Georgia, the Country, not the State

  • Post category:caucasus

For our time in Tbilisi we had rented an Airbnb apartment, in a residential street, near the centre of the city.  We took the option of paying the owner to send a driver to meet us at the airport – which was her father who made nice conversation.  Meanwhile he drove like a mad-man or in other terms, like a typical Georgian driver!  See a gap, take it, veer in and out of lanes and make sure you use horn.

From the outside the building looked interesting but inside was modern, spacious and quiet.  Our apartment was the one at the top, with the small balcony.

It was immediately obvious that there wasn’t the same economic prosperity here as had been very evident in the centre of Baju, Azerbaijan.  Here things were a look more run-down and there were plenty of investment opportunities if you wanted to renovate buildings.  One obvious sign of the need for maintenance was the high number of apartment buildings that were being propped up by steel beams. And wasn’t just a single building, very often it was the entire street.  Everything appeared very stable, but you wouldn’t want to be here in an earthquake.

The weather for the entire trip was generally pleasant, being early autumn.  But we struggled to get entirely clear days, so when we did go up the cable car or the funicular to the hills surrounding the city, the views were not ideal, but you just have to take what you get.

The hills accessed by the cable car provided views back down over the Peace bridge, a pedestrian only zone, and the music hall.  Very modern architectural installations, in a very traditional city.

One of the other recent builds is the golden domed cathedral visible from all the hills around the city.  While is is impressive in size and style, the interior was lacking in individual character, but there were plenty of devout worshipers.  Entering Orthodox Christian churches I almost always needed to cover my head:  that was made easy because I was wearing a hooded winter jacket, so just needed to put my hood up.  But at the cathedral I was required to wear a skirt as well – large scarves and wrap around skirts at the door were the solution provided.

We visited a number of other churches, from very spartan ones dating from the 12th century to more ornate modern versions.  In the collage below, bottom right, is a symbol from inside our apartment.  It consisted of a sticker over a ‘painted’cross – about 10-15 cm tall.  They were in the kitchen, living a sleeping areas.  A little google research said  they were blessings done by the priest each year with the cross painted in olive oil.  A comment in the Lonely Planet suggested the Georgians as a nation were very superstitious.
Another unique feature we saw through the region was the reverence given to uneaten bread.  Bread was considered sacred and that it should not be thrown away like rubbish or left on the ground.  Instead, it was placed on the lid of communal rubbish bins or hung off the end to keep it separate.  We are unclear what process the rubbish collectors had for it when the rubbish was actually dealt to.
Tbilisi, more than either of the two cities we visited, had bread for sale every 10 meters in bakeries or from windows directly coming from the baking room.  The ovens were the round tandoori style where the bread is placed directly onto the walls of the oven.  And it has to be said the bread was simply fantastic, unbelievably cheap, and there were so many varieties to choose from.
Most of the places we ate at were subterranean, located below street level and the bakeries were also generally below street level.  The left hand picture below shows a direct bakery window, with the black footpath and road visible.  To buy your bread you had to bend down.  
Some more food, wine and exploring to follow

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