Tbilisi’s history dates back 15 centuries and like many capital cities, features a mix of war and peace spanning various empires. The Soviets invaded in 1921 and a Bolshevik regime was installed. Independence came in 1991, but like many of the former Soviet Republics, the transition was not smooth and a civil war broke out. Throughout the 1990s, the quality of life was poor and corruption rampant. A rigged election in 2003 ushered in the Rose Revolution, where mass protests forced the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Mikhail Saakashvili rose to power and served two terms before leaving office earlier this month. The latest round of presidential elections were without controversy and Georgia is forging closer ties to the West, even with Russia exerting influence in an attempt to reclaim its regional hegemony.
As I stepped out of the central railway station I looked at the scene in front of me (pictured below) and thought, “Wow… this looks like a bleak capital city compared to Baku.”
I wandered down the street to an open-air market where my dark blonde hair stood out amongst the crowd and a man who looked like Vladimir Lenin with a beanie called out to me, “Russkiy?” and then when I shook my head, “Amerikanskaya?” I nodded yes and he nodded in approval.
It was already late morning so I stopped for lunch at döner kebap stand and had an amazing sandwich for about $2.
Per custom, I spent the rest of the day wandering around the town. From Soviet emblems on brdiges, to strip clubs, to giant orthodox cathedrals, to a modern Radisson hotel (with a clean bathroom downstairs, btw), the town was the most eclectic I have experienced, not so much because of the aforementioned attractions, but because they were all clustered in the same place.
A taxi driver stopped me late in the afternoon and wanted to take me on a tour of the city. He was relentless in a charming way, trying to guilt me into feeding his children with a big grin during the entire conversation. After 10 minutes of back and forth, I finally excused myself and made my way toward the statue of the giant lady on the hill.
Kartlis Deda, or as most call it Mama Georgia, stands defiantly on a hill overlooking the city. It was erected in 1958 to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of Tbilisi. In her left hand she holds a bowl of wine, welcoming visitors and indicating the hospitable nature of the Georgian people. On the right, though, is a sword, to serve as a warning to those who comes as enemies. Like similar statutes in Kiev and Yerevan, it has a distinctly Soviet feel.
Note the stark juxtaposition of the high-end clothing retailers to the surrounding neighborhood below.
Though not as glamorous as Baku’s Metro System, I wanted to check out Tbilisi’s Metro system and found it to be much more practical than Baku’s many ornate stations.
The day flew by and as the sun began to set, I headed back to the railway station for my overnight train to Yerevan.
Read the rest of my trip report to the Caucasus!
Thrown Off a United Airlines Flight for Taking Pictures!
Washington Dulles to Kuwait City in United Airlines BusinessFirst
Six Hours in Kuwait City
Pearl Lounge – Kuwait International Airport
Kuwait City to Istanbul in Turkish Airlines Economy Class
Istanbul to Baku in Azerbaijan Airlines Economy Class
Baku – A City of Illusions?
Review: Park Hyatt Baku
Baku Metro (Pictures)
Overnight Train from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia
Pictures: One Day in Tbilisi, Georgia
Overnight Train from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia
Feeling at Home in Yerevan
Yerevan to Istanbul in Armavia Economy Class
The Flight Home from Istanbul…