I got from Dushanbe to Almaty with no problems. Even though I showed up at a hostel unannounced and with no reservation, there was a bed for me to sleep in. I spent the evening watching the sunset from Kok Tube and enjoying a meal at a lovely Kazakh restaurant with two people I approached after overhearing them speak English on the bus. I arrived at the airport the next morning and left for Tbilisi on time. Once in Georgia, I breezed through passport control with no issue. My friends Gloria and Shaun had arrived in Tbilisi the day before and arranged for a taxi to meet me at the airport. I almost missed the man holding a piece of paper with "Emily" written in blue highlighter because I was too busy marveling at the Burger King (Burger King! At the airport! In Tbilisi!), but there he was. Our hostel was a little rundown but clean, and the three of us spent a few days enjoying the city and then headed to Batumi, a town on the coast of the Black Sea, to relax for a couple days before going our separate ways--me to Armenia, Shaun and Gloria to Paris.
Are you feeling an sense of impending dread? Like maybe things have been going too well, and that is just not a sustainable pattern? Are you thinking, "Where are the shoes, and when are they dropping?" Well, my friend, have I got news for you! Your sense of unease and pessimistic outlook have been rewarded! Your prize is that I am posting this entry back at the hostel in Tbilisi when I should actually be halfway through a fifteen hour train ride to Yerevan.
I'm glad you asked!
I bought my ticket from Batumi to Yerevan at the train station in Tbilisi on Sunday. On Wednesday, August 5, at 3:30 pm from Batumi Central--as printed on my ticket--I would board the train and arrive in Yerevan at 7:00 am on the 6th. Perfect! Easy! Comfortable!
This afternoon I said goodbye to Shaun and Gloria around 2:30. "Show me your ticket before you go," Gloria said. "Ok,it's Batumi Central, the new station. If you hear them say Makhinjauri, say no. That's the old station. You don't want to go there."
"Makhinjauri, no. Got it."
"Just show the taxi driver your ticket. He'll know."
I've totally got this!
Fifteen minutes later, I walked into the Batumi Central train station. A sign said that the platform was on the second level, so I went up to take a look.
Empty. Absolutely empty. Well, it is new, I thought. I guess it makes sense that there is nothing and no one here. As I was going back down to the first level, I saw another woman coming up the escalator, obviously also on a reconnaissance mission. I waited to see what she did, and then followed her back down the stairs. She sat next to her husband/boyfriend/partner/travel buddy/whatever, and then I went up to them.
"Hi!" I smiled and waited to hear what language they answered me in.
"Hello," the woman said.
Nice. "Are you guys going to Yerevan, too?"
"Yes, we're going on holiday!"
My new acquaintances and I chatted for a few minutes, and I learned that they were Germans who used to live in Ukraine, and so they also spoke Russian. After that, I found an empty seat among a small number of other people waiting for what I (wrongfully) assumed was the Batumi-Yerevan train and pulled out my Kindle to read about that foolish Lamora boy and kill the remaining half hour until the train.
At 3:28, there was no sign of movement from anyone around me, so I turned to the man beside me. "Hi! Are you going to Yerevan?"
"Nyet, [something something something] Yerevan [something something]," he answered and shook his head.
"No, no, the train does go to Yerevan from here," I insisted. "Here, look at my ticket."
He took it, checked it, and then continued to deny that there was a train going to Yerevan from this station. The woman seated on his other side joined in.
"[words words] Yerevan [words] Makhinjauri [words]."
German Man happened to be coming down the escalator after checking the situation on the second floor and overheard this exchange. He spoke to the man next to me and became visibly distraught. Frack.
"We're at the wrong station," he huffed over his shoulder as he scurried over to where German Woman was still waiting, for a shining moment still happily unaware of our shared major inconvenience.
I hurried after him. "Maybe he's wrong," I pleaded. "Maybe he just doesn't know. We should talk to someone who works here."
"No, I'm sure he's right," German Man answered, stepping on my desperate hope. "But we should still speak to someone."
The three of us hustled across the floor again and walked up to a lady in a tickety-looking booth. He began speaking to her in Russian, sighed with irritation, and then turned around like he was looking for something.
"Ticket?" I asked and offered the useless piece of paper I still had in my hand.
He grabbed it and handed it over to Booth Lady. While she began examining my ticket, German Man and German Woman rifled through their belongings to find their own. They continued going back and forth, until the German Man pulled me forward and said, "Here, sign this."
"What is it?"
"The back of your ticket. To acknowledge that you're getting a refund." All is lost. I have no way of getting in touch with Shaun and Gloria. I'll have to sit outside the apartment door and hope they come back early. Or sit in a marshrutka for six hours. Should I wait and take the train tomorrow? What if I lose my hostel in Yerevan because I didn't show up when they were expecting me? Can you get a marshrutka to Yerevan directly from Batumi? I signed the ticket.
As Booth Lady passed back our money, thirty percent of it sacrificed for who knows what cause or reason, we grumbled about needing to go find a ride back to Tbilisi and kicked ourselves for not asking that we were in the right place when we all first arrived--because apparently I was supposed to just know it's the other station? We were turning to go away, our regrettable business here unsatisfactorily accomplished, when Booth Lady spoke again.
"What did she say?"
"There's a train to Tbilisi leaving in an hour, but the only seats left are in first class."
A sinking feeling, followed by a strong aversion to spending the rest of the day in a grimy minibus. "Ok," I sigh. How much?"
It turns out to be twice the cost of a seat in a marshrutka, but I take it. I'm desperate. The money left in my wallet was meant for my return to Georgia in two weeks, but it is what it is. I hand my money over with a wince, and that's that.
I sit with the Germans at the little cafe, and German Man and I complain about our misfortunes and mistakes.
"There is no use whining about it now," German Woman says wisely, and she is right. I pull out my notebook and start working out what this means for my schedule, budget, and next steps. With the helpful Germans translating a page of their guidebook for me, I figure that by taking the train first class to Tbilisi today, paying to stay another night in the hostel, and finding a seat to Yerevan early the next morning, I'm only losing about fifteen additional dollars. This is not the collosal amount that it could have been, so I begin to feel a bit better. If all goes as replanned, I'll arrive in Yerevan tomorrow in late afternoon instead of early morning, thereby still managing to salvage a bit of my first day in Armenia.
The bad news is that I'll still have to take a six hour marshrutka ride. The goods news is that I learned that walking up to someone and saying "hi!" turns out to be an excellent way to start a conversation. What a world!