Tbilisi, Our Triumphant Entry
We are in the capitol city of Tbilisi, Georgia; we slept in beds last night, had showers, and were treated to free dinner and the local drink, home-made wine. It was a bit dry and more than a bit strong, but the Georgians are very proud of it to the point that it’s considered rude to decline. The four of us shared a carafe and, after several days on the road with water and camp food, I think we all felt the effects. Needless to say, we fell asleep easily; the others are still sleeping, but I woke up an hour ago feeling as good as I have in a while. The effects of depriving oneself of luxury for a while are amazing.
Our entry into Georgia from Turkey (through the border near Batumi) was very easy. We were all a bit wary because we’d heard reports from other ralliers of three-five hour waits to cross, and, accordingly we arrived around 7:00 am. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re Americans (and the Georgians love Americans) or the early hour, but our crossing took no more than thirty minutes; we even had two different border officials sign our car to the effect of, “We love America.”
Coming from a country where religious freedom and tolerance are held dear, it has been a unique experience traveling through religious states. Turkey, while proudly maintaining a secular government, is still a muslim nation, and Georgia is decidedly Christian (a result of their experiences with the Crusaders of the Middle Ages). There can be no better illustration of the situation than the location of the mosque ad church situated on opposite sides of the border. Whatever disagreements one may have with either of the religions, it is somehow reassuring to see peoples so dedicated to their beliefs.
Georgia, much like Romania and Bulgaria, suffers from being a former Soviet state; we have returned from simplicity to poverty, and, even after so short a time in a beautiful place like Turkey, the previously industrialized landscape is striking.
While many arguments can be made in favor of a Communist system (equality of every aspect of life, shared resources, working for the greater good), they all depend on being able to trust your government. I firmly believe that government is by its nature corrupt; people are inherently flawed such that, when given authority, they will abuse it. The classic saying, “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” comes to mind. It was a necessary thing we did when America toppled the Soviet Union; the shame of it comes in the fact that it was necessary.
I am seeing, first-hand, the effects of their fall, but, despite the near destitute state that these countries were left in, we are treated as heroes for liberating them from their socialist leaders. The effects of rapid industrialization followed by the collapse of the supporting entities are, however, appalling. I can only imagine the simple beauty and elegance of these nations had the Soviet Union not taken them. Perhaps I long for a time that never was, as I am admittedly ignorant of the social and economical histories of many of the nations through which we’re traveling, but, seeing the ruined husks of colossal concrete structures, the empty shops, the crumbling neighborhoods, I cannot help but picture a happier place had events not been as they were.
All this said, Tbilisi is a lovely city, comparatively modern, and quite friendly. Again, the entire country of Georgia seems to love Americans (as can be seen by the messages left on our car by border officials and gas station attendants), so it might not be as great as I am seeing; I might also be biased because we found our hostel in a half hour, making this our easiest entry into a city yet. The others went out exploring last night after we got settled, but I opted to stay in and read, enjoying the opportunity to watch a bit of the games and get to (a comfortable) bed early. Our hostel evidently has a nightlife of its own; I woke twice to the sounds of laughter and heated arguments going on in the dining room.
Our little hostel, the Hotel Romantik, is, possibly, my favorite so far. The beds are small and placed too close together, and the showers are nothing more than spigots coming out of the walls of the bathroom (no curtains); but the atmosphere of community gives this quaint (and very cheap, 5 euro per night) accommodation more than enough charm to make up for its shortcomings. The Romantik is actually the basement of a large commercial building, and we nearly missed the place; had a local soldier not shown us the way, we might not have found it for hours. The outside door is always locked, and I’m not sure if I find that comforting or disconcerting. Once you enter, there are rows of rooms on either side of the main hallway built out from the wall like little boxes; each is roughly 7 1/2 feet tall with differing numbers of beds in each. The hallway leads into the dining area (for lack of a better word) which is scattered with small tables around a freestanding bar/television area. The effect is that of an outdoor collection of cabanas, despite it being underground. Right now, I’m sitting “outside” watching the various guests come and go.
While, I still harbor mixed feelings about the country of Georgia, I am absolutely in love with the city of Tbilisi. I’ll venture out today and make a better assessment, but for now, I am content.