Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my impression of each new place is heavily influenced by the last place I’ve been. For the longest time, I claimed that Tallinn was my favorite city. I was enchanted by the winding streets of the old town, the spicy fall nuts, the changing leaves, the quaint cafes, the delicious coffee, the proximity to the sea. All of it. I was there for five minutes and already I was leafing through the apartment ads. Then it occurred to me that maybe the reason I was so keen on Tallinn was that it served as a small oasis from Russia, where I lived in a dark apartment with my Russian host mom, was served only instant coffee (blech), and seemed to struggle daily against the oppression of the wet, cold weather of late fall in St. Petersburg.
All that to say that our trip to Georgia last year was a small break from our time in Astana. Years of hearing post-Soviet types wax on about the beauty of the Caucasus, and possibly too much time spent in Georgian restaurants primed me to jump at the opportunity visit Tbilisi.
When our taxi driver from the airport learned that we were visiting from Kazakhstan, he humored us by explaining to us in Russian (rather than in Georgian) about the city and all of the sites we were passing. When we reached the old part of the city and he turned up this hill, I wasn’t sure his old Lada was going to make it, but we puttered and sputtered right up to the door of Envoy Hostel.
We had booked a private room (we know firmly fall into the “old married types” category and have almost no interest in staying in a dorm room) and the view was perfect. We enjoyed our little balcony looking out toward one of the city’s many churches.
I am a lucky girl, because I have the best travel partners in the world. Aleks always does a lot of research before we visit a place, and traveling with him is like being with my own personal guide (even when we are both visiting a place for the first time). We generally like to explore and discover things on our own (or with the help of Lonely Planet), but since we had decided to visit Tbilisi during a quiet time of year, we were inspired to take advantage of the free walking tour of the city that the hostel offered.
We were not disappointed-not only did we enjoy the spectacular views of the city, our guide was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. So much so, that we decided to sign up for a couple of day trips offered by the hostel to Kazbegi, David Gareja Monastery, and Mtskheta.
Tbilisi was full of alleys, gates, and gardens that seemed to be begging us to stop and sit awhile in the sun. The hustle and bustle of the summer was still a few months off and the city seemed quiet and pensive. Coming from snowy Kazakhstan, all we could do was enjoy the newly arrived spring!
Though that typical “charming soviet architecture” (which, by the way, many of my Russian teachers have never failed to point out is not an actual style of architecture–but you know what I’m talking about) was definitely present in the outskirts of the city, the center had a decidedly European flavor.
I love visiting old churches when I travel, not just for the beautiful architecture, but because there is something special about a building that has seen so much and has, in many ways, held the hopes and prayers of generations. It is always interesting to see how these buildings, built as often to make a political statement as to reflect the glory of God, are used today. Sometimes they are museums, sometimes they are only used for worship on special occasions, and sometimes they work day in and day out as they have for centuries. The churches in Georgia were full, during our weeklong visit to Tbilisi, we didn’t visit a single one that wasn’t almost brimming over with worshipers.
I was continually intrigued and terrified by these buildings perched above the river. How they don’t slide right off is a mystery to me.