Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wandering Tbilisi.

Old city Tbilisi.

We began our first day back in Tbilisi having breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts.  Don't shame us! After more than two weeks of Caucasian breakfasts, we needed a break.  Who doesn't love donuts?  Plus Pat could finally enjoy a cup of coffee.  Might not be the best brew but some coffee is better than none.  Besides all this, Dunkin' Donuts was conveniently located right next door to our apartment building.

Today, we just bypassed the elevator and walked down the nine flights of stairs.

The two doors, with the slit of light between them, are the elevator doors.

At Dunkin' Donuts, it was comforting to see donuts in the display counter.  A taste of home!  Pat went with a simple glazed donut and I had the chocolate covered one.  Oh....they were so good.  Even a bad donut is good when you crave a taste of something familiar!  The two cups of coffee were piping hot and we couldn't finish them - we ran out of bites of donut.  So, we carried the cups back up stairs to the apartment.


Heading back up to and down from the apartment quickly turned into an experience unto itself.  The stairway was not lit during the daytime not that the dim lightbulbs at night were of much help.  It always felt like we were scaling a dark, concrete tunnel.  

Heading back up to the apartment.

The donuts were not going to be enough for us so we broke out the strawberries.  What I thought was cream turned out to be yogurt which was actually just what was needed to cut the sweetness of the perfectly ripe strawberries.



It was still too early for us to venture out so we decided to just relax a bit.

Marjanishvili Square looks so different in the light of day.  This is definitely an upscale part of town.

Pat retrieving laundry from the line.  We have duties to attend to!

I only have to wash one sock :-(

Checking her email.

Soon it was time to head out and explore the city!  So happy to get going!

Leaving our apartment.

The dreaded walk down nine flights!  Ugh, ugh, ugh!!

We decided we were going to head back to the old city today.  Pat is always the navigator so with map in hand, she led the way.  We walked down David Aghmashenebeli Avenue, towards the river.  It was a pretty street, flanked with Old World buildings.  I can imagine just how grand this street would have looked like when the buildings were originally constructed.


Signs of construction soon appeared.


Then, we lost the sidewalk.



As we walked, the construction site grew.   Yes, it was construction site.  Neither Pat nor I had ever seen anything like this.  We were both taken aback by the scale of the work that was being done. Literally every building was in some state of reconstruction. 


Each building was numbered according to its street address.  There was a placard hung on the scaffolding showing what the complete renovation work like.  It was immediately obvious that these are historic buildings that are being restored.

The red circle on the bottom shows exactly where the building is located on the street.

This is an incredible renovation effort was initiated by the Goverment of Georgia in 2006 as the Tiflis Project.  When all done, the buildings will be returned to what they looked like in the glory days.  In addition to the exterior work that is being done, restoration of the interiors is also taking place.

Renovation work was to be completed by the end of this calendar year.  I don't know if they will make that deadline or not.  In any event, I am glad that the city is doing this - they are recognizing the need to preserve elements of their cultural heritage and at the same time, encourage more investment in the city and provide more entertainment venues (i.e, shops, restaurants, cafes, parks etc.) for both locals and tourists.  I would love to come back one day and see what this street looks like.

Back to what we saw today.  Workmen were everywhere.  We were so surprised that pedestrians were actually allowed to walk in the work area and even several shops were still open for business.  This would definitely not be something that would be permitted in the US.




The construction work took up so many blocks, I lost count.  Eventually, we returned to a section of the street that was not filled with buildings of historic value.  I call this the *regular* neighborhood - it's where the working folks live.  Perhaps one day, the city will consider allocating funds to repairing the buildings and streets in this part of town.  The people who live here would greatly appreciate it.


I had to take a picture of this sign. That's one heck of a long name - 19 characters of which only 5 are vowels!

We eventually made our way down to the river.  We were on the left bank of the Mtkvari River.


Looking through my zoom lens, I could see the terracotta colored roofs of the old city.  Not to mention St Nicholas Church and Mother Georgia in the far distance.


We passed two men fishing on the river.  I was curious to see if they had caught anything.  I didn't notice a bucket or any sort of container to hold a catch.  As a side note, the men were standing on the river's edge, just opposite the recently built Tbilisi Public Service Hall.  The ultra modern looking hall, which houses the National Bank of Georgia, the Minister of Energy, and the Civil and National Registry was designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas and was inaugurated in September 2012. 


