The Spring Trip of 2018 has ended due to having to return home and renew my passport (as it was about to expire), but fear not since the travels and stories shall continue once I've obtained a new one. Anyway, here's a look-back at the past few weeks in Georgia as it starts to transition into summer. More stories and adventures will soon follow.
Transportation 1970s style
A Friendly Cat
I was always drawn to the idea of couch surfing. Getting to stay with someone local, as opposed to a hostel or hotel (or paying for a hostel or hotel), seemed like a great opportunity that had the potential of creating amazing experiences. The only thing was, though, that I had never done it yet. But then I came to Slovenia on a trip for five days and that all changed.
After sending out numerous requests to people in the capital Ljubljana, I finally heard back from this guy who's name was listed as 'Marko' and whose profile picture was that of a dog. He seemed awesome, so I accepted the offer and made my way to the country. The only issue was winding a way to get to his house, as our train didn't arrive until 10:00pm and I had no idea how to use Ljubljana's public transportation. I messaged this to him, asking what would be the best way to get there, but he reassuringly replied, "Don't worry about it. I'll just pick you up at the train station." His train was right there upon our arrival, and right when we got to his house, a young, energetic dog named Viskey was right at the door waiting for us. This was just the beginning.
As it turned out, Marko was a really interesting person with unique, insightful perspectives. He explained to us how few years ago, he decided to leave a comfortable career path in a successful family business in order to make his own path in life. He came to the conclusion that he needed to make his own life, and even if he failed, at least the failure was his own and he tried. That was also when he bought his house and got his dog. But he continued, saying that it felt strange living in a large place just by himself, so he opened himself up to hosting as many guests and couch surfers as possible. We then got the experience this first hand.
Over the next five days, Marko went all out, hosting up to five people at once, giving metro cards and really helpful information to all the guests, and even providing beer and wine. He literally seemed to live by the philosophy, "My house is your house." However, the most memorable thing about the time there would have to be the events we all did together. On our third day, all five couch surfers and Marko made a group dinner, topped off with five liters of wine. There was so much that he even invited his neighbors to join in, and we spent the entire evening around the table sharing travel stories and discussing everything imaginable.
The whole experience really felt like being at home. By the end of it, we were all having meals together regularly, watched movies together at night, and even took Viskey out for walks each day. Even the day we had to go, Marko took us to a supermarket to get snacks for the trip and dropped us off at the best spot for hitchhiking. It really felt like saying goodbye to an old friend, but the whole experience filled me with a desire to do this more often, and leave the hostel scene in favor of local people's couches.
Therefore, I'll end this post by saying that if anyone is planning on going on a trip to Slovenia, stop in Ljubljana and create a couch surfing account (unless you already have one). Search for Marko and Viskey. They are both amazing people (and dog), and are better hosts than you could possibly imagine.
One of the things I'll remember most from Slovenia was the nature. In this small country of just 2 million people, you can find both the Alps and Balkan mountains, as well as numerous rivers, valleys, and the Adriatic coast. All that, while nearly 70 percent of the country remains covered by forest. However, the natural features that stuck out most to me were the lakes. I visited two, Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, and if I can have your attention for just a few minutes, I'll tell why you should immeadiately leave your desk, throw your chair through the window, and break out of work so you can see them too.
Of the two, Lake Bled is much more well known. Located just an hour from the capital Ljubljana by bus, it is very easy to access. And once I got there, it became instantly clear why is was considered such a must see destination. First of all, the whole lake is surrounded by forrest and trails, while in the background the Julian Alps loom on the horizon. In the middle of it sits an Island with a centuries old church. Overlooking the waters on a hill stands a medieval stone castle. Both sites can be reached, as you can take a (costly) boats ride to the island and a (free) trail to the castle. Naturally, I only went to the castle.
The only downside to Bled is the fact that it is kind of touristy. When I was there, I was unfortunately joined by several bus loads of the affore mentioned groups, all equipped with fanny packs, cameras, cargo shorts, and loud voices. Worst of all though, there is a big eyesore of a hotel right on the shores, which to me seems like a big middle finger to mother nature. However, if you walk around to the other side of the lake, the crowds and hordes dissapate, leaving you surrounded by spectacular nature.
Just 30 more minutes by bus past Lake Bled is Slovenia's largest and more rugged and wild lake Bohinj. Of the two, this one was my favorite because it seemed much more untouched and undeveloped. Sure, there were a couple of small shops and cafes near the bus stop, but that was it. No hotels or anything like that. And just like Bled, the Julian Alps cover the horizon.
