Tbilisi

Posted by on 23, Jun 2010 in 2010 - The Caucasus, Caucasus, Europe, Georgia

Tbilisi


After being woken by Daisy the calf mooing and bringing our early morning milk delivery we got a taxi into the city. We touched 100kph in the city centre and the driver was going carefully for Lindas backs sake. It was terrifying, 6 lanes of traffic with closing speeds of over 200 kph, in a city centre, with no seat belts on, one hand out of the window and the other holding the mobile and the obligatory fag, brazenly overtaking into the oncoming traffics lanes and he looked as cool as a cucumber. We were in the foetal position in the rear crying like babies!

When we arrived at the tourist information centre we discovered a unique aspect to their tourist services. Apparently the purpose of the centre is for tourists to give the staff information. Anything we asked them they didn’t know about. They even seemed unaware of a tourist Petit train that plies the streets at speeds we liked the look of. In fact they googled everything we asked. All this with faces and attitudes straight out of communist times. Service with a smile it certainly wasn’t. This in fact was becoming a trend for the city. Outside the city and especially in the autonomous republic of Adjara (Batumi area) people were friendly, here smile at someone and you’d get looked at as though you’d just sneezed on them. Wave at them and they reached for their kalashnikovs. Lonely Planet tells us they are about the friendliest nation on earth, well not here they aren’t! A few of the younger people were ok and our taxi driver was nice, but Tblisi has to be the most unwelcoming place we’ve been to outside Chernobyl. Which is a huge shame because the city itself is gorgeous, even if crossing any road is like wandering accidentally onto a formula 1 track on lap 2. It is also a building yard – a bit like Berlin a few years ago. All the major hotel chains have bought up half derelict old buildings in the centre and are busy restoring them. The Marriott – where we had a coffee and sorted out our Russian visas- was simply stunning.

The main street if you ignore the motor racing is lined with an array of building types. Ottoman buildings have communist grand architecture neighbours and Parisian buildings sit next to central European styles. The street is lined with trees and benches and every few hundred metres fountains sparkle in the sun. Little child sized sculptures hide between shops and benches and Parisian kiosks sell papers and snacks. We thoroughly enjoyed walking up and down the boulevard watching the older folks snear at the young in their skimpy skirts and huge heels.

Away from the main drag the old town rambles down the hill to the river. We tried to go into a church here and despite being decently dressed and Linda having a shawl for her head apparently God wasn’t seeing the likes of us that day! I wonder what Jesus would make of that? The area is a lovely mix of old ottoman buildings with balconies overlooking small winding cobbled streets. Many of the buildings look as though they haven’t had any attention since they were built and sag and lean at strange angles. They are still lived in but the stares you get from the occupants on the balconies verge on the threatening. Smiling and waving has no effect.

Some of the streets have been renovated and are lined with bars cafés and restaurants. These are delightful, no traffic, sometimes grapes growing overhead and always sofas and comfy chairs sitting under huge parasols to keep the glare of the very powerful sun off. The old town streets lead to a fantastic new bridge over the river. It is extremely modern and has a swirling glass canopy curled like a sail flapping lose in the wind providing shade but at the same time being totally see through. At the edge of the old town sits a cluster of narrow pedestrian streets on two levels adjacent to the river and in the shadow of the fortress and the towering statue of Mother Georgia high on the hill above. It is full of young Georgians and tourists a like and about the only place we found everyone welcoming. Dozens of trendy bars and restaurants are crowded together here some with huge chandeliers and larger rich coloured sofas covered with scatter cushions on the street.

In the evening the city is brightly illuminated and the ugly TV tower that sits on one of the many hills around Tblisi, has a moving firework lights display with all sorts of colours racing up and down the mast and ‘exploding’ on the viewing platform at the top. It’s an ingenious use of a Soviet relic.

We’ve really enjoyed Tblisi, especially with Linda being able to sit down every few hundred metres on a bench of at a cafe. But the walk up to the new cathedral that dominates the skyline was too much so we took a taxi. Our experience with taxis here has been frightening and baffling at the same time. We would negotiate a price before getting in and then normally find after a few minutes the driver had no idea where we wanted to go or if he did, no idea how to get there. Our first evening here we got a taxi home and the driver had to stop 3 times to ask for directions. We had shown him on a map where we wanted to go but it seems that no one is able to read a map. We are staying on the equivalent of the M25, we got home in the end, but not before we had stopped to ask another taxi driver where to go and his girlfriend had held my hand kissed me and told me she loved me!

The cathedral though is brand new and enormous. It is roughly a square in shape and layered like a wedding cake with the central dome rising to an enormous height and gold topped. Unlike other Georgian churches it is bright inside with the walls white washed. It is busy with locals doing the rounds of crossing themselves 3 times and kissing each icon in turn. Some people prostrate themselves in front of presumably the more significant icons and others kiss every icon in the cathedral. It is fascinating to watch but you do feel it looks almost superstitious ritual and in some ways reminded us of Islam.

So, stumbling upon a delicious Indian for tea and passing some posters of Wayne Rooney with ‘My name is Rooney’ on a British Pub we got our taxi back home to the brothel. This morning I went inside the motel to pay. The interior is like a police prison with metal bent and bashed doors leading to each room. The floors and walls are all concrete and are crumbling with some kind of water damage leading to huge patches of fungus like growth. The owners room had a TV a small bed and table and chairs in and looked like something out of Steptoe with all kinds of stuff littered about the place. You couldn’t renovate this building, it looks like if you tried to paint the walls the merest touch of the brush would knock it all down like a house of cards. The abandoned buildings in Chernobyl were in better condition than this place. Presumably you rent rooms by the hour here because if you spent the night you might be absorbed by the fungus from the walls. For once we felt embarrassed at the luxury of Taffy, but with one Georgian being worth over $4 billion we shouldn’t be the only ones.

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