Adventures in Tbilisi, Georgia

11 Jan

I was feeling pretty down after my Mystery Trippers headed back to the states. Making matters worse, I lost my beloved notebook in Armenia, which had so many memories from my travels scribbled on its pages. And I was now in a country (Georgia, if you’ve lost track of me) where no one spoke English and I didn’t know any Georgian or Russian, so I was riding the mopey train pretty hard.

Oh, and did I mention it was STILL FREAKING CHRISTMAS in Georgia?! #eternalChristmas #wow #enoughalready

All I knew was what number bus I needed to catch to get to my hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and then Murphy’s Law smacked me in the face in the form of that exact bus passing me, not stopping, because it was already full of people. Woe is Sammi. It was a 16km walk to my hostel, so I started on my way, figuring something would happen.  It’s incredibly comforting and empowering to be in a country, not speaking the langauge, and knowing that somebody, (who probably also doesn’t speak your language), is most likely going to stop and offer to help you.  Lucky for me, I was picked up and brought to town by a nice man with a bank logo on the side of his car. I knew that meant he was legit.

I found it sweet that he was willing to help me out even though we couldn’t speak each other’s language. He offered me his pomegranate juice which was still sealed.  I took it because in Georgia, rejecting someone’s drink offer is very rude, and I was in this guys car.  I didn’t want to be rude.  I mean, yes, he did try to ask me if I was married most of the ride, at least I think that’s what he was doing by pointing to my empty ring finger, but he brought me where I needed to go without too much hassle, so I just played along, yammering away in Eeglish.

Normally I use Couchsurfing on my solo travels, but this trip I had been so focused on the Mystery Trippers that by the time they’d left I didn’t have any energy to do anything for myself.  I decided to stay in Tbilisi’s most popular hostel. As I was feeling alone, I was willing to pay a bit more in hopes I would be able to meet some amazing people. Unfortunately, everyone in the hostel was young and drinking heavily, so I ended up hitting up Couchsurfing anway, looking for a friend and found Giorgi from Georgia.  Hilarious.  (But also, turns out, a common name.)

Giorgi is an actual tour guide, so he showed me around town. There is a waterfall right in the center of town, and you can take a chairlift up a mountain for some great views. I learned about Georgia’s conflict near South Ossetia (north), what it meant for the country when the Soviet Union fell, their current struggles and how Russia is still trying to exert its power. Things are pretty crazy out here!

Giorgi also taught me that everything in Georgia is connected to wine: It’s wine’s homeland, and they’ve been making it for 6,000 years. So I ditched the party at my hostel to drink wine with my new boozy tour guide. He brought me home for a nice dinner with his mother, who didn’t speak a lick of English but had the best laugh and made us a great meal. Of course, we also drank some homemade wine.

 

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We both don’t know where to look.

 

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Homemade dolma.

They have the most unique flavor combinations in Georgia, and there is a specific technique to eating certain things.  Of course Giorgi thinks its the best in the world.  For instance, you to have eat khinkali with your hands and bite and suck the juices out without spilling, which is way less fun than being messy, but you’d probably be more demure if you were on a date. They are traditionally made with a blend of pork and beef, but the mushroom was my favorite.

 

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Eggplant with walnut spread and pomegranate.

 

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Deceptively tricky little things to eat, but delicious!

 

I returned to the hostel after dinner and got to know my fellow travelers — we had quite the eclectic group. There were travelers from Japan, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Russia, Dubai (UAE), Pakistan, and me from the good ol’ US of A. Not one German! (Nothing against Germans, they are just usually well-traveled.)

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Your typical international hostel gathering in Tbilisi.

 

Muhammad was a 19-year-old from Lebanon whom I found quite inspiring. He was solo traveling on break from University and doing volunteer work teaching children. It was his first time leaving his home country, unless you count the time he was forced to flee to Syria in 2006 because of Lebanon’s war with Israel. Repeat: He fled INTO Syria. Insane.

Anyway, here he is taking a photo of his breakfast, because it was his first time ever eating a pancake.  He said he’s only ever seen it in the movies before this!

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I call this “Lebanese Boy’s First Pancake.”

 

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People told us we looked liked siblings, we think it’s because of our half-smiles.

 

I hung out with Muhammad for a bit, then met two super sweet Iranians (Sajjad and Kazem) who helped me get my visa to Azerbaijan corrected and then invited me to an Iranian dinner.

Somehow, I had shifted from learning about Georgia to Lebanon and now Iran. For instance, did you know that if you speak in Farsi it means that you are Persian? They speak Farsi in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.  Or that a rooster does not “cock-a-doodle-do” in Iran?

I decided to tour the city with Sajjad and Kazem the following day. At one point, we saw a building from above that I knew was a Turkish hamam (that’s a bath, yinz), but the boys were positive it was a mosque, so we made a bet! Hamam or mosque? That was the name of the game.  And you might be able to tell by the look on my face who was right…

 

 

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That’s right! ME! So proud. (hahahaha, I made them take this photo.)

