Written by fizzytom on 21 May, 2009
Tbilisi is situated in the heart of Georgia; it’s pretty, it’s old and there’s a lot of history but it’s not a tourist destination. If you go to Tbilisi you’ll encounter lots of non-Georgians but few of them will be tourists; it’s much more likely…Read More
Tbilisi is situated in the heart of Georgia; it’s pretty, it’s old and there’s a lot of history but it’s not a tourist destination. If you go to Tbilisi you’ll encounter lots of non-Georgians but few of them will be tourists; it’s much more likely that they will be the staff of international aid agencies and other non-governmental organizations. The high number of well paid foreign nationals combined with the large number of refugees that have come from other parts of Georgia and the war-torn region of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighbouring Armenia, has the effect of making Tbilisi a city of extremes. One minute you can be considering splashing out on sushi in a hip restaurant, the next you are fighting off a family of beautiful but waif-like children. Tbilisi is vast; it has a population of almost two million but it probably seems bigger because of its geography. It is built along the steep banks of the Mtkvari River so it tends to grow lengthways.there is plenty to see that can be achieved on foot and Tbilisi is a very pleasant city to stroll around with riverside walks, narrow streets in the old town and a few not-too-taxing hills. The old town is dominated by churches – beautiful churches in the traditional Georgian and sometimes Armenian style, typified by round towers with short, conical roves. Much more our thing was Narikala Fortress which is a short climb up the hill overlooking the Old Town. It’s in ruins today but its quite interesting because you can see how the fortress evolved with differing styles of architecture; the fortress started life as a Persian citadel in the fourth century and was later used by Arab Emirs in the 8th century. Later still when the Russians came to Tbilisi in the nineteenth century they too used the fortress and an explosion in an arms store did massive damage to it. There may not be much to see now but it’s quite atmospheric and is a good place to get views of the city, especially the famous sulphur baths.Tbilisi’s "New Town" is centred on Rustaveli Gamziri, home to some quite glitzy international stores. This is also where you’ll find imposing buildings such as the Opera House and the Governors Place. This section of town really reflects the Soviet influence with some elegant nineteenth century buildings alongside other stark modern ones such as the Parliament Building built in the Stalinist style. It is here that you’ll see the most evidence of the turmoil in the city and the country’s recent history; all over Tbilisi but especially in this part of the city you can see buildings badly damaged in the fierce fighting that followed Georgian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Strolling down this wide tree lined street, looking in the windows of shops I couldn’t afford myself it is hard to imagine that people starved to death on these streets in the 1990s. It was only in 2003 with the "Rose Revolution" that fortunes began to improve in Tbilisi. Even today the city’s reputation is still blighted by crime and poverty and residents of Tbilisi feel quite resentful of the thousands of refugees living in the city, whom they blame for these problems. This turmoil has a marked effect on the tourist industry. There is lots of high end hotel accommodation (Marriott, Sheraton, etc) but very little at the budget end though this appears to be changing a little. When the refugees flooded in from the disputed Abkahzia region that borders Russia they were accommodated in some of the larger state run hotels and so that accommodation no longer exists for tourists. Backpackers can find homestay accommodation on offer at bus and train stations and there are a few mid-range hotels. Luckily Tbilisi is never likely to be so busy that it’s a struggle to find something. Again eating out and drinking are also geared towards the higher end of the market with the most notable international eateries being clustered on Akhvlediani; here you can eat sushi, drink cocktails and rub shoulders with the sort of individuals you’d probably work hard to avoid at home. Much more fun is to head for Rikhe, a little cluster of restaurants on the left bank of the river. The restaurants here are more typically Georgian and my favourite was Megrelia where diners eat in separate sheds which - apparently – is a very Georgian thing to do.Like many former Soviet cities Tbilisi has a broad selection of museums but they suffer because the exhibits are usually badly presented and labeled only in Russian and the home language. However, should any museum be of particular interest to you, you might wish to consider engaging a private tour guide – either