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Entries about tbilisi

Day eighteen - last day in Tbilisi

Friday 13 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

With a day to kill before the night train to Yerevan, I had a leisurely breakfast. Chatted to an English couple who apparently live 6 months of the year in Cyprus. Slight tinge of jealousy! They had taken the train from Kutaisi to Tbilisi the previous day and apparently it was pretty horrendous. So glad we made the decision to do the journey by taxi. I took my time packing up - with about ten hours to fill there was no point rushing about. I decided to take a taxi to the station as I couldn’t face lugging my case around. I have to admit it was not a good buy. Although sturdy, it is a heavy case even before anything is put in it. In countries with few lifts it is a bit of a nightmare. The driver at the hotel took me at a cost of 10 lari.

There is a left luggage place at the station costing 10 lari. I just wanted to dump my bag so that I could spend the rest of the day unencumbered. Going on the metro without a big case was a relief. The turnstiles are tricky to negotiate, the escalators seem endless and the trains are incredibly busy. On the plus side though, they only cost 0.50 lari however far you go.

I got the metro back into the centre and stopped off at Marjanishvili station to return to the Pharaoh cafe for a good cup of Turkish coffee. I decided to do a lot of walking to tire myself out as much as possible before the train journey. Now that I had a better idea of how different areas related to each other, I could avoid the dreadful roads that are impossible to cross. I hadn’t forgotten our experience when we had tried to get to the flea market when we first arrived. We had made the mistake of walking to the river whereas we should have walked down David Aghmashenebeli Avenue to the next bridge. This is the street with lots of cafes and the craft beer bar. There are also a few interesting craft shops. I got to the flea market also known as dry bridge market and had a bit of a wander round. There were some bags I liked but they were far too small for me.

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I rested at the nearby park close to the hotel that I’d just left. The parks in Tbilisi are well used. Lots of seating and plenty of shade. I decided to have lunch at Mama Terra again - the veggie cafe near the funicular. I had Pad Thai - quite nice but not as good as the ones that my sister makes from a Linda McCartney recipe. My next port of call was the old city as I wanted to visit the Armenian Cathedral and also wander around some of the backstreets. There are a lot of beautiful but crumbling buildings down the side roads but there is also a lot of restoration going on, too.

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I didn’t realise at the time but we had walked past the entrance to the Armenian cathedral on the walking tour. It’s on Samghebro Street that leads to the sulphur baths. I started to walk up a nearby steep street and realised that I was heading to the fortress and some great views of the city. I decided to drop down and sit in Rike Park for a while. The queue for the cable car was really long.

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My walk back took me past all the places in the old town that had now become so familiar. I popped into the Galleria to use their facilities - it’s good to locate where the free and clean toilets are located in any city! I had a final stroll up Rustaveli to have something to eat at the Iveria cafe close to the Radisson Blu. Had a tasty courgette soup and a rather unusual banana cake. The advice for travelling on the train was to take food and particularly water as there is nothing available on the train. I had already bought simit at a Turkish bakery so got fruit, crisps and a large bottle of water from a nearby supermarket. As it was now dark I decided that I might as well go to the station and hang around there, even though there were still a couple of hours to go.

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There is a waiting area in the station booking hall. It’s OK but the constant noise of the buzzer is a bit intrusive. At about 9.15 I retrieved my bag. I had hoped that the train would go from Plarform one, next to the left luggage but no - it was platform 3. Although there was an escalator back up to the booking hall, I could only see a long flight of steps to the platform. It also wasn’t clear which platform was which as there was no signage. I couldn’t face lugging my case down then up again. Luckily a fellow passenger confirmed which was 3 and helped me with my bag

