Day 41: back in Tbilisi

Tbilisi Travel Blog

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wonderful view of the Debed river during a stop on the road to Tbilisi
People I met here and/or travelled with: Jack (Netherlands), Lika (Georgia)

My trip back from Yerevan to Tbilisi was done by Marshrutka, the former USSR equivalent of the dolmuş. If my experience from Tbilisi to Yerevan was any indication then the marshrutka would be a lot faster than a shared taxi. And a lot cheaper too!

Of my fellow travellers only one spoke a few words of English and as soon as he had understood I was from Holland he cited a long list of Dutch football players. Normally people will shout out the usual Cruyff-Gullit-van Basten combo, but this guy actually seemed to know exactly which player plays for which team, which team is ahead in the league and which teams have or have had an Armenian player in their ranks.
Tavisuplebis Moedani at night
I don't like football, but I should really brush up my knowledge of Dutch football in order to be able to communicate with these people. It was embarrassing that this guy knew so much more about the sport in my country than I did.

Five hours later we arrived in Tbilisi at the same decrepit bus station as where I had taken the shared taxi from only four days ago. It seems so much longer than that.
I couldn't be bothered to figure out which local marshrutka would go to the part of the centre where my hostel was, and taxis are very cheap in this country anyway. Besides, at bus stations there are always half a dozen taxi drivers bound to flock around the tourist.

Today was no exception. “Taxi? Taxi sir? Where you going?”
I told them my destination and got a quote for 15 lari.
Jvavis Mama and Norasheni churches in old town Tbilisi
15 lari? Wow, that was as much as I'd paid last week for the 30 kms to Batumi from the border and I was pretty sure that had been an inflated price already. I said no and immediately the price went down to 10. I called their bluff and offered 5. They all acted offended and told me to go away. OK, so that means the going rate will be somewhere between 5 and 10. I decided to walk to the street where usually the more less aggressive  taxi drivers can be found.
I had not walked 5 metres yet and a taxi driver called me from his car. “Where to? Mahjanivili? 6 lari!” Wha? OK, I had expected to find a cheaper taxi outside the confines of the bus station, but the drivers at the station had refused to go lower than 10 lari, telling me to go away and their colleague, not even 5 metres away, charges me only 60% of that price.
So this is what one calls a 'homestay'. In the literal sense of the word.
Surely there must be something wrong with their tactic here.

And quite unexpectedly I had find an honest taxi driver. Must be a dying breed. Speaking of dying breeds, his car was one as well. I think it once started life as a Mercedes, but there was hardly any original panel left on the chassis.
He had watched the whole exchange I had with the other taxi drivers and shook his head, waived his finger and shouted something to his colleagues, of which the words “bandito, bandito” were greeted with much laughter.

My accommodation, Dodo's Guesthouse, which was labelled a “homestay” in my guidebook. Well, if homestay means that the entrance is unmarked and the dorms contain assorted furniture and a mismatch of beds then yes, I guess this was a homestay.
Old town Tbilisi
Dodo is a lovely lady though. Well in her seventies and still running the hostel on a daily basis, assisted by her brother, her cousin and several of her nieces.

I bumped into an English man I'd met in Yerevan here. Looks like everyone is travelling the same route here. For the rest the hostel/homestay was filled with a group of Swiss girls and many, many Dutch. I'd not met any Dutch since Göreme and was quite surprised to find so many here in Tbilisi. Never though this to be a popular holiday destination (just like I had been surprised to find so many travellers from the UK in Armenia).
Everybody seemed to be checking out today though and I ended up having the entire dorm to myself for the next two nights.

One of the best friends of the father of my best friends (geddit?) has recently moved to Tbilisi and had agreed to meet up with me.
Georgian beer - now if only I could read the name so that I could order one
Nice for him to speak some Dutch again, and nice for me to speak to a local who I could actually communicate with.

On the way to his house I made a stop at the train station to sort out my train ticket to Baku for later this week. I couldn't see myself sitting on a marshrutka for 12 hours, so an overnight train seemed a very good proposition indeed.
The sheer, almost preposterous, inefficiency of the train station surprised me. Sure, Georgia is not a first world country, but it is not exactly third world either.
The station building is currently closed for refurbishment. I'd noticed that when I arrived from Batumi last week. The only part of the station that is open is a very dirty, urine flooded underpass. So far so good then.
Tickets are being sold from temporary booths, but for international tickets I was told to go upstairs to a finished part of the new station building.
My truly wonderful train ticket. I love these things!
To get there I had to go around the station building, through the underpass, across a platform, up the stairs and into the station building on the second level.

To illustrate: the train station in Batumi is fairly modern and buying a ticket takes a matter of minutes as the clerk will simply press some buttons on the computer and the ticket rolls out immediately. Above the ticket window you can see which trains are slated for departure that day and how many seats are left for each class. I thought that was very impressive.
So you would think that this is the case in the whole country, right? Or at least, at the main train station in the capital of the country!
Well, guess again.

At the ticket counter for international tickets there was no computer.
Old town Tbilisi with the very modern TV tower in the back
Instead the clerk had to make a phone call to a reservation hotline for each and every ticket she sold. After this she had to write the ticket by hand, twice, and then manually cut the ticket in two with a pair of scissors, making sure to snake in between several different codes pre-printed on the ticket, which seemed to depict the class and the price of the ticket (both of which she had already written on both sides of the ticket. Then both halves were added together again and had to be die-cut with a code or date of some kind. For this she used an ancient looking machine in which she first had to manually insert the punches in the right order.
There were two people ahead of me in the queue, so I had a good half hour to observe all this before it was my turn. Who said the Soviet Union was dead and gone?

