Friday, September 28, 2018

Tbilisi, GEORGIA

I first tried to go to Georgia five years ago from Sochi, in order to buy my daughter Georgia a sweatshirt and hat. But I needed a visa and couldn't get it in time, so I went to Ukraine instead. However, when I was invited to give a talk in Moscow on September 14th, and three others in Kazakhstan on September 25-27, I decided to use the intervening time to visit Georgia since it no longer requires a Visa for Canadians.
I initially planned to take a ferry from Sochi to Batumi, a very attractive seaside resort town, and then a train to Tbilisi, the capital city. But I was cautioned that the waters might be rough, and since my time was short, decided to fly directly to Tbilisi instead. As usual, upon arrival, it was challenging to arrange a taxi to the hotel, since the drivers were asking twice what the hotel recommended that I pay, and my Uber app wasn't working. But having no choice, I took a cab and arrived around 8 pm.
The Tiflis Palace Hotel. I can most definitely recommend it. Lovely rooms and exceptional staff.
It's always exciting to look out the window of a new hotel room, especially at night.
I had booked the Tiflis Palace, a hotel close to the synagogue since it was Yom Kippur. It turned out to be a wonderful choice. A small, boutique hotel in the heart of the old town. After checking in, I took a few photos from my room's balcony.
The Great Synagogue
The Little Synagogue
The next day I walked to the nearby synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Tbilisi. It wasn't quite what I expected. It turned out to be a Lubavitch service with many empty seats. Eventually, someone came over and asked me where I came from. When I said Vancouver, he put his hand over his stomach, indicating a large man and said "Rabbi Wineberg!"  He was right. He's the Lubavitch rabbi in Vancouver. I also walked up the street to another synagogue, known as 'The Little Synagogue'. It was full and felt more like what I was used to.
That afternoon I wandered around the old town and then did something I had never done on Yom Kippur...I took a bus tour of the town. That evening, I broke my fast with herring and a local dish that includes an egg and cheese in pastry.
Freedom Square: one of the main squares in the city.
There is a variety of architecture throughout the city.
I bought a package of tours through the local hop-on-hop-off sightseeing company for $60. It included a local tour and two tours outside of the city centre. One took me out to the old capital with medieval churches and a local winery where we sampled some excellent Georgian wines. While we can buy a couple of semi-sweet varieties in our local stores, Georgian wines are bountiful and varied.
During my stay, I visited the main museum where there were some most impressive exhibits on the archaeology of the region and the history of Russian occupation.
No, I didn't meet this person on the street. In the museum...

The next day I head out to the historic capital...
The former capital of Georgia is a most historic, medieval place.

As I wandered along the main street, I saw a sign leading to a Jewish Museum, hidden along a side street. Housed in a former synagogue, it had some modest but interesting displays.
Tbilisi is a fascinating place; unlike any other city, I have ever visited. Much of it appears very poor; other parts are sophisticated late 19th and early 20th century European, while a number of large, contemporary complexes appear around the city. There's a very lively old town, with a network of pedestrian streets lined with restaurants and bars.
All in all, Tbilisi turned out to be a fascinating place. A bit like a small Istanbul, with a European and Asian character. But a more active nightlife, reminiscent of some of the places I have visited along the Adriatic.
And yes, I did manage to buy some articles for Georgia before boarding an overnight train to Baku. Something I won't ever do again!
Here are some more photos.
The presidents palace overlooks the river that runs through the city.
The sculpture overlooking the city offers grapes to friends and visitors and a sword for enemies.
On a river cruise I met a number of Russians. My Sochi hat gave me away as a Canadian. Fortunately, Google Translate came in handy!
A marvelous pedestrian bridge. There is also a gondola connecting an amusement park down into the city.
Macdonalds has a large presence in the city.
A new theatre/concert hall.
I don't know why this is here!
A new government treasury and passport office. At least that's what I was told this is.
The large and facinating flea market would certainly appeal to my daughter Claire.
At night, there is an incredibly lively street life with pedestrian streets lined with restaurants and bars