The Road From Georgia To Back Home

We were both delirious from hunger and in need of one last Georgian feed, however the streets around the train station proved fruitless… sensing defeat we hailed the first taxi we saw and as typical, Iiris negotiated the fare and we hopped in and away.

Instantly I knew we were in for good time when the driver used a cigarette lighter to illuminate the dashboard to see the speed as the dash lights were out. Thankfully or not, speed proved to be of little concern to our driver, as indeed to every other driver on the roads of the Georgian capital. I sit in the back seat, the music is up quite loud, it sounds like a drunken Georgian version of Joe Cocker at 3am after a big night out. I don’t mind the atmosphere but as Iiris feels her ears might be bleeding soon, she motions the driver to turn down the volume, to which he looks disappointed but complies

As we sped off down the road I started to realise this might possibly be the worst car I have ever driven in, the handling, the constant shake, it all added to the aural and visual joyride we were on. The driver seemed to cut corners to which I realised not to take the most efficient driving line but simply because the car could not turn any harder. Still it was ok, the cars in the oncoming lane swerved for us, it was very generous of them to do so I thought.

Down the road we pulled into a gas station for more fuel, a very typical thing to happen when in a cab and when we pulled up and stopped he took the key from the ignition and got out… only us to realise the engine was still running! It seems in this mans car, the key is completely optional to the running of the motor and the little slot where they key usually goes serves only has a handy holder for it! How considerate of the Ford Motor Company to include such a feature. After the shock of feeling the car still running our next realisation filled us with even more delight, our driver was filling the car with fuel, with the motor running, with us in it.. probably one of the most dangerous acts you can do but nothing phases our brave driver, he’s going to get us to the airport if it kills him, us and everyone with 2 blocks, what a guy! In a brief moment Iiris and I looked at each other with a look like "its been a nice holiday, hope everyone isn’t waiting up for us". Good thing however this driver can not afford a full tank of gas and before we know it the key is back in its rightful holder and we are off down the road.

The thing you soon learn about Georgian roads is how efficient they are with using space. Why have just 2 cars occupying 2 lanes of road, that would waste valuable space to either side of the car, indeed you would be surprised how fast 2 lanes can turn into 4 cars wide on the smallest section of tarmac. On the roads here the main rule seems to be, "fast cars overtake, slow cars get honked at", which holds universally true on all of the nations fine road system. I have noticed in my time the police seem to just drive the streets looking for someone to pick up, good thing for them, they usually don’t need to look far but still our driver displays a lack of fear which would put Evil Knivel to shame, onward we speed down the road to the flight out of here

As we hit the highway which leads to the airport the car starts to rise to the Tbilisi escape velocity which is no less than 130km her hour down this long straighish section of variable lane width. The car shakes a bit more and as the driver turns into one corner we hear a violent scraping sound, clearly the reason he was cutting corners earlier. As he changes up gears I catch him progressively turning up the radio volume with every shift, what a clever little guy I though to myself but again, this is Georgia and we didn’t sign up for a luxury ride, we signed up for something different, something educational, something exciting and something testing outside our comfort zone and we certainly got each one of those. As we approached warp speed down the highway with the airport becoming larger over the rise, Georgian Joe Cocker would seem to agree.

Letters From The Black Sea

Check out the latest photos, this country is photo gold im telling you

We are here in Batumi, on the Black Sea coast of Georgia. Ive never seen the Black Sea before, it has always tantalized me, all the way over here and you have to go through some strange country to get there.

I will say one thing, its HOT here, very farking hot. Hot like it is in Asia… hot like it was in Spain last year. I didnt expect this and it sends me a bit mad, I come from a country of such heat but i can never think straight when its so hot. In many ways this place reminds me of a soviet version of Schnookville in Cambodia without the foreigners, this town seems to be touristic but have scarce few foreigners. Swimming in the Black Sea isnt bad but its all pebbles like it was in Nice but we tend to go in the afternoon as its far too hot, we are both sunstroked and Ive copped a great wife beater mark.

Today we are leaving however, at 17 we have a train back to Tbilisi then at 2am we have a flight back to Riga. Im not sure yet if I am ready to go, some days have been trying but thats mainly been because of the heat I think. Im not sure I could function in this country on my own either, I need Iiris expert Russian to help translate. I think Id like to come back and head into the mountains, where its cooler and away from the crazy dance clubs on the beach here to sit and take in the surroundings. I like the peace of being in the mountains, although I do miss my friends.

