After travelling from Yerevan to our first stop in Georgia, Tbilisi, enduring the heat in our night train compartment the evening before from the inability to leave the door next to the window open in case Mr. Anal Secret came in and tried it on again, we emerged rather groggily from Tbilisi station to a nice sunny day and were immediately swarmed by pushy taxi drivers, which is not what you want at the best of times but especially not when you’ve just woke up after hardly any sleep and are in a new place and don’t even really know where you’re actually going yet! So we dived into a little bakery/café outside the station and had a breakfast beer while formulating a plan for the day. In the meantime, the little old baker dragged Susan up for a bit of a dance to some Phil Collins on the radio which was hilarious until his hands got a bit frisky and she had to slap him, which all the other staff behind the counter thought was even more hilarious but seriously – what is it with these lecherous old men around these parts?
We formulated a plan anyway – we would head into the city centre to find “Pegasus Travel”, a company that were rumoured to have flights to Mestia (the capital of the lovely remote mountain region of Svaneti that looks like Skyrim, and was to be our next port of call on the trip) as no one had been replying to our emails. We found the travel agent in the lobby of the Marriot Hotel, but the woman abruptly told us that they didn’t do flights to Mestia and shooed us away so we decided on having a pint in the Marriot bar while we came up with another plan. There was another travel agency, “Vanilla Sky” that according to our research did a couple of flights a week to Mestia and had a couple of smaller Cessna planes available for private hire. We discussed our options and decided that we had burned through that much money on this trip that a few hundred dollars each extra wouldn’t be a major problem, and if there was no regular flight today we would see if we could hire one of the Cessnas. We rang them and it turned out there was actually a flight that day, but it was leaving at 11am and it would have been pushing it to make it, so we asked if we could hire the private plane instead. The lady said she’d have to check with the pilot on such short notice and also mentioned there was a risk that nobody was flying today due to weather conditions – gazing out of the window at the beautiful blue sky and our sweaty bodies from walking through it we laughed this off as an absurd notion and enjoyed a few beers while eagerly awaiting the call from her to confirm our private plane was ready for us Mr. Les Dennis. Imagine our dismay when she called back to tell us that no, the weather in Mestia was too bad so neither the scheduled flight nor our private plane would be flying today, so all we could do was chance it on the next flight on Wednesday (it was Monday) and hope that weather conditions had improved. We toyed with the idea of rejigging the itinerary and going to Abkhazia (another breakaway state in the west of Georgia and next on the list after Mestia) now, and go to Mestia from there but then it hit us that with all the stress and drama of the last couple of weeks we had totally forgotten to apply online for our Abkhazia visas that needed five working days to process! Jill had kept mentioning it only to be poopared by Susan who had been cock sure that it was a buy at the border job and the requirement wasn’t on the trusty spreadsheet. Better communication skills required Pinge & Wang! So we had to scrap that part of the trajectory all together, which freed up a couple of days (and to be honest it would have involved a really hard going 20 hours on marshrutkas to get there…) so decided that we’d spend the next couple of days exploring Tbilisi instead, and fly to Mestia on the normal flight on Wednesday.
We were still a bit gutted that we had been plane denied that day, and decided to cheer ourselves up by paying a visit to the tattoo studio that we’d noticed next door to the Marriot. It was inside a hairdressers and there were two “booths” pretty much made from shower curtains, one of which housed the resident monkey tattooist and the other was doing bikini waxes. We’d drunkenly had the idea on the train the previous night to get something random tattooed in Georgian (as the written language is so beautiful and looks like Tolkien’s Elvish), and had decided on a “Part-Susan, Part-Tap” comic inspired “taps with tits” which we had been using as a random hashtag everywhere (expecting many hilarious questions on it and getting NONE). We both squeezed into the tiny booth and told the (hot ) monkey tattooist what we wanted, using trusty google translate. “Liberalisation of the breasts?” – yes, that’s what you got when you translated it back into English. We decided that was good enough and he got started, unable to stop giggling the entire time he was tattooing with breaks only to show us photos on his phone of tattoos he had done on ladies’ intimate parts’, possibly in response to us telling him what the black hole was that he was tattooing around, (Jill’s notebook comments: “Cheeky gentleman monkey tattooist specialising in tattooing bananas onto vulvas”). We were over the moon with our tattoos – they turned out exactly how we wanted and we couldn’t believe that we each had a friend who was daft enough to get “taps with tits” tattooed on them in Georgian on a whim. Although if anyone from work asks, they say “Dream as if you’ll live forever”.
We rang Vanilla Sky back, and they told us we had to come into their office to buy the tickets for Wednesday’s flight and where Google Maps said their office was looked like a nice walk into the Old Town, so we headed off that way, breaking up the journey here and there with a beer on any tempting looking terraces. We got to the red dot on Google Maps and we couldn’t see anything resembling Vanilla Sky’s office, or even a travel agent – it was all bars, restaurants and souvenir shops! We asked a few people in the bars if they knew where it was but none of them had even heard of it. We stopped at another bar and gave Vanilla Sky another ring to see if they could direct us, and Susan went off to try and follow her directions had absolutely no luck there either. We were getting a bit stressed at this point, and the waitress in the bar we were in offered to help us by ringing them for us, explaining exactly where we were and hopefully getting us some clear directions. She did this and it turned out that we were in the completely wrong part of Tbilisi as they had moved office in the last few months and hadn’t bothered to update the address on their website! It was about 5.30 by this point and the office closed at 6pm, so we made her promise to stay open until we got there and dashed to flag a taxi. For any of you lucky enough to get a chance to do this trip, Vanilla Sky now have a nice new useful website and the address is Vaja Phshavela street. N5.
