MVW Travels: Day 19, Tbilisi Shopping

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—18 Mar. 2017

Today I did some inadvertent planning ahead. I also started out by looking for breakfast and made what might have been the biggest mistake of the trip so far.

The search for яйца

This morning I wanted a sit-down breakfast with eggs and sausage. I learned two things while searching: it’s good to want things, and that sort of breakfast restaurant doesn’t exist in the area I’m in.

I started out by heading back towards the metro station. That looked like a busy area the last time I was there. This morning it was just getting going when I walked by around 8:30. The street vendors were setting up, and the traffic was lighter than usual.

Across the intersection from the metro was the world’s largest breakfast joint. A MacDonalds. I noted the location, as a last resort sort of thing and headed down the street. I passed a Dunkin’ Donuts about a half block down. Again, location noted for future reference.

Then I started walking south-ish. After passing way too many non-restaurant businesses, I made it to the Old Town tourist restaurant row. I figured I’d overpay for table service, but it’d be worth it for once on the trip. Out of all the bars, cafes, and restaurants that line both sides of the street, not one was open.

I walked until I was almost at the roundabout above the Dry Bridge. In that time I only found one open door to what obviously looked like a table service restaurant (a few cafes were open but the signs made it clear they only had coffee and cigarettes), but was promptly thrown out as they weren’t really open yet. I decided that I didn’t want to cross the bridge. From my previous trip, it seemed like even less of a chance of finding something on the other side.

At this point I more or less gave up and flipped a coin between the clown and the donut. The clown won, and I headed back down the avenue for my first taste of processed food in almost three weeks.

I should’ve left when I found out they either didn’t have a breakfast menu, or it was after no-breakfast o’clock. The order-taker didn’t speak English or Russian, but the Georgian for “Big Mac” is phonetically “Big Mac.” We agreed that a Big Mac meal would be my order. I’m not sure how much say I actually had in placing it. I tried to get a coffee instead of a soda, but a burger with coffee is a strange concept from my homeland that didn’t translate.

I blinked twice at the price. Then paid just over 16 GEL for a burger meal. To put that in perspective, that’s more than three shared taxi rides from Gori. Or four packs of cigarettes. Yeah. The Western stuff gets Western prices. The local stuff has much saner prices.

Once my order was ready, I found out I was the lucky recipient of the new even-bigger Big Mac. The Grande or whatever they call it along with a large fry and soda. Well at least the clerk was able to increase her average ticket price. Maybe she’ll get a raise for the upsell.

What was in front of me was a long ways from what I started looking for. But I was well and truly hungry. So I ate.

And the mistake I made?

Setting foot in the damn place to begin with.

Not long after finishing, but long enough for me to get almost halfway back to the guesthouse, the sickness came to visit.

My gut cramped and I walked fast back to the house. I made it in time. But I almost couldn’t unlock the door because of how my hands were shaking.

I laid down for a bit after.

I’ve never had a reaction to fast food like that before. It was enough to make me want to avoid it altogether once I’m back home.

Freedom Square

I started to feel better and decided to try and make something out of the day.

I went back across the Dry Bridge and headed toward the city center. There was a bookseller there that I had met on my first day in town. It felt right to give him first crack at my business. He was in the same place, just across from the Marriott. I found a Russian-English dictionary that was printed during Soviet times and for once I haggled. I only brought the price down two lari, but that paid for my coffee I bought on the way back.

Somehow, I took the long way back to the Dry Bridge, but found myself at street level with the bridge soaring overhead. There are also no stairs. But there did happen to be a crosswalk over to the other side where the park area sloped gently up to bridge level.

The bad part was that the crosswalk was on a very busy street where the cars were going much faster than elsewhere in town.

Usually the crosswalks, or “zebra crossings” as the locals call them, are a striped pattern painted on the asphalt. This way they’re much more visible than the two lines we use in America. This zebra was like the old newspaper joke, “what’s black and white and read all over.”

The white stripes of this one were painted with a red background. Maybe so the drivers would slow down. Maybe to hide the blood of pedestrians. I didn’t see anyone to ask. I’ve also lost most all of my fear of stepping out into traffic. That’s the only way to get across a street here. To wait for cars to stop would mean dying of old age on a street corner.

I did wait for a few minibuses and delivery trucks to go by. Then I started to cross. I crossed the first half at a normal pace due to a break in traffic. The second half saw me start from standing on the center line while I waited for the cars to at least slow down. Once the first one did, others did too. I was able to cross the rest of the way, but I did hotfoot the last half-lane. That big black Mercedes didn’t really want to come to a complete stop.

Safely on the curb I was free to explore the street level Dry Bridge vendors. They seemed to focus more on art, and had places to display paintings and such along the path. I found a fridge magnet to take home at one of the stalls.

It’s also worth noting that around this time I noticed the weather had taken a turn for the worse. It had been getting steadily colder as I was walking. There was also a dampness creeping into the air. This motivated me to do my flea market shopping as I was going by instead of planning to return.

Up on the bridge, I found a vendor selling old Soviet coins. I picked up two. Both were one ruble coins. One was marked “50 years of Soviet rule” while the other one was dedicated to “Lenin’s one hundredth birthday.”

After a quick stop at a market for some fruit, I headed back to the house to eat my apple and finish the beer I bought the other day.

With that mission accomplished I was inside for less than an hour before the rain started. I have no idea how long it will last, or if I’ll be trapped inside tomorrow, but I got my souvenir shopping done just in time.

My shopping for the day.

What's next?

I have no idea if or when the rain will stop. If it does, I’ll explore the other direction from the Dry Bridge. If not, I’ll stay in and watch the Russian SciFi channel.

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