Then it was my turn and to my horror I realised I didn't have enough money on me.
replica of a sculpture from the 2nd century BC - these days this could pass as modern art!
Surely I would be able to pay by credit card, right? I mean, in his country you can even buy a packet of chewing gum with your credit card, so surely she had a hand terminal stashed away beneath her desk. Well, no, train tickets have to be paid in cold hard cash.
Off to the ATM then. Errr, ATM? Is there an ATM here? Well, maybe once the station building is finished, but so far they hadn't thought of putting an ATM in. The closest one was at the metro station next door. So for that I had to go down the stairs again, across the platform, through the underpass, around the station building, into the metro building, a roundtrip which took a good 15 minutes!

Altogether buying a train ticket had taken me 75 minutes - I was glad I'd done it now, and not 10 minutes before departure.
Armenian Cathedral of St George. Wait a minute, this is Georgia, the country named after St George, yet the Armenians got to build a church here?

Didn't know whether I should laugh or cry. I mean, I found the whole experience laughable and I was not in a hurry anyway, but for a country that is knocking on the doors of the EU hoping to let in some day soon, they may have to work on ridding themselves of some unnecessary bureaucracy first.

After this fun diversion I took the metro to the suburb where Jack lives.
Jack is a very nice man in his sixties, who had set out on a trip around the world four years ago, but never got further than Georgia and he has lived here ever since. He is now part-time pensioner, part-time teacher at a university.
His girlfriend, Lika, is a lovely lady and also a teacher, teaching English at Junior High school. Georgians are said to be very hospitable and she proved this by laying out a delicious feast of local canapé-style dishes on the table the moment I sat down.
The love or hate new pedestrian bridge across the Mtkvari

The canapés were followed by khachapuri (which in Georgia resembles a pizza, rather than the empanada-type of pies I'd had in Armenia) which was followed by soup, and then pies and ice cream. The whole afternoon and early evening food kept coming, while drinking moved from refreshing soda, to delicious Georgian wine, to coffee and finally vodka.

Jack apologised for having to do some personal errand, he is having a summer house built, and today there was a meeting with the builders as well as Lika's cousin, who is both the architect of the house and acted as translator for Jack.
I didn't mind, while they had their meeting I had a nice chat with Lika, and later watched some CNN news. Hadn't seen much news off late but maybe it would have been better if I hadn't seen any at all.
pedestrian bridge
The world's gone mad, it seems. At least, the part of the world I'm about to travel to: Iran is under pressure again for their nuclear program and they just released a French teacher who had been 'innocently' held prisoner for several months, fighting has erupted again in Kyrgyzstan as the new government seems unable to stabilize the country after their coup d'etat, and finally Thailand where a resolution still seems very far off and civil war becoming more and more probable. I sure picked a great route to travel...

In the evening Jack and Lika took me to the old town of Tbilisi, which is wonderfully lit up at night. In recent years a lot of money has been invested into this area to make it more attractive for toursist. Well, it certainly seems to work. Not only is tourism on the rise in Tbilisi, the old town is also turning into the hippest area of the country, with many bars and nightclubs.
pedestrian bridge

A brand-new footbridge has just been opened, connecting the restored old-town at the west bank of the Mtkvari river with the rather dilapidated but equally interesting east bank.
Not all locals seem to like the futuristic bridge which really stands out amidst the old churches and villas. The current president has received quite a bit of criticism, as this is the second futuristic, somewhat unnecessary building he commissioned in Tbilisi. Previously he had a brand new presidential palace built, which somewhat resembles the Reichsdag in Berlin. Some say this money would be better invested in upgrading the city's hospitals or roads instead.

After a nice tour around town Jack and Like dropped me off at my hostel (took a while to find it in the maze of one-way streets) and we agreed to meet again later this week.
KGB bar - the best slogan in town!

sylviandavid says:
Really enjoyable read.... Thanks for sharing your day.
Posted on: Sep 03, 2011
abisfun says:
Great blog! I'm hoping to be teaching there this summer!

Niagara, ON
Posted on: Feb 26, 2011
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wonderful view of the Debed river …
wonderful view of the Debed river…
Tavisuplebis Moedani at night
Tavisuplebis Moedani at night
Jvavis Mama and Norasheni churches…
Jvavis Mama and Norasheni churche…
So this is what one calls a homes…
So this is what one calls a 'home…
Old town Tbilisi
Old town Tbilisi
Georgian beer - now if only I coul…
Georgian beer - now if only I cou…
My truly wonderful train ticket. I…
My truly wonderful train ticket. …
Old town Tbilisi with the very mod…
Old town Tbilisi with the very mo…
replica of a sculpture from the 2n…
replica of a sculpture from the 2…
Armenian Cathedral of St George. W…
Armenian Cathedral of St George. …
The love or hate new pedestrian br…
The love or hate new pedestrian b…
pedestrian bridge
pedestrian bridge
pedestrian bridge
pedestrian bridge
KGB bar - the best slogan in town!
KGB bar - the best slogan in town!
Tbilisi Hostels review
Friendly budget choice
Dodo is an old lady in her seventies, who runs this (unlicensed?) guesthouse in her home. Four or five rooms in her large single story house have been… read entire review
photo by: herman_munster