Quirks of Tbilisi and reflections on long-distance cycling

I’m still stuck in Tbilisi. I've had a great time with fellow travelers, but it looks like I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I’ve had some really cool experiences here in Tbilisi while waiting for my Visas, but it’s also given me time to reflect some more on the project as a whole. Let’s start out with a few of my more memorable moments here in Tbilisi.

 Emil Hvidtfeldt BHM Hostel

Sulphur Baths

The Sulphur baths of Tbilisi turned out to be quite the experience. Before going I’d been told that there would be options for either private or public baths. Being alone and on a budget, I settled for the public bath. I’m not quite sure what I had expected before entering, but the bath turned out to be a quite small room, tightly packed with naked old Georgian men, scrubbing and shaving each other.  In one end of the room was a small tub of extremely hot Sulphur water, oozing of eggs. I made my way into the tub but was only able to stay in for a few minutes before the heat became unbearable. I’d expected there to be an equally cold tub in the room next door but was instead met with a small sauna. I was the only foreigner in the bath at the time, so I was receiving quite a few funny looks from my fellow bathers... Feeling slightly out of place, I awkwardly made my way into the sauna to sit amongst the locals, but once again was only able to stay for a few minutes. As I was about to leave, I was asked whether I wanted to be scrubbed, but declined the offer. Eventually, I made it out of the hot steamy baths, not feeling refreshed but more overheated. I dashed for the nearest kiosk to get a bottle of ice cold water to round of the experience. I guess Sulphur baths aren’t really my sort of thing after all. Cool experience though!

Bassiani

I’ve long been interested in electronic music, and the whole scene that goes with it. So, when I learned that one of the world’s top techno clubs, Bassiani, was located in Tbilisi, I knew I had to pay a visit. I was staying at a very small hostel together with a few fellow travelers and cyclists, a good bunch of whom were up for a bit of partying. We started out at the hostel listening to a bit of techno to get in the mood of the night, and eventually went out. We started out going to a giant warehouse called Fabrika, which is a combination of restaurants, hostels, and a few bars. After spending a bit of time at Fabrika, it was time for Bassiani. That’s when I realized most of the crew I was there with were actually really well loaded on beer and drinks, and not really up for going to Bassiani. An Australian guy, Zac, was up for it though. So, Zac and I went for it. Bassiani is located in the basement of the local sports stadium, and is known for being somewhat picky with who they let in. On this particular Friday it was a “Horoom” event, which is basically an LGBT-night with a pretty interesting mix of people. I was seriously doubting whether they would let us in, since I was wearing homemade shorts, a dirty t-shirt, and a woman’s perfume. Zac was wearing cycling tights. We made our way up to the que and were let through no problem. As we made our way around the dark corridors, we met a couple of nicely dressed girls who told us that some of their friends had not been allowed access to the club. How on earth Zac and I had actually been allowed in is completely beyond my comprehension. I guess we must have looked the part. Fashion is sort of a strange thing to me anyway. It was a pretty cool experience though, with dark, heavy techno, thumping through the gloomy rooms. In the corners of the room were couches besieged by obviously doped up people, adding to the slightly shady feel of the whole place. After a couple of hours of dancing, and exploring the different rooms of the club, we made our way back to the hostel. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty worn out the day after…

Why cycle-touring?

Now for something slightly different. About a month ago I wrote a blog post about why you might want to go on a long cycle-touring trip. Quite a lot has happened since then, so I’ve felt the need to share some more of my reflections.

I’ve now met quite a few cycle-tourers that are undertaking journeys very similar to my own. It’s been very fascinating comparing people’s stories. All the long-distance cyclists I’ve met seem to have very well-defined reasons for doing what they are doing. Apart from the pleasure of traveling itself, most have been raising funds and awareness. But it also seems to me that a lot of people have been dealing with some sort of inner conflict. You don’t seem to get that same sense of clear purpose when speaking with, for example, backpackers. Most of the backpackers I’ve been speaking with are traveling for the sake of meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. Now, don’t get me wrong. Engaging with new people and culture is more than enough reason to go traveling. Most of my traveling has been done for that very reason, and if you haven’t already, I’d advocate anyone to grab a backpack and go. Backpacking is undoubtedly one of the most popular forms of travel, and with good reason. When listening to the travel stories of backpackers, they’re honestly not much different from those of the cycle-tourers. So why is it that backpacking is so much more popular than cycle-touring? And why is it that so many troubled people end up cycling halfway around the world? The experiences cycle-tourers and all other travelers get to enjoy are often very similar, so, the many hours spent in the saddle is really the defining part of cycle-touring. Anyone who has ever ridden a bike seven hours in a row will know that it is very much a type-2 sort of fun. Basically, you won’t really enjoy the cycling bit until it’s over with. It does, however, give you a massive amount of time to quite simply reflect on whatever is on your mind, and I think that attracts a very specific sort of crowd. The actual act of cycling quickly becomes completely automated, so after a while, it’s almost a sort of meditation. Backpacking is, in a way, a lot more of a concentrated travel experience. It’s mostly type-1 fun. So, if you do have something on your mind, and need the time to reflect, long-distance cycling might be a very good way of traveling. If you don’t, it might actually just end up a bit boring at times. When deciding on traveling for prolonged periods of time, there will always be some sort of sacrifice as well. The world back home does not stop spinning while you are gone. Things change within a year, so if you are completely happy with the way things are going back home, you might not want to go traveling for so long. The closest of your friends will most likely be there for you once you return, but some might not. I had that very experience after a year in Greenland, so I suspect this will be the same. What I’m saying is, that the people who take on challenges of this caliber are probably not just doing it for the hell of it. Usually, there is a method in the madness. Since long-distance cycling is somewhat of a spectacular feat to many people (often times making the newspapers), it makes perfect sense to direct some of the attention towards whatever cause you care for. For most people, that cause would have a more or less direct connection to their own experiences. I’ve chosen to use this trip to raise funds and awareness for The Association for Greenlandic Children. It’s a motivating factor, it gives me a sense of purpose, and it is a cause that I genuinely care for. You can read more about it and donate to the cause through the link below. Thank you!