Back to the fish.  I think we brought the man some luck because as we approached, he was reeling in a catch.

Not a big fish but I am sure it will grow in size as he tells people what he did today! :-)

Glancing up, I saw sculptures along the railing of a bridge.  I am quickly coming to appreciate the artwork that dots this city.  This is Baratashvili Bridge, often referred to as the Bridge of Love as it honors the Georgian romanticism poet Nikoloz Baratashvili.  The railings of the bridge have been decorated with life sized bronze figures.  The artwork is part of a sculptural composition titled, "Youth" by Giorgi Japaridze and was installed in 2006.


Then the unique glass covered Peace Bridge came into view. Built in 2010, the bridge is a bow shaped pedestrian bridge that spans the Mtkvari River. It connects the old and new cities.


Looking towards the new city,  we saw the building housing the administration of the President of Georgia.  The refurbished building once housed the former Imperial gendarmerie. 


We decided we would cross over the river via the Peace Bridge.




The bridge spans the river from Rike Park to the old city.  By now, my left ankle was beginning to feel a little weak - we had already walked quite some distance.  Unfortunately, there were no shady areas to sit under in the park so we decided to find a resting spot in the old city instead.

On the bridge, looking towards Rike Park.

The new Music Theatre and Exhibition Hall in Rike Park.  It gets my award for the quirkiest looking building. 

View of the old city.

Across the Peace Bridge and we were back in the old city.


Need some churchkela?

I loved this statue.  Unfortunately, I've not been able to find out who the artist is.

Our walk towards the old city took us to Sioni Church.  That's where we found a bench where I could sit for a few minutes and put up my left foot to rest.


My left foot. Injured but it's held up well these past two weeks!

After a few minutes of resting and people watching, I decided I was okay to walk on and so we did.


We had entered into the courtyard of Sioni Church so we decided to walk around it just to see what was on the other side.  Turned out we had entered at the back of the church.

The bell tower.

When we arrived to the front, we could hear the sound of service taking place.  While we both did have our headscarves with us and therefore, could have entered the church, we opted not to.   We've only seen a few churches on this trip but we're already *churched* out.


Another view of Sioni Church.

I think this man is a sexton but even he needs to buy his daily bread.


With no map of the old city in hand, we decided to just wander as we wanted to.  We passed an area that I would describe as *restaurant row*.  None of the places appeared to be open for business - perhaps too early in the day.  It was pretty area and it would be fun to come back here for an early evening drink when there are actually people around.




We wandered down one street and quickly found ourselves inside a very nice arts and handicrafts shop.  Pat has a really good eye for spotting nice things.  The painted enamels caught her eye and I must say, the are very attractive art pieces.  Unfortunately, they had price tags to match.  I also loved the felt pieces.  Far humbler than the enamel pieces but most certainly more friendly to the wallet.  We didn't buy anything from this shop but it most certainly gave us a good idea of what's available.  I have a feeling we will be leaving Georgia with quite a few souvenirs each :-)


Wandering along we found ourselves at top of the steps leading down to Meidan Bazaar.  Bazaar?  Of course, we had to check it out.


The bazaar is housed in a underground passage way.  Indeed there were a few shops selling souvenirs but there was nothing interesting.  We're older women.  We've moved past refrigerator magnets and t-shirts as things to take home.  There were a few shops selling Georgian wines which held no appeal for either of us.  We were in and out of the bazaar in less than 5 minutes.


In no time, we were back in very familiar territory, just a few steps away from the apartment we stayed in when we first arrived a little over a week ago.  We were on our way to the sulphur baths and passed by some familiar spots.

The small restaurant where I had my first breakfast and taste of khachapuri.

The brown door on the right is the bakery we bought bread at and the orange machine is the ATM  machine we withdrew lari from.

The sulphur baths are located adjacent to Heydar Aliyev Park.  I find it puzzling that the Georgians would name the prime spot that this green space occupies after the leader of another country.  Wouldn't they rather honor one of their own historic figures? Apparently, the park was built as a symbol of the friendship between the two countries and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) in Georgia is responsible for maintaining the park. It most certainly as well manicured and spotlessly clean as any of the parks in Baku.



