“You’re from South Africa?” the immigration officer asked me through the glass window as I approached the counter.
“Yes, I flew via Istanbul”, I replied.
The man then made a call on his cell phone and within a few seconds, a surly looking man in an immigration uniform arrived behind me.
“What is the reason for your visit?”, asked surly man.
“Tourism”, I replied.
“What do you know about Georgia?”
I know that the assholes that work at immigration are quite rude.
“Ummm it’s a friendly country with lots to see and do …” – what kind of a question is that?
“NO, what do you know about Georgia?”
“I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking…” before I’ve finished my sentence he’s walked off with my passport, leaving me standing at the counter with the first immigration official. I stand for a few minutes in silence at the counter before surly man returns and gives my passport to the man behind the counter, says something to him in Georgian and walks off.
“Welcome to Georgia”, says the man behind the counter as he smiles, stamps my passport and waves me through.
Outside the airport building, I get a taxi and negotiate hard to pay the price that I know it should cost to get to my hostel. Andries, my driver, is a huge man with hands like a heavyweight boxer and before we’ve even left the car park opens a box of cigarettes without filters.
“Cigarette?”, he asks in a husky voice aiming the open box at me.
“No thank you” – I reply.
“No problem?” he asks as he lights a cigarette for himself. He speaks little English.
Well, actually I’d prefer not to have to breathe your second-hand smoke in this tiny confined space if that’s ok with you!
“No problem” – I reply.
He drives quickly along the highway from the airport towards the city centre of Tbilisi. The buildings that line the highway are a dull grey of unpainted concrete and consist of industrial style factories. It feels more like Russian than Europe to me.
Andries drove for about 30 mins calling out words that left me guessing as he pointed to landmarks along the way into town. Eventually pulling up next to ‘Urban Hotel’.
“Ok!” – he proudly exclaimed.
“Ummm, no, it’s Mountain 13 I need”, I said to him, speaking as slowly as I could to make sure that I was understood. I showed him the address on my phone, which he held at full arm’s length from his face and squinted his eyes.
I hope he can see the road more clearly than my phone. He handed the phone back to me and set off down the road, saying “Mountain” continuously to himself.
After another 45 mins of driving around including two stops to ask pedestrians for directions, we ended up half a block away from the Urban Hotel where we’d first stopped and Andries smiling and excited to have found our destination, helped me with my bags as I checked into Mountain 13 hostel.
Feeling bad about the amount of time we’d spent looking for my accommodation I paid an extra 15 lari ($6) to Andries, who was over the moon as he bowed saying “thanks you” as he walked backwards towards his car.
After setting my bags down, I grabbed my new camera (which is the replacement of my camera that got stolen in Guatemala) and headed out to get some dinner.
Sasha the young manager at Mountain 13 Hostel suggested a place near Liberty Square a 30-minute walk from the hostel. Everyone seems to smoke in this city, and you are allowed to smoke everywhere, including inside restaurants, it feels like London in the late 90’s.
Georgian Parliment Building at night
The food is good, wholesome, carb-loaded and cheap, and wine, which the region is famous for, is also cheap at around $1.5 for a glass. It’s going to require some commitment to make sure I don’t pack on 10kg while I’m here.
Attached are some very average photos I took testing out my new Sony Camera last night, it feels good to be taking photos again.