MVW Travels: Day 21, Last Day in Georgia

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—20 Mar. 2017

I spent my last day here exploring parts of Tbilisi that I haven't been to. All my stuff is packed, and I'll be getting a ride to the airport at 4 a.m.

This morning I went back across the Dry Bridge to the Public Service Hall. This is the central government building that puts most things citizens might need in one place. I started out by checking on what's needed to establish permanent residency.

Since Americans get a one-year passport stamp, there's really not a need to apply. The clerk pretty much told me that the best way is to make a visa run every year to get a new stamp and then after five years worry about the paperwork. That's not really the answer the immigration books gives, but a lot can change over those five years. So for now, it's not a something I'm going to concern myself with. I'll get better answers if a permanent move comes into play later.

My next stop without leaving the building was the Bank of Georgia. I opened an interest-bearing account, but for some reason there's no option to transfer foreign money in. I guess that's because it's a Lari only account. The multi-currency accounts don't pay interest. I figured if I was going to lock up some money, I should get something for leaving it there. There's also a good chance I could open another account over the phone. So I'll just forget about this deposit, and let compound interest do its thing for a while. If I come back, I'll have a small nest egg. If not, well it's only the amount I would've spent on taxis and fancy restaurants anyways.

Then I wandered.

I made it to the top of one of the big hills, where a "funicular" train (one that goes up the side of a mountain on cogged tracks and a cable) goes up to the park on top. I didn't realize how much of a climb I was in for when I started. Once I figured it out, I was more than two-thirds there.

The only problem was that it was closed for maintenance.

So I started back down the hill. I was mostly lost at this point, but downhill was the best direction. Eventually I came out on a large street and found a neat underground bar. A cold beer later and I was ready to head back.

I basically took the long way around and got back to my neighborhood by way of the MacDonalds that got me sick. This time I kept walking.

My feet held up better than I thought they would. Only the last half mile really set them off.

Once back at the house, I found that most everyone was out. This gave me the perfect chance to get a long, hot shower. Afterwards, a short nap was in order.

The rest of the late afternoon/early evening involved me keeping my feet elevated and getting my bags packed.

What's next?

Travel! I'll be on a early flight to Istanbul and then onto New York, where my long layover is. I don't know if I'll get out into New York City. I'll have around six hours, but without a way to leave my bags somewhere I doubt I'll leave the airport.

I may or may not have a chance to get another report in from the road. So to all of you that have been following along, thanks for reading. I see your likes and page views, and in a silly way they've kept me company during the trip.

До свидания!

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MVW Travels: Day 20, Barking Dogs

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—19 Mar. 2017

My biggest accomplishment today was getting out of the house for food.

I woke up with swollen feet, and decided to stay off them as much as possible. I did venture out twice, both times to the market. Other than that, I stayed in and did language lessons and watched the Russian SciFi channel.

The rain cleared up, and it was a cool and sunny day. I felt bad for not doing much and wasting the day in bed. But I have to look out for my health. With my flight home coming up fast, I didn't want to make my feet any worse. I have no idea of how much airport walking I might have to do.

So that was my day. As uneventful as it was.

What's next?

Tomorrow I'm going to see about opening a Georgian bank account. The rest will depend on how well I can walk.

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MVW Travels: Day 19, Tbilisi Shopping

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—18 Mar. 2017

Today I did some inadvertent planning ahead. I also started out by looking for breakfast and made what might have been the biggest mistake of the trip so far.

The search for яйца

This morning I wanted a sit-down breakfast with eggs and sausage. I learned two things while searching: it’s good to want things, and that sort of breakfast restaurant doesn’t exist in the area I’m in.

I started out by heading back towards the metro station. That looked like a busy area the last time I was there. This morning it was just getting going when I walked by around 8:30. The street vendors were setting up, and the traffic was lighter than usual.

Across the intersection from the metro was the world’s largest breakfast joint. A MacDonalds. I noted the location, as a last resort sort of thing and headed down the street. I passed a Dunkin’ Donuts about a half block down. Again, location noted for future reference.

Then I started walking south-ish. After passing way too many non-restaurant businesses, I made it to the Old Town tourist restaurant row. I figured I’d overpay for table service, but it’d be worth it for once on the trip. Out of all the bars, cafes, and restaurants that line both sides of the street, not one was open.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 19, Tbilisi Shopping”

MVW Travels: Day 18, Gori to Tbilisi

Dateline: Gori, Georgia—17 Mar. 2017

(Another day-late post, as I was too tired to write last night.)