 

I had a lot of really innocent fun with Sajjad and Kazem over the next couple days.

I was actually the first American they had ever met, and we asked each other a lot of silly questions.

They taught me the phrase “Tariff ba domesh gerdoo mish kane” (phonetically: taraf bah doemesh geeairdo meesh can-eh, for me), which roughly translates from Farsi to “my tail is wagging.” We then practiced tongue twisters while we ate ice cream straight from the box at a grocery store.

 

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Exploring in black and white.

We had a great day and night together, and since we felt so connected, I invited them to come along with me to a yoga class even though they had never been before (they’d never been to a yoga class!), and they actually came!!  We had to get up early and walk to the class, and it was a total bust. The teacher told us to lie down in Shavasana, also known as “Corpse Pose,” and played a prerecorded tape. Aaaaaand that was it. It was nap yoga, apparently, and we actually paid money for that. The boys will never do “yoga” again, they told me.  I can’t blame them!  If that was my first experience I would never do “yoga” again either.  After I finished apologizing we had a good laugh and moved on.

Naturally, it was their turn to pick an activity, so we toured Jvari monastery and the town of Mtskheta. They had arranged for a Farsi-speaking driver the day before, and when he arrived to pick us up, he looked like this…

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Picture not taken immediately upon meeting, for the record.

 

I pulled the boys aside, and asked, “Do you see that?”

Looks of confusion. Shrugs. They had no clue what I was talking about.

“He has a scorpion tattoo on his neck. The bad guy in every movie ever has a scorpion tattoo on his neck. Not good!”

That laughed at me and assured me it would be fine, and it was, but the guy was pretty weird!

For some reason, he loved Texas, and said, “I want to die in Texas.” DIE?! Why not LIVE, man?!

The boys laughed and Kazem said softly to me, “Sammi, everyone has a wish.”

Here are a few pictures from the day:

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Jvari Monestary.

 

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Where I learned that Iranian and American roosters must be very, very different.

 

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Mtskheta town, or “The Point At 3 Rivers.” Pittsburgh in Georgia?!

 

As you can see, my Iranian friends were the most positive people, always looking on the bright side (except maybe about yoga). We had a delicious Georgian dinner (minus the wine, so Giorgi would say it wasn’t authentic), and chatted the night away. Here are some random things I learned:

Side note: (They love John McCain in Georgia.)

Facebook is censored in Iran, but Instagram is allowed.

Iranians have a very weak passport, it takes 3 months to apply for a Visa to go to Europe. (Let’s not get into America…)

Sajjad is an engineer and Kazem is in his last year of school getting his PhD in Sociology

They both have girlfriends (3 and 6 years, respectively).

They are opposites: Whenever one says “yes” the other leans towards “no” Like, “Do you have this particular fruit in your country?”  One says “yes” they other “no”.

Their moms are great cooks.

Iranians snap when they dance (just like someone I know).

They were just such sweet guys. I talked more with Kazem about his girlfriend, and became rather infatuated with the head scarf. He told me Iran is more liberal than Saudi Arabia, which isn’t saying a lot. It’s illegal for women to take them off in the streets, but sometimes, if they are alone and there’s no one watching or no guard (GUARD?!), the women will remove them.

He dated his girlfriend for a year before he saw her without the scarf. Can you imagine that?! And the first time was through a picture. The first time in person was in a car, and when she took it off, he kissed her. So romantic!  I felt so honored and trusted that he shared this all with me.  Thank you Kazem!!

Unfortunately, I had to leave that night, and if an Iranian has a stamp on their passport from Armenia, they are not allowed to go to Azerbaijan, so we couldn’t continue on together although they said they would come if they could (they had previously been to Armenia)!   Otherwise, it’s embarrassingly difficult for them to get a visa in the USA.  We said goodbye and I told them to invite me out to Iran if they ever had a big life event.  I really hope they do!!  They are such wonderful people ❤

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Sunset before my train.

 

That night, I got on my train to Baku, Azerbaijan, and when we were set to depart, the Iranin boys surprised me at the station to say one final goodbye!!!!!!!!   They had been walking around showing people my picture, asking if they’d seen me, because they wanted to say goodbye.   Awwwwww!!!! Sweethearts!!!! 

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Friends for life.   So much love for these two smart, kind, thoughtful humans.

 

It felt so good to learn so much and spend genuine time with these two wonderful guys, especially right after my friends left. It’s times like these, when you’re feeling alone on the other side of the world, that I feel like you make the most meaningful connections.

If that’s not the Christmas spirit, then I don’t know what is.

So one last time, since it’s finally, finally over. Merry Christmas!

‘mi

One Response to “Adventures in Tbilisi, Georgia”

  1. Timothy Paul Westbrook January 18, 2018 at 9:09 pm #

    Great stories. The stuff cabbage pic made me homesick for some Hungarian töltött káposzta.

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