It started out as a normal day in Georgia. I went to work in the morning carrying my backpack with everything I needed for a weekend in Kutaisi. I thought leaving the police academy at 2:30pm would give me plenty of time to find the bank, take the metro, meet my traveling companion and find the right train by 4:00pm. I probably should have left at noon.
Although I had asked directions to the bank, I was unable to locate it without walking up and down a few streets a few times before I discovered it. Inside, I found a huge mass of people. There were tellers, four of them, and in the U.S. there would have been four lines waiting in front of each counter. Not in Georgia. There were no lines, but rather everyone crowded as close to the person in front of them as possible; they wait in masses, not lines. I stood my ground and made my way to one of the counters, but it took forever. Maybe Friday afternoon is not the time to go?
After taking the metro to the city’s main train station, I met up with my travel buddy with time to spare. Now we just had to figure out where the train was going to be. We asked a vendor at the station and in our limited Georgian and his limited English, we thought we knew what platform it was going to leave from. Upon reaching that platform, we saw hundreds of people. Clearly this was a popular train and we were wondering if we would even be able to get on.
At about 4:05pm we heard someone over the loud speaker and groans from the masses waiting for the train. We deduced it was running late. About five minutes later there was another announcement, and a mad dash to the stairway exit. Because we were not sure what was said, we asked someone who was able to tell us in English that because the train was late, they had moved the track it was coming in on. Most people were using the stairs to cross the tracks to get to the other side. There were a few people, however who decided to jump down onto the tracks and climb up the other side! Two trains were coming into the station at this time and it was kind of a close call. We took the stairs and literally ran down the platform to the end of the train where there were less people and a better chance of getting seats.
We were lucky to find seats together at the front end of one of the last cars. The train was full. People were standing in the isles and many were walking back and forth selling things like bread, fruit, candy, pens, and tissues. This train was called a local train because it stopped many times along the way to Kutaisi. It was not long before most people got off and everyone left had a seat. It cost us 4 Lari (about $2.50) to take this five and a half hour trip!
At first, it was light enough to see the scenery as we sped by. Almost as soon as we passed through the hills that surround Tbilisi, we began to see snow. The ground was covered and by the time we got to the mountains, it was as deep as grown men’s thighs. The train would stop, there would be no station or even a way to distinguish this spot from any other along the way, and people would jump down literally into feet of snow! The first person down would then begin to create a path through the snow for the others to follow. Many times I looked past the people and could see no lights or even buildings in the distance. I wonder how far these people had to walk to get home.
Because we were at the front end of the car, we were sitting by the door. Let me start by saying, this train was old! Like so many other things in Georgia it was here when the Soviets were and it is still being used today. The door we were sitting by had two sides that slid from the middle. The left side was completely worthless. Although many tried to slide it open, no one succeeded. This left the right door which was not much better. It would get stuck every time someone tried to open it, which was fairly often, because people would stand outside the door and smoke. Luckily most people did this, instead of smoking in the car itself.
There weren’t too many of us left by the time we reached Kutaisi at about 10:00 p.m. After a long day of travel, I was ready to find the home stay and begin my next Georgian adventure in Kutiasi.