In Love in Tbilisi (or Maybe Just Drunk)
✍️ • 🕑 Late January 2016 • Tags: Georgia • Tbilisi • bars • good eats • alcohol • job searching • eta days • eta days • Places: Tbilisi • Mtskheta
This memory from the archive is intended to serve as a Valentine's Day post -- mostly because somewhere along the way, someone else tells me that I am in love. Were they right?
It was winter in early 2016.
I was on vacation from teaching, and traveled abroad. I got the flu, and I returned home. I recovered, and somehow, winter break was still happening. Faced with time, but fewer funds, I realized I could still go exactly where I really wanted to. East.
I bought a second grey colored thermal shirt from the corner grocery store, put my waterproof boots back on, and again bought a bus ticket from Turkey to Georgia....
An Unexpectedly Arduous Journey
I was familiar with the route to the Sarp border crossing: stop in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Rize, Hopa. After fourteen hours, get dropped at the border. Unceremoniously cross on foot. That's it, that's your trip. You're on your own from then on.
I managed to catch some shuteye, lucky me, but by the time I was near the border, there was only one other passenger. He was chatty, and apparently made frequent trips from Ordu to Batumi. Gambling was legal there, and alcohol was cheaper.
(I shudder to think that anyone thinks of Batumi's gambling establishments as good places to visit, but that's beside the point.)
Anyway, we chatted some, and then, as per usual, the bus dropped us unceremoniously at the Turkey-Georgia border in Sarp.
The time was around 7:30 AM Turkish time, the January air frigid. There was a snowstorm afoot. The border crossing, unremarkable. By the time my gambling pal and I were through it was about 8:00 AM Turkish time.
We were in a small waiting area, with a coffee vending machine and not much else.
Outside, dawn had not yet broken.
Somehow with the timezone differences, we had crossed an invisible line and stepped back to 6AM.
There were no taxis. There were no busses. There were no marshutkas.
The only thing to do was to wait.
Some cars gradually passed through the border, and eventually, a couple of minibusses and busses.
The gambler hopped one going towards the city center. I decided to hop the first one that announced it was Tbilisi-bound.
This turned out to be a mistake.
The bus was indeed Tbilisi-bound, but only via Kutaisi, meaning it was taking some significant, but not insurmountable detours. Couple that with the snowy road conditions, though, and that meant the journey was about to take a lot longer than desired.
I paid some fare, and skulked my way into the back of the bus, settling down into my far-too-small seat next to the sound of a broken fan.
Theoretically, the bus should have taken six hours or so to get to Tbilisi.
It took another fourteen.
We did stop, occasionally. At a roadside stand for some food, or god bless, a bathroom stop.
But other than that, I was drifting in and out of consciousness. I felt as though I could not stay fixed within any plane of reality.
Occasionally, the bumps and the janky fan's sonic assault yanked me back into my seat, and I was able to look upon the scenery...
But I was far more comfortable in the sad bosom of poor sleep, unable to feel my body at all.
After what felt like another lifetime, I was dropped in Tbilisi.
Obviously, not near where I was staying. I chose to book the cheapest hostel available, and it was in a strange part of time.
I groped my way around the public transit system, initially in the wrong direction, before asking some bystanders for help, and learning where I needed to go.
With numerous madloba's, I eventually emerged from a metro station. Not long after, I laid down on a mattress with broken springs.
I had been sleeping for a long time, but I slept even longer after that.
After many hours of sleep, I finally got up, and could see what the city looked like in the light of day.
To put it mildly, Tblisi is stunning.
The city is a mélange of styles of architecture, old and new. Ancient fortresses, cobblestone streets, concrete Soviet marketplaces, new modernism, and new unfinished Churches. It's a captivating place for a stroll.
I was quite pleased to find a used book store with a decent selection of English books. I picked up some pulp sci-fi fix-up novel and absolutely, positively loathed it.
I enjoyed coffee and wine, though strangely I resisted the urge for a baconator, settling instead for far tastier porkchops.
