How Would You Celebrate?

Posted on March 19, 2012 by

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March 8, International Women’s Day, is an official holiday in Georgia. That being said, from personal observations, it appears as though it is celebrated very similarly to Valentine’s Day; women are given presents for being women. I am used to celebrating the independence and strength of women on International Women’s Day, so with this day as a recognized holiday, I decided to celebrate by traveling with 3 other female friends to Yerevan. After having booked an overnight train ticket to Tbilisi from Zugdidi for the night of March 7th, I learned that my host brother had made the decision to drive to Tbilisi to surprise his girlfriend of two years.

At about 4:30PM, he asked me if I wanted to go with him in his car rather than wait for the train. In the matter of 5 minutes I was packed, out the door, and headed to the train station to return my ticket. Two of his friends traveled the five hours to Tbilisi with us. Along the way, we tried with all our might to communicate in broken English and Georgian; exchanging words with pointing and low-quality charades that were hindered by car travel. At one point, my host bro made a symbol of a a “talking” hand and an “x” with his arms asking “What in English?” Explaining that the appropriate English phrase would be “Stop talking,” my host bro casually turned to his friend and said, “Stop talking.” Fair enough as his friend had literally been talking for 3 hours straight. The car trip in and of itself was fantastic – quality bonding time with my host brother.

Around 10:00PM, I rolled up to the metro stop Avlabari greeted by a friend who walked me to the obscure location of Tbilisi Hostel, which is covered in graffiti from its many previous visitors. The following day, we met two other friends and boarded a marshutka to Yerevan. The 6 hour journey was broken up by stories of Georgian experiences, border crossings, and Armenians’ genuine desire to welcome us to their country.

I have learned that when asking the same question to 20 different people in Georgia (to both foreigners and locals), you literally get 20 different answers. That is why I wasn’t surprised that the actual experience at the border control wasn’t anything like what I had heard. We arrived with both GEL and USD in our pockets to be told that we needed to pay in dram. He allowed one of us to pay in lari with exact change. Those of us without exact change were grateful to an Armenian guard who came to our rescue to help us operate the exchange machine near the visa window. For fear of not being allowed to travel in Azerbaijan following a visit to Armenia, I asked for my passport not to be stamped. Quite to the contrary, I got a full page visa sticker. It’s not possible to make this request at the border. Nor is it possible to buy a multi-entry visa on the border.

We stayed at the Envoy Hostel with the highlight being warmth at night. For the first night’s dinner, we were looking for something different as we had been eating Georgian food for the past two months (not that there is anything wrong with Georgian food – we were just looking for a bit of variety). We found Cactus, a mexican restaurant, that had amazing food! Also because it was International Women’s Day, we received free cocktails on the house.

The next morning, we took a free 2 hour walking tour offered by the hostel. Afterward, we stumbled upon a restaurant called Our Village where we had our first taste of Armenian food. It’s comparable to Georgian food, but with slight differences. Despite being a vegetarian, I tried a small bite of brains that another friend had ordered. The egg mostly masked whatever taste brains actually have.

A walk around the city took us to Cascade and up 750 stairs for an amazing view of the city. After 2 months of not cooking for ourselves, we decided to cook spaghetti dinner for ourselves back in the hostel. We finished the night off with a trip to Troll Bar which strangely mimicked scenes from Lord of the Rings.

The following day, one of our friends went on an organized tour while the rest of us chose to walk around on our own. We walked to an amazing handicrafts market where we tried our hand at bargaining. Most were uninterested in bargaining despite us being told that all Armenians are expected to bargain. We then made our way through the intense wind to the Sergei Paradjanov Museum (http://parajanovmuseum.am/).  Paradjanov is an eccentric artist whose art is mostly created from recycled materials.  We also visited the Genocide Museum before heading for a very needed dinner at the Caucasus restaurant.  Our last night in Yerevan, we were invited to a party by a member of Couchsurfing (couchsurfing.org) where we met and talked to a vastly diverse group of people.

On the trip back to Tbilisi, we were greeted with great kindness once again; a Georgian business man bought the four of us each a coke and a candy bar and a bottle of brandy to share.  He explained that his youngest son was a race car champion in Armenia and his older son lives in Batumi.  Two of us met his son as he helped us get to the train station to catch marshutkas back to our cities.  All in all, it was the perfect way to celebrate International Women’s Day – four women traveling together experiencing friendship and kindness around every corner.

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