By James Overton
"The worst bus trip I ever took was the one to Tbilisi" said Sid who I
met in the bus station cafeteria.
"I was really excited about the trip, especially as I got the visa in
Trabzond with no trouble at all from the Georgian consulate. It was
funny, all these other people, Russians mostly, were waiting outside
the door of the consulate, we were all gathered on the stairs. The door
is closed and everybody has been told to wait. Then a thick set man in
a double breasted suit and a curly white moustache comes up, rings the
bell and goes in, but he looks at me and beckons me inside. I mean, I
wasn't even first in the queue. Apparently this was the consul general
You know what? He looked just like a character out of Tintin, King
Ottokar's sceptre, you know? Short and squat with that huge moustache,
a cartoon character. The special agent from Syldavia, that was him!.
Well anyway I got preferential treatment and got the visa right away.
Here, I've still got it"
Sid pulled a dog-eared passport from his anorak pocket and showed the
visa, a multicolored thing with a silvery stamp in the corner.
"I had been waiting for hours at the bus station in Trabzond, it's just
down the road from the Avrasaya Pazari, the Russian market" Sid
"There was a young Georgian couple waiting too, with two little girls.
The man at the ticket desk had told me to be there at three. It was
seven and still no sign of the bus to Georgia."
I gazed outside as Sid continued. Other buses were coming and going,
women hidden in black chadors flocked onto the platform and
"The wife of this young couple, she was pretty, a nice advert for
Georgia, very short and dressed all in black trousers and top. Black
short hair too. She could speak some english. It seems her mother had
got remarried to an English guy; he worked at Manchester airport I
A really friendly little family, we spent hours together waiting in
Trabzond. I even spent the time drawing a portrait of one of the little
Sid lit another cigarette and ordered two more glasses of chai.
"Can't you telephone the driver to find out where the bus has got to? I
asked the clerk. He kept repeating "Bus come now, besh minute" - five
minutes. Well eventually somebody ran in and told us the bus was
waiting outside in the street. We dashed out in the pouring rain. When
we got to the bus - total chaos. Nowhere to sit. People packed into all
the available seats, all puffing away on cigarettes.
"Where do I put my rucksack?" I ask
No space at all in luggage hold. And the back of the bus is stacked to
the roof with stuff - televisions, videos, furniture, bicycles,
suitcases, all kinds of stuff. The girl from the young couple is there.
She pushes me into the bus saying it will be OK. Somehow a space is
found for me, behind all the people smoking.. My rucksack is crammed on
top of all the junk at the back.
My seat is a tight fit. There's a huge rugby player type next to me,
Zaoul his name is.
After a lot of faffing about, the bus eventually gets going.
The people on board, what a strange lot! I can still remember them all.
There's a youngish woman with thrusting breasts and wearing a jumper,
she can speak German. Lenin busen I call her. Next to her, her sister:
big girl with glasses.
There's a fellow with gold teeth, wearing a black nylon shell suit.
He's called Admiral or at least that's what I understood it to
There's a lad I call the Etonian, he's impeccably dressed in a black
close fitting jacket, pinstripes and the pointiest black shiny shoes
Then there's an old guy in a brown suit and with sad eyes who tells me
he was in England. Once, Heathrow airport, in 1975. He keeps looking
down at the floor shaking his head and telling me: "Bus very beeg
Sid smaned at his impression of the man's worried voice. After
another drag on the cigarette he continued: "Well the bus staggers off
in the rain, towards the border.
And when I say stagger, that's how it was, because due to some fault it
drives on for ten kilometers or so, then breaks down again. One of the
drivers keeps running around to the back of the bus, eventually it
starts up again, vrroom vrroom, and the engine splutters onto life
again. And on this goes through the night, stopping and starting again.
I reckon it was overheating, fan belt had gone or something. At one
stage we've staggered to a halt at a petrol station and one of the men
dashes off with a jerry can, fills it up and this seems to get the old
bus going again.
At this rate, how long is it going to take to Tbilisi? It's supposed to
be a twelve hour drive anyway."
Sid shook his head and took another cigarette; it was the last one,
from the packet.
"Well hours later we arrive at the border. Quite an impressive barrier.
After all, remember that until just a few years ago, this was the iron
curtain, the front line between NATO and the Russians. Couldn't see
much though, it was pitch dark and pouring with rain and by then it was
2 am or something.