On the opposite side of the lake from the bus station, there are several small cottages near the shore. I actually learned this the hard was since just about when I was half way around the lake, a huge thunderstorm broke out and I had to seek shelter under the overhang of an elderly couple's house. That said, they were nice and did not have a problem giving shelter to a grimy, hairy stranger. In total the lake took about 2 and a half hours to walk all the way around.
LIZARD! (Lake Bohinj)
So anyway, once there was a city that was completely intertwined with nature, trees, green rivers, medieval castles, and thousands of cyclists. Take a dash of Italy, a touch of Austria, and toss in some energy of the Balkans and you get this place. And that city is Ljubljana, Slovenia and here is what it looks like.
See this place
Throughout my life, I have seen many things. This has ranged from gigantic mountains to deep seas, to my friend Doug nearly getting into a fight after he cut the entire bathroom line in a Russian bar (long story). Therefore, it takes a lot to amaze or surprise me. But the historical site of Gobustan in Azerbaijan absolutely did just that, exceeding my wildest expectations (and my expectations are often quite wild).
Located just about an hour outside the city, I made the trip with my friends Zinyat and Nadir. Together, we took a bus to the city limits and then a taxi from there. As we went, the urban atmosphere slowly changed to open planes and large hills until we reached one particular place that seemed a bit different from the rest. Standing a bit away from the others, a large hill with gigantic stones protruding out of it loomed on the horizon. Our driver turned and drove in that direction. It was our destination.
Not know what to expect, I stepped out of the car and was immediately overwhelmed by my surroundings in the most amazing way possible. It was as if I'd entered into a different era in time (except for a single sign with an arrow reading 'toilet'). We walked forward, eager to explore the place in front of us. Following the trail, we entered the first of the cave-like caverns. The rocks were so close we could just reach out and touch them (although the signs commanded us not to). That's when I noticed it. All around us were images of animals and people, etched into the rocks. These were the ancient petroglyphs the site was known for.
I meandered my way all over the site in a complete state of awe, staring at scenes of celebrations, dances, hunts, and herding from thousands upon thousands of years ago. As someone with a fascination in history, this was like finding a gold mine for me. And aside from the numerous caverns with thousands of images, there were several large stones that were hollowed out for drumming (presumably for rituals way back when), which were just sitting there for you to hit with a rock. So naturally, I did... several times. And as an added plus, the whole place was situated in just a way that provided an incredible view of the open planes and Caspian Sea below. Anyways, I'm struggling to think of the right words to describe the place, so I'll just take the easy way out and use pictures. Please enjoy.
I'll get to the point, Baku is a visually amazing city. I felt as if my previous photos did not quite do it justice, so I decided to make another photo album about it. And since my phone-camera is a bit terrible, these photos were no taken by me. So now, please enjoy more of the Azerbaijani capital of sand colored buildings, 21st century towers, green trees, and a medieval castle. Courtesy of now frequent contributor Daniel Gandini. The first part of the pictures is primarily of the old town/city center and the second part in Baku at night.
Baku at Night
Last but not least: The Planting Pot
In my travels, I have seen a great deal of churches, synagogues, and mosques. Nearly every city in every country seems to have some kind of house of worship. But yesterday, however, I came across something quite different. Just outside of the Azerbaijani capital of Baku happens to be a Zoroastrian fire worshiping temple, and of course I had to see it. I mean, all things considered, fire worshiping kind of makes sense. It cooks our food and keeps up warm through the winter. Plus you can actually see fire, just as you can see the flaming sun in the sky. I find that an important factor that many religions leave out. Anyway, I digress.
Therefore, with three friends, I got into a car and drove (technically sat while someone else drove) out to the site. We arrived in a large, yet mostly empty parking lot with gift shops to one side and a large structure (presumably the temple) made of sandstone to the other. We all walked over and paid the admission fee which was just 2 manat (1 euro) per person and we entered.
Inside, there was a large open courtyard with a structure built over a large flame in the center. Naturally, since it was a bit cold outside, we went there first to warm our hands. But unfortunately though, since it was quite windy, the flame moved a bit unpredictably and singed out hands a few times. After that, we decided we wanted to keep the rest of our fingers, so we decided to check out the rest of the place which consisted of several small rooms built within the walls of the complex.
