Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—05 Mar. 2017
I've gotten into a habit of going to sleep in the afternoon and waking up around 2:00 AM or so. Part it was jet lag, another part of me was just diving into a warm bed to avoid the weather. Once awake I would start to write the previous day's trip report. I've also found that the large packing cube makes a better-than-average desk for bed writing.
But I seem to be acclimatizing to the new time zone, and today I managed to accomplish quite a bit.
Being awake in the early AM and with not much to do, I started planning out the next week of my trip. After rolling out of bed when the sun came up, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I didn't screw anything up.
Now I know where I'll be for the next week.
I've decided to move on from Tbilisi. I'll be back for the last leg of my trip, and decided to get the cross-country traveling done sooner than later. It's better to already be in the town the flight leaves from rather than rushing back. It's not like I can say, "Oops!" and catch a Greyhound.
Tomorrow morning I leave from Kutaisi, which sits halfway between Tbilisi and the Black Sea. I have reservations for five nights. This should let me get a good feel for the town. After that, I'll spend the weekend in Poti. It's a smaller town built around the Georgian Navy base there. There's no way I was letting this trip go by without visiting the Black Sea.
Maybe I'll be able to say, "I can see Russia from my hotel room!"
The stay in Kutaisi is another homestay. I've grown to like the randomness of the people I've met by booking them. In Poti, the only thing available close to the city center was a hotel. I decided to go that route as a way to change things up. Plus it was only a few dollars more than a homestay much further away. I'm not opposed to spoiling myself in the middle of long trip, either.
There's three choices for getting from Tbilisi to Kutaisi.
- Crowded minibus
- Suicide taxi
- Train of the unknown
I opted for what's behind door number three. I had my fair share of cab jousting on the way from the airport. And I was squeezed into a minibus earlier today. So the train seemed like the sane option. I'll let you know tomorrow afternoon.
While researching my options, I found the train schedule online. It leaves Tbilisi Square #1 at 9:00 AM and arrives in Kutaisi at 2:30 PM. A five-and-a-half hour ride. A suicide taxi might be faster but for the suicide part. Plus, the train is dirt cheap. Where our Amtrak will charge hundreds for even a short hop, I only paid 8 GEL (a bit less than $4). I have no idea what I'm in for, but I don't think Amtrak will even let you look at a train for $4.
But then there was the matter of actually getting the ticket. I also needed to find out where the train departed from. It was something I wanted to figure out during a coffee-fueled morning panic.
Once I made my to-do list. I went back to bed and woke up for the second time at a more reasonable hour.
Alexandra likes to make coffee as soon as she's up. I've learned to time exiting my room when I hear her shuffling about. This morning was no exception. A good hot strong cuppa joe is just what the doctor ordered, if the doctor brewed coffee that could punch you in the eye like Alexandra's.
We chatted by passing tablets back-and-forth while we finished the coffee. Then she started texting and dragged me out of the house and over to the neighbor's place. There we were served French toast heaped with the rest of the egg batter scrambled up and piled on. There was tea and more coffee. I followed my shut up and eat rule, and everything worked out okay.
After exchanging emails, we headed back to "our" house and I got ready to tackle my to-do list.
Out and about
Alexandra's husband has a taxi and she volunteered him to take me to the Metro station. I had planned to walk, but shutting up and than saying either "Thank you," «Спасибо», or „მადლობა“, works the same as picking up the fork and digging in.
Once at the station, the Sunday crowd was about like the rush-hour crowd. Once nice thing about being at the end of the line, is that we were the first on the train going south. This means I was able to sit down during the ride for the first time. I like to take my victories where I can find them.
The Tbilisi Square #1 station is also the transfer point for people that want to go west on the Green Line (the north-south line is red). So it's a busy place no matter the day or time.
I followed the crowd up the escalator. I'm used to them now, and can get on without swaying back-and-forth as I get whisked from the depths of the Georgian bedrock.
The street vendors around the exit were fewer in number than some of the other stations. This is mostly because the area between the exit door and curb is quite a bit smaller. On the other side of the curb is a looping roadway where minibuses tear out into the city. Even a hardy street vendor is no match for a marshrutka driver in a hurry.
Train depot and then some
The Metro exits from underneath the Georgian Post building. Next to that is a combination mall, train depot, and transportation hub all mushed together.
I spent some time wandering through some of the stores. I noticed that a large number of them sold appliances. Washing machines looked to be extremely popular judging by the number of them on display.
After a bit more wandering, I saw the Georgian Rail logo on a set of doors. On the other side of them, I saw train tracks. I figured I must be close. I also had managed to memorize the Georgian work for ticket, „ბილეთი“ ( bilet’i). After I spoke that magical incantation to a worker nearby, he pointed through a store and up. I was getting closer.
