MTATSMINDA / მთაწმინდა
One Holy mountain, one Prime Minister, and what is going on in Freedom Square in the middle of the night?
Concerned about the weather we decided to stick close to the city again, which was perfect because there were quite a few things that our son still wanted to show us. We loaded up our day packs and met him at The Double B for a short walk to have fun with a Funicular.
The “short” walk of about 236 miles, all uphill, both ways, ended at Chonkadze Street where the entrance to the Funicular was located. If I haven’t mentioned it previously, let me warn you now, there are a lot of hills in Tbilisi and some pedestrian parts are precarious to navigate, but they are working furiously to repair the sidewalks here, so just wear sturdy shoes.
The Tbilisi Funicular actually has a long history outside of the new modern cars you see today. Built originally in 1905 to carry people up to the sparsely populated Mt. Mtatsminda, it was completely renovated in 2012 with new cars and modern equipment.
It costs $2 lari to ride, and if you have kept your reloadable card from the aerial tram you will need to use that again here.
The ride up is spectacular, the view of Tbilisi is pretty amazing. Have your camera ready, when they stop midway at the Pantheon stop, you will have just enough time to step out and snap a quick photo. For more information regarding the history of the Funicular, check out this website: Georgian Journal
Arriving at the top you disembark at the Mtatsminda Amusement Park which is interestingly creepy. Originally built by the Soviets in 1930 it was purchased and renovated in 2001 by billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili and his wife Inna. Oddly enough the park would become part of history when it was seized due to political issues between the billionaire and the then government of Georgia.
Since it was fairly early, and the middle of the week, there were very few people in the park and no rides open. But when in operation the park boasts a ferris wheel, roller coaster, water slides, carousels and games.
There are a few steep hills here and a lot of meandering pathways, comfortable shoes are recommended, but not needed as the whole park was smoothly paved.
We elected to enjoy a cup of coffee and some dessert at one of the restaurants, which I’ll say was my reward for walking up all those hills.
CROSS TIP: Weather permitting, ask for a table outside, because the views of Tbilisi are unparalleled from here!
Mt. Mtatsminda, part of the Trialeti range, means “Holy Mountain,” and is 2526′ tall. It is one of the most distinguishing landmarks in Tbilisi. The mountain is further punctuated by an enormous 900′ Soviet era television tower.
One of the more interesting landmarks in the capital city is the impressive home of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Westerners often jokingly refer to it as the, “James Bond House.” It is a 108,000 sq ft complex with an incredible house made of steel and glass, and is rumored to be filled with priceless works of art. It is a very unique modern place in this otherwise historic city.
We enjoyed our ride back down on the Funicular, and the more enjoyable walk back to the hotel down all the hills. My husband had to run an errand, and our son went back to his apartment, so my daughter and I returned to the hotel and we were confronted with what can only be described as a “Hub bub.”
At the entrance of the Ibis Styles hotel there was a red carpet, tables with flowers, red velvet ropes and security everywhere. As we walked toward the door of the hotel we were stopped by a nothing-but-business, security woman who first spoke to us in Georgian. When we made our apologies that we didn’t understand her, she smoothly changed to English. With a smile she asked if we were guest of the hotel. Daughter and I already had our room keys out so she proceeded to check our bags and made us take out our cameras and for safety, snap a picture.
Curious we couldn’t help but ask what was happening, The security woman told us the Prime Minister was visiting the hotel for its Grand Opening and to promote tourism. Later, I did find mention of it in the online publication, Georgia Today (Go to pages 10-11) written by Nino Gugunishviu
Daughter and I elbowed our way through the reports, photographers, and stylishly dressed people in the lobby and made it to the elevator relatively unscathed. After boarding, a sizeable continent of official looking Official type people, who we were convinced were the Prime Minister and his staff, (Because of the way the security type security men surrounded him and glared at us) boarded with us.
