Tbilisi, the "Hot water" city
I went with a friend by train. We left on Friday night so to arrive on Saturday morning. The ride was great except for damn 3 hours at the borders, first Azeri and then Georgian. There are a lot of Azeri going to Tbilisi while trying to smuggle things accross the border and the process looks likewise when going back from Tbilisi to Baku, this time having Georgian people on board instead. And if one thinks about it, all this happens for years already - every single time when the train passes the borders (at least once every day) there are pretty much the same people on the train and I bet there are also the same customs officers at the borders ... as if they could not have come to some sort of agreement to speed up the process.
Nevermind, so instead at 10 we made it to Tbilisi at 1, thankfully Tbilisi is one hour behind, so we came at 12 Georgian time. Got dropped by a Georgian friend at a hotel, hotel which we did not have to pay for as the owners were his relatives. Very unexpected, very convenient
but very akward as well.
Our first trip was to Jvari Monastery, some 30min away from Tbilisi. It is situated on a cliff while overlooking the Mtskheta village and offering great views of the surrounding mountains. Jvari, built in the 7th century, is one of the oldest churches in Gergia and it is functioning till now.
From Jvari we descended to Mtskheta. It is not more than a sleepy village by now lying on the confluence of two rivers, Mktvari (Kura in Azeri) and Aragvi. Mtskheta used to be the capital city of Georgia for some 500 years in pre-Christian times. In the center of the village you will find the Svetitskhoveli Church, thought by some as the most beautiful church of Georgia, built in 11th century.
After an extraordinary dinner in an outside restaurant placed along a little stream, while tasting different kinds of Georian specialities, we returned to Tbilisi. We took a stroll around the Old Town/Kala with number of churches around, remnants of city walls, colourful houses and plenty of cafes. The Old Town is being slowly rebuilt and very neat little streets are emmerging here and there. We stopped for a beer at a beer restaurant, opened only some month ago, with real brewery inside of the place, thus having the possibility to taste "fresh" beer :o). I am afraid that the beer here is as disgusting as everywhere else (my appologies to beer lovers), though of course Czech beer is still the least evil one :o)). After the restaurant we called it the night, although I could not resist taking few more photos of the night Tbilisi.
I will rather not mention the night as I shall feel sorry for myself :o) so while skipping that I will take us to some 11am on Sunday. Dima (our Georgian friend) picked us up at that time and we continued to wander around the old streets with the aim to make it to Rustaveli Avenue. I had the feeling that all the buildings you might want to see in a city, you will definitely find on this Avenue. First to see is the so called Children's Palace (former Russian viceroy's residence), next to the building of the Parliament. A modern building of the Plaza Cinema, hotel Tbilisi (Marriott), close with the Kashveti church emmerge further along the Avenue. The cars are not allowed to this street during Sundays so one gets to have nice views from the middle of the street (though the reflex of looking for a car coming is still there :o))). There is also the Opera house, Mitropane Laridze Soda Foutain, Academy of Science and other sights to be seen.
We ended up in a little Chinese restaurant for a lunch and returned through other streets to our hotel to fetch the car. As we still had some time left, Dima took us to a newly built church high up on a hill above the center of Tbilisi. Really an impressive building packed with people as it was a holiday that day.
There is another extraordinary sight to be seen on the hill facing Tbilisi, the Kartlis Deda Statue. This metal mother statue is holding a tea-cup to welcome friends and a sword to scare off the enemies. Some distance away from the statue there are the impressive ruins of Narikala Castle very well visible from the center of the city. I guess it is good to mention that Tbilisi is placed in a valley surrounded by hills :o).
The day ended by a visit to a Turtle lake within the woods that border with Tbilisi. The lake is a place where people like to go for a run, or to simply relax or have a swim, again with excellent views of the city.
At 6 we had a train back, and even with "the usual" three hour delay at the borders, we made it slightly after 9 to Baku. So I was sitting at my office with only some 40min delay ;o).