from an agency or through an informal agreement with someone who approaches you on the street, usually a student looking to supplement their income. If someone in Tbilisi wants to rob you of your money they’ll mug you; engaging the services of a guide who approaches you on the street is safe and an option worth considering so long as you agree in advance what you want to see and what you will be paying for. For example, if you engage the guide for a whole day you may wish to stand them lunch too and if the arrangement is to book the guide for several days to see somewhere else in the country you should really foot the bill for their accommodation. What I loved about Tbilisi was the little things – the way a mother and daughter threw themselves down so dramatically at the feet of the priest when he appeared round a corner, the lamb that was tethered in the patio of a café we were in and managed to escape, pursued by the café owner and his son, the cheerful soldiers on the underground greedily eyeing up a massive birthday cake a lady was carrying in an open box. It will be some time yet before Tbilisi becomes a real tourist destination; however for travelers with an open mind it can be an interesting and rewarding place to visit. Ignore the reports of crime but take the same care you would in any other capital city. The best way to avoid attention from beggars or muggers is to wear black – most Georgians dress almost exclusively in black – and to plan your route in advance so you do not have to keep referring to your guidebook. As soon as you pull out a guidebook you will become the focus of everyone’s attention and it can become quite hard work. We made the mistake of giving money and a handful of sweets to one young child, only to have his entire family emerge from some trees to ask for more; we were not threatened but it did make us feel slightly uncomfortable and the requests were quite persistent and vocal. Tbilisi was exactly as I thought and, yet wasn’t. It was how I thought I would have liked it to have been although I had been expecting it to have moved on more since the Soviet era. When I first went to Prague I wished I had gone earlier because I felt it was much like any other central European capital. I do feel that I chose the right time to visit Tbilisi; too soon and I would have encountered more power cuts and intermittent water supplies as well as more hositilty to foreigners, too late and Tbilisi might have lost something of its own character. Close
Written by fizzytom on 17 Jun, 2008
In a city that - despite being visually attractive - has little in the way of tourist attractions, the sulphur baths of Tbilisi are a welcome diversion from viewing churches and musuems. On a three month trip you can suffer culture fatigue after a while…Read More
In a city that - despite being visually attractive - has little in the way of tourist attractions, the sulphur baths of Tbilisi are a welcome diversion from viewing churches and musuems. On a three month trip you can suffer culture fatigue after a while but it was nice to know that even in indulging ourselves and shunning the churches, we were experiencing a little bit of Georgian culture that goes back to the founding of the capital city.It is claimed that Tbilisi was founded in the fifth century; the legend says that King Gorgasali was hunting for deer and shot one that fell into a hot sulphur spring. The deer strangely and miraculously healed and this is how the restorative powers of the sulphur springs was discovered. However, it is more likely that Tbilisi existed as a stopping off point on the Silk Road at least a century before this but one thing is certain - the King moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi, most probably on the grounds that the water springs would provide a good means of heating the city. Even today, some districts of Tbilisi use the warmth from the underground springs to heat their homes.The "Abanotubani" is the name given to the district in the Old Town of Tbilisi where there is a whole street (Abanos kucha) of public bathhouses that use the hot sulphurous waters (abano means "bath", ubani means "district). The baths themselves are underground, but beehive-like domes are above the ground and now and again little blasts of steam spurt out of one of the vents in the domes. There is a gentle whiff of slightly eggy sulphurous gas in the air but this is only really in the immediate area (unlike -say - Iceland where the smell is there most places you go).Unlike the hammam or Turkish baths, the sulphur baths are much more a social and medical event than a spiritual one. As a result there are no restrictions in bathing for mixed sex groups or couples. Furthermore, men may go naked (which is strictly forbidden in a hammam) and so more modest bathers may prefer to take a private bathing room.We went to the Orbeliani baths which are reputed to be the most impressive. We