Day 5: (Batumi) → (Tbilisi)
Continue reading: →Day 6: Tbilisi → Yerevan
|Batumi's 'ugly' train station and one of the countless cows|
We have plenty of time, and so we start walking to the city centre. We've got the address of some private accommodation. The streets are lined with trees and the air is still fresh. On the way to the centre we are looking for a bank with an ATM, but we cannot find one. After a longer search and with the help of some passengers we can finally find the house, hidden in a courtyard. A friendly but austerely looking older woman opens the door. Yes, we can stay here, she says, and shows us a huge living room with a double bed. That's 5 US dollars per night and person, to be paid in US dollar only. A fair price. We drop our luggage and go outside for a first walk through the city.
|City map of Tbilisi|
Tbilisi aka Tbilissi aka Tiflis has around 1.5 m inhabitants, which means that every third Georgian lives in the capital. The river Mtkvari divides the city into North and South, or Left Bank and Right Bank. The old city centre stretches along the south (right) bank of the river. The train station is in the north-west of Tbilisi and quite far away from the centre. Although the city was conquered some 30 times by foreign powers during the last 1500 years, there's plenty to see. But it's not only the historic sites but also the vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere that is interesting. The socialist architecture around Hotel Iveria, nowadays a refugee camp, the churches near Methekis bridge between Erekle II Kucha and Abesadzis Kucha (Kucha means street), the chic Tbilisi with its spacious administration buildings and beautiful shops along Rustaveli Gamziri, the view from Narikala fortress over the city, just to name but a few - there's much to see in Tbilisi, and almost everything is within walking distance.
|The centre of town at river Mtkvari; |
the huge building is the Hotel Iveria
When walking along Rustaveli Gamziri, one will end up at Tavis-Uplebis Moedani (Moedani means square). There's a Modern Art Gallery and the Janashia Museum of Georgia nearby. There's also a bank facing Tavis Uplebis square with an ATM - at least they installed one in 2002, so it should be working by the time you read this. They also offer cash advance on credit cards. When you walk direction river Mtkvari, you can see the oldest part of the town along Shavtelis-Kucha. The partially cobbled streets are very narrow, with many churches, museums and galleries concentrating in this area.
The riverside right behind the Metekhis bridge is quite interesting. There, small houses nestle atop a wall of rocks high above the river valley. On the right bank of the river, right behind the Armenian St George cathedrale, the big Narikala fortress sits on the top of a hill, overlooking the entire city. It's rather easy to climb this steep hill. In front of the entrance to the fortress, there's another church called St Nicholas. There, a toothless old bag, probably the cleaning lady, comes to us. She shows us where to enter the church. And asks for money. I give her some money, and she looks happy. When we get out ouf the church, she starts to tell us the story of her life. Which takes two minutes. And ends with the question for more money, US dollar if possible. So, one time isn't enough? As a matter of fact, many Georgians are poverty-stricken. Social welfare is virtually non-existent in Georgia. You couldn't bring enough money even if you would give only a penny to every beggar. However, asking the same person twice for money is something I cannot understand. And so we refuse to give her more money.
|Churches lining up along Shavtelis Kucha; |
very small in the background Mother Georgia
According to legends, the oldest part of the fortress can be dated back to the 4th century, but there's not much left oft the structure, which is due to a huge explosion in 1827. The view of the town and the surrounding from the fortress is just splendid. When you keep on walking along the ridge of the hill, you will get to Kartlis Deda, the "Mother of Georgia", a giant statue which can be seen from almost every place in the town. In one hand she has a bowl of wine, for the friends of Georgia, in the other a huge sword for the enemies of the country. I would opt for the first one. Some policemen are loitering at the monument, staring at us as if we would be aliens. Don't you get any ideas! But it's siesta time and nothing to be afraid of. Somehow we cross a suspicious living quarter and return to the centre of town. Our late lunch consists of chranili, a typical Georgian dish. These are meat dumplings, like the Chinese counterpart baozi. The dough is thick and the dumplings are folded up at the top.
