Tbilisi is a magical city. I can feel it and see it every single time at any hour, be it during a day or night. I drive my car back and forth listening to Shokoladi (98.5 FM) and they play the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and many more bands from the 1980s as well as some current world alternatives. This is what keeps me going with no enhancements involved. I leave a pub in the evening, I take the first cab which is out of whack and then The Cure’s “Just like Heaven” again in my ears, which was once covered by a Georgian songstress Ketavan Melua. The same happens all the time when I’m home in Tbilisi – my place on Earth.
There are very many illuminated places in the evening. The topography of the city makes a positive impact on its climate as Tbilisi is situated between the two mountain ranges and some of the districts are terraced (wherever one could build their houses). Add to that a schizophrenic mosaic that is somehow connected but only Georgians are in the know about how it works. It is only on the Tbilisi old town, where you can get in touch with multiculturalism: Georgian and Armenian tserkovs, a mosque for Sunnis and Shia, a Jewish synagogue from 1904, ruins from caravanserai, and numerous trendy restaurants, night clubs for filthy rich teenagers, casino, and striptease clubs. This cocktail of multiculturalism and diversity comprises the world of modernity and decrepit houses on Italian yards, Russian secession, steel and glass resembling postmodern style, fountains which were adored by a former president Saakashvili, and security guards protecting the Bridge of Peace known as “Always Ultra Bridge”. Tbilisi is something extraordinary…something simply beautiful. Another very fairytale-like characteristic is girls wearing weird heavy boots and loose hair. Their beautiful and long hair is the definition of excellence.
7 things you must do in Tbilisi
Sightseeing the old town
It’s at 5:00 AM when the airplane from Warsaw arrives in Tbilisi. It is usually at around 11:00 AM when we start sightseeing Tbilisi after a little rest. We have enough time to see and feel it all before the dusk. There are plenty of public transports you can choose from: underground, buses, marshrutkas (smaller buses which are popular in post-USRR countries) and quite cheap cabs in which you have to bargain a lot.
Symbolically, Lech Kaczyński Street (which was a few years ago renamed from Black Sea Street) in the Armenian district of Avlabari can be a start of the trip in Tbilisi. It is worth mentioning that on Lech Kaczyński Street, there is a monumental socle with a portrait of the tragically late Lech Kaczyński, the President of Poland. Being still on the same side of the Mtkvari River, the longest river in Georgia, which divides the city into the left and right side, going to the largest Orthodox Church on the Caucasus – the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi (the twentieth century Holy Trinity Church) is a must. The church is 84 meters high and was consecrated in 2004. Then, a two-kilometer-long walk can get you to the fortress of Narikala (6th – 8th cent.) and the neighborhood of the impressing Metekhi Church (13th cent.) where you can see the monument of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, the Anchiskhati Basilica of St. Mary (5th – 6th cent.) and the holy icon, which as the legend has it – was painted by itself. Moreover, Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral (11th – 12th cent.), which offers to show the Grapevine Cross, one of the most significant relics in Georgia and Tbilisi sulfur baths, the most popular Orbeliani Baths (19th cent.), which was attended by the bohemia of the nineteenth century, namely: Alexander Griboyedov, Aleksandr Pushkin,Alexandre Dumas, père, Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov, to name but a few. Tbilisi has always been a city of art and artists. Even today, it abounds with theaters, sculptures, monuments, and interesting plaques on houses, which give information on renowned tenants.
Taking a train
In a music district, Rikhe Park, you can admire dancing fountains and the famous and modern Bridge of Peace, known also as “Always Ultra Bridge”. If you want to see a monument of Kartvlis Deda – the Mother of a Georgian atop a hill, you can take a gondola lift only for GEN 1.00. Atop a hill, you have a chance to admire a breathtaking view on the whole city. This is not the only train in the city.