were confused at first because this one does not have steps that descend from street level to the entrance. Instead you enter through a rather ornate entrance that, with its pointed arch and blue mosaic tiles, looked more like a mosque than my idea of a sulphur baths complex. The heat and the sulphurous smell hit you when you enter but you you quickly become accustomed to it. One of the ladies on reception spoke a little English and explained the pricing system. There was a small room available and she took us along a dimly lit corridor, swimming in water and halfway along threw open the door to an even more dimly lit room that looked only to contain a plastic patio chair. Further inspection revealed a place to hang clothes and , in a very dark corner, some steps going into the a small bathing pool.However, before we could agree another member of staff came along to say that a larger room had just become free. This room had a separate dressing room which was much better as it offered more chance of keeping our outdoor clothes dry. In this room was a leather-look two seater sofa and a hanging area for clothes. Beyond this room was the actual bathing room; there was a pool in the corner with three steps going up to it. Above the pool was a brick dome and through the narrow vent came a faint chink of daylight. Alongside it was a big marble slab that was very warm - similar to the hot slab in a hammam. On the opposite wall were two shower heads.The room was ours for one hour for around £6.00; for an extra fee we could have had a wash and massge but since we were taking a room together we decided against this. We had brought our own towels but we could have hired a towel from reception.Now, the most curious thing about the sulphur baths is not the eggy smell but the weird green lighting not just along the corridors but inside the bathing rooms. I have no idea why it is this way but I suspect it is for two reasons. First, it does create quite a relaxing atmosphere that you would not achieve with conventional lighting. The second may be that the water is not just discoloured but has strange particles in it which are probably caused by the oxidisation that sulphate water causes. You can see these on your skin once your eyes have adjusted to this strange light.Now it's time to get undressed so if you don't mind........OK, I'm in the water, you can open your eyes now. The water is lovely and warm and I can just touch the very tips of my toes on the bottom. the pool measure about a metre and a half each way and there's a ledge on one side so you can sit down and still be mostly under the water. There's enough room for two in the water but all you can do then is relax; with one you can maybe tread water or kick your legs a little. It's not as hot as a sauna but it's quite nice now and again to get out and lie on the marble slab for a few minutes before getting in the water again.As the end of the hour draws near it's time to shower off; you need to bring your own shower gel or soap and you must make sure you have a good wash to remove the oxdised particles. The water gets pretty hot and the pressure is quite strong. The green light helps to ensure you get all the particles washed off. All that remains now is to get dressed. It's not until you leave that you realise just how potent the sulphur content is - my silver rings were very tarnished - sulphates cause rapid oxidisation of metals so take care to remove jewellery. It took a few days to get the silver back to original condition and the amber from one of my rings did not lose the tarnish for several weeks. Like at a hammam, you can get a drink and sit and chat in a cafe area upstairs after bathing.It's hard to know the therapeutic benefits of the sulphur baths. We heard many possible benefits of the hot springs ranging from rheumatic conditions to skin problems. One thing is for sure, you really do come out feeling invigorated and full of beans. A few days later I read that Alexander Dumas visited the baths during the sixteenth century and wrote afterwards "A great sense of freedom and well-being permeated me. All my tiredness had gone and I felt strong enough to lift a mountain". I do agree - I felt infinitely refreshed and ready to tackle anything. On reflection I would have to say that a visit to the sulphur baths is an essential part of a visit to Tbilisi. I almost didn't go and I know that I would have regretted it very much. It is not such an intense experience as going to a Turkish baths but it is great fun and something that sets Tbilisi apart from other cities in this region.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe different baths have their own opening times and prices; they are, in the main, open daily from early morning until mid-evening. At the Orbeliani Baths, communal bathing costs about 30 pence, a small room about £3.00, a large room approximately £6.00.Bath Street is situated just past Gorgasalis Moedani on the south bank of the river near Metekhis Bridge. Close
