Why Was Tbilisi Such a Beautiful City in Deep Winter?

When Sylvester, the Polish cyclist we met on Christmas Day in Batumi, was explaining that conditions were difficult for local people in Georgia, coping with the cold midwinter. I remember thinking, surely its not as difficult as cycling round the world as if you could even compare such things.

People in places with extreme weather conditions, are obviously tough, live and learn to deal with it. Cycling round the world is so abstract. It means nothing to most and something completely different to anyone who has done it. It is just a body of memories, a once experienced truth of a moment, part of a process. Memories, skewed and evolved over time. The mind puts it's own spin on things, censoring some things, making it's own story which makes some kind of sense, or is maybe useful to life of the individual, but perhaps not to anyone else.

Tbilisi in Winter

Cycling round the world is definitely a difficult thing to do. We have barely scratched the surface of our adventure; this cycling lifestyle is starting to become my life. Tom and I are getting used to it. We are toughening up to the elements, and hopefully opening ourselves to, and dealing with events that come our way. I know there is something deeply satisfying about it, this life, and future prospects for us.

We are amassing a body of extraordinary experiences, memories, documents, colours, pictures, sounds which blend into each everyday adventure, meeting people and seeing new places (for example, today we hitch-hiked to the house of a Georgian cyclist adventurer called Jumbar Lezhava, who has travelled to 237 countries, and spent 9 years travelling by bike and holds 7 world records for push ups- and he's 68).

Yesterday we met a Georgian painter, Rezo Adamia, in his studio, just round the corner from where we are staying. Each day is as full as I want to make it, and I am happy to keep investigating and trying to learn and develop myself. The other day coming into Georgia where so much is completely new to me, I had a strange feeling, that I can only compare to that of being a child again (from some distant hazy memory).

The Georgian people love a good singsong and a dance. They have traditional songs which all-Georgian people know the words to and each song has a particular dance to accompany it.

On a number of occasions I have witnessed a Georgian 'feast' in a restaurant consisting of copious amounts of hot fatty food, washed down with lashings of fresh wine (with long-winded toasting, of course), and the music starts.

Last night, for example, I witnessed a dance where the lady parades up and down with her arms outstretched in a graceful fashion. The man then comes in, arms swinging like crazed windmills, slamming one foot forward and then stepping out, twisting his torso at the same time, repeating on the other side, moving around his partner.

It appeared that the objective was for the man to get as close as possible with the violent but well-timed movement without causing severe injury to his partner. All in all it was a thoroughly excited, energetic and rousing performance. It puts English-ritzy-nightclub arbitrary-jigging-about-after-a-few-pints totally to shame.  

Its -18 at night here in Tbilisi. The pavements and roadsides are covered with inches thick of lethal glass ice. Men dressed in heavy leather coats with flat caps, or thick fur lined caps with flaps covering the ears. Women dressed in fur coats and high heels navigate the treacherous urban conditions with impressive ease.

The undertones of poverty and difficult social conditions are never far away. On leaving a cafe and walking down the pavement we were approached by a group of begging children with dirty hands outstretched, one manically rasps 'money' at me. It’s disturbing and it evokes mixed emotions. I look up and see a 60 ft. tall picture of a glamour model draped over a new European style high street development.

Last week we visited the WWF Caucasus office in Tbilisi. We interviewed Nugzar, the Conservation Director there. We learnt about the new national parks in Georgia set up since the collapse of the USSR. We learnt about how the WWF integrates the local populations into the conservation process through visiting and talking directly to local people and stakeholders, involving and educating them on use of local natural resources.

Many people in Georgia are still reliant on direct access to natural resources such as firewood. With the work of the WWF, protected areas in Georgia have risen from 2.4% in 1990, to 7.0% in 2008. We asked Nugzar about how they are observing climate change in Georgia.

One phenomenon is a reduction in the size of glaciers reflecting global trends. The Greater Caucasus has 2050 glaciers. One glacier, Kirtisho, has retreated by 247m between 1960-2001, another, Glacier Tbilisa, by 360m. Glacial melt affects the availability of fresh water for local residents, and plants and animals, which rely on it. In the longer term it can affect the level of oceans.

Glacial retreat is a good indicator of global warming. Read more here. We are leaving tomorrow to cycle to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. It's going to involve cycling over some big mountains and the conditions are really cold at the moment, abnormally cold. It's a new experience for both of us, cycling in such temperatures, but we're prepared and I'm looking forward to getting back on the road again.

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