Atleast this one gucci cafe in town has wireless, time for another turkish coffee, thats all they drink around here, super strong, super sweet. They eat alot of fried dough products too, breakfast is something pastry with a local salty cheese inside. Dinners are quite nice, salad, bread, meat, some potatos, I really like it although I havnt been eating too much, I was a bit sick earlier in the week and while im good now, Im just taking it slow. The wine is great as you can expect, the local beer is good but not exactly to my taste, its quite unique I think, very crisp, kinda cool. They dont have many "restaurants" here as such, Gori for example had exactly 2, the "nice" place in town and a simple cafe… and thats it. no cafes, no eating houses, nothing. Batumi has more because its touristic but its still quite small.

Cultural Learnings Of… Stalins Home Town

ok im a bit out of order, given the lack of net Ive been writing blogs on my laptop to keep them fresh. We are in Gori right now, hometown of this bloke

Look familiar? The only place in the world I think where they still have standing statues of him and not just on the grounds of the museum either, theres a big assed 50 meter tall one in the center of town too. Focus on the good parts people, focus on the good parts.

As you can see, Iiris and I had slightly different reactions when seeing the great leader in front of us.

Whats crappening Stalin? Now the Estonians reaction..

Gori is an amazing little town, much cleaner than Tbilisi and has far more room to move in. There arnt too many tourists either, ive counted about 5 all day, by jolly am I glad Iiris is here to speak to everyone in Russian, it would be a true test of body language to get by with only English. We spent a night here and today looking at the museum and the fortess on the hill, which has a fantastic view over the entire city. It is surrounded by mountains and once the heat of the day left we walked up a near by hill to a church and cemetary. Up there I must say I felt a real moment of peace, the cool breeze was cooling down the afternoon, there was a gorgeous view over the mountains and down to the concrete clad town of Gori, to the north was the road to South Ossetia and our great adventure the day before or maybe it was just gods influence as I sat on the steps to one of his houses but I felt good. I felt like we were really away from it all, to somewhere a little less visited but still amazingly worthwhile. We had made it this far, between Iiris’ psychology and translation skills and my sheer blind enthuasim for whatever is around the next corner, I knew whatever lies down those train tracks, we can deal with it.

Tonight 23:30 is the overnight train to the seaside, thats if they have spare seats, see the train starts in Tbilisi, an hour away and they cant tell us, until the train has left Tbilisi, if there will be any spare seats. pure gold.

As you can expect, Ive been making videos like crazy, heres a video blog outside the Stalin Museum

Irenas Homestay, Tbilisi

UPDATE
It sees my page now comes up the top of the list when you search for home stays in Tbilisi! Irena has a webpage but i cant remember what it is and its virtually impossible to find on google. If you want to stay and Irenas and who wouldnt….

Homestay Irene -19b Ninoshvili tel: +99599111669

Call ahead if you can, she can arrange a driver at the airport to be waiting for you with a sign "Irenas Homestay". If that doesnt work (like for us, out plane was so late the driver had already buggered off), just call and get her to talk to the driver, she will tell him where to take you.

Rock!


Welcome to Irenas Homestay, your place and mine when in Tbilisi, Georgia! Irena is a sizable Georgian woman who runs a guesthouse in Tbilisi, she has a big old house which she has decked out with as many beds as can comfortably fit and you will not find a more lovely or welcoming woman. She gets up at 3am to let us in, in fact we already woke her half an hour earlier because we couldnt find out taxi driver and we had to get her to speak to the next driver over the phone in georgian.

From the beginning its obvious Irena runs this place for the love of having people around, prices and cheap and whatever she can do to help, its yours. Hanging around the living room you meet a fairy hardy bunch of travellers, Georgia is far enough off the beaten track that general intelligence and adventurous level of the guests is way high, the stag parties drop off at Riga it seems, so what you have left is a bunch of cool hip people who really want to learn about the culture. Of course you might get conscripted for a while if you hang out in the lounge room long enough, when people call, skype or email for a reservation you might be asked to help. Irenas english isnt very good so she might get you to talk to someone on the phone or write an email reply to someone, its great!

On the second evening we had a full house, not that Irena would ever turn anyone away, you might just get a matress on the floor or a couch but you will never be turned out to the street. There was a big group of us sitting around in the lounge and all of a sudden all this georgian style pizza shows up and a lot of it. Next a few of us are asked to go down the street and pick up the beers from her friend, Irena has decided to put on food and drink for us, free of charge, so that we may all have a good night dancing the night away to the funky funky disco beats of… you guessed it.. DJ Irena spinning those mp3s. We all ate, drank and danced and had a throughly good time.

