Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

To get to the Azeri border I have to change 3 marshrutkas and at the end take a taxi. Thankfully I meet a lovely lady who is an English teacher and she finds a cheap taxi for me. The taxi even stops so I can exchange my last lari to manat. No commissions, no scam.

I walk through the border and the Azeri side is surprisingly strict. They inquire a lot if I had visited Armenia. Since I didn’t know they are at war, I am smiling and telling them: I didn’t have time on this trip, but maybe another time…ha-ha-ha.

They don’t smile.
Nevertheless, I go through. 10 taxi men immediately attack me and ask me where I am going….when I say ‘’I don’t know’’ they are even more confused than me.

I avoid the taxis and go into a marshrutka with an unknown destination. I decide to head to Naftalan…or Ganja- anyway-in that general direction. An elderly man, hereby known as perv #3 tries everything in his willpower to convince me to go to the north-the mountains with him. He pays for my marhsrutkas and keeps talking me into it. Little does he know, that I have reached my patience quota of pervs, so I pay him no heed and when we reach Zaqatala, I proceed to board a marshrutka headed to Gandja. It is already a very long trip, a long day, and I have 3 more hours ahead of me.

First impressions:

-Azeri people are darker, looking more Gypsy or Turkish-like
-Their music is very oriental- Turkish like
-There is no WiFi anywhere as opposed to Georgia

-The country doesn’t feel Muslim
-The country feels much richer, buildings are modern

-The people aren’t so nice or hospitable towards me, they are more avoiding me.
-The drivers drive muuuuch muuuuuuuuch slower

Upon arrival in Ganja, I realize I am in the middle of nowhere- taxi drivers attack me- but what am I supposed to tell them?
I begin looking for WiFi, asking a blond good looking merchant guy about directions. He says there’s no WiFi, no restaurants around, he basically says no to all my questions.
That starts well. I get a weird vibe of pushy but generous men, curious but prude, careful but very into your personal space.
I walk for a while and stumble into a hotel. I take WiFi , book a hostel and order a taxify. There is construction on the road leading to the hotel, so I go on the road where there is only 1 car parked appearing to be waiting for …me?!? I check quickly the plate number and it looks legit similar.
I get in and I am surprised for a moment that there are 2 men at the front seats. Never mind, I give my presumed driver the hostel address and he starts driving…
After a minute…he says in broken English :’’Well, I am no taxi, but I drive you. No problem.’’ I say: “You are not a taxi? Not taxify? You are not ‘’name of driver’’?’’

This can only happen to me. Most people do everything their power not to get kidnapped on holidays, but I walk right into my own potential kidnapping.

The confusion is absolutely hilarious. The two men probably think I am crazy because I burst into a wild laughter- it brings me to tears. This image in my head still makes me smile so wide-from ear to ear.
The men still drive me to my hostel. I learn they are army men and had just finished a very long 37 hour shift.
Ganja looks very pretty and nicely illuminated. It is the old capital of Azerbaijan. I learn there is a 4 day holiday/ spring welcoming/Novruz in the country. There are central markets with decoration and music stages.
They park the car and we walk at a pedestrian street- very clean and modern.
They carry my bags without asking. It is hard for me to make sense of the situation. But I roll with it. Are they actually sweet or trying to take advantage of me?
They don’t speak good English so they give me wifi hot-spot and I use google translate.

They assure me that they are conscious citizens and I should not worry. They are definitely sweet. We ring my hostel bell but nobody answers ( a sign). My new friends tell me this place isn’t good-they will take me somewhere else and they will take me to eat. I don’t accept the crazy offer right away. They say ‘’Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, we are good people’, my brain clicks- YES. Just say YES.

The wind is very cold and strong here. I am smelly, cold, exhausted and hungry.

They take me to eat in a typical place and I notice there are only men everywhere, both on the streets and in the restaurants. The traditional food resembles Turkish aka Bulgarian (sarmi, rice, meat and potatoes.)
There is no alcohol on the menu. Ayran and tea are mandatory.
They sit across from me to reassure me and show me not to be afraid. My new friends have 20 years contracts with the army during which aren’t allowed to travel Anywhere!!! They are at war with Armenia for territories and tell me not to visit there. Well- that explains the border questions.
I promise to return the favor when they travel abroad but my heart aches for them being prisoners of their government. I avoid telling them about my travels or the Georgian cuisine.
One of them says not to worry in case of problems to call him because his dad is the chief of police or something like that and they will help me at any time.
My army friends label me as interesting, original and funny.
They book a state run hotel for me and drive me there. The rooms are so fancy and I am so happy!!!
We make arrangement to meet when they don’t work tomorrow night.
I have this amazing big bed and I’m alone. I take the longest shower and pass out. The reception tries desperately to call my room all morning and invite me downstairs for breakfast.
I wake up at 12 when they call again and I finally understand that this breakfast is included and it’s Today! My Russian knowledge is growing by the day. The staff in the hotel is so friendly and curious about me. I am again- the only woman. It feels somehow like an apocalyptic men world so far.

