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krisek T'bilisi - A travel report by Krys
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T'bilisi,  Georgia - flag Georgia
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krisek's travel reports

Georgia. Rising.

  13 votes
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Georgia is rising. Well, at the moment it does it discretely, but it won’t be long before it starts to advertise itself as the prime destination for baking at its Black Sea beaches, hiking in the mountains and exploring its thousand years old monuments.

The country should really be known as Sakartvelo, as this is how the people call it themselves. Georgia, as the name of the country, has been established not to have derived from the country’s patron, St George, yet science has not agreed on the correct etymology. It is therefore unknown why we call the state Georgia. Interestingly, I asked the locals and they told me that Sakartvelo would literally translate into English as the land of St George...

T’bilisi at 3:30 o’clock in the morning looked peaceful. About this time my Lufthansa flight landed. A few other airlines (and there were not many) also kept arriving around that time.  For Georgia was terribly connected with Europe. The only reliable airlines flew to and from T’bilisi at impossible hours! I tried to rationalise that this was for the people to have a full day in the so called Western Europe. The distance and the time difference contributed the rest, I guess.

Well, at night the town was nicely lit. I could appreciate this from a terrace, which I shared with the president of the republic, Mikhail Saakashvili, and I had the privilege to share the next door toilet with his Foreign Secretary. The president had a dinner with the US Ambassador. I just happened to be in the same place at the same time. The security did search me thoroughly.... The president chose this restaurant (Kopala Restaurant) because it had an incredible view of the Old Town and beyond. They had worse tables, perhaps for security reasons, and had to approach the edge of the terrace to have a look. This is where I was sitting!

I went to Kopala for two reasons: to take pictures of the city; and I for dinner, slowly killing time, waiting for my flight. After making the security team extremely uncomfortable, I headed down to the Old Town by the river. By midnight, I was filled up with garlic chicken and beer, and I was not sure how long I should wait before thinking of getting a taxi to the airport. My flight was at 3:55 a.m.

Favourite spots:
T'bilisi - baths
T'bilisi - baths
There were a few places that I liked in T’bilisi, apart from the terrace of the Kopala Restaurant. One would be the city public baths near the river and right opposite the little, and magnificent mosque-like entry to baths with blue mosaic decorating its facade. I did not go into the baths, I just liked the spot in this part of the town. The domes of the baths, which looked like bath bubbles, which bobbed up in the park, looked surreal. I loved that. Plus the area was peaceful and several buildings had magnificently decorated balconies.

Sharden street would probably be the other spot. This is where people socialised. The street is lined up with little cafes, bars, restaurants, and I think there were also a couple of nightclubs. The street was one of the narrow alleys in the old town, which was being renovated when I visited.

What's really great:
T'bilisi - baths' facade
T'bilisi - baths' facade
Georgia’s capital boasted terrific number of grand monuments, some of which were well over a thousand years old. These were the simple churches. Well, they looked simple from the outside, but were wonderfully decorated inside! The variety of different architectural styles impressed me. The old Georgian style early Christian churches and chapels, the mosques, the Turkish baths, the richly decorated balconies, the baroque and renaissance facades of villas, the new glass-and-steel structures.

The river with its steep, cliff-like banks and the little old stone bridges - it all contributed beautifully to the charm of T’bilisi. In addition, there were the Caucasus! Right there in the city and then beyond. Oh, yeah! And the great, giant castle on the top of the hill overlooking the city. It was plenty to take in a short weekend...

T'bilisi - castle
T'bilisi - castle
T’bilisi is considered the prettiest of the Caucasian capital cities. Its historic centre survived the frequent turbulence of Georgian history. Many monuments have remained standing for well over a thousand years!  Parts of T’bilisi are incredibly picturesque. There are medieval churches, city walls, squares and a fortress - all in a distinctive Georgian architecture. Interestingly, there aren’t too many socialist realism structures in the centre.

Meanwhile, there are still many poor people around and too many beggars, majority of whom are refugees from Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Karabakh, etc. Countless security guards everywhere, mostly around hotels, shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, museums, historical monuments, and official buildings. I struggled to figure out why they were there. Really. It felt reasonably safe to wander around, even at night. It reminded me too much of a police state. This and that too many Soviet cars cruised the streets...

