MVW Travels: Day 07, Tbilisi and Kutaisi

Dateline: Kutaisi, Georgia—06 Mar. 2017

Last night was the first night where I’ve kept normal hours. I made plans for the morning, and I was in bed by 9:30 PM and asleep not long after. It’s nice to finally be caught up with the time zone I’m in.

As for the morning, my goal was to make it to the Kutaisi train on time.

It turns out I didn’t need the alarm after all. It was set for 7:00 AM to give me two hours for packing and travel to the station. I woke up on my own around 6:30 AM. The room was warm thanks to the world’s noisiest bathroom heater. The poor thing rattled like a garbage truck rolling down a gravel hill. At first I thought it might keep me awake. I was wrong.

It did get turned off around 2:00 AM. I know from experience that once I wake up in the middle of the night, any sleep after that is lighter, so I wanted some quiet. The room managed to keep the heat in for the next several hours and upon throwing the covers back, the temperature was pleasant.

But I turned the heater back on because as soon as I opened the door all of my precious heat would be gone. Overall it was a good plan and I was able to get ready in relative warmth.

Goodbye to socks

I tend to pack by using a pile method. Everything that needs to go with me get put in one pile. This way I can scour the room for any wayward items and get them all together in one place. By putting off the final pack I’m able to avoid having to unpack at the last minute to fit something else in.

So my backpack was at the bottom of the pile on the floor near the foot of the bed. Once awake I moved everything else to the bed and started to organize it. Previously I was putting large items like my second pair of pants and the dirties loose in the bottom of the pack.

Since today marked the last of my clean underwear, it was an easy choice to put the dirties into the packing cube. Laundry will be a priority later today. I also decided to try fitting everything else into the larger cube. And it fit. I should’ve done this earlier. Now it was just a matter dropping both cubes in with a few loose items.

One thing that isn’t making the trip to Kutaisi is my black socks. All four pair are staying in Tbilisi. Supposedly they were supposed to be cushion sole athletic socks, but for some reason they had a seam. This was what was bunching up and causing my blisters. I only have a single pair of white socks now, and after laundry I’ll be buying more socks. I hope they find a good home, Alexandra isn’t the type to let anything go to waste, so I’m sure they’re in good hands.

Around the time I had everything loaded, I was called to coffee and we confirmed that her husband, Bram, would take me to the Metro again. When I stepped out the door and felt a few drops of rain, I was glad for it.

Bram is Georgian, and he would chuckle every time I would attempt to say something to Alexandra in broken Russian. But as I was getting out of the cab, I said “Thanks!” in Georgian and finally got a nod of approval. Small victories.

All aboard!

This was the earliest I’ve been out in the morning, and it was (sad) funny to see all of the places that the stray dogs find to sleep. The balls of fur were tucked up in the oddest places.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

The whole of the city was covered in low hanging rain clouds. I’m not sure how much rain fell overnight, but the streets were wet. This muted the smell of the cars, and when I stepped out of the taxi all I could smell was fresh baked bread from one of the vendors.

Once at the Metro fare booth, I noticed why I never had any trouble loading my Metro card using hand signals. The locals do the same. Apparently, the clerks are used to the sign language of the riders. A five Lari bill pushed through the slot and one raised finger means “add one fare and give me change.” So I was doing it right. This made me feel better than it probability should have.

Following yesterday’s path out of the Metro and up into the mall got me to the train departure board by 8:10 AM. But as I had skipped breakfast, I decided to use the extra time to hunt for some food to take. The food court one floor up was still setting up, so I went down a level to a coffee stand I had seen earlier. I had a full water bottle, and one coffee in me, so I opted for a pastry. I didn’t ask about the filling figuring it would be good no matter what.

Now it was time to find my train. Mine was leaving from platform 2. To the right of the booking area arrows pointed to platforms two and three. The left went towards three only. I wandered out the right side to check if the train was visible. There was one, but I wasn’t sure as it was pulled up in a way that would make boarding difficult if I went down these stairs. Having to climb back up with a full pack made me think twice.

Once back into the terminal I crossed to the left side. As I got closer, I saw “II” written along with some Georgian. Down on the platform, there looked to be a longer train ready to go. I decided to risk it and descended to the platform. Once next to the train I could see თბილისი-ქუთაისი written on the side. I’ve learned enough to know that meant Tbilisi-Kutaisi and was sure enough to show my ticket to the conductor near on the of the doors. She pointed me towards the rear of the train and my hopes of sitting in the nice airline style seats I could see through he windows of the front cars were dashed once again on the rocks of commerce.

At the back of the train, another conductor confirmed I was in the right place and pointed towards the door. After stepping across gap wide enough to make me reach for the handrail, I was on my train.

As for where to sit, I still had some hunting to do. Rechecking my ticket it showed a seat number. The train car consisted of a hall on the right side and a series of six person compartments on the left. The little rooms had three-person bench seats on each side and a small table under the single window. My seat, number eight, was in the middle on the left. So I sat and wondered who would fill in the rest of the seats.

Odd woman out

The first to show up were an elderly couple who were veteran riders as she knew how to lift the seats to access the storage compartment under half of the seat. I had my pack tucked up under the seat in the open half and decided to leave it there. Next came two women and a girl. From what I could gather one of the women was the older daughter and came to see her mom and younger sister off on their trip. The final member of our six was a single older man who could pass for Vladimir Putin’s sleepy uncle.

