Georgia’s capital Tbilisi has much to offer, from modern architecture and attractive winebars to crumpling, but authentic apartment buidings and an Old Town full of wooden balconies.
Despite our rough start to Georgia, we came to appreciate its capital, Tbilisi. After the marathon had finished, Rustaveli Avenue quickly filled with traffic again, and with people on the pavement. Present-day Tbilisi was created by the Russians, who were called in as protectors by Georgian King Erkale II after a devastating Persian raid in 1795, which utterly destroyed the town. The Russians went to work with broad avenues and large squares, to make it a European-looking town, and made Rustaveli Avenue the axis. It is partly lined with large 19th Century apartment buildings, with inside courtyards and balconies – and high ceilings and a lot of wood, like our hotel. But this is not Baku, and many of the buildings drastically need patching up – also like our hotel. Apart from merchant houses, there are a lot of quite attractive public service buildings, like the Rustaveli theatre, the Opera and several museums, as well as later additions, like the Soviet-era Parliament Building and the Galleria, a large, nice-looking department store. And there is a church, and a park, and on part of the pavement an open air art market; there are always a couple of people demonstrating in front of the parliament; the restaurants are full; and in some parts there are lots of lovely little bronze sculptures on the side of the pavement – in short, a microcosmos that represents the larger city.
The only area where the structured lay-out of the Russians was never implemented, is the Old Town, or the Kale, which lays at the base of an impressive castle, the Narikale Fortress – which is part-restored, part original, with the restored part looking horrible, and the original part being trampled by tourists climbing up and down, so that soon it will need to be restored, too. The Old Town itself is a collection of winding cobbled streets, some geared towards tourism – restaurants, comfortable terraces, ice cream parlours, souvenir shop -, but others lovely encounters of how Tbilisi must have looked quite some time ago, with old stone, some by-now derelict, houses, grape-covered gardens and wooden, glassed-in balconies, narrow and steep stairs. Great place to get lost, but never too long, because around one corner or another is always the next tourist attractions again. The Meidan, the main square in the Old Town, or a church or a tower, or perhaps the collection of bath houses, mostly underground and only recognised by the over-ground couples. We didn’t try, it was just too nice a day outside, but you can have your private room here for your sulphur bath, complete with tea or beer served. Not just 15 minutes sweating, no, no, hot, then into the cold pool, and back again. Optional massage and/or back scrubbing. Next time we are in Tbilisi, definitely!
I can mention many more things to see, of course, but this blog is already too much becoming a travel guide; others are better at this. Save to say that it is a really nice town, good food, wine bars, too – more about Georgian wine, later, for sure -, and with a pleasant atmosphere. It is just that the majority of the Georgians still aren’t so friendly, or forthcoming, as we had hoped. Not a convincing love affair yet.
next: another day in Tbilisi.