His directions were true, and the escalator up had signage in both Georgian and English. I was starting to feel like a pro at this. Once on the next floor, the ticket counters were only a few steps away. But first I stopped to try one of the ticking kiosks. After tapping the UK flag on the touch screen, I was able to find the Kutaisi train and confirm what I found online was indeed correct. I cancelled out when I needed to put in my passport info. I didn't want to fish it out right then.
So I walked up to the first available ticket window and asked the clerk if she spoke English. She didn't and pointed me at the next window. There, a family was either buying tickets or attempting a hostile takeover. It could've gone either way. After were done, I stepped over to the window and asked the clerk if she spoke English.
She did. And she also told me to go take a number.
Once I found the little number machine and poked it to get a number, it spit out my number, 175. A second later, 175 lit up above a different window. This clerk responded to my language query with her forefinger and thumb pinched together. So a little English it is.
All said, we muddled through with aplomb. I had my ticket and she had learned to type a very long American name. (All of my names total out to twenty six characters, if you include spaces.) I left with my ticket and 2 GEL change from a ten.
Afterwards I wandered some more, and found myself out where I was overlooking the train yard. I bagged a few photos and headed back inside.
Now I knew where the train station was, and I had a ticket. My to-do list was now a to-done list. I also wasn't in a hurry to head back. So now it was time to get my money's worth from the Metro fare.
The shining arches on the hill
I set off down the main street leading away from the station, Tamar Mepi Street. To avoid the minibuses being launched out of the parking area Gatling-gun style, I headed down the stairs into another underground passage and chaotic shopping area. This on was more confusing than most, as the way "across" was almost blocked by what looked like a miniature garment district. One last lucky turn and I was looking up at a set of very green stairs.
It wasn't that they were just painted green. It was more like they were bathed in the emerald blood of leprechauns that had ventured too far east. Once past the shrine of the dear departed wee folk, I was finally back at street level.
I started following the road west. This led me to a bridge that crossed over the Kura River.
Not long after, I saw a sign pointing towards a MacDonald's further along the road I was on. Goals are important in life. Mine had just crystallized around getting a Georgian Big Mac. So I walked.
The first part was mostly downhill, and led to a massive roundabout that surrounds the Hero's Monument. A few of the traffic crossings were busy, but I just waited for a natural gap in traffic to cross. I'm not ready to play in the big leagues with the locals and just step off the curb with nothing but fast feet and a prayer. I've also seen a few of them cross themselves after a successful crossing. I'm going to say the prayers are genuine.
But as I turned from the circle and started up Merab Kostava Street the uphill slog became real. About halfway up the hill, I found the the one place that will always welcome weary travelers: a 7-11. Out the door with a Coke and a smile, I decided to stop nearby and drink it rather than walk and sip like some sort of barbarian.
On freshly sugared legs, topping the hill was no problem and I could see the Golden Arches not far away. Once there I found it completely full and a crowd of eleventy-billion school kids at the counter. With my dreams of processed beef dashed on the rocks of commerce, I crossed the street. This time there was a pedestrian light and and other
victims crossers to take the lead.
No more walking
Not far back the way I came was a minibus stop. The digital signs rotate between Georgian and English, and there, fifth from the top was the number of the minibus heading back to Tbilisi Station Square #1. Two days ago Nana had told me they cost 80 tetri (Georgian cents). I fished out a 1 GEL coin and waited.
A few minutes later, my minibus, number 92, pulled up. I piled on with the rest and dropped my coin in the box. I have no idea how it's supposed to work but if they can put my extra 20 tetri to work doing minibus maintenance, they're welcome to it. Some that I've seen start and stop without difficulty. This one either had transmission trouble or the driver was an old-fashioned gear-grinding double-clutcher and it will soon have transmission trouble. But we made it back to the station in one piece.
By now my dogs were barking. My socks and boots still haven't reached an understanding and my toes are taking the heat of the argument. So I hotfooted it down into the Metro and parked my butt in the the first train car seat I could find. I really didn't care that I didn't fit all that well. After a few stops I was able to slide over and give the gentleman with the ladder some room. It was still wrapped in plastic from the store so I doubt he was anxious to bend it around a pushy American's head.
Back at the end of the line I stopped by what looked like the busiest food window and grabbed the first thing I saw that had bread and meat. With the amount of people buying there I figured it'd rank as one of the largest food-poisoning events in Georgian history or we'd all be fine. I toted my hamburgeri (ჰამბურგერი) back to the house and finally had a burger to celebrate getting my train ticket.
Then I went outside and sat in the sun for a bit.
I'll be on a train, and then into a new place in a new city. Who knows what will happen.
Use the MVW Travel tag to see all the posts in this series.