We have spent the past three weeks taking our time to get to know Tbilisi. One of the joys of spending longer than a week in each place we go is that we don’t need to pack activities in everyday and have time to just wander the streets of this amazing city. We don’t feel like locals yet, or even expats, but we don’t exactly feel like tourists either. Rather than tell you about all the things we have done in the past few weeks (we’ve done a lot!), I decided to just share with you some of the areas of Tbilisi that we have come to know and love.
Old Tbilisi is the name of the historic center of the city. It’s a vibrant neighbourhood with amazing colours, steep slopes and small meandering streets. Next to the Kura river its packed with bars and restaurants on several small pedestrian streets and has been nicely renovated. On the main street there are shops selling antique carpets, traditional Georgian sweets and ripe fruit.
Behind this commercial area lies a quieter neighbourhood with homes perched up on the hill. The pastel wooden and brick houses are all adorned with beautifully ornate balconies. Some are perfectly restored while others are cracked and crumbling, but all in a charming way. It has a very unique style that I have never seen anywhere else and you can really sense the mix of the European, Asian and Arab influences.
Further up the hill is the Narikala Fortress, which we visited by the funicular. We also went to pay a visit to Kartlis Deda, “the Mother of Georgians”, who towers over the city with her sword. Don’t worry though, she also carries a bowl of wine in her other hand to welcome guests! From up here there are amazing views of the city below. On the walk down we had the opportunity to play a game of Georgian roulette but passed on it because the prizes looked highly suspicious and we weren’t sure we would make it away with our own electronics.
Abanotubani is technically part of the Old Tbilisi district but is so unique its worth its own mention. This is the area of the city where the sulphur hot springs run, which are famed to be the source of the city’s existence. The name ‘Tbilisi’ actually comes from the Georgian word for warm. Back in the spice route days there were nearly a hundred baths here but today there are only around five left (not actually positive on this fact because it seems that each bath house has about three names). All the bath houses are red brick and have doomed ceilings, which can be seen from above ground. We visited the Bakmaro bath house behind the beautiful Old Tiflis Hotel and had a great experience. Actually, we enjoyed it so much that we decided we will visit one bath house a week for the time we are here…until we visited the Royal bath house, which, lets just say, isn’t so royal after all.
This avenue runs right behind our apartment and is a really nice area to walk. Part of the street is under complete renovation (Nu likes going to this part because its like a real life Bob the Builder scene) and the other half has been completed and looks stunning. The restoration work is really amazing and all of the buildings are painted in pastel pinks, blues and yellows. This area is dominated by a Turkish influence, with Turkish groceries, sweet shops, nargila cafes and shawarma spots.
We went to an amazing restaurant on this street called Barbarestan. It’s a family restaurant run by a couple and their ten children, housed in a wine cellar. It has a beautiful décor and even more delicious food and wine! The whole concept behind the restaurant is that all the recipes come from the 19th century cookbook of Duchess Barbara Jorjadze. Its really worth a visit if ever in Tbilisi.
At the end of this street, close to the railway station and stadium, is an enormous market – and I mean HUGE! Its called the Dezerters Bazaar because in the 1920s deserting soldiers would come here to sell their weapons and equipment. You can find almost anything here, from whole animals ready for the spit to the perfect firework for any occasion!
This area is known for the permanent flea market that is set up here everyday. Its right across from our apartment, which is great in case we ever needed a pair of soviet era binoculars, a machete, a couple pairs of Marriot slippers or an empty bottle of Chivas.
Rustaveli is one of the city’s main arteries with lots of big old buildings housing banks, government entities, theatres, museums, restaurants and coffee shops. Its named after the famous Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli, who wrote the epic poem, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. This poem is so central to Georgian culture that up until the 20th century it was part of every bride’s dowry.
Underground tunnels allow pedestrians to cross under the street and each has its own unique appeal. Underground there are small shops selling everything from cheese to giant fur jackets and the walls are lined with old books in a huge variety of languages. The exits are always decorated with creative street art and guarded by an old woman with a buckets of nuts or a giant barrel of kbac, a sweet fermented drink.