The train arrives about 30 minutes before departure as it’s quite a performance getting everyone on the train. Some people were already on the train from Batumi. I think there were 16 carriages - mine was carriage 15. I chatted to a guy who is studying in the US and a man from Djibouti, both of whom were heading to Armenia for the first time. A random train driver looked at our tickets and told us which area of the platform to wait on. It was good advice - it would have been quite a trek if we’d stood at the wrong end. At first I felt a bit stressed about finding the right carriage but they were all numbered and a steward shows you to your seat/bed. The couple in the next compartment were very friendly Geordies and I shared the compartment with a woman from Denmark who was also very friendly. I’d decided to go on the equivalent of first class with only two to a compartment with clean sheets, pillow cases and towel provided as well as a little care package of toothpaste and comb etc. The toilets were ok -I’ve seen worse but unfortunately there was no running water. Luckily I had wet wipes - destroying my eco credentials - and water for teeth brushing. At the other end though of the carriage was hot water for drinks. Although I had tea bags, I didn’t have a cup. Note to self, in future bring a collapsible cup for travelling.

Before setting off, our passports were taken away which was a bit concerning but they were returned with a stamp showing our exit from Georgia. There was a scary looking guy walking up and down the train - he looked a bit like Lurch from the Addams Family. We thought he might be security as he glanced into all of the compartments. There is red tape over everything. I naively thought it was to hold things together but we realised it was to stop people hiding contraband in the vents as the tape would show any signs of tampering.

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The train is slow with noisy tracks and I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep not helped by my fellow traveller who snored for Denmark! I think I managed to sleep on and off during the night but at the Armenian border we were woken up as we then had to show passports to Armenian border control. Luckily we didn’t have to get off the train. I think I must have gone comatose after this as suddenly we were being told to wake up - we were nearly in Yerevan!

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:20 Archived in Georgia Tagged trains travel railway tbilisi Comments (0)

Day seventeen - a lazy day in Tbilisi

Thursday 12 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

Now in separate hotels, my friends and I organised a meet up for a last meal together at their hotel in the evening. I had a lazy start to the day. The shower here is the best so far and I also intended to use the bath as I knew this might be the last time I see one for a while! To that end, my mission was to find somewhere that sold bath bombs.

Breakfast was pretty good - the only thing lacking was fresh fruit. We had really been spoilt by the choice of food we had at Chateau Chikovani. I decided to stick around the area close to the hotel and had a wander up Rustaveli again. The previous evening I’d caught a glimpse of a pretty courtyard with seating outside. Retracing my steps I was pleased to see that it was somewhere i’d wanted to get to anyway - Prospero’s books and Caliban’s coffeehouse. Quite an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the Main Street. An appropriate place for someone who rows in a club where all the boats are named after characters in Shakespeare’s Tempest.

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I checked out how much was left on the travel card and also got some cash. I’d hoped to pay the hotel bill by card the previous day but it kept failing so had to use cash leaving me a bit short. I braved the Galleria - a five/six story mall with cinema - as it felt like the most likely place to get a bath bomb. After trying a few shops I finally found somewhere selling them and bought one that was a rose scented.

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I’d found another vegan cafe called the Kiwi cafe on Ivan Machabeli Street, fairly close to Freedom Square. It was another hipster joint with friendly staff and good menu. I had spaghetti which was delicious but as per usual, a pretty large portion. I chatted to an English couple who were spending a week in Tbilisi, doing day trips to other places. They were the first English people I’d met since coming to Georgia. My visit to the toilet made me laugh as there was a Bollocks to Brexit sticker proudly displayed on the wall.

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Next stop was the National Museum of Georgia. I’m not a big museum fan but thought it would be good to have one cultural experience in the city. It cost 15 lari which seems to be the standard entry fee. The best bit for me was the treasury. The jewellery was absolutely gorgeous. It always amazes me at how intricate and beautifully made these artefacts are and so well preserved considering they were made in the 1st - 3rd centuries. The saddest part was the exhibition about Russian occupation. A huge amount of people were shot by the Russians including the clergy, judges, intellectuals and artists. It made me aware of a tragedy that I know very little about and that more recent troubles in 2008 has made relations with Russia strained as they currently occupy 20% of Georgian land at Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This is what I think the protests outside parliament are about.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my bath with rose scented bath bomb. I got ready to go out and planned my walk there carefully to avoid being in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to cross. The route took me past the dry bridge market, over the bridge and then up Tolstoy Street. From there it was pretty straightforward. It seems that the roads to avoid are those that are close to the river as there isn’t a hope in hell of getting over them.