Smiling to show we were no threat, I said something about how exciting the day seemed. Understanding our English, a young lady in the party got very animated. She asked if we were guests at the hotel? And how we liked it? We assured her that we were enjoying every minute of our stay, which elicited murmurs of appreciation from the official looking Officials. We were then graciously invited to join the festivities as guests of the hotel. We agreed, thanked them, and we all exited on the same floor, where the official Officials all entered one of the rooms at the end of the hallway, where they were congregating no doubt because of the awesome terrace!
abanotubani / აბანოთუბანი
Mike found a great place that he wanted to try for dinner in the Meidani square area, the old part of Tbilisi. Work, the cruel master that it is, continued to call our son, so the three amigos headed out without him to find the restaurant.
Arriving in the most ancient part of Tbilisi, the Abanotubani area, with its famed sulphur baths and Turkish and Asian influences I was struck by yet another part of the city I didn’t research and that we wished we had time to explore.
SIDE NOTE: There is a sweet legend about the founding of Old Tbilisi. The facts vary slightly, but the gist of it is the same: It is said that the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forest in AD 458. One day King Vakhtang I Gorgasali went hunting in the heavily wooded area with a falcon. The falcon caught a pheasant during the hunt but then disappeared. The King searched for his falcon and its prey. When he came upon them, he found them both dead, killed by the hot sulphuric waters of the area. King Vakhtang was impressed with the discovery of the hot springs and declared that a city be built on the location. The name Tbilisi derives from the Old Georgian word “Tpili“ (ტფილი), meaning warm. The name Tbili or Tbilisi translates to “warm springs.”
Arriving at the Gorgasali restaurant we were met by a young diminutive hostess, dressed in full Georgian dress, as she guided us to our outside table she tried to guess where we were from by our accent.
(We are often told that non native English speakers cannot discern one English accent from the next, lumping Americans, Canadians, British and Australians all together.)
“Say something!” She said.
“Uhm….?” We shrugged. (Hard to come up with something when put on the spot like that!)
She stared hopefully at us with a smile.
Giving up we finally blurted, “We’re Americans.”
Nodding, she announced happily, “Oh, you say, ‘Hey Man’!”
(And I didn’t really think that we did, but now I hear it all the time.)
Since it was a beautiful night we elected to sit outside. Occasionally the wind would blow a whiff of sulphur from the adjacent baths but it was not too bad. We were enthralled by an troupe of dancers that performed classic Georgian and Russian dances as we ate authentic cuisine.
And a trio of Georgian men came in to entertain us with native music. Orange wine was sampled by husband and daughter and pronounced very good but not exactly the elusive one.
The restaurant is a little pricey, and the service will need to improve (It sorta tapered off to the point of non-existent halfway through our meal.) But the entertainment alone makes it well worth the experience if you have the patience.
We took a taxi back to Freedom Square and turned in for the night. We had a big travel day the next day and we all wanted some much needed sleep.
The oddest thing happened in the dead of night. I was wakened around 3:15 am by very intense shouting. But it wasn’t people in the hotel corridor, it was coming from outside. A voice yelling over a loudspeaker punctuated by military music.
Leaping out of bed and rushing out onto the terrace where we had a pretty good view of the square, I saw groups of people moving around on foot, military vehicles being pulled into place, and loudspeakers blasting at full volume what I assumed was a speech of some sort. Not being able to discern Georgian from Russian I naturally assumed the Russians had invaded the country again and we were probably caught in the middle of a revolution. I did the only reasonable thing one could do under the circumstance and got back in bed and put my earplugs in. The shouting went on for…hours…
Completely sleep deprived and feeling like I had dreamed it all (When asked at breakfast Daughter said she didn’t hear a thing.) Coming to my rescue Mike spoke with the front desk. Yes yes they said, tomorrow is our Independence Day and they are going to have events in Freedom Square, we apologize if your sleep was disturbed by the set up.
The Georgian hospitality being such that they would apologize that celebrating their Independence would disturb our sleep.