Written by HobWahid on 27 Jul, 2005
If you are going to be in Georgia for any length of time, it would be a crime to miss out on the most quintessential Georgian experience, the supra. The Georgians take their eating seriously, and they take their celebrating even more seriously. They will…Read More
If you are going to be in Georgia for any length of time, it would be a crime to miss out on the most quintessential Georgian experience, the supra. The Georgians take their eating seriously, and they take their celebrating even more seriously. They will find any reason to celebrate, and when they do, you had better be prepared for a long night full of drink, food, and endless toasts. It is guaranteed to be the most rewarding experience of your whole Georgia trip.Now, there are two main ways to experience a supra. The first is the easy way, by going to one of the "traditional" Georgian restaurants set up for tourists, and the hosts will organize a supra for you, complete with all the necessary toasts. This way will undoubtedly be a good time and a good introduction to Georgian culture, but it won’t be anything compared to the real thing, and that is why I recommend the second way--to befriend a Georgian.Now, every country in the world always talks about how hospitable their people are, but the Georgians really mean it. Just as the statue of Mother Georgia holds out a challis of wine to welcome visitors, so do Georgians go out of their way to give you the best time you can possibly imagine. Befriending a local is something you hardly even have to try at. Sitting at a café, on the bus, or in a restaurant, you are sure to eventually be approached by someone willing to make friends, and when you do, be prepared, because your whole Georgian experience will change. I, on the other hand, had a connection in Georgia--a friend of a friend in Tbilisi who I met up with a few days after I got to Georgia. His name was Roini, and this was our supra: After a dinner at which Alexo the electrician bought us vodka and insisted we call him the case of an electrical emergency, my travel buddy and I were on our way to Republic Square when my phone rang, and it was Roini, my Georgian contact. Without explaining, he told me to find a taxi and to give the phone to the cabbie--we were going to meet him, he insisted. I watched as the cabbie nodded his head, recalling direction, and soon the taxi was wending its way through the streets of Tbilisi until we ended up on the highway out of town. My friend and I watched as the city of Tbilisi disappeared behind us. We had absolutely no idea where we were going and just put our faith in Roi and the cabbie. Eventually we pulled into a large banquet hall complex. The cabbie motioned that this was it. We paid and went in.Entering into the hall, we found a good 10 tables full of Georgians, all there to celebrate different events. The tables were piled with food and jugs of wine, and a band was playing selections of Georgian music. Roi soon found us and dragged us over to his table, a long banquet table packed with Georgian twenty-somethings like himself. He proceeded to explain our presence to his friends and then introduced us one by one. Everyone let up a cheer and invited us to sit down.Within minutes of sitting down, we had piles of food shoved in front of us, and our highball glasses were filled with a brown liquid about the color of apple juice that we discovered was some Georgian wine. We tried to explain that we had just eaten, but that excuse didn’t fly, so my friend and I were forced to comply. The food was, of course, fantastic, but when I went to grab some wine, Roi stopped me. "You can’t drink until a toast is made!"Roi soon explained that everyone was here to celebrate his friend’s birthday and that we were about to experience the traditional supra. The way a supra works, Roi explained, is that at each supra, there is what the Georgians call a tamada. The tamada--in this case, the birthday girl’s brother--is the toastmaster. He is the one in charge of controlling the pace of the meal and, by proxy, the pace of everyone’s drinking. Georgian toasts are not like the ones you will find at weddings in the U.S. Pulling out a prepared speech and reading off a piece of paper would be an unforgivable crime. In Georgia, toasts must be spontaneous and from the heart. A few minutes after our arrival, the tamada stood up and toasted to us. He went on for a couple of minutes about the value of friendship, making new friends, and the importance of meeting people from other places. When he finished, everyone cheered, and I got prepared to drink my large glass of wine, but Roi stopped me.In addition to the tamada, Georgian supras feature what the Georgians call an alaverdi. The alaverdi (in this case, Roi) has the responsibility of elaborating on whatever toast the tamada has