I had been in love with the Georgian language and culture and dreaming of visiting Georgia for some four years when Lina, my colleague from the University, announced one day: "Our singing group is going to Tbilisi, you can come along as a sponsor".
Despite the strong wish to see everything I had read and heard about with my own eyes and meet my friends, I hadn't managed to visit Georgia, because there had always been something in the way: no time, no money or no right company as people preferred Bulgaria, Spain, Egypt, Turkey or any other place. You see, my day usually resembles a crazy marathon full with phone calls, meetings, e-mails, lectures and other stuff so that I can hardly find time for something else.
Here I want to thank Lina for her sincere support with arranging all the formalities like booking the flight and the hotel. At first, I missed all the possible deadlines for arranging the trip, but some time later Lina appeared and told me resolutely: "We have booked a spare ticket, it's yours!" Then I told myself: "Now or never!" and decided to forget all the business matters realizing that the University had existed since 1579, so I wouldn't see it in ruins if I went on a trip for a week.
Thanks to Lina I just had everything done for me and got on the bus heading for Riga where we had to take a plane to Tbilisi late at night on May 30, 2008. I just couldn't believe that I was going to see Georgia!!!
We arrived in Tbilisi at about 4 a.m., but I was so excited that I felt neither tired nor sleepy. I must admit, after I fetched my luggage and directed the steps towards the exit door knowing that there was someone waiting for me behind it, my heart started pounding and the knees were.. hem... not exactly trembling, but.. in short, it was a strange feeling, a mixture of joy and anxiety.
When the door opened, the first thing I saw was Rezo smiling and waving at me in the middle of the crowd and I was relieved at once.
Forgive me my propensity to incidental digressions, my dear readers, but now I have to say a couple of words about Rezo Kaishauri for those of you who don't know this contemporary Georgian artist. Rezo is a surrealist and considers it his personal goal "to represent the unreality with maximum reality, trying to make you believe in what you see." And he is successful at that! I was literally enchanted by his works when I met him on MSN in 2004, just by incident, while looking for someone to practice my Georgian with. I am no art expert, but when I look at his pictures, I just feel that they are alive. Only a person who is fully devoted to what he or she is doing is able to express his or her dreams and ideas by creating such unique images. My favourite one is Sad Demon.
Well, where did we stop? I saw Rezo waving at me and then, suddenly, someone energetic bumped into me and hugged me. It was another friend of mine, Irakli Naskidashvili, the web developer of Info-Tbilisi (a highly recommended web guide to Tbilisi), also known as Naskida or Bublik :)
Tbilisi is a city of surprises. I had several opportunities to receive evidence of that. When we were leaving Vilnius for Tbilisi, we were dreaming of warm and sunny weather and of course we were wearing T-shirts, because it was quite warm in Vilnius and Riga at that time, too. But as soon as I went out of the Tbilisi airport terminal, I felt my nose and hands turn to small pieces of ice because of the freezing wind. Sunny Georgia! Well, really! Luckily, I hadn't taken off my leather jacket, yet.
As Rezo had come to the airport in his brother's car, we took a short night sight-seeing tour. Night Tbilisi is charming! On the way to the hotel my heart was melting with joy: I was in the city of my dreams with the people that were so dear to my heart, what could be better?!
Another surprise I experienced within my first hours in Tbilisi in addition to the cold weather was the fact that several of the rooms we had booked at the hotel were still occupied and would be free only at the noon. Nevertheless, that wasn't bad news. Unlike my colleagues from the singing group, I could start exploring Tbilisi without wasting any time for sleep (actually, I am used to short or almost no sleep:))
Irakli who took me for a drive in his car so I could see the city waking up to meet the new day. We drove along the streets and Irakli commented on what we saw. Thanks to my guide and good friend Bublik, it became one of the most exciting tours in my life. I saw so many places at once that it is impossible to tell about all of them right now.
