Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taxi drivers = instant friends

Mtskheta before the sun rise
 Last Thursday was Saint Nino’s day, which to me meant no school and a four day weekend! Thus, us Samtredia girls decided to make the most out of our weekend by taking the night train into Tbilisi en route to Eastern Georgia.

Buying the tickets was actually quite similar to an Abbott and Costello style “Who’s on First” comedy routine.

Me: “I need tickets for tonight at 12:30”
Booth lady: “12:30 is tomorrow”
Me: “Right, but I need them for tonight”
Booth lady: “Tonight meaning 8pm?”
Me: “No, tonight at 12:30”
Booth lady: “Tomorrow?”
Me: “Uh, technically, yes”
Booth lady: “You want to arrive in the morning or at night?”
Me: “Well, it will be morning, but it will be dark outside”

Finally, after ten minutes of this (except in Russian, so there were scores of grammatical errors) we both established which train I was trying to buy tickets for. However, I forgot my passport at home so I had to go home and relive this conversation twice. Started the weekend off with a bang!

The night train actually ended up being quite comfortable, especially for the mere ten laris (six dollars) we paid. I slept the whole way (though I can sleep anywhere so that’s not really saying much) and was woken up just as we arrived at our destination of Mtskheta (at 6am)!

Ready for sleep on the night train!
Mtskheta is a small, historical town not too far from Tbilisi and on Thursday it was celebrating its 1,000th birthday. This sounded like a party we couldn’t pass up! So after settling into a home-stay and drinking some hot Turkish coffee to fight off the morning chills, we set off for the day’s celebrations.

6am Georgian love for Stew's!

We got to see the sun rise over the Javari Church!
There were hundreds and hundreds of people visiting the famous churches and monasteries of Mtskheta. The Patriarch himself was there (he’s like the Pope of Georgia) and the four of us actually got to see him! Everywhere around us, people were selling candles and churchela (Georgian fruit roll up with walnuts) and would you believe it: yo-yos.
Us Samtredia girls at one of Mtskheta's most famous churches!

There were so many people celebrating Saint Nino's day! The Patriarch is just inside the church.

Enjoying some churchela!

Look at all the Georgian pride in this photo!

Lots of festivities were going on in town. There was a wonderful international dance show, plenty of face painting and there were many hand-made crafts for sale. Not to mention food. (Though really when is there not food). In the late afternoon there was an even concert headlined by famous Georgian singers.
Wonderful Georgian dancers!

Can't mess with Georgian men!

Adorable Azerbaijani dancers! I need one of those hats!
I made a complete fool of myself when I recognized one of the bands. In the middle of the crowd, I screamed out, “OH! IT’S GULI GULI!” (heart heart) after recognizing a song Nini showed me. People in the crowd literally turned around to get a good look at the crazy American screaming. (Thankfully, the concert took place in front of shallow pool, where two men were so drunk they decided to go swimming. That took much of the attention off me).

This drunk man wading in the water was more entertaining than the boy band on stage.
We found some new TLG participants! (Melissa literally walked up to that boy Shawn and asked, "Hi, are you with TLG?")
After a yummy dinner, we ended our night watching the Georgian symphony perform for a crowd of thousands as fireworks lit up the sky. But let me clarify: in America, fireworks are little flowers in the sky, launched off from far away. But in Georgia, the fireworks are set off from the stage. These fireworks engulfed the entire sky, so big and so bright, I could have used sunglasses (and a fire proof suit, just in case). One man saw me quivering as the fireworks exploded and said, “Georgia is full of warriors! Even our fireworks!”

The Georgian symphony!
What I really loved was bumping into some symphony musicians at the local convenience store taking shots of vodka and eating chocolate. All of them in full symphony garb, with their instruments in tow. (Only in Georgia).

