Morning train to Kutaisi. Looking at the sea through the window feeling the warmth from its side. Yeah... A suburban train was something I wanted to experience in Georgia before going home. Common people, routine talks, random travellers. Before the train arrived I met Jehovah's Witnesses. These always happy people advanced in teaching me as well: "The government tries, tries, but nothing works... People need to remember the necessity of looking for sense of life. People need faith."
There are simple monotonoes houses in Kutaisi, though, some streets fascinate with their chic.
New buildings made in old-style and bringing back the atmosphere of heroic past or immortal classics, theatres and sculptures representing legends that are still told among people - all these help the second biggest city of Georgia to not be pushed into the background.
A tender combination of different centuries' restorations. Light colour and forms, impressive base
Then I finally met Kristina again. We walked in the city while she was telling me interesting stories and showing the most beautiful parts of Kutaisi. First, we went to the Art Cafe made right in the entrance of past Soviet hotel. There was a guy performing drama or something in Georgian. We laughed and after that decided to get going.
We had dinner in the restaurant on the terrace above the river not even noticing how fast the time passed. And this is when "there is not a lot to do in Kutaisi"! For the night we went to Kristina's home where I have met her hospitable family. While drinking home made wine, we shared stories and dreams. I am sincerely thankful to Kristina for such a greeting and hosting!
I thank everybody whom I've met during all this time.
I had enough sleep before 2 final days of my trip. But before going to Batumi and Kutaisi I ran to the park of minaral waters to try real and famous "Borjomi".
Warm and salty liquid would work for a hangover only! Fortunately, I found another spring of usual, clean, refreshing aqua.
Bye great forests, bye magic little town full of old european and turkish style wooden houses and with a river and rail road. Western Georgia is awaiting. I noticed that starting from Borjomi region flora got richer. When there were only vine yards around Gori, Western territories had coniferous and mixed forests. I had experienced several hours of crazy Georgian driving. Many times I just freaked out because the driver crossed the road where he couldn't do it at all! And only by great luck we didn't crash in oncoming car. Sometimes I thought that Georgians cross themselves and pray so many times to insure that they stay alive that day... At least I saw more beauty of Georgia being in green mountains and watching little houses with gardens. Firstly, I came to Kutaisi to meet Kristina from EYP Georgia. I went to McDonald's where friendly managers borrowed me a phone to contact her(I am lucky on kind people!). While I was texting my friend, I had a fastfood for the first time during my long trip and the Session. Then Kristina, this wonderful person, arrived. She was my personal angel if I can say so. She helped me to solve the problem of the huge bag, told about places worth of visiting in Batumi, and finally assured that here, in Kutaisi, I would have roof above my head and that she also would show me everything. On that positive note I thanked her and set off to subtropical gem of Georgia.
I try to avoid "LOL" & "OMG" but Oh My God! Batumi was beyond all my expactations! The botanic garden with subtropical plants, persimmons in the yards of local people and palms along the beach with little smooth stones impressed me before I even entered this city. There was more later...
Parks are clean and beautiful, there are cycleways. Batumi is modern and has many extraordinary buildings.
In the same time reproductions of classic famous architecture delight the eye.
For a minute I thought that this was the capital... Certainly this city looks dynamic and expensive. Perhaps, the sea port was a big part of the deal. Although, I knew that Batumi will change its face by the end of the season when most of the tourists, especially Turkish and Ukrainian people, will leave. I even found a comparison for Batumi: it looked like Virginia Beach but with mountains which made this place even more alike with Heaven!
And then another thought came to my mind:
In such increadibly beautiful country as Georgia you realise how wonderful the world is. In fact, it is unreal to see all its charms.
And you don't have to. Every path is marvellous.
Walking along the beach, watching the sunrise... Going into the cool but clear salty water. Mmm...
The magic of the city lights and dancing fountains, the orgy of colours! For sure I was hypnotized by all this beauty dropping my jaw every 10 minutes. Then suddenly the whole city appeared with no lights on. Boom! Darkness... It happened only for several minutes but it made me smile: what a price for such electricity waste:)
There also was a cable road which I couldn't not try. More than 2000 meters of soaring above the night Batumi - one of the most incredible things I've seen in Georgia. It truly reminds Hong Kong, doesn't it?
Nevertheless, the population remains poor. As I wasn't just a tourist but had the research mission, I was curious enough to go deep in the city, to further neighborhoods. It was a great contrast but not a surprise to see old Soviet buildings with demolishing balconies and drying clothes on them. The yards and playgrounds were not nice as well. While I was passing by, a group of old men sat at the table playing dominoes and not bothering themselves with bustles of the city at all. It was late already and I started exploring another part of Batumi going in the direction to McDonald's. As Kristina suggested me, it was a really unique building worth of seeing. It was.