Important Notice!!! Everyone here has a uni brow.

I decide to check the bazaar. It is time to get some fake branded Guccis and Chanels/Manels. I take a taxi to the markets and I try to negotiate with the merchants- things are not as cheap as Bulgaria.
Going through the bazaar shops is tiring because the merchants all follow me and then want to know where I’m from etc. I try to smile and be polite, so I drive most prices down.
A shoes merchant gets curious about me too- like everybody- he asks me why do I travel alone? He offers me coffee and his business card-if I run into trouble.
I end up buying: 2 shirts, 1 jacket, sneakers, 1 skirt and a dress for 65 euros. I could buy a lot more, but I remember the amounts of clothes I have back home.

Ganja’s tourist attractions are not too exciting for me, and I am super tired from the shopping.
I only go to see the famous house of glass bottles.

I see many gypsies. And every single man has a uni brow.

An interesting phenomenon: there are so many cafes but they don’t offer anything sweet, they are in fact restaurants.
The tea culture is very rich here: they drink a lot of black tea, and not much coffee.

After the markets I go to one of those cafes and end up just getting a hot cocoa. Nothing is as simple as it sounds. There are 6 servers-all men again- trying to serve me and everything I ask about, they call for someone else to help them out, although I ask in Russian. ‘is this building the university?’.
They really have a blank look about them. The same situation occurs with the taxi drivers.
I try to get back to my hotel: A very prominent hotel. I say the name of it, I show them the map on my phone and on a paper map, I tell them 10 different street intersections, locations and landmarks, I tell them to check their Google maps and nothing. Just a lot of shouting and talking. And that same blank look. There are around 8 taxi drivers discussing this complex situation. (sarcasm) They expect me to guide them in their city. I become exasperated. That 15 minutes of my trip was the most annoyed I ever get.

Back at the hotel I agree with my friend to go eat but he says he can only at 10 pm and I’m already starving.

I go explore a restaurant similar to the other last night in the neighborhood.
Why why why- there are again ONLY men on the streets and in the restaurant. They are all staring at me. I attempt to order and a man helps me. He speaks English!
He is a Turkish Construction/Real Estate businessman eating there with his employees. He invites me to their table. I say Yes.
He tries to flaunt his wealth in awkward ways.
‘Usually I don’t eat in such shitty places, usually I have 2 security guards with me, I have a flat in Baku facing the sea on the 22nd floor, you can stay there if you want, I buy only original brands, I have businesses in a few countries, I had scholarship for university, I have 3 degrees, my employees respect me a lot, I have 180 employees.’
He says: don’t look at me now, now I’m after job. (because he was dressed sporty).
I say: don’t worry, I’m not looking at you (And I laugh internally).

But him and his colleagues are nice and funny, I sample more cuisine.
The Turkish guy offers me a drive back to the hotel and says to call him after I meet my friend so we can smoke shisha or drink jaeger with coke. (The drink I hate the most- bad luck).
He says women are Queens in this culture and puts me in front seat of the car- while his employees are behind. He even asks if I need any money.
Both him and my army friends are quite dumbstruck when I talk about how I travel alone and how I don’t like kids. I don’t think other women ever told them this.
Everyone is also surprised I’ve come to Ganja.
What most fascinates me about my new friend is when he shows me the buildings they are working on. All the modern architectural wonders in Baku. I am deeply impressed and interested to hear more about their process. From idea to realization.

Later on, he brings his business card at the hotel and says he has stayed in this hotel for a few weeks while working on projects.
He offers if I need, I could stay in his empty apartment in Baku, I could just call him. He needs to fly to Turkey soon though-for work.
He has such a superior attitude, it’s laughable. I immediately get a bad vibe from him, so I don’t respond to his messages and don’t accept his generous invite.
Until I leave Azerbaijan-he keeps texting me and I keep ignoring him. Then he miraculously texts from Baku/so did not go on his business trip/.

Always trust your instincts.

My army friend cancels and it’s OK.
I lock the door of my fancy hotel room, watch some Kazakhstan music channels and fall asleep.

Next morning I have an offer to wait for my army friends to finish work at 13, go smoke shisha and they drive me to the bus station but I know it will take too long and don’t want to arrive in Baku too late/too dark.
I research Naftalan which was my original plan because of the petroleum spa treatments and decide it is not worth to spend a night there. I don’t have so many diseases that need curing yet.
I feel guilty I will not get to see again my two guardian angels from Ganja. Rest assured- I will never forget the goodness of your hearts.

It is time to see Baku- the pearl of the Caucasus

————————————–

The bus station is completely surrounded by men and their cars offering a ride to Baku, only 5 manat more expensive than the bus. I consider the option but decide I don’t want to be quizzed again about my travels and life history.
Little do I know, the woman next to me on the bus is going to do exactly that…and more.

