I arrived in Tbilisi exhausted after a grueling flight that landed in the wee hours. Nice to Istanbul, a three-hour wait and then Istanbul-Tbilisi. Fortunately I had already booked a taxi that met me at the airport around 5am. On the way into town the driver was proud to point out some major sights which I was too bleary-eyed to appreciate. The Peace Bridge, Narkalo Fort. . .it all passed by as if in a dream.
When we pulled up to the Hotel Delisi my first though was “Oh no!”. It was clearly in nowhere-land. The neighborhood was residential, a little dreary but safe. I was in no position to quibble. A middle-aged plump brunette showed me to my room right away, which turned out to be large and attractively furnished with a brand-new bathroom and satellite TV. I put on a blackout mask and crashed.
I woke up about five hours later, gulped a cup of coffee and headed out with a map and instructions on getting to the Metro which turned out to be a good 10-minute walk away in a bustling neighborhood of cheap stores and a street market. The Metro turned out to be fast and frequent but jammed. Plus, it was at least a half-hour with a change to get to the Rustavelli stop in the town centre.This was my first view:
I strolled down Rustavelli, a wide boulevard with majestic neo-classical buildings.
It was completely devoid of cars but busy as teams of guys hammered stages and stands into place. Tomorrow is Independence Day I remembered!.Soldiers were marching around in formation, not as protection but as spectacle.
I marched around for a while too getting oriented and then looking for a place to eat. I settled upon Samikitno, a Lonely Planet recommendation. The cold tasting menu of vegetarian dishes turned out to be a wonderful introduction to Georgian food.
Over the following few weeks I ate a great deal of the tomato, cucumber and onion salad topped with chopped walnuts and eggplant with walnuts (bottom left). Notice the Georgian bread, the fried cornbread and the cornmeal grits (centre). Hello carbs! Come to mama.
My mission was to find the tourist office and get a schedule of the events for the following day. Meanwhile I enjoyed the street life of Rustavelli, lined wih cafes, shops, little restaurants and a few big-brand stores, punctuated with amusing details:
After the tourist office, the next mission was to swap out my SIM card for a local one. Everyone recommended Magdi. Lots of calls and 500MB of data was something like €10.
I ducked into a cafe to nurse a beer and watch the street life. Somehow I expected Georgians to resemble Russians with light hair and eyes. No. True Caucasians are fair-skinned but with dark hair and eyes.
Why are so many women in black? And I don’t just mean the old ladies as is standard in traditional cultures, but young women too. The young look was ripped jeans and a black top. A dressier look was black slacks daringly paired with a white blouse.
By now, the light was fading and so was I. Time for the journey back.