Tuesday, 11 February 2014

thawing out

Pedalling along the busy roads in Tbilisi is a bit tricky.  So many marshrutka cutting in to collect or drop off passengers.  Potholes, sunken drain covers, puddles and ice. Car doors swinging open.  Cars pulling out without looking.  It's all good training for Iran, I'm sure.  Is there an XBox game where you can cycle into the various capitals of the world? Or does that sound a bit quaint? 

After shuttling back and forth along the narrow roads of the old town to check out guesthouses we settle on one run by a friendly young woman called Nataly.  Except she's full tonight.  So we stay at her neighbour's in the same courtyard.  One of Gayle's favourite films was shot here in Tbilisi (Since Otar Left) and it feels we've just entered the set.  Along the streets are crumbling old houses, brick built with mortared facades giving them the impression of being built from stone.  The pavements and roads are in various states of disrepair too.  Walk through a gateway or archway and you enter a courtyard full of laundry and parked cars, and surrounded by timbered glassed-in verandahs and balconies.  There's rarely much paint left on the woodwork.  Lots of tin sidings, roofing and gutters.  Many roofs still have snow and the gutters are now ejecting huge blocks of ice onto the pavements, or drip-drip-dripping meltwater that refreezes immediately and sends most pedestrians onto the road for the sake of staying upright.

The sun is out when we head off on our first day to the Iranian embassy.  We get there just after 10, when it opens, Monday to Friday, except for Thursdays.  What day is it today? Thursday. We return the next morning only to have our passports examined in front of us by a bored-looking consular official.  He gives us forms to complete, tells us to pay our visa fees in to a particular bank then comeback on Monday. To collect the visa? No.  Only to leave our passports.  We can collect on Wednesday. So we have a week in Tbilisi whilst we wait.  
main street mid-morning

I want a house
Thankfully the sun is out each day, and very slowly the days get warmer too. We walk around and walk and walk. And we eat pies. Georgia is the Wigan of the Caucasus.  Pie shops abound.  The favourite filling is cheese, but there are endless varities.  Cheese, bacon, mushed beans, potato, mince, mushroom, egg.  Some are made with bread, some with filo pastry. They're cheap and ubiquitous. Mmmm.....pies....
I want this!
We have plenty of time to explore the old city - up to the fort, down the backstreets, the only surviving mosque, where both Sunni and Shia muslims come to pray.  And then there are all the churches - a brand new and enormous cathedral, the more traditional smaller Georgian Orthodox ones.  The museum has a fine collection of gold and silver finds, some 4,000 years old, mainly from the west, from the Colchis kingdom.  Intricate jewellery from tombs.  The people collected gold dust by laying sheep fleeces in the rivers - thought to have inspired the legend of the Golden Fleece.  In the exhibition on the 'Soviet occupation' Uncle Joe is notable by his absence.  Tbilisi was razed to the ground by the Persians at the end of the 18th century but was quickly rebuilt by the Russians in the 19th.  Evidently it was a wealthy city at one time - perhaps it can be again, and there are a few flamboyant new buildings, but it has the bittersweet air of a city on the decline like the big cities of Rajasthan.

lining up the ducks

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