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 city and 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, including below our apartment a fantastic hairdresser and close by a very convenient place to eat, ‘Entrée’, part of a small chain of restaurants.
Tbilisi has an ancient core overlooking the Mtkravri River and spread around the core is around a succession of increasingly modern areas. Getting around was extremely easy and over the period we stayed we mixed it up with walks, the city is a very walkable town with few crowds and little traffic congestion. Using the public transport buses whose frequency meant that we waited less than 5 minutes at any bus stop. In general, we had little difficulty shopping in supermarkets or getting a fantastic haircut from our neighbouring shop, 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 extremely religious we decided to bring a large bag of Frankincense from Oman and had printed labels in Georgian explaining what it was that we included when we subdivided the bag as individual gifts. 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.
There were several standouts in Tbilisi. The setting of the town 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 town which was remarkably Parisian in feel, though now it is a centre for Turks, judging from the number of their restaurants.
Overlooking the town the Chronical of Georgia monument which, though unfinished, is grander than Kartlis Deda the “Mother of Georgia” monument in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. Both though have a monumentality that would fit well in the Lord of the Rings.
Outside Tbilisi is Mtskheta which might seem to be 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. The building has several graves of former Georgian kings and many monarchs were also crowned in the building.
The village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has several other monuments in addition to the cathedral. Whether from local or foreign finance, the village has a prosperous appearance that made 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 between Georgia and Russia which we came face to face with when driving to Gori.