As I walked into the first room, I was a bit surprised to find a lifesize figure of a shirtless, bearded old man, standing as if he were about to engage of a boxing match (see below). It turned out that he was not the only one because in nearly every room within the walls, there were life size figures set up to show how the temple was used long ago. This consisted of everything from merchants trading to people meditating, to a prison for 'non believers, to what looked like men hallusinating after drinking some psycadellic substance. There were even a few rooms set up as a museum with artifacts dating back to over 3000 years ago.
My friends and I stayed for a little while longer until something terrible (a large group of obnoxious tourists) showed up. Then we decided it was time to go. That said, if you're like me and find the idea of visiting an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple, I strongly recommend coming here and visiting. Anyway, please enjoy the pictures of life size figure below!
After first arriving in Georgia three years ago, I've finally reached my fifth of the Caucasus countries. Just yesterday I entered the country on a 12 hour night train from Tbilisi in a compartment shared with a friendly, snoring elderly Georgian couple. Upon arrival, I was greeted by my friends Zinyat and Nadir and shown around the city like royalty. I would like to write more, but for now I'm still a bit tired, so I'll take the easy way out and just put up some pictures. Now please enjoy these photos of my wanderings through the clean, quiet, windy, beautiful streets of Baku and the views looking out over the Caspian Sea.
Having grown up in New England and spent two years in Moscow, I'm used to April being a rather cold, rainy, depressing month. But now, however, things have changed. I have just returned from a weekend trip to the Georgian valley town of Borjomi and can now sufficiently say that sping has come. Therefore, if you are still burried in snow or dealing with freezing rain, please enjoy this brief escape. Photos courtesy of my random wanderings.
Before coming to Tbilisi, I had no idea that sunny days existed in April. Therefore when one happened today, I decided to use two appendages I have called legs and go for a walk throughout the city. It was nice for a while, but after inhaling my fair share of car fumes, I decided to take a brake from the urban areas and enter the city's botanical garden. There was just one problem, my camera stopped working. I was left with a dilemma. Do I come back and fix it and put off this post until another day? Or, do I take other images from friends and strangers and put them up here instead. Obviously I chose the latter. Therefore, since I don't own the rights to any of these, please enjoy the pictures now before someone presses charges and the authorities force me to take them down.
A summary of my experience
Belgium and Germany may be known for their beer, Scotland for its whiskey, and Mexico for tequila. In Georgia, however, this is the country for wine (Take that Spain, Italy, and France!) During my previous visits ,I've had a fair amount of Georgian wine from a variety of different locations, both homemade and from shops, and it was pretty consistently enjoyable to drink. But just one month ago, I was introduced to a place that would change my life forever and take my experience of Georgian wine to another level I did not yet know existed.
It all happened when a newly made Russian friend at my hostel said he'd heard of this wine shop called Wine Gallery that was supposed to be the best in Tbilisi and was going to go check it out. Intrigued, I opted to join. After exiting the hostel, we walked about 30 minutes, crossing the river to the other side of the city in the process, and eventually reached a quite, secluded side street. (It is close) he said. We continued for five more minutes and then we saw it. Decorated in an ornate fashion with red awnings, the store stood with it's name embroiled in Georgian, English and Russian. The exterior was welcoming, not too flashy, and had a staircase leading down to the entrance. I then descended, pushed open the door... and what I then saw absolutely blew my mind.
Decorated in medieval suits of armor, traditional Georgian drinking horns, wine distilleries, and baroque furniture (at least I think it was baroque. I don't know style names that well. Anyway, I digress), it looked as if it were some sort of royal chamber. The lady at the front greeted us, holding back a laugh upon seeing the look of extreme awe on our faces. Once she collected herself, she asked if we would like to taste some, to which I said yes (with far too much volume and urgency than was necessary).
Trying to hold back laughing once more, she handed me a glass of dry red (unfortunately due to my lack of wine knowledge, I cannot give further information). Eagerly I took a sip... and by that I mean I drank the whole thing, and was instantly swept away by the rich, savory, soothing taste. It was as if a new door in the house of wine had just opened for me for the very first time. Noticing y enjoyment, the woman handed me another, saying that this one was semi-sweet. Again I drank it, and again, I was transported to magical world of taste-bud sensation, but this time, it was like a delicious desert. I felt like a kid in a candy store, only now as an adult, the candy was alcohol.
My decision was made. I was getting a liter of both and there was nothing my microscopic bank account sum could do to stop me. I placed my order, waiting to hear the damage... but it turns out there was none. The price for each was just 9 lari (3 euro/$3.50). The cashier said they had more expensive wines that weren't for sampling, my I was quite content with my commoner's purchase. She then filled up two plastic water bottles (Nice!!) with my wines and then handed them to me. I accepted my coveted relics, said my thanks and exited.
