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Posts Tagged ‘mtskheti’

A Tourist in Tbilisi

The bus ride from Kutaisi to Tbilisi took me through some nice mountainous scenery, and, at one point, very close to the border with South Ossetia. I could see no sign of the border, but I did note one very new-looking array of identical little houses in neat rows – perhaps military housing? As so often, to get a decent taxi fare I had to walk out of the bus station and hail a taxi from the street – and then navigate us from the Lonely Planet map.

Tbilisi's huge new Tsminda Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral

My hotel, the Kartli, made a welcome contrast to the homestay – no charm, but clean and comfortable with helpful staff and an attached pizzeria/restaurant with a long menu of good food that included salads. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use the free wi-fi, as the server didn’t recognize the security code as sent from my n800. I did find a cell-phone office (at least I think MagTI was a cell-phone office) on Rustaveli with a lot of Apple computers for 1 GEL/hour. I still hated the Apple keyboards, but the price was right.

Tbilisi, the bad news:

  • As in the rest of Georgia, the sidewalks were traps for the unwary. Some stretches, in front of a Lufthansa office, for example, were smooth tile, but most were uneven, varying from one shop to the next, showing three or four different repairs, and featuring abrupt changes in level. Sometimes a section had been converted to garage access and sloped steeply up or down to the road. At night I really needed my torch!
  • The old town did not meet my expectations, raised by Lonely Planet’s description. One part was just old – crumbling plaster, peeling paint and perilously perched balconies, mixed with a few nicely renovated properties, and others completely gutted. Another section, just a couple of streets, had been redone as tourist central, with cafes and shops.
  • The museum scene was only slightly better than that in Batumi. The docent leading me round the Treasury in the Fine Arts Museum chose to plant herself in front of an undistinguished piece of wooden sculpture to hold forth at length about the historic extent of Georgia – her claim that it once included Egypt strained credulity. She did a little better with South Ossetia – the  crest of the Caucasus making a much more likely border than the plains. The Treasury (but not the rest of the museum) had some nice pieces, although apparently the Russians removed some of the best jewels and icons in the 19th century. I was fascinated to learn that originally statues of St. George showed him killing a man, not a dragon – the Emperor Diocletian, responsible for his martyrdom. (And the earliest dragons were multi-colored.)

Freedom Square

Tbilisi, the good news:

  • Although it made my “would-revisit” rather than my “must-revisit” list, I enjoyed Tbilisi’s energy, busy streets, and varied buildings. Whether Georgia is in Europe or Asia may be debatable on geographic grounds, but for me it felt decidedly European with its open, friendly and entrepreneurial people.
  • The setting, along both banks of the Mtkvari river, was attractive, even though busy roads took up most of the riverside space. While I thought the “old town” disappointing, I found a number of attractive buildings along the main streets to admire. A lot of new building was going on, though, with many glass and concrete monsters planned.
  • I ate and drank well, in both Georgian and “western” outfits. I especially enjoyed the walnut sauce that sometimes accompanied the ubiquitous tomato and cucumber salad, and the spicy sauce that sparked up the BBQ. (But avoid the Marriott on Freedom Square, where, after a throughly pedestrian and overpriced meal my credit card was charged in dollars instead of lari!)
  • I loved the flamboyant, golden St. George (killing a dragon) high on a column in the middle of Freedom Square, and the lights on the radio tower shining above the town at night.

Jvari church, outside Mtskheta

I visited Mtskheta from Tbilisi (metro to the bus station: .50 GEL, marshrutka: 1 GEL) and found a helpful, English-speaking woman in the T.I. across from the impressive cathedral. (She was eager to tell me about meeting the author of the Lonely Planet guide.) A service was in progress around the cathedral’s centerpiece – a square pillar with Christ’s robe supposedly buried beneath. I took a taxi to a monastery out in the country – a lovely drive over a gravel road – although the caves above the church were inaccessible. The monastery appeared self-supporting, with a vegetable garden and a row of beehives.

I did not make an equivalent pilgrimage to Gori, Stalin’s birthplace.

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