Dateline: Kutaisi, Georgia—10 Mar. 2017
I woke up to wind and finally decided to check a different weather site for some wind speed info. I had been using DarkSky, but it seemed to underreporting what I was seeing out my window.
On AccuWeather I found what looked like more accurate info.
For my non-metric speaking readers, that basically means a steady 25 mph wind with gusts up to around 50 mph. That might even be on the low side, since it’s hard to get good data in this part of the world.
At home if we had five days of ~30 mph winds it’d practically be a state of emergency. Here, it’s just breezy. And it picks up in the afternoon.
So I had to decide: stay in for another day or head out and see what I could get done. I dithered over this for longer than I should have. The time wasn’t wasted as I was doing language lessons and made a short video of the wind.
Eventually I chose to see if I could at least make it to the mall. I didn’t want to have to deal with the camera bag while shopping, so I didn’t get any pictures while I was out and about.
My next stop, Poti, is a small town and I’m not sure what they have in the way of stores. From the map, it looks like not a lot. So this could be my last chance to find a pair of shoes from a actual shoe store before I get back to Tbilisi.
It may seem odd to say it that way, but “normal” shoe stores with a selection of sizes in boxes aren’t that common. The large chain, Flo, has one store in Kutaisi. I wanted to try there first. If I couldn’t find anything, then I’d head out to the street vendors. I also knew the prices would be much higher. I also hoped the quality would be better.
I took a different route to downtown Kutaisi this time. I crossed the river on the large avenue just north of the house. Mostly I was just wandering. I must have internalized the map I was looking at last night because I walked right up to the mall.
Well, it’s a large building with stores. It doesn’t really meet the American image of a mall. The top floor was empty and under construction. On the ground floor was a Koton department store, and the Flo I was looking for.
They had a good selection of boots and what seemed like a perpetual 50% off sale going. I picked out a few styles to try on and found a clerk that spoke just enough English to help me figure out sizes. Overall, they didn’t carry many sizes in each style, but I was able to find a pair that fit and didn’t hurt.
Popping the blister was the right choice as I was able to walk to the mall with only a slight limp. Plus it made trying on the shoes much easier. Once I settled on a pair—a lace-up, just over the ankle style with a side zipper—that was comfortable. I walked to the register in my socks. I had no intention of putting my boots back on.
I also realize that for all the complaining about my boots, I’ve never actually described them. They’re a pair from my Army days. After several trips into the freezing desert, I was sick of the standard issue boots having the cold-resistance of tissue paper and bought a pair of what we called Matterhorns. This style is waterproof and has quilted Thinsulite insulation. They’re also really bulky. So for this trip I dug them out of the back of my closet thinking they’d be perfect for where I was going. I also didn’t wear them around before I left. That might have changed my mind about bringing them. The worst part was that they had no quick entry method. No speed laces. No zipper on the side. I had never gotten around to buying a lace-in zipper either. So every time I wanted to put them on it was a fight with the laces which had taken a set to their position as they sat for the better part of fifteen years. Now that I’ve laid all that out, I don’t see how I ever thought bringing them was a good idea. But that’s wind over the river now.
The zipper on the side of the new boots will be a nice change. In every house I’ve been in so far, it’s the custom to remove your shoes and wear slippers inside. Having to fight the laces every time was enough to make me want to throw the Matterhorns into the river. The blisters were just icing on the cake.
So I paid, 80 GEL (about $32), put the Matterhorns in the shoe box, and laced up the new boots and walked back out into the wind. Finally I had solved my boot problems. The new pair is leather with lugged sole and was made in Turkey. There’s quite a bit of trade between Georgia and Turkey, so I wasn’t surprised about their origin (my band-aids are also Turkish). I was just happy to have a decent pair of new boots for the rest of the trip.
Oh, and they even threw in a “free gift with purchase” necklace.
Out with the old
Now I had a shoebox with my old boots and no way to transport them. They would take up all the room in my pack. I also didn’t want to hang them on the outside of the pack. The blisters on my feet had removed any sentimental attachment I had to them, and now I was looking at several pounds of dead weight I no longer wanted to carry.
So I headed back to the open-air market to see what could be done to solve my problem. At home, I’d throw them in the next bag of stuff going to Goodwill. Here, even old boots have some value left in them. I was hoping one of the vendors would agree with me.
With furious hand waving we were able to establish I wanted to sell, and she was willing to buy. I wasn’t expecting much, and that’s exactly what I got, 10 GEL. But that’s enough to buy my train ticket to Poti in the morning with enough leftover for lunch.
On the way back out, I stopped at one of the street vendors that had some socks on display and bought two pair. At 1 GEL each, they’re most likely overpriced, but I decided not to haggle.
I left the house with 90 GEL. After buying and selling boots, picking up two pair of socks, and grabbing a Coke and ice cream cone, I came home with 17 GEL and change. Not bad for an afternoon’s work. Tomorrow I’ll have to change up some more greenbacks, as that seventeen is the last of my initial buy at the airport.
I’ve already paid my host for the five nights here. So after the train ticket, I’m free and clear of any big outlays until I have to settle the hotel bill in Poti. That means over twelve days (which includes tomorrow) I’ve spent right at $200 so far. That’s all lodging, food, boots, and miscellaneous stuff except for that first morning’s room at the Marriott. Including the fancy hotel and food at the Istanbul airport, my out-of-pocket cost so far is just under $300.
If you’re willing to step back in time and live without some conveniences, the value of Eastern Europe can’t be beat.
It’s choo-choo time again. I’ll be back on the train, heading for the coast. Poti is one of those towns that doesn’t get a lot of tourist traffic. So the lack of information about what’s there is what made me curious about it. I’ll report back what I find.
Use the MVW Travel tag to see all the posts in this series.