We spent the best part of a week within Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The city is a melting pot of European and Asian styles, but there is a strong sense of national pride throughout the place.
There is much for Georgians to be proud of. Their capital, whilst not yet a major destination on the tourism map, is modernising without losing respect for their traditions. One of the city’s newest pieces of architecture is the futuristic Bridge of Peace, which links the two land masses separated by the unfortunately rather dirty Mtkvari river. The nearby park is currently under construction, but already contains some rather bizarre structures, such as a giant piano and chess board.
These new designs will help to move Tbilisi into the 21st Century, but much of the city’s allure is located in its older regions. Whether taking a stroll through the prosperous Vake neighbourhood or scaling the narrow streets behind Rustaveli, the European styles that can be associated with many of Tbilisi’s buildings allow one to ponder about the history of this area and beyond. There was much repression during and immediately after the Soviet period, so it is nice to see so many of the older buildings still intact. Some are crumbling into oblivion, but much of the history and charm of the city will remain. Events like the large flea market that occur every Saturday – where I bought my first ever sword for 5GEL, or £2 – are a world away from modern urban life, and are all the better because of it.
Some recent additions to the city have managed to successfully link Georgia’s past and its future aspirations. This thought is encapsulated spectacularly by the 101-metre tall Sameba Cathedral that dominates the skyline of the left bank. It was built as recently as 2002, but the country’s biggest church helps to visualise the centuries of importance of the Russian Orthodox religion to the citizens in the region.
The Georgian love of food and wine has also lasted through the ages, and it would have been rude not to sample their delights. Khachapuri – the cheese pie, and staple of the country – was eaten on a regular basis. We also regularly bemoaned our stomachs for eating too much soon after finishing on each occasion, due to the stodgy and heavy nature of the food. You can see from the picture below how big one khachapuri is – we put my hand there to give an idea of the size, and it’s rather small in comparison! And this was just for me...
Another national dish we tried and enjoyed was chikhirtma, which was described to us as ‘chicken broth with chicken leg within’. We were intrigued, and ultimately left slightly short-changed when merely provided with a large chicken breast within our very yellow soup.
Other food choices were more adventurous and regrettable. I am always keen to try new things when it comes to food, but I can now say with hindsight that a gelatinous animal hoof should not have been one of them. It was served in a broth along with other insides as a dish called khashi. Revolting cannot even begin to describe it, and much of Georgia’s famous red wine was required to take the taste away.
This was, however, a rare failure. I have been surprised and impressed by Georgia. From the friendliness and warm welcomes offered by her citizens – one small misunderstanding that almost led to the police becoming involved aside – to the aspiration to combine modernity with tradition, Georgia has been a wonderful experience for both of us. It is a naturally beautiful country and was a great place to spend our Christmas. Though not perfect, and anyone who lives in a country where smoking indoors is banned would have quite a nasty shock, I would definitely recommend a visit. I will warn you to bring a pair of loose jeans, though – your waistline will surely expand if you enjoy the food as much as we did!
Love you all