Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Back in Tbilisi.

On Kote Marjanishvili Street.

I

have to begin this posting by admitting to a mistake.  For years, literally years, I have been spelling the name of the capital city of Georgia wrong.  Yes, me the geography nut has been misspelling Tbilisi and Tblisi - leaving out the first *i*.  That oversight only dawned on me as I was traveling in Georgia.  I shall never misspell it again!

We arrived back into the big city late yesterday afternoon from Uplistsikhe (which, by the way, I cannot spell correctly in one go).

Salome had been in touch with our Tbilisi Airbnb host, Oleg, to coordinate our arrival to his apartment as he needed to give us the key. Entering back into the hustle and bustle of the big city, I immediately missed the relative peace and calm of the countryside we had just left behind. Even the smaller towns were tranquil compared to the noise and traffic congestion of Tbilisi. In no time, we were stuck in traffic. Pat and I were immediately struck by how different the *new* city of Tbilisi looks and feels from the *old* city that we had spent our first two days in. Our apartment is located in a popular area in town - full of shops and restaurants. The place was filled with cars and people. Shalva knew exactly where our apartment was located. He parked the car nearby and we all got out and unloaded our luggage from the trunk.

We weren't quite sure exactly where the apartment was located but we stood near a Dunkin' Donuts (yes, there is one here!) and waited for Oleg to arrive. Salome had called him when we arrived into Tbilisi and he had told Salome that he was on his way. I figured he would arrive soon. None of us knew what he looked like- not even me, who's been making the arrangements with him, as his Airbnb profile does not show his face. In his profile pic, he does look quite athletic so I was on the look out for a *beefy* looking kind of guy. Sure enough, when I saw a very large Georgian man, with a bald head, bulging muscles, and tattoos, walk towards us, I was sure it was Oleg. Indeed it was. On the surface, he looked pretty intimidating but the moment I looked into his eyes and shook his hand, I knew he was anything but scary. He actually turned out to be very friendly and accommodating.

Oleg led us inside the apartment building, taking both Pat's and my suitcases with him. The entrance door was right next door to Dunkin' Donuts. We entered into a very, very dark space. A massive stone staircase and walls that were in bad need of a paint job. It was not a nice first impression. We climbed up the first set of steps and then another. At the top, Oleg stopped and pressed a large button on the wall. This was the elevator. A very rickety looking thing. Did not look like any elevator I had ever seen before. The door opened slowly and Oleg went inside with our bags. I followed him and then Pat. Salome and Shalva decided to walk. The elevator moved deliberately upwards. I had no idea which floor we were on and when Pat asked the question, Oleg did not answer. I don't know if it was because he didn't hear her or didn't understand the question.

In any event, when the door opened, I saw Shalva's voice. We still had one more flight of steps to climb before we reached the apartment. The door was painted with a green and red stripe - hard to miss.

When Oleg opened up the door, we entered into a completely different world. The apartment was quite spacious and thanks to high ceilings, felt very airy. There was a good sized living room, two large bedrooms, a small bathroom and a small kitchen. One of the rooms had a balcony that overlooked the street we had just entered from. The living room had a balcony facing the back of the building.

The living room, looking towards the front of the apartment.

Another view of the living room but this time, looking towards the back of the apartment.

One of the two bedrooms.  This would be Pat's room.  The balcony overlooks the main street and Marjanishvili Square.

The second bedroom which I took.  The window has the same view as Pat's balcony.

The small but fully functional, equipped, and very colorful kitchen.

Oleg was still getting some things ready in the apartment. He was buzzing around the place like a bee. As we peppered him with questions e.g., what's the WiFi code, is there detergent for the washer? He fired back answers. Before leaving, he showed Pat how to use the washer.....critical information as our plan was to immediately do a load once everyone else had left the apartment.

Soon, it was time to bid farewell to Salome and Shalva. Pat and I had grown very fond of the two of them and it felt like we were leaving family behind as we gave them hugs and said our goodbyes. I slipped the tip into Salome's hands as she was about to turn to leave. We had given Shalva's his before we got out of the car.  He also got a t-shirt with the tip tucked inside.  These moments are always sad for me. I always hope that one day, one of them will show up at my doorstep and I get to return to them the kindness and hospitality that they've shown me these past few days.  Regretfully, I didn't take one last photo of them.

Oleg left along with Salome and Shalva. We would see him in a couple of days as we have to return the key to him.

When it was just Pat and I left in the apartment, we immediately got down to the business of doing laundry.

We were also expecting another visitor - Inga Belova, the woman who has been coordinating our Georgia tour. I reached out to Inga back in November 2015 and we had been in communication on and off up until just a couple of days before we left for Azerbaijan. We owed her the balance of the payment for our tour and she was coming to the apartment to collect it.

While the washer was doing its thing, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to see the face of a very lovely looking Georgian woman. It was Inga! We welcomed her into our apartment. As she sat on the couch, we informally gave her some feedback on our trip all positive words, which she appreciated. In turn, she gave us some advice on places to see in Armenia, a country that she has visited several times and which she loves. We then handed over what we owed her and for that I also got a printed invoice. Very formal business protocol unlike our experience in Azerbaijan where all we did was hand over money. No receipt in return. Before she left the apartment, Inga invited us to have lunch with her - either tomorrow or the day after. She would email me to coordinate.