I also enjoyed a meeting with M., who had studied alongside me in the same program in Bursa in the summer of 2014. She was working as an ETA in Southern Azerbaijan, whilst I was working as an ETA in Turkey, so it was a pleasant coincidence that we met in the middle. Our stays in Tbilisi briefly overlapped.
I was unwilling to visit Azerbaijan at the time owing to the fact that I needed a visa to enter the country. The cost at the time was something like $200, which would have amounted to a very significant portion of my income/savings for what would have been a short visit. (The cost has since decreased, but I have other reasons for not ranking it high on my list nowadays.)
A 'Magical Night'
M. was staying in a different hostel than I was.
I met Sj., a Dutch fellow who was staying there as well.
We hit it off, at first, having long conversations about how Dutch food is apparently horrible, and whatever it is hostel-goers talk about. (Where have you been? Where are you going? Probably.)
Eventually, it became clear to me that he was the sort of person who could talk your ears off, the sort of person who could easily engage in a one-sided conversation. No matter. We were going out.
The 'we' in this case now consisted of myself, Sj., and several other hostel goers, none of whose names I recall. I imagine that I forgot their names 0.6 seconds after I learned them as I am wont to.
Most of them were probably normal, inoffensive travelers. Two stuck in my mind.
One was a flight attendant, and I am always jealous of people who are forced to travel from A to B... despite the fact that the whole "forced" thing makes it less fun.
The one who stuck in my mind in a negative way was a fellow who made sure to declare to everyone that even though he had lots of money and could stay in a hotel, he sure preferred budget traveling and staying in cheap hostels!
I may someday think that or do that. But, advertising it is tacky.
So is thrusting a GoPro in everyone's face and demanding that they act like they're having a good time. (And yes, somewhere video footage exists of me in front of this fellow's GoPro, pretending that I'm enjoying being there.)
Anyhoo, we went to some bars, and various rounds of drinks were ordered.
At some point I realized, GoPro or no GoPro that I was not per se having a good time. That perhaps the company I was with was not company I had 100% clicked with.
The drinks kept coming, whether I wanted them or not, as ordering was done European style. Everyone ordered a round for the table. I began to feel nauseous, though not overwhelmingly so.
As an aside, it was probably at this point that I learnt that a Cuba Libré is the name of a particular drink... and in Georgia, that particular drink is a mix of vodka and coke. I would consume many of them.
My body is pretty good about making it clear that there's a set amount of poison I should imbibe, not to be exceeded. I was getting closer to what felt like my limit when I was informed the next round was on me.
I purchased something or other, and the obligation departed, though the sinking feeling in my stomach remained.
Eventually, we barhopped to a different bar, and I had enough liquid courage within me that I managed to... strike up a conversation with a different group of people, which happened to include a charming young German woman who was teaching German in Tbilisi.
And so, when the gaggle of hostel-goers decided to move on to a different bar, Sj. declared that I had to be left behind, as I was now 'in love.' In my own indirect way, I succeeded in cleaving myself from the group.
I was free to engage in idle small-talk for another five minutes before the German teacher decided it was time to retire for the evening.
We exchanged contact details, and I left the world of drinking establishments behind for the evening.
It was late enough that the Tbilisi metro was no longer running. I had been scammed by İstanbul taxi drivers enough times that I was utterly unwilling to take a chance with the Georgian drivers.
In the name of penny-pinching and exercise, I ambled in the direction of my hostel, navigating myself via a downloaded map on a travel app that has since gone out of circulation.
The map showed streets, and a point A (where you are) and a point B (where you're going).
It might have even been able to draw a line between those two points, but in any case, I assumed I could do better. At one point, I decided to try cutting through a park, represented on the map as a splotch of green.
After I did so, I realized that the park's edge was indeed right next to a road as shown on my map. My map did not show, however, that there was about a fifty foot difference in height between them. It was a long way down...