I didn’t do my usual night before travel packing since I wasn’t taking scheduled transit to Tbilisi. So I planned on a lazy morning and it worked out perfectly.

My hosts brought down breakfast and we planned for Ilya to take me to the bus station around 11 a.m. After eating, I took my time packing and made sure my iPad was charged up. Then I waited. I was way ahead of my “schedule.”

A few minutes before 11 a.m., Ilya showed up and we went to the bus station. It wasn’t so much much a station as you might think of one. Mostly it was a parking lot with a mish-mash of taxis, minibuses, and cars waiting for fares.

On the ride over I found out that the minibus cost 4 GEL, while a shared taxi was 5 GEL. I opted to spend the extra as it would get me to Tbilisi faster and I hadn’t ridden in one yet.

The villages outside of Gori, as seen from the expressway.
The villages outside of Gori, as seen from the expressway.
Not far from where I was dropped off, a driver was hustling fares to fill his car. We confirmed the price and destination and I loaded myself into the back seat of a station wagon. One more rider piled in and we were off.
Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 18, Gori to Tbilisi”

MVW Travels: Day 16, Poti and Gori

Dateline: Gori, Georgia—15 Mar. 2017

(Note: I'm writing this the following morning. I was too tired to write last evening.)

I woke up to another slow drizzle this morning. It may have rained most of the night, as the puddles were much bigger. I did most of my packing the night before. Upon waking up, it was just a matter of getting dressed and loading my cubes into the pack. Having spent four nights in the same room I had spread out my stuff a bit more than usual, but the cubes have earned their keep.

The anchor at the roundabout near the Poti harbor on the only sunny day I was in town.
The anchor at the roundabout near the Poti harbor on the only sunny day I was in town.

I was up at 6:30 a.m. and out of the room a bit after seven. The main door to the hotel was locked, and I had to knock on the manager's door to get him to let me out. I had planned to walk to the train station, but with the rain I decided to look for a taxi. The corner close to the hotel usually has one or two hanging out waiting for fares. But it was too early and wet for the locals.

After crossing the street, I found a cab just past the gas station. He didn't speak much English, and I didn't know how to say train station in either Russian or Georgian. So I just pointed across the bridge and repeated "station" at few times. We agreed on a price of 2 GEL and I hopped in. Once over the bridge and approaching the roundabout, he started to veer left, and made some screeching noises and wildly pointed at the train station to the right. He understood and took me right to the door. It was worth the two Lari, since I hadn't put on my rain shell before leaving the hotel and the rain was a bit heavier than I expected.

I was also one of the first passengers at the station. Being early is better than late, as I found out in Kutaisi.

As we boarded, the usual lack of any sort of line or queue came into play and I fell in with the crowd near the train car door. I did step away from the group when I saw the conductors checking ID. In Tbilisi there was no ID check when getting on the train. I guess in Poti, they want to make sure the name on the ticket matches. So I fished out my passport, and was able to board the train.

Once on board I found out how the trains signal the upcoming stations. There are TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, and they show a map of where the train is, along with the upcoming station.

Leaving Poti. It's an industrial town with just a thin sheen of city on top of it.
Leaving Poti. It's an industrial town with just a thin sheen of city on top of it.

On the train from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, our little compartment had a screen but it was blank. I guess since the train car on the Kutaisi run gets transferred to a new locomotive at the Rioni station everyone in that car goes to Kutaisi. The regular cars are the ones that will take on or let off passengers at the intermediate stops.

This time I had the window seat and didn't have to trade.

The ride was pleasant in the nice car, and the heater vents are where the bulkhead meets the floor—right near my feet. From the TV screen I was able to see the upcoming stations and learn the word for train station, სადგური. I did manage to sneak in a short nap, because once the train started the long climb over the central mountain range it was a smooth ride with no stops.

As we approached Gori I gathered my stuff and headed to the nearest door. From seeing how the other stops worked, I knew the train would be pulling away as soon as I had both feet on the ground. The entire process is without ceremony. The train pulls into a station, and if you're not ready to exit, you're not getting off. The conductor opened the door and held out a red flag letting the engineer know to hold up for a minute. I got off and the train was moving again before I even turned around. It's very much a self-service operation.

I took a seat in the Gori station and called the place where I'd be staying. That was mostly a waste of a call. Between the overall crappiness of my Chinese card phone and a lack of understanding, I didn't accomplish much other than letting the host know I was at the house. Which I wasn't, but that's what I think he got out of it.

On the map it didn't look like that far of a walk so I set out.

In the wrong direction.

