), we really didn’t give too much of a shit about all that.

All that we did know (which at this hour and in our condition wasn’t much), was that we’d planned to haul ourselves over to the Kutaisi I station (apparently there is a Kutaisi II, so don’t get confused) for a 12:15 service to the capital city.

The marshrutka would by all accounts have taken us half the time, but we’d committed to this plan, so stick to it we did.

Realising we were dawdling… probably stumbling far too slowly, we got our arses moving, eventually finding the ticket window with around ten minutes until the clock struck noon.

I’m assuming she was a customer service liaison person asked for our passports for the woman behind the glass partition, so we produced these along with the necessary cash and waited.

And waited… until eventually, with only ten minutes until the trains scheduled arrival/departure and after being assured by the aforementioned customer liaison person that the system was just slow, our passports and our cash was simply handed back through the small aperture in the glass window.

The explanation our half-drunk ears received was a simple “No”.

No what? Was there no train, no tickets left, no time?

We didn’t have a fucking clue.

Turns out neither did the liaison woman, and we’re not convinced if the ticket seller did either.

She couldn’t, or wouldn’t sell us the tickets.

Could we buy them on board?

Apparently not!

Well what can we do?

We’d need to instead take a marshrutka.

After at least getting directions as to what bus could get us from the train station to the bus station. In all of the information we’d read on travel to and from Kutaisi, a bus station was never mentioned, people seem to prefer the nearby McDonald’s as a reference point!

Maybe it’s a source of local pride?

Nevertheless, we found ourselves on board this bus, which eventually let me off at one stop, before driving off with Sarah still aboard, a prisoner until the vehicle next set down for other passengers to alight!

Eventually we were reunited, in which time she’d already found us a ride, and off we set (after the standard wait for the van to fill).

It was probably not a complete tragedy that we were not aboard the train, as with the on and off dozing that was a large component of our ride, it probably would have been something of a waste…

A few hours later, as the sun was not too shy of setting, we arrived at the Didube bus terminal in Tbilisi. Only we’d obviously planned to arrive at the train station, so had no idea where the hell we actually were!

Sarah’s phone was having trouble locating us via GPS, but we eventually established we were about seven kilometres from where we needed to be.

Too far to walk (had it been four, we may have had a crack, but in our state, possibly not), so after wandering around in the hope of finding a local bus towards the old town, we succumbed and took a taxi.

It may have felt a bit of a soft option, but it was getting cold fast, we still then needed to find our hostel in fast fading light, and the whole ride cost us less than six Australian dollars…

We dined on more delicious Georgian food at a swanky looking restaurant recommended by a staff member at our hostel, with great prices that didn’t match the aesthetics, before tucking ourselves into bed for our first night in the city.

Morning revealed to us two things.

There was no sign that the advertised free breakfast was going to be served today (that it had been the day before, or would be again anytime soon), and that despite it being the kind of cold out that would really make your balls shrink, we were treated to yet another day of glorious sunshine!

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A stunning first morning in Tbilisi (left) & Kartvelis Deda (Mother of a Georgian) watches over the capital (right)

As I battled a perpetually running nose due to the bracing air, we also discovered that Tbilisi is apparently a rather late city to rise, or at least so it seemed in the old town.

That’s how with few other options presenting, we found ourselves dining on a muffin and donut from that most Georgian of chains, Dunkin Donuts.

Seriously, these poor staff were even wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘America runs on Dunkin’. I’d have thought they’d at least tailor it to the country in which they were…

Anyway, we were by now on Freedom Square, also known as Liberty Square, which in fact didn’t appear to be all that square shaped at all.

The column and large golden statue that were its centrepiece were however, quite impressive under the bright morning sun.

With no plan, we continued to wander this large artery, although a brief stop at possibly the most helpful tourist information office we’ve ever visited, gave us a purpose.

A lead was now in our possession as to a cinema possibly showing some English language films, as you see, the nerd in me was hankering to see the latest Star Wars film The Force Awakens, revealed to the world some two days earlier.

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That golden glow in Freedom Square (left) & Some local artistry colours the streets (right)

Our path took us past some more impressive pieces of architecture, although one particularly nice concert hall (or was it a theatre?) was unfortunately only visible from the waist up, the ground floor obscured by a temporary wooden fence as we assumed some restoration or cleaning was in progress.

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We couldn’t see it all, but we liked what we could

After quite a walk, dodging quite a bit of traffic, and in turn we needn’t have as most of the major thoroughfares have regular underpasses for pedestrians, we found the theatre, ogled a few movie posters in both the beautiful Georgian script, and Russian Cyrillic before confirming that there were indeed two sessions of Star Wars that very afternoon and night in English.

A small amount of money was exchanged, and I happily (and Sarah reluctantly) sauntered out with tickets to a 5pm session that very day!