Situated adjacent to Heydar Aliyev Park and located in the Abanotubani neighborhood of the old city, are the sulphur baths that have been an integral part of life in Tbilisi for centuries.  The baths are fed by nearby hot springs and it said that the hot springs are why the city was built here. High in sulphur and other minerals, with a constant temperature of 38C to 40C, the waters have long been used as a therapeutic aid for a range of ailments including skin conditions and arthritis.

The public bath houses are all undergound; they can be easily spotted by the brick cupolas that sit at ground level.





In looking over the photos I had taken today, I was determined to find the name of the mosque that appears in the photo below.  It looked like the facade of the mosques I had seen throughout Central Asia but as it turns out, it's not a mosque.  In fact, it's a bath house called Chreli Abano.


By now, the donuts and strawberries we had eaten for lunch had long passed through our systems.  It was time for a break and a bite to eat.  We picked a small restaurant across from the baths and got a table under the shade.

Admiring some Georgian scenery.  The views aren't bad here :-)

No more soda.  Sparkling water instead.  I like the fact that the drinks come in glass bottles.

Pat and I shared a pizza for lunch.  After all the ginormous meals we've been having, it's nice to go small and simple.

After our quick lunch, we headed back to explore more of the area around the sulphur baths.


Among all the cupolas stood a small statue.  Unfortunately, I took it from a bad angle because you can't see that the standing bird is actually perched atop the body of a bird that it had captured.  Apparently, this small statue symbolizes the story of the founding of Tbilisi.  As the story goes, King Vakhtang I Gorgasali was hunting one day with his falcon. The bird charged after a pheasant and disappeared. When the king found his falcon, it and the pheasant it had charged after had drowned in the burning, bubbling waters of a hot spring. Later, the city of Tbilisi would be founded near this spot.


Looking at a semi-dry stream.   From this spot, I could detect the faint odor of sulphur.

We followed the stone path and then a wooden path that ran alongside what looked to be a semi-dry stream.


I love the wood latticework balconies that are a characteristic feature on houses here.



The path wound its way, if you will, behind the houses of the old city which were now situated high above us.




Some of the homes were perched over the edge of the cliff.   I don't know if they were originally built this way or if the land gave way at some point in time.  I don't think they would be earthquake proof.  Georgia does experience earthquakes.



In just a few short feet, we had left the homes behind and were surrounded by nature. It even felt cooler and damper here.  It was as if we had stumbled upon a secret park. 



The walkway ended at a small waterfall that tumbled down into a small pool.



The pool of water was just a few inches deep.  Someone went through the trouble to pile the rocks in a heart shape and it appears that no one else has decided to tear it down.  A symbol of  love.  I hope it stays.



Where there are bridges, locks will appear.  The first time I ever heard of love locks was with the bridges in Paris but apparently the tradition is attributed to Serbia.  Who knew?

From Wikipedia:
"The history of love padlocks dates back at least 100 years to a melancholic Serbian tale of World War I, with an attribution for the bridge Most Ljubavi (lit. the Bridge of Love) in spa town of Vrnjačka Banja. A local schoolmistress named Nada, who was from Vrnjačka Banja, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After they committed to each other Relja went to war in Greece where he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. As a consequence, Relja and Nada broke off their engagement. Nada never recovered from that devastating blow, and after some time she died due to heartbreak from her unfortunate love. As young women from Vrnjačka Banja wanted to protect their own loves, they started writing down their names, with the names of their loved ones, on padlocks and affixing them to the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet.

In the rest of Europe, love padlocks started appearing in the early 2000s."

In no time, there will not be an inch of space left for a lock!


By the time we arrived back at our starting point, something was not agreeing with Pat's stomach and we needed to find a toilet for her.  The good thing is that in old city Tbilisi, as it was the case in the old city Baku, you can pretty much walk into any public establishment and if they have a restroom, they will allow to use it even if you are not a patron.

Luckily, we were in an area filled with hotels so we found one and the friendly receptionist led Pat to the restroom.  I waited for her outside, standing and watching the world go by.

