Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tbilisi Pet Peeves

And the inevitable happened! Life, academia, an undergraduate thesis, and ghostwriting all conspired to put this blog on the back burner for a while. I'm in England, now, missing Tbilisi horribly (but set to return in late March!). I find myself missing the expected (my now-familiar Sunday ritual of antiquing at the Dry Bridge market, tea at the Iranian chaikhana, and a luxurious bath at the Royal Baths - with dog-eared, damp paperback book handy) and the unexpected (the fantastically inaccurate English tea house on Marjanishvili Street)

So, in order to make myself feel better about being extraordinarily homesick, I've compiled a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of things I don't like about Tbilisi (which in turn manages to make me miss Tbilisi more, but it's better than  rhapsodizing about Khinkali when clearly nothing can be done about the situation!)

So, without further ado, the Things I Don't Like About Tbilisi

1) Perovskaya
Given the sheer number of foreigners who seem to spend their lives between the Radisson and the Rustaveli Square McDonalds, it may be surprising that this expat, at least, absolutely can't stand the bars and restaurants of Perovskaya. The idea of pub crawls terrifies me (a pub should have fifteenth-century wood beams, a friendly pub dog, and serve me canalside Sunday Roasts), and I find the whole block of Perovskaya/Kiacheli Street/Kostava Street to be like some horrid frat-house labryrinth of cheap shots I cannot escape! (Kiacheli Street slightly less so - I've always wanted to do karaoke at Tan Tsaige)

Not a real pub.

Where do I go for a night out? If I wanted to go to a trendy, pricey nightlife area, I find Chardini Street and Erekle to be far nicer (given that my alcohol tolerance is laughably low,  and finishing a single cocktail is enough to make me giggle and fall over, the per-drink price differential is minimal), with a vibe more condusive to sipping mojitos rather than downing shots of tequila. Of course, living right next to the world's best wine bar, which is pricey but home to some of the best tapas I've had in my life, is a bit of a spoiler (except when Saakashvili decides to use the bar for his private party and the police cordon off Abanos Qucha, forcing me to find a circuitous back-alley route home!)

For a slightly less pricey nightlife option, I'd prefer Caravan or Near Opera - arty restaurant-cafe-bars near Rustaveli Avenue.

(Although I do have a weakness for the bizarre semi-French smoky cafe on Kostava St. Anyone know what I'm talking about?)

2) Trying to Navigate the 5 million food shops on my block
I haven't yet mastered the bazroba (that's for next time), and one of the things I find most difficult about Tbilisi is mentally calculating which of the 5-6 tiny "grocery" shops in my area might have the vegetable/fruit I would like. Since I feel too guilty to go into any one shop without buying anything, a trip in search of carrots may result in my guilt-buying chocolates, bizarre Russian cereals, and tea bags BY THE BAG. This is a result of my own ineptitude, and no fault of Tbilisi (and I'm gradually improving - I know the place by the chaikhana does great baked goods, and the place near the Ossetian restaurant has the best rotisserie chickens), but given that one of my favorite things about living in Oxford is my daily trip to the Covered Market, with a bakery, cheese shop, butcher's, fishmongers, and greengrocer's all easily available for my culinary pleasure, it's irritating nonetheless.

3) The Freedom Square Underpass
I've just taken a marvelous, scenic walk through Old Tbilisi, wandering through cobblestoned streets, gasping at the beauty of crumbling balconies, feeling oh-so-smug about my Bohemian Poetic Existence, removed from the cruelty and aesthetic apostasies of the Modern World! Aha, I think to myself, in my most elegant mental cadence, I have succeeded in my fantasy of recapturing the echoes of the Lost Byzantium!

...and then I come to this.
The steps to a depressing, yellow-lit Kafkaeske maze of despair and urine puddles.

I used to ADORE underpasses on my first trip to Tbilisi, due to the wonderful number of street-sellers that set up shop there, selling flowers, trinkets, books, etc. It made the necessary journey interesting! But ever since sales have been banned in underpasses, they have turned into unattractive, empty tunnels. (Although a friend of mine met her husband when volunteering to clean one of said tunnels, so they do serve a purpose! Perhaps their grime is but a pretext for inspiring subterranean romance!)

4) Couchsurfers who want to sleep with me (not Georgia-specific)
This isn't limited to Georgia, but is a natural result of the fact that, in order to meet people in Georgia, I am compelled to join a good number of traveling/networking sites in order to avoid being a solitary catless crazy cat lady (although I mentally "own" an adorable kitten called Marius, whom I fed khachapuri back in September, and whom I'm convinced I saw (and who recognized me!) on Gorgansalis Street in December! Now, I make it extraordinarily clear on my profile that:

a) I'm not interested in "date-surfing" at all.
b) I've been in a relationship for two and a half years.
c) if you're a random guy that messages me without any sort of reference to my profile (interests in common, etc), it will come across as creepy. (Men  messaging me because they share a love of mint tea? Totally fine!)

But that doesn't stop me from getting plenty of messages, from both Georgian and non-Georgians, that seem to be copy-pasted to every female with the misfortune to register as "located in" Tbilisi. I've actually never been propositioned by Georgian men in the street (unlike other Tbilisi bloggers - seriously, I'm starting to get offended! No Georgian man has EVER come on to me in the road! What am I doing wrong?), so this is the worst "harassment" I've experienced. Not offensive so much as irritating, as it means that my attempts to Find Friends other than Marius the Kitten get thwarted.

More about my increasing disillusionment with Couchsurfing in a later post...

Unfortunately, the conclusion arrived at in this post is that the things that annoy me about Tbilisi are so silly, so enormously miniscule, that in fact Tbilisi is one of the Best Places Ever. Which makes me miss it more!


Anonymous said...

Is the choice really only between dealing with drunk Marines and embassy limeys at Perovskaya or the faux fashionista, idle children of Georgian oligarchs (and the women they happen to be fucking) on Chardeni and in Vake ... ?


I'll stick with Mirzaani!

Fleur Flaneur said...

@Anonymous - Chardin wins, for me, because it's near my house and because the Marrakech restaurant has bloody good food! But I agree - neither is ideal! I prefer individual cafes rather than areas (and tbh, I don't need to drink and my amazing local Iranian tea house is open until 11 pm, so that's usually my "meeting-place" of choice!)

As for Vake - eh... not crazy about the neighborhood overall (much prefer Abanotubani) but I do like the food at some of the restaurants.

Never been to Mirzaani - do tell! Any suggestions for places to go?

Anonymous said...

Almost everyone prefers Abanotubani, but for most people its just not practical or cheap enough. Only Vakelebi prefer Vake. Most expats would rather live in Saburtalo, which is cheap and low key and with lots of transportation.

Fleur Flaneur said...

I can see the practicality issue - I'm a 15 minute walk from two metro stops but properly near either! But I don't think it's much more expensive than other central districts (Vera/Sololaki/Vake/Saburtalo/Mtatsminda) - at least, I didn't get that impression when house-hunting!

I like Cafe Literaturuli in Saburtalo, but other than that it's not my favorite district to visit: I'm a sucker for period buildings and cobblestones (convenience schumvenience - although it's true that sometimes I wish I lived less than 20 minutes from Populi when I'm craving their takeout!)

Who is this, btw?

pasumonok said...

hey, mirzaani is a khinkali place and they brew their own good beer.
the style is quasi-old georgian, sports cafe with tvs creen, brewery type of thing.
come back, i miss u!