The breakfast we got today is far from being as good as we got in Stepantsminda yesterday. I guess with the quality of the apartment comes European ‘quality’ of service. Nevertheless, we got coffee and some snacks which should be enough for starters.
Today’s objective is to explore the capital of Sakartvelo – Tbilisi. Even though we live a bit further from the heart of the city, the streets are full and lively. The view somewhat reminds me of the memories I have of a young independent Lithuania in early 90s before the internet consumed it. Inhabited by ~1.2 million people by 2014 statistics, it contains ¼ of the Sakartvelo population. Some taxi drivers say that now there are even more people. The number varies around 2 million, which would make half of the country’s population.
Everyone is doing something here, the people seemed not to be attached to their gadgets as much as they are in Europe. Streets are filled with various markets and people bargaining for a better price on every corner. Everyone is talking to each other like family members, someone is praying, someone is cleaning a sidewalk, someone is just standing, and someone is doing God knows what. The life is boiling like in an old movie where people knows only one way of life, of connecting through a physical interaction.
After only two stops on a metro everything seems to change, even though people are still plenty, they change a lot. The closer you get to the Old Town of Tbilisi the more tourists you see, walking at a much slower pace, looking around and taking pictures every two steps. The city is very colorful and makes you feel like you are in a tale. On every corner, stands a playful sculpture, interesting building or just a random artifact asking for an investigation.
The architecture is so different that it honestly feels random. On the ancient defensive wall of Tbilisi stands old almost falling apart wooden houses. Every building has a different style and color, no architectural rules apply here. Locals vary just as much, from a Caribbean pirate walking to a theatre to the Hunchback of the Tbilisi begging for money. Cats are everywhere. Though it is my second time here, everything seems to be shifting in a sight.
All the randomness gets even stranger when out of a street with a building which seems could collapse anytime, you find a modern alien-like Bridge. This amazing bridge has even more magnificent name, it is called the Bridge of Peace. There are plenty of buildings like this and as far as I know, not only in Tbilisi but across all the big cities in Sakartvelo. It is hard to say if they were built just to show off and attract tourists or the country gets some serious foreign investments.
After crossing the Bridge of Peace over Kura river, we entered to another side of Tbilisi. Spaces are vast here, a big park with various attractions, including cable cart to Narikala fortress. Pass the park you find yourself against a high cliff which can climbed by stairs just to end up even in a busier streets, similar to the ones near our guest house. There is only one main difference, here you can find a lot of religion-related stuff. This path leads to Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi – the famous/infamous super-expensive church.
There is not much to tell about this place, I’m no expert in this, the church has a nice garden around and you can find plenty of religious-type paintings and gold decorations, also plenty of beggars and other tourism-related people. It is built on the hill so if you are not interested in churches, at least you can enjoy the panorama.
While we were walking in a beautiful courtyard of the church a heavy rain struck us, luckily, there is plenty of taxis around any tourist attraction. But the bargaining was quite funny, you should be able to move around the center of the city for 5 GEL, but since it was raining, we were told that the price is double. The difference is little, compared to the Euro, but if you love bargaining and know Russian, it could be pretty fun. Another good tip for getting a lower price in bigger groups is to send a single person to talk to the taxi driver as they tend to increase the price as the amount of people increases. After some bargaining, we got a taxi to Tbilisi baths for 7 GEL. While it is impossible to say the exact prices of the taxi, it should be enough to make your own calculations based on this information. Just be prepared to negotiate and even walk away to lower the price, this way, you won’t be overcharged.
The name of Tbilisi translates to warm location, it was given probably because of numerous sulphuric hot springs in the area. Today you can find many different options for those springs as three different administration’s run them. We went to the most popular one Orbeliani baths and took a room without a sauna for four people, because we didn’t need to wait for it. The room cost us 80 Gel, but we had to pay extra for towels, beer and massages, which cost 20 GEL per person. I would highly recommend trying that, it takes around 12 minutes, but the time flies and it is somewhat done as it was in ancient times. Of course, it could be a mistake to call it a massage, because it is more like body cleaning, but when ordering, the staff will call it a massage.
The whole complex of Tbilisi baths is highly recommended to visit as the area is pretty and you can walk around. There is a waterfall falling from a high cliff nearby, it is a lovely walk above a river with refreshing weather on many of small bridges, full of locks on it.
Somehow, after the baths we started feeling totally relaxed and too lazy to walk, which was funny because a few days ago we were still climbing Mount Kazbek. Things change fast. Our bellies could confirm that. We had a reservation in a restaurant for 19h00, but it was still 3 hours to it. We called to ask if we could come early and we were told that they have only some tables outside, which was strange because when we came there a dozen minutes later it was almost empty inside. Don’t remember the name of the restaurant and apparently they didn’t mark themselves on Google Maps so I won’t make a review of the food which is not my expertise anyway, but one general tip if you are not a vegan or staying too long, try going to traditional Georgian kitchens not European, mixed or modernized ones.
The rain struck again and we had to cancel our exploration of the city for a time, we went to our apartments with a hope that the rain will stop and we could enjoy it in the night’s shade. After all, everyone who’s been to Tbilisi talks about the amazing lighting of modern and important buildings, which is plenty around.
After a break, we started with taking three stops by a metro, which brought us back close to Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. Metro ticket price in Tbilisi is 0,5 Gel, but you need to have or buy a metro card for 2 GEL.
Holy Trinity Church of Tbilisi at night is a sight worth a walk up there. Though the courtyard sinks in the night and the church is closed, the building and a path to it is illuminated by many lights. The panorama of Tbilisi is nice as well, though not as good as from Mtatsminda park on the other side of a river.
We walked around through poor streets of Tbilisi which led to a nearby Georgia Presidential Palace, which surrounded by a such a big wall that we could barely see anything, only a glimpse through a giant gate. We had to descend to the river in order to see it, which was in our plans anyway, the park contains a big fountain and the modern Bridge I mentioned before.
Sadly, but Rike park was in dark, including the fountain and even the Bridge of Peace which was still full of tourists even though it was raining and dark. I don’t know if it is because of the rain, or late Sunday or lack of finances, but without the illumination, Tbilisi lost Its night charm. Upset we decided to take late dinner and head home. You can find various restaurants which work 24/7, so it is never too late to grab a meal in Tbilisi. While we were walking through various streets, the life looked like to be still boiling, older people change with younger people and you can hear whispers and laughs everywhere you go. No matter what Tbilisi keeps going.
One final word, Tbilisi city, colorful as it is, is the first city I ever been to where every ethnicity, every religion coexist without any observable tension. It could and is easily one of the gates between Europe and Asia.