Back in May, the lady and I went to Georgia. No, not the Peach State, in the US of A. The one in the Caucasus, next to Russia. Of course, May being close to February, the war in Ukraine was fresh in most minds and my mother was very concerned that we would be in danger. So it was easy to assure her that we’d be quite safe from the Russian army as they had already invaded Georgia, back in 2008, and they were now busy further north.
Georgia is a small country, there are only about four million Georgians, but they have a long history. They have their own wacky language and even wackier alphabet, a strong literary tradition, a fierce sense of independence and an 8,000-year long wine tradition. We, of course, went for the wine.
The flight is done and we have been picked up by the hotel. Let’s check in.
Class hey? This flophouse started as the Hotel Majestic, back in 1915, and has played host to the famous and infamous over its life, also serving as WWI hospital, union hall and a cinema. There is a parade of notables who have stayed here but the only one I remember is Margret Thatcher who must have come for a dirty weekend or something. Speaking of which…
The room was very nice, a classic. I love old apartments, hotels and so on, but what’s with the big, hemispherical mirror on the bedhead? I puzzled over this for many minutes before concluding that it’s so the people operating the camera behind it can get a better angle. Nice. Let’s go get breakfast.
Ahhh, nothing like a champagne breakfast. Sorry it’s a bit blurry but we’re never our best first thing in the morning. Luckily there’s a healthy alternative.
Yes, that’s one’s blurry too. They do actually serve food and it was good. Not good enough to photograph but good. One welcome surprise was a big bowl of fresh strawberries. In Bangkok they’re big and tasteless but these were small, sweet and plentiful everywhere we went.
Most of day #1 was taken up with the walking tour. It’s free, leaves from Freedom Square at 10am and is conducted by a young Georgian lady. She gave us a quick rundown on Georgian history, which is basically that it keeps getting invaded by the Russians, who are a pack of shitbags.
The tour takes in the old part of town, which is narrow streets and old houses. Much of it is in poor repair as the place is prone to earthquakes although some neighbourhoods have been renovated and done up nicely.
This one isn’t renovated. It’s an old Armenian merchant’s place (the house is old, 140 years or so, not the merchant, although I guess he would be pretty old if he was still about) that was seized and chopped up into apartments by the Bolsheviks.
For a tourist the city is very walkable with a park/museum street, shopping area, the old town and then the hot springs all topped off by the fortress on the hill. These all join up so one need not negotiate the subway system or taxis. There’s this funky footbridge that joins up some of the tourist zones.
The city seems to be pretty safe, there’s a few pushy touts about but you get them everywhere. However, there are these enormous hunting dogs all over.
These are strays but that doesn’t mean they’re not looked after. The city vaccinates them and puts a plastic tag through their ear. They’re friendly and like to follow you about. We had a lovely one for our walking tour.
Another other tourist notable is the clocktower.
In an afternoon of the tourguide quizzing us on the age of various buildings and artifacts around the old town (why do they do that? Isn’t it their job to know?) I was relived to find that the clocktower is a recent addition, going up in 2011 and has a puppet theatre in its base. It also has figures that come out and ring the bell upon the hour.
The old town is great for wandering about and trying out little bars and restaurants. All tight streets and old buildings.
Another big tourist draw is the chance to see the city from the air. You could take the gas balloon:
It’s on a tether and apparently gives a fine view of the town. We didn’t try it out as there’s a superior, cheaper option.
Yeah, you can take a cablecar to the top of the mountain. It’s amazing. Not just from the gondola but walking around town there would be the occasional shadow of the car moving overhead. Oh, the view from the car is great too. Best thing is, it’s part of the public transport system so you just need a local PT card. Very cheap and worth many rides.
That’s the view from the top and it is not bad. At the top of the hill is the fortress, which is my first in-person encounter with medieval fortifications that have seen actual assaults. Looking at the walls and slope, I’d prefer to be on defence.
Here it is in photosphere.
You’ll find this lady up there too:
That’s the sword-wielding Mother of Georgia, a big silver statue on a hill that’s hard to photograph from up close. There’s a sharp drop in front of her, as you can see here:
One can get a photo of her from the front but not close up.
Here’s another view from the top, some chap’s critique on religion I expect, but to be honest, there’s so much graffiti in Georgia that I want to invest in spraypaint imports.
Tbilisi does seem to be caked in grafitti, but some of it is pretty cool.
These chaps are all over the city at construction sites and other handy surfaces. It gives the city a vibrancy to see these ultimately public artworks on an ultimately banal hoarding. Here’s some more:
It seems that we’re looking at colour digital photos now so let’s look at some of the more interesting ones, like this one:
So, nice old building? Bit boring, but it is in this former seminary one Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Georgia’s most famous son who once studied for the priesthood within these very walls. Did I say famous? Perhaps infamous is a better word, he’d later go by Joseph Stalin. It was in this building that the young ‘Kuba’ was radicalised by a forbidden book club. The rest, as they say, is history. Horrible, blood-soaked, paranoid history. Let’s look a the Bridge of Peace instead.
Georgia is all about wine, they’re very proud of it. Here in the old town there are grape vines on the houses.
One of the other main tourist bits is the hot springs. These are very old, like, from Ottoman times and before. Indeed, the city gets its name, ‘warm place’, from the springs.
See that one that looks like a mosque?
That’s the one Miss Sachie went to. It certainly looks fancy but it’s cheaper than the other ones we looked at. They’re the more traditional domed structures.
I confess that I didn’t partake of steam baths or massage as I need to be very drunk indeed to take off my clothes in public.
Speaking of which, it was a nice sunny day in a charming old city — far too nice to spend walking about doing tourist stuff, let’s get a nice cold beer.
Even the view from the little café is of old houses stuffed with charm.
So Day One was a lot of walking and seeing new stuff. In the evening we went out with our friend Will, who lives in Tbilisi, to a fancy wine bar but it was a bit naff as it was the sommelier’s night off. We’ll catch up with Will later in the trip though, so look out for Day II!