Our mini bus ride back to Tbilisi went without surprises or excitement. Within 30 minutes of arriving in the city we’d walked to the metro, used our card for a tap through the gates, rode down a steep long escalator into the bowels of the earth, caught the metro, counted the right number of stops, ascended to the street where expected – always a bonus – and walked the short distance to our apartment, mostly up a steep hill. The apartment is in a building with the address clearly indicated on the outside so was easy to find. It is nice enough – but it is accessed through a dim ramble-sham courtyard of rickety roof lines, crooked balconies, helter- skelter strings of laundry, clutters of weird stuff, including a stuffed tiger under a set of wobbly looking steps. The landlady is friendly although she has a particularly phlegmy and persistent cough and reeks of smoke. Smoking is a national pastime in this part of the world.
We drop our packs and set off for the day’s mission.
Before I tell you about it, here are a few facts:
- Before leaving home, we had looked online and earmarked a bus leaving from Batumi Georgia for Giresun Turkey at 00:30 hrs daily. (Thirty minutes after midnight.)
- We had decided we’d catch that bus on 10 Nov and would cross into Turkey a couple of hours later.
- While in Bishkek – in September – we applied for our Turkish Visas for the period starting 10 Nov.
Now, on 5 November, we walk about five kms through the city to the bus station where we could buy the required tickets. Upon arrival – we are hot and glad to be in the quiet after the roar of traffic, dodging throngs on the sidewalks and not getting run down by vehicles that don’t stop for pedestrians in cross walks – the lovely lady at the ticket office tells us that there is also a bus leaving Batumi at 1700 hrs (5pm).
“Well how nice,” we think. Much more reasonable time. We happily buy our tickets. Now we will take the train from Tbilisi to Batumi arriving at 1300 hrs and just a few hours later can catch the bus on to Giresun in Turkey. Later in the evening I cancel our Batumi accommodation and book another night in Giresun. Very pleased with ourselves we set about enjoying a few days of sightseeing in Tbilisi.
It is a pretty city, but once again we note how the tourist areas contrast sharply with the much larger and considerably more rundown areas where many (most?) locals live. The old town, that has been tidied up to please the tourist trade, abounds with wine tasting cellars and excellent restaurants. There are art shops, carpet sellers and the inevitable made in China, genuine handcrafted in Georgia knick-knacks. We avoid shopping but work hard at sampling a good number of restaurants.
We ride the Big Red Bus around town, get a nicely condensed history lesson in the process and make a note to visit the history museum to see David the Builder’s coin. A funny thing about the bus is that there are two competing Red Bus companies – we don’t realize this and at one point get on the wrong bus. No one bats an eye.
We ride a gondola up one of the steeper hills, enjoy the fabulous views then explore an extensive botanical garden that clings to the side of the hill. Thankfully, our explorations are generally on downhill paths! First mentioned in 1701, the garden is now more of an arboretum and the shaded pathways are sprinkled with red, orange and yellow fallen leaves. Bright Mum’s and Asters catch the gold shades of the afternoon sun. A waterfall mists the surrounding rocks, and we enjoy a quiet sit in the pretty Japanese garden. It’s a lovely interlude from the general city bustle.
Another afternoon we indulge ourselves in a sulphur bath hammam. We go upscale and have a room with hot sulphuric pool and marble slab for reclining to ourselves. We also enjoy the ministrations of a scrubbing woman who also washes our hair. Thankfully, this woman is not like the terror who we had to deal with in Sheki. Afterwards we rehydrate by sipping wine while sitting in the sun at a nearby restaurant.
Pat’s hair cutting experience in a very posh salon has resulted in very short stylish hair. After she’s shorn we take advantage of our grand surroundings to enjoy tiramisu (me) and croissant (Pat) with our morning cappuccinos.
On our last day (of four) we walk across the river and up a hill on the other side to Tbilisi’s cathedral. As we walk along the wide paved area to the front of the cathedral, we stop to donate a few coins to a nun who is there collecting alms. She asks where we are from and when we tell her, Canada, she digs into her alms pot and produces two dimes. One for Pat and one for me.
What a nice gesture. However there is more to this moment. I have a very dear friend for whom randomly found dimes have a special significance. My friend has shared some of her cherished dimes with me on many occasions, asking me to leave them in various sacred places during my travels. One of her dimes is in Avebury in England, another in Thorung La in Nepal, another in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. So dear friend, two dimes are coming back to you from the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi.
The streets of Tbilisi are well occupied by beggars. We are pretty sure a minority are scamming but others are clearly in desperate need. They seem to have their own areas as we regularly see the same people in the same places. We also regularly dig into pockets for our change, which Pat has taught me to keep handy for this purpose. While it is not a tourist’s responsibility to support the poor of any city or country, these disenfranchised people are not aggressively panhandling, so we feel our few coins are doing no harm and may contribute to some relief.
On recommendation from a friend who was recently here, we visit the Museum of Illusions. We aren’t sure why the place has the title “museum” as it is somewhat a fun fair. We are entertained by various illusions – pictures coming, and by puzzles neither of us can solve.
On our last afternoon in Tbilisi, we find a particularly pleasant terrace with a lovely view across the river to an attractive church. We savour a delicious meal with cold white wine and thank the universe that we were born Canadian, received good educations, held pensionable jobs, and still have good health with which to enjoy this perfect moment.