About happiness of eating solyanka and chebureki sitting on the floor and how we landed in the 18th century Caucasus
After wandering through beautiful Kiev and putting Zosia to sleep in our hostel room, instead of getting some rest, we somehow miraculously ended up sitting till midnight on the floor in the corridor and eating Ukrainian solyanka soup, plov, and chebureki – a national dish of the Crimean Tatars. The last time I ate them was more than 10 years ago in Crimea, so you can imagine how magical it felt. With the stories of previous travels through Ukraine that was wilder than now, it seemed that time had stopped. We were brought back to reality only when two guys from Tel Aviv came back from a party. It was time to go to bed.
People often ask us how we manage during travels; if it is not difficult, especially that we are not choosing all-inclusive options. I realize that there are people whose eyes start to sparkle seeing a 5 star hotel. But if you ask us what being happy means… well …. an old wooden floor still caring the smell of Ukrainian revolution, warm traditional Ukrainian / Tatar food, your best friend sitting close to you and your baby sleeping in the room. And, yes, the floor is hard, the food is a take-out, so no fancy china, the door to the room is open in case your kid wakes up, so you have to whisper but despite all that, this is happiness.
Welcome to Georgia
Zosia sleeps through the whole flight from Kiev to Tbilisi. After landing we exchange some euros into lari at the airport, so we can pay for a bus to the city. The drive costs like nothing, “nothing” that we of course don’t have as we got only bills at the exchange. We don’t even manage to ask anyone for change, when one of the passengers simply pays for us. Public transport buses in Georgia and the rest of Caucasus (as well other ex-Soviet countries) are called marshrutki. They are cheap, crowded, usually half broken, they drive when they drive, and stop when they stop. Forget about timetables, bus stop names or anything that comes to your mind after using western European public transport. We’re in Caucasus now, put yourself together.
During our trips we’ve met people who have never used marshrutki. For them, it would be like getting on a tank and driving through a minefield. And with a kid!!!! OMG!!! The truth is, if you take your 2-years-old to Caucasus, better get used to them. Not only because in many cases they are the only way to get somewhere, but as well because they are the cheapest way to get almost everywhere. Moreover, you’ll never meet so many new aunts and uncles who will take care of your small one when you get the luggage out, or simply when you’re beaten up and have no more power to even breathe. In those moments, new aunts and uncles will make the best entertainment for your kid, who, we guarantee, will be in heaven. Everyone will be happy, plus you’ll get free sweets. Georgians love giving sweets to kids, so if you’re travelling with the kid, you don’t have to worry about being hungry; a half chewed candy or sticky lollypop after your breed will be always available ;).
So we are driving with the mashrutka from the airport. From time to time some people get off and new ones come and sit close to us. We are talking in Russian with them … Zosia gets the sweets…. Welcome to Georgia.
Our marshrutka stopped not far away from our hostel, so after checking the map, we decide to walk. Two suitcases, two backpacks, a baby carrier, a stroller with Zosia, and 700m. Well, it’s not the first time, not the last time, so it should be doable. Woulda, coulda, shoulda! The way goes up, up with curves, everywhere stairs and holes, ruined streets, underground tunnels with stairs, and more holes and holes. We get stuck after 50m, we get stuck literally in the middle of the street; helpless. It is impossible to walk those streets even without a stroller and luggage. After Kiev, it’s a shock for us. I run to the main street and hail a taxi. That’s the first time I hail a taxi after New York, so just for a second I forget I’m in the middle of Caucasus. A taxi stops; it is an old Soviet Lada with broken windows. I turn back and see Dario and Zosia stuck in the middle of the street… Of course we are taking the taxi. We are not in NYC anymore.
We are driving through the Old Town in Tbilisi and looking for our hostel. We are driving around and reaching dead ends all the time. Either a street ends on a wall or out of nowhere there is a huge hole in the middle of the road; which at that point I really believed would lead us directly to China. Driving a car in Tbilisi is a big challenge. We call our host to get directions and still end up in the middle of nowhere. Finally we meet with the owner of the hostel in the middle of this messy maze. He tells us that this and that and …. something is not working and there is an apocalypse in his hostel, but he as our savior offers us an apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom, for the same price.
It’s just the beginning of our trip, so unfamiliar with Georgian tricks, we naively think that this apocalypse may actually be true and decide to take the offered apartment. All of us have enough of this mess. Our host –evidently a magician – finds mysterious shortcuts through the maze and in no time we land in front of our apartment that is in…. 18th century.
18th century Tbilisi
Our apartment is located in the Old Town in Tbilisi, in 18th century house. From the outside it looks like a set from the Russian movie “Anna Karenina” or something from Pushkin. Inside it is like window shopping in Ikea. It looks new, but the moment you touch it, it either breaks or dissolves. Typical made-in-china quality. It looks cleaned but it is just an illusion. At the first sight everything is more or less ok, but here and there one can notice a huge colony of moths in the shelf with food (seriously: HUGE; I’ve never seen that amount of moths in one place), a pile of old plastic bottles and bags in the corner or a “collection” of molded rugs. It would have been a disaster, if not for the fact that we are in the 18th century; and 18th century has its own rules. Black grapes are growing, old handmade rugs are drying in the sun, squeaky wooden stairs haven’t been fixed since at least two hundred years. This Tbilisi is hard to find. From time to time there is some tourist group passing by and making pictures of us sitting on the old half broken wooden terrace and drinking Georgian wine. We are slowly becoming a part of this 18th century, too…
In the evening we eat khinkali (Georgian dumplings) in one of the street restaurants in the Old Town. A nearby Russian karaoke bar gets Zosia’s attention. She is dancing with the waitresses having the time of her life and soon steals all the fame and glory from the poor Russian performer. The time difference is 2 hours, so we are dancing in Tbilisi almost till midnight. At the end it is 18th century, so let’s enjoy.
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