I’ve been sick for more than a couple weeks now. Not terribly sick, just a cough, mildly soar throat and runny nose, and the occasional minor headache. Pretty annoying, and my “red eye” flight to Tbilisi didn’t exactly help. I left at 9:45pm, had to change in Riga, and arrived in Tbilisi at 4:25am which included a 2-hour time zone change. Not exactly a good night’s sleep, and then I was too early to check in (even after waiting at the airport until 9am) so I had to leave my bag and wander around the streets of Tbilisi for a few hours.
So I wandered and wandered. They’ve been doing a lot of cool building renovation and space-age construction in the main part of the city here, I suspect to try to attract tourists and put Tbilisi on the map internationally. So I resent that a little bit, especially because buildings and homes are literally in ruins on side-streets from the main road and one block away (and in some cases, just on the main road). Not a strategy I really like when the people are poor and the homes are falling apart, but it’s a risk for long-term economic benefits I suppose.
There are a lot of old men just wandering and loitering around. Kind of like Greece. I find it weird. What are they doing? If you’re unemployed or bored, sit at home like normal people. I find it unnerving. It’s just poorer in general than I thought it would be – much more comparable to a large city in Central America or the Balkans than the Baltics (not sure why I would think differently).
Everyone smokes here, and cigarettes are less than $2/pack. Yuck.
That said, it has grown on my the last couple weeks. Here are some pictures of things, starting with the Peace Bridge.
One weekend I was wandering around and stumbled upon this Cheese festival. They love their cheese here. And bread. I’ve eaten my fair share of Khachapuri, which is just cheese baked into bread. It’s pretty delicious, and as unhealthy as it sounds.
As is always the case, my journey begins with a search for coffee shops. Coffeesta is a great choice to start with:
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf – This is my late night choice since it’s open until 11 and they are right across from my hostel. They also let me eat an orange from their counter, even though they are purely decorative. It was the first fruit I’d had in like a week, so I’ll be forever grateful.
Book Corner Cafe – A cool dimly-lit interior with coffee and food. I only went here once, but it probably deserves a second visit.
Not sure if you’ve heard of it before, but there’s a lovely Dunkin’ Donuts here. Even some table space to work. The best part is they still use the “America Runs on Dunkin” tagline here.
So there are enough coffee places to fill the day. They have a McDonald’s and it looks awesome… probably challenges the one in Antigua for the coolest looking McDonald’s. But it’s always busy, so I actually haven’t been to “the embassy” once yet.
The reason I initially hated Tbilisi, which I still think is fair, is none of these places serve breakfast. Not even McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts. They just don’t eat breakfast here. What kind of civilization is this?
Ok, back to wandering around the city. There’s an overlook over the old town area, so I started there.
After a couple nights in a guesthouse and a couple nights in a hostel, I wasn’t getting any better so I decided to grab my own space. I stayed in a small AirBnb for about 10 days, wherever I (slowly) recuperated. It was lovely though, full kitchen, bedroom, wifi, living room with TV, all for $16/night.
I had to walk up a hill to get there though, and this was the view walking down to the town area.
One weekend I walked up to Turtle Lake. It looks a little “meh” this time of year with the water levels down and a lot of the summer activity gone, but it’s still a nice little area to escape. There were a few people running around it too, which is the first exercise I had seen here. But there were lots of fall colors and crunchy leaves, so that was nice.
The National Museum of Georgia had a few different parts in it. One was a bunch of skulls from prehistoric humans, since this was the region people went to first after leaving Africa.
Another room was the Treasury, displaying a lot of really old gold and silver coins, since mining that was a thing here too.
Lastly, the top floor included the museum of soviet occupation. From 1921-1991 or so I believe, covering all the uprising, fighting, and oppression from that time. Pretty interesting. Also interesting how you could just wander around and no one else was up there.
Finally feeling better, I decided it was time to get out of this smog-filled city and see some of the countryside this place is supposed to be famous for. It’s a little more difficult to find transportation since it’s not the main tourism season, but I made it work.
My taxi driver made me stop and take these two pictures because he really liked it I guess.
I was dropped off at the lovely village of Udabno. Which is just a bunch of homes dropped in the middle of nowhere, for no apparent reason. It had a kind of post-apocalyptic look to it, like how I imagine parts of The Road being. Yes, there are just pigs and cows and sheep and chickens just sort of wandering around the town.
The actual hostel was actually really cool in a hippie sort of way. I got a “cottage” to myself, which is essentially a bedroom and a bathroom overlooking the nothingness, along with free breakfast for $16/night. The food was delicious and the owner was very nice.
The next morning I started the 12km walk to David Gareja monastery that is the “thing to see” out near this town.
About 7km into the trek, a group picked me up that was headed to the monastery, which was nice of them. Here was the actual monastery.
But after that long walk, there really wasn’t much inside the monastery. I mean, it was cool, but exploring it took all of about 20 minutes, and it was supposed to talk 2-3 hours. But we found a hiking trail and took it around.
We walked on the path on the other side of the mountain, and according to my GPS we were officially in Azerbaijan. So technically I’ve been in that country too. This was soft of confirmed by the Georgian Border Guards we met hanging out by this cave in camouflage and guns. Technically they said it was a “neutral zone” so they didn’t shoot us.
The group I met was actually stopping at my hostel/guesthouse for dinner, so rather than stay another night and try to make my way back in the morning, I decided just to jump in their van and go back to Tbilisi (much easier than hitchhiking, then taxi, then marshrutka, then Metro). They were from the Czech Republic and a couple of them spoke pretty good English, so it was pleasant enough.