This time, I make some kind of plan (wow). I contact my Azeri friends from the Tbilisi hostel and one of them says he will greet me at the bus station. He recommends a hostel too.

The bus to Baku takes forever. Not because it’s a long trip, but because every driver here is also a postman. He delivers 3 packages and makes 3 stops in the first hour.

The lady who is sitting next to me starts trying to speak to me, and I can’t even pretend to listen to music because she insists I go to her town and meet her nephew who is an 18 year old boxing champion.

The bus makes a stop midway and we go for tea. There is no food or any other options on the menu. Everyone is just sitting in a large room drinking tea accompanied by candies.

The lady insists to pay for me. I draft a plan in my head and reach my friend in Baku to tell him to write me in Azeri we have dinner plans. The translation works and the lady leaves me alone.

Suddenly- I see it. The Caspian Sea and all the oil platforms. It’s so gray. The landscape is very deserty with sandy colors.

BAKU- final stop

The arrival at bus terminal leaves me speechless. Women- at last! LOL- just kidding. No women!!! Once again there are 1 million men and taxi drivers. As well as in the metro.

My friend meets me and I am actually relieved that someone will guide me and I don’t need to ask directions.
Unfortunately, we discover the hostel I booked is quite shit, so we explore a few meters down the street and end up in Amsterdam hostel. Cool vibe and employees.

I am sure at that point Booking.com can’t keep up with my change of plans and are probably getting annoyed with me. Thank you in advance for accommodating my change of plans.

Tonight celebrations are on the menu. My friend contacts his cousin (that I also know from Tbilisi’s hostel) and his girlfriend and we head out to the center to eat delicious food.
His girlfriend is so beautiful and confident, strikes me as such a strong, independent and intelligent woman. One is immediately drawn to her aura.

My friends say:’ don’t be surprised if you get someone following you. Men are quite shy here, but this is their way of showing they like you.’

They tell me of a case from England where a girl was being followed for days and she called the police. The Azeri man was detained and said they should call the embassy which explained this culture deviation and he was released.

We walk around the pedestrian city center of Baku which reminds me so much of any other European city with lights and chandeliers, and paved streets with boutiques and souvenir shops. We go through the old town with its little streets, hidden alleyways and dead ends. We listen to traditional music and I feel like I’ve landed straight into a fairy tale. We see the Formula 1 fences and seats being installed. The race is just a few weeks away. We reach the sea-side boardwalk. Everywhere is very clean and in order.

My friend was a tour guide during the Eurovision contest, so he tells me a lot about the country’s history. This was the first Muslim country to become a republic and Baku means Windy city. (Wholeheartedly agree with this as it is freezing).

We get some unique tea, olives jam and shisha.

The next day, I change  hostels and chose a very modern and clean one, although not social. I am very surprised to see there are  no walking tours and pub crawls. It seems like I am on my own. The receptionists always says : I don’t know-look around or ask other travelers.  She spends most time crying and arguing with her Indian boyfriend on the couch.  The care and hospitality here can’t reach the Georgian level.  There is free and unlimited tea in the hostel .The other travelers are mostly Iranian and Indian. What was also quite strange is that the other tourists are always inside the hostel?! They never go out to visit anything.

In Baku, there is a Nutella caffe with amazing creations. This is where I get breakfast and I am certain then I have never had a sweeter breakfast.

I also see a Kinder place to eat other incredible desserts.

I tour the seaside and am amazed to see the Carpet museum and the new mall that takes inspiration from the Sidney opera. I LOVE how creative they are with architecture.

Here is also where I get myself a stalker! It is actually a guy whom I’ve asked to take pictures of me about 20 minutes prior. He was walking around with his friend/girlfriend and now here he is -stalking me. Ugh! So creepy.

Just following me and staring without saying a word.

Unfortunately for me, there is no wide-spread wifi in Baku, but I manage to take a taxify and see him in the back window brooding. He looks so sad! WTF!

The taxify takes me to a huge meat and food market instead of clothing one. Oops. I see pork meat being sold. I walk from there to the train station- kind of getting used to the outlook of the city . I withdraw money and go to the shops there where I get my infamous red dress and some fake brands.

I return to my hostel to rest. We have a pizza dinner with my new friends then head to a popular wine bar. They always insist on paying!!! We get quite drunk with my friends and begin playing Never Have I Ever. Crazy game. The live music inside this wine bar is amazing. Then we proceed to another bar in old town which is small but super fun.  We dance a lot and sample all the shots on the menu. MY TIME HAS COME AND ON THIS TRIP This time- I pay. Finally. Its 1AM, we take a taxi to a viewpoint. The ride is a blur but the taxi driver is racing like a race driver. The flame towers are not illuminated sadly but the rest of the view is stunning. The Eurovision building is twinkling like stars, you can also see the new building that will be a half moon. Oh, there is no beach in the city, you need to drive to villages around. Me and Hikmat continue the party by asking the taxi driver which club is open but the others go home. Here, as well as Tbilisi, partying is only on Friday and Saturday. It’s Thursday so clubbing is limited.

