MVW Travels: Day 15, Rainy Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—14 Mar. 2017

Last night it rained. I heard the tapping on my hotel room window but didn't bother look out. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I wasn't getting out of my warm bed to investigate.

By morning it had stopped. After my usual morning routine of doing an hour of language study while still under the covers, the streets were mostly dry, and only puddles remained.

I started off by walking over to the train station to buy my ticket for tomorrow. The clerk didn't speak English, but the Georgian number practiced paid off, and I was able to give her tomorrow's date and we muddled through the rest. I wasn't given the option of ticket prices and it looks like she sold me the higher priced one. This means I'm riding in the nice train car with the individual seats this time. Not bad for 12 GEL.

My next task was to change up another Benjamin. The first place I tried didn't want any 100s, so I kept walking. The currency exchanges are easy to find. They all have digital signs out front advertising their rates. The second place was a more organized operation. By the looks of it, they also did basic finance and loans. The tellers even had individual booths behind the glass. The shop in Kutaisi was about the size of a large refrigerator and only had one teller working. Here it looked almost like a payday loan shop from back home.

I grabbed my daily dose of ორი банан. For those that have been following along at home, yes, that's a horrible pidgin of Georgian and Russian. I've learned numbers in Georgian and words in Russian. The language app I've been using started with the the Georgian numbers and that was as much progress as I made. The Russian lessons are more complete and include audio for the pronunciation. I started on it in Kutaisi because I was staying in a Russian speaking household. I've kept with it, as I'm more likely to find a Russian speaker at home to practice with. (Oh, that phrase means "two banana" as I'm not up my Russian plurals yet.)

I've been buying those two bananas every afternoon I've been in Poti. I eat one before bed, and the other when I wake up. The potassium helps prevent leg cramps.

Overall, I only did my early errands and then around 2 p.m. I went out for my kebab and beer at the little restaurant I found yesterday. They remembered me, and I think I'll miss that little shop. But that was all of the walking I could handle. On my trip to the shore the other day, I managed to raise another blister. This time it's on the ball of my left foot. It popped in my shoe while I was walking. Yesterday, it wasn't so bad. Today it has been angry.

Being out of shape hasn't helped. Neither has having tender feet. At home I rarely have to wear more than sandals. Jumping into boots and then putting on the kilometers has done a number on me. The left foot has taken the worst of the abuse. It's also forced me to consider my feet into my plans.

My next stay is the closest I could find to the Stalin Museum in Gori. I booked it specifically to minimize my walking around town. I did the same for the last four days of my trip in Tbilisi.

Having my feet tore up has definitely put a crimp in the amount of sightseeing I wanted to do. But I've never had problems like this before so it wasn't even on my radar when I left home. Live and learn.

What's next?

I'll be in Gori tomorrow afternoon. It's about an hour outside of Tbilisi. I'll be there for two nights.

More MVW travel reports:

MVW Travels: Day 14, Black Sea Lazy

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—13 Mar. 2017

For my two-week anniversary of being in Georgia, I took the day off. Well, I did my my lodging arrangements for the rest of the trip. I have one more night here in Poti, then two nights in Gori, and I’ll finish out the trip back where I started in Tbilisi.

When I woke up this morning, I realized I overdid the walking yesterday. My legs said, “stay in bed.” So I stayed. I made good use of the time to do some language lessons and leg stretches. Around noon I finally crawled out from under the covers when my bladder couldn’t take anymore laying around.

Once up I ate some fruit for brunch, and did the travel planning. I also decided to take the train to Gori. It might take a bit longer than a minibus, but the station is so close I’d be silly to not use it. Besides I saw some of the minibuses leaving towards Tbilisi. They were packed in like sardines. With my bags, it just might be a little too tight. I’ll get my ticket in the morning for the next day, so I’ll have one less thing to worry about. Plus I won’t have to get a ride as it’s only a short walk across the bridge.

My major accomplishment for the day was finding a local restaurant for an early dinner. I followed part of the path I walked yesterday, down one of the larger avenues, and followed my nose into a kebab shop. One excellent wrap and a beer later I was on my way, fat, dumb, and happy. I’m going back to that place tomorrow.

I stopped off at the village market on the way back to get some more bananas. I continue to be amazed at the amount of food that shows up at that market. This time I happened to walk around the back side of the main building, and found the fish monger stand along with some old ladies selling live chickens and ducks. It’s sort of like a nineteenth century Walmart. There’s a little something of everything.

Back in the hotel room, my next order of business was to use up all the hot water for a very indulgent shower. This pretty much put me down for the count and I crawled back in bed for more language study. I may have napped a little, too.