|Bus terminal Didube in Tbilisi |
with hords of marshrutkas
A double portion together with some coffee and soda costs 6 Lari only. After that, we take the subway to see some other parts of the town. The subway stations are extremely deep, and although the escalators are faster than usual, it takes a while until we get to the platform. There are two subway lines only, and the distance between the stations is quite long, so it's not very useful in the city centre. However, it's an easy way to get to the suburbs. In the evening, we try another Georgian speciality, called khachapuri. When looking from the top, it looks like a huge eye. Khachapuri is boat-shaped bread with some sheep's milk cheese and an egg in the middle. But there other types, too. It tastes great and is very filling.
There are also some Internet cafés in Tbilisi, many of them concentrating around Rustaveli subway station. One hour costs around 2 Lari, but the connection is rather slow.
Continue reading: →Day 6: Tbilisi → Yerevan
- The international airport is less than 20 km away from the centre east of the city. Buses run regularly from the airport to the centre and further to the train station.
- The train station is a few kilometers away from the centre, but there are numerous buses and marshrutkas to the train station. The train station itself and the area around doesn't look very trustworthy and should better be avoided at night. For train connections to Batumi see the previous day. There are other long distance trains to Yerevan and Bakı but no more trains to Russia.
- A ride on the subway always costs a standard fare of 0.2 Lari. Jetons must be purchased beforehand.
- Several dozen marshrutkas, buses and trolleybuses run through the city. The regular fare for a marshrutka in the city centre costs 0.5 Lari. Just ask around - there's definitely a marshrutka running to the place you want to go to. Zielort.
- Tbilisi has two large bus terminals. Didube in the western suburbs is quite far away from the city centre, but the subway runs straight to the terminal. It's the sixth station after Rustaveli, the station name is Didube, too. All national buses to the north, south and west, eg to Borjomi, Kazbegi, Batumi, Kutaisi etc start and end at Didube. There are also taxis and marshrutkas to Vladikavkas and Mineralnye Vody in Russia (visa required, at writing time the crossing was closed to all foreign travelers). The other bus terminal is called Ortachala and lies east of the centre near the southbank of river Mtkvari. Buses and marshrutka go there from the centre. This bus terminal serves destinations in East Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
- Of course there are also countless taxis in Tbilisi, but many of them run without meter. In that case it's better to agree on the fare before the ride. It's hard to tell a price per kilometer, but for the ride from Marjanishvili to the bus terminal Ortachala we paid 3 Lari - I don't know if this is a good price, but the driver wanted 5 Lari first.
- There are many hotels in Tbilisi but no hostels. Almost all hotels seem to be rather expensive. The third floor of Hotel Iveria is still accommodating travelers and is quite cheap. However, A much better choice is to stay with a Georgian family.
- A night in Nasi's apartment costs 5 dollars per person. The apartment is quite big, and somehow Nasi always manages to accommodate another guest. Hot water costs an extra fee. Her family is very nice and it's interesting to have a chat with them. Nasi is very strict when it's about water and energy consumption. Don't you dare step in with your shoes on! This can cause a lot of trouble. Ask for slippers first! The apartment itself is quite nice, and the cosy veranda becomes a popular meeting point with the other backpackers staying there - until Nasi turns out the light. Nasi knows similar private accommodation in Yerevan, Borjomi, Kazbegi etc, which is very helpful. Her Address: Marjanishvilis Kucha 30/92. Take the subway to Marjanishvili, get out the lefthandside exit, walk left and go straight ahead for around 200 metre. Her apartment is in a courtyard on the left side. There are many similar courtyards and no signs, so it's better to ask someone - many people in that area know Nasi. Nasi's is yet somewhat of a secret not published in guidebooks. Nevertheless, due to websites like this things might change (although the number of travelers going to Georgia seems to remain stable).