I wouldn’t go so far as to describe Telavi as grand, but there is a certain grandeur about the wide tree-lined streets. One of the main things it lacks is street-lights (or, at least, electricity to power them). Locals reported that the city gets electricity, but only for about two hours at a time and only twice a week or so. We stumbled up an icy hill and, as daylight finally gave way to darkness, a group of youngsters confirmed that we were just outside the entrance to the Hotel Telavi. They asked us which hotel we were looking for, and I guessed that they were IDPs – driven out of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, housed for all these years in the Intourist.
The most impressive thing about the Hotel Telavi was that it was open at all. The front door – a Soviet heavy-duty glass-and-metal one, designed to remain shut – was locked, and it would not have been surprising if the staff had already gone home. But someone with a candle appeared. I explained that we were from Tbilisi and were marrooned for the night; he let us in and showed us up to room 302 on the third floor.
Room 302 has three beds and an en suite bathroom, and it would be fairly comfortable if you had enough blankets to keep you warm and a bottle of bleach with which to bring the toilet up to international standards. Our man bustled away and back, returning with no bleach but plenty of blankets. We were grateful, and he pointed us in the direction of Telavi’s eating-out area.
Telavi isn’t big on restaurants. The main night-life there seems to consist of a couple of billiard-halls, both of which are lit up at night by generators. The only other place we could see that had electricity seemed to be a private house.
Some passers-by explained that all the restaurants are shut because of the lack of electricity. Faced with the prospect of a dinner of cold khajapuri and Mars bars, we tried one of the crowded snooker halls for luck. There was a stunned silence: Rebecca was probably the first woman to pass through the door for quite some time. I apologised that we’d only come into the light to read our guidebook, so that we could find somewhere to eat. They dispatched a youngster to lead us 40 metres up the hill to Telavi’s Nirvana: Pakhas Dukani.
Back in the hotel – after an evening featuring a traditional candlelit dinner, earthenware jugs of wine and a roasting log fire – we found that our host had decided to let us have the honeymoon suite in Room 308. This has an en suite wood stove that more than makes up for the lack of a bathroom or toilet. The stove went out during the night (maybe you’re not meant to close the front) but was still well worth the twenty Laris.
Nothing at the bus station the next morning was marked Tbilisi, but we were directed to an empty marshroutka that was leaving in “ten minutes”. Ten minutes is rarely less than twenty if a marshroutka is empty, so we waited nearby, not getting on in case another one appeared. But after 15 minutes he was happy to leave – it seems that marshroutka drivers can afford to leave Telavi nearly empty, because they can pick up so many people along the way. Our Georgia tour was excellent. It only took us about two and a half hours to get back to Tbilisi; the marshroutka ended its journey behind the Isani metro station.