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”

MVW Travels: Day 05, Tbilisi Reflections

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—04 Mar. 2017

I've managed to settle into the new room. I'm glad I booked for three nights. This give me some stability and a chance to spend a few days without a pack on my back.

So Tbilisi…

Over the past few reports, I've touched on some of the things I've seen. But I've also glossed over any deeper impressions in favor of recording my travels.

As the wind howls outside, I can stay in and process some of what I've seen and felt.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 05, Tbilisi Reflections”

MVW Travels: Day 04, Northeast Tbilisi

Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia—03 Mar. 2017

Today was all about getting settled into a place for the weekend. And more sleep. Lots more. I’ve also learned that some streets just don’t have names and that’s okay.

Up and out

Nana, my host, had today off work as it was Mother’s Day. Here it’s an actual holiday, not just a greeting card sales promotion event. Most retail businesses I saw were still open. I guess those who don’t work in customer facing jobs get the benefit. A retail job is a retail job, no matter it may be.

I woke up around 7:00 AM, ahead of my alarm. I slept soundly. It was better than at the Marriott only because I got more of it. Once up, Nana offered some berry preserves and local cheese. The cheese was white and mildly salty and very tasty. I also learned the internet was still out. Because of this I was offered a discount on the price, and after a polite refusal and rebuttal I paid the lower price. She had errands to run and after I packed up, we walked to the nearest main street where she pointed me at a cafe with wifi.

Now I needed to find a place to stay for the weekend.

Continue reading “MVW Travels: Day 04, Northeast Tbilisi”