Unwilling to break my legs, I backtracked, and eventually ambled to my warm-ish hostel bed. Broken springs again provided cruel comfort after a different sort of journey.
A Magical Night
A night can have many characteristics.
Rather than hostel-goers, the cast of characters included mainly expats: some other German teachers, an Azeri human rights activist, and at least one Georgian, who happened (as many do) to be fluent in four languages. And yeah, we practiced some Turkish together.
(I'm sure there were others, but they are condemned to the realm of the forgotten.)
The first bar that I can remember going to was American-themed, specifically beer pong themed. I was a catastrophic disappointment to my hosts, who had no idea that an American could be so bad at beer pong. I blame my poor hand-eye coordination, and all the hours I spent studying at university when I should have been drinking.
The second was a more traditional bar, for some set of traditions. Bottle of vodka for the table, pickles all around. A simply magnificent combination.
The Azeri activists did his best to fill the roll of toast master, cracking absurd jokes, before eventually dozing off. The atmosphere was electrifying, the conversations and the people, interesting.
And somehow, in addition to my vodka shots, I also had another Cuba Libré. I mean, how could I not?
I talked about my plans for the next day -- visiting Mtskheta -- and was assured that it sounded like a good use of time given what I had already done in the city.
And my newfound friends made certain to procure me a taxi. It turned out that getting back to my hostel cost less than $5. I would have spared myself the walk the night before if I had known!
Georgian is a language with a wonderful phonetic inventory, and loosey-goosey phonotactic constraints to match.
In layman's terms, it has a wide variety of consonant sounds that don't exist in English. In the case of ejective consonants, it has a whole airstream mechanism missing from English.
And, at the same time, it allows for more complex consonant clusters at syllable onsets than most languages with which I am familiar. So, the former capital city მცხეთა, is [mtsʰxɛtʰɑ] in the International Phonetic Alphabet. That's a syllable onset consisting of an m-sound, followed by an ejective ts (a.k.a. an alveolar ejective affricate), followed by a voiceless uvular fricative (like the end of Bach)... and only then do we arrive at our first vowel.
I mention not merely so that you can be mesmerized by the amazing Phonetics of Georgian, but also so that you can picture me, with less than half the alphabet's letters memorized, walking around a parking lot of marshutkas, trying to ask which one went to "mmm.. ts! kheyt!a."
And yes, I did eventually get there, but I ended up taking a taxi. I'm certain that if I was more patient, or if I understood Georgian or Russian better, I wouldn't have resorted to that.
Mtskheta is one of Georgia's oldest cities, a former capital, and a gorgeous place to visit.
And that was the final cap to my visit to Tblisi.
One of my goals during my visit to Georgia was to figure out some method of moving there and finding work.
I thought it would be a really interesting place to live, and I was thinking of it as a good location to explore after Turkey, with a language that I would be really excited to learn.
I had looked on Facebook, and had somehow gotten in touch with a fellow who was looking to recruit a volunteer English teacher to the village of Velevi, for a role that would have been unpaid, but would have included accommodations and yadda yadda.
We met in a cafe somewhere. He had rather robust tattoos on his head, and was accompanied by a middle aged American woman who gave off evangelical vibes.
I wasn't too hot on the unpaid thing, but there was something romantic and appealing about the idea. Having met in person, I didn't feel like we hit it off, and I wasn't too interested in the photographs of villagers hanging out with bears.
Otherwise, I had started following online resume sites to no leads, and the phone numbers I got from people seemed to go unanswered.
So that was that.
As it happened, my visits to Georgia would fade into memory, clouded by love, alcohol, and/or the passage of time. Take your pick.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy these 5 similar posts:
- 2019-12-31 —The Only Place I Want To Be...
- 2022-02-12 —A Side Trip to Lebanon
- 2022-03-21 —Eurovision 2022: First Impressions (feat. Chelsea)
- 2022-07-01 —My Little July Weekend at Olympic National Park (2019)
- 2020-04-18 —What I've Learned In Six Years of Coffee Drinking