We flew into Tbilisi, Georgia, from Muscat – with the world under the plane gradually becoming greener as we flew north. The airport in Tbilisi is on the edge of the city. After buying a SIM card, we took a taxi into town, crossing over the river, which had flooded the city not so long ago, and into Vake, where we would stay.
Vake is an area with tree-lined boulevards and, as we found, a very useful mix of shops. These included below our apartment a fantastic hairdresser and close by a convenient place to eat, ‘Entrée’, part of a small chain of restaurants.
Tbilisi has an ancient core overlooking the Mtkravri River and a succession of increasingly modern areas spread around this core. Getting around was extremely easy. The city is very walkable, with few crowds and little traffic congestion. Over the period we stayed, we mixed it up with walks and public transport buses, where we waited less than 5 minutes at any bus stop; the buses were constant. We had little difficulty shopping in supermarkets or getting a fantastic haircut from the salon below, despite not reading the beautiful Georgian script and only speaking the bare essentials.
Our one communication problem was with Frankincense. Knowing that the country was highly religious, we decided to bring a large bag of Frankincense from Oman; and had printed labels in Georgian explaining what it was. The bag was subdivided into individual gifts, and each was labelled. Our kind landlady was the first recipient on arrival; another was the old Mosque in the ancient core of the town. On visiting Kashueti Church, we offered a priest a bag, and he directed us to, presumably, a senior person. A few moments later, holy water was sprinkled into the bag, which was returned to us; clearly, one holy product is better with a second added.
There were several standouts in Tbilisi. The town’s setting in a forested valley is impressive, as most of the trees are evergreen this must be a winter wonderland.
The very imposing, and still being finished, Trinity Cathedral with its vast open interior is approached up a flight of stairs.
The old brick-built Mosque in the old town whose blue interior and double mihrab looked appropriately Persian (Georgia was for centuries within the Persian world). The ‘left bank’ of the city was remarkably Parisian in feel, though now it is a centre for Turks, judging from the number of their restaurants.
Overlooking the town, the Chronicle of Georgia monument, which, though unfinished, is grander than Kartlis Deda, the “Mother of Georgia” monument in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. Both have a monumentality that would fit well in the Lord of the Rings.
Outside Tbilisi is Mtskheta which might seem a suburb, but is far more than that. Mtskheta is, firstly, Georgia’s most important religious site. We visited Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, and indeed it’s heavy with faith. The cathedral is situated in what appears to be a walled fortification. Inside are several graves of former Georgian kings, and many monarchs were also crowned in the building.
Secondly, the village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with several other monuments besides the cathedral. Whether from local or foreign finance, the village has a prosperous appearance that makes it an enjoyable ‘walk around’. Signage to a museum was the only distraction as, on enquiry at the local modern civic centre, it appears that the museum doesn’t open. Mtskheta also has something that is almost ubiquitous in Georgia, the flag of the EU. In most places, it’s over a building of perhaps cultural and political relations. In Mtskheta, the flag represents a more active support, as there is a monitoring body to check the cease-fire following the August 2008 conflict after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. We came face to face with the result when driving to Gori.