After realizing my mistake, I went back to the station to reorient myself. South of the Gori station is a little pocket of town that's grown around it. It's cut off from the rest of the town by the river and train tracks. Overall, it seems like a nice quiet area with a minimum of traffic.

But I needed to get over the river into the main part of Gori.

From the map I saw a small line indicating a footpath that led to a bridge. I also saw an old man with a sack of groceries heading that direction. When in doubt, follow the locals.

I found the stairs to the bridge just west of the station. I could've walked directly there without taking a detour through the streets surrounding the station. Live and learn, all the while making sure you're reading the map correctly.

Once over the tracks and river, I saw the main road that runs through Gori, Stalin Avenue. It's also a full four lanes. Something I haven't seen since I left Tbilisi.

Walking north, I eventually came upon Stalin Park and knew I was close to where I was staying. I picked this particular booking as it was just a tad north of the Stalin Museum, and would minimize the walking I'd have to do in town.

Once I made it to the north end of the park and turned the corner, a car pulled up. It was my host. He had been looking for me since he realized I was at the station and not the house. That's twice on this trip that happened. I guess the pale blonde with a backpack is an easy spot on the streets of a Georgian town.

I was about a half-block away, but I was happy for the ride. On the walk there, the blisters that I thought were well behaved decided to get angry again.

The rest of the evening consisted of me gimping my way to the corner store for dinner, and cursing the bedsheets for rubbing at my feet as I tried to find a position that was both comfortable and didn't rub on a blister.

The bed though, was wonderful. It was the softest mattress I've slept on yet. I also turned in early, as the rain in Poti followed me to Gori. My rain shell came in handy during the search for dinner, but my pants were a little damp. This left me feeling a little chill, so I turned in early. The last thing I want for my final week here is a cold.

After a quick FaceTime home, I was out like a light.

What's next?

I'll go see the Stalin Museum and then see if I can find some insoles for my boots. Other than that, I'll see what my feet can take and plan accordingly.

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MVW Travels: Day 15, Rainy Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—14 Mar. 2017

Last night it rained. I heard the tapping on my hotel room window but didn't bother look out. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I wasn't getting out of my warm bed to investigate.

By morning it had stopped. After my usual morning routine of doing an hour of language study while still under the covers, the streets were mostly dry, and only puddles remained.

I started off by walking over to the train station to buy my ticket for tomorrow. The clerk didn't speak English, but the Georgian number practiced paid off, and I was able to give her tomorrow's date and we muddled through the rest. I wasn't given the option of ticket prices and it looks like she sold me the higher priced one. This means I'm riding in the nice train car with the individual seats this time. Not bad for 12 GEL.

My next task was to change up another Benjamin. The first place I tried didn't want any 100s, so I kept walking. The currency exchanges are easy to find. They all have digital signs out front advertising their rates. The second place was a more organized operation. By the looks of it, they also did basic finance and loans. The tellers even had individual booths behind the glass. The shop in Kutaisi was about the size of a large refrigerator and only had one teller working. Here it looked almost like a payday loan shop from back home.

I grabbed my daily dose of ორი банан. For those that have been following along at home, yes, that's a horrible pidgin of Georgian and Russian. I've learned numbers in Georgian and words in Russian. The language app I've been using started with the the Georgian numbers and that was as much progress as I made. The Russian lessons are more complete and include audio for the pronunciation. I started on it in Kutaisi because I was staying in a Russian speaking household. I've kept with it, as I'm more likely to find a Russian speaker at home to practice with. (Oh, that phrase means "two banana" as I'm not up my Russian plurals yet.)

I've been buying those two bananas every afternoon I've been in Poti. I eat one before bed, and the other when I wake up. The potassium helps prevent leg cramps.

Overall, I only did my early errands and then around 2 p.m. I went out for my kebab and beer at the little restaurant I found yesterday. They remembered me, and I think I'll miss that little shop. But that was all of the walking I could handle. On my trip to the shore the other day, I managed to raise another blister. This time it's on the ball of my left foot. It popped in my shoe while I was walking. Yesterday, it wasn't so bad. Today it has been angry.

Being out of shape hasn't helped. Neither has having tender feet. At home I rarely have to wear more than sandals. Jumping into boots and then putting on the kilometers has done a number on me. The left foot has taken the worst of the abuse. It's also forced me to consider my feet into my plans.

My next stay is the closest I could find to the Stalin Museum in Gori. I booked it specifically to minimize my walking around town. I did the same for the last four days of my trip in Tbilisi.