I ordered an ice-cream and the smiling worker who sold it to me forgave several cents that I didn't have. I love this world:D
So I chilled there till the midnight and then decided to discover more of Batumi. I planned to leave for Kutaisi on the following day by train but I had to find the train station first. That was my plan. No bus. By foot. In the deep but bright night in the resort city.
...I was about 6 km from the city watching its colourful lights. The sea was quiet but the wind made me shivering. Although, I still didn't see the train station. The story from Mtskheta in the mountains repeated. Walking along the rail road I reached a cabin with a man on duty who watched the rail road crossing. I asked about my final destination but evantually stayed there for 5 more hours drinking tea with another great man... He was a simple worker who cursed after each word but also he was sincere and kind. He told me his unusual life story when he was serving in the army, how he worked in private security and how another person died from his hands which caused him to go to jail. Train passed one after another. And we sat in the tiny cabin with closed windows not allowing the heat go outside. It seemed that the world out of our little space stopped and only here, sitting on Soviet chair and stool, we were in the centre of the Universe. It was dawning...
On the next morning I filled a bottle with cold water from the spring in front of one temple and continued my adventures. I arrived at the Gori train station, very old and with chipping walls and ceiling, and found out that my train somehow already left. That was very surprising, for a second even shocking, but I focused and gathered all my thoughts together. In 10 minutes I was at the little, dirty bus station. Soviet buses and old minibuses that earlier were designed for shipping cargo were waiting for their first passengers; chanson was played loudly, and cigarettes like the tubes of industrial city puffed out the smoke. The latter will always remain for me crucially annoying and surprising, as for Georgia with its alcohol and smoking habits the death rate among the population is 3 times smaller than in Ukraine! Got to Khashuri. Where is that?! Didn't matter as I switched buses in that small town and headed to Borjomi.
Oh. My. God. The unrivalled beauty... Autumn dressed the mountains in yellow and red attires. Among them a river was flowing. It reminded me Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The sun's rays were still warm; the wind swept yellow leaves similar to the receipts in bank which were the proof that animals had payed off their last debts before winter.
Architecture was influenced by both Europe and Asia
The crosses on the top of the mountains were just another evidence of the influence the religion made in this country.
A similar cross on the mountain that you usually meet in Georgia
I wondered a bit in the marvelous little town so similar to those discribed in short stories about Europe several centures ago: a bridge across the river, the train station and tiny houses. I was looking for a hostel. When I entered a little court I met a woman and her daughter. She said the hostel was closed long ago, and the whole Borjomi wasn't fun at all. "It seems very nice for tourists but there is nothing to do here."
As always, I just started another conversation listening carefully to the woman.
"America does that.
It tells him [Saakashvili] how to do it and he does... Perhaps, smart people will rule the country in the future." I also asked her about 5 years old events. "We should act diplomatically with Russia but not be agressive... It happened historically that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are our territories. Later people from those areas wanted to separate but only when Russia has supported them they decided to act."
I emphasized how gorgeous the nature around was but my interlocutor answered, "That's you think that it's beautiful and good to be here. In fact, it's very hard to live. This beauty," she pointed at the mountains and golden forests, "can not feed us." After some time I thanked the woman for sincere words and invitation to stay at her house overnight for 10 lari, though she "even had a shower", but I moved to a guesthouse that I found earlier. Then I went exploring and hiking, feelin' the Georgian land. ...Sitting at the top of one of the mountains. Sitting in peace, no, rather harmony. Sitting among high pine trees, stroking short green grass and tiny firs, and listening to birds' talk. The sun was smiling constantly.
Randomize it! I met a crowd of kids near the school. They sticked to me like to a lollipop and chatted in Georgian between each other. Just couple of them replied to me a bit "po-russki" and "po-angliski". They were so cute... It is for sure that nowadays people don't see the obvious happiness.
It's a beautiful day, it's a new Georgian day! I woke up in an appartment of one of the "brothers" from the car. Last night they drove me to their home in Tbilisi where I slept well and had a cup of tea with bread and honey in the morning. Mmm... Thank you, my friends! Though, I had to move on. I was shown the way to the closest subway station and I said goodbye to big brother. In Gori I started to feel sick as crazy adventures do influence our health. Oh...
