I wasn’t expecting this trip to involve much urbex. It was the old architecture of Tbilisi as well as the beautiful countryside that drew me to Georgia. However, it quickly became apparent that this city had many interesting abandoned and derelict buildings, many of which were easily accessible. So what’s a boy to do, if not get his hands a bit dirty looking for a good shot?
I had seen a clearly abandoned building perched on a bluff high above the Mtkvari river, and decided to try to find my way there. A narrow path led down from the neighborhood street and through some brush. Odd ceramic cones came into view, and deepened the mystery: what was this place?
I saw then that I wasn’t alone. There were a few men seated around a low table, just visible through the foliage. It would be impossible to avoid them, so figuring it was better to make myself known rather than to be discovered sneaking around, I shouted a “hello” and raised my camera to show that I was a harmless photographer. Before they had a chance to react, their dog jumped up and attacked! Luckily, they were fast on the its tail and were able to pull it away from me before much damage was done. And now I was face to face with three guys who had no idea what the hell I was doing there.
I was able to get across that I’m a photographer from the US. Immediately the Georgian hospitality I had heard so much about kicked in, and soon we were all seated around their table as I was being made to drink glass after glass of homemade wine. I speak no Georgian except for the few touristy phrases I learned for the trip, and likewise they spoke almost no English. But most Georgians over a certain age speak Russian (the country was a part of the old USSR) and I speak Polish, a closely related Slavic language. Thus we made halting, stunted conversation while my glass would get refilled the moment I would set it down. I think at least an hour passed this way; each time I motioned that I would like to get up and shoot the place, they insisted I sit and drink. While this was not unpleasant, I was beginning to worry. These guys were squatters, certainly not well off, and they knew I was an American tourist well on his way to being drunk. As it turned out, they were just doing their utmost to be excellent hosts. Unused to visitors, they wanted to know everything about me. The conversation went slowly, and at times we resorted to sketching out ideas on paper when words failed. Only when I had drank about 2 liters of wine culminating in a weepy toast in which it was proclaimed that we were all brothers, I was allowed to unsteadily explore the area.
Turns out, this place was a Soviet-era bathhouse. The weird cones I had seen were steam vents from the underground chambers. It was an incredible find, one I would be unlikely to come across at home. I think I did OK considering I shot this place with a hefty buzz on! This afternoon would probably be my most enduring memory of this trip.