Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hello Tbilisi!

View of Tbilisi and the Mtkvari River from Narikala Fortress.  Parts of the old city can be seen in the foreground.

After Shalva left us in our apartment, we took some time to settle in.  We started with doing a load of laundry.   We had been hand washing items of clothing all during our time in Azerbaijan but with a washer in the apartment, we took the opportunity to do a big load.  There was no dryer so I hung up my line - stringing it up across the kitchen which by the way is small but functional. 

I am very creative at stringing up a laundry line :-)

With some of our *housekeeping* tasks out of the way, we were finally able to venture out.

That's our apartment.  We would have never found this place had Shalva not been there first!

We walked down the alley, around to the front of the church.  The Cathedral of St. George is a 13th century Armenian church and is one of the only two Armenian churches in the city.


The tombs of four Armenian generals are located in the church's front courtyard.

We made a note to visit the church on another day.  For now, we wanted to explore the old city.  We headed back out to the main road that we had walked along with Shalva.  We had noticed a cable car leading up to the top of the hill where a fortress looking structure is located.  We decided that we would start our exploration of the old city at the top of the hill.

We followed the line of the cable from the top of the hill to the bottom. It ended on the other side of the river.  We walked crossed the Metekhi Bridge to get to the other side.  


We stopped to take in the views.  It was our first sight of Georgian churches.

View of the cable car and the old city from Metekhi Bridge.

Metekhi Church and the equestrian statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali.

Another church, perched high up on a hill.  There are a lot of churches here!

We followed the line of the tram cable and made our way to the station.  The ride only cost 1 lari (47 US cents) for each of us.  The public transportation system in Tbilisi uses what is known as a Metromoney card which costs 2 lari to buy.  So I handed over 4 lari and in return got a single card.

Metromoney card.

I wasn't sure how a single card would get both Pat and I through the ticket gate.  Fortunately, there was an attendant standing by the gate.  He placed the card on the reader once to let me me pass and then a second time to let Pat pass.  He then handed the card back to me which we can use again if need be.   There weren't too many people waiting on the platform for a cable car so we were able to get a car all to ourselves.


The old city was sprawled below us.

The cable car was a great way to enjoy a panoramic view.


As we moved up towards the hill, I commented to Pat that we could have also walked as I noticed a walkway.  She replied back reminding me of what happened the last time we did not take the funicular up the hill.  That was the day, in Azerbaijan, when we walked up to Martyr's Lane.  The next day I was in the clinic getting a cast put on my left ankle.  How quickly I have forgotten! :-)

More of the old city.

The cable car went right over the alley that our apartment is located on!

A view of the new city.  The houses of Avlabari (old Armenian neighborhood) stand precariously close to the edge of the cliff!

I have to say, it was a nice ride to the top of the hill but it was much too short - barely 2 minutes!  The view at the top was well worth the cost!

Metekhi Bridge is on the right, the ultra modern Friendship Bridge on the left.  Sameba Cathedral in the far distance.  The green
cupola on the lower right of the photo is the Cathedral of St. George aka *our Armenian church*. 

Past the cable car platform was a path that led up a hill.  We had no map telling us where to go so we just decided to take that path.  We passed a few stands of souvenir vendors along the way.

Typical Georgian felt caps. 

The path eventually took us to a spot that we felt wasn't taking us anywhere interesting so we decided to turn around when we got to this large statue.  She is known as Kartvlis Deda aka Mother Georgia.  You can't tell from this angle but in her left hand she's holding up a bowl of wine to welcome friends and in her right hand, she holds a sword to fend off enemies.



Back near the cable car terminal, we noticed people walking what looked like sections of a fortress wall.  Indeed, we were seeing the remains of Narikala Fortress.

Also called the Mother Fortress of Tbilisi, Narikala Fortress was established in the 4th century, around the period when the city itself was founded.  The fortress was expanded considerably by the Arabs during the 7th and 8th centuries - they even built the Emir’s palace within its walls. King David the Builder further expanded the fortress in the 11th century.  Howerver, most of the existing fortifications date from the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1827, the fortress was damaged by an earthquake but was not restored.

There are two sections of walls.  This is the upper section.

We tried to figure out how to get down to the platform where the people were standing but for the life of us, could not find the way so we gave up.  We found another path, this one leading down hill.  With no other options in sight, we decided to follow it.  This is how you explore!



A closer view of the houses of Avlabari. 

The fortress may not  have been restored after the earthquake but this section of wall sure looks to be in great shape!


There's a church up there!

Sometimes you read a sign and you have no idea what it means.  I even Googled the phrase and came up empty handed.

A closer view of the rooftops of the old city.  If you zoom in on that tall structure, you'll see a crescent moon on its tip.  That's the minaret
of Jumah Mosque, the only mosque remaining in Tbilisi.

The path led us to an arched entry cut into the fortress wall beyond which the large cobblestone path headed up a steep hill.  We decided to check it out.  It was a bit difficult on my ankle to go up the hill so I took it slowly and carefully.

