26.06.2017 - 27.06.2017 28 °C
Day 33 Monday 26 & Day 34 Tuesday 27 June 2017
- It's our wedding anniversary.
- Thanks to his electronic PA, even AG remembers. How time passes. 35 years. We are also spending 2 months in the car, side by side, day in, day out! We know many people consider this pretty amazing too.
- Our special day will be spent sightseeing in Tbilisi and this evening we are meeting up with old friends from Guangzhou days, Philippe & Pascale. They are currently living & working in Georgia and will hopefully take us to a restaurant that will not be on the usual tourist trail. Insider knowledge is gold.
- We are signed up for the free city walking tour which starts at Freedom Square at 12 noon and is scheduled to last 3.5 hours. Many significant cities operate such walking tours - free but tips are expected. SG has mentioned the concept previously and we have mostly had good experiences.
- However this is not the case with today's noon departure under the command of a young Ukrainian called Svan, or Sven - whatever! We should have recognised the tell tale signs, walked away and done our own thing. The tardy departure, the verbal waffle about dogs, beggars and cars, the bad jokes, the lack of historical knowledge and content - oh the list goes on.
- We are not sure whether it is due to lack of training ( organisational responsibility ) or whether Svan has personalised his tour - badly. A full hour after the tour start we have barely walked 500 meters.
- The dilemma is to go or stay? We naively hope that things will improve. It doesn't. The walk lasts over 4 hours. The highlight is our visit to a basement bakery where we purchase some bread. We would have bought a lot more, had we known it would be our only opportunity to eat or drink anything.
- We return to our hotel hot, hungry, thirsty & very tired. We are annoyed with ourselves. It has been a massive waste of time. If this was the only tourist experience in this fabulous city, we would leave incredibly disappointed.
- Fortunately we have Day 2 to try again. Tbilisi definitely justifies 2 or even 3 days depending on your daily stamina. And if you are using Tbilisi as a base to explore some of the places we have already visited, then add a day for each destination you choose. And definitely allow at least 3 nights if you go to Kazbegi.
- We are staying in the Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi. As soon as we enter the foyer the style, ambience and decor is familiar - our hotel in Kazbegi belonged to the same Georgian chain. This hip Tbilisi hotel has also evolved from an old industrial building that used to be a printing house. It has the same industrial chic feel. No doubt for a while Rooms has been offering a truly unique experience in this city - original design, outstanding service, wonderful staff, a true feast of a breakfast, interesting people to watch - but it does not come cheap. We note that the Intercontinental is busy refurbishing an old building just around the corner. This may result in some healthy competition.
- In case you are interested - between the two Rooms experiences, our preference is for the Kazbegi establishment ( see blog & photos for Day 22/23/24 ). But there are alternatives. Whilst wandering around the renovated area of Tbilisi ( near Shavteli St ) we have seen several lovely looking boutique hotels & hostels - Hotel Balcony, Hotel Urban Oasis to name just a couple. They are located within a traffic free zone but would also be convenient for historic sights, restaurants & bars.
- Thankfully a disastrous day of sightseeing is saved by a truly magical evening spent with our friends. First they take us to their appartment located in the old area of Sololaki where the long process of restoration of historical buildings has just started. It will be several years before gentrification will be complete. Their appartment block for instance is number 300 in the Sololaki improvement plan.
- See photos of exterior of their building and imagine whether you would have even reached the point of going inside to take a look. Again the saying 'don't judge a book by its cover ´ comes to mind. Peeling paint, huge cracks in walls, rickety staircase - all lead to the most amazing refurbished appartment - tall ceilings, massive double doors opening onto all main rooms and best of all a wide terrace that looks onto a quiet verdant courtyard. Our friends are a rare species to choose to live in an old Georgian building in a local residential area. Most expats prefer home comforts and live in western style apartments further out of town.
- Philippe & Pascale have spotted a facebook entry mentioning our special day. In true French tradition, champagne is served. Then they drive us to Littera - without inside knowledge you would never realise from the street entrance what lies beyond - a beautifully restored old Tbilisi house, the former home of a famous writer and a wonderful garden area for outdoor dining.
- Needless to say we stay until late, putting the world to right and catching up on each others lives. It's a great way to end our special day.
Day 2 / Tbilisi
- Thankfully our second day in Tbilisi is far more productive & enjoyable. We get a city map from hotel reception and work out our own plan to incorporate some of the things we missed yesterday.
- First on the list of recommendations is the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral standing high above the city on the eastern side of River Mtkvari. Although recently consecrated ( 2004 ), it is constructed in traditional Georgian ecclesiastic style and is visible for miles around. Not surprising really since it is nearly 100 m tall.
- To walk there would take too long. Instead we decide to take the metro. It has a very Russian feel - no wonder - it was built around 1965 during the Soviet era.
- The underground is an experience. Although not extensive, if there is a station near where you want to visit, don't hesitate.
- It has been dug very deep down. The air is naturally chilled. Escalators travel faster than in London but it still takes a full 2 minutes from street to train level. Not only is the system cool & fast but it is also very cheap. Around 15 pence for a single journey, no matter how many stations you pass through.
- Our church crawl continues with a visit to Anchiskhati Basilica ( Tbilisi's oldest surviving church some of which dates back to 6C.) And last but not least Sioni Cathedral which originated here in 7C but which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since. The structure we see today is only 13C ! Sioni is of special spiritual significance since the cross of St Nino is stored here. Only a replica is on view. But this link with the birth of Christianity in Georgia explains why Georgians who enter the church express their religious piety. This is shown by lots of kissing of artefacts and much body crossing (up/down/right/left) Some may even kneel & do so three times. And even when out and about in town, Georgians will cross themselves if they pass or see a church.
- Another interesting feature of all Georgian orthodox churches is the lack of seating. During a service the congregation are expected to stand. Services can last several hours.
- Now it's time for a lunch break. We head up by foot beyond Freedom Square into the Solovaki area where our friends live - a place where appearances deceive. It's absolutely fascinating to wander round. We find a courtyard cafe called Ezo that serves local food. Yet another Katchapuri and salad with walnut dressing is ordered.
- Its just what is needed to motivate AG for a couple of museum visits on Rustaveli Avenue - the National Art Gallery ( in particular to see some more Niko Pirosmani paintings ) and the Museum of Georgia which is well worth the £2 entrance fee.
- And that's about all we manage over the two days we spend in Tbilisi. A third day could be easily filled. Check out Trip Advisor for the Top 10 Things To Do in Tbilisi for further 'Don't Miss' advice!
- Philippe & Pascale introduce us this evening to Keto & Kote - a restaurant in an old house away from the main drag. It has fabulous views over the city looking towards the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral. We eat and drink local and spend another lovely evening in a gem we would probably never discover on our own. Now you know about it too!
- By the way we drink Chateau Mukhrani wine which Philippe rates highly. They have a website and offer tours at their vineyard which you can easily visit from Tbilisi.