The journey begins
Pudong International Airport
The journey begins
Pudong International Airport
Best karaoke bar on my entire EurAsian journey
Click on picture to enlarge
13–17 May 2019 (Mon–Fri)
Tbilisi is charming - full of energy and beauty - siting in a valley that is both lush and historic. There is some wealth but many are impoverished. The people look Western and familiar. I even see naturally red hair occasionally - something that was absent throughout Central Asia.
The transition in the dominant population found on the street - city-after-city - has been interesting to see and enjoy. Central Asians are distinct from Chinese who are very different from the Persian/Arabs found in Azerbaijan. A mere 500 km away and a variation of the West appears. This is temporary, as within days I will be among the people of Turkey. But for now, I am enjoying the familiarity Georgia offers.
Two uniquely personal qualities occur in Tbilisi that coloured my experience. My mother lived in Tbilisi for over 2 years (10-15 years ago) and coincidentally, Aly and Trev, our good friends from Brisbane, were visiting Tbilisi while I was passing through.
My mother and Joe (her husband) served their church as goodwill ambassadors by engaging in so many philanthropy projects especially with orphanages but also with prisons and other vulnerable groups - primarily in Georgia but they operated throughout the region. Miwa and I tried to visit Tbilisi but could never work it out - which was probably best, as they were too busy to receive visitors. Mom and Joe have a deep love for the people of Georgia.
When I asked my mother what I should see and do, I was first told that they were so busy with their work that they had little time to see the sights of Tbilisi, which is a real pity. Later, I was told that I must visit Mother Georgia, which stands high above Tbilisi near castle-ruins. I went up on Tuesday by cable car and then walked down to the Mtkvari river and the Peace Bridge.
Aly and Trev are on a five-week adventure that includes Georgia, Armenian and Turkey. We met up on Monday - the day I arrived - at the clock tower not far from Hotel Aleksandria, my home in Tbilisi.
We walked up to the Mtatsminda Funicular lower station - which was a bit of a hike - for a ride high-up above Tbilisi. Magnificent views (see pictures). Trev shared stories about his life during the seven years he lived in India in his 20’s - an amazing journey and then that evening we had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant near their apartment - not far from Freedom Square. Wonderful day.
On my own on Tuesday, as Aly and Trev booked a tour. Obviously, I am attracted to large shiny things as I was immediately drawn to the largest church I have ever seen. The Tsminda Sameba Cathedral is high on a hill, on the other side of the Mtkvari River, and massive - gold dome over a Christian interior that goes on-and-on-and-on.
Time for a mid-day coffee on a terrace with views of the city. My University had sent me a couple of tasks that I could ignore, as I am on extended leave, but best get them out of the way now. A questionnaire regarding 2020 teaching and the annual fire and safety examination were each completed while enjoying Georgian coffee, pear cake and grand views of Tbilisi.
With these three tasks out of the way I simply wandered aimlessly around the east-side of Tbilisi. Eventually, I came across the remains of a church that was completely destroyed though much of the structure was still standing. There is a massive crack running down a stone wall. I climbed up through rubble to get a better look (see picture). As I came down a woman at the bottom said that the church had once been struck by lightning but no idea when. The destruction was impressive. The other thing that impressed me was a very long line for an automatic bank machine. Twenty (20) or more people. The line went around the corner. What is that about - I wondered...
I eventually ended up at the Metekhi Church, which looks a bit like a castle and sits high on a hill above the river. Looking down I could see Cable Cars going up to Mother Georgia and figured this was my chance to see her up close - I can see her clearly from my hotel window. Brilliant views at the top and some paths that followed a fortress wall that led to grand castle ruins.
Small cafe at the top and enjoyed a late lunch and the view, and then walked down into the city. Found the area of town famous for bath's - apparently, they have sulphur springs. Upon enquiring I learned that yes, I could partake but there was a two-day waiting list. Thursday was the earliest. I did not investigate any further. Walked across the Peace Bridge, which is a magnificent architectural design. Equally brilliant is an unfinished concert hall. Construction has stopped and it is clearly incomplete so must be a fascinating story that I could not discover.
Returned to my apartment for a nap and then went out that night, as the Cale Cafe has jazz every night. It finished early and so I found the Singer Bar and Restaurant, not far away, also offered jazz and it was much better. Ended-up at an Irish bar listening to a guy with a guitar that sang too loud.
