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I had had the intention of going out of town to visit the nearby Gelati Monastery today, which together with the cathedral constituted another UNESCO listing. By chance though some boys I was sharing a table with in the cafe told me that a ballet would be kicking off shortly at the theatre across the square. Having been well impressed with Russian ballet in the past I fancied it but couldnt do both. As it turned out I had to walk right past the theatre to get to the bus stop and when I saw the doors open I just walked on in to get an idea of what exactly was happening. With the place already packed to capacity the doors had been left open and I walked in to see the fantastic spectacle of perhaps 100 or more kids giving traditional dance displays, there was a heavy Cossack style influence. Again and again I lost count of the number of different acts, performed in the main by kids from the ages of 6-10. They pirhouetted around on their knees, they leapt acrobatically, they were superb. A few adults also threw in some contemporary stuff like Salsa and Ballroom but the act which most impressed me was teenage boys simultaneously dancing and fighting with swords and shields, what a show! And all free gratis at 1 oclock in the afternoon! So that was that, no monastery for me but I almost didnt care.

I went back to my favoured haunt where I had promised myself to try one of Georgia's staples, Khinkali. This is meat dumplings served rather unappetisingly on their own and again a tad heavy on the stomach for the uninitiated. They were purse shaped bags of plain dough filled with spicy pork mince and were very filling. You always received 10 but half that would have sufficed. I couldnt get anywhere near finishing them which is saying something.

After finally finding a net cafe which actually worked I remained no further forward in some respects, the Georgian Railways website was under construction and only in Georgian anyway. Having had 3 failed attempts at locating the nearby Kutaisi I train station (Lonely Planet dodgy map syndrome strikes again) I eventually headed off in the general direction of the Kutaisi II station knowing there would be a night train to catch. True to form though I got snookered, the road to follow for 3Ks according to the map forked after 2 and I knew not which way to go. In the dark deserted suburban street I then had one of those golden encounters which make all the difference. It just so happened at that point that a young local boy passing by, the only other soul in sight, asked me for the time and so in turn I looked to him for help. I normally found that a good attitude paid dividends and football was always a popular icebreaker, I had to admit though I was a little short on the recent fortunes of Dynamo Tbilisi! From what little I understood from him the station was miles away and I would have to take a taxi. More than that though, it transpired that he knew better than the guidebook did that the night train actually departed from Kutaisi I not Kutaisi II after all. In my confused and sceptical state we jumped in a dodgy Lada and some while later he escorted me all the way to the ticket desk and had the attendant ladies sort me out. Though I thought perhaps he was on the make I didnt care, it was a cheap country and for once this guy deserved my money for his help. In the end however he refused point blank to accept it. Only 17 or 18, I'd taken him miles out of his way and was sincerely heartened by his act of kindness, what a star.

In true Soviet fashion there were 3 women to sell me my ticket, whereby they tabulated ledgers, handwrote some notes amidst piles of photocopied tickets and most unusually then proceeded to hand cut my ticket out with scissors. It was the most remarkable ticket I had ever received for anything. Complete with a jaggy point, the shape of it reminded me of the stylised Glock pistols found plastered all over the Scottish parliament. Not content with that, another lady then folded it into 2 unequal parts and added some more scribbles on the fold for good measure. Andy Warhol would have loved it. The one with a hint of English requested my passport and I quized in the light of the ensuing farce whether she was KGB. It was all she could do not to smile, that would never have fitted the image. All that was left was to kill the 3 hours until the 1am departure time and fortunately the one sign of life at the station was a beer den where I learned very quickly it was worth paying more for quality. The concourse itself was another massive Soviet carbuncle the size of the Kingsgate, "illuminated" by a single bare lightbulb. It was a bad dream like a scene out of the Omega Man with untold creatures shuffling about in the dark. The only good news was that I dont suppose anyone could have noticed I hadnt shaved for a week! The farce was complete when the dinky 2 carriage train trundled up early and I boarded my allotted wagon no.14. Upon stuttering back and forward as though having a coughing fit it eventually limped out of Kutaisi and stayed like that all the way. It was as though they had to eke out the journey in order to make it last the night!

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Georgia

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