At the top was a church.  Saint Nicholas church to be more exact.  The church, which was newly built in 1996-1997 replaces the original 13th century church that was destroyed in a fire.


Pat and I strolled around the grounds of the church before heading inside.  Georgian churches are quite strict so you should at least have a headscarf on if not a skirt as well.  We had the scarves but not the skirts.  Photos were not permitted inside.





There was a building near the church.  I think....it's the monks' quarters.  In any case, I was admiring the mural on the front facade.

There was also a small cafe on the grounds of the church.  Clusters of churchkela, the iconic sweet of Georgia, were hanging on a rack nearby.

From St. Nicholas, we continued on the same path that led us down from the top of Narikala Hill.  I suspected we were on the path that I had seen on the cable car ride up. If I was right, it would take us back down to the old city, very near to *our Armenian church*.

The domes mark the old sulphur bath houses in the Abanotubani neighborhood, near where Shalva had parked the car to drop us off.

Sameba Cathedral looms over Metekhi Church.

My instincts proved to be on the dot.  The path from Narikala Hill led us pretty much right to the Armenian church!  Who needs Google Maps? :-)


Back in the old city, we decided to treat ourselves to a drink.  We picked one of the many restaurants that line the main road that runs along the Mtkvari River.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day so we took a table outside.  Pat enjoyed a tall glass of draft beer while I sipped on a pear soda.  Memories of Azerbaijan!


After our refreshment, we went to the bakery, located right next to the ATM machine that we had withdrawn money from.  I wanted to buy some savory bread for our breakfast tomorrow.  The square pieces of bread, which look like stuffed kachapuri of some sort were baked in wood fired oven and it looked worth eating.  I bought one piece of the cheese filled bread and one of the mushroom filled bread.  From there, we dodged the gypsies to make our way back to the apartment - all of a 5 minute walk away.  There, we rested for a couple more hours before meeting back up with a very special person.

When I was planning this trip months back, I reached out to the person who had helped arrange our Central Asia Trip to get ideas on itineraries for each of the three countries.  Back then Yuriy was working for Advantour in Tashkent.  We had arranged to meet him in Tashkent but shortly before we left on our trip, he emailed me to tell me that he had been transferred to Tbilisi to set up Advantour's operations here.   So that plan fell through.  Now that we were both going to be in Tbilisi, we once again made plans to meet.  We settled on having dinner on April 13th.  We were to meet at 6p but Yuriy sent me a text via WhatsApp to tell me he was being held up by traffic.  I told him no rush, we would wait.  He then texted me when he couldn't find the apartment.  I smiled as I read the message as I knew it was not an easy place to find.  I responded telling him I would meet him at the entrance to the church.

As soon as he appeared at the gate, I knew it was him as I had seen the photo of him posted up on Advantour's website.  We greeted each other with warm smiles and a big hug.  He's as nice and sweet as I expected him to be.  It was wonderful to finally be able to put a face to the countless emails that we had exchanged over the months.  We are also now Facebook friends :-)

I took him to our apartment where he met Pat.  It was smiles all around!

Yuriy walked us over to a very nice restaurant called Maspindzelo, located stone's throw away from the sulphur baths in the Abanotubani neighborhood of the old city.  The restaurant specializes in Eastern European cuisines.


With Yuriy's help, we ordered a simple meal.  Yuriy, the Uzbek, has been in Tbilisi for almost a year.  I asked him how his Georgian was and well, he's still learning.  According to Yuriy, it's not an easy language to learn but he knows enough phrases to get by.  Of course, he should be able to converse in Russian.  He's really enjoying his time in Tbilisi.  I had to tell him that I found it a nicer place than Tashkent and he didn't really disagree.  He has yet to go back to Uzbekistan and that seems to be by choice :-)


If you need a Central Asia/Caucasus travel consultant, this is your man!

After nearly two weeks of eating no pork, we had to have some.  Under that mound of French fries were some very delicious pork chops.  Pat and Yuriy shared some Georgian wine.  Pat really enjoyed it!


Tonight, we lingered over our meal - enjoying the conversation and the food.  While Pat and I were in no rush to leave, we didn't want to keep Yuriy up late.  After all, tomorrow is a work day for him.

We soon had to part ways as night had long fallen and it was getting cold to be outside.  We said our goodbyes along with the sentiment that we hope our paths will cross again one day.  You never know.

Pat and I walked back to the apartment.  By now, we knew exactly how to get back.

The lights of St. Nicholas Church and Narikala Fortress.

Cathedral of St. George.  Looks pretty at night.

Armenian motif on the courtyard wall.

It was 9p when we entered the apartment.  I was still full of energy but I knew Pat was tired - she barely slept a wink last night.  We have a big day tomorrow so we each retreated to our rooms and I worked on this blog post.  I would have surfed the web a bit but our WiFi connection was really bad so I gave up.  In any case, it's about time for me to call it a night as well.  I am still pinching myself that we are in Tbilisi.  I have wanted to come here forever and I cannot believe I am actually here.

More tomorrow.  In the meantime, goodnight from Tbilisi!