just made. The alaverdi is named after Georgia’s second holiest church, Alaverdi (meaning "God gave" in Turkish), and in this case, Roi elaborated for a few minutes on the value of cultural exchange. When he finished, everyone cheered again, and then he gave a nod, indicating it was time to drink. As I lifted the glass to my lips, Roi looked at me and said, smiling, "Make sure to drink it all!" And I did, to the delight of all.The supra continued in that fashion--a toast by the tamada, elaborated by the alavedi, and then a glass of wine. The toasts ranged from toasts about God to toasts blessing grandparents. Eventually it came time for the guests to toast, which I did to the best of my ability, with Roi translating. My toast about the joys of birthdays seemed to be a hit, and after a few more glasses of wine, the music picked up, and Roi looked at me and said, "It’s time to dance!"Dancing is another integral part of the supra. The way it works is that the men get up and ask whomever they want to dance, and the women don’t refuse. You can ask whomever you want, even if they are married, because the dance is considered something of friendship only. It’s a celebration. So getting over my initial trepidations with a few more gulps of liquid courage, I walked up to one of Roi’s friends and asked for a dance. "Don’t ask her!" Roi shouted, "She’s pregnant!" Embarrassed, I moved on to another girl, the birthday girl, and had my dance. Eventually the number of dance partners increased, and soon we were over at neighboring tables, asking complete strangers to dance, and each time, we were received with sincere warmth and love. The people at the new tables would toast to us, drink, and then we would toast to them. And on and on it went. Dance, toast, drink, eat until 3am, when the band started to pack up, signaling the night had ended. We thanked Roi and the others for a fantastic time and shared one last toast, completing perhaps one of the greatest nights in all my years of travel.And that is the supra. You can’t say you have seen Georgia until you experience one.Sadly, the event was so spontaneous that I didn't have a camera handy, so no pictures are available. Sorry. Close
Tbilisi is easily my most favorite city in Caucasus. It is an ancient city, nestled in a valley along the banks of the majestic, but impossible-to-pronounce, Mtkvari River. The city, although surrounded by towering mountains, manages to maintain a temperate climate that keeps it relatively…Read More
Tbilisi is easily my most favorite city in Caucasus. It is an ancient city, nestled in a valley along the banks of the majestic, but impossible-to-pronounce, Mtkvari River. The city, although surrounded by towering mountains, manages to maintain a temperate climate that keeps it relatively warm, even in February, when the mountains roads are blocked by snow. It is perhaps because of its temperate climate that Tbilisi has long attracted the envy of the numerous empires that have passed through its wall. From Persians, to Turks, to Russians, and even the brief Georgian Empire, numerous cultures have left their mark and turned Tbilisi into a melting pot of culture and learning, something even 70 years of monolithic Soviet rule couldn’t stamp out.
During the Soviet era, Georgia was one of the USSR’s hottest travel destinations (both in temperature and popularity), and Tbilisi was its center. Sadly, the civil wars, poverty, and other internal strife that tore apart the country not only ruined Tbilisi’s travel business, but left many of its most precious sights in ruins. Since the Rose Revolution just a few years ago, however, Georgia has seemed to be on its way to peace and prosperity, leaving behind corrupt post-Soviet politics and reinvesting in tourism. What that means for the traveler is that you will find a city that has just started to realize its tourism potential, a city full of magnificent sights and wonderful people who will make it their duty to ensure you leave Tbilisi loving it as much as I did.
Your first impressions of Tbilisi may depend on what the weather is like. If the sun is shining (as it usually is), the city’s red roofs will glimmer and the stone bridges over the Mtkvari will sparkle, but if it is grey and cloudy, then some of the city’s more depressing aspects may appear. There is no other way of saying it, Tbilisi has a decrepit feel to it. A stroll through the Old Town will reveal buildings with crumpling foundations and holes in the roofs, buildings that are barely shadows of their former glory, but to me, it is that slight decrepit nature that gives the city such a distinct charm. The greatest joy of Tbilisi is just wandering around the cobblestone streets of the Old City, admiring the tangled network of buildings and stairs. The buildings may look as if they would fall over with the slightest breeze, but the people still live in them, and they seem to be in no rush to renovate.
