We woke up early to make the train. At the train station we found out that it didn’t leave until that night. Ugh. Now what to do?
We have a friend living in Rustavi, a city close enough to Tbilisi. So we call the friend for marshut’ka directions and off we go. Who knew directions could be so difficult.
“Across the bridge and dead ends at the Square.” Nope.
“By the statue of the Musicans.” Nope.
“Get a taxi [oh lord] and tell him to take you to the fountain.”
Taxi driver drives for a bit, then stops to discuss. A crowd ensues. All trying to decipher where we are trying to go. As all this is going on, two English speaking Georgians appear with beaming smiles on their faces. They are just as amused by the crowd as we, but they can’t figure it out either. Then light bulbs come on.
“Do you mean new Rustavi or OLD Rustavi?”
TWO Rustavis. Good question…. New Rustavi, yeah, surely New.
We drive to the only fountain in New Rustavi and our friends are not there. Okay.
Then two Georgian things occurred that never fails. One: I was told to stand at the fountain so my friend could locate me. While there, one of these kids, playing in the fountain, says, “HELLO!” in the cutest perfect English (only those who love kids know THAT voice). “HOW ARE YOU!” he proceeds to say. “WHAT IS YOUR NAME!”
Fruits of English language program first hand. In thinking back, how gratifying it must be to be able to decode a way of communicating with someone who would otherwise not be able to understand you.
Then all the boys giggly and smiley come up to me to shake my hand and greet me and ask how I am. It was the gypsy children of Tbilisi… but in reverse.
And the second thing: This clearly being the wrong fountain, I go back to the taxi. I tell my friend to give her phone to the nearest Georgian she sees and I give my phone to the taxi driver. They work it out and PRESTO! In minutes we are with our friends… in OLD Rustavi.
Had lunch with and caught up on gossip with our friends. The owner (or dominant worker) took me back to the kitchen where I could personally choose and decide what we wanted. We feasted. Great time in the beautiful city of Rustavi. Must spend more time there.
But back to Tbilisi for the train.
We boarded the train fine. First time for me on a night train. I was spent and promptly pulled down the bunk and went to sleep. It seems the train authorities asked for our passport a hundred times, but in hindsight, that was for what was to come…
We were in a deep sleep when we were abruptly awaken again and told to get dressed and bring our passports. Okay.
Only when lined up to get off the train, did we understand we were at the border and were preparing for visa/passport check. I don’t know if it was because we were brusquely awaken, the heavy presence of the military or what, but Armenia border crossing was no joke.
Imagine a old school soviet train pulling up to a heavy military staffed train check point. Stone faced, military dogs, and all. AND it’s the middle of the night. I felt as if I were thrown back to the cold war days. We were lined up and told to follow single file to a building. In the building a heavy set man barked out our names. Fortunately for me, our friend, Chris went first. He was asked if he was indeed ‘Chris’, why was he coming to Armenia, and for how long. After a couple of long looks and some shuffling of papers, he was told, “PAY NOW!” Everyone else became quick students and followed suite.
If he had asked anyone in my earshot, “WHAT…. IS YOUR FAVORITE COLOR!!”, I would have lost it and would probably be rationed bread and water in some deep dungeon in, “God knows where”, Armenia.
After paying, we were ushered into another room, where a man who was just as scary for totally different reasons was operating a computer. When he called my name, He asked again why I was coming to Armenia and was it correct if I was from North Carolina. I apparently wasn’t on the Interpol list, so I was allowed back onto the train… alive. We sat in the compartment silent and stunned for a minute at what just happened. Then, laughed hysterically. If I had pictures of anything thus far, I WISH I had pictures of this.
Then we went to sleep. Next stop, Yerevan.