Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tbilisi, The City That Loves You (Or So The Slogan Says)

Tough love, perhaps? Let me take you back to the start.

One balmy Georgian morning, my elbow was perched on the edge of an immigration counter in Tbilisi International Airport. My foot, tapping in impatience. I couldn't read the officer's face.

"Shall I transfer to the visa on arrival counter?", I whispered to the hubby. "I think I need to pay."

"Huh?", was his only response. He was red-eyed, and probably on a sleepwalk.

Tbilisi's Freedom Square.
We just flew in, sleep deprived, from Turkey where we traveled for half a month. After tiptoeing our way around a gang of uniform-clad, gigantic South African football players at the aerobridge, we hustled for a short immigration line. It didn't take long before our turn. The officer, however, took ages scrutinizing my beaten passport. She also asked long questions from the officer beside her cube.

"I probably need to pay for the visa. Where are our dollars?", I began to worry.

Have you been? Did you feel the love?
I started digging in hubby's backpack when I heard the glorious sound of stamping action. Our passports were handed back to us without a word. Without the slightest smile. Oh that standard immigration welcome. We left the officer a muffled 'thanks' and made our way to the luggage belt where we were once again dwarfed by football players shuttling to and fro, searching for their sponsored bags that all look the same.

Luna and I stood far from the giants, thinking we'll be safe from being crushed while hubby fetched our bags. Then came a ground staff who angrily shooed us away because he wanted to push a bunch of airport trolleys along our path. Mind you, it's one spacious hall. I swiftly scooped our daughter Luna and jumped out of the way.

Then my eyes landed on the sign: 'Tbilisi. The city that loves you.'... Wow.

Rock n' roll grandpa. Our airport pickup service.
Before I could even toss my head back and laugh out loud at the irony, hubby lazily gestured for the exit. He finally got all our stuff.

The guesthouse that we booked is an unpopular one. We chose it because of its location (a mere five minutes' walk from Freedom Square), and more importantly, its cheap rate that is a rarity in the capital. Based on a review we read online, there's no sign outside the building which makes it tricky to find (makes it seem dodgy too). So we requested the guesthouse owner to arrange a pickup for us. We were charged €12.

St. George Statue, Freedom Square, Tbilisi. A five-minute walk from our guesthouse.
We found the driver at the end of the fenced lane outside the arrivals area. He was holding a sign that says 'Solo Lucky Hostel'. It didn't indicate a guest's name. The man who seemed to have a hunched back, bore the saddest expression I've seen in a while. I approached him and asked the dumbest question I asked in a while, "Solo Lucky?". Now ain't that a special kind of stupid?

His face mildly lit up.

After a brief stop at the ATM machine, he escorted us to the parking lot.

Old, beautiful buildings surround Freedom Square but not all or well-preserved.
The car's as old as the classic rock tunes in the cassette (yes you read that right, cassette) that was playing, but it worked mighty fine. Approaching the city center, the driver pointed out places of interest and tried to describe each with his limited English words.

Even with a few jams in the business district, we got to the guesthouse in half an hour. The owner's daughter, Natalie, was waiting for us on the street. She assisted us in taking our luggage up the few steps to our room. Our room's an old living area on the first level of an apartment and it's ridiculously spacious. There's a fridge, a water heater, a dining table, and a couch. Nothing short of perfect.

Georgian omelette, our first meal in the country.
"Did you eat breakfast?", Natalie's English was pretty good. "There's a restaurant next door and the owners are our friends."

She came along to In Vino Veritas obviously a watering hole — to translate our orders. The owners didn't speak a single English word. And apparently, didn't know how smile too. Or were they having a bad morn? It's a bit of a disappointment when prior your visit you read about the Georgians' "legendary hospitality" and uhm, you don't experience what you expect.

Yes, we love you back, Tbilisi.  

Perhaps we just had encounters with the wrong people (like that grumpy supermarket lunch lady who refused to reheat our orders)? Or maybe, because I'm from the Philippines, the word hospitality conjures images of ubiquitous smiles and random waves from strangers. For a post-Soviet state, the word is most likely defined differently.

But hey, we're only talking about day one. Did this impression last?

Ah, a story for another day.


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AJ Poliquit said...
August 17, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Perhaps it was the immigration officer's first time to see a travel junkie perhaps, a Pinay at that. Got overwhelmed by all the stamps in your beaten passport. :) Welcome to the city that loves you...NOT! Hehehe

Aleah | said...
August 18, 2013 at 6:55 AM

Well, at least you got through immigration fine. I really hate that I always get anxious at the immigration, simply because as a Filipino, we're subjected to so much scrutiny, never mind that I haven't had a problem with IOs since I first flew out of the country. Sigh. Anyway, I think you loved Tbilisi. That omelet alone would be enough for you to return its love haha

N Moore said...
August 18, 2013 at 2:05 PM

Reminds me of my travel to Japan and Paris, at least it seems that the ppl of Tbilisi were a bit "tired" as opposed to my experience in Japan where the adults were trying hard to not stare and children could'nt help but stare..akward... lol! The super friendly hosts I had in Japn made up for that =)
In Paris, they were nicer when I communicated in their language but concentrated on correcting my grammar when I spoke, lol..really?!!

flipntravels said...
August 18, 2013 at 7:16 PM

So in that hostel.. I go solo, I'll get lucky? oooh! hooot! lol
Gantihan lang yan, a restaurant waiter in paris were rolling his eyes while im ordering. so i pouted my lips "you rollin ya eyes brotha? oh no you dint! " unahan lang! LOL said...
August 19, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Haha! Wouldn't know cause I didn't go solo. said...
August 19, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Oh, Parisians are snobby too. But again, might just be the people we encountered :) said...
August 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Oh yes! That omelette's the best welcome! said...
August 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Hahaha! Yeah, I guess having too much stamps on the passport is suspicious too.

Marisol@TravelingSolemates said...
August 26, 2013 at 9:28 AM

Immigration always make an entry eventful. Seemed like you had an interesting first day. Looing k forward to your further take of the city who loves you:)

ian | going places said...
August 27, 2013 at 11:49 PM

Georgia... this time! You've been to a lot of places. I wouldn't be surprise if next time, you will held a contest to your avid readers of what country we want to see next from you. I'll request Argentina, Cyprus or Greece anytime! =)
I think people there are kinda shy and will just light up when they know you speak their language as most are non-English speakers. said...
August 28, 2013 at 7:55 AM

Would love to see Argentina! And Greece too, but gotta save up heaps for that.

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