Upon leaving, I vowed to eventually return... which I did a couple days later... and several more times since. And I will several times more!
Not far from the Georgian town of Gori, there is an ancient stone-cave city called Uplistskhe which, according to an internet search I did about 10 minutes ago, is named after a Caucasian Pagan sun god. Although the city has been abandoned for centuries, it is still a pretty incredibly and complex sight to see. Just one thing to note though, if you plan on travelling there, you can take a marshrutka from Gori's bus station for 1 lari (40 cents) each way. Many taxi drivers will falsely claim that there is no public transportation and will try to charge you 20 lari. Anyway though, since I don't have a good camera at the moment, these pictures were taken by a travel buddy, Daniel, who made the trip a few weeks earlier than me. Hope you enjoy!
And finally, a shout out to the photographer of these pictures:
17 March, 2018
On a mild March night, an eclectic group consisting of a French-Canadian guy, a girl from Kazakhstan, two from China, and an unshaven wandering vagrant (me) gathered together in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. For the rest of my group, this was their final weekend in the country so we all decided to go out and do something, and since the night happened to be St. Patrick's Day, we figured it would be as good as any. None of us had any idea how Georgia, one of the very few countries on planet earth without a vibrant Irish community, would celebrate this day if at all, but since there always seems to be something going on in Tbilisi, we were sure we'd find something.
Starting off with wine (since we couldn't find Guinness in the stores and Georgian beer is mediocre at best), we had our drinks and set out to find whatever was out there. We descended the hill into the city center and just about as we were about to turn the corner onto Rustaveli street (one of the main streets in the city) there was a noise. Music! Actual real music coming from instruments (unfortunately a rarity these days). It was coming from this place that was labeled 'Nali Pub. All over the exterior hung decorations celebrating Irish stereotypes like shamrocks and Guinness. l looked over at Etienne (Canadian) and the girls to see what they thought.
"Lead us, Chairman Xi." Said Lulu, one of the girls from China. Taking this as a compliment for my decision making skills I proclaimed, "Let's go in!" and pushed open the dark, metal door. Music poured out as we all entered. By this moment, we were all expecting something wonderfully absurd. What we then saw surpassed all of our preconceived notions is the best way imaginable.
The whole place was set up like a pub with a wooden bar, stools, and a few tables pushed aside to make room for the band that stood front and center. The lead singer was a gigantic Georgian man with a shaved head, massive brown beard, numerous tattoos, and wearing a bright green t-shirt (presumably for the holiday). Behind him was a full band equipped with a full set of instruments. The place was much more brightly lit up than most bars in Tbilisi and everyone in the place was on their feet, jumping to the music. The gigantic lead singer shouted a few things to the crowd and they began to play, starting with the old song 'What do We do With a Drunken Sailor?' Even though they didn't know all the words and filled some sections in with vocal noises that went along with the tune, they played with tons of energy and put a punk-style edge into the tune.
Minutes later, Etienne returned from the bar with Guinness for everyone, which were only 5 lari ($2) each. Maybe not quite as genuine as Ireland, but at this price, it was nonetheless amazing. We continued celebrating as the band's attempt to be Irish slowly declined, switching to Dropkick Murphys covers, then Nirvana, then something a bit undecipherable. No one in the crowd seemed to mind though, spirits were high, jumping and dancing persisted with just as much energy. We then formed a circle with a group of locals in the center and all danced together, accidentally knocking over a few unfortunate members of the waitstaff who tried to pass by (sorry).
The band continued until about 2:30, by which time we somehow all had shamrocks painted on our faces (I sincerely apologize to my Irish friends). Altynay, the girl from Kazakhstan, decided to go back to the hostel since she was planning on traveling to the city Batumi early in the morning the next day. I walked her back, only tripping and falling once or twice, then returned to Nali Pub to rejoin the other three.
Things were starting to settle down at the pub, but that was alright. It was the first time in years I actually celebrated St. Patrick's Day, and despite (or maybe because of) the bizarre circumstances, it had already been incredible. The night was almost complete and we just had two things to do before returning to the hostel and going to bed. The first was to get some food. Then the second: climb on public property. Why? Because we can. Both were soon accomplished (see below) and we bid farewell to night.
