I was abruptly shakened awake by the carriage attendant a tad before 8, a tramplike poor excuse for a man complete with fag hanging off his bottom lip, bellowing words I guessed were to the effect of "What the hell was I still doing on the train?". I dont know how long I had lain comatosed in Tbilisi station but didnt care, the boy was just lucky he wasnt more of a match or he might have got thumped. After a false start walking miles out to two derelict hotels, in disgust I dumped my bags back at the station and resigned myself to another night train for the want of a cheap bed. Then I had the very good fortune to bump into Lela, a 15 year old honey who wanted to practice her English, she had an important exam coming up which might win her a scholarship to America she explained. She took me round a nice park and up to the adjacent fortress, then across to the largest and most prominent church in town. It was the perfect antidote to what had been a difficult morning and gave me the resolve to give Tbilisi a 2nd chance, with her help I had already seen more of the city than I would have done otherwise. I ribbed her about whether she always went around picking up strange older men and we generally had a good laugh, but she was probably a bit scared of big hairy me in the end. She had a class to attend and had to part so I headed for the one cheap bed in town she knew about and that was that. My initial impressions hadnt been helped by the fact that it was Sunday, the big church was mobbed and the shops very often shut. Upon further investigation however I found a few pubs and diners, including not one but two ubiquitous Irish bars. At least I could now see that this place was trying to get into the 21st century and it was actually a very pleasantly set town for a capital city, sited in a winding river valley surrounded by wooded hills. It'll need another good 50 years to fully wake up but its clearly another candidate for the Paris of the East tag I'm quite sure.
In passing by the National Museum I had been especially interested by a large banner over the door promoting the Museum of the Soviet Occupation, it was good to see if nothing else that they had the free will to express such sentiments and were coming to terms with their past. It was a disappointment then to find that the majority of the museum was closed for refurbishment and the only part accessable was the basement vault ringed with treasures recovered from 4th century BC Vani. What there was was excellent though, some pretty stunning gold and jewelry work that must be worth millions in any currency.
It was another diversion of sorts coming to terms with the Tbilisi Metro system, the signs were incredibly in Georgian script only and it took careful study just to identify which destination was which and in which direction to travel. The alphabet was such that even Cyrillic would have been a relative breeze but it had obviously been rather overzealously derussified for the common good. In time I found my way back to Nasi's though, an old biddy who rather than shuffle the streets with her hand held out like all the other failed Soviet heros, had enterprisingly opened her house up to backpackers and single handedly spared the city from being sidelined by the fraternity. She had become the celebrated star of the Caucases circuit. She was genuinely hospitable and seemed to take pleasure in discoursing in fluent German, maybe Nasi had been a Nazi! Things had really fallen into place too with the discovery of an excellent diner nearby which actually served real food. I had a passable steak and rice with beer for 2 pound 60, it seemed like a reprieve. Later on at Nasi's I bumped into Mag, a French-Egyptian guy who had been on the road nearly a year having started in Ecuador and come through Central Asia, quite a trip. I invited him out to one of the Irish pubs which was a little too noisy for conversation, they were playing live salsa music and my head was reeling now having to speak French on top of everything else. I had languages coming out of my ears these days. German with Nasi, French now with Mag and a mix of Georgian and Russian on the street. And in its confusion my mind kept slipping gear with the now preprogrammed Turkish trying to come back to the fore, what a mind scramble!