I dropped off around 3am but apparently around 6am the 3 polish people I had helped Irena email in reply to earlier that day showed up… to find randoms laying over the room, empty plates and beer bottles and cigarettes ashtrays all over the place, took one look and just walked back out again. haha. If only they knew what they were missing out on, only the lady with the biggest, more generous heart in Tbilisi.

 

 


Gori, Hometown of one Joseph Stalin

How about that Stalin guy eh? What a funny old fellow he was, rose to power after Lenins death, oversore both a massive period of growth for his nation as well as a massive period of killing for his own people and anyone else he could get his hands on really.

After Tbilisi we have come to this small town Gori, in the middle of Georgia where one Joseph Stalin was born! This is the only place left with statues of old mate and they are everywhere, they have a museum with his personal rail carriage and they have preserved his birth house. The museum itself is quite sweet, lots of photos and you get a guided tour, plus they have tacky stalin souvineers, I got myself a small stalin statue, perfect for that special someone who has everything!

This town is like a little time machine back to Soviet days, its immensly facinating to be here, english is hard to come by, Iiris does most of the talking for us in Russian which is understood by almost everyone. Our accomodation last night was some of the finest the soviets had to offer, two small creeking beds, rusty bathroom, no hot water nor even a shower head. The land here is beautiful but its scarred by big concrete structures, concrete it seems was the building material of choice for the soviets.

We have had some amazing adventures so far, remember I mentioned some seperatist areas in the north, particularly South Ossetia? DFAT 5 out of 5 rating? Lets just say the zezeran spirit couldnt resist that one for long… its a gold story, soldiers with AKs, getting shaken down by the KGB, its got it all, more stories and pictures coming soon, I think this internet is coming through 2 tin cans and a bit of string. I can say this, I am very glad I came to Georgia!

In Tbilisi and Wet

Not much time but we are in Tbilisi and spent the day walking around, its a nice city, its not quite chickens and donkeys on the sidewalk, its quite pleasant in fact.

It is wet though so not sure of the next move, we are in a sweet little guesthouse called Irenas Homestay, this lady has a massive house here and just converted her house into a hotel, its awesome she is so lovely and helpful and theres plenty of other cool travellers to give us the good word on Georgia.

Its an interesting mix of cultures here. Its on the crossroads of The Middle East, Europe and Russia and has little bits of all while still being distinctive. You can see the people have had a hard life but there are are always smiles behind the sighs, yay capitalism!

more later comrades

First Stop, Riga Latvia

One ferry ride later and Im in my first stop, good old Riga!

I took the overnight ferry from Stockholm last night, the old rust bucket Regina Baltica, the smaller, less impressive of Tallinks Baltic fleet. as you can see above, 5pm leaving Stockholm harbour is quite the afternoon rush. Our boat may be small, cramped and crap but this floating RSL always serves up a few fun moments, its a great mix of cultures, swedish, english, latvian and LOTS of crazy russians, although the fact that most people went through the EU line at customs tell me they are mostly Russian Latvians. Also dont forget the small Malaysian kiddies who spoke a very iirie american engish, like they had grown up in an international school, it was weird.

At night you can sit out on the deck and watch the still white nights, the sea was calm and in one direction was darkness and in the other a warm orange over the horizon. It occured to me out there that I havnt experienced real darkness in months, it will still be a month or two until we REALLY get the darkness here… well that was until I went back to my little room to find Vladimir the russian guy asleep in the bunk below me, with no windows, its dark alright. Before that I did get a chance to take in a little Karaoke. swedes singing in swedish is nice, russians singing in russian is also cool but drunk russians singing english classics, now this I can listen to all night long!

Today in Riga is nice and relaxing, I really miss to be on the road. Where the road is leading doesnt matter, just as long as I am moving. Iiris arrived quite late in Riga tomorrow so Im just hanging out till then, found some cool people in the hostel, should be a good night. I havnt found us accomodation in Tbilisi yet even though I told her we had it… but shhh dont tell her yet ok 🙂

Speaking of her, its my mission to try and get the best price for this girl as I can in Georgia. How much would such a strong young lady as her be worth to marry off to some local farmers son? 3 camels? 4 camels and a few sheep? Thats my final offer, no less than this!

ok make it 3 camels and a case of turnips and its a deal, whos coming to a georgian wedding! hahahahahah

Where The Bloody Hell Is Georgia?

