It is amazing that, by this hundredth country, I have not been formally charged by any foreign government for the likes of breaking and entering, or some such crime integral to my road-life. Georgia finds me on the stoop of an alleged hostel with rain pouring down and nothing in my belly but roadside lime-flavored Coke Zero and cherry juice. I’ve had amazing luck with rain thus far, especially considering I do not bring a rain jacket with me on my adventures. I hump only a sweatshirt, and Murphy’s Law should make rain a daily occurrence. But alas, this is one of the first times I could really use an umbrella or a jacket. My rationale is this: if I have a raincoat, I would either use it or lose it. Either possibility means failure in my eyes. If I bring too many things, I lose resourcefulness along with space in my bag. If my bag gets too full, I may, heaven forbid, be forced to check it on an airline. That, in my opinion, is real failure. I highlight in Bahrain my stubbornness and need to be able to handle my own shit. I won’t explain further here.
From under an awning I hail a taxi and use my Russian (which takes up no space in my bag, by the way) to navigate through the torrential downpour to the hostel in which I am to stay the night and probably the night after that. Georgia is cheap, by the looks of it, and I will happily stay an extra night in this hostel which is both the cheapest I have ever booked (2.70 USD/ night) and possibly the highest-rated I have ever booked (9.4/10). My morning beverage and cab ride run me more than a night’s stay, though, and it’s got me thinking that this is a place where labor and housing are cheap, but tangible goods, like gasoline, are not. Something to explore more later.
Once we arrive, the hostel is not clearly marked as such, but the address is clearly denoted in large spray-painted numbers and white arrows. I set my things down on the couch outside, knock on the door and try to reach the manager via WhatsApp. When no one responds, I enter the door slowly without thinking the necessary questions of “do I remember seeing any police nearby?” or “what are gun laws like in Georgia?” When I enter, though the place looks like the photos, the lights are all turned off, and I can hear snoring coming from a nearby room. I sit alone in the dark until the manager on duty awakes.
Fortunately, I am not shot and killed. I am given a WiFi password and a bed, which is certainly the best possible result of stumbling into someone’s home after a tiresome night on an international bus. I cannot sleep, though, because after an hour the kitchen is abuzz with visitors cooking breakfast, using the shower, and interrogating me as to how I know Russian. I meet an Uzbekistani man and tell him about how much I enjoyed his country while the hostel manager tries to make me laugh by asking me if I think a certain guest is male or female. I tell him if he’s so curious to flip through the registry where he puts photocopies of passports. A satisfying answer surely lies there. I feel like a Boy Scout again, hanging out at the mess in Camp Sequassen as friendly man-children like myself bustle about in a masculine benevolence.
My hostel is in a cheaper neighborhood about fifteen minutes’ walk from Tbilisi’s sulfur baths, which TripAdvisor raves about. It’s my hundredth country; would it be so wrong to relax a little? I don’t know much about these saunas, other than that they smell horrendously of rotten eggs, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt to shell out a few Lari in celebration of my achievement.
I am wrong.
If masculine benevolence is a trademark of my hostel in Tbilisi, emasculating malevolence characterizes my experience in that town’s sulfur baths. One should not be touched in such tender areas, and with such force, as I am touched by one stocky Georgian masseur at the “Queen’s Bath” in Tbilisi. I am scrubbed, scraped, and nearly bruised. In my life I have had the good fortune of only breaking two bones, but this “massage” hurt as much as two of those combined. That said, it was an experience, though not one I will be trying to replicate any time soon. Four stars.
The Play's the Thing
I spend the majority of the day on a walking tour of Tbilisi, taking in the old Orthodox churches and grilling our guide on contemporary Georgian culture. Roughly one-fifth of the country is occupied by Russia, so when I ask about feelings toward the Eastern Slavic overlords I am told to save such questions for after the tour.
In the night I am off to the theater. After the tour I find a small playhouse wedged between museums and ballets that promises an evening performance of a Dostoevsky adaption accompanied with English translation. I tell the cashier that I’ll be back later, but would like to reserve tickets as I’m learning Russian but speak English natively. She smiles and nods. The ticket only comes out to 3 USD and so I am excited to see how much Russian I understand. I grab a burger the next block over at the World’s Largest Wendy’s which, it goes without saying, should not be in Georgia but is for some reason.
As I leave Wendy’s a drizzle that I didn’t know was supposed to happen turns into a downpour; my summery light grey shorts turn into a Rorschach test. "No matter," I think, "the theater is two blocks away and I will easily slip into the darkness where I will not be seen." What I don’t know is is that this theater seems to be operated like a marshrutka, or minibus popular in the region, that only leaves once all the seats are full. In the damp, bright lobby I settle into a cheap stackable chair and make American eye contact with every edgy theater-type this side of Tbilisi. Thankfully, I am not the only one sitting silently in this one of many Russian plays about suicide, but it doesn’t suit the sopping wet boy in light blue summer dress. This crowd is into dark, brooding shades of grays and browns. I look like I just got off the boat from Nantucket.
After fifteen minutes everyone has finally arrived. The usher takes us downstairs, where we stand another five minutes as she goes behind a curtain to check and see if the players are ready. When they are, the curtain is drawn back to reveal the stage itself, through which we must pass to the chairs beyond. The players are in position. One lay prone on a row of chairs, and other two sit, heads hung low. One holds an accordion. When the audience is seated, the play finally begins.
I discover too late why we have to pass through the stage to sit down. This way, there is no way out except through the play itself. I witness the most amazing one-act disaster that I could have never anticipated, and enjoy every moment. First: Everything is in Georgian, not in Russian. As the local language has no prepositions or pronouns, and because the theater company has no one with a working knowledge of English, the clearly Google-Translated subtitles are complete gibberish. As I watch, I grimly wait for the actress, sorry the title character, to die via Chekhov’s gun which is loaded and played around with in the first few minutes. In a twist, however, she jumps out Dostoevsky’s window about thirty minutes in, and without me even noticing. At the end I ovate, standing of course, as I step onstage the moment after bows and then exit the theater. That being said: 3/5 stars. Review over.
The next day, I pack my things as the old hostel owner yells at the TV.
“Steven Seagal! Very Goot! Very Goot! Haha!”
He bids me adieu, and asks what I thought of Tbilisi, and of his hostel. I assure him, as I assured his wife and business partner the day before, that I will be leaving a great review for his home-style hostel. I also assure him I will be back to Georgia, where I have had nothing but friendly experiences from the only country that issues a free 1-year visa on arrival to Americans. After a subway ride in a sulfurous tunnel, I make it to the bus station and am told I only have to wait an hour or so for my marshrutka to Yerevan, Armenia. In that time I spend all of my Georgian Lari on potato chips and chocolate, the most liquid currencies I have come to use in my travels, and snack for the long drive to my last Former Soviet Republic.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.