ANOTHER DODGY video! Georgia this time….

1 09 2010

see us sweat…….

or for those on the email…

Georgian ramblings #1

21 08 2010

Georgia, formally of USSR fame and 9th place winner in the 2010 Oslo Eurovision song contest! And it certainly has that vibe about it. The first major city we landed in, as we ambled over a most haphazard and rambling border crossing from Turkey, was Batumi ‘the administrative centre of Adjara Autonomous Republic’. A delightful little coastal town run through with colourful cobbled streets; slanty buildings melt in the midday heat, cascading green foliage and dancing with chimeras, mermaids, atlantes and other mythical creatures.  We liked Batumi. So, apparently, did Chris de Burgh. He was playing a gig there … everyone knew, everyone seemed to be under the impression we might know him!

The next most super thing in Georgia are the ladas. These iconic little ex-soviet bloc tin matchboxes are the staple car in Georgia. They seem immune to the bullish driving tendencies of the Georgians; indeed their ‘cool’ factor seems to increase with every scratch and dent. And if we thought cycling on Turkish roads was dodgy it hasn’t a patch on the bedlam that is Georgian roads.  Cars weave erratically from lane to lane then break in aggressive full stops as they need – impervious to the other traffic; they over-take on the blindest of bends – usually three a breast; hanging out of their vehicles they enthusiastically swerve over to greet us, almost running us off the road in the process.  Part of me revels in the lackadaisical nature of it, it becomes easy to scoff at our ‘nanny state’ mentality – until you see the charred remains of burnt out vehicles, or come across  the entwined corpse of a truck and lada in flattened embrace – no one walked away from that one.

At the moment we find ourselves washed up in Tbilisi – a quite different place to the rest of Georgia, with its European aspirations and burgeoning self confidence. Begging is much more aggressive and apparent here than Turkey – we wonder if it’s a Christian / Muslim difference but are unsure. And Tbilisi seems to have replaced much of its ex-soviet bloc memorabilia with shinning new statues of St George and the like – overall it feels like a place where something has been both lost and found.

Astoundingly devine Georgian countryside

Long live the Natashas! – Finding a bed in Georgia

20 08 2010

Follow me! The surly lorry driver motioned. The first ‘follow me’ from the sweat bellied taxi driver had landed us at the end of a peeling grey street, outside a block of grey flats; in the middle of precisely nowhere. By some bins. It was getting late and the streets were getting as edgy as we were.  It had been a long tough 120 km day; the last 70 of which had been on the eternal never-never hotel hunt. Samtredia was deemed by all we had met along the way to be the promised land of a hot shower and a bed – but so far Samtredia was yielding nothing. Follow me! He motioned again as he thrust his protesting transit van into first gear and screeched off down the road – we hurriedly cranked up our own protesting legs and strained after him. This was becoming a common occurrence – once we hit a town (or were leaving a town) instead of bothering to try and mime directions we have invariably found ourselves racing to keep up with our “guides” – in one instance this meant we found ourselves hurtling across lanes of traffic with a police escort! In Samtredia however the lorry driver spat us out at the train station. Had he misunderstood us? Was this his not very subtle way of explaining there was no hotel in Samtredia? What the heck were we going to do?! It was getting dark and late; we had been cycling for hours, and the day’s thick crust of salt, grit, and exhaustion was weighing heavy.

Samtredia station is run by a small gaggle of busty old Georgian women. Sharply cropped hair and scowling features poked and peered at us as they assessed our sorry state; the queues at the office window abandoned they gathered round to discuss our predicament and after much heated debate ‘Natasha, Natasha’ they concluded and motioned for us to sit.  So we sat. And we sat. For three hours we sat. Anytime we looked like we might make a run for it they firmly motioned for us to sit back down – ‘Natasha, Natasha’ they barked.

Eventually, on the cusp of us actioning our diversion and break out plan, in flurried Natasha! Suddenly the scowls cracked into humungous beams as the women fell into a soup of hugs and kisses; ascending voices and bellowed laughter peppered the air. The soup poured over to us and we were swept up in whirlwind Natasha who motioned us to follow her. Without a clue where we were going, we hurriedly stashed the remains of our stale bread and chocolate paste dinner and scurried after her.

It turns out that Natasha is the proprietor of a few traveller rooms above the station (either that or it was a homeless night shelter?!). Large rough rooms with multiple beds and equally as many rough looking men draped over them. Each eyeing us while dragging heavily on cigarettes, in various states of inebriation.  Natasha cracked a few sharp words at a tall toothless man and a younger one who quickly snapped out of their shock and jumped up to help us carry our bikes plus kit up the three flights of stairs. Natasha then showed us to a large unoccupied room which we could have to ourselves, with two sagging little beds, enough room to tango (Natasha demonstrated) and a large window that opened above the main station concourse. Liz was whisked off to help decode the passports while I was left in the room, with the bags … and the two men. There was a moment of uncertainty where they got a bit too close and were staring a bit too much so I hurriedly shepherded them to where Natasha had Liz trying to explain which country we were from  – was it the UK, England, Great Britain, Great Britain and Northern Ireland or… UK passports are actually very complicated! Yet another hour later we were finally able to shut the door at which point we collapsed into a heap of nervous laughter.  Not quite trusting the beds and being conscious of the growing hum of mosquitoes all around, we pulled out our thermarests and strung the mosquito net up from the wardrobe.  We leant the bikes against the door, dug out our ear plugs and collapsed.

After a sweaty, jarring night of not-much-sleep we woke early ready to creep out and make a speedy exit. The minute we creaked open the door Natasha was bustling around us – PHOTOS!  Her and her bonkers mucker, the station supervisor, pushed, pulled and squeezed us into a succession of poses which culminated in them straddling our bikes and eventually the bonkers station supervisor shooting off on mine! Bleary eyed passengers disembarking overnight trains were forced to hurtle themselves out of the way as she raced erratically around the station concourse.

Eventually we were released, piled high with home-grown cucumbers and shortbread, with promises of photos to be sent and thanks for the rescue hanging lightly in the crisp morning air. While not quite a hotel and not quite a good night’s sleep Georgia had come good and had ensured there was a Natasha there when we most needed one. Long live the Natashas!