So that was my lazy day by the Black Sea. Overall, I needed it. Going from my sedentary writer/computer jockey lifestyle to backpacking around Eastern Europe has been a massive shock to my system. Just the change in diet and the walking I’ve been doing is melting the belly fat off. I’ve already down two belt holes, and the third isn’t too far away.

Equipment update

So far, I couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion than the iPad Mini. It’s just the right size to fit in anything from my camera bag to a cargo pocket. I also don’t need anything other than a plug adapter for the power supply to work. But the real star has been the folding keyboard. I charged it before I left, and it’s at 96% charged right now. It’ll be the only thing I won’t need to top off for the whole trip.

What’s next?

Other than going back to the little restaurant, I have no other plans than changing some money and buying my train ticket. Depending on how my feet feel, I may go back down the water. Maybe.

More MVW travel reports:

MVW Travels: Day 13, Wandering Around Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—12 Mar. 2017

These reports are much easier to write earlier in the day. This one is being written at 11:30 p.m. because I took a nap for most of the early evening.

Today was the first day in a week where the weather cleared up. It was bright sun and blue skies over Poti. The wind even let up for a better part of the day. This got me out exploring.

I started with two goals, to get a photo of the Black Sea and to buy another box of band-aids. The first was the reason for coming to Poti. The second was because my first box was used up (they are sold in little boxes of ten).

I really had no other plan than to walk to towards the Sea until I found it.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 13, Wandering Around Poti”

MVW Travels: Day 12, Kutaisi and Poti

Dateline: Poti, Georgia—11 Mar. 2017

Last night I started my packing to prepare for moving day. After five days my stuff had spread out, but with only one bag there’s just not that much stuff. I saved loading the pack for this morning, but everything except for my bed clothes was ready to go. The packing cubes have really made this trip easier.

My alarm went off at 7 a.m. so I’d have plenty of time to get packed and be ready for my ride to the train station at 10:30 a.m. Even with hitting snooze once and catching up with my news feeds before getting out of bed, I had my bags downstairs before eight. Russian Grandpa (I finally found out his name is Batu) was surprised to see me up and drinking coffee before him.

It didn’t take long before he was put a plate of vegetables down in front of me. I have no idea what it was called, but it was some sort of cold mixed veggies with seasoning and a light sauce. The shut up and eat rule worked in my favor again and the tasty dish was gone before I knew it.

I showed him my bags in the hall, and made a going motion with my hands to let him know that it was my last morning there. Once the table was clear I sat with my tea and started watching the clock for my ride.

No train for you

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 12, Kutaisi and Poti”

MVW Travels: Day 11, Even more wind

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.

Current weather as I was writing this article.
Current weather as I was writing this article.
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.

Shoe shopping

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.

Baby got new shoes.
Baby got new shoes.
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.

She did.

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.

This is my bedroom for my five nights in Kutaisi.
This is my bedroom for my five nights in Kutaisi.
If you’re willing to step back in time and live without some conveniences, the value of Eastern Europe can’t be beat.

One of the old Soviet apartment blocks in Kutaisi.
One of the old Soviet apartment blocks in Kutaisi.

What’s next?

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.

More MVW travel reports:

MVW Travels: Day 10, Rest and Recovery

Dateline: Kutaisi, Georgia—09 Mar. 2017

The walking and stair climbing yesterday took a toll that I had to pay today.

When I first woke up, my feet felt pretty good. I was able to walk in slippers with only a slight twinge from the blister on my left big toe. I thought that might be a good sign so I had a normal morning with the Russian grandparents. Most everyone else in the house took a trip to the coast, and it’s been relatively quiet.

After a shower I needed to changed the wet bandages and that’s when I saw that the big blister wasn’t better. It was worse. Underneath the band-aid it was twice the size of what it was when I first put the band-aid on. It looked like a had a grape attached to the side of my toe.

After reviewing my plans for the day, I came the conclusion that any walking would probably cause the blister to burst. That would leave me with a mess in my boot and I’d still have to get back to the house. This would tear it up more and possibly mess up the rest of my trip.

Domestic chores

So I decided to swap my plans for today with the plans for tomorrow. This meant staying in and doing laundry today. On the plus side, I wouldn’t have to worry about washing clothes the day before I left. Because if the wires got crossed and I wasn’t able to, I’d be leaving Saturday morning with a bag of dirty laundry. I gave this a better-than-coin-flip odds of happening, should the rest of the family come back. Also Beqa, the only other English speaker in the house is leaving tonight to spend the weekend in Germany. So doing my washing today would prevent all sorts of problems.

I also couldn’t leave the blister like it was. So I headed back down to the family room with my box of band-aids and ointment hoping to find a needle to do some blister popping. Thankfully there was one to be found and after a sterilizing it with a lighter I had one flat blister. To spare the gory details, it was nothing short of a mess and I’m glad I had tissue handy to keep from it oozing onto the rug.

