Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Travelogue: Flexibility and Tbilisi Georgia

I can't believe this trip was 6 months ago and I'm still writing about it.  Just two more stops and the travelogue will be complete and ready for new adventures.

The best travel advice I can give is BE FLEXIBLE.  You don't know when your minibus is going to break down.  Maybe that super reliable airline you booked on goes under the morning of your trip.  Or maybe you fall in love with some little village in Argentina and decide to stay for an extra week.  There are tons and tons of things that can either go wrong or right that necessitate sudden change in itinerary.  Our time in Georgia was a lesson in flexibility.

We had planned our departure from Sheki around the published bus schedule.  Of course the bus decided not to go to Tbilisi that day.  So we adjusted.  We took a taxi to the main bus station with hopes of taking another bus to a town closer to the Azeri/Georgian border.  But the minibus to Qax only had two people in it and according to the bus schedule, we had to be there by 10:30AM.  Our next best option was a taxi.  We've had bad taxi experiences in the past.  So we worked out a deal with the driver to take us to the otovagzal in Qax before we got in the car.  We even had him write it down so we'd have something more solid when we arrived and paid him (again, no English).  Great plan, we were covered.  You can imagine our fury when he pulled over 15 clicks outside of Qax and demanded more money to take us all the way into town.  I pulled out the sheet of paper we had written the total amount on.  He said that was to the city limit not the actual city.  Sometimes a raised voice is a good thing. . . we ended up in town and paid him about $2 more than the amount on the sheet opposed to the $15 more he was demanding.  But the bus to Tbilisi was cancelled here too.  I'm pretty sure we were there on bus strike day.  Next best option, another taxi.  Lesson learned from the first experience, we meticulously agreed to a price and destination.  This guy did us one better and took us all the way to the border without demanding an extra cent and restored our hope in humanity.

The Azerbaijan/Georgia border was a breeze.  I'm pretty sure they looked at our passports, but I can't quite remember.  It was nice to not need a visa.  And with that we traded the Inshallah of Azerbaijan for the Icons of Georgia.  We repeated the taxi negotiation process.  For fear of sounded repetitious I'll just go ahead and say my next piece of travel advice "Taxis are a rip off all over the world."  Sure they may be cheaper in most of the world than in the US, but there is always a more economical option.  And I'll add to that a personal comment, I love metered taxis.  Yes they're expensive, but at least you know what's coming.  The one good thing about taxis is they're fast.  We arrived in Tbilisi in about half the time it would have taken by bus.

If I had to pick a single word to describe Tbilisi, it would be lovely.  Everything about the city is quite wonderful.  It's easy to walk, there's lots to see, it feels safe, it has great cafes, it has all these little bakeries selling fresh bread, and it has a really fascinating wine culture (Georgia was the birthplace of wine).  We had planned to stay in Tbilisi for two nights before heading down to Yerevan Armenia.  Back to the flexibility theme, we were unexpectedly grounded due to some unforeseen circumstances and we loved having an extra 5 days to explore the city.  It was one of those times when flexibility paid off.  We'll catch Yerevan next time around.  For now, we bask in the loveliness of Tbilisi.

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