The old city is no doubt where you will spend much of your time while in Tbilisi, for it is the most interesting section and houses the best sights. The center of the Old City is bathhouse district, a string of bathhouses built over sulphur springs where you can get a bath for $2 (see separate entry). Moving beyond that, you will find a series of streets just waiting to be explored, streets that house numerous churches and fantastic architectural pieces. Or you can stop by the synagogue, in front of which you will always find three or four old Jewish ladies commenting on the goings on of the day. The synagogue is a testament to Tbilisi’s multicultural past, when over 9,000 Jews lived in the city. The numbers today are closer to 3,000, but the community is still vibrant and the caretakers of the synagogue will be happy to show you the building and their adjoining matzah factory, which was pumping out loads of wafers for Passover during my visit.
From the Old City, you can take the short hike up to the omnipresent Narikale, the old fortress that keeps watch over Tbilisi. While nothing but the walls remain, the fortress still affords the best views of the city and the surrounding mountains, especially on a sunny day.From the fortress, you can continue on to the statue of Mother Georgia, a large silver statue of a woman holding a wine cup in one hand (to represent Georgian hospitality) and a sword in the other (to represent Georgia’s fighting spirit), a perfect reminder that Georgians, while some of the most hospitable on Earth, are not ones to be crossed.Marching back down the hill, you can swing by the one mosque in Tbilisi, a nondescript brick building that, from the outside, looks less than impressive, but on the inside, is painted in wonderful light blues and greens. The gruff-looking men hanging around the entrance may look intimidating, but with just a quick hello, you will find them incredibly excited to greet tourists. The clientele is mostly Azeris, an oft-forgotten minority in Georgia, so they appreciate the attention.
Outside the Old City, Tbilisi still houses numerous museums that will delight, my favorite being the Money Museum, which houses a collection of old and new coinage and bills from Alexander, to the Persians, to Soviet days. Tbilisi also is home to an opera house and a couple of art museums showcasing Georgian artists.
For shoppers, Tbilisi will not disappoint. Despite a number of higher-end boutiques, Tbilisi has numerous stores featuring local crafts, but the shopping highlight is no doubt the weekend market that appears on the city’s bridges. Here you will find everything from antiques, to records, to crafts and artwork, and maybe even a few Soviet relics.
Once night falls, Tbilisi showcases perhaps the best nightlife in the Caucasus. With a large ex-pat community, Tbilisi has no shortage of lovely bars and cafés, but the highlight is the cuisine. Numerous Georgian restaurants are available to introduce you to the delicious local cuisine, but if you want to do it right, make friends with a Georgian, and without a doubt, you will be soon invited to a supra, the traditional Georgian feast at which the wine flows, the toasts are long, and the company is spectacular (see separate entry). Georgians will find any reason to celebrate, and no doubt having a foreign visitor will be excuse enough to throw an elaborate dinner where you will be the guest of honor.So that is Tbilisi, city once plagued by daytime robberies and kidnappings, which has put its recent dark past behind it and is eager to welcome willing visitors with open arms. Enjoy it.