Aly and Trev brought their bags to my room to store, as they had to move out of their Airbnb. They were catching a train to Armenian that evening. Aly wanted to visit Fabrika - an old factory that has been converted into arts and crafts and cafes and a 400 bed youth hostel. It was pretty impressive. Funky-cool... We had lunch there although they stuffed-up Trev vegetarian lunch and then we said our goodbye. Sharing my journey with Aly and Trevor was an exceptional treat.
I wanted to visit the neighbourhood and the apartment where my mother once lived: 25 Mitkezich Street. It was pretty easy to find and so I took some pictures and then walked to a local park. Found a bakery and had a piece of chocolate cake in honour of my mother. You would have to know my family to understand.
I'm carrying about 5 kg more than I need - Central Asian travel books, etc. So, I went and found a UPS office - recalling my mother's story about the BYU (University) sweatshirt that was mailed from the USA to Tbilisi that never arrived although later a postal worker waited on my mother wearing a BYU sweatshirt. So... Yes, UPS will ship 5 kg for over $400 Australian. It is a long way and they only ship express. Guess I will carry that extra 5kg home myself.
Went out for dinner and then found a local bar called Sakhelosno, which means Home-Made - I don't know why. It was the most interesting place. It is a kind of karaoke bar where customers sing but all the singers had been practicing and they could sing all the great rock songs - as if they were the lead singer for the specific band that had been selected to play back-up. Lots of Beatles, but lots of everything. People took turns and everyone else danced - even me. Karaoke has always been amateur hour. I had never seen or heard anything like this bunch. Everyone was having a great time and so did I.
Got to bed late but the next morning I went out and organized my ticket. My hotel manager convinced me that the bus was the best option for travel to Kutaisi, which is on the way to the Black Sea.
After, I visited the Georgia Museum of Fine Art. Some impressive work - 2,000 pieces on five floors, but not the same level of creativity found at the Baku Contemporary Art Museum. Baku has greater diversity, as a community, and diversity supports creativity.
That afternoon I was walking around and, as I was crossing through a very large round-about at Freedom Square (see picture), a police car with flashing-lights pulled-up right in front of me - blocking my path. Both officers got out of the car and so the three of us stood in this massive round-about with cars circling us. I was trapped.
Apparently, I was not in Urumqi where J-walking is an art-form. Nor was I in Aktau, where every single car in that round-about would have stopped for me regardless. I was in Tbilisi where apparently it is against the law to walk through a large round-about.
There are underground tunnels that should be used – I was told in English that required patience. Well, I knew and had actually used such tunnels in last couple of days, but did not figure the tunnels were mandatory.
So, they wanted my passport and I gave them a photocopy – they did not object. The fine was 10 Gel or about A$5 and not by cash but credit card – no bribery in this city. I assured them I was sorry and said I was certainly willing to pay a fine – clearly no jail-time this time. I also slowly explained that I was a tourist and had only been in Georgia for four-days and was uninformed – which was almost true.
The turning-point came when one cop said to the other – is he really from Australia and, with photocopy in hand, the other cop confirmed. I thought I should entertain them and explained how I was travelling by land from the East coast of China to the West Coast of France via Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea. Not focusing on the big picture at all, the cop with my photocopy asked which was better: Georgia or Kazakhstan. I sensed, or perhaps I just imagined, that he realized it was a foolish question as soon as it was asked. If guns had been drawn, I would have said Georgia but since they were warming-up to me I had to admit that each country was very nice in its own way – and the matter was dropped.
I was let-off with a warning and my wish that I could have a picture of the three of us standing in that monster roundabout with police lights flashing and cars swerving around us. We were a sight that I suppose the people at a bus stop, not far away, enjoyed watching.
That evening I went back the Singer jazz bar, as a group of four were playing. I was told by the bar girl that the group had no name – their music teacher had brought them together. They were so hot ! The best jazz I have heard this year. The pianist was truly amazing. I have never heard anything like it. I, along with many others, video-recorded the music. As they were packing-up I went up to the pianist and told him that Australia has some serious jazz venues and he would always be welcome to play down-under. It was a great way to end my visit to Tbilisi.
Packed-up and took the bus to Kutaisi the next morning with no real complications. Tbilisi is a jewel.