Everyone piles out and runs through the rain to the checkpoint to have
their passports checked. Then you have to wait in this enormous shed,
while we wait for the bus and all those tons of stuff inside it, to be
checked. This takes hours. Meanwhile I'm just standing there in the
dark, wind and rain, waiting.
Suddenly the girl with the tits, Lenin busen, appears and tells me to
follow. "Komm, Essen" she says.
So me and a few others are dashing through the pouring rain round the
back of the border post, she seems to know where we are going.
We're heading towards some dim flickering lights. There's a line of
shacks, faintly lit by spluttering paraffin lamps. You go inside and
there's some old women cooking up snacks and providing drinks. Well
Lenin tits and the others are very encouraging, we all sit down and a
bottle of vodka comes round.
"Gau Mar Jos!" everone calls out, something like 'cheers' in Georgian
This is where I get introduced to the national food of Georgia, it's
called Kajapuri. Kind of pizza dough with sour cheese inside. It's
quite nice but after a few days in Georgia you get heartily sick of it,
I can tell you."
Meanwhile the vodka is coming round and round, quite a change from
Trabzond which is one of the most muslim towns in Turkey, and where you
can drink nothing but water or Chai. The person leading the proceedings
is the Admiral, and he's getting quite merry. Me too actually!"
Sid smiled as he remembered the vodka drinking session.
"After a couple of hours of this, word arrives that we're off. So we
have to dash for the bus and we're driving through the night into
Georgia. Funny things is, there's no more breakdowns, the bus seems to
be going OK now. I reckon it was because of some scam, they didn't have
any money to buy petrol in Turkey, but as soon as they were across the
border there's a supply of stolen stuff or something.
By daylight, you can se the bus is becoming a tip. There's empty
bottles, crisp packets, biscuit boxes, all kinds of crap on the floor.
And the smoke, thicker than ever. I've never seen people who could puff
away so intensively".
I looked at my watch. Two hours to go. Sid returned to the table with
another pack of cigarettes.
"Georgia's not very impressive on the other side of the border, to say
the least" said Sid.
"In the old Soviet days, Georgia was an important tourist area. There
were a lot of hotels, tourist facilities and stuff along the coast. But
now they're all wrecked. Right along the shoreline you can see broken
down buildings, empty and derelict old hotels, holes in the road,
really clapped out. A war zone".
"Well by this time I'm getting hungry and Lenin Busen tells me we will
behaving a breakfast stop. So eventually the bus grinds to a halt in
front of another of these shacks and we troop in, a really primitive
place, the manageress is standing there is about five jumpers and
gloves, it was really cold, and yelling out the orders.
I am with the Lenin sisters again and she's promising a great
breakfast. "Shashlik... schweinsfleisch, ganz gut!" So what we're
served is great gollops of fatty pork, along with beer and the good old
I don't know whether it was the meat caused it, but in a short time
I've got his awful guts ache. So I'm walking around outside looking for
the Gents. Gents, hah! Someone tells me the way and I go down a track
to where there's a sign reading '"Tualet" .
Sid spelt out the word on the table with his finger, T-U-A-L-E-T.
"Well the Gents, as such, consists of a wooden board set across a tiny
stinking creek, and there's this stench of excrement. I just couldn't
bring myself to go. So I just have to hold myself in as best I can
because it's not that much further to Tblisi. My God, the next few
hours were agony!
After a while the old bus finally shudders into some kind of courtyard
full of rusting hulks of vehicles and spare parts, I am told this is
the bus depot and there's Tualet there. Well this turns out to be even
worse that the last place, a real stink hole I thought, surely I can
get a taxi in a moment and get to a hotel. Imagine it, I'm clutching my
buttocks together and grimacing, I can't wait much longer, I feel
terrible and really need to have a crap. I'm just surviving by telling
myself we'll be there soon.
Fortunately the bus moves on and after a few minutes we approach the
centre of town and stop at the bus station where I'm able to dive into
a taxi. Not before getting some local currency to pay the bill.
After getting to the hotel they must have wondered what was wrong with
me because I got the key, went to my room and dashed into the
Sid shook his head and lit up again with a smile.
"I've never had such a relaxing crap in my whole life, I can tell
Beautiful city Tbilisi, you ever been there?"