City Tour of Tbilisi, State Museum and a Bath!

Trip Start Sep 18, 2013
Trip End Oct 19, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hotel Coste Tbilisi
Read my review - 3/5 stars
What I did
Abanotubani (Bath District) Tbilisi
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Museum of the Soviet Occupation
Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia
Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary
Equestrian Statue of Vakhtang I
Metekhi Church of the Assumption
Freedom Square
Peace Bridge
Statue of St George Slaying the Dragon
Sioni Cathedral Church Tbilisi
Read my review - 4/5 stars
Revaz Gabriadze Clock Tower

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Today was a jam-packed day it seemed.  We met our guide Nick in the lobby at 9 am and sorted ourselves into at least 5 cabs to go to the old city.  First we visited a church (Metekhi Church)- there was a statue of one of the Georgian kings (Vakhtang I) on a horse there overlooking the river.  I think we then crossed the bridge.  I am not sure when but we walked through a section that had old-style wooden balconies and lots of restaurants and cafes.  Nick said this was one of the poshest of the cafe/bar areas.  I really liked the architecture of the old buildings.  Nick has a very fast walking pace so I had to work to keep up with him and our group - there are no slouches here.  After visiting this area I think we headed up to the (Narikhala) fortress.  From there we had a view of the Peace Bridge and some of the other prominent buildings - old and new.  We could see the huge cathedral with golden domes that was built in the 2000's.  We visited another old church (Sioni Cathedral).  We could take photos in two of the churches but the other was the strictest of the Georgian Churches - no photos - and we were kicked out because there was going to be a religious ceremony there - a baptism I think Nick said.  It seems to me that we saw more things but I can't remember what.  Before we left the cafe area we stopped at one of the cafes where I had Georgian Turkish-style coffee but I added some milk.  I was also able to get my 100 lari note changed so that was a good thing!

From there we force-marched to the state museum and Nick got us passes with which we could come and go.  All we had to do if we wanted to come back in was tell the bag check lady - "Visit Georgia" or "Nick" and she would let us back in.  Nick took us to the archeological exhibit, named the Treasury (part of Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia). and left us after answering last questions.  The archeological exhibit had lots of beautiful gold jewelry and vessels made from gold or silver as well as other golden artifacts from the Pre-Christian period, including things from Colchis - the land of the Golden Fleece.  There was mention of how people used sheepskins to pick up the gold from the rivers and streams because the sheep hair would catch the gold.  Hence the golden fleece perhaps.

Emma and I decided to get some lunch and Lowell joined us.  We walked down the street to where Nick had told us there would be restaurants.  After a bit of wandering, we found one with quite a few people and decided to eat there.  We got the specials where 13.90 lari bought us 2 dishes and a drink.  I had a big bowl of gazpacho and a Caesar salad - both were quite good - not exactly Georgian food, but quite nice for lunch - almost too much.  I found out that Lowell was the pediatric epidemiologist on the trip.  And then I found out that he knew Phil Nasca from the NY State Department of Health Epidemiology Division.  Lowell said he knew Phil well and that he was a wonderful person.  Small world!!  Lowell is from Seattle and we talked about Dale Chihuly and Lowell recommended the cafe at the Chihuly museum when I go there with Kara because it displays all kinds of Chihuly's collections - clocks, model cars maybe and accordions for some examples.  Emma and I left to go back to the museum but Lowell stayed at the cafe for a bit longer or so we thought.  When we got back to the Museum, there he was.

On this second trip to the museum we checked out the Museum of the Soviet Occupation exhibit.  The Georgians do not spare the Russians and exhibit lists of people - clerics, intellectuals and artists as well as political leaders and ordinary people that were killed and deported by the Soviets.  It was kind of dark in the exhibit hall but I guess that made the message more effective.  On an upper level there were lots of documents - in Russian and Georgian - that chronicled the history from roughly 1921 to 1991.  It is interesting to compare with Armenia's continuing relationship with Russia.  Nick promised to talk more about the Georgian attitude toward Russia.  And I am hesitant to try to speak Russian here even though some people have spoken Russian, rather than English, to me as a tourist. 

After the Occupation Museum,  we checked out the Oriental Art exhibit - this was mostly Iranian art from the 18th C - maybe some 17 and 19 C works too.  I don't think I had ever seen Persian painting except for some miniatures.  These were oil paintings - mostly portraits - probably 4 x 3 feet.  The clothing was richly portrayed but the people were pretty stylized.  I liked the jewelry exhibit the best.  Hmmm, I thought that Islam did not allow representations of people, but I did think that Iran was predominately Muslim by the 18th C.  Have to check that out.

