Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tbilisi: A City of Contrasts

View through the Bridge of Peace, Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2015.
The morning before we were about to leave for Tbilisi, Mitya woke me up with the following news: that there had been a huge flood in Tbilisi the night before, and that because of the flood, many of the cages in the zoo had broken and a bunch of animals - including lions, tigers, and a hippo - had escaped! People were being told to stay in their homes while the police and military searched for the escaped animals, and we saw photos of various animals, including the hippo, being captured.

Our friend Vika, who lives in Tbilisi, told us that it would be safe and that the flood didn't affect the Old Town, so the next day, we hopped on a plane in Moscow and landed in Tbilisi. This was our second visit to Tbilisi and to Georgia, and it was great to be back, in spite of the unfortunate circumstances (the flood destroying part of the town, zoo animals mauling people).

One of the first things you may notice on a walk around Tbilisi are the grapevines dangling from almost every window and balcony in the city. Because the city is so far south (at least, compared to Moscow and many cities in the Soviet Union), the climate is very conducive to fruit cultivation.

Grapevine on balcony in Old Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2015.

You will also find many fruit trees, from pomegranates to apricots to figs.

Pomegranate tree in Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya, 2015.
Loquat tree in Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya, 2015.

And it's impossible not to notice Tbilisi's state of elegant decay. I think it beats Rome on that count! The best area to see this is in the maze-like, hilly streets of Old Tbilisi.

Crumbling facade of an apartment building in Old Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya, 2015

We have a favorite small park and lavash (Georgian bread) place in Old Tbilisi. Surprisingly, there are few tourists there. At all hours, you can see men playing checkers or chess and children running around. On hot days, birds will perch on top of the umbrella statue/fountain and drink from it.

Small park in Old Tbilisi, Georgia. Taken on film by Michelle

Another architectural point of interest you may notice are the churches. Georgia's churches are quite old, as it was the second country to convert to Christianity, in the 4th century. (The first country to convert to Christianity was Armenia.) The style of most churches you will see in Tbilisi and the rest of the country was developed during the 9th century, and is known as the "Georgian cross-dome style", consisting of a cone-shaped dome raised on a drum over a rectangular or cross-shaped lower structure.

Typical church architecture of Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya, 2015.

As we mentioned earlier, former president Saakashvili was a huge proponent of contemporary architecture, and he had several cutting-edge architectural structures built in Tbilisi and all across the country. In Tbilisi, you can find the bow-shaped Bridge of Peace, which leads to Rike Park (which has its own contemporary concert and exhibition hall); the Presidential Palace; and the Georgian Public Service Hall, to name a few. This pastiche of new and old architecture is why I call Tbilisi a "city of contrasts."

The Bridge of Peace in Tbilisi. Photo by Michelle
Georgia Public Service Hall in Tbilisi, designed by architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2013
The Presidential Palace and Concert Hall, Rike Park, Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2015

If you are wandering around Old Tbilisi and hike up to the Narinkala Fortress, you are likely to run into several cute kittens and cats.
Cats in old Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2013

And there are still cats, 2 years later! Photo by Mitya, 2015.

The Narinkala Fortress in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2013.

We also hiked up to this church on the hill, in the middle of the photo below. It's east of the Narinkala Fortress. You can also get a nice view of Tbilisi from here.

Tbilisi and the Kura river. We hiked up to the church on the hill in the middle of this photo. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2015.

View of Tbilisi from the church. Photo by Mitya Gimon, 2013.

You can catch a nice sunset from the amusement park on the hill, west of the Narinkala Fortress.

Sunset view in amusement park in Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya, 2013.
Another sunset view of Tbilisi. Photo by Mitya, 2013.

Strolling down Rustaveli Avenue, you can check out the works of Georgian folk artist Nikos Pirosmani and other Georgian artists at the Georgian National Museum.

You can go off the beaten path and explore the Marjanshvili neighborhood on the other side of the Kura River.

Marjanshvili neighborhood. There were NO tourists here, except for us. Photo by Mitya, 2015.
Park installation in Marjanshvili. Photo by Mitya, 2015.

And you can end your evening by watching a puppet show at the Gabriadze Theater. (I recommend Ramona, which we saw during our first visit, over The Autumn of my Spring.) If you know Russian, the Russian dubbing of his plays is much more accurate than the English subtitles.  Mitya's grandparents actually ran into Gabriadze in the late 1970s when they were traveling in the Georgian S.S.R., and he told them very excitedly about the new puppet theater he was building. He invited them to come when the theater would be built. So a few years later, when they were in Georgia again, they came to the newly built Gabriadze Theater, told the people at the ticket office that Gabriadze had invited them, and they were seated - on the house!

Tbilisi is also beautiful at night, when they light up the fortress, churches, and all the monuments. A stroll in the night, either before or after dinner, is a perfect way to end the day.

Honorable mentions:
- The Botanical Garden in Tbilisi - one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. It's beautiful and wild.
- Dry Bridge Flea Market - like all flea markets catering to tourists, it can be pricey, but you can find deals on some gems.

Tbilisi at night. Photo by Mitya, 2015.

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