Having my feet tore up has definitely put a crimp in the amount of sightseeing I wanted to do. But I've never had problems like this before so it wasn't even on my radar when I left home. Live and learn.

What's next?

I'll be in Gori tomorrow afternoon. It's about an hour outside of Tbilisi. I'll be there for two nights.

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MVW Travels: Day 14, Black Sea Lazy

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—13 Mar. 2017

For my two-week anniversary of being in Georgia, I took the day off. Well, I did my my lodging arrangements for the rest of the trip. I have one more night here in Poti, then two nights in Gori, and I’ll finish out the trip back where I started in Tbilisi.

When I woke up this morning, I realized I overdid the walking yesterday. My legs said, “stay in bed.” So I stayed. I made good use of the time to do some language lessons and leg stretches. Around noon I finally crawled out from under the covers when my bladder couldn’t take anymore laying around.

Once up I ate some fruit for brunch, and did the travel planning. I also decided to take the train to Gori. It might take a bit longer than a minibus, but the station is so close I’d be silly to not use it. Besides I saw some of the minibuses leaving towards Tbilisi. They were packed in like sardines. With my bags, it just might be a little too tight. I’ll get my ticket in the morning for the next day, so I’ll have one less thing to worry about. Plus I won’t have to get a ride as it’s only a short walk across the bridge.

My major accomplishment for the day was finding a local restaurant for an early dinner. I followed part of the path I walked yesterday, down one of the larger avenues, and followed my nose into a kebab shop. One excellent wrap and a beer later I was on my way, fat, dumb, and happy. I’m going back to that place tomorrow.

I stopped off at the village market on the way back to get some more bananas. I continue to be amazed at the amount of food that shows up at that market. This time I happened to walk around the back side of the main building, and found the fish monger stand along with some old ladies selling live chickens and ducks. It’s sort of like a nineteenth century Walmart. There’s a little something of everything.

Back in the hotel room, my next order of business was to use up all the hot water for a very indulgent shower. This pretty much put me down for the count and I crawled back in bed for more language study. I may have napped a little, too.

So that was my lazy day by the Black Sea. Overall, I needed it. Going from my sedentary writer/computer jockey lifestyle to backpacking around Eastern Europe has been a massive shock to my system. Just the change in diet and the walking I’ve been doing is melting the belly fat off. I’ve already down two belt holes, and the third isn’t too far away.

Equipment update

So far, I couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion than the iPad Mini. It’s just the right size to fit in anything from my camera bag to a cargo pocket. I also don’t need anything other than a plug adapter for the power supply to work. But the real star has been the folding keyboard. I charged it before I left, and it’s at 96% charged right now. It’ll be the only thing I won’t need to top off for the whole trip.

What’s next?

Other than going back to the little restaurant, I have no other plans than changing some money and buying my train ticket. Depending on how my feet feel, I may go back down the water. Maybe.

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MVW Travels: Day 13, Wandering Around Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—12 Mar. 2017

These reports are much easier to write earlier in the day. This one is being written at 11:30 p.m. because I took a nap for most of the early evening.

Today was the first day in a week where the weather cleared up. It was bright sun and blue skies over Poti. The wind even let up for a better part of the day. This got me out exploring.

I started with two goals, to get a photo of the Black Sea and to buy another box of band-aids. The first was the reason for coming to Poti. The second was because my first box was used up (they are sold in little boxes of ten).

I really had no other plan than to walk to towards the Sea until I found it.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 13, Wandering Around Poti”

MVW Travels: Day 12, Kutaisi and Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—11 Mar. 2017

Last night I started my packing to prepare for moving day. After five days my stuff had spread out, but with only one bag there’s just not that much stuff. I saved loading the pack for this morning, but everything except for my bed clothes was ready to go. The packing cubes have really made this trip easier.

My alarm went off at 7 a.m. so I’d have plenty of time to get packed and be ready for my ride to the train station at 10:30 a.m. Even with hitting snooze once and catching up with my news feeds before getting out of bed, I had my bags downstairs before eight. Russian Grandpa (I finally found out his name is Batu) was surprised to see me up and drinking coffee before him.

It didn’t take long before he was put a plate of vegetables down in front of me. I have no idea what it was called, but it was some sort of cold mixed veggies with seasoning and a light sauce. The shut up and eat rule worked in my favor again and the tasty dish was gone before I knew it.

I showed him my bags in the hall, and made a going motion with my hands to let him know that it was my last morning there. Once the table was clear I sat with my tea and started watching the clock for my ride.

No train for you

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 12, Kutaisi and Poti”