It was 5:30 in the morning as I reluctantly rolled my delirious self out of bed. The struggle was all so real, but I had committed myself to climbing the hill to the TV tower overlooking Tbilisi to see the sunrise at least once. I had already put it off several times, but now the friends I had promised were set to leave the country soon, so this was our last chance. I stumbled down into the common kitchen and immediately began making coffee for today it was an absolute necessity. Moments later, my other two brave and tired companions, Etienne and Sara, entered the room.
Quickly, we downed the coffee and exited the hostel. It was just before 6:00. Although I had walked this path to the tower many times before, I had never done so in the dark. And as it was steep and covered by trees, it was nearly impossible to avoid slipping and tripping frequently. Nonetheless, we reached an overlook just before the tower in about 30 minutes, and decided that this would be our spot. Next to us was a bench and table (which we then occupied) as well as a makeshift workout area in the forest constructed out of pipes and truck tires. It was an odd site to see, made only more surprising by two middle aged men already using one of the pipes to do pull ups. Anyway though, I digress, for that is another story. Here is what the sunrise looked like:
The above-mentioned work out area (picture taken a different day)
Every once in a while you find yourself in a situation you couldn't possibly have imagined. For example, you're in a city far from where you grew up, like Tbilisi, and you've just made friends with two backpackers from another far off country like China. You want to go out all together and enjoy a Saturday night which just so happens to be St. Patricks Day, so you suggest a pub in the city that has live music. As a result of your decision making, you're nicknamed 'The Chairman', and together you set out to see how Georgians celebrate Ireland... and it turns out to be one of the best nights out ever! Well, that just happened. Let me explain.
It all started just about two weeks ago. I was lounging around with my thoughts lost in space as usual when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me stood two girls holding a bottle of Georgian chacha and asked me if I wanted to have some with them. Not being one to refuse something free, I happily accepted. We all sat at the table and began talking, and I began to realize something. These two were awesome!
Having only known each other for a few months due to work, Lulu (Cathy) and Helen (Tongyu) decided to take a trip far away to a place they knew little about and decided upon Georgia and Armenia. Periodically stopping in Tbilisi as a central hub, they bounced all around to Yerevan, Svaneti, Batumi, and Kazbegi all without knowing the language. Did that worry or bother either of them? Of course not. They roamed the whole area, exploring mountains and the sea, and always came back with something (often wine or food) for everyone.
However, the best part about getting to know these two was how much fun and humor they brought to everyone they encountered. Which leads me back to St Patrick's Day in Tbilisi. Having just returned from Yerevan by marshrutka, Lulu said that despite enjoying the natural beauty of Armenia, there was no sign of nightlife in Yerevan. They wanted to celebrate and dance, but didn't get the chance. Now in Tbilisi it was time to make up for that. Quickly, we formed a group of other awesome people (soon to their own posts too) and I found a pub that was having a live band play all night for the occasion. For my efforts and subsequent leading the way to the pub, they gave me the nickname 'Chairman Xi' for the night. I was honored. As for the rest of the night, that post shall come soon.
BE LIKE LULU AND TONGYU: Travel somewhere far away, make friends and bring fun and excitment everywhere you go.
After having visited the city several times and now attempting to live here, I've decided to compile a list of my favorite elements that make up the Georgian capital. While I could go on about my least favorite thing (taxis and traffic), I'm feeling in a particularly happy mood at the moment and prefer focusing on the positive. Granted, There are still some places, like Turtle Lake and the surfer baths, that I have not yet seen and therefore will not be on the list. Likewise, I have also excluded things like museums and the old town because I wanted to focus on things much more specific to Tbilisi (although they are worth checking out here, many cities have museums and old towns). And finally, remember that this is entirely based on my strange, arbitrary preferences so it may greatly differ from that of others who have been here. Anyway, here goes!
In Memorium: Why Not Hostel
Before I start the list, I have to give a shout out to this amazing hostel that is unfortunately no longer in operation. Thankfully I was not only able to visit, but ended up working at this place of wonders. To this day, I have never seen a hostel provide such an amazing breakfast for its guests, and the whole atmosphere really felt like a giant family. It was the center of my first three Tbilisi visits and one of the main reasons why I kept coming back. Hopefully one day it will reopen, and if so, it will definitely be placed on my list here.