The Mtatsminda Mount, the highest place in Tbilisi, is what you have to see, especially in the evening. A Tbilisi city railway can get you to Mount Mtatsminda and this is a very popular way of transportation since the beginning of the twentieth century. Don’t get it twisted, it’s very modern! In his book The Kirghiz Dismounts (1968), Ryszard Kapuściński mentions that the gateway to the Mount Mtatsminda from the city center is like a road from Marszałkowska Street directly to Gubałówka (from central Poland to the mountains in southern Poland)! Funicular, the TV tower, and a restaurant specialized in delicious pastry and a lounge bar are what you can also see on the peak of the mountain. The view on the city is priceless! In the lower areas, there is the Mtatsminda Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures (19th – 20th cent.), the most significant cemetery in Tbilisi. A large number of historic and cultural figures in the history of Georgia was buried there, namely: a poet Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov with his wife Nino Chavchavadze, poets Akaki Tsereteli and Giorgi Leonidze, a prose writer and a prominent thinker Ilia Chavchavadze, and the first president after the collapse of USSR – Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and Joseph Stalin’s mother Ekaterine “Keke” Geladze, to name but a few. Too few trains?
In vicinity of the Turtle Lake (Kus Tba), you can admire an open-air museum presenting a large number of examples of Georgian architecture, including a medieval defense tower, which was moved “brick by brick” from the mountain region of Svaneti. You can get there by cable car as well which shuttles from the Vake Park whenever it wants (the cable car is under reconstruction now).
The exhibition of Niko Pirosmani’s artworks in the Center of Contemporary Art
As we’ve known the whole city throughout, it is time to take a walk along the main artery of Tbilisi – Rustaveli Avenue, which starts from the Freedom Monument located in Tbilisi’s central square, where you can also see a former town hall. Walking across Rustaveli Avenue gives you also the opportunity to see the house of the former Government, where the Rose Revolution of 2003 took place and where Polish President Lech Kaczyński delivered his speech. The Georgian National Museum, which was once a seminary in which, before he became a revolutionist, Joseph Stalin took some classes to become a priest can be also spotted when walking across Rustaveli Avenue. Other attractions include the Center of Contemporary Art – Tbilisi, which presents the exhibition of the works of Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918), known as the Georgian Nikifor or Rousseau. Just like Nikifor, he was recognized by other painters, the Zdanievichs, and he lived exactly the same way as him by earning from whatever he painted and then sold, and similarly to Nikifor he died in poverty. He gained posthumous recognition and his artworks cost a fortune these days.
There are two spots in Georgia, where you can visit the exhibition: in Tbilisi and in the branch of Georgian National Museum in Sighnaghi, in Kakheti, where he comes from. Pirosmani created his artworks on any material he found, be it a piece of sheet metal, black oilcloth, carton, and very rarely on canvas. A great part of his works include ads, restaurant or pub sign boards, which he created for food. What is also very famous of Pirosmani is a Georgian feast – supra. “Actress Margarita” is the most breathtaking painting with an incredibly blue background, what will be probably hard to notice in the picture below. The history of love of Pirosmani for the dancer Margarita is described in a famous song of Alla Pugacheva “Million Roses”.
Food and pub-crawling
There is no such thing as taking a trip to Tbilisi without going to numerous restaurants or food, wine, chacha, beer and snack tasting. Georgians love to feast and enjoy their local dishes and music. Regardless of day, there are hardly any free tables in restaurants, which may be a little confusing because of the economic crisis and a high unemployment rate. One of dozens of cafes in the region of Abanotubani is first on our list. A cup of coffee, a beer, wine, and chachapuri (similar to cheesecake) are what we can choose from. Then, we go in accordance with the trip’s program (maybe we swerve a little bit from time to time). We go to “Warszawa” pub in vicinity of the Freedom Square for vodka, herrings, and Polish zrazy (beef roulade). Heading toward the Rose Revolution Square and depending on our sexual orientation we can finish our trip in here, or we can enjoy ourselves in one and only gay club “Success” where we can have beer, vodka, wine and chacha because we’re on the loose 🙂
The cherry on top of our trip is the House of Khinkali, a 24/7 restaurant located in the vicinity of the Rose Revolution Square near the Radisson Iveria hotel. The House of Khinkali treats you with the world famous khinkali – a Georgian dumpling in a pouch shape with meat stuffing and consommé, which should be drunk, or rather slurped before eating! Both dining rooms are always bursting at the seams in the evenings. Just order dozens of khinkali per one head, few liters of chacha (Georgian grape vodka) and you can feast all day and night long. There you go! The House of Khinkali offers live music in the evenings. Dance shows are offered in many other restaurants and pubs all over Tbilisi, eg. Taglaura or Machakhela.
Tbilisi sulfur baths is a must in the evening after the whole day of sightseeing or the very first thing in the morning. Baths came into being during the reign of the Persians in the sixth century A.D. They can be found in the oldest district of Abanotubani. If you’re ok with the stink of off eggs, women who enjoy beating your backs with a wet rag and if you feel a need to sweat away the Georgian food and liquors, then Tbilisi baths are the perfect place for you to be!
Water temperature is at 32 to 46 degrees. When it comes to pricing: GEN 25/h for private baths, GEN 10 for a massage (I mean being beaten up with a wet rag LOL), GEN 3 for public baths, and GEN 5 for a massage. What is even cooler, is that you can order some food and drinks when taking a bath.
Poking around the Dry Bridge Bazaar
The name of Dry Bridge Bazaar derives from the Naberezhna Street where the bridge is upon. Dry Bridge Bazar is the perfect place to buy knick-knacks and souvenirs. A plaza on12 Brosse Street is surrounded by three roads resembling the shape of a triangle. It was located on an island connected to the bridge and to banks of Mtkvari River at the beginning of the twentieth century. Because of the changes the river’s bed underwent in the 1930s, the ground dried out and a half of the bridge moved over the route. Every day after 11:00 AM, the bazaar gets crowded, especially on weekends. The most dominant language is still Russian. There are many relics from the Soviet times, such as icons, medals, portraits, torsos, books, and even passports. In the vicinity of the Dry Bridge Bazaar, on another street, there are plenty of market stalls offering drinking horns, refrigerator magnets, hand-made products such as hats or shawls. The Dry Bridge Bazaar is also a great place for painters whose works depict landscapes or reproductions of Niko Pirosmani’s paintings. Along the other street, merchants try to sell their goods taken from old basements or storage magazines such as family remembrances, which are too personal to buy and take home.
For many families, selling their stuff on the Dry Bridge Bazaar is the only job they have. Apart from the merchants, one can find antiques shops with china and silver, so all high quality items may be bought there. I go to the Dry Bridge Bazaar to purchase classic Georgian folklore and “Soviet rock” music on vinyl 🙂 My friend Siergiej, of whom I’ve already blogged in the Dry Bridge Bazaar in Tbilisi and the Dry Bridge Bazaar in Tbilisi 2, has been merchandizing his goods on this market for years. Except for purchasing music for myself, I also import vinyl music for other DJs in Poland.
The Tbilisi Sea
So, here we are at the very end of the “must see spots” and “must do things” in Tbilisi. Because of the hot weather in a greater part of the year, whether we like it or not, water to chill in is a must. The apple for Georgians’ eye and those who love to enjoy feasting and resting outdoors are the three reservoirs. Nearby the first one, the Turtle Lake (Kus Tba), you can visit an open-air museum. Another one, the Lisi Lake, is enchanting and beautiful especially in the fall. The biggest reservoir, however, is Tbilisi Sea – a paradise with beach, where all fancy Georgian women sunbathe. It’s an artificial reservoir which overlooks the whole city. It is far from the city center, but you can take underground to the last station Akhmeteli, where you can catch a cab. This is the perfect place to enjoy pub-crawling once again, which can mean only one thing: vodka, beer, chacha, khachapuri…and women and singing. What else do you need?
And this goes endlessly in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Is that all? Not a chance! Feel free to come to Tbilisi, the city of liquid gold. Do you like it? Leave a comment below.