Sweden is such a nice country, even after having a year and a half of holidays, I get an extra 3 weeks in July because all of Sweden shuts down in this month to enjoy the 4 hours of sunlight they get annually. So whats a guy to do with some time on his hands and a small case of the wanderlust? (this of course being different to the vandersexxx)

I was thinking of Ukraine.. its pretty wild, lots of social change, my kind of scene, or there is Kaliningrad, that little piece of Russia between Lithuania and Poland, who ever heard of going there on a holiday? Thats exactly why I wanted to go.

However then some friends suggested Georgia! No, not the American state but the formerly occupied Soviet state just above Turkey… oh and just below Chechnya, maybe you have heard of that place. Sounds like a wild and crazy place to me, im listening…

And as it turns out my Estonian friend Iiris, fresh from finishing her PHD also wants to go to Georgia and has the time free… sounds like a plan to me! I jumped online and found airBaltic did some flights from Riga to the capital Tbilisi, kinda expensive almost 200€ each way but fuck it, ive already given enough to the shareholders of airBaltic in my time, whats a bit more.

I dont know what to expect in Georgia, apparently Tbilisi has a lovely old town center and when we are there they have a folk festival on. Geogria has mountains and also sea too, thats a good combination. Ive been hooked up with some friends of friends who live there and are going to show us around, thats all we need to get ourselves going, some local knowledge and some local beers. I like that I have no idea what to expect, the closest I have to compare is Romania and thats all the way on the other side of the Black Sea. Ive been told Georgian people are lovely and welcoming and who hasnt dreamt of sipping some sweet Georgian wine?

Now not to say Georgia is a place full of happy daisys and rainbows, its just below Russia and unlike our Baltic friends, kind of tucked away from the rest of Europe, across the sea and on the other side of Turkey. That means Russia can get away with way more shit than it ever did when Est, Lat and Lith broke away. There are areas in Georgia you just cant go, the government doesnt actually control them, there are local separatist movements who are in control and being covertly backed by Russia. The Australia government more or less washes their hands of you if you do go: Georgia itself gets a "high degree of caution" rating and the separatist parts get a "make sure you have accurate dental records" status.

I just read today that Russia has been caught red handed making air strikes on the northern part of Georgia and then making it look like it was these separatist guys… sorry Putin, I DONT THINK THESE GUYS HAVE BIG ASSED GUNSHIPS WITH RUSSIAN ROCKETS ON THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE, sort of throws that idea out the window. Still, thats even scarier, that one country can openly and hostily engage a neighbour and no one else seems to care. Good times I am sure. here the Wall Street Journal has been kind enough to make this map which shows us where not to go

But dont let this give you a bad idea about the place! Ha! You know I just love to rabble rouse where ever I can! Georgia is a great place and very welcoming to tourists, in fact I dont even need a visa before I go, I can get one at the airport on the way in, I couldnt even do that to Romania last year.

Come friday evening Im on the boat to Riga then on Sunday Iiris will meet me there and we shall fly to Tbilisi, our flight gets there at 3:30am! Let the adventure begin, expect full blog, photo and video coverage to come.

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Smoke Sauna Of Fiscal Policy

Im sitting here at work first thing in the morning feeling a bit bored, not an uncommon thing given its July and Swedish business virtually shuts down over this time, so im sitting and thinking.

Im thinking about my thoughts and impressions of Eesti and how they have changed over time. Theres been a lot of articles out there of late about eastern european economic policy right now and in short how its getting hotter and hotter out east. Alot of the talk has been centered around some articles from The Economist which also points the finger mostly at Latvia. So whats happening in general? In "eastern" countries, the economies are hotting up, growth is far too strong and labor demand is outstripping supply, ie there arnt enough little wild and crazy eastern euros to fill the jobs, indeed the birth rate is falling in most countries. Everyone has a dig at Latvia because its the hottest of the hot right now, inflation up above 8% and everyone is spending up big on consumer items, for most baltic countries this is the first time they have EVER had any money, so theres a cultural pressure to be seen to have but mostly show the new moolah. This leads to large amounts of personal debt among the population. Latvia is an interesting example too because of the russian factor, its always been a hive of Ruski business activity, its got a port unlike Vilnius and well… the Russians were never that fond of doing stuff in Esonia, maybe you forgot the recent riots perhaps? On the contray, Latvia has actually been seen to snuggle with the Kremlin after these days, they are riding that money train alright.

