Old Town, Narikala and churches. The “serious” Tbilisi…
Tbilisi’s skyline is an incredible landscape filled with churches, gardens, bridges, water, just above the Old Town’s twisting alleys.
I reach the capital by taxi, travelling with two nice travelers, M&M, a London boy and a German student, I got to know during the hike in the gorge. After the trip, in the evening we came back to café 5049 together, to drink beer and wait for the sunset. There is little to do, in Kazbegi, when the shadows stretch…
After climbing the streets behind Rustaveli, where there’s my guest-house, I begin to walk around Tbilisi’s churches: Jvaris Mama, St. Peter and Paul’s, Metekhi, Anchiskhati, Sioni. Finally, I get to Rike Park, where there’s the cable car climbing up to Narikala and to Mother Georgia’s huge statue. As I told you, I love Orthodox churches: darker, more intimate, nothing to do with Catholic pomp and grandeur, inside even the golden icons seem spiritual. I really like to wear the veil before entering: I don’t feel it like the Islamic veil, showing subordination. It is just a way of showing respect, as my grandmother used to put on her brown hanky to go to Mass.
Once in Narikala, the ancient IVth Century fortress, I climb a tower overlooking Tbilisi: for the first time in Georgia, I am in a real city, not probably so “touristic”, but for sure showing many European-style places side by side with its Asian soul. Rustaveli street itself has its museums, theatres, the former Parliament building, but it’s also a kind of “shopping street”, and Mac Donald’s here is hosted by a very elegant and refined building near the metro stop. In the Old Town you can find houses perfect for a postcard, some still show wounds made by earthquakes, others are fairy buildings with modern pastel colors; btw, all of them have the typical wooden carved balconies.
Tbilisi has a lively nightlife, but today is the Saturday night before Easter, Georgians are getting ready for the traditional Midnight Mass, so it’s all very quiet. I decide to go to Mass too, then I change my mind, preferring to discover with M. a sort of “parallel world” hanging out at Dive Pub, a very nice place in Rustaveli where you can find many young by expats. Of course I meet another Italian, from Milan, here with a US friend got to know during a crazy Couchsurfing party (read about my experience with CS). We stay here till the bar’s closure at 3 a.m., then go to eat some kinkali in Rustaveli. Tbilisi’s Easter has just begun…
… and the “alternative” one
Easter Sunday is a beautiful sunny day. I wake up quite late and for the first time I have breakfast in guest-house (before 9 am in Georgia do not expect any food): coffee, farro salad, salty pie, then an egg with a red-painted shell and a typical Easter “panettone”. My guest-house (Zemeli) is super: 5 minutes from Rustaveli metro stop, it is on top of a steep but strategic road; from the terrace of my luxurious single room – 10 euro per night – I can read, write and sip Georgian red wine, with the roofs of the city behind.
Tbilisi lives in bright colors. Street art, once a dangerous utopia in a regime that opposed every free public expression, today blooms in the underpasses, on shop and bars, on the walls of houses and hostels, such as the popular Fabrika, once sewing factory, today home to artists’ studios and co-working spaces. In the Old City I fell in love with a series of cute graffitis with naughty black cats, marked @goshaart: only back home, searching on Google, I discovered Gosha Dimitruk, a Russian artist in love with Georgia since he was a child, who has decided to leave Moscow to live in Tbilisi, and has coloured it with his works (here’s an interview).
I can’t leave Georgia without going to the legendary Dry Bridge Market, where I find almost everything about my trip, messy and mixed altogether: elders selling Soviet memorabilia over their Ladas, vintage books and CDs, carpets and fabrics with geometric patterns, musical instruments. A lady sells a painting of Stalin she has brought to the market inside a box from a popular American brand. It is vintage heaven: quite a good metaphor about the contradictions of a country that from the Rose Revolution onwards has gone West, growing financially, recovering after the post-Sovietic disaster, but where for elderly people the language of international communication is still Russian. A fairy frontier country, where East and West have always meet up – and crash – under the frowning peaks of Caucasus.