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Published: September 14th 2016
Lovely people and country, we had a great time.
We saw two different Georgias:
1 The Big City: Tblisi
2 The Causasus Mountains
1 Tblisi is a modern exciting city with:
a) an Old Town district to explore
b) a commercial and cultural centre around Rustaveli Avenue
c) a brand new riverside park development with 'The Peace Bridge' as its centre point
d) panoramas galore are served by the funicular to the Mtatsminda Park and the cable car to the Fortress and Botanical Garden
e) a number of churches worth seeing with the new cathedral as a highlight
1 a) the Old Town has its own particular architectural style. Buildings are faced with timber balconies which are often very ornate. Many have been restored, some are falling down, and some new developments e.g. by the Sulphur Baths, are being built to reflect and feature the same style.
There are a number of lanes parallel o the river which are 'food alleys' with restaurants and bars on pedestrian streets...... loads of atmosphere and choice, most featuring Georgian cuisine.
To the east of the old town is a row
on Tblisi style hotels and houses which overhang a cliff down the river, worth seeing, and the sulphur baths.
At the western end is the Rezo Gabriadze Puppet Theatre and clock tower, and a number of large, amusing sculptures, e.g. a group of Georgian Circle Dancers.
b) on Rustavelli Avenue: The Opera, The Pantomime Theatre, The National Museum, The National Art Museum, a number designer shops and restaurants and gardens. It leads to Freedom Square and Pushkin Street, all big 'boulevard architecture' in both scale and style.
c) Rike Park is a large, brand new, garden park on the north side of the river accessed by the 'Freedom Bridge' with its glass canopy and night time LED light display. Although the shrubs are still young it is a delight to be in and it will mature quickly, I believe, considering the climate and the huge squad of gardeners employed. There are play areas for children, sit-outeries, a large concrete grand piano sculpture and other sculptural fun.
d) It's a bit of a walk uphill to the foot of the funicular railway, but it's worth the effort. The views from the top are stunning and if you
like funfairs there's a decent sized one there as well.
In contrast, the walk up to the Fortress isn't as taxing as it looks. You can also use the cable car which runs from the R Park. There's an access at the top to the Botanical Garden which we didn't manage to find..... the B.G. Is a great place to wander in the shade. We found an entrance by dropping down from the Fortress, and walked to the cascade where people were swimming in the small pool beneath. There is a seed bank and plots for plant trials but mostly it's a well established old royal park which the public now pay a small admission fee for. A note of caution: have a good look at the map at the start 'cos the signage is confusing.
e) we visited the Samenda Cathedral and we're glad we had. The new building is lovingly constructed: a large airy space. And the plaza and gardens outside are a delight. We went to number of smaller chapels at the Pantheon, by the Fortress, and down in the Old Town.
We found live music at a restaurant, and were disappointed to miss
the puppet theatre which is closed for a period just now.
2 Caucasus Mountains: Svanetia
We'd recommend the one hour flight in Vanilla Sky's light aircraft from Tblisi to Mestia. The 2016 price was 40 GEL, about £14, which included a minibus shuttle to the small airfield which is to the north of Tblisi. As well as being convenient and comfortable the views of the mountains and the first sight of the Svan towers as we approached Mestia airport were spine-chilling. The only downside was an hour's delay in taking off.k
We loved being in a country location, especially after all the city life we'd seen.
Mestia is well served with guest house accommodation.... ours was 'Marina's', very friendly, with ensuite shower and loo, and fabulous Georgian breakfast with porridge, home made pancakes, preserves, eggs, salad, bread and Khachapuri cheese bread...... good value as well.
The restaurants and bars were also good with live music at Laila's each night.
It's a centre for trekking and skiing in the winter. But we found a uphill walk to match our stamina and style, museums and strolls around town, places to sketch.
The Svan towers are
intriguing 9C - 12C defensive buildings...... Margianis' Tower is a museum which allows you up inside one ....... and the family house contains an ancient set of carved wood furniture and animal stalls which shouldn't be missed.
The flight from Mestia to Kutaisi, with the same firm, was also excellent. But again an hour late in take off ...... 11.30am became 12.30am. And it was bizarre landing in a tiny plane at a brand new international airport, which was completely empty, because all its other flights are early in the morning or late at night.
Prices are cheap. Hospitality is friendly an generous. September was warm and clear for us in Georgia.
The bathrooms in the three locations we stayed in were all laced with essence of drain. I couldn't work out the source....... perhaps the central floor drains had u bends that dried out.
Eurasian Georgia had a European feel in Tblisi. And the EU is providing funding and loans for brand new German made MAN buses to start operating in the capital before the end of this year. We also saw a EU 4x4 vehicle with diplomatic plates in and around Mestia.
hope we might make it back some time soon.
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