So everyones having a dig at Latvia but they arnt the only ones, Estonia is getting hotter also but their financial policies are somewhat better. One big problem is labor shortages as I mentioned, it seems the sex tourists only want to come for a weekend and not stay longer to contribute more to the economy. Also its kinda hard for a skilled non EU citizen to come and work, the process has a bit of red tape around it and can take upward of 3 months, although I see come November the Eesti government is voting to change this and cut that time to 3 weeks. Great Success. Thats one thing they can do because many of these governments have their hands tied when it comes to finance policy. Their currencies are pegged to the euro so they cant mess with interest rates and most of the banks are foreign owned so the government cant set direct policy for them, sure its in a banks interest to do things which are good for that country but you can argue they dont do enough, they still want to make a profit this year and the next. Income tax is one area they can make a direct change but Estonia for example keeps insisting on reducing it. Good for this economic growth but didnt we just say it was growing too fast anyway? With all of this heat the move of the 3 countries to the euro has been pushed back. At one stage it was tipped to be 2008 or even 2007 for Eesti and Latvia but now conservative estimates put it at 2011 atleast and thats IF they can reign in this inflation figure. They arnt allowed to use the euro if this is too high because it strongly ties all the eurozone economies, if  one country gets too hot, everyone feels the heat.

So, enough of the economic background, suffice to say change is happening rapidly, not only in economic sectors but everywhere and i love it. Society is evolving, change is happening. They dont often get it right first go but they try. Sometimes they are beating their own patriotic chests a bit too hard and miss the obvious but thats a natural thing. I see the Estonian economy like a teenager, growing, youthful, full of energy, wants to be accepted among its peers but is still headstrong and a bit short sighted at times. However as we know, even the biggest of kids grow up eventually.

Which makes me think about my own thoughts on Eesti once more. When I was there several weeks ago I stopped and had a good look around… and i saw a place different to the one 3 idiots first rolled off the boat into well over a year ago now. When we first came we knew nothing, it was "crazy eastern europe" and when i looked upon it thats what i saw but now, after being there for so long and even calling it a home in some ways, I dont see "eastern europe" anymore, I just see a nice little country called Estonia, which is already really quite developed and nothing like the frontier town of my previous imagining. The question then comes to me, is this because Estonia has changed so much in a year or am I just seeing it differently because i know it kind of intimately now?

I dont think anyone will argue with me when I say its a little from column A and a little from column B.

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Cultural Learnings Of… Putin Speaks to IOC, In English!

So this week Sochi in Russia won the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Great Success! One of the major factors attributes to this win is the main man himself, your favourite ex KGB bad ass and mine, President Putin flying down to Guatemala himself to give a speech and not just any speech my friends a speech in English! Putin NEVER speaks in English in public and then he caps it of with a line in French too! What a man! There hasnt been such a great Olympic speech since Australia rolled out Tanya Blanco, the girl with the oversized breasts and overextending arm gestures for our speech for the 2000 games. "In the year 2000 I will be 18, who will remember me?" I will Tanya, I will. hahaha thats champagne sketch comedy.

Anyway enough with the obscure australian comedy references, we are talking about Putin, here’s his speech. I love listening to this guy, in the same way I like to watching the dancing boris video over and over and over again. if your bored skip to the 2:50 mark and watch the next 50 seconds.


Putin makes a funny! What a guy!

For example we plan to lift all restrictions on the minimum stay for delegations. This will be backed up by a special law.

(I have already signed a Decree to this effect).

And one more special privilege:

No traffic jams! I promise!

He sounds like every Russian taxi drive ive ever had in Tallinn

Why dont you come to russia? We will get your entry good russian night club, you have good time

you good russian woman, very beautiful, you will like, so give us the games IOC or maybe you dont remember our old friend Litvinenko?

Putin’s a very smart guy but his accent sounds like Russian mafia, being a fan of communication and a fan of the use of english, I love it. You need to understand where hes coming from too, he speaks about 5 languages and from what I udnerstand he learnt german before english from his time as a KGB hard mofo in former East Germany. I dont know if its me watching him more closely of late but he seems to have more personality coming out and this speech is a great example of that. He smiles in a cheeky way, he tells jokes, he regales us with stories about his skiing trips, who would imagine hes also the guy whos amassing his own personal force of pissed off Russian youths who are solely loyal to him and go out and fuck up anyone who he doesnt like? But come on, he is a wild and crazy guy!

Still I reckon its awesome, you dont need to just analyse Dale Carnegie or Steve Jobs to learn more about good presentation techniques, look for the not so obvious and you will find gold instead.

The full text of the speech can be found at kremlin.ru

If you are wondering, here is where Sochi is, right down on the Black Sea… right above a little place called Georgia in fact…

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