We were feeling low on pork and good beer, and had a four-day weekend to burn, so we grabbed a group of friends – fellow teachers, mostly – and went to Tbilisi, Georgia. Sights were seen, food was eaten, history was learned, and very good beer was drunk. Here are the recaps:
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, lies in a valley that stretches along a beautiful high-bluffed river. During most of the 20th Century, Georgia and the entire Caucuses region was in the Soviet Union, so there are lots of reminders of that era. Like many old cities, there’s a fortress on a hill. We took the funicular – which we’ve taken to saying instead of gondola lift – up to the top of one of the hills. Here, we saw the spirit of Mother Georgia, a grand socialist style statue with a great view of the city. There was also an old church, remains of the old fortress, and ice cream vendors. One of the most comforting things about traveling the world is there are ice cream vendors are everywhere. It’s hard to feel like a stranger in town if you’re eating an ice cream cone.
We walked down the hill and into one of the main parks, where we had a great time, especially at the flea market. It was as if every person who’d ever been forced to buy and use Soviet paraphernalia had dragged it from their attic down to the sidewalk to sell it off and be rid of it forever. There was so much to see, we went back twice.Some of the items – like the Smyrna, Georgia yearbook- were hokey and not worth purchasing, but there were so many interesting items I would have loved to have brought home. Mike wanted to buy hand-painted portraits of Stalin and Lenin for his office, but exercised strong self-control. There were also old record players, sewing machines, coins, knives, hats, uniforms, and busted guitars. In the end we settled for a map of USSR industrial regions, antique postcards, and jewelry.
Georgia’s history is deep and dynamic and the more we saw the more we all commented that we know so little of our world.
We spent a lot of time wandering amongst the old churches. Georgia’s religious history is (yup) deep and dynamic; they were one of the first countries to convert to Christianity, and every few blocks you’ll find an old orthodox church. Their architecture is distinctive – lots of piled up wings, roofs jutting out everywhere, generally narrowing to where a tall cylinder ends in a cone-shaped dome.
Since the fall of communism in the 90’s, religion has made a remarkable comeback in Georgia. We saw Zoroastrian churches, which I hadn’t heard of since my classes with Barbara, remnants of the cult of Mithras, indicators of mosques and old arabic script, synagogues old and new, and lots and lots of churches. Icons were for sale everywhere.
The food was fabulous. There were many signs of Turkey’s influence in Georgian cuisine including pork shwarma, wood fire kebabs, and restaurants with evil eyes. We saw cevizli sucuk everywhere. It is made from grape molases and nuts. While it is funky looking, it is not my favorite…
We hired a driver for an afternoon, and he took us out to Jvari monastery, then down into the old village of Mtskheta (No I can’t pronounce it either.) This was a trip made more interesting by a group of, we think, teenagers on a graduation field trip. The boys all wore black pants and white shirts signed in sharpie by classmates, and the girls all wore black dresses and white aprons. It was quaint things to these energetic kids running around the yard where in the 4th century Christianity took its foothold in Georgia.
We also went to the Gabriadze marionette theater to see a show called Ramona. It was a tragic love story about two train engines who fall in love but are separated by fate. It was performed in both Georgian and Russian, with English supertitles, so it was pretty easy to follow along. This marionette theater is one of the treasures of Tbilisi.
We should give a shout-out to our traveling partners as well – they were generous and awesome, and it took a great load off the what-should-we-do-next doldrums that can plague traveling in pairs. Someone always has an idea! We even worked out a no-work-talk rule whose penalty was a bottle of wine for the table. Thanks to this simple rule, our conversations were remarkably happy and positive! Don’t worry, we still found reasons to buy the wine, though. We couldn’t just let it sit on the shelf gathering dust, could we?