Thank Parmaynu for huge orthopaedic mattresses and Thai ladies with their business men massages as for once we woke up all refreshed after a much needed (after barely any sleep on the night train from Yerevan before) night’s sleep splattsed out in a nice comfy bed. We spent it wisely by pottering about our living room having breakfast beers and watching rubbish Russian music channels while getting ready. Today we were off out to properly explore Tbilisi – we liked what we’d seen of it the previous day but didn’t really have much of a chance to enjoy it as we were busy trying to sort out our plane tickets, but today we had no obligations and no plans other than to explore at our own pace and chill out in the sun on some nice terraces.
We got the metro to Rustaveli station, which looked to be the central hub for the city, and promptly found a little kiosk with tables and chairs outside in the sun and had a couple of beers there while looking at our map and deciding where to go next.
The old town seemed like the best bet, and there seemed to be loads of little bars and restaurants with terraces so we headed for there. On the way we passed so many amazing souvenir shops and street stalls – along with the usual fridge magnets and snow globes-type tourist tat, there were some great drinking horns, swords, daggers and ornate goblets that were pretty reasonably priced! Susan got some nice jewellery for presents and made a mental note of our favourite horn/dagger/goblet shops so we could come back later and pick up some good stuff to take home.
We got to the old town and had a scout about and decided that the best looking terrace was outside of “Steltzenhaus”, a restaurant serving Georgian and German food. Everything they were bringing out to the tables looked delicious as well, so we went for it. We got a nice bottle of wine, Jill got a lush grilled seafood platter and Susan got a baked cheese something. As we were eating our dinner, we were suddenly approached by animals from all angles. There were a couple of dogs that decided to lie down next to our table and several cats staring up at us with their little cat faces and of course Susan was happy to share her leftovers (i,e. everything after two mouthfuls) in exchange for getting to touch them. Word obviously got out quickly on the cat network, as more and more cats kept arriving until one of the waitresses came out with a water bottle and sprayed water at them all to shoo them away. The little old man on the next table shook his head and said to us “She is not like you and me – she does not love our furry brothers and sisters!”.
Time for a Jill’s notebook installation:
Girl with squirty bottle does not like animals.”
After lunch we decided we’d try and find the public baths and have a nice relaxing sit in some water, as we’d planned ahead and actually brought toiletries this time so we could hopefully avoid another using someone else’s bum sponge faux pas like in Bishkek. En route we happened upon a little photography shop where you could get your photo taken in traditional Georgian costumes so of course we were all over that! Jill immediately went for the biggest, most ostentatious dress they had, while Susan declared that she wanted to dress as a man and asked to browse their beard selection. To her disappointment, they didn’t have any beards, but then she had the eureka moment – “Wait! I brought my own beard!”, and sure enough she had a trusty emergency beard in her handbag for situations such as this. They took several photos, we chose a couple and although they only actually sent us one, it is absolutely hilarious and we love it.
After our costume interlude, we continued onward to try and find the baths, which involved wandering around a bit in the approximate area trying to pin down where the sulphur smell was coming from, as Google maps wasn’t forthcoming with the exact location. Eventually we found it, and wandered in after a nice lady who showed us where the entrance was. We’d hoped that there would be some of the nice natural hot spring water to sit in and have a soak and not just showers like in Bishkek but alas that was all it was. We were still happy to get in on a bit of hot spring/public nakedness action, so after a beer in the locker room (the reception had a fridge full of boozes to buy) we stripped off and got stuck in. We’d said yes to a “massage and scrub” when we paid at the door, and when we got into the shower room saw a large lady lying naked on a stone slab being scrubbed and massaged with full on legs akimbo by a big old babushka in her bra and knickers and slightly regretted that decision as it looked a bit public for us! Not to be deterred, we did as we were told when we were beckoned by the scrubbing babushkas (we think that Susan’s babushka was actually the mother of Jill’s babushka as she was proper ancient) and lay nekkid on the slab to get scrubbed with what seemed to be a pan scourer soaked in vinegar. Obviously we’d had showers while away but neither of us had had a proper exfoliate, so the muck coming off us was horrific! Jill was wetting herself laughing at Susan yelling (and being told to shush) when she was getting rinsed off with a hose of scalding water and then ended up screaming herself when out of nowhere her babushka swilled her with a bucket of said scalding water. It was hilarious and we both felt incredibly clean afterwards, but also slightly like we’d been in prison.
After enjoying another locker room beer while sitting around chatting in the nip (oh yes, we are experts at banya etiquette now!), we got dressed and headed off to find another nice terrace on which to have some more wine. We discovered while sat in the bar and having a look at the Lonely Planet, that we had inadvertently followed the Lonely Planet’s “Recommended Walking Route Around Tbilisi in One Day” and had a word with ourselves as we hate doing things the recommended way! Although it was by accident so we don’t think it counts. We enjoyed several bottles of wine on the terrace, talking about how great the banyas were and how people back home should embrace that kind of thing more instead of being so uptight and prudish about their own bodies and derogatory and judgemental about other people’s. We think that women would be much more comfortable in themselves if showering and sitting around in the nip chatting with beers, with ladies of all shapes, sizes and ages was part of their social calendar. We also couldn’t believe how soft our skin felt – Susan in particular was convinced that she would never feel this clean ever again and was pondering the viability of paying a babushka with a pan scourer and a bottle of Sarsons to come round her flat every fortnight and give her a good scrubbing.
We had to pay the bill as the waiter who’d been serving us was finishing his shift and it was canny late by this point, so we finally decided (after Susan sat on the steps for a while demanding that we go to a titty bar) to get a taxi back to the hotel as we had to be up quite early to get our little plane over the mountains to Mestia the next day. Fingers crossed the weather wouldn’t ground our plane again!