We filled the remainder of our morning in at the Georgian National Museum, where they were holding a variety of standard and a few special exhibitions.

The standard fare focused on the local costume and a series of displays on Armenian weaponry throughout history, whilst the special displays proved surprisingly interesting.

Fortunately for us, most text was in Georgian and English (with some also in Russian), which meant we were fully able to enjoy the room devoted to Armenia under the rule/occupation of the Soviet Union, and another on the Georgian-American (he fled to the Americas in the 1920’s) Alexander Kartveli, who designed a few of the more famous aircraft in US military aviation history, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the still in use today, A-10 (colloquially known as the ‘Tank Killer’ if my memory of 1990’s computer games serves me correctly).

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This particular traditional warriors costume had me thinking of Assassins Creed (another video game, although not one I’ve played) (left) & Reflecting on human history and society, Georgian style (right)

It was necessary for us to duck back to the hostel and confirm we would be staying for another night at least (when we’d left at that not so early morning hour, nobody was conscious), where we also alerted a couple of Kiwi lads (that would be two guys from New Zealand for those not familiar with the Kiwi tag) of our plans to catch Star Wars that afternoon.

They were immediately sold, after which we (that would be Sarah and I, the boys decided to meet us at the cinema) ducked out for a rather late lunch of Khinkali (those delicious and cheap Georgian dumplings).

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A little more quirkiness at the marionette theatre clock tower (left) & The trend continues with a little more bronze (there are a lot of statues in central Tbilisi) (right)

Before lunch however, we’d settled on taking the easy way out on the day trip front, electing to partake in a tour of a few of the nearby towns and sites.

We soon discovered that the low season put an end to our chances of visiting one of our possible destinations (we didn’t fancy the upper crust prices of a private tour, instead preferring the group option), eventually settling on a tour office we’d visited earlier during our preliminary research.

The woman to whom we’d earlier spoken would be out, that we knew as she was to be taking a tour that same afternoon.

No problem we thought, the place was still staffed so we’d just book it through one of her colleagues.

Although the place doubled as a souvenir shop, at this time of year it came as no surprise that there were no other customers, just the sole staff member chatting on her phone, so we waited.

Unsure whether language may be a barrier, we made it clear we weren’t browsing by standing right before her, patiently waiting for her to end the conversation, or at least acknowledge us.

And thus we waited… and waited… after five minutes of being completely ignored, as she continued to chat with glee on her cell phone, we thought fuck this, there is no way we are doing a tour with these guys!

Pretty pissed at this point (that would be annoyed/angry for those unfamiliar with the Australian use of the term pissed (an abbreviation of pissed off)… which can also be used to indicate if somebody is both drunk, or if they’ve urinated somewhere. Confused yet?), we decided to make the day trip independently, and just hustled ourselves along to the cinema.

With a little excitement I settled in to my seat, and with a look of resignation, Sarah settled into hers.

After the fifth preview had finished, that would be the fifth preview in Russian, we began to wonder if we were indeed in the correct movie theatre, and there was still no sign of the Kiwis.

Our New Zealand friends eventually made an appearance, another Russian preview wound up, followed by a plug for a local Georgian production and then the lights dimmed.

The obligatory Lucasfilm lit up the screen, and with baited breath revealed… A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Thank goodness, the movie was in fact in English.

I’ll save any personal opinions on the film to myself, but from Sarah who was so looking forward to it (yes, that line was dripping with sarcasm)… “It was worse than I expected.”

We followed up this first full with our self-guided day trip (more on that excursion in a separate entry), and a dinner out with the Kiwi lads.

A few beers were downed, followed by a few more at our hostel, and in the end a quiet night became a bit of a session.

With the forecast not looking great (and us feeling pretty wrecked from the previous days walking and drinking), we unfortunately abandoned plans to head north to Kazbegi, as the local advice was that road closures can be sudden and long lasting, and as much as we’d hoped to see it, we didn’t fancy a several day delay seeing us lose most of our scheduled time ahead in Armenia.

As such, a lazy day ensued, we shared one last meal with our companions from the southern hemisphere (these two guys were travelling from cape to cape, primarily hitch-hiking and using flights only when absolutely necessary… that’s Cape of Good Hope to Cape Horn) before we bid an early morning farewell to Tbilisi, and one marshrutka ride later, said hello Armenia!

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Tbilisi sent us off in style with this lovely morning (left) & A rather concrete, very Soviet like church as we bid Georgia adieu (right)

 

Notes:

* A marshrutka from Kutaisi to Tbilisi cost us ₾10.00 Lari per person.

* Our taxi from Didube bus terminal to the Tbilisi old town cost us ₾10.00 Lari.

* Entrance into the Georgian National Museum set us back ₾50.00 Lari each.

* It cost us ₾2.00 Lari for a Metrocard (one card is useable by multiple people), and an extra ₾0.50 Lari per ride.

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