I walk a lot. I eschew the metro, marshutkas, buses, and taxis in favor of walking whenever I can. I walk to work, rain or shine, and sometimes on weekends I like to just go for walks. My favorite loop makes a figure 8 around old town in which I walk up to Nariqala, across to Kartlis Deda, down through Sokolaki back into Old Tbilisi, then across the Metekhi bridge, through Rike Park, and back home across the Peace Bridge! Lovely part of the city!
Besides admiring the sights, what can one do while walking? If you have a walking partner, strike up a conversation! If you prefer solitude, listen to the sounds of the city all around you. If you’re like me and want some mental stimulation and mental privacy, then an iPod (or another, generic-brand mp3 player) will be your best friend.*
Whenever I’m walking, I’ve almost inevitably got my headphones in. Only occasionally, though, am I listening to music. No, no, my interests trend towards the far more prosaic. I use my walks as a chance to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, or books on tape, as I like to call them. It’s a great way to be entertained, to stay informed, or even to educate yourself about anything your heart desires! My daily commute to and from work has become a joy as I learn things I never knew I never knew from Stuff You Should Know and laugh along with the complainant and the defendant arguing a case before Judge John Hodgman. If you prefer the high-functioning stylings of a bunch of over-educated armchair pop culture philosophers, check out the Overthinking It Podcast. And these are just the tip of the vast and endless sea of podcasts available all over the world wide web.
The only thing better than 30- or 60-minute podcasts are the audio investments known to the world as Audiobooks. I subscribe to audible.com, a website that lets me download one free audiobook per month for the paltry sum of 14.95 USD each month. With most audiobooks priced around 15 USD and up, careful planning can net you loads of books at a discounted price. My personal wishlist has prices that run the gamut from 17 USD to 55 USD, each of which I can download for just 15 USD per month!
With this service, I have found my way to truly wonderful books that I’ve always wanted to read but never had the time to and books that I’d never heard of but got sucked into immediately. From Death by Black Hole to King Leopold’s Ghost to The Looming Tower to Krakatoa to World War Z, politics, history, science and literature are available for download with a few clicks. Have a 16 hour flight to Istanbul and then a 9 hour layover? Why not crack open the 48-hour Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon? That should keep you busy!
Despite the strange looks I get when laughing to myself or expressing revulsion, awe, or admiration with no visible stimuli**, I find my trips into the vibrant world of audiobooks to be an endless source of fascination and entertainment. My walks feel extra productive when I can point to a digital “stack” of books and tell my friends all about how James Garfield was a humble and well-educated man whose presidency would have been a great one had he not been assassinated.
In a nutshell, I’ve missed books and learning, but with a trusty iPod on my hip and a rich library on my desktop, I never have to go without again!
*Note: When walking around with headphones in, be extra careful of cars. You should be very vigilant when crossing the road or passing through highly trafficked areas!
**Note: As in many former-Soviet republics, Georgians often look askance at anyone who is smiling or laughing seemingly without cause. Walking down the street with a big grin plastered on your face is a surefire way to draw attention (and perhaps pity).