Me and Hikmat end up in a huge Arabic club which he did not like. He gets annoyed how many local girls there are dancing to the Arab music and Arab tourists. I feel bad for my friend, having to witness this unpleasant image. Oh, have I mentioned that he lives in Latvia, so he is also kind of a tourist in his own country. We dance a bit and I am having fun but he wants to leave and we take the eggplant style taxi.

Eventually I book a walking tour online but when I show up on location, only the tour guide is there. Wow! I decide to skip.

My friends are busy on the weekend, so I make my own plan.
NOTE: I am so thankful for having met them in Tbilisi- They make my trip a thousand times better and memorable. At the end, we mostly remember how we were treated . And I remember laughing and smiling a Lot.

I visit the Heydar Aliev cultural center- absolute highlight of my trip. I spend 4 hours there and it is not enough.
4 hours- I smile from ear to ear. I am the last one to leave, they have to literally kick me out.

Adding another tab on my life chapters. Another deeply personal and emotional moment for me. The visits to Oslo’s opera, Amsterdam’s The Eye, Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow, Niteroi’s Art museum, Valencia’s city of Arts and Sciences..and now Baku’s cultural center. Each and every time is the same intensity of feelings. I am in utter awe facing the genius of white, smooth, modern architecture. And it is just as stunning(if not more) from the inside.

The exhibitions leave me speechless. Here is where I gain respect and deeper understanding of the Azeri history and culture. Their iconic president Heydar Aliev absolutely deserves this homage.

I go back to my hostel and decide to stay in. I am really cold and emotionally drained. Friday night I am boring and anti social. I watch some Netflix and reflect on how long this trip feels like. It’s the first time I feel that 2 weeks might be a bit too much. I could have done it in less time. I wander upon if I am just lazy or exhausted. My clothes are all dirty and I am so tired of combining them. My face and back are splatters with pimples. I need more makeup but I am tired of applying so much makeup.- HEY! Traveling isn’t always unicorns and roses.

Since it’s my last day-I need to go get souvenirs and the promised Georgian and Azeri books for my colleague.

I make a surprise last minute friendship with my room mate from India and we go for dinner. She is an English teacher here. In the restaurant, we meet one of her students who is Turkish and is so happy to see her and practice her English.

She has to greet some professors at the airport , so we agree to go clubbing later. I google some popular bars in the area that I can check before I fly away at 4 am.

That’s a whole new adventure.

Bar1: cute barman! I sit next to a prostitute with fake hair, eyelashes, boobs and lips. She is nice but later on becomes a stalker ;(

Bar2: empty

Bar3: very dark and cozy atmosphere. Funny menu. I make friends with the 2 guys next to me. A guy across the bar buys me a drink, comes talk and offers to show me around the national parks. He is organizing events like the formula 1 and inviting famous singers. He says this year is James Arthur. I tell him I leave in 2 hours to the airport 😀

I say I need to go to another bar and return to the 1st bar.

Bar 1 The prostitute offers me to chat up the barman who likes me. We take a picture and I see he has already added me on fb!?! How!? 😀

I meet some expats working here in gas and oil. They are Irish and we head to another bar.

Bar 4: It is still quite empty but I need to head to the airport at 2AM, so I cannot wait for it to fill up.

Bar 5: Funky bar, but my new friends are a bit too calm, and I don’t want to get drunker.

I head back to my hostel having made 7 new friends and I take a short nap.

I get a taxi to the airport, a 30 min ride for 4 euros, and along the way, there are so many amazing designs and modern buildings. The roads are super clean, new, smooth and large.
I take a last glimpse back at the Cultural Center. I am SO IN LOVE with it.

The airport is also an emblem of modern architecture. Inside of it there are different capsules: for painting, music, cuisine, etc.
I take the watercolors and paint away.

I am super sleepy because of all the booze so the flight feels short. In Minsk I also make a bed and sleep on the benches. When I fall asleep the airport is empty and wake up, there are so many people around me. The Minsk airport is very poor with horrible design, very strict border control, and no food options. I however spot 2 celebrities going through: A Metal band and an Italian singer from the older generation which names I will not disclose.

I am back to Prague. Taxis are exactly 5 x more expensive.

Georgia

Georgia 

Hi dear reader, let me tell you about the YES MAN style trip I undertook from March 9th until March 24th 2019.

Initially, I wanted to do a meditation retreat in India (where it’s also warmer) but I couldn’t find a cheap deal. And everyone, especially my dear friend Jeff from Prague has been raving so much about Georgia, it is very trendy at the moment. I don’t know much about the Caucasus region. I have only heard they have good wine and amazing food and my friend Nedko said they are very hairy creatures.

Without further ado, without any planning, without booking accommodation or even downloading maps, I set off to the airport.

