Big mustache, dirty jacket and a mop of white hair, the taxi driver didn’t seem super happy. “Taxi?”
“Um, yes please,” I reply, fearing a massive rip-off in my midst.
He lures me back into the train terminal and down the stairs, out another door and throws me into his mid-90s Opel hatchback. The boot’s full, so he throws my pack into the back seat and puts me in shotgun.
Clunking down the road, the car is older than its years and I’m wholly aware of how rough it’s life might have been. The streets are gray scale, with flourishes of graffiti; the roads are broken and worn, while the sidewalks remind me of Nepal. As we move closer into the old part of town, the soviet-era buildings and dilapidated streets gave way to beautiful Georgian architecture and the odd modern building. In the distance, there are large churches and a shining golden totem.
The taxi driver sees how I am obviously in awe of his home city. He tells me his name is Taras, and that his daughter teaches him English. He offers me his services for the duration of my stay, saying he’d drive me anywhere.
With a sore ankle, I think that I might have to say goodbye to plans to get out of Tibilisi, however I see that this city is fine to stay in. There must be enough here to see for weeks. There’s the Trinity Cathedral, the fortress on the hill, with Mother of Georgia standing guard, and a massive amount of museums and other such points of interest.
Taras tells me all this while we drive, in broken English. He gives me his card – a piece of cardboard with his number on it – and tells me a little more. His jovial demeanour and welcoming nature betrays his hardened face. His mustache bounces about and his hands bounce about between gear changes. He laughs, slaps my thigh, and tells me Georgia is as great as it is cold.
Running on the fumes of what little sleep I grabbed on the train from Azerbaijan, wandering the cold city of Tbilisi feels like a dream. The cobbled streets weave through ancient architecture, with Soviet era buildings in the distance. The old city’s tight streets are bordered by the old city walls and boxy brick-made churches with epithets to Jesus and various Orthodox Christian saints who I have never encountered.
Inside one place of worship, I find myself taken aback by the beauty of the place. Never have I felt the power of Christianity. New Zealand churches, so young and new, don’t have the same power. This church, even though it was just a room, had an amazing aura. The priest welcomed me with a bow, wearing full black livery over his long white beard, and I did so in turn. As a matter of fitting in, I draw the cross across my body.
Weaving in and around the streets, I take myself back to the hostel for coffee and a good lie down. Little do I know that tomorrow I will be lying down all day, popping pills and icing my ankle with a frozen chicken.