One thing you will notice about Georgia as soon as you arrive is that it is a deeply religious country. It is the second-oldest Christian nation in the world, having been converted by St. Nino in 337, and they take their Christianity seriously, creating their…Read More
One thing you will notice about Georgia as soon as you arrive is that it is a deeply religious country. It is the second-oldest Christian nation in the world, having been converted by St. Nino in 337, and they take their Christianity seriously, creating their own unique brand of Christianity with a distinctly Eastern feel. You will notice in the street or on buses, people crossing themselves three times every time they pass a church, and upon entering any church in Georgia, it is hard not to be moved by the pure spirituality that prevails. Women cover their heads in scarves, light candles, and kiss pictures of Jesus, Mary, and various saints, all while the sweet smell of incense hangs in the air. Georgians are the most deeply Christian people I have ever experienced, but they have always been a place of tolerance, where mosques and synagogues coexist with churches, adding to the thick religious air. The cold secular fist of Communism did its best to stamp out religion (as it did in Azerbaijan), but it obviously failed, because Georgians show an extreme dedication to their church today. This is what you must keep in mind when you travel 30 minutes to the north of Tbilisi to visit Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia and the former seat of the Georgian church.Hoping on a minibus at Tbilisi’s station to head to Mtskheta, you will be joined most likely by numerous Georgians all heading to the town for a dose of spirituality and prayer. For them, this is the equivalent of a Catholic heading to St. Peter’s or a Muslim to Mecca. In the bus, there may be a priest or two, and you can watch with quiet awe as everyone on the bus crosses themselves in unison as it passes any church along the way. The bus ride will undoubtedly be a somber one full of reflection.The town of Mtskheta itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in a valley at the intersection of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, and even if it weren’t the center of Georgian spirituality, its fabulous location would be enough reason to visit. The center of the town, where you will find the largest concentration of churches, is located right at the intersection of the rivers, and is a small area filled with cobblestone streets, slightly crumbling houses, and magnificent churches, the most important of them being the 11th-century Sveti-Tskhoveli Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Georgia. This is the spiritual heart of Mtskheta, the supposed burial place of Jesus’ robe and the sight of one of St. Nino’s miracles (restoring a tree that had been cut in two). Outside the entrance to the compound, you will find various vendors selling trinkets, bracelets, and beautifully carved icons, but when you enter the grounds of the church, you will come through a large gate in the defensive wall surrounding the compound (Mtskheta was military capital, as well as religious one).Upon entry, the tone becomes immediately somber and spiritual. The church itself is really an impressive building from the outside, but the inside is downright amazing. When I entered, a man’s choir was standing near the alter chanting, and their deep voices echoing off the cold stone walls of the cathedral literally sent shivers down my spine it was so beautiful. It turned out there was a communion going on. A priest stood at the front of the church holding a challis of wine, and a long line of Georgians stretched out in front of him down the center aisle of the church. One by one, the worshippers would approach the priest, kiss one of the icons, take a wafer, put it in their mouths, drink from the challis, and then kiss the elbow of the priest. I stood on the side and watched for a while, taking in the aural delights of the chanting, and then examined the rest of the icons in the church. About a half an hour later, the service ended and a bride in a flowing white dress and a groom wandered in - it was time for a wedding. This cathedral, like all churches in Georgia, had no pews, so everyone stood in a semicircle behind the bride and groom, listening intently. The service itself only took a few minutes, and then the bride and groom stood at the front of the church while each visitor approached to give them blessings. Talk about a fantastic place to get married.Sveti-Tskhoveli is the highlight of Mtskheta, but there are still plenty of other sights to see. There is a fortress, the Mtskheta Museum, but one of my favorites may be the tiny little church of Antioki set on the banks of the river. The church itself is ridiculously small, fitting no more than three people, but the inside is lovely. From Antioki Church, you will be able to see a large church on a hill across the river; this is Jvari Church, perhaps the most spectacular Georgian church and one of the most religiously important. If you haven’t already had your fill of Georgian spirituality, you should head up to this church, built on the sight where St. Nino first laid her cross. It will not disappoint.Many people may not agree, but in my mind, Mtskheta is one of Georgia’s must-sees. While there are more historically interesting places and places with better scenery in Georgia, I love Mtskheta because it gives you an invaluable insight into the deep veins of spirituality that run through Georgian culture. Georgians are forever connected with their church, and in order to get a full picture of Georgia, seeing Mtskheta is a must. Plus, it’s hard not have a bit of a spiritual experience yourself, no matter what religion you are, seeing the absolute love and devotion of the worshippers at Mtskheta. Close
