MVW Travels: Day 08, Kutaisi isn’t Tbilisi

Dateline: Kutaisi, Georgia—07 Mar. 2017

I woke up this morning and pretty much decided that today would be a lazy day. The blisters had healed some, but today wasn’t the day to put them to the test.

I was awake by 8:30 a.m. and stayed under the covers a bit to enjoy the benefit of a duvet heavy enough to cause a foot cramp if I pointed my toes at the ceiling. I cautiously extended an arm and realized the first hand benefits of having both double-paned windows and a radiator in the same room.

I was warm, and in a warm room. After three nights in simulated Siberia it was like waking up in a hammock being gently rocked in the warm trade wind breeze.

Except the breeze was more of a gale. And occasionally it would blow just right to whistle under the door. The Kutaisi wind was still going strong.

Хлеб in the morning


After several arguments with my bladder, I had to get out of the warm bed. Having a warm room made this much easier. After the pit stop, I decided to stick my head in the family room and possibly make breakfast.

Russian Mom was there and pushed some warm flatbread and cheese along with regular bread and jelly on me. The shut up and eat rule continues to serve me well. The flat bread was reminiscent of pizza crust and with melted butter and Imereti cheese was quite excellent.

I also learned that no amount of Google Translate or Duolingo Russian will get the pronunciation of хлеб into your head until you hear it in person. It translated to bread, and is pronounced like making a partial cough sound followed by “leb.” But make sure to run the “l” into the end of the cough first. Oh, and make that a soft “b.” And a soft “e” too.

The Russian “Х” is shown as a “kh” in the pronunciation guides, but how an American says “kh” is absolutely nowhere near how a Russian says it.

Also, here’s a pro tip for all you travelers in a country where you’re rendered mute by lack of the local language (or two): if someone repeats what you say, but pronounced properly, repeat it back with your best attempt to match how they said it. They’re trying to help, and it’s the best feedback loop you’ll ever get.

And if they give a good-natured laugh? Well, you got close, but not too close. You’ve probably been understood, but messed up either the accent or pronunciation enough to make a mess of it. Don’t get offended. At least crack a smile, and you’ll get some help. If the person doesn’t care to help, the laugh won’t be so good natured. Take your lumps and move on.

A song of blisters and wind

So I had to do something about my blisters. The sockless sleep helped, and my right toes were feeling much better. The left, well, not so much. About the best I can say about it was that it didn’t bleed on the bedsheets.

I needed some sort of bandage and ointment for it.

Normally this would be a liberal application of moleskin and on with my day. But when such a thing isn’t available and it’s existence isn’t even common knowledge, a new plan must be made.

The wind was still blowing quite heavily. I wasn’t anxious to get out into it. So I took my time getting dressed and was finally out the door about an hour later.

I knew from my map and what I remember from the trip to the market last night the pharmacy wasn’t too far. In US city terms, I’d say it was about two long blocks north to a main cross street that had the pharmacy and other stores.

At first the wind wasn’t too bad as I left the house. But once I turned north I was walking into the brunt of it. The path was simple, out the gate to the right, turn right, dogleg left, then right again to the big street.

Now I know why most Georgians prefer to walk in the street. The sidewalks exist. Which is the nicest thing I can say. Some were smooth-yet-slanted concrete because the owner of that property spent some money. But for the most part they’re either gravel or broken asphalt. On the side streets, it’s just plain easier to stay on the pavement of the street. The buffering of the wind added to uneven pavement would’ve made for a nasty fall, had I been tripped up.

My path was true and the pharmacy was right where it was supposed to be.

No moleskin for you!

Inside the pharmacy I took a quick look around and found that the only items on the shelves were toothpaste, baby items, and hair care products. The rest was behind the counter. So I stepped up and said words. They had no effect. Well maybe a small effect. I was shown some corn and callus bandages. The idea of putting salicylic acid on open wounds was painful to even think about.

Finally the clerk pulled up Google Translate on her phone and I entered “my shoes rub, need blister bandage.” No luck. I got a shrug and a sorry. Back out onto the street with my plan shot to shreds, I found a bench and pulled out my iPad map.

Just up the street was a clinic. I figured it’d be at least worth a look to see if I could determine what sort of clinic it might be. Once there, the sign had a eye symbol in the center with the name surrounding it. It looked pretty modern and maybe it was it some sort of laser eye center. I decided not to ask, and try another pharmacy instead.

Two stores down from the first pharmacy was another. My detour to the clinic led me around the block from the back so I saw it as I turned onto the Main Street for the second time. It wasn’t marked on the map, as only the Aversi brand pharmacies seem to be listed. I decided to give them a try as I was still empty handed.

I also learned an important lesson about lining up for service.

The pharmacy counter had four stations, all busy. I decided the youngest looking of the clerks would have the best chance of speaking English. She was currently helping two men that had a list and a hard time getting what they wanted. It may have been a language thing because I didn’t hear them say much.

So I waited. As per the American respect for personal space, where no stranger should get within arms reach, I stood back a bit. This lead to multiple shoppers seeing an opening to get to the counter faster.