We settled in a shifted around, I volunteered to move toward the window so the mother and girl could sit together. Plus this gave me the table so I could write while traveling. Soon a conductor collected our tickets and we were underway at a minute after nine.

The storm clouds over Tbilisi, as seen through a dirty train window.

No one in my cabin spoke English, so I entertained myself by looking out the window while they slept. Mom took the girl out so she wouldn’t bother the sleepers.

One thing I also noticed was that there was no announcement of the stops. The train would slow down and pull into a station but there was not a word was said. I’m not sure the car I was in even has a PA system. At a few places (Gori, Kareli, and Khashuri) I saw a sign for the station. At few others, nothing was visible from my window. I know the train is due into Kutaisi at 2:30 PM, so I’ll worry about the stop once the arrival time is closer.

About two-thirds of the way through the trip, I grabbed my camera and found that one of the windows in the hallway opened at the top. So I was able to get a few pictures of the snow-capped caucuses north of Zestafoni.

The Georgian countryside, with the Caucus Mountains in the background.
A small Georgian village alongside the railroad tracks.

One train car left

Once we pulled into the railyard south of Kutaisi, we stopped. After a bit, the car jolted and I realized they were unhooking our car from the rest of the train. I confirmed this with hand signals to Putin’s uncle. Then another locomotive started pulling us north into the Kutaisi station.

Once off the train, I could see that only our older car made the trip. The rest, with the fancy business class cars, continued on. Now I knew why those seats weren’t an option on my ticket, or why the stops weren’t announced. If you were in that car, you were going to Kutaisi. No questions asked, no answers required.

I was also met with the strongest wind yet. I’m not sure if it’s a Kutaisi winter thing, or just a storm blowing through. But I had an address of the place I was staying and the mapping app plotted a route that seemed walkable. So I set out south from the station.

I forgot to consider that in Georgia the towns are build despite the geography and the whole way was mostly uphill. Once I made it to the street of my homestay, I called the host.

I told him I was on his street, and he said to wait where I was and he’d come get me. Not long after a car pulled up and since he knew my name, I figured it was the right one.

Then I also found out that I wouldn’t be staying where I had booked.

Homestay uncertainty

Badri spoke enough English to explain that he was having some sort of family drama and it was better that I didn’t stay there. At this point I was doubled over in the front seat, pack still on my back, holding onto the dash as he darted into traffic. We were going to a friend of his that had a room, and it would be better.

Having no other options, I went with the plan.

After a short ride, we pulled up in front of a well-kept five-story house. Badri made a call and said his friend Beqa would be out soon. By the time I manged to extricate myself from the front seat, Beqa opened the gate and we went in.

The house was built with the basement partially underground, so the main level was up a half-flight of stairs. I was pointed up another two sets of stairs to a large bedroom. Once there, I gladly tossed my gear on the bed and took off my boots. The blisters were angry but started to calm down soon after.

Badri announced he was leaving and I talked with Beqa a bit. He pointed out the bathroom and got me some much needed cold water.

After finishing several glasses and using the rest to fill my water bottle, I wandered downstairs to return the pitcher. All of the doors that faced the main hallway were closed, and I had no idea where to go. So I went back up to my room to unpack and try again later.

The next trip downstairs yeilded better results. I met Beqa on the stairs and he showed me to the dining room where the rest of the family was. I met his mother and her parents, along with a toddler they were watching for his sister.

They also only spoke Russian.

Beqa’s English turned out to be better than average. He had taken classes in school. For the rest of the family it was Google Translate to the rescue. Once the pleasantries were exchanged, I was stuffed full of coffee and chocolate cake, while talking about the usual get-to-know-the-visitor stuff.

I was also able to get my laundry washed, and once on the clothesline the wind dried them in record time.

I spent the rest of the afternoon nodding and laughing, while occasionally passing the iPad around with a translation. Around 8:00 PM, Beqa came back and we went to the market. I got my usually sausage and eggs, along with with what I think is 2% milk. Back at the house I made a dinner omelette, and Mom (who’s name has eluded me) filled the rest of my plate with some sort of couscous. I declined the chicken leg, as finishing the omelette after the cake would be more than enough.

After some more visiting in the family room, I decided to shower and head off to bed. As I was peeling off my socks for the first time off the day, I got a look at my blisters.

The blister on the big toe of my right foot has mostly gone away. The problem is that what is gone from the right has taken up residency on the left.

Now, instead of just being a normal blister on the outside of my toe, it’s spread across the top at the base of the toenail. I really need some moleskin, but after a quick post on the Reddit r/Sakartvelo forum, I can safely say it doesn’t exist here.

So I showered and decided to worry about it in the morning.

To avoid further irritation, I didn’t wear socks to bed. They were dirty from the day’s travels and I saw the duvet was nice and thick. Once snuggled under the covers, I warmed right up.

What's next?

I need to deal with the blisters. So depending on what they look like in the morning I’ll either go to a pharmacy or a clinic. Plus I still need some socks since I only have the one pair now. At some point I’ll also need to decide if I keep the heavy boots or see if I can sell or trade them for something lighter. They’ve served me well, and I can let them go with a clear conscience.

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