Tbilisi has long been famous for the piping-hot sulphur water that bubbles out of the ground along the banks of the Mtkvari River; in fact, that’s where the city gets it name. So, not surprisingly, Tbilisi has its fair share of bathhouses, all centered around…Read More
Tbilisi has long been famous for the piping-hot sulphur water that bubbles out of the ground along the banks of the Mtkvari River; in fact, that’s where the city gets it name. So, not surprisingly, Tbilisi has its fair share of bathhouses, all centered around the same district, Abanotubani. The famous bathhouses of Tbilisi have been written about by such famous authors as Pushkin and Dumas, so there was no doubt that I had to give them a try. Plus, I am a veteran of numerous voyages through the Middle East, and therefore I am well equipped to handle the bathhouse experience.Tbilisi in February can be fairly temperate, but still chilly and with a lot of rain. So I picked a grey, cloudy day full of rain and biting cold to make my way to Abanotubani to give the bathhouses a try. Having no guidebook or anybody telling me what to expect, I packed a backpack with sandals, a bathing suit, some mint-olive soap I had bought in Aleppo, and a towel and hoped on the metro.As you walk into the old city to find the baths, all you have to do is follow your nose; the pungent smell of sulphur will lead you right to them. Once in Abanotubani, you will have a large selection of bathhouses to choose from, most of them partially underground. Since I had no tips otherwise, I decided on the Orbeliani Baths, a large complex with elaborate façade of blue tile reminiscent of Central Asia. Upon entry, I was immediately lost. There were women drying their hair in the lobby and various men milling about. I noticed a cash register and went up to try and figure things out. Through pantomime, I established that one go in the baths was $2. I paid got a receipt and then looked around, confused as to where to go. Eventually, the cash-register lady pointed me upstairs to the men’s sectionAt the top of the stairs was a locker room where a worker took my receipt and then unlocked a locker for me. He motioned for me to put my stuff in there. I did, and then looked around. All the rest of the men were getting naked and heading into the baths. The nudity was a bit of a surprise, because I am used to Middle Eastern baths, where you wrap a towel around your waist and DO NOT let it drop. But this is Georgia, and people get naked. So I followed suit (or without suit rather).The actual bath was a tiled complex with two tiers. There was a row of showers and then a large pool full of hot water. On the second floor there was a place to sit and take in the steam, as well as a cold-water pool. Not really sure of what order to do things in, I started in the showers and scrubbed myself clean with a loofah and my mint-olive soap. For a sulphur bath, the smell really isn’t that overpowering. After the shower, I decided to take a dip in the hot tub, which was plenty hot. From there it was off to the steam room, combined with intermittent dips in the cold-water pool.Eventually I noticed some benches where some workers were giving massages. One of them asked if I would like one, and recalling the wonderful massages I had had in Syria and Turkey, I agreed. He then threw me onto the tile bench, doused me with water, and then went to work, kneading every ounce of tension out of my muscles. After about 5 minutes, he motioned that it was over, and I retreated to the hot tub for a final dip.All in all, I spent a good hour and a half in the baths, and it was the most relaxing experience of the whole trip. Drying off back in the locker room, I could only think about the bitter cold and rain that awaited me outside, but the bath had left me rejuvenated and with an extra bounce in my step, so I was ready to face the wind. Close
Written by Grijsz on 24 Apr, 2005
It's always a good idea to meet Tbilisians. There are good chances at openings, concerts, and readings at the University and at cafes. Tbilisians are proud to show you their own hometown. Friday nights are Caucasus rock concerts at the City restaurant at Alexidze St.,…Read More
It's always a good idea to meet Tbilisians. There are good chances at openings, concerts, and readings at the University and at cafes. Tbilisians are proud to show you their own hometown. Friday nights are Caucasus rock concerts at the City restaurant at Alexidze St., with various upcoming rock bands from Georgia. This concerts are organized by famous musician Lado Burduli. Close