Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Samtredia and the City

Saghamo mshvidobisa (good evening) Tbilisi!
 Originally, all four of us Samtredia girls had big plans for the weekend. Tara had her heart set on Batumi, Emily was to go off to a nearby village and stomp grapes, and Melissa and I were practically packed to go to a grape harvest in far-away Kakheti. But alas, would you believe that somehow all of our plans fell through last minute! No matter, we all decided that this would be a perfect weekend to explore Tbilisi: the beautiful, capital city of Georgia.

Our journey started off in the most adorable way possible. Tara’s bebia made us a packed lunch full of apples and yummy sulguni (pickled cheese) and mchadi (Georgian corn bread) sandwiches. We decided to take the train because it left right from Samtredia and the director of the railroad even personally went on to the train to make sure “the American girls” had the right tickets. Talk about service! The entire five and a half hour journey ended up being quite enjoyable. We chatted pretty much the whole way and snacked on some Georgian animal crackers (which by the way include koala bears and owls in addition to your classic wild animals and barnyard friends. I was thoroughly excited).
Emily's first time riding a train!
Goofing off in our assigned seats.

After arriving in Tbilisi we settled in to a home stay on the historic Marjanishvilli Street. Our host mom was a kooky old retired teacher named Dodo who asked us to pay one million lari a night and managed to charm and scare us at the exact same time. Dodo’s courtyard was really what won me over though. Picture lots and lots of blossoming fruit teas and several patio chairs and tables to sit at. It felt like a secret garden only better because Dodo said we could eat anything we liked.

After freshening up a bit, we were whisked off for a night on the town with some of Tara’s Georgian friends that she met when she landed in Tbilisi. They drove us all over the city and excitedly pointed out and explained different sites and landmarks (and marveled whenever we attempted to speak Georgian). For dinner they took us to a wonderful, loud Georgian restaurant with live music. We ate delicious traditional Georgian food and had a few rounds of pepper vodka. Needless to say, we were a happy group. We danced to Georgian and Russian songs and even tried to sing our new favorite song by Alla Pugochova (though we don’t know the lyrics, so you can imagine how that sounded).

Our Georgian friends took us out for a night on the town!

We take life seriously.

The following day we ambitiously awoke at 6:30 am (after just three hours of sleep) wanting to take in as much Tbilisi as we could. The problem that we soon encountered however was that nothing seemed to open in the city until 11 in the morning. No bother, we wandered the streets mentally bookmarking cafes and shops to check out later in the weekend and got a brief tour of the synagogue of Tbilisi after befriending a man in a yarmulke. 
Outside the Tbilisi synagogue!
 We almost cried tears of joy when we found an adorable, open coffee shop that sold ice coffee (a teeny luxury from the United States that we do not have in our sweet little Samtredia). Later, as we walked through the capital city, whenever a native English speaker heard us chatting, they approached us and wanted to know what we were doing in Georgia and how much we loved the country. It was wonderful to have that camaraderie of language with pure strangers (I’ve done a lot of traveling, but only in Georgia have I experienced this feeling). We even bumped into the advisor to the prime minister while eating some lunch, and were wholeheartedly welcomed into the country. Throughout the day I really felt proud to be both an American and to be spending the year in Georgia.

Melissa and Charlie

Tbilisi is really a wonderful city. The architecture is beautiful, and there seems to be a lot of richness and history enveloped in almost all the streets. Plus, as historic as Tbilisi feels, it also seems incredibly modern with contemporary buildings and a state of the art glass bridge.

Beautiful Tbilisi!

My favorite thing about the city is that there’s an outdoor art market right in one of the parks. At this art market, there are probably close to a hundred artists selling beautiful paintings, sculptures, scarves and tapestries. It felt like being in a museum, except that every piece was up for sale. We spent a lot of time admiring different paintings and telling the various artists how beautiful their artwork was. We also strategically began planning how we could take a four foot by four foot painting back to the states.

The outdoor art market I loved so much.

We even got to meet up with other friends from the TLG program. We all climbed the old fortress together and took some breathtaking photos. Granted I only climbed halfway because my fear of falling got to the best of me, but can you blame me for not liking the idea of being in a scenario where there is a possibility that I could plummet to my death?
Urban hiking to the top of the fortress.
We love each other.
The view from the top!

Later, we thoroughly embraced the diverse cuisine options in the city and splurged on sushi for dinner. Here we had an overzealous waitress that picked up every napkin my hand even grazed. (I swear I must have used twenty napkins because she would not let me keep one if it even had a thumbprint on it). We also met up with friends at a Moroccan bar for drinks and tea. But it was here that it finally dawned on us that we’d only had three hours of sleep. I was so tired I briefly considered using my teapot as a pillow. (It felt godly to go to sleep that night at Dodo’s house).

On our final morning in the city we got familiar with the Tbilisi metro which was only mildly terrifying. The escalator to go down to the metro appeared to be half a mile long and traveled at 50 miles per hour at an 80 degree angle. I had my eyes closed the whole time as I rode this Georgian roller-coaster. None the less, the ride was fast and cheap and much cleaner than the New York City subway. (Though I did miss not being able to count rats on the train tracks…)

As we sat down on the train home exhausted after our sleepless vacation, I became appreciative for the quaintness of Samtredia. In Tbilisi I was a little fish in a big pond, but in Samtredia everybody knows my name (insert the ‘Cheers’ theme getting stuck in your head) and eagerly greets me whenever they see me. Plus, chocolate bars in Samtredia are one fifth the price they are in the city. (And hello, a girl needs her chocolate).
Melissa pondering life at the top of the fortress.

1 comment:

  1. Great job with the blog! I spent two years teaching in Georgia from 2001 - 2003, and you brought back so many memories. Those feelings of dramatic highs and lows really never left. Basically every day I encountered something amazing and something frustrating or sad. And not to scare your parents, but never say never to the marriage idea. I swore I wasn't getting married there, but I came home with a Georgian husband and now have my own little Luka and Niko. I am traveling back to Georgia this month. I can bring something small, if needed.