Read more about the magical place that once was here:
11. Wine Gallery
Georgia is famously known for its wine, and although Tbilisi is not in the country's wine region Khakheti, there are still a few really good shops for homemade wine. My personal favorite is called Wine Gallery. It is located underground on a secluded street, thus adding to the overall atmosphere, which opens up into a vast cellar with many large distilling containers, each containing a different variation of the beverage. Even though I am by no means a wine aficionado (seeing as most of the wine I previously had before Georgia came from a box), I can sufficiently claim that all the wines I tried from here were absolutely delicious.
10. Dry Bridge
Ok, so this one is often mentioned in tour guides, and for that I apologize. Nonetheless, this is still an area that is definitely worth checking out especially on the weekends. It is the largest (as far as I know) open air market in the city and is run by locals from the community. Every person/booth has its own unique collection of things, therefore you'll find everything from souvenirs to household appliances to film reels of which there are surprisingly many. Even certain items geared to tourists, like traditional hats and drinking horns are still pretty awesome.
However, what stood out most to me was the art. There's a ton of artwork out on display and for sale, most of which is really good quality. Usually people will be selling different paintings of which they made over the years which usually happen to be related to Tbilisi or Georgia in some way. Occasionally you will even see some of the people working on a new piece as they sell their older ones. Even if you're perpetually dead broke and can't afford to buy anything (like me) it's still absolutely worth it to wander around and check out what is available and on display.
9. Botanical Garden
So I like nature. I feel like those of us that live in cities absolutely need more of it. Therefore, I was incredibly happy to encounter Tbilisi's large botanical garden. It is vast, open, and situated in a valley behind the Narikala fortress. In the summer, it is so lush, green, and secluded from the urban environment that you can actually forget for a moment that you're still in a city. For me, this is the perfect place to take a break from noise, commotion and people while enjoying the peace and quiet of nature by yourself.
Prior to arriving, I had no idea of this, but as it turns out, Tbilisi has a very vibrant and prevalent nightlife. It never really feels like the city shuts down, as even on weekday nights, people can be seen out and about, although in the weekends its definitely more noticeable. There is a little something for just about everyone, ranging from night clubs to pubs to live music to chill jazz spots, and apparently even a karaoke rave bar (see story). Some of the more famous places are the clubs Bassiani, Cafe Gallery, and Mtkvarze, which have been said to resemble places in Berlin. I haven't spent much time in them since techno music, cover charges and DJs aren't really my thing.
However, I have found some really awesome spots that definitely fit the ramifications of my odd tastes. These include an outdoor bar called Bauhaus, a Polish bar called Warszawa, and the fabled karaoke-rave Riffer Bar. Bauhaus, in my opinion, is the place to be in the summer since its outside, next to a fountain and has live music very frequently. It's a rare occurrence to have something anywhere that is simultaneously suitable for chilling with friends and partying like a raging fool, but this does it just right. Plus it's only 2 lari for a beer (80 cents), so there's that too. Warszawa was a place I liked largely because I had many Polish friends in the city who often frequented the place. It wasn't big or in-your-face in but it had a particular vibe to it that always made things fun. Chill, dance around, enjoy the cheap vodka, it's all good there.
As for Riffer Bar, please read this story:
7. Hike to TV Tower
Although this doesn't compare to the amazing hikes in Svaneti and around Kazbegi, it is the best one available in close proximity. No bus or transport is required, just keep walking upwards in the direction of the tower and eventually you'll leave the urban surrounding and continue through trees and grass on a hilly dirt path. It's a great mini-excursion to escape the noise of city life and once you've reached the top, you'll be able to see the entire city down below. And if you're lucky, you may even meet a particularly awesome dog (who I call Fred) who happens to frequent the area.
6. The Food
Although some claim (rightfully so) that the home-cooked food in the country villages in even better, all the local places in Tbilisi are unbelievably good. To me, Georgian is a wonder of the modern world that stands alongside the Sistine Chapel. You can quite comprehend its glory until you've directly experienced it and with Tbilisi being the capital, there are an abundance of good places. A personal recommendation of mine is called Pasanauri which is located right off of Rustaveli Street. Everything inside is made of wood and rarely do you ever see tourists entering. My advice is to walk in there and order anything Georgian. It doesn't matter if it's Pkhali (spinach, walnut, pomegranate, and spices), Khinkhali (dumplings), Shashlik (kebabs), Hachapuri (a wonder of delicious caloric magnitude) or anything else. It'll blow your mind and change everything you thought you knew about food.