The slowness of the men getting service caused one of the interlopers to move on. The second edged in to my left. I decided this was just how it is and took a step forward blocking her path. Message sent. Message received. She moved on, and I was still next in that particular line.

Once home, I’m going to get into so much trouble because of the wait-back-here-red-line-of-medical-privacy we have everywhere.

I also decided I wasn’t leaving until I had something I could put on my feet.

It took quite a while, but with a few quick drawings and writing the words “antibiotic ointment” on a slip of paper, I left with a tube of cream and some local brand band-aids.

The tube of ointment was labeled in Russian. Cyrillic can be scary enough sometimes, but it’s downright evil looking on medicine. I found out the band-aids came from Turkey. One way or another the Eastern end of the Black Sea was going to take care of my feet.

I was assured by three of the pharmacy clerks that this was indeed antibiotic ointment. I also decided to believe them and use it before trying to figure out exactly what it was.

The walk back home is always shorter and went quickly. I had found a partial limp that didn’t rub my blisters and was able to maintain an almost-normal pace. As a bonus I was almost run over only once on the way back.

Once I had my supplies laid out I still needed to trim the bandages as the pad in the center didn’t go out to the edges. I wanted to keep the sticky parts off the tender parts. Russian Mom had both scissors and isopropyl alcohol handy. Tools in hand I went up to my room and started making bandage art.

The end result of my self-treatment.
The end result of my self-treatment.

Once wrapped up with the Russian kills-it-all cream, my little piggies started to feel much better.

Medicine you can’t get at home

The mystery ointment is labeled “Целестодерм-В с гарамицином крем.” Which translates to “Celestoderm-V with Garamycin,” and tells me nothing. Right about then I was thinking I might have bought a banned chemical agent. The name wasn’t any less scary in English.

"Крем" means "cream" just so we're clear.
“Крем” means “cream” just so we’re clear.

But now I had something to search for. It turns out that it is an antibiotic cream and I wasn’t far off from my initial guess about it killing most anything. I found that this version, specific to Georgia works to get rid of both staph and strep along with e. Coli and quite a few other critters.

I’m not sure, but it sounds like it might be just a tad stronger than Neosporin. Either way, it’s a big tube which should last for quite a while. Whether or not US customs lets me bring it back, I’ll have to wait and see.

With my feet doctored, I decided that was enough for this fine Tuesday. I crawled back under the covers and started this trip report.

P.M. update

After my morning pharmacy adventure and afternoon writing session, I spent a while catching up on the news. No much has changed, and things are still stupid/crazy.

So after the newsfeeds were burned, it was time to eat. In the family room, only Granny Russian was around and I was lucky to get out of the kitchen with my just omelette. First I thought she was going to bury me in хлеб, then she wouldn’t let me do any clean up. All was forgiven when she decided to nip into the vodka and poured me a shot. I also found out the local version of ketchup is a cross between Tapítio and Sriracha sauce with a stronger tomato base. I’d get a bottle to take home, but I don’t want to donate it to the TSA holiday party.

I did manage to get a quick language lesson out of her too. We went over the Russian and Georgian words for “good” (хорошо/კარგი). Plus I think I asked correctly and found out her name. I have no idea how its spelled but it sounded like “Medishi.” Now that I see it written, I know it’s wrong, but it’s as close as I can get from memory. To a small degree, I did get some revenge, as “Jennifer” rolls of the Russian tongue as smooth as Georgian pavement.

After eating we shared a tea and watched some Discovery Channel that was horribly dubbed into Russian. They really should hire more than two voice actors for a show with a cast of more than two. Everyone wants Western media I guess. The show was the Canadian version of Storage Wars, where people compete to see if the crap they buy out of abandoned storage units can be sold for a profit. Somehow the idea of even having a storage unit in Eastern Europe might not translate over for the locals. I still don’t quite understand the appeal of renting an air-conditioned apartment for the stuff that you don’t really want but still can’t cut loose because that would mean recognizing it was money wasted in the first place. At least the show goes out of the way to make asses out of the people participating.

I waved goodnight to Granny Russian and got to use my other Russian word of the day: спать (sleep). I have no doubt I said it wrong, but I mimed laying down on a pillow, and I think that was clear enough.

Writing notes

Keeping this travel diary on a daily basis had helped reinforce a daily writing habit along with making sure I don’t let anything slip down the memory hole. And honestly it’s better than any travel journal I could hand write, as I can include more details not long after they happen. Posting to the blog also gives another layer of backup should something happen to my local copies.

I’ve also written more than I expected. Right now, I have about 15,000 words in the can. I had only expected to write about 20K for the whole trip. That’s one of the advantages of serializing the story as I go. It’s not took much to bore my blog audience, but it will give me plenty of material to pull from when I decide what the final form of the project will be.

I’m also giving this folding keyboard a hellova workout. It’s a good day if I get to use it on a desk. But it keeps working even on the bed, a quarter folded. Next to the iPad, it’s gotten the most use of anything I’ve brought. It was well worth the purchase price.

I haven’t done any fiction writing yet. I’ve put my energy into these reports as a first priority. But I’m learning that even while traveling I can squeeze out over 2K words per day in my down time. I just need to remember that once I’m back home and find it more important to check social media than write.


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