By Brianna 25/January/17 Georgia
Hola friends! This blog post has it all, from dancing grandmas to Dunkin' Donuts, from troublesome visas to bias sulphur baths. We loved Georgia for that exact reason: it has it all. If you don't believe me give this a read and see for yourself!
I really hope that every Sunday night in Georgia unfolds similarly to the one we experienced at My Moon Hostel, Zugdidi. There was no moping over the prospect of work looming in the near future. Nobody was too dispirited do to anything but watch the terrible leftovers of the week's television schedule. Instead, a huge feast was on the agenda, where family and foreigners alike can come together to eat an abundance of aubergine salads, tripe and some divine kachapuri. All of this washed down, of course, with home-brewed wine and copious amounts of the deadly 'cha cha': a substance that looks like vodka, smells like rum and tastes like a hangover. While we dined, a glamorous, elderly ex-scientist danced the night away with anyone she could get her hands on. She bopped and twirled to anything thing from Georgian folk music to Radiohead, only stopping to give her opinion on everybody's love lives. A couple of French touring musicians chased their son around the table, a boy who had affectionately been nicknamed 'Mowgli' by the guests. Despite language barriers, everybody could appreciate the way the child's brunette mop of hair gave him the look of the Jungle Book protagonist.
Needless to say, we were reluctant to leave the next day. An important appointment with our Azeri visa guy, however, steered us back to Batumi. Alex arrived half an hour early for our meeting and set up camp outside a very closed looking Azerbaijan consulate. It seemed like we weren't the only ones who had had a heavy Sunday night. An hour came and went with no sign of even a security guard, so Alex asked some local shopkeepers what was going on. It took two hours of negotiating phone calls and looking at family photos, during which time the banks closed and our train to Tbilisi got closer and closer to leaving. With no way of paying for the visas even if they did somehow materialised, we had lost all hope. Cheddar, who watching our bags with me, had cracked open the wine and was drinking away his nervous engery, hiccupping as he went. With 15 minutes before our train, Alex returned triumphant with 2 visas costing us a grand total of £15 each (instead of $75). If you are interested about how to obtain visas in Batumi, Alex wrote a full account of what happened here.
Everything was going so well. We were officially allowed to enter Azerbaijan on our chosen date, we had just about made it onto the Tbilisi train and Alex had downed Cheddar's remaining wine in celebration. And then Alex got sick (unrelated but most probably aggravated by the wine). Not to get too graphic but toilets on ex-soviet trains are often closed when they get close to stations, making it a severely awkward 5 hours. Sickness of some form continued to dictate the majority of our time in Georgia's capital, peaking during our first evening. We were sat in a lovely traditional duqani, serving up classic, cheap Georgian cuisine in a wooden panelled basement. The only thing that was missing was a menu. Our fool-proof plan of pointing at what somebody else had as way of ordering also backfired and we ended up with a lot of unexpected dishes. Although it was delicious, we couldn't stomach more than a few mouthfuls each and left an insulting amount of waste.
We spent the next day exploring the city, walking from the new town to the old. The city felt very European, mixing traditional culture with modern shopping and cafe districts. Another world relative to the Mazeri mountain life we had experienced only a few days ago. The extravagant, very white architecture and layout reminded us of what Skopje, Macedonia, is currently trying to achieve. We had learnt our lesson from the previous day, choosing to refuel ourselves at Western food chains. Sometimes your body just needs a McDonald's or KFC or Burger King. In our case, it was a Subway, followed by a Dunkin Donuts...
As part of our Georgian experience, we were keen to go to the Sulphur bath district. The Lonely planet recommendation was being refurbished, however we found a very local alternative just up the hill. Expect to pay less to enter the baths if you're a female, and expect to get exactly what you pay for. The experience is much more rewarding for men, who tend to have better and more diverse facilities and use the space for socialising as much as bathing. Alex had access to pools of varying temperatures and a wood-burning sauna. In comparison, the women's seemed a purely cleansing and shaving affair. There is a chance that I got told off by a naked 'masseuse' ('scrubber' may be a more accurate title) for having a water fight with a young girl and made a sharpish exit. Cheddar would like me to point out the institution is also inherently 'mousist', as they refused to let him in the baths at all.
It was a turbulent few days in the Georgian capital, but definitely a place worth spending some time. Alex had barely recovered by the time we were set to board the sleeper train to Baku. 12 hours for a less than 600km journey seemed excessive at the time. Post-Bangladesh, it now sounds like we boarded the bullet train. With only a minor interrogation about our affiliations with Armenia and a look in our bags for any Armenian-esque possessions, we were on our way, steadily chugging along to the capital of Azerbaijan.
Our two weeks in Georgia were as magnificently eventful as we hoped they would be, leaving us wondering what else the Caucasus would have to offer in Azerbaijan. We'll see you there friends, next time!