Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On the Train to Georgia.

Chilling on the train!

At 8:30p, the train pulled away from the station in Baku and it was time to say goodbye to Azerbaijan and switch our thoughts to our upcoming days touring Georgia.  We would be arriving into Tbilisi around 10:30a.

My one way train ticket from Baku to Tbilisi.

She's faking looking glum in an attempt to discourage me from taking the photo.  Obviously, her tactic failed! :-)

The train from Baku to Tbilisi is an overnight train so the train attendant came by and gave us each a plastic packet that contained the top and bottom sheets for our bed and a pillow case.


The sheets had a cute train pattern on them.




The same attendant then came by and gave us our Azeri and Georgian customs forms to fill in.   Then she stopped by to ask if we wanted some tea.  Pat still had a few manat left so she got a cup.  I was happy with just drinking water as the tea would keep me awake and I definitely wanted to sleep tonight!

With our bed making duties out of the way, our suitcases nestled under our beds and our devices charging, we could finally kick back and rest.



Flash forward to the this morning.  I had a pretty decent night's sleep but apparently Pat was not so lucky.  For some reason, I was expecting us to be at the border with Georgia around midnight.  I seem to recall reading another blog where a fellow traveler had that experience.  But for us, when morning rolled around, we were still in Azerbaijan.  Going from east to west, our train route had taken us past many of the places that we had visited with Rafael.


The train attendant came to check in on us.  She spoke only Russian but even with the language barrier, we were able to figure out that she was asking if we wanted tea or not.  We told her we had no more manat and at the same time she was using some hand gestures, she replied back, "Present".  I echoed her word as a question.  She nodded.  Basically, she was giving us tea for free.  So sweet of her.  A few minutes late, she came back with two cups of tea and a small plate of sweets.  Azeris pop the candy into their mouth and then sip on the tea, melting the sugar in the candy.


We still had the cherry compote from our house stay in Qabala. The only food we brought with us!

Pat noticed Georgian and Azeri customs tape sealing compartments.  Her theory is that they are there to prevent the compartments
from being used to smuggle drugs.  Could very well be!

I thought we had said goodbye to Azerbaijan but Azeri landscape was whizzing by as I looked out the window.




We finally at the border around 7am. Azeri customs agents boarded and did a quick inspection of our luggage and then took our declaration forms. Short while later, our ever so friendly train conductor came around with another officer in tow. This time, they took our passports. Then a few minutes later, she came around again and in Azeri told us to get our passport. I followed her down to one of the rooms. Inside were two officers. One was seated behind a small suitcase that had the lid lifted up. There was a small Logitech camera mounted on top the lid. I sat opposite him. He looked at my passport, I heard the sound of fingers tapping on a keyboard. He then uttered some sound which made me believe he wanted me to look at the camera and so I did. I saw the blue light around the camera light up. I presumed that meant he was taking the photo. A few seconds later, he handed me my passport back. Next it was Pat's turn.

The train schedule. 

According to the train schedule, mounted on the wall, our train would leave the station at 8:15a and it did so pretty much right on the dot.

About an hour later, we arrived at the Georgian border. Same process. Customs officers boarded and checked our luggage. The officer did question me about some of my medicines. With my hands, I was able to indicate Tylenol for headache. When he held up the Zyrtec, I sneezed. He was also curious about my x-ray. That was an easy question to answer. I just lifted up my pant leg and showed him my cast.

When called, we each went down to the same train compartment and went through immigration. We were only suppose to be stopped for an hour but there was a few minutes delay as one of the women in the compartment next to us was having some issues with immigration. Something about having to get the name and address of the hotel she was staying at. We weren't asked the question so perhaps she was traveling under a different visa. In any event, the train did eventually leave.

A short while later and we finally arrived at the station! We had made it! We disembarked with all our stuff. We were suppose to meet up with someone named Shalva. He/she wasn't waiting on the platform for us so we joined the stream of people taking the escalator to the terminal. There, I was scanning the crowd for someone holding up a placard with my name on it. No luck. Then, I heard someone call my name. It was Shalva! We were both relieved to see each other. He's young (in his early 30's?) and seems like a very nice guy which is good because we will be spending the coming week with him. We followed Shalva to his car and began our drive to the old city where we were going to be staying for two nights.

On the way, Shalva pointed out a few landmarks. Tbilisi is nothing like Baku. It's a bit more chaotic, cluttered, a bit more run down and most certainly not spotlessly clean. Truth be known, I feel more comfortable here and I can't wait to get out and explore the place!

It was probably about a 20 minute ride before we arrived into the Old City. Shalva parked the car and we followed him to an ATM machine as we had told him that our first task of the day was to get money. He said that when his sister visits from the US, she gets her money from this particular machine so he knows it works with US cards. We each withdrew 200 lari which is about $88 at today's exchange rate.

We then had breakfast at nearby restaurant. I saw khachapuri on the menu. The one with egg, like I had seen in photos. It was only 7 lari so I ordered it along with a cup of coffee. Coffee tasted like it was instant. Bleh.....

The khachapuri was delivered piping hot to the table.  I immediately broke the egg yolk and swirled the egg, melted cheese and butter together.  I then broke off bits of the bread to eat. I don't know if I was eating it correctly or not but it was delicious!  Great first start to Georgian food!

Ajaruli or Acharuli (Georgian: აჭარული ხაჭაპური) khachapuri in which the dough is formed into an open boat shape. 
The dough is then topped with cheese and baked until the cheese melts.  The hot pie is topped with cheese, a raw egg and a pat of butter before serving

As we were eaten, I got a WhatsApp message from our Airbnb host asking us to meet her right away. I had Shalva call and talk to her in Georgian to let her know what we were doing. Apparently, she had to leave soon so he offered to go and meet her and get the key while we finished eating. He was back in a very short while.  Apparently, our apartment was located less than 5 minute walk from the restaurant.  I knew I had booked an apartment that was located within the Old City but I didn't realize just how conveniently located it was.  I am very happy about that.

The khachapuri was delicious but it was much more than I could eat. I felt bad leaving food on the plate but I really could not finish it all.

After eating, we followed Shalva to the apartment.   On the way, we were hounded by a few gypsies.  We never came across any in any place we went to in Azerbaijan and I did not even think for a second that we would encounter any here but indeed they are trolling the main stretch of the Old City that we were on.  I told Pat to be careful with her purse.  Luckily, they didn't do us any harm and a harsh word was enough to scare them off.

As we walked towards our apartment, I realized we would have never found this place on our own.  It was literally located in a small alley that around the back of the courtyard of an Armenian church. The apartment was situated behind the church.

Shalva made sure we were okay before leaving us.  He will be back at 9a tomorrow, with our guide, to begin some sightseeing.  In the meantime, Pat and I will have the rest of today to explore Old Tbilisi on our own.

I can't wait to start our time in Geogia!