From the museum, Emma and I walked back to the hotel.  It wasn't too bad a walk but Emma set a fast pace.  That in itself should be a good thing!   It was definitely a good thing that Emma had a good concept of the way since I was not so good with my sense of direction.  I was good until we passed MacDonald's and got to the Theater.  But we made it back, got our swimsuits and stuff to go to the baths, got a recommendation from the desk clerk and a taxi from the bellboy whom we forgot to tip.  Ah, well. 

We had the name of the bath from the desk clerk to give to the taxi driver but there seemed to be some confusion.  We turned around and got dropped off near the Royal Bath.  This I think was the one the desk clerk recommended but it was closed - padlocked.  We walked around a bit, saw a bridal party getting wedding photos, and then asked the police for help.  They were very nice - as Nick said they would be - and pointed in several directions saying there were 5 baths open.  Oh, yes - in Russian.  We wandered around a bit more and then found an open door in a courtyard and went in.

We were greeted by a woman who said she could show us a private room for 25 lari an hour and if we wanted massages, it would be an extra 10 lari per person.  We said OK and were shown to a private room.  When we asked about the public baths - she said they were out on the street - or something like that - we really didn't understand.  She asked if wanted towels, soap and shampoo and we ended up with all of them.  The room had an anteroom for changing and then the inner room had two showers, a sulfur water pool and a massage table covered in mosaic tiles.

Emma and I changed into our bathing suits and went to shower.  After a little bit a woman came into the changing room and started to undress.  Both Emma and I thought she might be another patron who got lost.  Then, when fully undressed, the woman somehow led us to understand that she was the masseuse.  There was not much communication here and what there was, was confused.  This woman was very much an Earth Mother figure - not huge - but quite ample.  Emma volunteered to go first.  The masseuse sloshed the table with hot water from the pool and sloshed us down too.  I waited in the pool while she gave Emma her massage.  I had to get up once to drink some water because I was getting too hot and was afraid I might pass out without drinking some water.

The masseuse first scrubbed our skin with some exfoliant I think.  As she finished a body section, she would slosh a few pails of hot water over us.  One time I got some water up my nose and thought I was going to drown but I survived.  I had the feeling the actual massage was done with soap and water but it might have been something other than soap - she had a couple of containers near my head.  Along with some very firm kneading, there was a rippling action by knuckles or fingers or something - I have never had a massage like this one before.  It was quite relaxing when she was done though.  She did a few karate chops to the back, bent my legs and arms into my body - stretched but not painful - and there were other techniques that I can't remember or can't quite describe.  After a few final sloshes with hot mineral water, I was done.  Then she told me "douche" and turned on one of the showers for me.  She, in turn, took the other and began to lather up the soap and give very thorough attention to certain areas.

Emma and I compared notes on our respective massages afterward.  I tried to reassure her that my massage experiences, though limited, have never included a naked masseuse.  I think our masseuse seemed a bit threatening - but maybe part of that was the lack of communication - just the stern single-word commands.  Then after we finished and looked for someone to pay, our masseuse came out and accepted the 50 lari that Emma handed her and gave her a ten in change.  The first woman came back and demanded to be paid for the room.  Emma kept repeating what we had been told.  We were still confused since they seemed to want more money.  The first woman told us to come and sit - she now went on about the cost of each towel, the bars of soap, the packets of shampoo - these each cost between 2 and 3 lari apiece so now we were up to 52 lari instead of 45, but the original woman we spoke to seemed to accept that 25 +10x2 + the other stuff only equaled 52.  Emma gave her 2 more lari.  The only problem was the masseuse - she was definitely not happy and the two women started arguing with each other.  Emma and I left as fast as we could.  Later, Emma, having checked the internet, discovered that both the naked masseuse and the requests for more money were common Georgian bath experiences.

We got a taxi back to the hotel - double was it had cost to get to the baths - but we didn't want any more fights.  We went to a nearby store for some groceries for dinner and ate in.   I finished a good deal of my accumulated food and decided the goat cheese I brought from home had to go....with a little help from Emma - she convinced me it couldn't be good because of the bacteria puffing up the plastic it was wrapped in.  I tried to pack up my stuff as much as possible for tomorrow and started this blog directly on the blog site.  Hope it works when I try to save it

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