Greetings, friends and readers. I’ve been traveling in the Caucasus this month, and over the weekend I took advantage of the opportunity to go from Azerbaijan to Georgia on a 15-hour overnight train.
Here are a few notes and several videos from the trip.
So much of travel involves getting lost, experiencing a slight rising of panic, feeling inadequate and not being able to communicate. The small moments of victory come when you successfully navigate a challenge. I found the train station! I bought a ticket! I found the right platform!
And then I wait four hours. As someone said once, the waiting is the hardest part. It’s cold here, but thankfully not really cold. I spend the first part of my hurry-up-and-wait time with a book, but then I just sit and look around. Glamorous it’s not, but it works for me.
“Sir, one question,” said the clerk at my hotel in Baku, whom I’d recruited to write Baku-Tbilisi, one-way, second class for me in the local language of Azeri. “Why do you want to take the train? It’s not very nice.”
Why take the train? Good question. First, I knew it would be a highly authentic way to get around the Caucasus, and also a good counterpoint to the world of Star Alliance flights that brought me from Portland to Baku, via Denver and Frankfurt. Second, I like overland travel, so why not go all-out? Fifteen hours can’t be that bad, and the unpredictability and raw element of train travel adds an edginess that I haven’t had recently.
On this train I meet Ina, a Norwegian who works for her country’s embassy in Azerbaijan. Ina is fluent in Russian, so I’m temporarily saved from having to use my broad vocabulary of five Russian words. The train rumbles through the night, and thankfully the border stop and accompanying bureaucracy don’t come until we arrive at the edge of Azerbaijan after 7am.
We notice a big difference in attitude between the Azerbaijani border guards and the Georgian border guards. The Azerbaijanis are suspicious and rude as they check our travel documents. An hour later, the Georgians are some of the most friendly border guards I’ve ever met. Several of them poke their head in the compartment just to say “Welcome to Georgia” in English.
Unfortunately, the attitude difference doesn’t translate to efficiency, as we have to wait nearly two hours to clear the Georgian side of the border. We finally make it into Tbilisi at around 1:30pm. I hadn’t slept much during the night, so I’m happy to find my hotel and take a nap before dinner.
I could have done without the four-hour wait for the train, and I’m neutral on Azerbaijan, but Georgia is living up to the high expectations several readers who had been here sent with me. I’ve spent the past couple of days getting settled and wandering around Tbilisi, which is truly a beautiful city. It reminds me of the Balkan region, particularly Croatia or Montenegro.
In short, I’m having fun. Train videos are below, photos are on Flickr, my whole life is on Twitter, and I hope you’re starting your own week off well. See you again soon, either from another stop in Georgia or from Armenia if I get there first.
Video #1 (30 seconds) inside of the train station
Video #2: (1 minute 49 seconds) how to travel without speaking the language – and being evicted from the only available seating in the train station
Video #3: (42 seconds) Exterior of the train, waiting to board
Video #4: (51 seconds) Interior of the compartment + dinner of champions