Gori is the place of birth of the Soviet Leader. Stalin Museum
Walking in the streets I payed a lot of attention to people and their appearence, gestures. I was very surprised when saw teenagers who crossed themselves looking at the temple one hundred meters away. Adults did that as well. It seemed that everybody "greeted" religious places more often than other people. I still didn't feel well but I had to visit a cave city Uplistsikhe. After six minutes of bargaining with a taxi driver the price became four times less expensive and we took off. It was the first driver who didn't speak Russian so while "flying" in the narrow streets and going to a little village eastward of Gori, I was thinking about yeasterday stories that Achi and his mother told me. Those 5 days of war were a suffering for all the citizens of this region.
"The South Ossetia militants suddenly came to the town and started to shoot people,"
Achi's mother was refreshing the memories. "At that time my eldest son just came back from Tbilisi with his friend who was shot to death on the first day... Many houses were burning. People were running away in panic. It was a terrible time... Then the Russians came and controlled the town for weeks."
It was hard to believe that such events were happenning in our time. I remember I was in a summer camp in Crimea when we heard the terrible news. And Georgia isn't far away from Ukraine. We were scared that the conflict could spread to our country as the government supported Georgian military. There is still a Georgian military base outside of Gori. ...Soon we arrived to one of the most popular places among tourists - the cave city. Uplistsikhe is about 3000 years old.
It is a great historical sight but I really expected something very special. Maybe, too special.
Though, I enjoyed the view and breathed the freedom among the endless mountains again and again.
In the evening I went to the hairdressing salon. The woman who made a cut for me was really nice and curious about me. Afterwards she asked me if I needed help. She even wrote her phone number in case of emergency! And then I went to say good bye to Achi's family. They gave me a lot of apples, wrote their contacts and expected me again at their home. What the nice people are in Georgia and this awesome world!
Looking through notes I found that yesterday Maks, the Georgian guy, paid for my Ukrainian friends' taxi. He said it was an honour for him and he didn't need any money back. Yes, these people are definitely proud, in a good sense, of course. And this is while most of Georgians live on the edge of poverty.
But today is Monday, the 14th, and I am the last person who left in the hotel. Basically I wasn't allowed to stay one day more but yesterday I came back from the city too late and lied on a comfortable couch falling asleep. I didn't bother anybody so why not? Next morning, at the beginning of a new week and new adventures, I sneaked to the dining room where I had my last hotel breakfast - free and amazingly delicious! While eating croissant with coffee I was approached by a young fellow who worked there. First, he cleaned up my table a little bit but then asked where I was from. A conversation started and in a few minutes I was told about new magnificent places of Georgia, including the City of Love and other towns with ancient castles.
"We are warriors,"
he explained, "this is the way Georgians used to live for centuries."
When you go to a different city, people you meet there make a total impression about it. Today I used Tbilisi subway for the first and last (I thought) time. Although, I couldn't buy one token. I was offered 10 only. But then one young man swifted his card smiling. I wanted to give him 1 lari but he rejected.
Do small things, stay kind
whenever you are. You never know who you will meet and what impression about your country and nation you will make...
Bye Tbilisi. I am going to Gori. There are dozens of mini-buses and cars that go there from the capital. And I am already on my way. Smooth highways... Yeah! There are dry lands with rare vineyards around. And mountains, mountains, mountains... Very nice!
In the car I had short conversations with other passengers. We talked about people in general and their attitude toward higher institutions.
"People are either very rich
or very poor.
There is a very little middle class," said one woman that was sitting behind me. It is quite interesting that after 10-15 years of European-Georgian relations common people still don't feel the difference. I remember fency electrical boards at Tbilisi bus-stops and other innovations while most of the pedestrians wore old clothes, drivers used simple models of cars or drove old Mercedes or BMW.
Though, do they need iPhones, Zara or McDonald's? Their own culture, still virgin towards globalization, does exist and stands out of others.
Public services building in Gori.
One of the reasons the corruption rate decreased
Another woman with name Mziya translated to me what the passenger next to her said:
"People are tired of waiting.
It is probably better to join Russia. At least we have one common faith. We don't need America or Europe. Yes, they invest billions and sometimes build a new thing. But they just fly back and forth, and it doesn't have anything to do with all the usual Georgians."
On the way I was gazing at the mountain range not feeling any bump on the road (because there was no single one) as well as I lacked any feeling of homesick. I was at home! Exploring my dear Earth, surfing through humanity, it is a complete freedom of not having a phone number and Interner access but going whenever I want. It is so simple to stay happy when I find a place to sleep, if I have some snacks, if I just go. This is probably one of the reasons why Georgians and Ukrainians patiently wait and believe all promises that politicians make... And forgive all these promises.
