With a Central Asian visa ticking away, we headed north from Trabzon to Georgia. Arriving in Tbilisi early in the morning we promptly went in search of a hotel and got to work on some logistics, mainly a way across the Caspian. With some helpful advice from relatives in the USA, we set out to find a flight to Kazakhstan. We spent two full days searching for one airline which, by all accounts does not exist, and finally found the one travel agent in town who could sell tickets for the airline that does exist, Kazakhstan Airways. Finally, with hand written air tickets in hand we set about exploring the city.
Most of the museums in Tbilisi were closed for the weekend or renovation, and having completed the walking tour four times over in search of air tickets, we were left with perhaps only one thing to do: shop. Tucked into a park by the river, a weekend flea market of sorts held all sorts of interesting treasures. From vintage jewelery to soviet era gas masks to electric fuses and full sets of old china, the diversity was astounding. Some sellers looked as though they had raided their basements in search of something to sell while others looked like serious collectors, displaying stamps, coins and tons of soviet era military supplies. Diving right in, we negotiated using pad and paper, cell phones and held up fingers like preschoolers. In the end we found ourselves with a pre-WW II Russian made camera instead of the “KGB first edition” spy camera the vendor was trying to sell, a few pieces of jewelry and a half kilo of old soviet era coins from behind the iron curtain including a few East German deuchemarks.
Compared to Turkey, Georgia feels very European. Tbilisi is a modern thriving capital, that due to the existence of some very upscale patisseries and cafes appears to have a large expat population. It’s the exact type of city that we love, one that has balanced modern and western conveniences with traditional culture. Georgians are welcoming and open people and nearly every single encounter we’ve had here has been with a smile. From atop the fortress overlooking the city Danny declared Tbilisi to have a modern- medieval atmosphere, which although I don’t necessarily agree with, staring at the ruins of another fort and an enormous statue of a knight on horse back I can see what he means.
If You Go: You can easily spend a few days in and around Tbilisi. Modern comforts abound, but its not hard to get to the “real” neighborhoods. Georgian people are incredibly friendly and even if you can’t speak Georgian they’ll try to communicate with you. Unfortunately the Georgian National Museum was closed during our visit as were a number of other museums. The “Dry Bridge” market is held Saturdays and Sundays in 9th of March park along the river. Bring small change and bargaining skills!