My luggage for a 2 week adventure:

2 pairs of jeans

1 black leggings

5 pairs of undies

5 pairs of socks

1 bra

2 tank tops

2 sweaters

1 shirt

1 skirt, 1 dress

1 pair of sneakers/ fancier, not sporty

Towel

Swim suit

Make up palette, foldable hair brush

Hotel mini toiletries

Shaver

Tooth brush, tooth paste- mini

2 pairs of earrings

2 necklaces

6 rings

2 mini containers of foundation and face cream

What I regret not taking?

  1. Face lotion and cleaner
  2. A blazer(it was freezing)
  3. Sporty pants
  4. Pajamas

Let’s get down to business. Country #59

At the airport gate I analyzed the facial features of the Georgian people. They had big fish eyes and black hair. They were rather short and carried many bags and many souvenirs from Prague. They appear open to socialize and are not shy to look at strangers in the eyes. They are loud and warm.
I noticed everybody is wearing a cross and also ‘’cross themselves’’ regularly. I noticed this throughout the country. They do it every time they see a church- even if it’s in the distance, seen from the car.

When the Wizzair bus drove us to the plane, it didn’t open the doors for a while. The Georgians began protesting shortly, shouting and swearing. They are so expressive. My impression was shaped further by my encounter with the passenger sitting next to me. He spoke to me right away and offered me to visit his city after 10 minutes. Normally I would have been freaked out, but you can see the style of trip I am talking about here.

This is the say YES to every adventure, to every offer, to every opportunity. You know me, I live to blend in the culture, live with the people, learn their customs, be Georgian for week. And here the chance presents itself to me.

Tornike lives with his parents and his dog in Kobuleti, a small town at the Black Sea- close to Batumi. He explains if I speak to Georgians and I am open to conversation, I will never be stranded here. Someone would always show me around and treat me with great hospitality. When I opened the Wizzair magazine, I found a very informative article about a woman renting a car and staying at 5 stars hotels- traveling through Georgia…I thought to myself: ‘’OK- totally useless trip, but let’s read anyway.’’ And there was this quote:
‘’In Georgia, every guest is a gift from God.’’
Oh goodness, everything was tying up together so naturally.

He also told me Georgia is a neutral state in regards to the neighbors- Armenia and Azerbaijan hate each other. And that Abkhazia wanted to remain closer to Russia after the Soviet Union collapse. So now the only way through is to go through Russian border. They even use rubles and have their own language. And there are many Abkhazian immigrants/refugees who get a lot of social benefits from the Georgian government.

NB! A woman faints and loses consciousness on the seat across the aisle. At least 30 people shout, make noise, go get help, go to aid her, give their waters, and pills.
They are so…human. And we all know this species is extinct.

I learn they were all drinking Chacha (50% -the Georgian Rakya) on the Charles bridge earlier that day, dancing and singing. Toka shows me the video- I see the Czech robotic people staring with a blank expression. Hm. I am happy to be amongst the humans. They are my tribe.

After the flight, crossing the passport control is easy, it’s actually 4 AM, I don’t know where I will sleep tonight or how to get to the city- any city. I let myself be guided by my new friend.

I haven’t exchanged any currency, I don’t have mobile data, I don’t purchase a SIM card at the airport. If I disappear now, nobody would know. And that’s the absolute beauty of this.

First he helps an elderly woman passenger with her bags and we are off.
I am writing this from the little bus taking me on the next stop of my adventure-my future host Tornike (Toka- it took me a while to learn your name: D), graciously paying for my ticket.

The plan: No plan. Going with the flow. Discovering and living my best life. It’s the thrill. The thrill of the travel has taken over me again. And I hope it stays with me for a while.

Me and Toka arrive in his city of Kobuleti around 6AM, it looks quite small, like a village. There is nobody on the streets, only darkness and huge homeless dogs barking at us. We arrive at his house and his mother wakes up offering me food. She has already set up a guest bedroom for me. With ensuite bathroom. They have no heating, or hot water but I could have passed out anywhere.

I wake up very early. The room and bed were so cold and I hadn’t predicted that I will need an adjustment in time zones. I haven’t even researched what would be the time difference. There is breakfast already laid out for me. Tea with raspberry jam (you put it inside and mix), fresh cheese, toasted bread. There is nobody in the 4 floors house, so I explore.

Where the hell am I? I just know: It is stunning, I see the mountain tops and also the sea.

Toka’s labrador Jack is very big and sweet. The house is huge and undergoing construction, I discover also a secret room behind the library-very cool. Toka says in summer many Azeri tourists visit and they host them.
My friend and his family are not rich. They don’t have a lot, but they share everything with me- a total stranger. They made me feel so welcome, like I have known them for years.