The marks of war started to be seen in 20 km from Tbilisi when I saw a huge refugee camp. Tiny houses were built in long rows very close to each other. Gori was soon... When I arrived to the town, I was surprised how small it was. Though, I paid more attention to the spots in the walls that were left after bullets. They were only 5 years old. Later I saw the whole two-storey building burnt to ashes. Today was simply the day of kindness and also the great Georgian holiday as I was told in the car. Many people from across the country were heading to Mtskheta which is situated right between Tbilisi and Gori. So I had to leave my huge bag and go in a new adventure. I checked the hotel first and was pretty frustraited with the price for one night. 70 lari was incredibly expensive for me but another hotel had just the same tariff. Then I decided to step out of my comfort zone because only in this way there was a possibility to meet ordinary people with extraordinary stories.
I turned in a narrow and short street and asked an old woman if there was any place to rent here (so great that mostly all older generation understands and speaks Russian). Unfortunately, she didn't know but I didn't give up as well. I went up to the next turn into a new street and saw a bench with several old ladies. After a few minutes of explaining I was welcomed there and one lady's daughter which was around 40 years old accompanied me to a house where I could rent a room cheaper than in any hostel (there were no hostels in Gori though). Then when I left my bag we came back to her home where I also met her son Achi, my peer, and they gladly treated me with coffee. A wonderful family! Thank you so much for your kindness!
Achi also showed me Goristsikhe fortress.It is an impressive historical sight from which I was able to see all around Gori, including mountains and a military base. And somewhere up north where I was looking at there was South Ossetia, part of Georgia but no longer available for Georgians... In one hour I said good bye to my new friend by a kiss on a cheek (still weird for me but it is part of their culture) and I left for Mtskheta, to see my first Geogian festival.
They call each other "brother"
Even though at every "party" some Georgians try to fight with other, they really seem to be nation of brothers. "Brother," one man will say to me that night, "we have only 4 million Georgians. If there were 8 million, we would have kicked Russia's ass."
Having stepped out of my comfort zone, I proved that Georgians are not "dangerous or rude." Again: people are friendly. As the moon came out and noisy festival was going to its end I was invited to join the table in the street. The company offered me free wine and shashlyk. We exchanged stories and laughed; there was another random guy who was really drunk and he sang songs for us.
After the party I didn't stop. One man told me that there was some monastery near Mtskheta where everybody could stay for a night. I didn't have such a place so I decided to randomize current situation and take even more risk. Shiomghvime Monastery was about 12 km away... "2 hours," I thought. "A nice midnight walk," I thought. There was no soul around in the mountains. Only the bright full moon and I, breathing cool clean air and watching fabulous stars. Such a harmony...
It turned out that in the middle of my way I chose a wrong path and went up the hill to a different monastery - what a joke! I spent 30 minutes going up to the closed building with no windows but one heavy door. I had knocked on the door but apparently there was nobody. I laughed. Then I watched the moon and found myself so calm... and happy. I was pretty far from a civilized world. Mtskheta shined somewhere aside like hot charcoals, and only a train passed by down the hill as a very, very slow ray of light.
Then I came back where I started going in a wrong direction and continued my way. What I had left to do? Though, I had a feeling that I was close... Close to what? Maybe, to another group of kind-hearted?
It happened to be true. A car (simple old Russian VAZ) appeared and stopped. "Hey, brother, aren't you scared of walking alone? Maybe, you need a ride?" asked one out of four Georgian men. Somebody else, be in my shoes, would run away but I had a feeling that it had to happen.
I sat into the car and found out that these people were going to meet their old friend with whom they served in the military. This friend lived in a little village where we got in 5 minutes. Home-made vine and chacha (Georgian vodka) waited for us. Again, for another time I was sitted at the table as an honourable guest and was eating simple but so tasty and desirable bread, trying other products of a poor host: cottage cheese and grapes. That man lived in really small and very moderate house and had 6 (!) children, but he was glad to see his friends and me, a random foreigner. For him the spirituality was more important and he was good to every "brother".
"Isn't it hard to support 6 children?" I asked.
"6 children in my family - happiness to all Georgia,"
he replied. We also talked about Russian-Georgian relations and the war (this topic was still hot for me). One of the man, the most talkative and the one who mentioned "the kicking of Russia's ass", replied, "People [Russians] are not guilty but the governments [Russian and Georgian]. We love Russians as well, brother. There could be no war. We didn't want the war. But the politicians are stubborn and don't want to give up on their plans."
Learn to give in order to receive without thinking about receiving anything. I was surprised when the coolest of "brothers" in the company in Mtskheta asked me to buy shaurma (another delicious dish) for his young wife (which by the way looked like a high school senior) because half an hour ago they were giving away a lot of food and wine... Oh, that great Georgian wine. But why not? And I just did. Later another good thing, good people in the car, happened to me.