We were nearly extras in a Bollywood film. No, we didn’t go to India. We were in Tbilisi. Capital of Georgia – former USSR, not southern USA.
This was a holiday of many firsts – not just the first without the boys since the boys but also our first trip to Eurasia and our first AirBnB experience. Any one of these is enough to give one the jitters but I’m thrilled to say that much ventured, much more gained. I had no preconceived notions as one does of Paris, London or Barcelona. I did have a few expectations: access to nature, culture and food within a walking distance. Tbilisi far exceeded this expectation.
We stayed within a 10 minute walk to Rustaveli Avenue (named after the13 c poet). In the middle of the square is a huge plinth on which St George and the dragon reside in golden splendour. Our aim was to wander down to visit the museums and the Kashkeveti church but we got sidetracked by the Garden of the First Republic- a lovely square with mature trees and bushes. Kids were playing with their parents and grandparents while workers took a break. We sat and basked in the 35 degrees Celsius sun and enjoyed the breeze. So normal but so different from the 40+ degree heat we left behind in the desert.
We eventually made it to the National Gallery – lots of modern art: the ones that make you think that an unsupervised kindergarten class was let loose in a Hobbycraft store. Definitely not my thing. A quick exit and a hop to the National Museum where we spent over 4 hours. The basement boasted a display to rival any of the great jewellery houses of Paris’ Place Vendome. Many of the treasures featured my favourite gemstones, garnet and turquoise.
Another hall held currency as varied as cowrie shells and coins from 15th century Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The middle floors had exhibitions of contemporary Georgian artists. Many of the pieces were dark and foreboding and were commenting on the Soviet occupation which was explained in a balanced and at times personalized way on the top floor. With expanded hearts and minds yet aching muscles and grumbling tummies, we sought out food and bed.
The following day we crossed the spectacular Peace Bridge into Rike Park where I was a temporary pawn-eater on the gigantic chess-board. We made our way to the cable-cars that took us up to the Narikala fortress and the Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia), the 20 metre aluminum statue erected in 1958 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Tblisi. Due to her placement on the hill, it is not possible to take pictures imitating her stance, like at the Statue of Liberty (93m) or the Christo Redemptor (38m). This is a shame as in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies.
We opted to descend by ambling through the verdant botanical gardens and wading in a waterfall-created pool. All that greenery and fresh air had us pining for more so the next day found us at Mtatsminda Park which I thought I’d never see due to the driver’s blatant disregard for self-preservation on the 20 minute drive up a winding road. The view into the valley was spectacular. The serenity of the Pantheon to Writers and Artists was worth the vertigo-inducing funicular ride down.
On our final day, we wandered into the market space of the Tblisi museum. We didn’t have time to explore the exhibitions but we perused the art and crafts on sale. We bought a Kakha Khinveli painting of Meidan Place. After a lot of deliberation, we purchased some pottery from the artist Gigisha Pachkoria. These two bowls are a perfect complement to our Denby Coast dinner service, some crockery we bought on the Accra-Kumasi road and a dish we got in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. Made me ponder on how similar we are despite our apparent differences.
This is the first of three posts about our visit to Tblisi, Georgia.