MVW Travels: Day 05, Tbilisi Reflections

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—04 Mar. 2017

I've managed to settle into the new room. I'm glad I booked for three nights. This give me some stability and a chance to spend a few days without a pack on my back.

So Tbilisi...

Over the past few reports, I've touched on some of the things I've seen. But I've also glossed over any deeper impressions in favor of recording my travels.

As the wind howls outside, I can stay in and process some of what I've seen and felt.

The city is a mix of the very old and very new. There's signs of new construction in the downtown area. If I had to guess, this new construction is focused on foreign visitors. The hotels and such around the central city are built to meet Western expectations. The older parts are the same as they have been for a long time.

The infrastructure is being improved in places. The city buses are being upgraded to the new blue models, which run off CNG instead of diesel fuel. I saw signs of construction being done at a few of the metro stations. In a lot places the existing facilities can be described as "old but functional."

Out on the street, the traffic can be dense in places. On the wider boulevards, there's enough room. But once a street narrows, the cars are crammed in. Unlike Phoenix, which was built as a car town, the Tbilisi streets just weren't meant to carry the amount of traffic they do. There's also no room to widen the them without knocking down the surrounding buildings. So they make do with what's there.

From what I read before starting the trip, I expected the traffic to be a lot worse. In fact, I've driven in worse. One thing Tbilisi shares with other cities is to claim they all have the worst drivers. It's a universal complaint. The only thing is that here they can get away with more. American traffic policing is much more severe.

The Cars

In one place I lived, I worked at an auto parts store. We had a steady stream of customers coming in for license plate light bulbs. Every evening we had several of them. The town's police had a fetish for pulling over and ticketing cars that had that bulb burned out. It was also a way for the police to get a look inside of the cars. The town was not far from a drug and immigrant smuggling corridor. The locals didn't like getting caught up in the sweeps. But the police pulled everyone over for the same license plate/taillight offenses to avoid charges of discrimination.

I would imagine the average driver here would laugh at the idea of regular vehicle inspections. Or being pulled over by the police for something like a taillight not working.

The smell of exhaust permeates the air in places. While in others there's no sign of it. This could be a case of a few worn out engines polluting more than the others. But once away from the curb it's not as noticeable.

The Street Vendors

In other places the smells are much more pleasant. The aroma of cooking food wafts out of many restaurants. Spice vendors are common on the sidewalks, and I was surprised to see the large uncovered bins. Others sell various kinds of nuts and berries. Most of these vendors are old women sitting on a crate with a small table showing their goods. The steps of the pedestrian tunnels usually have several.

I previously mentioned the book sellers. These are usually men, and they have their books either on racks or laid out on the low wall around the pedestrian tunnel stairs. Again this is something that just wouldn't happen in an American city. The police would be on them like flies on poop.

If there's a place to set up a stand that people walking by, there will be a vendor. In some ways, it's good. People have a chance to run their business and earn a living. But at the same time it speaks to the lack of jobs for them.

None of them are pushy. I stopped to look over one book rack, and the vendor asked what I was looking for, but that was it. There's no aggressive panhandling or screeching vendors. Some will call out what they have for sale, but it's done in a general way.

I've stopped near gold chain vendors in Mexican border towns, and been draped in low quality jewelry before I could catch a breath. Once they put it on you, it was expected you would buy. I would have to get loud to get free of them, and then deal with the feigned insult of the salesman. That's what I consider aggressive street vendors. I've seen none of that here.

The Buildings and Roads

As with other things, people will patch up what they have. Their money will go towards things more important that the exterior of a house. In both places I've stayed now, new water heaters were the norm.

The roads can turn from flat to broken pavement from street to street. This just seems to be the way it is. The toll it takes on a car's suspension must be severe.

The lack of street maintenance carries over to the sidewalks. I haven't seen any that are poured concrete yet. This might have to do with the weather. Paving stones are much more resistant to the temperature changes. In the area where I'm staying now, it's just road with a little gravel to the side. I would say it's like rural towns in the US, but it just happens to be on the outer edges of Tbilisi.

But is it that bad?

No. What I see is a city and people haven't had 75 years of unmatched prosperity like we've had in America. The post-Soviet years took a toll that the residents are still paying. Only in the last few years have they had a reasonably stable government and opened up towards Western business.

The people have been here and maintained their own identity for over two-thousand years, I expect they'll be just fine.

The language barrier

This part of Tbilisi isn't nearly as bilingual as it is closer to downtown. The family I'm staying with speaks very little English or Georgian. Russian is the household tongue. We've been using Google Translate to communicate. One of the neighbors came over earlier. She spoke decent English, and was able to translate for us over breakfast. Plus she brought tiramisu. My shut up and eat rule is paying dividends.

My day so far

I was up around 8:00 AM, we had some coffee and used Google translate for a bit before the neighbor came over. I was torn on the idea of jumping in the shower right away. The house was still cold. But I did anyway. I just made sure I was completely dry afterwards. At home damp hair dries fast, even in the Arizona "winter." This cold snap is starting to get the better of me, and my new travel goal is to not get sick.

My boots haven't been agreeing with my socks, and I wound up with a blister on the outside of my left big toe. After yelling over the fence, my host was able to round up some medical tape to put over it. At some point I'll need to get some moleskin.

As I've written this (12-1:30 PM) the wind has been blowing even harder. I chose wisely by deciding to stay in.

After a trip to the corner market, I came back with eggs, sausage, and an onion which I turned into an omelette. I also got a chance to test out my windbreaker shell. Between it and my hoodie, I was quite comfortable. The sun started to peek out, which also helped.

It's too early to say I'm getting used to the weather, but catching up on my sleep has helped me adapt.

Travel notes

Overall, I brought too much camera stuff. My original plan was to bring the DSLR body and two pancake lenses to save on space. But once I committed to the idea of carrying a separate camera bag, the gear list ballooned. Having the 17-85mm zoom lens has been nice, but the extra weigh of it has been a drag. I doubt I'll use the flash at all. I'm not sure now what I was thinking in bringing a monopod. But at least it fits into the straps on the outside of my pack and doesn't take away from my storage space.

Tomorrow will be a laundry day. One thing I did right was to bring double the amount of underware as I did outerwear. The first night at the Marriott, I hand washed the underwear I wore on the plane. I didn't want them stinking up my pack!

The pack itself, a Timbuk2 Spire, is holding up well. It has thick nylon webbing that hold the straps to the pack, and I'm glad for it. I'm still undecided about the packing cubes. It's nice to be able to pull them out, but the space saving is questionable. I might be better off just stuffing the pack without them. I also should've brought the sternum strap. With the camera bag on, the pack's strap on that side likes to slip down. That one's on me.

Regardless, the pack and camera bag is working out better than any roller luggage I could've brought. There's just no way the one I have would've survived the cobblestones and dirt.

What's next?

Tomorrow is Sunday, and weather permitting I might just wander aimlessly around Tbilisi. The lack of workday traffic will hopefully let the city shine through.

Use the MVW Travel tag to see all the posts in this series.