My host takes me upstairs and to my surprise there is a dentist lab (he is a dentist) and his 3 colleagues working (on a Sunday) dental technicians. They are making porcelain teeth and make me very good coffee. They don’t speak English so my communication is a mix of broken Russian, Bulgarian and broken English (with everyone in Georgia, but my Russian got quite good by the end of this trip). It works well since we are always smiling at the misunderstandings. We go on a long walk in Kobuleti, Toka shows me a dance rehearsal which absolutely mesmerized me. Such energy and synchronization. I get teary eyed there. I am in love with My plan of No plan.
The moment comes- I FINALLY see it, the other end of the Black sea, somewhere on the other end, is my country. On this end, there is no sand, only colorful stones and the sea is as calm as a lake.
I ask Toka everything about everything. We see some workers cutting down trees and 10 men watching them and giving their opinion. Toka says this is the Georgian national sport. Haha. Georgians are truly Bulgarians first cousins. There is so much construction happening around, but nothing seems to be finished. Toka says they had 3 consecutive wars and this slowed down the progress of the country drastically. Plus Russia had cut them out for 10 years following the fall of the Soviet Union and people had no food or electricity. I meet Toka’ s sister, her children who also learn Russian at school. Everyone is together, neighbors, dogs, cousins, everyone knows each other and salutes each other on the streets. Toka tells me Georgian people have very big noses so it’s common to get a surgery. We go knock at his friend’s door, a police man with 7 cats but he is sick so he can’t offer us a ride to Batumi.
At any point when I attempt to withdraw or exchange money Toka refuses. He says he would be deeply offended.
We take the marshrutka to Batumi, clearly a much bigger and modern city. They strive to build modern architecture buildings and illuminate them beautifully at nighttime. Along the beach, on the promenade there are many love themed statues that one can take a picture with, most renowned one being Ali and Nino, the lovers that never touch. Watching this installation move was very sentimental and personal to me. It’s a sad love story. But aren’t they all? It seems the strongest of feelings is causing the most impossible of shitstorms. Mere millimeters away, yet they always miss each other and can never connect. It is tragic. And it is beautiful.
My host, ever the patient gentleman takes me for some traditional food. Exquisite food and exquisite service. He doesn’t accept my offer to pay again. We can’t finish our lunch and as per my tradition, I take the leftovers and we give them to a homeless woman. As an expert tour guide, Toka shows me around the center of Batumi, the astronomical clock, the future polytechnic University building which is also in construction and its unknown when it will end.  A strange use of a massive skyscraper with a ferris wheel attached to it, so the students can take a book from the library and read with a view of the sea. Amazing idea. Let’s see if this building will be completed.
Overall, the architecture here is such a strange mix. Turkish, French, contemporary, it is a delight for the eyes to see glass walls with oriental ornamented balconies attached, Gaudi inspired mosaics, the infamous 8 legs cafe (also in construction), a few piazzas and castle like buildings, predominantly abandoned.
I spot many clubs but Toka says the city is empty now. Better to come in summer. Take a minute to reflec on how proud Georgians are from their language. The sphere building and the modern Tbilisi bridge both project the alphabet as a genetic code with innovative lights.

We stop for a coffee break although my host doesn’t drink it (and also doesn’t drink alcohol), I had the best ice frappe in my life from the most disciplined and military organize waitress I have seen.

The sea-side park has many European like fountains and the signs in the city are translated in English. I see great potential and future in the city. It is lively and it has many attractions.
People are eying me curiously. Toka says they think I’m Russian and also – I am the only tourist there right now.
I am debating whether I should spend the night in Batumi, but this 6 hour walk killed both of us. Plus, Toka offers I decide tomorrow and he was right. I think when I follow my general rule: always say Yes, I always win. It also takes the pressure off making other decisions.

Upon our return, I try their home made wine and cha cha, what can be more authentic than that?

We speak about how Toka doesn’t like to be away from home too long. He misses his bed and his house. He has everything he needs here. Food, water, friends. He says he likes how calm and lazy it is. I guess it’s good to have a place you totally feel at home at.
He also says he doesn’t understand the European women but Russian and Slavic he knows what to tell them and how to behave because they appreciate the man to be dominant and a leader. Haha!

The next day, I wake up super late and it turns out, the Prometheus cave is closed on a Monday but I have to keep going. I finally exchange money and Toka says everywhere it’s good to exchange here. Nobody takes commission.

We go to the sea shore again upon my request so I can hear and memorize the sound of the waves. Jack swims and plays. Toka chats to another one of his neighbors. Everyone is so approachable.
It is time for me to go. Toka takes me to the marshrutka and pays for it again. He insures the driver knows where I am going. We say goodbye.
He tells me:Don’t cry. And I can call or write him anytime I need help.
Humanity at its best.
Do good and throw it in the sea, the elders say.

Notable facts:

-There is no Coke here, Pepsi rules the country and you see the Pepsi signs everywhere.
-Many buildings left to their own demise in the middle of construction.
-Marhrutka is the main transport and they drive insanely crazy.
-Nobody scams with the prices.
-The air is clean.
-There are a million homeless dogs / as opposed to cats in Azerbaijan
-Toka’s character, his accent, his behavior and openness, his kindness, his nose- everything reminds me of my father. And my father’s name is George 😀 I am now certain my father is Georgian.
-The toilets on the road are always Turkish style. They sometimes don’t have doors or any kind of separation. They are always awful and lack toilet paper. Just be prepared my ladies.

