I generally don’t mind heat as long as I can get away from it. I used to work twelve hour shifts outdoors, in the summer, over a barbecue. It was hot; I dealt with it. I knew I could go home and it would be blessedly cool and I would have a lovely night’s sleep. My third year there a pharmacy opened up across the street. We’d sometimes duck in there to cool off, so we started calling it “the beach” (I know, beaches aren’t actually cool, don’t dig too far into the nicknames). Good times.
But here in Georgia, most homes do not have air conditioning. Most schools do not have air conditioning. Most forms of public transportation don’t have air conditioning. Many stores don’t have air conditioning. It’s not only hot – it’s hot, and it’s hard to escape the heat.
I couldn’t imagine life in New York without air conditioning. I can remember one summer where I survived with just a ceiling fan – It was sufficient, most of the time, but I didn’t exactly sleep well and my living room was air conditioned so during the day I was a happy camper. I also remember the Great Northeastern Blackout of Aught Three. Living in Tbilisi in the summer is a lot like living through that blackout.
Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of strategies for keeping cool in Tbilisi (many of these apply to Georgia in general). This list is based on talking with and observing locals and also on my own efforts. Without further ado:
1. Find an air-conditioned refuge. Today I spent many hours sitting directly under the air vent at my favorite haunt, the Elvis American Diner, enjoying some Thai stir-fry and gelato and dicking around on the internet. They turned the AC off at about 9pm and I left at about 9:30pm. There are a number of air-conditioned cafes and lounges that you can sit in for a very long time without spending too much money. Prospero’s is a favorite for expats, and everyone there speaks English. In a pinch, hotel lobbies might also let you hang out for a while if you look like you belong there. The Radisson also has excellent bathroom facilities.
2. Get High. The higher up you go, the cooler it is. Tskneti is a good option – it’s near Tbilisi, and there’s a little park, a couple of restaurants, and even a bowling alley up there. Bus 34 goes there, but the ride is somewhat uncomfortable (unless you like being crammed into a sweltering metal tube with a large, sweaty segment of the unwashed masses). Kus Tba, or Turtle Lake, is another option – it’s just over Vake Park, a little cooler than the surrounding area, and it’s a frickin lake, so you can swim in it if you’re so inclined. For those willing to go father afield, there are mountains all over the place – I hear Svaneti is lovely this time of year.
3. Turn off all your shit. I first came across this technique during the aforementioned Darkness of ’03. It turns out that all the appliances and electronics that you keep on in your house actually add to the temperature in there, which is why, unlike every other source of shade in the history of mankind, houses usually get much hotter inside than out unless you air condition them. Even now, my laptop is the hottest thing in the room and the only thing generating heat (other than myself, I guess). During the blackout we had no AC but when we opened the windows it was pleasantly cool in the house during the evenings. Which brings me to…
4. Open your windows and doors! Have I mentioned yet that as I sit here I am experiencing a lovely cool breeze? It’s quite pleasant, actually, and I’m not even sweating. In the past I have been reluctant to do this at night, since it means letting all the bugs in, but I have found that most bugs come in because they are attracted to light, so if you keep your lights off (in accordance with item 3) you’ll be mostly bug-free. You can put your lights back on as soon as Georgia develops window screen technology. If you open windows at both ends of the house, you’ll even get cross-ventilation!
5. Ice, Ice, Baby. Many Georgians seem to like to freeze bottles of water and then serve the ice-melt as a delicious refreshing beverage. I had thought that the concept of ice cubes (or ice in any discreet unit that could be added to a drink, because in fact what I had today was ice cylinders) had, along with the window screens, not yet made it to Georgia – until, today, I went to Elvis and noticed that the people serving soda (/cola/limonati/pop…) were also adding individual ice cylinders to each drink from an ice bucket they had on the counter. So apparently Elvis has secured the use of at least one ice machine and is distributing this ice to its staff for use in beverages, making Elvis the first place in Georgia that I have seen serving drinks containing actual ice. If you don’t want to go to Elvis or freeze a whole bottle, you can do what my roommate in Gldani did – cut one of those plastic egg cartons in half, wash it (at least, I hope he washed it), and fill the egg spots with water. You’ll get little round ice
6. Go swimming. I already mentioned Kus Tba. There’s also Tbilisi Sea – a giant reservoir northeast of the city proper that apparently people swim in – and Laguna Vere, a public pool which I assume is so crowded that when all the people get out the water level drops to about six inches. If city swimming isn’t your thing, there’s always the Black Sea. It’s six or seven hours from Tbilisi by train or bus. I hear the beach at Kobuleti is nice, and someone said Sarpi is also great. Batumi itself apparently has a crap beach but a great nightlife, and rumor has it that Ajara is the most scantily clad region of Georgia (although, sadly, I have yet to confirm this personally) so if you like people-watching, Batumi could be the way to go.
And last, but not least…
7. Drink lots of water! This won’t necessarily make you feel cooler, but it will prevent the heat from murdering you. Your body uses water to dissipate heat from your body as well as to do lots of other important things. When it’s hot you use more water. Don’t get dehydrated. Heatstroke is no fun, no fun at all.
I’d love to hear any more suggestions about cool things to do in Tbilisi (it’s a pun! A pun!)
You knew this was coming after reading number five: