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Alternate Routes · Europe · georgia · Batumi · Kirils Kirasirovs

Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Author: Kirils Kirasirovs0 COMMENTS

Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

The best way to start exploration of Tbilisi is by visiting its famous sulphur baths in the western part of the Old City near Metekhi Bridge and recognizable by their distinctive dome-shaped brick roofs. It's just perfect for restarting your senses before plunging into an adventure of discovering a new city. Specific sulphur aroma, hot water and a melodious sound of Georgian language that echoes back from a dome-shaped ceiling lulls you almost into a trance-like state of mind. And indeed, it is a perfect place to take in the distinctive sound of the local language. Bathhouse attendants can be identified among nude visitors by shorts they are wearing. For 10 to 20 Georgian Lari, they will rub off loads of daily dust from your body, give you a good massage, leaving you peaceful, purified and ready to start your first day in the city.
There are only two community bathhouses in Tbilisi, the rest of them are privately owned. The bathhouse #5 is good for men, while in the women's side there is no sulphur pool. Therefore a better choice might be bathhouse "Mirzoev", located slightly uphill (entrance fee 3 GEL).

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Tbilisi Old City is amazingly vibrant and beautiful with houses clad in climbing vines and idyllic interior courtyards. Spacious verandas, running around entire perimeter of houses, provide ample space for active socializing. Diverging slightly away from the perfectly refurbished center, you will find yourself in an area with somewhat neglected yet beautiful houses and cozy courtyards, exuding atmosphere that seems taking you into a couple of decades old history.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

One of the cultural attractions of the Old City is Tbilisi State Marionette Theatre, created and managed by Revaz Gabriadze, a script writer of many Soviet cult movies, such as "Kin-dz-dza!", "Mimino" and many others. He is a multitalented artist - a writer and a playwright, a director, a designer, a painter and a sculptor. He has designed the theatre building as an eclectic fusion of forms and materials, yet unmistakably putting his very heart into this project. The theatre has turned into one of the most intriguing tourist attractions in Tbilisi with performances taking place there on weekends. A remarkable piece in its repertoire is "The Battle of Stalingrad", performed there for already 18 years.
Cozy and friendly meeting places to be mentioned in the ancient part of the city are a café Moulin Electric, snugly set in a courtyard of an old synagogue, a legendary Purpur restaurant near Gudiashvili Square, Literature Café on touristy Shardin Street and Bar Laboratorium.

Worthwhile visiting is also the independent Royal District Theatre in the Old City, featuring fresh and experimental creative approach. Do not let the lack of language knowledge scare you off, as it is going to be a memorable theatrical experience anyway. Focusing attention on actors' body language and the energy coming from the stage, you will realize that you can understand everything even without words, as it is always the same old story - about love or its absence in human life.

Late at night, after the performance, you can take a cable-car and travel to the mountaintop above the Old City to enjoy the marvelous view across the valley, scattered with dots of light.

A must-see destination is Tbilisi is the Open Air Museum of Ethnography, featuring examples of traditional rural buildings and numerous artifacts from all the regions of Georgia. The museum occupies an impressive area of 72 hectares. Be sure to inquire for a guide and don't be shy to ask lots of questions. The time spent there will enrich you with deeper understanding of the ethnogeography of this country. And finally you can spend some relaxing time in the museum's restaurant Rachis Ubani, savoring delicious food and a beautiful view from its terrace. The museum spreads over the hill at the Turtle Lake and the best way to get there is by taxi (approximately 10-15 GEL).

Speaking of taxis - despite the fact that gas prices are no different than in Europe, taxi fares in Tbilisi are surprisingly low. They are typically privately owned vehicles and a ride within the central part of the city costs about 5 GEL (less than 2 LVL). Tbilisi also has its metro and to enter it you have to buy a smart card from a ticket office. The same card is valid also for the Old City cable car.

Tbilisi is also known for its beautiful churches. Their gray stone façades look modest and laconic from the distance, revealing their exquisite carved ornaments only at a closer look, while warm light of candles and golden glitter of icons fill their interior space. Some churches in the city are still featuring bluish-green glazed tile roofing. One of them is an abandoned Armenian church near Vertskhli (Silver) Street. It was used as a storehouse for books in Soviet time when it caught fire, and amazing historic artifacts could be found in an almost 1 meter thick layer of burned books long after it.

Cultural layer in Tbilisi is very think and one doesn't have to dig very deep to come across some truly unique archeological treasures. The city is in a constant construction and renovation process. Aside from construction workers, also archeologists are busily working in its numerous building sites, while archaeological discoveries are available for a closer look in Georgian National Museum, located in the centre of Tbilisi on Rustaveli Street. On the same street you will find also the National Gallery, Rustaveli Theater, Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre and several other cultural objects.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

The central part of the city boasts wonderful examples of Art Nouveau architecture with gorgeous staircase, cast iron ornate stairs and fantastic façades. The city invests huge resources not only in restoration but also in brand new contrasts of modern architecture, such as futuristic Peace Bridge, the Public Service Hall with its gigantic steel mushrooms and a new pipe-shaped concert hall still in construction. Not quite always new projects merge successfully into the already existing cityscape and oftentimes these modernization attempts are evoking severe criticism.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Good food and pleasant company are important elements of Georgian lifestyle. There are several worth mentioning places in the center of the city where you can savor both great cuisine and atmosphere.

Black Lion (Shavi Lomi) is my absolute favorite one and features prevailingly creative than traditional Georgian cuisine. During the season, I recommend trying homemade basil lemonade. While waiting for order, you will get a complimentary appetizer, mitigating hunger and making your stay there enjoyable from the very first minutes (a small but pleasant detail). The restaurant, set in a semi-basement floor once used as a wine and vegetable storeroom, is cozy beyond comparison, and the room with vaulted brickwork ceiling makes you feel like Jonah in the belly of the huge whale.
O Moda, Moda
- as the name suggests, it is a place where you can treat yourself not only to food and drinks, but at the same time with eating and chatting to immerse yourself into the magical world of fashion and accessories. It's quite possibly that you will leave the restaurant not only in a good mood but wearing a new outfit as well. No doubt, it is a commendable adventure for a slightly confused tourist! O Moda, Moda is designed by two young and talented designers Nata and Keti from a well-known Georgian design studio ROOMS.GE.
Restaurant in the area of Literature museum - a place with almost undetectable entrance, unless, of course, you have someone who would take you there, so, the best idea would be to look for that "someone". It serves possibly the best hinkali in the city, made, as they say, by the most skillful cooks from mountainous regions. Wines by the glass are severely overpriced, which perhaps is not bad as it precludes overindulging. Food prices are very friendly, however.
Veljaminov
- a small, democratic eatery that serves typical dishes and enjoys much popularity among locals, which is a pledge of quality and authenticity for travelers, too. Local men, enfolded in tobacco smoke, would sit there for hours, sipping Tarhun lemonade, beer or vodka and chatting over their half-eaten meal.
Local style of food ordering, exactly twice as much as it is actually possible to consume, may seem somewhat strange in the beginning. Yet then again, meal there perhaps is more than just a meal, but a kind of performance with food being a part of scene design. It brings festive atmosphere into daily life, lavishly adorning moments that people share, oftentimes extending them into hours.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Dry Bridge (Mshrali khidi) flea market is an enjoyable destination for a Saturday or a Sunday morning. Full of surprises and discoveries, it is opened 7 days a week, but weekends are especially lively and vibrant there. Among gems of antiquity, Soviet time relicts and completely useless knickknacks, I was lucky to find a brand new 1935 record player with a full set of turntable needles.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Sellers of naïve paintings flock in the nearby park, and it's quite possible to come across some truly touching artworks there. A pleasant walk across the Dry Bridge will lead you to Varancovi district, and there is a street, scattered with second-hand shops and bridal dresses stores. Do not miss a famous hatter's workshop there where you can order an authentic Georgian peaked cap. Akin in size to a tiny airfield, these headgears are fit only for sufficiently self-assured individuals, capable to adequately present such a beauty. Yet they can make a perfect souvenir, so get them for all your friends at home and support the trade of this honorable Tbilisi craftsman.
If your still feel bubbling with energy as evening sets in, you can check out some dance clubs. Very good DJs play in many of them, for example, club Divan. Cozy and pretty loud, it is packed full with a colorful crowd of young at heart at weekend nights, and live concerts are often taking place on its ground floor. Although its music equipment could have been much better, the great atmosphere compensates for it. Another well-known dance club is Gallery Café, spreading over two floors and allowing choosing dance rhythms to your liking.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

If you feel like expanding your explorations beyond Tbilisi and can afford to devote 2 - 3 days for this purpose, there are two routes that provide rich and vivid impressions:

Seaside - Batumi. A city of Batumi may appear quite psychedelic at times, especially at night when it's somewhat too brightly lit. The best option is to take a morning train to go there. Seemingly long 6 hours on the way are like a movie, in fact, with truly wonderful landscapes flowing behind the train window. Batumi has been an elegant, well-developed and luxurious coastal city in former times, one of the Georgian Black Sea gems. Its current modernization, however, is a vivid example of how much damage architects can sometimes make. More sadly, it is something that will stay around for long, even though everything has been done with the best intentions. One of the recent projects, characterizing modern Batumi is a chacha (traditional Georgian grape vodka) fountain. If you wish to have a good meal, I suggest Marseille restaurant, boasting both good food and service.
The best lodgings can be found about 20 minutes drive outside the city in small villages near the Turkish border. The best time for spending time by the sea is September and October. The more off-peak travel season, the more enjoyable your experience will be, with emptier beaches and pleasantly contemplative atmosphere. While you are sprawling on pebbles, diligently absorbing vitamin D, strolling along the beach vendors of boiled corn cobs or freshly picked figs will ensure that you are not starving.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

But in the afternoon you can take a taxi to the Batumi Botanical Garden that features a huge collection of plants and trees from across the world, planted in themed sections. The garden was started by Russian botanist Andrey Nikolayevich Krasnov in the 1880s and was opened in 1912. The most popular plant there is mimosa pudica or a so called "bashful mimosa", leaves of which close up when you touch them. It makes us contemplate that sometimes fine borderline that separates animals and plants and to think about their souls.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

After watching sunset from some cozy spot of the garden, you can return to the city to explore it by nighttime, finally winding up your tour at Fan Fan restaurant. Without doubt, you have to order trout there! It's a place that attracts creatively minded folks and offers great food and relaxation. There is also a classic style cocktail bar, cozy décor, and its owners evidently have a good taste in music and not only in that. Fan Fan is easy to recognize by its blue light lanterns, lighting up its street-side tables. To get a broader perspective of the city, you can make use of a nearby bicycle rental.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Mountains - Kazbegi. Approximately 2.5 hour ride from Tbilisi by maxi taxi along serpentine mountain roads, and you are surrounded by a stunning landscape of snow-clad mountain peaks. Kazbeki Mountain (5033 m) presents an unforgettable visual experience. You will find also find there a hotel Rooms, and as the name suggests, it's designed by the above mentioned designer duo Nata & Keti. A view from a balcony is beautiful beyond description, literally bringing tears up to your eyes. You can spend an entire day there, intoxicated by fresh mountain air, sitting in a wicker chair, trying to absorb with all of your senses a performance of clouds, floating over mountains under accompaniment of distant cow bellowing. Nevertheless, it is worth pulling yourself together for a walk. A couple of hours climb, and you will reach a mountaintop monastery. You should never go there by car unless there is a real good justification or you hold a document signed by a medical doctor. None the less, transportation will be repeatedly offered to you! Even if the last half an hour of the climb may seem to be way beyond your physical capacity, as soon as you reach the top, all the exhaustion vanishes and the downwards walk feels like fun. A great satisfaction for what you have seen and experienced and a discovery of your own endurance turns you into a different, much better person for at least few days. Walking through small villages with branching streets and finding your way to the mountaintop may turn out to be a bit confusing, however. Yet you can always ask locals for directions and follow their mute hand gestures.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

Checking out from the Rooms hotel requires a great deal of determination and self-persuasion., Suddenly you feel fitting so very well into this place with magnificent landscapes and soothing coziness of the hotel. Its spacious first floor lounge holds a very good collection of books that is yet another reason for staying there for unlimited period of time. And moreover, a popular Gudauri ski resort is just one hour drive from there.

Foto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating GeorgiaFoto: Gorgeous and intoxicating Georgia

An amazing natural diversity of Georgia and a huge number of worthwhile destinations seems incomprehensible for a compact country like this with a total population of less than 5 million people. And it is part of Georgia's charm, I think, that in just 4 hours you can reach some distant mountain village in the altitude of 1500 meters with no electricity, no modern means of communication or toxic overload of information. Subsisting on bread and all the products that milk can provide, you can turn back to a place in time where everything was still so real.

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