5. Narikala Fortress (preferably at night)
Overlooking the city near the Mother Georgia statue is this ancient fortress called Narikala. Construction began in the 4th century for the city's defense and now is free and open to the public during the day, thus allowing you to walk through and climb up on the walls. And while this is all really exciting, the place becomes truly amazing at night. If you go then, you'll have the fortress all to yourself (that is unless you go with others) and down below will be an incredible view of Tbilisi shining below. You'll be away from the noise and commotion but will still feel the night's energy resonating above.
Keep in mind though, the fortress doors are closed at night, making it very difficult to get inside at this time. If you're feeling particularly adventerous and don't see any police, you can try your luck and climb in. But I, not having quite the bravery rested outside the place on a ledge overlooking everything. The view was incredible and I could have stayed for hours had it not been for the cold winds of early March. Still, this was a memory that shall stand out from my times in Tbilisi and is absolutely something worth doing.
I like dogs. They're always happy to see you and are able to cheer you up no matter what has been going on. When I mention stray dogs, however, most people with think of a more negative connotation. That's because most of the stray dogs in other cities around the world are neglected and treated poorly, and therefore act more resentful to mankind. But in Tbilisi, however, this is not the case. Here the street dogs are part of the community. People feed them and the city even makes sure the dogs get their shots and are taken care of (side note: if a street dog has a tag on its ear, it has been given its shots and is deemed to be healthy).
Over my several visits to the city, I have had numerous interactions with street dogs and without fail, they have always brightened up my day. One in particular, who I called Fred, followed me along on a hike up to the TV tower and later kept me company as I sat on a bench. Therefore, the dogs in Tbilisi rightfully deserve this spot on my list. In no other city have they been so nice, calm and social. If you're there and happen to see one (a very likely scenario), smile and pet it. Both you and the dog will be happy.
Read my story about Fred the Friendly Dog here
3. Mountain 13 Hostel
After Why Not closed down, I had no idea where to stay once I returned to Tbilisi. I even wondered if the good times were over, now that my previous home in the city was no more. But thankfully my worrying was all for naught because one of my friends, a tall Irish guy named Peter, recommended another hostel called Mountain 13. As he said, it was located on a hill in the highest part of the city, far enough to escape the noise of the center but close enough that all points of interest can be reached within a 10-15 minute walk. All that sounded good to me, so I decided to take his advice and make a booking.
Then, around noon on the 27th of February, 2018, a very tired, jet lagged me walked through the doors for the first time and right away, I knew I had made the right choice. The whole place was large and spacious with a cozy living room that had within it many large couches. Alongside that, there was a large kitchen with free tea and coffee (to which I have helped myself to frequently) and each of the beds in the bedroom came with it's own locker and mini curtain to block out the light and the potential stares of creepy guests. Needless to say, the facilities were great.
However, all of that is minuscule compared to the staff and the atmosphere. In the two short weeks I have been here since the time of this posting, I have quickly becomes friends with the people who work here and even got to hang out with the owners (Saba and Dodoma). The whole place feels like a giant house and everyone operates like a family. The vibe is generally calm and relaxed but by no means anti-social. It's a place where I always feel comfortable and know that there will always to someone to hang out with. So, personal shout outs to Saba, Dodoma, Gosha, Sasha, Sofia and Nastasia for helping make this place awesome!
2. Graffiti/Street Art
I've lived in New York and seen many major European cities, and I can sufficiently say that Tbilisi towers over all of them when it comes to street art and graffiti. Everywhere you go in the city, from underground walk ways to random alleyways to residential neighborhoods to construction sites, you'll find something painted on the walls. Occasionally even things like trash collectors will be decorated in paint. But of course it's not just the abundance of graffiti that makes Tbilisi special, it is also the quality and creativity.
What makes this so unique, among other things, is the level of thought and effort put into every graffiti image you'll see. Unlike other cities, none of what's here strikes me as mindless vandalism, but instead as a planned, creative piece of artwork. And this can range all the way from complex elaborate murals, to trippy psychedelic imagery, to quickly made sketches of lambs and khinkhali (Georgian dumplings). Some are thought provoking, others humorous, and few are just amazing to look at. Since it can be found nearly everywhere, seeking out Tbilisi's street art can make for an adventure in and of itself.
View all photos here:
This choice was easy. The hospitality I've come across in Georgia is second to none. This holds true both in the countryside and Tbilisi as well. Nearly every time I've come across as confused or lost in a certain situation, someone has always stepped in to help. Having grown up in the West, the most common reaction to when someone needs help is unfortunately to ignore what's going on and keep walking with your head down, therefore seeing the exact opposite in Georgia made me feel welcomed into the society.
