Sunday Spotlight – Tbilisi
Before I moved to Japan to live for two years, I spent three months at the end of 2011 in the Republic of Georgia teaching English with Teach Learn Georgia (TLG) in a remote village in the west of the country. It was a brilliant three months, and in June or July I will be comparing the Japanese and Georgian experiences as well as giving more details about TLG. The experience began in the Georgian capital of Tblisi. I also had the chance to get back there a couple of times in my three months and see a few things – once I needed to go back because my passport had been ‘washed’ and had to be replaced, so it wasn’t for the best of reasons! But nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny that there is a definite appeal and charm to Tblisi. To quite a bit of Georgia in fact.
Georgia is in the Caucasus, an area right now where tensions are admittedly high and it has a little bit of an antagonistic recent history with Russia to say the least, so to be sure check the situation before you head on down to Georgia. Visas are generally not required for entry, which make things pretty easy on arrival, and as far as prices go, even in the capital Tbilisi, it’s not going to break your bank.
Tbilisi is not a huge city, although it does have a few wide avenues, but there’s plenty to see and do for a few days and there’s such a great vibe there as well. The city has benefited from governmental policies of the last decade or so where a lot of the countries money has been piled into the cities. There’s a metro system, hidden well underground in soviet fashion, buses and share taxis which will all get you round town for a dollar or less. A taxi for yourself won’t set you back that much either.
The restaurants are mainly Georgian in flavour, which means three main things for eating – bread, meat and cheese. And different combinations of them. Meals are well priced and filling. For drinking, there’s one thing you must drink in Georgia, and that’s the local wine. It’s made by almost everyone, and is thusly cheap. I’m not saying it’s the greatest wine on the planet, but I’ve had a lot worse and as a local product you won’t be forking out 20 euro for a bottle.
Exploring the city is great, but be warned – it’s very hilly. It’s set amongst and around a number of hills, some with road tunnels through them. In the newer part of the city, the roads are wider such as Rustavelli Avenue, where the shopping is good, the lights sparkle at night and you can also find the pretty decent National Museum. That’s not too far from Freedom Square, where a large obelisk stands with a shining gold statue on top. It’s a pretty impressive square, and one of the times I visited it was decked out in Georgian and French colours for a visit of the French President.
One of the most striking modern features of Tblisi is the glass ‘Bridge of Peace’ over the Kura River. It connects the Old Town with some of the newer areas of the capital, on the newer side there is a great park, the perfect sport to hang out for a few hours and see life go past in. The Old City is the other side, and the bridge is very close to a number of great restaurants, and an old Synagogue that still functions and is worth visiting.
Explore the older parts of town, it’s well worth it. There are a number of small, Orthodox churches hidden amongst the hills, not so hard to find if you go for a bit of a walk. One I visited – the Metekhi Church, was throwing a wedding, so we I didn’t go inside although the wedding party came out and were happy for me to take photos. The view across Tbilisi from the church, most of the way up the hill, was pretty spectacular too.
The Sioni Church is the site of one of the oldest churches in Tbilisi, and there was a service going on when I was there that I watched for a while. I hadn’t seen an orthodox service before, so it was interesting. There was a fair bit of chanting, which I liked. Also in the Old City area you will find a couple of mosques – in fact many Georgians are Muslim. They had very interesting, blue facades.
Finally, although it was constructed only in 2002, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, up a hill and through an interesting district on the walk from the metro station, is a must see. It was the biggest church I saw in Georgia, and probably IS the biggest church in Georgia. Inside, you could be forgiven for thinking it was much older. The atmosphere was very peaceful inside. Some good views from the hill it sits on too, and many locals popping in for a quick prayer after work when I was there, life is what it’s all about.
That’s really just a taste for you of a city with a number of unmentioned galleries and museums, interesting buildings and architecture as well. Some of the houses are built basically into cliffs, which makes for interest photos and really catches the eye. Neither Georgia or Tbilisi may be on your bucket list, but they are really worth the time and effort of visiting. I hope to return to Georgia one day and see the people I met and see how Tbilisi has grown. I’m sure I will be amazed again!