MT. 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. With views from all sides, 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 this website has it: 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.
TIP: Weather permitting, ask for a table outside 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′ television tower.
One of the more interesting landmarks in the capital city is the impressive home of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Known as the “James Bond House” to westerners it is a 108,000 sq ft complex with an incredible house made of steel and glass supposedly filled with priceless works of art.
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. We knew something was up. Obviously. After inquiring, she told us the Prime Minister was visiting the hotel for its Grand Opening and to promote tourism.
Allowed to enter we were swept up in a swirl of activity. There were servers briskly walking around holding silver trays with flutes of Champagne, professional photographers photographing the people and hotel, men and women dressed in business suits and dresses. The harried hotel staff was flitting in and out of the knots of people trying to be of assistance.
My daughter and I, deftly dodging the lot in the lobby, managed to make our way to the elevator. As we started the ride up to our floors, the elevator stopped abruptly on the next floor and a throng of business suit clad men and woman filed in. We were unceremoniously pushed to the back of the car. Noticing this, a young woman quickly apologized, and I jokingly said, “We’re just trying to get to our rooms in one piece.” This immediately drew the attention of everyone in suits, the same woman piped up, ‘Oh, actual paying customers! Tell us, what do you think of the hotel?” As quickly as we could (Our rooms were on the 6th and 7th floor) we told them how much we loved the hotel, the staff, and the country. She then said, “Well these are the investors, we hope that you would join us downstairs for the ceremony, it would mean a lot and look good to have paying customers there.’ We heartily agreed to the invitation and with thank yous from all sides daughter stepped out onto her floor. They group ended up filing out with me on my floor and went en masse to a room at the end of the hall, which they were evidently using as a staging area, probably due to the awesome terrace.
Unfortunately, by the time we coordinated with son and husband, got dressed and got downstairs we had missed everything. They were clearing the rubble, and other then the press taking pictures of the staff, and the empty tables outside, you wouldn’t have known anything had taken place. I did find mention of it in the online publication, Georgia Today (Go to pages 10-11) written by Nino Gugunishviu, so I know we did not dream it. It was quite a unique experience.
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, called 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.
However, husband was on a mission and had us tromping up and down the steep streets looking for the restaurant at a brisk pace. Frustration was setting in; we could see the restaurant’s sign from the square but every time we thought we had found the street that led to it we were proven wrong. As we were hustling from one street to the next I was valiantly trying to photograph the remarkable scenery with my phone.
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.“
Successful at last in finding the reclusive restaurant we were pretty miffed to find that it was no longer open. Thankfully the Gorgasali restaurant was close by. The young diminutive hostess, dressed in full Georgian dress, guided us to our table while trying to guess where we were from by our accent.
(We are often told when traveling 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 answered.(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.)
We figured that this would be a bit of a tourist trap but we were tired and hungry and that makes you game for anything.
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 their Independence would disturb our sleep.