Posts Tagged ‘tbilisi’

Last Day in Georgia

September 29, 2009:  The 10:00 marshrutka from Borjomi to Tbilisi left almost empty, and I snagged my preferred seat behind the driver. On the way he bought three crates of tomatoes from a roadside stall, leaving the empty crates that had been stashed in the back of the van. It took three tries before he found a price he liked.

The taxi touts at the Tbilisi bus station were totally baffled by the hotel card I showed for the Villa Mtiebi, and even the guy who finally agreed to drive me didn’t get too close because of construction – I walked the last block. My room turned out to have dim lights and feeble towels and no sink stopper (always travel with a universal sink stopper!) but the bed was comfortable.

I spent my last day in Georgia eating, drinking, and failing to figure out how to efficiently upload photos to smugmug using my n800. Lunch consisted of tough chicken in a nicely spicy sauce. No doubt a free range chicken, it had joints I didn’t recognize – and Caucasian chickens don’t have those over-developed breasts you get on American birds. Then I settled in at a coffee shop, Encore, on Rustaveli that offered not only good coffee and pastries, but seats by the windows that provided great indoor people-watching.

I had a little trouble with dinner: Sans Souci had closed, the old town branch of Shemoikhede Genatsvale was full, and I wound up back on the main tourist street, eating mushroom risotto and chicken livers at Nineteen. But the food and wine were good.

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Back to Tbilisi

It occurs to me that I should add dates to the posts from this trip, since they are all after the fact! This one covers 25-27 Sep. I made it home Sunday 15 Nov, so I should be posting a bit more often now.

The Kartli (www.hotel-kartli.com) in Tbilisi gave me a different room this time, a somewhat smaller twin with a working TV. I had to switch beds during the night, as the mattress springs on the first dug into me, but the second was comfy enough. The Kartli could not give me a room for my last night in Georgia, though, and I revisited the old town to take a look at the Villa Mtiebi (www.hotelmtiebi.ge/welcome.htm), which I thought might be a worthwhile splurge. Between the attractively renovated old house, and the charming, light-filled atrium, it was an easy sell.

But first I revisited my ophthalmologist Marina for a discussion of my blood test. She checked my retina again – still fine – and gave me a prescription for a blood thinner. (After exchanging emails with my home doctor, I decided not to fill it.)


Although Kazbegi was still forbidden (and forbiddingly cold, according to reports), I did manage to travel the Georgian Military Highway as far as Ananuri. I loved the trip – Ananuri now sits above a lovely lake, Zhinvali, which reflects the surrounding mountains. While the lake is actually a man-made reservoir, it totally seems to belong (unlike  Lake Powell, incongruously turquoise in a land of dry red rock.) Good carving decorated the outside of the churches, and inside, for once, I bought and lit a candle before one of the icons. So, good churches and good views, but nowhere to get coffee!

Back in Tbilisi, I visited the Botanical Gardens, short on labels but long on

Mother Georgia

peace – at least until I caught up with a boisterous school group. Following them up a final steep slope, I came out beside the iconic aluminum statue of Mother Georgia (Kartlis Deda), sword in one hand and wine-cup in the other. I didn’t spend too long enjoying the excellent views, as a brisk wind threatened to blow me over.

On the opposite hill on the other side of the river, I visited the huge new Holy Trinity Cathedral, a show place for traditional Georgian craftsmanship and religion. Outside, I admired the stone carving: inside I found traditionally painted icons in traditional silver frames. A service was in progress, and among the scattering of worshippers I noticed one young man on his knees – but talking into his cell phone! A little bevy of junior clerics, in blue, were also having a quiet chat.

After I finished reserving my room at Villa Mtiebi, I ventured further into the renovated section of the old town, and ate on touristy Rue Chardin, at the Telavi Winery restaurant. Mushroom soup and tuna salad were accompanied by a very drinkable Tsinandali white wine, aged in oak, that displayed good balance and character. Unfortunately, the tuna salad didn’t go down quite as well.

That evening I asked my hotel for a recommendation for a local restaurant with reasonable prices, and found myself eating in a basement among a lot of happy groups of guys. The food was fine – way too much khachapuri, and a sizzling dish of meat with interesting seasoning. (I don’t remember the name, but it’s on Dadiani, just down from Teremok, a Lonely Planet listing whose blinis didn’t live up to my expectations – I have to go back to Ukraine!)

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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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