KARTLIS DEDA / ქართლის დედა
After taking care of some administrative stuff. (Husband’s sim card did not work, and we needed to change hotels) we met up with the kids at a local coffee shop steps from the Ibis. The “Double B Coffee & Tea” shop is a favorite of our son, he is like Norm from Cheers when he walks in. Lots of hand shaking and greetings from the Baristas and locals alike.
It was a bright, sweet little place with great speciality coffees and light pastries, it was reminiscent of the local shops we would frequent when daughter lived in Brooklyn.
As a family we decided the evening before that we would have a day in the city. While we are adventurers that prefer to take the road less traveled, we do still like to do tourist stuff too. My firm belief is that touristy things are that way for a reason. They are usually interesting or awe inspiring, and almost always worth seeing. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for being a tourist!
First up, we were off to see a lady about a sword
And to get to her we elected to take the Aerial Tram; a gondola that glides smoothly across the city and up the steep Sololaki hill. On our way to the tram we walked across the marvel that is the Bridge of Peace. Opened in 2010 the bridge spans the Kura river and connects old Tbilisi with new. At the time of our crossing there were window washers zipping all over it cleaning the shimmering glass panels.
Exiting the bridge we walked through the serene garden at Rike Park, an enormous public park infused with whimsical sculptures and practical playground equipment, it’s a destination all by itself, however our time was limited and the Lady was waiting.
But we did stop long enough to snap a family photo in the mirrored windows of the tram building. It was a bit like snapping a photo in the reflection of the famous Chicago Cloud Gate sculpture.
Because the Aerial tram opened in 2012 the entire operation is new, clean and modern. At the time of this post a one way ticket to ride cost $1 Lari which is roughly forty cents in US currency, however you will need to purchase a loadable card which is an additional $2 L. We saved on this because our son already had one.
CROSS TIP: Keep your card, you can use it in other places in Tbilisi.
Lari or GEL? Same thing, GEL is the currency code used when converting money on the exchange, but when discussing the actual money itself, use the term Lari or my son will get mad at you.
There were few people in line so we were allowed to file into a car by ourselves. Again, clean, modern cars. No graffiti, at least not in our car, and the windows were smudge free, there is a real pride here. The trip up the hill was quick but views of the city were worth the effort.
Arriving at the top of Soloki Hill we immediately turned right and headed toward the towering statue of Mother Georgia, Kartlis Deda.
To add to the facts already posted, she is made from aluminum and is outfitted in the traditional dress of Georgia.
I know what you’re thinking, she’s pretty badass, and you are right, she is.
If you walk up the base of the statue there are benches there where you can pause to take in stunning view of the city. There are also shops and restaurants on the promenade, and from the promenade you will also be rewarded with an impressive view of the cliffs that loom over the river Kura.
Narikala / ნარიყალა
We walked down to this incredible stone and brick fortress from the Kartlis Deda promenade, wear sturdy shoes for this part of your sightseeing journey. You can also drive up if you have not trammed your way up as we did.We entered for free into the inner part of the fortress (If so inclined you may give a few coins to the women who sit at the gate and sell religious trinkets, but currently there is no entrance fee.)
Fires, earthquakes and invading hordes have tried and failed to topple it, although it appears that each succeeded in damaging some parts beyond repair. But these types of things are what make you feel like you are truly seeing a place unspoiled. Ten years from now, the whole fortress may be completely restored with very little left to the imagination about the past injustices leveled against it.
There are places that you can climb, scale and hike that require a pretty good level of physical fitness, and a touch of courage. We were climbing up on walls and hiking over scree during parts of our climb to the top. If you want to climb the tower where the cross is located. It requires that you climb vertically up the crumbling stone facade through a narrow opening, it is not for the faint of heart and would never be allowed in the US but clearly they do not have personal injury lawyers here yet.
But for all of the scraped skin and bumps you are rewarded with incredible views, and a great souvenir photo with the cross.
After all of our mountain goat like activities at the fortress we were absolutely ready for lunch. We elected to walk down through old town instead of taking the tram back down. Or rather Dad and son marched off in that general direction and daughter and I scrambled to catch up. It is a steep walk down so I am grateful that we didn’t walk up. Along the way you pass locals who don’t seem to be phased by the steep climb, small cats that jump out at you from the ledges and bushes, vendors selling all manner of food, clothing and wares. But you also get to peer down alleys where real life is unfolding.
We landed at the bottom where it is decidedly more of a touristy area. The restaurants clustered together with their hostesses beckoning you in with promises of great food. After circling the restaurants, side stepping tour groups and rejecting perfectly good places that I know for sure had cold water and clean bathrooms, we settled on a quaint cafe that served pretty darn good fresh Italian food.
Water and appetizers ordered, husband and children bent their heads over the wine menu. Did I fail to mention that I am one of those unfortunate people that suffer migraines when drinking wine?
No, I do not drink wine.
Don’t care for it very much anyway so don’t feel too bad for me, I am not much of an imbiber but when the mood strikes I am perfectly content with a vodka or gin based cocktail.
They ordered a different brand of orange wine then the night before which was sniffed, swirled, and tasted. Meh…announced daughter, pretty good and a bit closer but just not…the one.
The day was getting away from us and after everyone retired to their own spaces for some rest and respite from one another, uhm, I mean the heat, we reconvened for an easy dinner at one of the fine new restaurants on the street in front of our hotel.
Galaktion Tabidze St is a narrow alley that is lined with new restaurants, shops and residential homes. It has a slightly more upscale feel than other parts of the city and we felt that we were very well situated on that street. We enjoyed more authentic Georgian style food mere steps from the hotel and ended the night on the restaurant’s outdoor patio relaxing while it gently rained on the cobbled street. It was quite a fine ending to our first full day in Tbilisi.