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
2 tank tops
1 skirt, 1 dress
1 pair of sneakers/ fancier, not sporty
Make up palette, foldable hair brush
Hotel mini toiletries
Tooth brush, tooth paste- mini
2 pairs of earrings
2 mini containers of foundation and face cream
What I regret not taking?
- Face lotion and cleaner
- A blazer(it was freezing)
- Sporty pants
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.
-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.