One of my favourite cities ever!

Trip Start Sep 19, 2009
Trip End Oct 10, 2009

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Flag of Georgia  ,
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tbilisi Tbilisi... Where to start... It was one of the most positive surprises I ever experienced while traveling. I didn't really know what to expect after all the mixed stories, but I was definitely expecting something more sad, more groomy, more poor, more closed down, more dangerous. Instead a lively, international, idyllic city was waiting for me. It was a totally different world compared to Yerevan. Of course most of the city is still run-down after a sad history, but still the city impressed me.

So I took a night train from Gyumri to Tbilisi. The trip took some 8 hours, again three times more than with a car but much more fun. Plus I saved a night when I spent it in train. There were two of us in the cabin for four, my "roommate" didn't talk much nor caused any trouble for me. The electricity was out from our room and the train was a bit run-down, but everything went fine, and in the morning I woke up in Tbilisi train station. Tbilisi train station as such was a mess, nothing like the pompous station buildings in Armenia, but I later found out they are currently building a nice, fancy new train station.

When I get off the train all I knew was the street I was going to, where Gina's Guesthouse was located on. I didn't know how to get there, or whre the train station was. I was a bit scared wondering in the train station, because I had heard several stories how dangerous Tbilisi. Thankfully, an english speaking guy/taxi driver came to talked to me and said he knows where the street was where I was going to. Surely I had to pay him more than I would pay to normal taxi, but at the moment I didn't care, I just wanted to go to the guesthouse, be safe and sleep a bit. And so i did. Btw, the reputation of Tbilisi being dangerous turned out to be false. I had no trouble there at all, even when I was walking alone at night. And people said the place is safe now,  but wasn't before. It felt safe, just like any other major European city. But the reputation was hanging in my mind, which in part probably made me more careful.

Driving from the station along Rustaveli Avenue to the edge of the old town was fantastic. I had no idea that Tbilisi's main avenue, Rustaveli, could rival with those in central Europe. Its not as massive as Champs Elysee or some others, but every bit as nice, impressive and atmospheric. The home accommodation was excellent, a room and breakfast in a house which was excactly the kind of traditional georgian house I had imagined. Colourful, lots of art, cats, complex, a bit run down. I had such good impressions of the place (both the city and the house) that I decided to stay for four nights. Btw those who are going to Tbilisi and thinking about staying in Marjanishvili where most of the home accommodations are, keep in mind that the location of Gina's Guesthouse in 100 times better. Marjanishvili is a nice area too, but rather far from the old town and from Rustaveli, which are, after all, the most interesting places in the city.  

I took a metro (more modern and with much more stations than the one in Yerevan) to Republic Square where Rustaveli avenue started (and where they have the only McDonalds in Tbilisi) and decided to walk it down where it ends - Freedom Square on the edge of the old town where the guesthouse was. I wanted to walk this avenue which was so much more than I expected in Tbilisi. All the houses were renovated, the street was clean and it was bustling with people, restaurants, cafes and shops - and of course some churches, those are the trademark of Tbilisi, churches churches churches. Georgia is the second oldest Christian country in the world, after Armenia. Tbilisi has remained much as it was before, while Yerevan was completely re-done in soviet times.

After walking down Rustaveli and after visiting some museum not worth visiting, I went to the narrow streets of the famous old town. And how lovely it was! I most definately wasn't expecting this nice of an old town in Tbilisi. It was nice for a change - it's not a european style old city, it's not an asian style old city, it's not an arabic style old city, it's one of it's kind, it's completely georgian. So it was completely new for me. The houses have distictive balconies which gives them a unique appearence. I am fascinated with run-down buildings (don't ask me why!) so which was especially interesting in the old town was that about half of it was renovated really nicely, and about half was still run-down. Perfect combination. Some of the streets were completely run-down and some of the streets were completely renovated, but mostly it was completely random! Renovated buildings and run-down buildings next to each other, or even one house with upper part renovated and lower part run-down! It was a world of contrasts. The two or three main restaurant and bar streets in old Tbilisi were in excellent condition and one of the most atmospheric and lovely city environments where I have ever been to. But they were only a few, and they were short. Nonetheless. Lovely. 

I stayed in Tbilisi the next day and wondered around the city and its attractions. I visited almost all of the main churches - there's a huge difference in the number of churches between Tbilisi and Yerevan. I didn't yet see the new main church of Tbilisi, but the most interesting churches I visited were the oldest church in Tbilisi, Anchiskhati Church built in 6th century and one of the main churches, Sioni Cathedral nearby Anchiskhati Church, which was majestetic, atmospheric and absolutely full of people. Sitting in an Irish pub facing the Anchiskhati Church I realised that each georgian who passes the church (or any church as I later learned) stops and makes the sign of the cross three times, young and all, everyone. People seemed to be clearly more religious in Georgian than in Armenia, where religions seems to be more in the past than in the future. Sitting in the same Irish pub, I also saw the huge residence of the President on the other side of the river - it dominated the skyline more than any church ever could. Quite a contrast - the pub, 6th century church and a modern pompous presidential residence.  

Most of the day I spent in the old town and went accross the bridge to the other side, which was kind of a mixture of old town and new town. Mshketi church on the river bank was especially impressive, as was the area surrounding it with lots of small, colourful boutique hotels. Every step I walked in Tbilisi I learned to like it more. There is lot of renovating that needs to be done, but it's well on it's way and, anyway, I like my cities a bit run-down. Or I like them as mixtures of nice and not-so-nice, and Tbilisi if any city is exactly that. Well, the center that is, I hardly explored other areas of the city because the center (old+new) was big enough itself.

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Beso on

Tbilisi is one of the most hospitable cities in the world. You can see thousands of years of history at this crossroad of the world, where Christians, Muslims, Jews, and people of all races have lived together for centuries.

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