The menu at the hotel was predominately meat dishes but I managed to find enough of the smaller dishes to make a good meal including green cilantro soup which was very good. The was also about the presentation. Also, after quite a performance about the wine choice, overseen by a very young and knowledgeable sommelier, we discovered that it’s de rigeur to have your wine poured for our. It also has to be served from a decanter. Who knew? I also had my last glass of chacha.

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Nick and Lindsay walked part of the way back with me but once at the river bridge it was almost in a straight line as the crow flies to get to the hotel. Parks are busy in the evening and so it hasn’t felt unsafe to walk around at night-time. It would be great if women could feel as safe in the UK as I’ve felt here in Georgia.

Posted by Cath_Greig 20:04 Archived in Georgia Tagged shopping coffee tbilisi galleria chacha vegan_cafe Comments (0)

Day sixteen - back to Tbilisi

Travel day from Zeda Gordi to Tbilisi

sunny 23 °C

Travel plans on how to get to Tbilisi kept changing as different people gave us differing advice. Initially we intended to get a taxi to Kutaisi and then get a train to Tbilisi. The schedule wasn’t brilliant as the only two trains were in the afternoon and it is a 4 1/2 hour journey. Dimitiri, our host at the hotel advised us that a marshrutka from Kutaisi would be better as it took less time and there were more of them. We decided to forget the train.

After another filling breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Dimitri and the other staff. Our taxi arrived promptly at 10am. As we wended our way down the valley our driver suggested that instead of paying 60 lari for an uncomfortable marshrutka journey - he could take us all the way to Tbilisi for 200 lari. The idea that we could miss Kutaisi and the hustle and bustle of the bus station was too tempting, so we agreed. Our driver didn’t speak much English but had studied German at school and we managed to communicate quite adequately. He had been a policeman in Tbilisi and now lived in Kutaisi - I think he had a family business now related to cars. Not completely sure about this though!

Quick fact about Kutaisi. Anne Lister - subject of the BBC drama Gentleman Jack - died of a fever In Kutaisi whilst travelling with her wife Ann Walker. Apparently, very few people from the west, let alone unaccompanied women, ever travelled there. Her body was embalmed and it took six months to get the body back to the uk to be buried in Halifax.

We stopped somewhere around the Kashuri area for lunch at a really nice roadside cafe. Can’t pinpoint exactly where it is and what it was called but the food was good. We bought lunch for the driver who seemed to be quite surprised at the gesture.

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The whole journey was relatively traffic free until we hit Tbilisi. He headed to Nick and Lindsay’s Vinotel first. They wanted to have the treat of a luxury stay as their holiday is coming to an end. Their hotel is very tasteful. I then took a taxi to my hotel - Hotello - on the other side of the river in the Mtasaminda area. From the outside it looks quite shabby but the room is really nice - large and very clean plus I have the novelty of a round bed and a bath! Breakfast is also included.

I went for a wander before it got dark. Rustaveli was closed when we were here at the start of our holiday because of the Fast and Furious filming so I had a little wander as it was just behind the hotel. After a fortnight of bread, cheese and more cheese - I headed to the veggie and vegan cafe - Mama Terra which is quite close to the funicular. We had passed it a couple of times. It felt as if I had stepped into a Bristol cafe! I had a Rainbow warm quinoa salad with not a smidgen of dairy anywhere, followed by a plate of fruit. Just what I needed for a change of diet.

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Then it was back to the hotel. There was something going on outside the Parliament building but I couldn’t make out what was happening. Looked like a demonstration about the Russians encroaching on Georgian territory. Apparently they currently occupy 20% of it.