When Pat emerged, feeling a whole lot better, we decided we had had enough of the old city and wanted to go back to our apartment.  I was not about to walk back and since we were standing outside a hotel, there was a lone taxi waiting for passengers.

Our driver and his taxi :-)

I waved over to the man and he acknowledged me.  He got in his car and drove over to where we were standing.  As he rolled his window down, another man approached us.  It was obvious that he realized we were tourists and came over to offer help.  In English, he asked me where we were going and I replied, "Marjanishvili Metro".  He then turned to the driver and said a few words in Georgian that also included "Marjanishvili Square".  We really hadn't needed his help but it was very kind of him to come over and offer.  I thanked him before he walked away.  Before we got into the cab, I asked the driver, "How many lari?"  i.e., how much?  He replied, "10 lari".  I had Googled the cost of the taxi fare earlier and this was the cost that was commonly stated so I agreed.  Pat and I got in for the ride.  We knew it would be a short one.  I had the driver drop us off a few feet from Marjanishvili Square as we knew exactly where we were and could easily walk the rest of the way back home.

Before we went up to our apartment, we headed to a small cafe, called CoffeeStory, located right next door to the entrance to our apartment building.  I figured that maybe Pat would enjoy a coffee.


Instead, we both got cold drinks.  I got a mint and lychee flavored drink. 


The freakish green colored drink did not taste anything of lychee.  There was plenty of mint though and some pieces of orange.  It was a strange drink.  By the way, there is nothing that shade of green in nature.


We took our drinks and headed back upstairs where we rested for about an hour and half before heading out again.  We just decided to stroll around the neighborhood.  Thanks to the Godsend called Google Maps and a photographer named Vakhtañg Berikashvili, here is an interactive street view around our apartment.  

Interactive Street View of Marjanishvili Square.  Click on the photo to open up the interactive view.
Pan above Dunkin' Donuts.  The top floor apartment on the far right - with the red canopy and window is ours.  We lovingly called it *Oleg's place*.


Marjanishvili Theatre.  We didn't see any performances taking place during the days we were in Tbilisi.

There's quite a lot of the new city that is just crumbling.

Yikes!  Scary when there's this large a crack in the foundation of a building.  Seriously.

We finally saw a map of the reconstruction work taking place on David Aghmashenebeli Avenue.  The red line indicates the affected area.  
It's a lot of blocks!!

Your neighborhood mini-mart.

We stumbled upon a park - Roses Park.  With that name, I was expecting to see a rose garden.  We ended up seeing everything but roses.  There were a couple of unusual art installations that incorporated live plants in them.



We found a bench, under the shade of tall trees, to sit.  It was a nice spot to just chill out and do a bit of people watching though there weren't all that many people out and about in the park.


When we were ready to leave the park, we decided we were also ready for an early dinner.  It would be our second night of "anything but Georgian food".  We decided to eat at a restaurant located right across the street from the apartment.  It turned out to be a sort of American fare joint e.g., burgers, hotdogs, pizza.  I was happy with that though for some odd reason, I had a craving for Italian food.  But the thought of having to find a place that served Italian food and then getting there was more than I could handle at the moment.  I just wanted to take it easy and enjoy a meal.

When the menu came, it offered a selection of burgers and Turkish fast food.  What is it about the presence of Turks in this neighborhood?  Were we in *Little Istanbul*?  



We both ordered the same thing for our meal.  Burgers and pear soda.

A tad sweet but tasty.

Our burgers came naked.  No fries.  No nothing.  We must teach these folks to include some scrumptious fries for there is no such thing as a burger without fries. That is just not right says the American girl :-)


After dinner, we went to the coffee shop next door.  At first glance, it looks like a Panera or Au Bon Pain.  We had walked in earlier in the day to check out the offerings and have already decided that this will be our breakfast spot tomorrow.


We drooled over a chocolate layer cake and decided to buy a piece to take home to eat.


Back in the comfort of our apartment, we enjoyed the cake and relaxed the rest of the night away.

Pat divvying up the cake.  We share everything!

We have another day and a half to explore more of Tbilisi before we say farewell to this city and move to our next country.  But now, it's time for bed.

Goodnight from Tbilisi!