To start with, I saw the Rustaveli Avenue (see the photo by flyergeorge on the right), named after the famous medieval Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli, the author of The Knight in the Panther's Skin. 1.5 km long, the Rustaveli Avenue is the main street of Tbilisi due to a large number of governmental, public, cultural, and business buildings (e. g., the Parliament of Georgia, the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Rustaveli State Academic Theatre, the Rustaveli Museum, the Georgian Academy of Sciences and many others) located along or near it.
Then we had some morning coffee at the McDonald's. It was just another of my crazy adventures and an unique experience to be sitting in a car in the middle of a city I have seen for the first time in my life, drinking coffee at 6 a.m., learning to say me minda pulis gadakhurdaveba (I want to exchange money) and feeling as if I had been doing this for ages. Thank you, Bublik :)
Well, speaking of Tbilisi, I must say that from the first moment on, I felt there like at home. There are places in the world you visit again and again but they remain strange and cold. And there are places you feel comfortable at first sight, they appear familiar even if you don't know anybody or anything there. You just feel that it's a natural part of your life.
The next place I want to mention is the Narikala Fortress along with Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia) next to it.
Located on the Sololaki ridge, a strategical spot, the Narikala fortress, described by the annalists as inaccessible, had existed overlooking the area even before the city of Tbilisi itself was founded. The citadel dates back to the 4th century. Its original name that suits the stormy life of the Georgian capital was shuris tsikhe (invidious fortress) and it was only centuries later that the fortress was named Nari-Kala (the small fortress). Time passing, Narikala witnessed invasions by Arabs, Persians, Turks and Russians, served as a defense and as a royal palace, but it has always commanded the city and drawn one's attention from anywhere as one of the symbols of Tbilisi.
Climbing up the steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical garden of Tbilisi is not easy but it's worth doing it, indeed. Once you have reached the top, there is a fantastic view over the city, the Mtkvari river and the landscape (you can see it above).
Another symbol of Tbilisi overlooking the city is the 20-meter-tall aluminium statue of Kartlis Deda (photo by enrguerrerro) situated only a short walk from the Narikala Fortress. Wearing a Georgian national dress and holding a cup of wine in one hand to greet friendly visitors and a sword in her other hand for those who come as enemies, the monumental Mother of Georgia symbolizes the Georgian national character: wine stands for hospitality and warmth so generously shared with the friends and the sword means that every Georgian loves freedom most of all and is ready to fight for it, should anybody try to infringe on Georgia's liberty.
Then Irakli took me to the Kus Tba - the Turtle Lake. We went for a long walk in this green and pleasant recreational zone and a place where festivals and concerts are held. It is a paradise for those who love nature that's why it is a favourite place of Tbilisi residents who come here on weekends. People of all ages from babies to venerable old men come here to enjoy the fresh air, the green of the park, the sun on the beach and the water. It was Saturday morning, but the park was full with people who were jogging, walking, playing chess or backgammon, sunbathing, or just having a talk.
As it was early morning, unfortunately, the Open Air Museum of Ethnography, located to the west of the Turtle Lake, occupying 52 hectares of land and housing more than 8 thousand exhibits to represent 14 ethnographic zones: Kartli, Samegrelo, Adjara, Abkhazia, Svaneti, Khevsureti, Kakheti, Meskheti, Javakheti, Guria, Imereti, Racha, Lechkhumi and Ossetia, was closed. In addition to the architectural monuments, the museum exposes ethnographic materials - different kinds of tools, textile and ceramics so it is a "must see" for everyone interested in the Georgian culture.
Finally, we decided to have lunch in a small cafe back in the centre of the city where I had the opportunity to taste the real khachapuri - a traditional Georgian dish made of a kind of bread with cheese, egg or other filling. It was delicious! Oh, God, the Georgian cuisine is marvelous, indeed, I miss it so much here in Vilnius. I could talk about Georgian food for ages, but... hem... I've just noticed that I am literally starving so I'll end this post with a link to an article on the tasty Georgian food written by Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll and illustrated with lots of pics. You can see one of them representing fresh khachapuri above.
Doesn't it look tasty? Bon appétit! I'm going to penetrate my fridge :)