When the washer finally stopped whirring, Pat and I emptied it and hung our clothes out on the back clothes line to dry. Such is the life of the budget traveler staying in an apartment. There is no front desk where you can leave your laundry to be washed, folded and returned to you!

Hanging out the clothes to dry.  She wanted to know if I was taking a picture of her.  Uh....yeah!

Then it was time for Pat and I to explore the streets. Before leaving the apartment, we made sure to bring along our flashlights. The hallway and stairs, inside the apartment building, were so dark earlier in the afternoon, I was afraid they would be pitch black dark at night. Pat locked the front door and we took the one flight down to the elevator. We pressed the button and waited. Oleg had told us that it could take as much as 30 seconds for the elevator to arrive. I think we had waited barely 5 seconds before we felt the the need to press the button again. Then, we heard the groaning sound of something mechanical. We figured it must been the elevator arriving. Indeed it was. The door opened. We got in. The door automatically closed behind us. It wasn't all that clear which button we had to press to get to the ground floor so obviously, we pressed the very bottom one on the column of buttons. The elevator didn't move. I said perhaps we needed to wait another 30 seconds. Again, we probably waited barely 5 minutes before we felt the need to press the button again. Pressing other buttons got us no action either. I did not want to be stuck in the elevator so I used my hands to pry open the doors. Luckily, they did open and we just walked the rest of the way down. Pat counted 8 flights!

Inga had pointed out a street for us to go to because it was full of shops.

Just around the corner from our apartment.  Marjanishvili Square is just on the left.

It's amazing how one street can look so modern and fresh and one block over, you are in a neighborhood street filled with run down buildings. Kote Marjanishvili Street was filled with traffic and people.



The sidewalks were flanked with small supermarkets, convenience stores, banks, and lots of small shops selling everything from clothing to produce to baked goods. Sharing space on the sidewalks with pedestrians were produce vendors. We spotted one man selling some very good looking strawberries and I made a mental note of where he was located in case we wanted to come back and get some.




On our walk, we popped into a small bakery and I got something that looked like a roll of puff pastry flecked with sugar and nuts. Two pieces cost 1 lari. I have to say, it was pretty tasty. At the little neighborhood church, we decided to turn around. It was time to find a place to eat. We hadn't noticed anything on this street so we decided to head back out to the main square. On the way, we popped into a small supermarket. Seeing the strawberries had given us the idea that we could have them for dessert, along with a bit of yogurt...our substitute for whipped cream. A quick check confirmed the market had yogurt but nothing that was just plain flavor so we switched our idea to having strawberries with sour cream instead. That would work. We would come back to this place after dinner.


Marjanishvili Square.  The metro stop, by the same name is just to the right.

Oleg had pointed out the location of a restaurant, near Marjanishvili Square serving traditional Georgian fare. We walked along David Aghmashenebeli Avenue and found the restaurant that Oleg was referring to. When we entered, we weren't sure if this place served dinner type food or not but then we saw the menu. It was indeed a Georgian restaurant - we recognize the name of dishes by now. There was a waitress cleaning up a table and she pretty much ignored us, even after we sat down. After giving it some thought, Pat and I had a change of heart. We really weren't in the mood for Georgian food. We needed a change.

We left the restaurant and continued down Aghmashenebeli Avenue in search of place that served anything but Georgian food. The placard for a Turkish restaurant caught our eye and we followed the instructions to go down the alleyway. But, one peek inside the teeny, weeny restaurant to see a bunch of young, scruffy looking men seated around a table, was enough for us to turn around. It was not a very attractive place to dine in. We continued walking down......All along the way, we saw signs in Turkish. For a moment, I felt like I was back in Istanbul. Then we spotted a place, situated a few steps below ground level. I saw the cafeteria style counter and immediately, I had a flash back to Özkonak Lokantası, the place in Cihangir that my brother and I ate at several of the nights that we were staying in Istanbul.

Pat was okay eating here and I knew the process of ordering. We picked out two meat dishes and a plate of rice to share along with a bottle of pear lemonade each to wash it all down with. The food was very much a welcomed change from all the Caucasian food we've been eating these past two weeks. For me, I have missed eating rice! It didn't take us long to finish our meal.



After that, we headed back to get the strawberries - we got 1/2 kilo (a kilo cost 5.50 lari) and then to supermarket to get the small container of sour cream which cost 1.70 lari.


Back in our apartment, we decided to give the elevator another try.  This time it was a much more challenging task as the elevator was completely dark inside and we deployed Pat's flashlight into action.  We still couldn't get the elevator to move no matter what buttons we pressed so we gave up and walked up the stairs.


Back in our apartment, we put our strawberries in the refrigerator and then just settled down and relaxed away the night. Tomorrow, we will return to the *old* city as we really didn't have time to explore it at the beginning of our visit to Georgia.

View of Marjanishvili Square from the balcony in Pat's room.

A view of Sameba Cathedral, all lit up, from the back balcony.

Tomorrow, we have a full day of sightseeing.  I'm quickly readjusting to life in the city and am looking forward to exploring more of this place tomorrow.

Goodnight from Tbilisi!