Here’s our first post in the Georgia series. Admittedly I’m running a wee bit behind schedule in posting as life has somehow gotten in the way of blogging. What a fascinating country! We hope you enjoy reading our Georgia posts as much as we enjoyed experiencing it first hand.
September 16-17, 2014: The biggest challenge in getting from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia by night train is figuring out how to get the tickets. Chris and Medjid were told that tickets would go on sale ten days before the intended day of travel. After our trip to Xinaliq, Medjid took me to Baku’s central railway station to buy tickets.
We came away empty handed. Tickets were not on sale yet. We were told to come back the following afternoon but the story was the same on the next day. In the ticket sales area, there is one counter off to the far right with an English speaking interpreter who aided me on the days that Medjid was busy. Both interpreters were incredibly helpful. On my third trip with no success, I learned that they had recently changed booking systems. I guess they were still working out the glitches.
Finally, on my fourth trip (only five days before our departure) I came away with two prized seats in first class. I was delighted to see our names written out in Cyrillic script, the Russian alphabet. Total cost AZN52 per ticket or about $66. We needed our passports with a valid Azeri visa (or in Chris’ case his resident card) in order to book the tickets.
After returning from our trip to Nakhchivan and spending a day sightseeing in Baku, we packed up our bags and caught a purple eggplant taxi to the train station. There we hailed down a policeman, who directed us to the correct platform. Boarding began about 30 minutes before our scheduled departure at 20:30.
Lucky for us, the first class carriages are closest to the station. There are just two sleeper seats per compartment and they are comfortable with lots of room for baggage, which is good because we had lots. In addition to our small amount of travel luggage, we were hauling a bunch of boat parts with us that we would be taking back to MOKEN.
Our compartment was located right in the middle of the carriage. The non-English speaking attendant on board our carriage provided us with clean sheets. As there is no restaurant car or food service on board, it’s a good thing we brought along our own food and beverages. There is a washroom at each end of the compartment but one of ours was out of service. Our full carriage had to share one, meaning there was often a queue.
We left more or less on schedule and the 551 kilometre journey took about 14 hours to cover. There are 12 stops en route, including one at the last station in Azerbaijan where we had to clear through immigration out of the country and less than 30 minutes later the first station in Georgia where we had to check in. Each of those stops was about one hour but we didn’t have to leave the train. Inspectors and immigration officials came on board. While some rifled through our bags and checked each compartment for contraband and stowaways, others processed our passports and took our photos.
With most of the trip in the dark, we only had the morning hours before our arrival in Tbilisi to check out the countryside through which we were travelling. There were some areas of farmland and some small villages, but much of the area was quite industrial, with many railway sidings, factories (some abandoned and some still in operation), rusting railcars, and scrap yards piled high with metal.
On our noonish arrival at the Tbilisi central station, our train was met by a horde of taxi drivers and others waiting to meet family members. We picked one driver at random and he quickly whisked us and our bags through the station, into his car and off to our hotel in the old town.