After a cup of tea - there is a kettle AND cups in the room, unlike Villa Dolly - it was time to call it a day as I crawled into my large, round bed! One thing that has been consistently good in Georgia have been the beds - all of them have been firm but comfortable which has been great for my back.

Posted by Cath_Greig 21:00 Archived in Georgia Tagged taxi tbilisi kutaisi anne_lister Comments (0)

Day Four - in and around Tbilisi

Friday 30 August 2019

sunny 26 °C

The weather forecast wasn’t brilliant so we decided to stick around the city & do some of the things we had on our to do list. I got up quite early & went on a hunt for a bakery. I looked online & it showed a couple close to our apartment - but I just couldn’t find them. It was strange walking up and down the street with no smell of baking bread or customers hurrying away with their loaves - no sign of a bakery at all. Puzzling. I just had to give up.

We are tending to have quite late starts so by the time we had breakfast (minus bread) it was after 11am. We planned on visiting the covered market but our first stop was at our fave destination - the tourist information in Pushkin Square. We wanted to double-check where the Borjomi marshrutka buses went from as we were going to be travelling there the following day. We also found out about the best metro stop for the covered market. The TI staff have always been really helpful.

This was our first time on the metro - the nearest station being Liberty Square next to where they were filming Fast and Furious. The tickets are loaded onto a card similar to an Oyster card. The cost was 2 lari which is refundable and all journeys - no matter how far - cost 0.50 lari. That’s equivalent to 14p. The covered market is close to Central station which also gave us a chance to scope out where the left luggage is and train platforms as I will be taking the night train from there on the 13th. The trains and left luggage are both on level one - the rest of the building is a shopping mall and food court. To cross the road we had to use the underpass which was absolutely crammed with stalls. It reminded me of a Turkish bazaar - there was hardly room to move. Also, we got totally disorientated and couldn’t find the exit. Nightmare. Once we managed to escape the maze we headed to the market. The covered market is very up together but it has spilled out onto the streets so that virtually every available space is taken up with stalls from the tiny unofficial looking ones to stalls laden with fruit, cheese, bread or household items etc. Nick tried kbac - a drink sold on virtually every street corner from a barrel. We had no idea what it was. It tasted like prune juice but apparently it is made of stale rye bread. You learn something new every day. Raisins, fruit and herbs can be added so I guess it will be different depending on the producer. We also got a coffee which was instant unfortunately but the cake was delicious. No idea what was in it though.

We did a lot of browsing and came away with a coffee pot, eye shadow and a kilo of plums sold by the most miserable person on the planet. We then got the metro again to head to the flea market. The station stop of Marjanishvili brought us into an area that felt very different from the old town & other bits we had been in. Felt more French with wide boulevards. Finally, we also found a decent coffee place where they served Arabic coffee. The owner was from Egypt and very friendly. We completely misjudged the walk to the flea market - our next destination. We tried to walk along the river - big mistake. The roads on either side of the river do not make any concessions for pedestrians - there is nowhere to cross, pavements run out and we found ourselves having to walk along the road. Luckily a good samaritan stopped for us and gave us a lift to the flea market - dropping us off at a crossing so that we could get across without dicing with death. That man was a saint!

The flea market is a mix of paintings, handmade goods, general tat and soviet memorabilia. The only things that tempted me were some beautiful handmade bags and amphora and other terracotta pottery. We stopped for a drink by the river at a waterside cafe called Book corner, on the other side of the bridge from ?. I didn’t eat there but Nick and Lindsay seemed to enjoy the food and ii has a lovely setting with nice toilets - always a bonus.

Our next stop was the cable car which meant a trudge back towards Rike Park via the peace bridge, trying to retrace the route that we took to Fabrika, but in reverse. The cable car is very new and cost 2.50 lari one way. We just needed to load a bit more money on our travel card. Great views from the top. Nick had a go on the zip wire to the bottom of the botanical gardens We decided to follow him into the gardens - 4 lari per person. We were expecting something a little more beautiful as we have visited some great botanical gardens around the world. The worst bit was the walk back up the hill which was steep and longer than Thunderbolt steps in Bristol.