We found the shop eventually but it was just after six and the door was locked! We peered in through the shop window though, and saw the girl still sitting at her desk, who looked up and instantly recognised us as the non-psychic English idiots (who couldn’t locate the office with the wrong address) she’d been speaking to on the phone all day and came and let us in. It turned out that today’s flight hadn’t even gone due to the weather (which confused us, as it had been clear and bright in Tbilisi all day and Mestia is only an hour away), but we got our tickets booked and were warned that we might not be able to fly on Wednesday if the weather didn’t improve but we would have our money refunded if that happened.
Finally ably to relax, we were starving and headed for a little restaurant we’d seen a few doors down from Vanilla Sky where we ordered a huge bottle of local wine, and some food. All trip long we had both been very excited to get to Georgia to try the Khachapuri (described as “traditional Georgian cheese pie”) so of course we ordered some of that. When it arrived we couldn’t believe the size of it – it was like a large pizza, but with cheese on the inside as well as the outside. It was delicious, as were the lush cheesy mushroom, and of course we couldn’t manage it all and had to get the leftovers wrapped up to take away.
Since we hadn’t planned on staying in Tbilisi that night and had spent the whole day rushing around trying to find Vanilla Sky and sort out our tickets, we hadn’t even thought about where we were going to stay the night, so Susan had a look for possible hotels on her phone and found one that sounded really nice and not too expensive that was slightly out of town, but boasted a “spring water bath” (in the priiivate bathroom! Bathroom for money!) and in room massages – we both looked at each other with nod and an “ooOOOooh” and decided to go for it.
The Shine Hotel was quite nice and modern, out of town but on the metro route so convenient enough for us. We were really looking forward to a nice luxury TWO NIGHTS in the same place without having to pack up and lug our rucksacks anywhere! We were put in a lovely suite, but when we looked in the bathroom there was no bath! Just a shower tray that was about a foot deep! So of course we went back down to reception and asked if we could be moved to a room with a bath
“Your room has a bath!”
“No it doesn’t! it just has a big shower tray!”
“That is a bath!”
“No it isn’t! Your website says “spring water bath”!”
“That is a spring water bath!”
“No it’s not it’s a shower!”
“That is what we call a bath!”
“Well do you have any rooms with actual baths that are big enough to sit in?” ***cue more miming of the bath and showing pictures to the receptionist as in Stepanakert***
The receptionist was lovely and said she would check, and ring around a few other hotels in the area to see what was available while we had a drink in the bar. The bar was pleasant enough but we were the only ones in and when Susan ordered vodka, what arrived smelled and tasted suspiciously pingey.
“Are you sure this is vodka?”
“Yes is vodka”
“It doesn’t taste like vodka”
“Is Georgian vodka!”
So we made a mental note to specify “Russian vodka” while in Georgia for fear of any further pinge based mishaps!
The receptionist came up and shook her head apologising that she couldn’t find anywhere with a proper bath. We couldn’t be bothered to find anywhere else at this point and aside from the lack of bath, the room was really nice, so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice in-room massage to make up for the lack of bath. She made a quick phone call and confirmed that yes, there would be a couple of ladies coming up to our room in about an hour. We felt like proper businessmen having Thai masseuses sent up to our suite! In the meantime we wandered to the nearest shop to replenish the vodka and juice supplies, and bought some Raphaelos and baby chocolate (chocolate with a picture of a baby on, not for babies) for the receptionist to thank her for being so lovely and trying really hard to help us.
The Thai ladies arrived and we were a bit nervous as we weren’t really sure what the etiquette was (neither of us usually make a point of having masseuses sent to our hotel room), but they were really friendly and chatty and made us feel really comfortable before changing into their shorts, getting us to strip off, dimming the lights and getting their massage on. The massage was really good – we both had achy muscles all over from walking about carrying backpacks and it was just what we needed. It wasn’t what our body confidence needed however, as they were asking if we had any children (while prodding our droopy boobs and saggy bellies) and were very surprised when we hadn’t. The girl massaging Susan proudly boasted that she was 37 and had had three children while showing off her flat stomach and prodded her again going “this is me with 8 months baby hahaha!”. We had a good laugh about it though, saying that we didn’t care as we are strong like yak, and they obviously didn’t mean to be horrible. Plus we could console ourselves with the reality that although they would look like teenagers for another few years, they will wake up one morning having instantly transformed into a wizened little nut, while we were happy to age gradually like a wilting flower. After the girls left, we were so nice and relaxed we fell asleep after lolling around in our bathrobes drinking vodka for a bit and probably would have fallen asleep and drowned if we had a bath so everything worked out for the best. Tomorrow we had an unexpected free day to roam and explore – luxury!!