The Deserter’s Market (originally started by deserting soldiers) is one of two public markets in Tbilisi, somehow I missed it completely the last time I was in Georgia. We took a tour through it and saw/tasted some amazing things, herbs and spices and honey and local yogurt, really good stuff.
Before the actual market we tasted bread made at a local monastery, the bread is hard to describe, somewhere between regular bread and flatbread with a thin crispy crust, the bread might be the best thing I’ve tried in Georgia, consistently excellent. You can see the baker below grabbing loaves from the oven (tome).
The flour lady, a very interesting and lively woman selling all sorts of mostly cornflour flours, rightly proud of her stacks of flour that never spill.
Honey from different regions around Georgia, all of it good.
Butcher shop… yup, no refrigeration, was a warm day too….
The pickle guy, really nice pickles, one common one is the pickled flowers of a local shrub, really nice.
Nuts, spices, dried fruit. There are several spices endemic to Georgian cooking that are not really available outside the region so we picked up some marigold powder and some blue fenugreek to try and make a few dishes at home.
This is a Georgian bar, there are rows of these, a table, a tv, some snacks that look frightening, some awful local moonshine (in the coke bottles) called Chacha and the absolute worst of the local wine, watered down turpentine. Really cool!
On Saturday night Samira and I boarded Train 38, an elderly Russian night train from Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia. The train rumbles slowly and casually for thirteen hours through mountains and countryside taking us away from the Caspian Sea heading west towards Georgia’s more European flavour.
The train loaded around 9pm, while boarding the train I made Samira pose for some “getting on the train” shots, the porter who had checked our passports and tickets got a kick out of this, she asked Samira where she was from and if she spoke Azeri Turkish, Samira climbed on board and I followed, the porter pointed to Samira’s back and pointed at my chest and gave me an approving thumbs up and a smile, I don’t know how to say “just friends” in Azeri.
We settled into our cabin and after a few minutes the same porter (Sakena, we later learned) came by and informed us we were in the wrong one, we moved the correct cabin and Sakena hung out a bit and talked with us, she had a very, very small bit of English plus what common Farsi/Azeri words her and Samira could figure out and we got by, she asked if I was Samira’s husband and if I thought Samira was beautiful and informed me that it was time to have babies and that I only have 9 good years left before I am old.
I’m pretty sure Sakena called me “weird” while teasing me but Samira thinks no.
Around 6am Sakena knocked on our door to inform us that it was time to “stand up” for Azerbaijan border control. So very tired but we got dressed and moving a bit, around 20 minutes later Azeri border guards and dogs came on board and started interviewing and checking visas and luggage. The border guards decided that two men from Pakistan did not have the correct visas and started telling them they would have to leave the train. I can’t imagine being left behind in the middle of nowhere on the Azeri/Georgian border at 6am.
Other passengers started jumping in to try and help, with translations between Russian and English and Azeri and Pakistani all flying back and forth, Samira used my internet connection and her phone to find information online showing that the Pakistani men were correct about their visas, I gave her phone to the men to show to the border guards and various phone and radio calls were made.
In the end it wasn’t enough, the men were removed from the train and the mood onboard with the border guards got decidedly more serious with them barking orders and seeming to have lost patience with us all. The guards asked for Samira and took her to one of the cabins for her interview, Sakena came and got me and said “Go, stay close to Samira now”, it was an amazingly sweet and caring gesture, I parked myself outside the interview cabin and listened to see that everything was going ok. Samira’s interview went fine other than some questions about why I had a Russian visa but Samira did not, and why she had come from Iran but I had no Iranian stamp.
Sakena came by again after to check on us and to let us know about the upcoming Georgian border crossing. I think I love Sakena, I doubt any other car in this train has someone as sweet as her working on it. We wanted a photo with her but when our train pulled into Tbilisi Sakena was gone or sleeping already.
One thing I’ve learned from Beirut this past week is that trying to summarize all a visitor’s feelings, reactions and thoughts in one post would be dumb, so here I go.
I have never been in a place that felt so foreign and so familiar at the same time. Middle Eastern but so European, Arab but strongly French, Christian and Muslim in equal parts. Everything confuses me but also seems explainable with a little digging.
The amazing things… the food (outstanding, not a bad meal anywhere), the coffee (amazing 3rd wave high end), the art, the softness of the people, the endless style, the nightlife (best ever anywhere)… the maintaining of eye contact (man or woman) and the desire to be playful with the result of that sustained eye contact.
Seeing the way men pay attention to a woman, to Samira, very hard to explain but so natural, easy, appreciative (there is a flip-side to this as well, an occasionally startling difference in how Samira is treated versus how I am treated, in a bar, restaurant, coffee shop…. if a male employee is talking to an attractive female customer there is no point in even waiting around if you are a male customer, you do not exist)
The frustrations… the traffic (because of corruption), the lack of pubic transit (because of corruption), the painfully slow and spotty internet (because of corruption), the rolling power blackouts (because of corruption)… in ALL of these cases there is the means and the money to easily fix the issues but keeping them mostly broken is more profitable for those in power and there seems to be almost no interest in the public good.
Of the frustrations that are easily experienced by a tourist the only one that really impacts a visit is the traffic, the rest is easy enough to ignore, deal with, or find charming, locals definately seem to find a certain charm in the city’s deficiencies, a power cut in a hoping bar at night will invariably be met with cheers and laughs or varying levels of silliness and cynicism.
I have been doing alright at posting everyday up until now, not as much as I had wanted but more than I expected. For the rest of the trip, however, things might be more spotty as I tend to be not great at posting once a buddy joins my travels.