A Stroll back to the apartment, quick freshen up and we were out again. The craft beer sign we saw in a side street led us nowhere so we went straight to Cafe Leila on Ioane Shavteli street. It’s got lovely decor inside - a Persian feel to it. Although the food was Georgian, it had a slightly eastern twist and quite spicy. We sat outside and on hearing bagpipes, realised that the Scots were in town. Apparently Scotland were playing a warm up rugby match against Georgia the next day. There was a lot of raucousness going on! Finally, we made our way back to the Aqua bar near our apartment for Chacha and baklava before finally turning in as we were leaving the next day and our bags still needed to be packed.

Posted by Cath_Greig 11:31 Archived in Georgia Tagged traffic markets car cable tbilisi chacha Comments (0)

Day two - getting around Tbilisi

Wednesday 28th August 2019

sunny 32 °C

Woke up earlier than my travel companions so went for a stroll. It was getting hot at 8am but the streets were quiet, no-one trying to sell day trips. Found a coffee place that was open but no Turkish coffee which is what I was hankering after. Once I was back at the apartment, the others were stirring. They are still winding down from work - something I’m not having to deal with.

After breakfasting, it was nearly midday by the time we left the place to explore. First stop - find out from tourist information about recommended tours and then take the funicular up to the radio tower. The funicular is very long and involves a stop off point halfway where people can get off to visit the nearby church. At the top of the hill which is 710 metres high, there is a Park called Mtatsminda. We hadn’t researched it so didn’t realise it actually had water slides, Ferris wheel etc at the top. It was so hot we decided to go on the log flume as we thought we’d get splashed a bit. In reality, we got absolutely soaked. My dress stuck to me like glue & it certainly cooled us down. No wonder we were told to put our bags in a locker. It was fun to watch other gullible people getting on not knowing what was going to hit them. Nick and I did the ghost train- usual stuff - and the Ferris wheel was great but quite scary as it was windy and the noise was off putting. Great views though. Tickets for the rides had to be bought individually from a box office close to the start of the rides.

Once we returned via the funicular it was time to get back for lunch and a siesta, booking a tour to Kazbegi for the following day. We were seemingly still running on UK time - 3 hours behind Georgia - so it was nearly 8pm before we ventured out again. Our destination was Fabrika via a craft beer bar called Crafted. Very friendly staff & knowledgable - the bar was off the pedestrian area of David Aghmashenebeli Avenue. This was the first street that we’d walked down where we were harassed by staff trying the get us into their cafes. It was pretty relentless and a relief to get into the relative quiet of the bar.

Fabrika is an interesting place, part hostel, part shared office/artist space, gallery etc. It was chock full of trendy young people of all nationalities. We managed to grab a table but realised it wasn’t the best place to have food so had a beer in the outside courtyard soaking up the buzzy atmosphere. We made our way back to a restaurant that we’d seen close to the Saarbrucken Bridge called Tiflis restaurant. The food was great but we managed to over order - we’re not quite used to portion sizes here yet.

Walking back at after midnight we suddenly started to gather a pack of dogs. It started on the bridge where one of the mad dogs was chasing any car that came over. No idea why it was doing that but it was really dangerous. As we walked along the river they started to follow us so we had six dogs in tow. We think they were attracted to Nick - the dog whisperer. We finally shook them off as they dropped off one by one until there were only two by the time we got to the Peace Bridge. One dog gave up on the stairs but one kept going, luckily for us, it started to follow a couple as we turned into our street. We had a vision of waking up and finding the whole pack outside the front door! It’s morning now and we haven’t checked yet so you never know...

Posted by Cath_Greig 22:00 Archived in Georgia Tagged parks tbilisi Comments (0)

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