After a restful sleep, the four us saw the wonderful Javari church and ate a traditional Mtskhetian meal of lobios (beans) with mchadi and chinkali. We actually ended up getting to Tbilisi by hitchhiking with a woman who picked us up because we “looked like helpless Americans” who actually used to work at a T.J. Maxx department store in Atlanta, Georgia. Small world.
That's me walking up to Javari. Clearly it was a very foggy day.

This is supposed to be a beautiful view of Mtskheta, but instead it's just a background of clouds.
Once in the city, we switched into a cab and intended to find the bus station with marshutkas to Telavi, but we actually ended up touring every single major bus station in Tbilisi (and I mean every single one). After a hilariously frustrating one hour cab ride we finally found the correct station! No one was more excited than our cab driver, who practically felt like an old friend we were with him so long.

Our marshutka ride to Telavi was made complete with a crazy, drunken man who would not stop singing for thirty minutes and a driver who could not find his glasses. Not to mention, the mini-bus was full of heavy construction equipment. In every nook and cranny that could fit an eight foot metal pole of some sort, there would be one. The entire ride felt a bit like a ‘Final Destination’ film. No matter, somehow we made it in one piece to Telavi!
We added a V to the sign ;)

Our time in Telavi was really made special by our home-stay mom who fed us delicious homemade jam and crumpets and asked us to move in to her home. You know, the usual. We spent the night catching up with other TLG participants at a nearby home-stay and woke up excited to head off to Signaghi, the city of love!

Our home-stay mom called us a taxi and off we went. Our taxi driver, whose name was Mamuka, ended up being the most awesome taxi driver ever. He took us all over Signaghi, showing us every noteworthy church and watchtower there was to see, and telling me all about the history of the town.

That's me sitting inside one of the watchtowers at Signaghi!

So hideous, right?

Rocking Svan hats!

Cheesin' with our Signaghi hats! (Don't worry, we didn't actually buy these).

Had to share this gem with the world!
We asked a man if we could crawl into his truck for a photo. He gladly agreed!
The second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China is in Signaghi and it was so cool to see this. It practically felt like we were in China, looking at the Great Wall itself!

I love the one yellow tree in this photo!

We also went to a nearby monastery to see Saint Nino’s grave and attempt to bathe in holy water. While we did see Nino’s grave, the trek down to the holy water turned into a mere forty-five minute hike in the mud. The holy bathe turned out to be fully booked for the day. (It seems easier to get a table at Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse than to wade in the holy bathhouse). And so, dirty and trembling, we hiked right back up to the top of the mountain we came down from before practically collapsing in a nun’s lap. I jokingly asked Mamuka if he would like to do the whole trek again and he could not have answered the Russian equivalent of, “absolutely not” any faster.
At Saint Nino's grave in Bodbe

Our shoes after our hike in the mud. God bless my hiking boots.

All the girls fell asleep as we drove back to Telavi, while Mamuka and I chatted about politics and religion. He asked me if I’d like to come to his home and pick grapes and it seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse. So off we went, detouring to Mamuka’s house where I picked fifteen kilos worth of grapes. Think of all the potential pelamushi (grape and honey porridge)!
Mamuka and I at his orchard!
Showing off the tastiest grapes ever!

After spending the entire day with Mamuka (10am to 10pm) it was hard to say goodbye. Mamuka’s second child on the way though, and while we promised to come and see him when his baby is born, he promised to cook us a big meal of kosher shashliki (marinated beef).

Our long trip back to Samtredia seemed short as we all shared our favorite parts of the weekend and discussed what other places we want to travel to in Georgia. I can’t wait to see more of this country and am so glad I’ll have another nine months to explore it!


  1. “OH! IT’S GULI GULI!”


  2. U are having such a great time :D
    I am not sure it is such great when u are at school :P:P but otherwise it seems nice :P

    Want to eat churchxelaaaa and grapes so much.

    Btw, Kaxeti is one of my favorite regions, people are so different there :)

  3. Spring Break in Georgia! Hi old friend, I have been lurking on your blog for a while but am catching up on all you adventures and glad they are going so well!