The adventure continues. 7PM: After the long long trip, carrying a lemon tree for a woman, practicing my amazing Russian, a guy giving me his seat on the Marshrutka, I get off in Borjomi and see no hotels or hostels. The tourist info center is closed. I ask in a bakery where I could find a hostel, they don’t know and they tell me to go up a hill. I encounter a guest house Casa owned by Spanish speaking Georgians. The son is also the mayor.
The room is cosy, but I can see they are not ready for tourists. Everyone says: come in summer. There is no paper in the toilet, no towels, no hot water.
He says in 2020 there will be the ski championships in Borjomi, there will be many tourists. He also owns a tour company and tells me what I can see around.
He invites me for homemade wine tasting but I am very tired. I take a headache pill and decide to say Yes again. The wine is great, He says if I stay one more night, I will only pay 10 lari. Big discount.
Its 11 PM, perfect exploration time. I love night touring. I go around the city and discover the central part with many hostels. Oops. The only restaurant is closing.

I decide to install tinder and see the people around. There is nobody but one guy, a blond, rare sight in Georgia! Next morning I decide to meet him and go to the Central Park and mineral baths. His English isn’t great and we eventually don’t meet.

I head to town and the park with all my luggage. The park is filled with rides, shooting ranges and amusement activities, all closed. What a perfect timing Kristina. The park ends and here begins the endless muddy climb to the baths.
People I encounter say it’s always 10 minutes away. Time passes. I get sweaty and tired. I start to sing Joe Dassin- Le Café Des Trois Colombes.

I turn around, a blond guy behind me. He says something in Georgian I say I don’t speak it. He says his name and…. It’s actually the tinder dude. Hahaha
We walk to the baths, we don’t pay because he is some sort of a famous football player and he knows everyone. There are no showers and the baths aren’t as warm but hanging out with the local guy is actually fun.

After the baths we decide to eat. And then we go get his 4×4 off road truck. We drive off up up up in the mountain.
My turn: I ask if I can drive and I am having a blast. Tourists actually pay money for those excursions. Too bad for them.

I get in touch with my friend in Prague: Jeff, and he tells me to meet his friend Gaga around 6pm, until then I visit a huge abandoned hotel where only 3 families live.

I meet Gaga and we go for tea. He is very smart and works in the national park administration. He has traveled a lot and also only travels alone.
Gaga generously offers me accommodation at his and Keti’s farm. I accept. Say YES.

I set off to Atskuri.
It’s so peaceful here.

Gaga’s directions : cross a thousand year old bridge and turn left after the castle. I am lost after the bridge and I call Keti. Thank you dear work for providing me with a working work phone. Keti and her neighbors pick me up off the road and we visit the garlic plantation to decide if they need a tractor. Keti is so inspiring to me, so connected to her land. She has a dream to build a bee therapy house. She wants to develop the eco- tourism and I really think she can succeed. Her passion is contagious. She makes a simple lunch: eggs, greens with nuts which I loooved, chacha, amazing tea.

She says she has many friends who don’t understand how busy she actually is. Because they work 9 to 5 and then are free, but working her land is a non-stop job.

Other topics in our conversation:

-It is very easy and common to hitch hike in Georgia
-Don’t ask Georgian people, they will always say no-just give them an order
– Georgian is in the top 5 most beautiful languages in the world.
– Her aunt guessed in the coffee that Keti will buy a farm.
-She has 2 tattoos. One of her late son and the view from the ‘’living room’’.

Please consult photo.

As I am writing this I am sitting next to the Fortress at the river bed about to hitch hike to Rabati fortress. The newest fortress in the world which quickly becomes my favorite spot in Georgia. It is quite empty and I don’t know why it is so underrated.

Reminder: thank Jeff.

It is my time to shine- I am in Tbilisi. The difference is Very noticeable. So Much Noise. It’s like the whole country lives here. There are many beggars in the metro and a few scams to be avoided, unexperienced travelers beware! Take your time and buy tickets from trusted sources.
Gaga recommends me some hostel. It takes me a while to find where it is. It is a small and cute one with 2 resident cats. I head to the big bazaars around the train station to buy souvenirs and some cheap branded clothes. There is every brand imaginable, but the Turkish versions of them. Perfumes are 2 euros.

The feeling of sadness overtakes my walks in the Georgian capital. So many poor grandmas selling whatever they can find. It is a poor country and I feel helpless here. I love grandmas and want to help them all, but how can I? This feeling doesn’t leave me for the rest of the trip.

That night I meet somebody on Tinder again. Out of the millions of options, it turns out that my meeting is with somebody that I ALREADY KNOW FROM 5 YEARS AGO, a friend of my friend from Bratislava. While I am always amazed by coincidences, this one tops it all up. We have a lovely dinner and I can’t get enough of the eggplant with nuts and sauce. However the wine…I am starting to get tired of it.

