Georgia On My Mind
I had just 22 hours in Tbilisi, and a quick stop like this can either go very wrong or very right. Thankfully, my stop in Georgia was all things right.
How can you not love a city that loves you back? The city’s “Tbilisi Loves You” slogan was everywhere, and if that was any indication of how my one day in town would go, I’d was really going to enjoy myself here.
The two-hour flight from Istanbul arrived at Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport after 3AM and I was knocked out in my hotel room by 5AM. I hated wasting the morning snoozing, but I needed sleep if I was going to have a successful seven-country, 13-day trip. Georgia was only my second nation on this itinerary. I needed to pace myself.
I was finally up and out, and trotting down the streets of Tbilisi by 1:30PM, and I didn’t stop until it was time to hit the airport that night for my 1:20AM flight to Azerbaijan.
Tbilisi Fo’ Sheezy
The city is laid out perfectly for a one-day walking tour, and I enjoyed every moment: every twist, turn, alley, hill, staircase, bridge and corridor. Tbilisi was a neat mix of old and new. I saw crumbling buildings from the 1800s in the foreground of modern glass and steel towers. I’ve seen 101 countries (at the time I’m writing this), and I think Tbilisi probably stacks up as one of the best cities in the world to enjoy a day of exploring on foot. Everything was spaced out just right: the highlights were close enough to see everything I wanted to see, but spread far enough apart to get a little exercise. It was not “too” touristy, but tourist-friendly enough to really feel comfortable (Remember the city’s slogan!) And overall, just very comfortable and friendly, as I walked the corners of the city, traversing bridges, climbing steps, descending hills, riding funiculars, and sailing on cable cars. Just a neat, neat experience.
Here are a few of the highlights.
Take Me to Church
The first main attraction I headed towards was The Holy Trinity Cathedral. Constructed between 1995 and 2004, it’s the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world and one of the largest religious buildings in the world by total area. It was perched atop a steep hill, giving you a nice view of the city below. I enjoyed a cup of fresh orange juice from a stand where the lady squeezed the oranges right there, before heading through the gates and exploring the property.
After exploring the church and its grounds, I had a pleasant walk back down into town, by way of random side streets and alleys. I used no map or GPS as I meandered back to the city through an old residential neighborhood, where the facades of the buildings and people told stories without words. I’d manage to escape the crowds from the church. Not one tourist was in sight, and that’s just the way I like it.
Eatin’ Good in the Naybahood
It was mid-afternoon by the time I’d arrived back into the bustling city from church and the hills above. I was starving; the orange juice at the cathedral was not enough to support all this walking–I needed real fuel! I stopped to eat at a little restaurant with outside seating near the river and a great view of The Bridge of Peace. My lunch here in Tbilisi would be one of my favorite travel meals to date! I’d seen videos of the food in Georgia that looked absolutely fantastic. Now it was time to see and taste these dishes in real life.
Up, Up and Away
This was one of the best lunches I’d ever had, and gave me the much needed fuel I required to trek on; there was still a lot to see and not a lot of time to see it! I marched across The Bridge of Peace and through a park, before heading to Tbilisi’s aerial cable car to zip up to the top of the mountain and enjoy some fantastic views. I never could say no to a cable car!
They See Me Strollin’…
After a nice stop up top to visit with Mother Georgia (the big statue), hold a monkey, and take in some gorgeous views, it was back to town to find my next ride: the funicular. But instead of taking the cable car back down, I found a little cement trail that worked its way down the hillside, through the trees, and down into a cool neighborhood nestled in between the hills. This was another little pocket of Tbilisi void of any visible tourists that I would enjoy exploring.
I finally reached the funicular station, all by myself (no map, no GPS), where I boarded the car and took a ride up the mountain. There was a lot more going at the top of this hill than the last, including two big restaurants overlooking the city and some sort of weird amusement park, which was unfortunately closed for the most part. There was a handful of carnival “games” open, but no rides operating.
I’d actually encounter a handful of “fun” parks during my visit to The Caucuses, but all them would be closed: ferris wheels standing still, water from log flume rides drained and roller coasters motionless. I chalked it up as having to do with the season; we hadn’t hit summer yet, and I imagined these parks would be in full operation come May or June.
I was losing light so I decided to head back down into town, wander a little, get some food (I was still pretty full from lunch) and head back to the airport. Tbilisi is stunning at night, with lots of beautiful, colored lights shining on the old buildings and walls. The city looked one part medieval, one part Soviet, one part Italian; it really was a fun place to romp around and get lost in. As darkness encroached, I found myself standing in front of a weird clock dubbed The Leaning Tower of Tbilisi, before entering Café Gabriadze for a snack before my flight. I had some Moroccan tea and homemade donuts. Don’t judge, I’d earned it with my 20,000+ steps today.
After only less than one day in the city, I absolutely bought in to their motto of “Tbilisi Loves You.” I felt loved! And fact is, I loved Tbilisi right back! And while I felt I was able to get a lot in for the short time I was in town, as I rode in the back of my taxi on the way to the airport, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn’t staying longer.
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