T'bilisi - river
T'bilisi - river
Being the capital of the country, T’bilisi did not suffer from the shortage of accommodation. Big names, like Marriott, had their hotels there and many more are erecting new. The joy is that there are a large number of reasonably priced little boutique hotels and small hostels, which do not charge you an arm and a leg for the stay. I stayed at the Kala Palace for USD 55. It was great. My room was large, light and airy. The bathroom was modern and clean. The hotel was right in the heart of the old town, 3 minutes walking distance from my favourite little alleys. The ladies, who ran the hotel insisted that I stayed for breakfast, which was included in the charge, but was nothing special. However, they were very helpful in providing advice what I should see and how to plan my day.

T'bilisi - Old Town
T'bilisi - Old Town
There is not enough room to adequately describe T’bilisi’s nightlife making sure that its given justice. As I was wandering around in the old town after sunset, I lost count how many bars, pubs and clubs were around. A few alleys were lined up with those, one next to another. I think Kiacheli Street was the most animated of them all.

I joined hundreds of young people sipping drinks and listening to some decadent and lounge music. Right in the streets, since the bars and clubs had tables outside on the pavement. It tried to rain from the thunder clouds but it failed to produce anything of concern, so I enjoyed the scene to the max. It was great to see so many people around (and so many open places) so late on a Sunday night.

Duna Bar would be one to check out! They charged about USD 3.7 for a pint of cold beer. And as a dubious tribute to the former USSR, the large Grand Cafe CCCP is a funny place, too.

T'bilisi - Old Town
T'bilisi - Old Town
As for hangouts, there were plenty again. I do not remember the name of the place by the river, near the little square where the main streets of the city centre begins, but was great to lounge. They had comfy sofas and armchairs placed outside overlooking the river! A bliss!

But I again liked the more animated streets with the cafes and pubs, which placed petit tables and chairs right on the pavement. One of these alleys was Erekle 2 Street with its Cafe Kala, which offered evening with live band - real instruments: piano, bass, etc.

The other street was Sharden. I stopped at N Bar (beer USD 3.85) and Piaf (beer USD 3.5), although I am not entirely sure Piaf was on the same street.

T'bilisi - Old Town
T'bilisi - Old Town
As for food... I already mentioned Restaurant: Kopala (mains USD 10) at the top of the hill with a terrace. Their menu was comprehensive. They cooked mainly Georgian dishes, but there were a few international options. I, as usual, had to try local food, so I ordered garlic chicken and... it was so so. Perhaps I did not like mess around with the bones while the slightly sour garlic sauce made everything slippery.

I also tried Vamonos, Mexican restaurant on Erekle 2 Street. It was predictable but good value. There are also other decent and inexpensive eateries along Erekle 2 Street, which I could have tried.

Other recommendations:
Mtskheta - Cathedral
Mtskheta - Cathedral
On this trip, I managed to visit T’bilisi, the current capital and Mtskheta, the former capital of the country. T’bilisi was not large, and I could not resist to see the famous cathedral in Mtskheta. There are small minibuses called marshrutka, which go there, but I took a taxi to save time. It cost me USD 25 - return, including waiting time (by the way, taxi to the airport set me back by USD 15).

Clearly, there is more to Georgia than just T’bilisi and Mtskheta. It must be. There is the sea. There are respectably high mountains. Interestingly, tourism is yet in its infancy. People are almost suspiciously helpful and quite friendly, and the underground (metro) station names and signposts are given in Georgian only, which for 6 billion people is totally incomprehensible. I guess it will change in time, and tourism will become of Georgia’s important element of the economy.

Published on Wednesday February 13th, 2008

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Thu, May 30 2013 - 03:27 PM rating by reza22hd


Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:39 PM rating by alfonsovasco

you are brave traveler

Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 05:22 AM rating by magsalex

Your wonderful reports are rapidly increasing my number of 'must see' destinations! Great stuff.

Sat, Feb 16 2008 - 02:02 AM rating by hieronyma

Thnak you for the report. I will put Georgia on my list for future journeys. It sounds like a place I would fell in love with.

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 10:03 PM rating by rangutan

Another top-class report!

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 06:27 PM rating by mistybleu

Interesting report, I like the local feel.

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 03:42 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Wonderful description!

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