Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On not biking

According to Larissa, this sculpture has something to do with the fact that some famous bicycle used to be manufactured in Tbilisi, not the fact that a few people are brave/insane enough to ride here.
This is as close as I'm going to get to biking in Tbilisi. I'm nervous even getting into cars here. (But I had to take a picture, because c'mon! A giant bike!)

This sculpture, which is prominent enough in Old Town to be a meeting point landmark, is painfully ironic considering that there are so few bikers here. In fact, I can list every single time I saw someone biking here. And each time, I thought, that person is insane. Especially when I saw what appeared to be the national cycling team following a pace car on the highway.

Borjomi

The first stop on the epic religious pilgrammage was Borjomi, a town famous throughout Georgia for its distinctively strong-tasting (iron? salt?) mineral water. While the religious types caught up with their nun friends, we took a walk through town. 
Here we are, blocking your view of some really awesome murals.
And tasted some of the water right from the source. (Gross. Like, you just bit your tongue really hard and now it tastes like blood, only it's also warm and bubbly.)
I'm only smiling because I haven't actually tasted the water yet.
 Even if its water is kind of nasty (though it's supposed to have magical healing properties...), Borjomi itself is a sweet little town nestled in the mountains. And there were bicyclists!
Bicyclists! Are they insane, foreign, or both?

Monday, July 28, 2014

There will be mud

 When I told Larissa I would accompany her on her friend's church group trip, I didn't realize I was signing up for a pilgrammage to three ancient monastaries. I also didn't realize that nobody would actually know how to get to two of them, which would result in one of them remaining stubbornly unfound. The above photo is evidence of one of several failed paths. Some might consider this a disaster, but honestly I'd rather slog around in the woods than look at another church, anyway.
 We found the third church, mainly because our leaders asked the right random farmer, who walked us way, way up the side of the mountain to the ruins of a church they said was from the 5th century. (The monastary is the dark spot on the left up there.) I didn't take a picture of the skeleton we saw in one collapsed room, but if I had better internet I would post a video of the polyphonic chanting some of the men did in the other one, a haunting, ancient sound that captured perfectly the mood of the rain softly falling and the desolate, forgotten spot.
 On our way back down the hill, the farmer led us to his house, brought out the 5-liter jug of homemade wine and insisted that we drink a toast or three and bless his family. Of course, the American was called upon to say a few words but luckily they didn't expect me to drain my glass the way everybody else did.

It was way too many hours in a crowded, overheated minibus, but a glorious day.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vegetarian?

As a vegetarian for more than 20 years now, I often receive concern from people who worry that I don't get enough to eat when I travel.

Honestly, all it takes is one look at me to know that I get plenty to eat wherever I go. But seriously, it's just one of those things that makes travel interesting. The phrase "I don't eat" is pretty much the first thing I learn in every language.

Happily, I find most cooks love the challenge of making me something special to eat. Larissa is no exception. Among her creations is the sushi-esque creation above, hollowed-out boiled carrots filled with Georgia's famous walnut-garlic-spice paste. Unfreaking believeable, but make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.
Of course, if you prefer to dine on nothing but fancy French pastry, Tbilisi has you covered on that front too.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Date night

 Larissa and Vachtang and I seem to be making a habit out of Friday date nights. No hanky panky, just romantic evenings watching the sun set. This is at Lisi Lake, which is just up the hill behind our house.
 Also, there were french fries and ice cream at the swanky little cafe, where the wind blew away our napkins and made us feel like we were at the seaside.
Next time, we swim!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Day trip

 As part of my research this summer, I'm taking a bunch of guided tours and taking copious notes. And pictures! The highlight of yesterday's trip west was the ancient cave town of Uplistsikhe, which dates from the first millenium BC. Although the temperature hovered around 95 degrees, the wind was blowing at the top of the hill, making it nearly bearable.
 Mercifully, our guide was also willing to scuttle plans to visit the third church of the day in favor of a hike at the Armaziskheri archaeological site, from 3000-2000 BC (hard to fathom) and known as the cradle of paganism in Georgia. Fun times!
More sobering was our stop at the Stalin museum, made more disturbing by the reverent, almost religious attitude of our guide. Reluctantly, she showed us the rooms under the staircase devoted to the estimated 4 million victims of his brutal political repression. She "spoke" English (more like, kind of memorized the guide script) but not enough to answer questions and not nearly enough to be suitably impressed when I told her that I hail from the same place of one of the dignitaries whose photograph is on display. Why hello, Harry Truman! Fancy meeting you in Gori.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Carbon copy

Making 100 more copies of my survey turned out to be no simple task. First was the difficulty of conveying the notion of photocopying to Larissa. Although stores all over the place advertise "Xerox," the way Georgians pronounce the word bears no relation to the way I say it. I still haven't learned that whole squeeze the back of your throat sound.

One we got the task figured out, we spent another lifetime with the very pleasant lady at the shop. This involved her handing us the cord to plug in the machine, and of course there is no such thing as automatic double-sided. And I have gotten a LOT more practice stapling. And ten random people came in at various points needing things copied so of course she had to help them too. It was all quite entertaining and almost worth the shocking amount of money it cost.

And she is a sport to pose for a picture with her machine, isn't she?