This one might get kind of long – you’ve been warned!
After waking up, we headed up to the top floor of the Sheraton Tbilisi for the breakfast buffet which was included…and huge! Lots of fresh local fruit – apricots, cherries, etc, and all perfectly in season. Combined with other food, it was enough to fuel a long morning of walking around Tbilisi.
Headed out of the hotel, and the first stop was the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Built in 2002, this is one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world. We were lucky that being Sunday, there was a service going on. Despite studying in the USSR years ago, I’d never been to an Orthodox church service, and certainly not a Georgian Orthodox one. It was fascinating to me to spend time in there, and in retrospect I wish we’d stayed a bit longer. It was just one of those really authentic local moments that I really enjoy when traveling.
After the Cathedral we made our way down to the river, across a bridge, and took a view up the hill/mountain on the south side of the city. We wandered through Old Tbilisi, and took a look up the hill towards Narkala Fortress which we planned to visit after lunch.
We continued wandering around Old Tbilisi for a couple hours, stopping by several old churches and along the river to take in the city. Being Sunday, there were lots of folks just out and about enjoying the amazing weather and just strolling around the city. At the same time, we didn’t see a single tourist that I recall, which really added to the atmosphere. After a couple of hours of wandering we were getting really hungry, and stopped into a restaurant called KGB for some lunch.
Now, I admit – having studied in the Soviet Union – I have a bit of nostalgia for good old Soviet kitsch. Every time I go to a former Soviet republic, I get slightly nostalgic, and this place fit the bill perfectly. Old Soviet posters on the wall encouraging the proletariat, menus inserted in old provision books, etc. It was a great lunch, and cheap. Even with drinks well under $20 for two people. Was a great time, and nice to relax in the air conditioning and get away from the hot sun outside.
After lunch, we climbed the hill to the Narkala Fortress. The roads/sidewalks/back alleys up the side of the mountain were steep and unmarked, and we had to stop several times to ask for directions. Finally after 45 minutes or so we made it to the top, and were rewarded with some amazing views!
Statue at the top of the mountain, near the Narkala Fortress:
After the climb we were completely exhausted, and headed back to the hotel to get a bit of rest before dinner. However, we opted to take a different route back along the south bank of the river, which ended up being a couple of miles longer than it looked. It rewarded us, however, with a couple of awesome views. First, we crossed over a bridge where lots of locals were fishing near a dam and hauling in their catch for dinner. On the side of the bridge, was a fence which had obviously been there for many years:
On the other side of the Bridge was proof that the highway really was named that!
For dinner, we’d planned to go to Shemoikhede Genatsvale – a local Georgian chain serving khinkali (dumplings) and other local specialties. But, in order to get there, we got our first experience of the Tbilisi metro. Very cool, and confusing, since all the signs were in Georgian. We got to ask the little old ladies who were working which way to go, etc, in Russian, and I had a great time. Yes, again, I admit to being a total geek. So, onto dinner. This proved to be an awesome decision, and we were treating to the typical georgian dish after dish. It was great, because our waitress was a real character, who was anxious to show off the few words of English she knew “only know chicken, milk” and was lots of fun. Between her English and my Russian we got a great meal, a fun bottle of local wine, and it was a great local experience. Plus, the restaurant had a really cool sign out front!
Next morning, we were off early to head to Armenia. After a repeat of the awesome Sheraton breakfast we met our driver in the lobby, and were off to Armenia. I’d gotten the name of a local driver from some colleagues who had done work in Tbilisi, so we were set up with an English-speaking driver, with a reliable vehicle who was familiar with the roughly 4-5 hour trip. Things passed pretty quickly, and perhaps the most entertaining part of the drive was the border formalities. There’s no VIP queue here, and we were dumped in with everyone else, and had to do a good deal of negotiating and standing up for ourselves when lines magically disappeared, moved, etc. It wasn’t bad – maybe 20-30 minutes tops, and was a great experience. Far different than the usual sterile airport immigration, and kind of fun!
Soon we had arrived in Yerevan, and were at our hotel, the Best Western Congress Hotel. Just a block from the most popular hotel with visiting foreigners (the Marriott) the Best Western was far less expensive, and plenty nice for our needs. We headed out to walk the city, which proved a bit of a challenge in the 38-40F temps. It was a scorcher, but fortunately the humidity wasn’t too bad. After a walk through Republic Square the first stop was the Cascades. A quick view of a shopping street with an amusing display just off Republic Square:
It was a nice climb up to the Cascades, and a good view of the city.
After the Cascades, we kept walking a loop around the downtown core. Probably 8-10km in total, through several parks where we stopped for drinks and relaxing, and just to take in the city. Despite being extremely hot out, it was a relaxing and fun walk, and we really got a good feel for the city although there was honestly very very little going on. Back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner, and then off to Mer Gyugh aka “Our Village” for dinner.
It was kitschy, and pretty empty, but lots of fun. I really wish I knew what the dish we ordered was called, because it was delicious. Some sort of warm yogurt/kefir was brought to the table, into which the waiter ground garlic, pepper, and salt, before adding minced meat, lentils, and crushed lavash. It was delicious, and with a bottle of local wine made a great meal! We were stuffed, and took the metro back to the hotel (which was an awesome experience!) and crashed early for our early morning flight.