We arrived on an early October Thursday via Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen (the far less frenetic Istanbul airport on the Asian side of the great city).
We had actually stayed the previous night at an airport hotel situated there – a first for Hamish & I.
This was our second visit to the Georgian capital having taken the train there from Yerevan in 2015.
This time it was the excellent Pegasus Airways and as the airport bus approached the centre we soon spotted familiar sights.
We would only be staying two nights before getting the overnight train to Baku and even with a day tour to Borjomi already booked, we didn’t feel the urge to explore too quickly.
The very comfortable Art Rooms Hotel where we stayed was very central, situated in a lively street lined with once grand buildings just a stone’s throw from Liberty Square and the iconic 13th Century Metekhi Church.
The church has also seen service as a prison with both Gorky & Stalin being famous former inmates.
Georgia has a very uneasy relationship with Russia, being of course part of the Soviet Union up until 1991 and there being ongoing conflict in the Ossetia regions of both countries.
Stalin was Georgian by birth but his status in his homeland has never ranked as highly as it did in the wider USSR.
Tbilisi is a lovely city. The twisting Kura River runs through it and unlike some other capitals that I could mention it has managed just about the right mix of the ancient and the modern.
We had actually arrived at a special time for the city as it was gearing up for its annual festival that weekend. A carnival atmosphere prevailed as lighting & bunting hung everywhere and at least four stages were erected.
Georgia boasts great cuisine (chickpea & dumpling dishes a speciality) and gorgeous red wine. It claims (along with neighbours Armenia) to have produced the world’s first wine batches.
As a recently declared non-drinker I had to take Hamish’s word that it was as good as it had been four years previously.
After our fabulous tour to Borjomi (see end of the post for the link) we spent Friday evening wandering either side of the river taking night shots and witnessing the preparations for the next day’s revelries.
We didn’t envy the task of one chap whose job it was to unravel a huge string of lights. There were enough to have festooned 100 large Christmas trees – hopefully for his sake they all worked OK.
Crossing the unique Bridge of Peace that was lit up in the red and white of the Georgian flag, we found ourselves in a pedestrianised area housing plenty of eateries and bars.
We found a seat outside Jazz Cafe Singer to be thoroughly entertained by some very talented young musicians whilst sipping tea.
It was an open mic evening and we were treated to a great female songstress, an electronic violinist, keyboards, saxophone & guitar. Take a look at the excellent violinist HERE.
Next morning we were up early to climb up to the feet of Mother of Georgia, the giant statue that overlooks the city. She carries a sword in one hand to ward off the country’s enemies and a wine glass in the other to welcome friends.
As we climbed we were serenaded by music emanating from the main stage as they tested sound equipment – somewhat perplexingly, songs from The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins & Oliver Twist blared out.
I took in the fabulous view once more and indeed did consider myself one of the family and definitely agreed that the panorama in front of me was one of my favourite things.
There is a cable car up and down to the nearby Narikala Fortress but we had taken that in 2015 so decided to walk both up and down this time.
Not a great deal had changed in the ensuing four years aside from a new botanical garden sited down below the fortress, there being far more souvenir stalls around and some chaps being in situ to give you the opportunity to be photographed with a monkey, a parrot or a peacock. Or for an inflated fee, presumably all three together!
Ambling down the hill past the centuries-old hammam with its sulphurous natural waters, we stopped off for a reviving mint tea before climbing again through a flea market to Trinity Church, the massive Orthodox Cathedral that was completed in 2002.
The gold & green domed church dominates the hill opposite Mother of Georgia, dual symbols of Georgia’s independence & power.
Trinity is situated in a less renovated part of the city, it’s surrounding streets still pleasingly dusty and frequented far more by locals than visitors.
The entrance to the church compound is through large wooden gates that lead into an arched chamber and out into a marbled forecourt laden with statues.
Whilst there we witnessed three brides & grooms using the church as a photographic backdrop. For some reason I always seem to come across wedding parties on my travels, installing recalling similar in Samarkand, Sevastopol & Sarande in Albania.
The cathedral itself is typically plain inside aside from the colourful religious icons. I lit some candles and we wandered down to the riverside once more.
We were intrigued by a large mushroom domed building that sat on the opposite bank. It turned out to be municipal offices which has unsurprisingly become known as the mushroom building to locals.
After an al fresco dinner it was time to head for the station to take a train to a new country.
To view my post on Borjomi click HERE
To view my account of my 2015 Georgia visit click HERE
Tbilisi will feature in a forthcoming book I will be writing about train travels in the former Soviet Union.
The first book in the series covering train travels in the Balkans is already out and available on Amazon