We proceed to get a few more drinks at the weekly couchsurfing meeting. That turns out very empty and disappointing. The CS community is not strong here and I learn that Thursdays are calm. No party.

My second day in Tbilisi is more exciting, I head to the free walking tour and learn a lot about the city’s history. Recommended!!!

3 surprising facts (out of many, many more):

-did you know that Saint Nino, St. George’s cousin brought Christianity to Georgia? 30% of women are named after her.

-there are 560 types of wine in Georgia.

-at a Georgian feast there is always the toast master Tamada who’s responsible to make lengthy speeches.

I change hostel to the Infamous Fabrika( recommended by Jeff, I love you Jeff! ). It is the BEST artsy/hipster spot: a hostel+hang out place+design shops+bars+cafes. I absolutely adore this place. Visit their website to find out more. https://fabrikatbilisi.com/

Later I go for dinner with a new Swiss friend and we sample strange dishes, all of them so unique and delicious. Georgian cuisine…it deserves all the praise it can get.
My friend joins the pub crawl, but it appears rather small to me, and I want to make my own pub crawl and not follow the crowd. (no surprises here).

By that point, it is worth saying, that my feet are killing me every step I take and all my clothes are dirty and gross. It is also challenging to stay awake and keep experiencing things. Traveling is not roses and butterflies- and sorry if I have given you this impression with this endless article.

So far. So good. No major incidents, nothing stolen, no scams, no creeps.

They say Tbilisi is the new Berlin. Indeed. The place is bustling with techno clubs and dodgy dark bars playing minimal beats. Not my style. In the club I go have a cigarette as a social/ friends maker tool. It works. I meet some Russians and a local guy. He directs to me to another place where the music might suit me better. No regrets, the views from this club situated on a hill in old town are stunning. I continue my journey through the Friday nightlife.

Warsawa bar, El centro, Bauhaus- I wouldn’t recommend any of those.

I find wifi spots and take a taxi to the last place- a club close to my hostel. At the bar I meet a birthday boy and get him a tequila shot. A new friend- check! On the toilet line up, everyone wants to be my friend. We exchange social media, but I barely remember who they are the next day.

The following day is also my favorite- my solo modern architecture tour. I live and breathe modern architecture and I don’t care much about old ruins.

Tbilisi Music Theater and Concert hall- I spend a long while touring the building. There is something so nostalgic about how they abandoned it to battle the elements. Looking inside and observing its stunning curvatures and reflective delicate glass panels. The way it opens up to the city and connects with the other architectural elements. It’s hauntingly beautiful and abstract. I would invest a LOT to see this piece fulfilling what it was created for. Why did they give up on this beauty as well? When you start something, when you are so close to finishing it. It is covered in dust-so sad to see its potential wasting away.

Back in my hostel, I meet 2 Azeri guys in my dorm. They are simply AWESOME! However, they decide to join the pub crawl and I skip it again. To be social or to be alone! The endless dilemma. I decide to see the night view from the amusement park hill with the funicular. This view makes me teary eyed! This is the cherry on top of my Georgia cake- and I know then I am done with Tbilisi. What can be better than that?

It’s 11 PM, I contact the birthday boy from the previous night and we decide to check the mineral baths in the city center, open 24/7. However, they are reserved. I don’t want to party so we return to Fabrika for a few drinks. The guy teaches me how to write my name in Georgian. It is so beautiful!

A few notable events throughout my days:

  • A merchant returning me money that I gave him in error.
  • Taxi drivers not accepting my tips.
  • I say that there is a LOT of police in Georgia and my taxi driver says police is necessary because the people need control, they can easily be swayed away and become criminals.

The next day, when I head to the wine region of Signaghi, is where my troubles begin. And they last precisely 24 hours. Until my luck returns back to me, a little bit of suffering is involved.

The tale of the three creeps

Creep 1 was the gypsy man who followed me around from the metro, everywhere I went. I was checking shoe shops and he was always around, when I changed directions. I confronted him, but he didn’t understand what I am saying. He followed me until I approached the policeman in the metro station (who didn’t speak English either nor understood my complaint).

Creep 2 was the old grandpa who lived with his adorable grandma in the guest house in Signaghi. The granny was out in the shops, and upon leaving after breakfast, he tried to forcingly kiss me on the mouth. Gross.

Creep 3 was the man on the Azeri border. Who also followed me and insisted for about 1.30 hours in the marshrutka that I join him in his city so he shows me around.

Being nice to people (to men) is confusing for their small brains sometimes. They think you like them. However, I will not change my approach or character. I can’t.
Be kind and be brave. (Cinderella quote.)

Nevermind, Signaghi had stunning views and I enjoyed my time there. However, I don’t recommend this destination. It is not worth it and from there- getting to the border and crossing it was a pain and a half.

I want to give special Thank you for all the humans who helped me live this adventure. I will never Ever forget your kindness.