Tbilisi is hot.
And beautiful, and exciting.
It’s really so interesting here, and I know I won’t be able to properly explain it because I can’t really properly figure it out in my own heard.
Our hotel is clearly in the wealthier area of town, but then after wandering around through all different neighborhoods, it didn’t get any less nice, there were just fewer Dior and Tommy Hilfiger stores. It’s incredibly clean here, and has a European feel while somehow feeling distinctly Georgian, although I don’t know exactly what that means.
We slept in this morning, after going to bed at 5am. We woke up to our stunning view of Tbilisi, just as beautiful in the daylight. Dad went to the gym while I did my visual therapy exercises, and then we got all ready to hit the town.
Map in hand, we wandered down the city’s central road, Rustaveli Avenue, towards Liberty Square. We walked straight past parliament and some other impressive buildings that weren’t as easy to recognize.
We didn’t make it far before I spotted a restaurant I’d read about, Samikitno, serving traditional Georgian cuisine. Dad doesn’t really eat breakfast, but I was definitely feeling hungry at this point, so we headed down into the little restaurant. It was packed, and we were the only tourists from what I could tell, both being great signs. With very little to reference, we ordered a sharing plate that resembled the Middle East’s Cold Mezze, along with six of Georgia’s famous Kinkhali, or dumplings.
The platter was delicious, full of beans, eggplant, pate, and some sort of corn bread, but what really stood out was the Kinkhali. Upon first impression, these little dumplings don’t look that exciting, but you can’t let the packaging fool you. The dumplings are a lot bigger than you’d think, and usually filled with meat and some sort of broth, or gravy as they call it. Dad read somewhere how to eat them, which was great because we might have ruined them otherwise. The key is to bite a little hole into the side of the dumpling, holidng onto the top where it is twisted together. Once you’ve got yourself a hole, you tilt your head back and suck out all of the delicious broth. The flavour is so surprising and delicious, and it takes a few swigs before you can get it all out. At this point your mouth is buzzing with flavour, so as you eat the dumpling and meat it is flavoured so nicely. It’s crazy to me that I’d never heard of these before because they’re so simply delicious and fun.
After filling up on delicious dumplings, we continued down Rustaveli Avenue to Freedom Square, recognizeable by a massive golden statue of St. George, Georgia’s Patron Saint. This square marks the start of Old Tbilisi, which is full of winding streets, wine shops, restaurants, and other little places to explore.
Georgia considers itself the birthplace of wine. It’s not necessarily that I’m skeptical, but a few sources couldn’t hurt. All the same, you can’t walk more than a few steps without going by a wine shop in Old Tbilisi, which means it’s a pretty fun place to be. We wandered into one shop, and the owner immediately jumped up to help us find what we were looking for. He had great English, and he let us sample a really delicious Rose. We had had a local red wine at lunch, but this was a lot better, and he poured us each a pretty full glass, so as we drank we chatted with him about his shop. He sold mainly wine, but also carried Chacha, Georgia’s take on Vodka. He offered us a sample of that too, but we decided to try it some other time – a midday shot of vodka isn’t always my idea of a good time.
The streets were really cute, and we eventually emerged out on this open square with a great view of the famous Narikala fortress overlooking the city. The architecture is really interesting here, and the city is very distinct due to its many recognizable Orthodox churches. I’m not religious, but I do love these churches a lot. They make the skyline here look so beautiful and they give Tbilisi a very distinct look and feel.
There’s a gondola that goes up to the Fortress, so we decided to give it a shot. I thought it was interesting to see that it’s considered a part of public transit, so you could use your metro pass to go up to the top of the hill. The Gondola was quick – only 2 minutes long – but the views were pretty incredible from the windows.
From the top, the views were even more spectacular. We could see all the way back to our hotel, as well as across the river and over the entire city. The hill is not only home to the famous fortress, but also to a massive statue of a woman called Mother Georgia (not unlike Harper’s expensive, unnecessary, and unnattractive “Mother Canada” plans, though this was considerably nicer to look at).
After taking in the view, we headed along a path towards the fortress. We had to go down a ways before turning back up to a massive old church that marked the beginning of the fortress. It was about 35 degrees today, and from the top of the hill I was feeling it, but this was too cool to pass up. The church was closed, but after walking around it we found a path to some stairs leading up to the ruined walls of the fortress.
It was definitely a climb to get up to the top, but dashing from shade to shade, we made it all the way up. At the very top, there was a big cross and some amazing views down into the city.
Tonight has been so relaxing. After a bit of a nap, we went down to the pool and floated around for a while, before heading out for dinner. The guy at the front desk of our hotel suggested a place across the street called Marco Polo, but when we got there it seemed a bit too touristy for our liking. Instead, I’d noticed a place down the road called House of Kinkhali, so we decided to go there, craving more delicious dumplings.
House of Kinkhali was definitely not touristy – we were the only non-Georgians in sight, and as we struggled to communicate with our server, I realized they must not get many English speakers. We managed to communicate through pointing and smiling, and ordered some incredibly delicious Kinkhali alongside some subpar wine. The dumplings were so good, they actually made the wine taste better, and neither of us could get enough. We started with two different kinds of beef dumpling with amazing broth, and some equally delicious mushroom ones, though they didn’t have the broth, which we missed. We ended up ordering two more each because they were so tasty. When our bill came, it was 12 Lari, which is about $7 CAD for ten dumplings and two glasses of wine. Not bad, Georgia.
Tomorrow we’re headed for Kazbegi, the beautiful mountainous region of Georiga. We’ve got a car with a guide, and I can’t wait to see what’s out there!