Tbilisi – a capital of Georgia, over a milion people city in the East of the country. It dates back to 3rd century. Earlier signs of human activity let scientist presume that this is the place of our origin and development as humanity.
Before they opened Kutaisi airport all our trips to Georgia had started there. We’ve been to Tbilisi several times and each time we are there we get the impression that the city has two faces: one traditional, with historical sites, old town, castle and the other one – new, full of modern, eye-catching architecture. The sucession of old times are definitely high sidewalk curbes. Walking with a baby stroller is maybe not impossible but difficult for sure. Adding to that a belief that it’s the driver and his car who is the most important on the road, you can imagine our attempts to cross the street. Pedestrians in Tbilisi are treated by drivers like those irritating flies, they are everywhere but the less attention you pay to them the better. That means priority for cars, always and everywhere.
Anyway, Tbilisi has couple of places, in our opinion, must-see sites or attractions that you have to start sightseeing with:
- Go to the Freedom Square with the statue of St. George and feel the atmosphere of all important events in Georgian history. Separation Georgia from Russia, the attempt of assasination of George W. Bush or Rose Revolution are just some examples from latest history. Imagine that the statue of S. George you are seeing only recently followed the statue of Lenin in this place. Have a look at a City Hall at the southern side of the square.
The square is open for traffic and is the busy junction of 6 streets of gently speaking strange organization. Faded lines don’t help but it’s possible to drive through it and even get used to it after couple of times.
- Tbilisi representative street goes out from the Square. Take a walk down the Shota Rustaveli Avenue, a home of governmantal buildings like an Old Parliament (Currently members of parliament meet in Kutaisi in a modern, 2012 built glass dome) and cultural sites like Opera and Ballet Theatre. It’s the Rustaveli street where the most expensive brands locate. It’s restored in details, well maintained of fully european style. Expensive hotels, elegant coffeehouses are all there.
- Visit Old Tbilisi to to wander among 19th century houses with characteristic courtyards and open balconies. Balconies with traditional wooden ornaments. Houses are recently renovated and painted soft colors. In Old Tbilisi you will find bars and restaurants with all over the world cuisine especialy of course with caucasian one, artists selling their works and beggars preying on tourists (have to mention that to keep the reality).
Look around for some historical temples woven into that urban fabric and their mistic atmosphere. Feel the cultural mix of nations and religions with their sypathies and anypathies.
Get on a cable car (1GEL) and let it take you to towering high over the city Narikala Fortress – an ancient structure consisted of two parts. One of them is ruins of the old fort and the other one – St. Nicolas church. The church that we see today is a newly built after the fire, which damaged teh historical one.
Right next to the fortress there is a monument of 20-meter women with a sword and a bowl overlooking the city. This is Kartlis Deda known also as Mother Georgia, a symbol of the country and it’s people, having a bowl of wine for friends and a sword for enemies.
From her feet there is a scenic view of the city.
Walk down the hill (or get a cable car) to have a deserved rest. Use your nose to get to the next place we want to advise. Follow the rotten egg smell and reach sulphur baths area Abanotubani. You will see a bunch of small brick domes – those are the baths. It’s not to be missed because of this original brick domes and of course the smell.
Hot natural sulphur springs have been used by locals since ever. Mineralised water is believed to be a cure for skin problems, rheumatic diseases and many others.
There are two types of service. First collective one, available for everyone (2 GEL). Some Georgians visit it regularily just for personal hygene. Go up the hill an on the right hand side you will see that building.
Don’t let that neglected facade scare you away, just get in. As it’s a public bath, there are separate rooms for men and women. And since there is nobody of opposite sex around, everybody use the baths naked. First you go to locker-room where you undress and put your stuff to the locker. No no no, don’t look for the key – there is a lady in the room who holds “a master key” and is responsible for closing all lockers. She will come to close your locker; she also sells all hygenic and personal stuff in case you have forgotten anything.
When completely naked you go to a big hall with showers with constantly running hot sulphur water. Showers are open, not separated from themselves even by a curtain and even so all women different age feel free to conduct their hygenic rituals. In one corner there is a lady scrubbing her back, in the other one another one is shaving her legs, on the stone bed somebody is having a body peeling and massage. In the room there is also a small pool with sulphur water where one can take a rest. That’s the ladies part. Men’s part looks similar, with the difference that they smoke everywhere. So except the natural heat and smell inside, it’s full of cigarettes smoke. What is more they lit the fire inside to burn the gloves for peeling.
The other version, more popular among the tourists, is to take a small room just for your own usage. There are different sizes of rooms depending on the number of people taking bath. Cost of those smaller ones is around 30 lari/ hour (cash or credit card!).
Each compartment consist of two rooms: first for undressing or taking a break, having a tea, beer orother alcohol (can be ordered there), the other one is a fully tiled room, very hot and humid with a bathtub full of water and a tiled bed. Hot water keeps runing to the bath; thankfuly there is also a shower with cold water otherwise it would be unbearable. Those rooms must have heard many stories as baths are popular place to do some parties and business, not always clear ones.
Ola just dip her feet and she was done. Taking shifts with her outside we took bath separately. We highly recommend taking extra services, wash and a scrub (10 lari, paid cash only). An amazing experience which leaves you with totaly new skin. You get whole body washed with soap, massaged, really from very top of the head to tips of your toes, and scrubed with thick glove sometimes moistened with wine. The procedure ends with pouring on the fresh pink skin a bucket of hot sulphur water.
There is another one bath in Abanotubani, different than others, of outstanding fascade, persian style. Beautiful front makes us always want to visit but each time we are there it’s closed. We will continue checking and once we get in will let you know if inside it’s as decorated as outside.
- After taking a bath, tired but happy and relaxed, grab something to eat and take the metro home. Tbilisi metro has two lines and looks like others in former Soviet Union, is decorated and very deep. Impressions are not like from sighteeing of Moscow’s or St. Petersburg’s subways, although it reflects concept of underground as a military and propaganda structure.
That’s our suggestion for the weekend in Tbilisi, see, try, admire and come back for more. But if you have another day there focus on modern architecture of Tbilisi. It’s spreaded all over the city but very interesting and worth seeing. See Public Service Hall, Prosecutor’s Office, National bank of Georgia, ministry of Internal Affairs, Emergenies Control Centre, Socar headquarters.