Entering Georgia

From Dilijan we caught a taxi to Vanadzor. It was a bit chilly that morning, and I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt as always. Locals here have no tolerance for cold apparently, because it was only sixty-ish degrees and to see them dress youd think it was winter already! Well, Ive mentioned their hospitality. The taxi driver kept looking at my bare legs and arms and finally had to say something; arent you cold?? he asked. I said, using two of my dozen Russian words, Nyet, karasho! meaning, no, Im good. Well, he understood but couldnt accept it. He kept looking at me in wonder, then when we stopped for gas he took off his jacket and insisted I wear it. And really, I wasnt that cold! But there was no refusing, so I took it gracefully.

Speaking of Gas, most of the cars here run on propane; gasoline is the exception, not the rule. When filling with propane, we all have to exit the car in case it explodes .It takes about 10-15 minutes to fill up the tank. Anyway, we spent the morning in Vanadzor, walked through the gigantic market, got some raw milk, dried fruits, spicy homemade beef sausage, local cheese, and so on. The milk had a very pleasant taste, and cost about 50c a quart.

We caught a taxi for the border of Georgia, crossing into which was uneventful, then a marshrutka (shared minivan-taxi with 15 people in it) for Tbilisi. We noticed immediately that these people were lighter in skin tone – some lighter than I – and less happy, friendly, and apparently less healthy than the Armenians we had just left.

At the Tbilisi bus station we were immediately accosted by taxi drivers, as usual, to whom I replied with a firm no. Never, ever, take the taxi that runs to meet the bus. It speaks of either desperation or greed, neither of which spells good things.

So we got away from the concentration of sharks and were walking through the bus station, when a man – I later learned he was Nigerian, the only black man I saw the whole trip – walked up to us and asked where we were from, and where we were going. I told him and asked him how to get there, and he insisted on walking us all the way across the lot to the bus we needed to get on. Which was very nice.

After finding a hostel we went to the famed old town to look for some food. I found it quite disappointing – reminded me too much of New Orleans French Quarter. Overpriced food, cheesy pseudo-European sidewalk cafes, and so on. We ate, but left hungry and disillusioned. We wound up eating at a New York Burger. Rather depressing. Although I must say the ketchup was the most unusual Ive ever had. It was thin, and had some sort of strange spice in it, like cinnamon or nutmeg. Still not sure whether I like it or not.

Next morning we set out for the Turkish Baths at Abanotubani. They are a sulphur bath where both Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas once bathed. 20$ got us a private room for 2 with a 5 cube full of 104 degree water that smelled of rotten eggs, a shower, and tile everywhere. Swimsuit time!

Just when the water was really getting me mellow and relaxed, there was a knock at the door. At first I thought our time was up, but apparently it was our masseur. Crystal was too chicken to go first so I said sure, why not. He proceeded to lather me up, rub me down, use a scrub brush all over, use pressure points on the feet, pound on my back, and so on. Then he seemed to delight in surprising me with a bucket of hot water over my head. It took him 20 minutes to do it all. Then, since I apparently survived the experience, Crystal deigned to take a turn. Wound up costing us another 20$ for the both of us for the scrub and massage.

Found a restaurant nearby, obviously invented for tourists, but which was still fairly cheap; we had a chicken liver/heart dish, a bowl of strangely seasoned beans, and a kebab – which here means something like meatloaf rolled into football-shaped but golf-ball sized lumps. Good though.

Then we walked through the botanical gardens, and up to the top of for Narikala – where I juggled as part of my juggle-around-the-world hobby.

Finally we made our way to the train station, where we were planning to catch a train to Zugdidi, thence to Svaneti, our destination in the mountains. I should note that all Tbilisans we met were rude, pushy, aggressive and angry. I havent been cut off in line so many times since I was in the Andes mountains where the Indians were REALLY pushy at times.

We were standing in line in the ticket counter, very clearly, and people would just shove past us, stand on the side in the ticket counter and demand their attention next. As if we were invisible. Finally I got pushy too and no one seemed to mind. A far cry from the hospitality of Armenia, and which were to experience in rural Georgia.

Anyway, in spite of all that we found that all trains were full, we were informed rather rudely and impatiently. Until two days later. So we decided to change our plans and go to Tusheti first, then to Svaneti later. Tusheti was also mountainous, and closer. However it was too late to start for Tusheti that night, so we went to another hostel – we hadnt liked the first one. Here we met several interesting travelers from China, Italy and Israel and stayed up chatting until fairly late.

Tried to catch a minibus to the bus station the next morning, but the first two were full, and the third one had space, but a woman saw me, pushed in front of us, onto the bus, then slammed the door behind her – and I was IN the doorway at the time! I managed to duck out and the bus pulled away. So we gave up on the minibus idea, took the underground metro and started planning our later return to Armenia via some route that did not include Tbilisi!

Next we went to Telavi, our jumping-off point for the mountains. It was too late in the day to go onward to Omalo, our destination in the mountains, so we stayed in a homestay in Telavi. This was our first real homestay, in a beautiful 19th century European-style home with 10 ceilings and beautiful antiques. They made us dinner, and breakfast, and doted on us terribly. Their hospitality was incredible, and they only charged us 10$ each for the room and two meals. And another 5$ to drive us to the next town to pick up the taxi for the mountains. I left another 10$ on the bed to thank them for going above and beyond, since I was pretty sure they wouldnt take it if I offered it.

As I write this, I am waiting in a shared jeep for a trip up into the mountains. Its a 3.5 hour trip, but weve just been informed that the roads are closed until this afternoon due to a lot of rain last night, and maybe closed even then, so were not sure what happens next. But hey, thats part of travel when youre not with the tour group!

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Posted on August 30th, 2010 by Natnee and filed under Georgia/Armenia |



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