Nearly every time I've met someone, they've been eager to show me their favorite parts of the city and occasionally invite me for food and/or coffee. Also, most of the people I speak to want to know who I am and what I think about the country and city. It's done in a way that, to me, really feels genuine. There is never a sense of hurry or urgency, nor does seem like superficial small talk. When I'm in conversation, I can tell I have the other person's full attention and never sense that they're just waiting for the chance to interject their point.
Case in point. Just before the start of my current stay, I was in contact with two of my friends from the city (Nutsa and David). I mentioned when I was set to arrive with the idea of potentially meeting up later that day if they happened to be free. Instead, however, they decided to go a step further and surprised my with a visit/pick up at the airport and immediately took me out for lunch and coffee, seeing as I was terribly hungry and sleep deprived from the previous 15 hours of travel. So again, thanks to the both of you as well as everyone else who has help me feel welcome here.
Prior to this, I have reserved my Awesome Person posts for people, but now I have realized my short-sightedness. By making it only exclusive to one species, I have limited myself in a terrible way. How could I have been so foolish as to think that humans were the only ones who deserved my 'awesome' recognition? Well, the me who made that decision is no more! Therefore, I'm more than happy to introduce to you my first ever Awesome Dog post!
I first met this dog, whom I have decided to call Fred, during one of my hikes to the big TV tower on a hill overlooking Tbilisi. I was walking along, staring off into space as I often do, when all of the sudden, I felt something brush against my hand. I looked down, and to my surprise, I saw a large, furry, canine standing by my side. He had no collar and since there were no houses around, I concluded he was a stray. However, he seemed friendly enough* and didn't smell as bad as I did at the moment, so I decided to pet him for a little while, which he enjoyed.
*I chose the name Fred because Fred the Friendly Dog has a nice sound to it.
Some time later, I crossed the street to a small park that leads into the ascension to the tower, and to my surprise, Fred followed. I sat down on an old wooden bench, somewhat worn away by time, and Fred sat down next to me (although he chose to sit on the ground). I then picked up a stick off the ground and tossed it, attempting to play fetch, but Fred didn't seem to understand the concept. Nonetheless, his dog smile indicated he was still enjoying my company.
After a while, I figured it was about time to start my climb, so I stepped onto the path leading upwards out of the urban environment into nature. Fred followed, keeping my pace without any difficulty despite the incline and terrain. Needless to say, I was impressed. This continued for the next 20 minutes or so, but unfortunately all good things come to an end. Fred saw a bird and ran off, chasing it into the wilderness. I waited, but he did not return. That was the last I saw of Fred.
That being said, there is always hope for a reunion. I have now made it a daily ritual to do this hike, thus opening up the possibility of another encounter. Regardless of what happens from here on out though, I have now made it my priority to befriend as many stray dogs as I can. So here's to Fred the Dog!
BE LIKE FRED: Be awesome and make friends with hairy strangers like me.
Friends, I started globalhobos.com exactly one year ago today! (Happy birthday to it!) I thank you for the enthusiastic support (especially Niall and roommate), and promise year #2 shall be even more epic full of glorious misadventures in far off lands. Therefore, it is a fitting time to start its next chapter.
Just yesterday I landed in the city of Tbilisi Georgia to the greeting of two awesome friends and rain (Shout out to Nutsa and David!) Despite the sleep deprivation that only 15 wonderful hours over night on a plane can give, I was ready to start the next journey. So please, my dear readers, follow along as I attempt to make a living as a freelancing writer and English teacher throughout the year while keeping my favorite destination as my home base. My rest back home over the winter was nice, but now it's time to venture out and get serious again. And by serious I mean work professionally for about 10-15 hours per week by computer and occasionally escaping society by wandering off into the mountains (I have a less than admirable work ethic, I know).
During this heroic stretch of time, I hope to take a boat across the Black Sea from Georgia to Bulgaria and wander around the Balkans for a bit (probably in the summer) in order to see some of those Serbian brass bands. Along with that, I will likely make a trip up to the Baltic Sea area since flights are really cheap from Georgia to Latvia and Lithuania (hence the title of this section). When and how long shall be up to my digression and nothing shall distract me from this mission! (unless it's something reasonably shiny)
What shall happen? Who shall I meet? What shall I do? Will I die in a hilarious manner? Stay tuned and follow along to find out! The stories in all their graphic detail will be there for you to enjoy. This is just my intro. This is just to prepare you for the year that is about to come!