Once it was squeezed out, I applied the Russian kills-it-all cream and covered it back up. A couple of other spots on my left foot got the same treatment. My right foot looks good and didn’t need anything.

With the doctoring done, there was no way I was getting anywhere near my boots. So I stayed in slippers and declared it a lazy day.

The first day here I also did laundry. Which in reality meant I asked Beqa about it, and he showed me the washer and then went to get his mom because he couldn’t read the Russian labels on the dial. He later confessed that he only knew one setting and that’s what he used. Then she picked a setting and added the soap.

This time I was on my own. The washer has one main knob for the cycles and a digital display with time and temperature. I spun the knob around a few times until what looked like the timed wash setting appeared. Fifteen minutes looked good, and thankfully that was the default setting. I did want to bump up the temperature, and the button on that side of the display did as expected. So I added the soap and pressed the only other lit button to start the wash. Success. I’m sure it has all sorts of neat settings but I wasn’t going to try and decipher them.

I checked back in forty-five minutes and I had clean clothes. Now I had to dry them. The wind hasn’t stopped blowing for even a minute since I arrived in Kutaisi. This morning it was blowing harder than ever.

With only a handful of items, I was able to triple up on the clothes pins to make sure nothing blew away. If the wind were to take something from my fourth-floor balcony, it would be across the city before I knew it was gone. After about a half-hour, I chickened out and brought in the socks and underwear to let them finish drying inside. I added a few more clothes pins to the shirts and hoped for the best.

Everything survived, and I brought them in a bit later.

Then I did what I should’ve been doing everyday: study the language. I fired up my iPad app, MemRise, and dove into the lessons. I’m not sure how much progress I made, but it’s more than I knew before. I had used it before leaving, but with the daily exposure to the letters it was easier to study.

Somehow, four hours had slipped by while I was learning the Georgian numbers. That pretty much killed the day. Since I had planned to stay in, it worked out perfectly.

Now I have clean clothes, the ability to count to ten, and hopefully healing feet. Maybe I got more done that I realized.

Kutaisi impressions

I haven’t been able do to as much sightseeing as I planned. But I think I have a feel for the city. It’s laid out in a haphazard way that reflects its growth over the last thousand years or so. It also feels more like a car town than Tbilisi. There’s no metro system, so there’s fewer people out walking between places. It also lacks the underground passages for crossing the streets that Tbilisi has. This means fewer street vendors and shops built into the passages.

Sunset over Kutaisi.
Sunset over Kutaisi.

The previous government built a massive parliament complex on Kutaisi’s west side so the legislative branch could move from Tbilisi. The plan was to spread out the government around the country so that areas other than those around the capital would have influence. The building was built, but then the government changed and the moving plans were put on hold. Had it happened, Kutaisi might be a completely different place than the one I see out my window. I still want to get some photos of the building, even if it is sitting empty.

Small countries like Georgia tend to be nation-states because of how one area accumulates all of the economic activity. This is also one of the things the founding fathers of the United States worked to prevent by creating the Electoral College. The last election showed how the rural vote can take precedence over the large cities, and proved how valuable of a system it is. In Georgia, what Tbilisi wants Tbilisi gets.

In some ways Kutaisi is a big little town. There seems to be enough going on to support the people, but I don’t see it growing enough to become a true second city in the country.

What’s next?

I have enough bandages left to change them out in the morning. Once I do that, I’ll have an idea of how much walking I might be able to stand. If things look and feel good, I’ll head into downtown and find a place to buy some new socks. After that, I’ll see where the wind takes me.

More MVW travel reports:

MVW Travels: Day 09, Exploring Kutaisi

Dateline: Kutaisi, Georgia—08 Mar. 2017

Feet be damned, I was going to get out and about today. Because there's no point in traveling halfway around the world to sit inside.

I did spend the morning looking over the city map to get a good idea of where I could go, and what was in walking range. Kutaisi isn't a large town, but on foot it feels bigger than it is.

The first part of my route took me past yesterday's pharmacies. But a majority of my travels were around the central city. I managed to find a massive open air market quite by accident, along with what might be the tallest set of stairs I've ever climbed. What was at the top was worth journey.

The Bagrati Cathedral

The view from the parking lot.
The view from the parking lot.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 09, Exploring Kutaisi”

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

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 08, Kutaisi isn’t Tbilisi”

MVW Travels: Day 06, Tbilisi Legs

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.

My impromptu lap desk. It also keeps my feet warm.
My impromptu lap desk. It also keeps my feet warm.

But I seem to be acclimatizing to the new time zone, and today I managed to accomplish quite a bit.

Midnight bookings

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.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 06, Tbilisi Legs”