Monday, October 21, 2019

Arriving in Georgia - An Overview

I arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia on 21 July 2019. That was a while ago (it's currently 12 October).

First things first: passport control. If you weren't aware, Georgia allows US citizens (and probably EU citizens & al.) a year-long visa exemption. They stamp your passport and you're good to go - no forms, no nothing. This definitely made things easy from the start.

I took the bus into the city and immediately felt at ease. I think I extended my stay at the hostel within twenty four hours of arriving, knowing I'd be in the city long term. As usual, I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to write, so let's break some things down into categories:


  • I spent a few weeks at a hostel near Avlabari station, which was a great jumping off point for getting to know the touristy side of Tbilisi. A few minute's walk and one is in Rike Park, Old Tbilisi, or really anywhere of cultural significance - and the Metro was right there in case I needed to go further afield.
  • I spent a month and a half in an AirBnB a block east of the Dry Bridge. I chose the spot because it had two beds, so I could host Aaron and Dan. It's also the center of Tbilisi's social life - a half-hour's walk will get one to any cafe or bar new friends may want to hang out in. The only issue with this particular spot was it was not as convenient for the Metro - the line makes a big "C" shape around the dry bridge, meaning any metro trip started with a twenty minute walk.
  • I spent a few weeks on a friend's couch near Vake Park, which was a delightful experience... if I stayed in Vake. Unfortunately any trips to see other friends or get out of the city was compounded by a forty minute walk or a cab ride - the bus route to the area being a bit torturous due to road work on the main drag.
  • I've now taken over a friend's AirBnB near Delisi station. We'll see how it works out - being on a Metro line should make the city more accessible again.

Georgia has some wonderful food... at least for the first week or two. At some point you'll notice restaurants don't really offer vegetables. Then you'll notice that you've only been eating cheesy bread because that's what's tasty, cheap, and easy. Georgia feels like living with my Mother ("We have both types of soup - tomato for when it's cold and chicken noodle for when you're sick.").
  • Khachapuri (spelling will vary on all these dishes) - cheesy bread that comes in four main types (in Tbilisi, at least):
    • Adjarian - a "boat" of bread with cheese in the middle, distinguished by an unmixed egg yolk and butter. Definitely my favorite, but the hardest to justify ordering (usually a full meal for two, reheats poorly).
    • Imeretian - a cheese sandwich. Bread on the bottom, a layer of cheese, then bread on top. This is the most common type in Tbilisi and makes for excellent to-go food. Since it comes in various sizes and reheats well, it's been my go-to.
    • Megrelian - bread on bottom, cheese, bread again, cheese on top. Tastier than Imeretian, but less hand-friendly
    • Royal - someone saw Megrelian and wanted to throw a second type of cheese on top (making it bread, cheese, bread, cheese, second cheese).
    • BONUS: regular bread that looks like dry Adjarian Khachapuri from basement bakeries - delicious and goes with anything.
    • BONUS: regular bread that looks like Imeretian Khatchapuri but is actually filled with BEANS! (Lobiani) Good for pooping when your stomach gets tired of the cheese.
    • BONUS: regular bread that looks like Imeretian Khatchapuri but is filled with MEAT! Great for hangovers.
    • BONUS: variations on all of the above, often with slices of ham or tomato.
  • Khinkali - soup dumplings traditionally eaten with the hands, held by the stem (which one is not expected to eat). Main varieties include meatball with spice, meatball without spice, beef-only meatball, mushroom, cheese, and potato. I will be craving these for the rest of my life.
  • Meat on a Stick - yup. Restaurants will usually go with chunks of meat or meatballs. These are often served wrapped in lavash (flat bread - think "wrap").
  • Meat over Potatoes in an iron bowl - sometimes with onion!
  • Beans in a Bowl (lobio) - sometimes with bread on top!
  • Cheese mixed with... cornmeal?? - it stretches a bunch and everyone feels like an idiot trying to get it onto their plate.
  • Tomato and Cucumber Salad - a concession for the diner who might want something other than meat, cheese, and bread.
  • Churchella - a local snack. Nuts on a string dipped in fruit concentrate to create a candle of sorts that keeps them fresher for longer.
  • Misc. Pickled Veggies - available in most restaurants, it's usually some mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and... hemp flower? Highly recommend.

Oh boy. Georgians can drink. Beer is sold in bottles of .5, 1, and 2.5 liters in every shop, wine in liter increments up to 5. Chacha appears as if by magic.
  • Wine - there are four main types that have names. Hell if I know what they are. Semi-sweet and dry, red and white. Georgians swear you won't get a hangover with white wine.
  • Beer - there's a surprising (and much welcomed) beer scene in Tbilisi. That said, there's a lot of decent cheap beer too - my fuel for this post cost $2.50 for 2.5 liters at a corner shop.
  • Chacha - the local liquor, often homemade, usually from what's left of the grape harvest. It seems to apparate in front of you. Once you even think the magic words, some amount of money will leave your wallet. The magic words are "I'm never drinking this again."
  • Water - Georgia's big on fizzy mineral water, though the tap water is perfectly fine to drink. Water, generally, is a big deal in Georgia due to the prevalence of hot springs and mineral baths.

I felt like we were on a theme here with food, drink, and shelter. What else do we have on Maslow's Pyramid?
  • Sex - everyone, including my attractive friends, complains about the dating scene here. It's definitely one of the few places I've felt "it's not just me."
  • Safety - while I'm to understand Georgia has had crime problems in the past, whatever reforms came along with the recent revolution seemed to have put a stop to most of it. This is one of the few places I'd expect to have a wallet or phone returned if I misplaced them.
  • Resources - as a native English speaker, I've had jobs thrown at me. If I weren't so set on continuing my travels, I could have a job within a week. Supplement that with freelance work and one would be living large.
  • Friends - while locals are a little more difficult to buddy up with, the expat community here is easily accessible. I've been telling folks "I have a thousand friends in Tbilisi - I just haven't met them all yet."
  • Esteem - it's pretty easy to feel good about yourself when friends invite you to stuff all the time.
  • Self-Actualization - here's the rub. Tbilisi is like marijuana - it makes you feel good, comfortable, and indifferent. Instead of "I don't need to do laundry" or "I'll figure out bills later" it's "I'll find a job later" or "I'll write something someday" (see: this post). I can't say that I've improved in my time here and it seems like a lot of my friends are merely treading water as well.

If I can jump over that last hurdle, I'll try to detail a few interesting things I've done, things I did with Aaron, and things I did with Dan over the next post or four. It is a pretty big hurdle though.

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