I had my first day in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and largest city, yesterday. To say I was charmed is an understatement. My guide, Irakli, took me on a walk that seemed to offer new delights around every corner and up every hill. I was far too engaged and delighted to notice how much we were walking. Until we stopped for the best fast food imaginable at a 500-year-old bakery, I didn’t realize how hungry I was. If my feet were hurting, I was unaware. It was a warm day, but I scarcely felt it.
Tbilisi is to die for.
My Google photo album tells the story of where we went and what we saw. I will continue to add to the album during my time here in Tbilisi. My days are largely filled with excursions, but I will have time in the evenings to retrace my steps and refresh my memories. And I hope to find new corners of the city and new reasons to love Tbilisi.
My guide, Irakli, is everything Ramin, my guide in Azerbaijan, wasn’t. Very knowledgeable, he peppers his descriptions of what we’re seeing with stories about life in Georgia, providing an honest assessment of life in this country. Unlike Ramin, who never said one negative thing about Azerbaijan in five days, Irakli is straightforward about the problems Georgia faces. As he told me, if he mischaracterizes or lies about one thing, I’ll never trust anything else he says.
We talked about education, politics, Ukraine and Russia, and a slew of other topics. He had no problem expressing his dislike for Putin. Ramin was far more circumspect, always careful about what he said about Russia, because Azerbaijan needs to keep a good relationship with them. I asked Irakli if Georgians are afraid that they will be the next Ukraine. He said yes, at first, but given how unsuccessful the Ukraine invasion has been, they are less concerned now. He has some friends who have gone to Ukraine to help fight against Russia, but he is anti-war and won’t go.
My favorite story he shared was about a young Russian woman who was visiting Georgia recently. He gave her a tour of the city, and they talked about Putin and Ukraine, and he was not shy about telling her how he felt. He told her Putin was an asshole and Russia is an asshole country. Although he was afraid she would write a bad review of him, she gave him 5 stars and a glowing review. He messaged her and thanked her. She responded that she now has six friends who agree that they live in an asshole country. “It’s better to convince six Russians than to kill one Russian,” Irakli said to me.
Gio is jayWay’s representative in Tbilisi. After my walking tour yesterday, he came to my hotel and we had a chance to chat. Of course I filled him in on all the Ramin stuff, but we talked about lots of other things: travel in general, travel with JayWay, and the Caucasus.
I mentioned to Gio that I was not super impressed by the Heydar Mosque in Baku. I said it looked more like a monument than a place of worship. It struck me as overblown and overindulgent. Gio said he kind of sees the Holy Trinity Cathedral here in Tbilisi the same way. I can see that after he said it, but it didn’t strike me that way at the time.
What do you think?
Having seen maybe dozens of mosques in the last few weeks, all of them, even the ones with ornate decorations, struck me as places of peace where people can come and pray, either individually or collectively. The Cathedral here in Tbilisi also gave me that impression, even though it is grandiose. But the Heydar Mosque seems more like it was built to impress rather than inspire.
Add your comments and let me know if you see it the way I do.
More about churches
Tbilisi has a lot of churches. St. Nino brought Christianity to Georgia in the fourth century. (More about St. Nino when i write about today’s excursion to Kakheti.) Somewhere around 86% of the population identifies as Orthodox.
The Georgian Orthodox Church is really different from the Roman Catholic Church or any Protestant Churches I’m aware of. Similar to mosques, there are no seats or pews for the congregation; they either stand or kneel. (I could never be Orthodox, because the hard floors of these churches would kill my knees. At least the mosques have carpets.) But the most interesting thing I found in the churches here is the iconography. The icons in the Georgian Orthodox Churches I’ve visited are not lifelike. They look flat and out of proportion. When there is perspective, it is wrong. For me, this made the icons less like illustrations and more like works of art, but Irakli told me the idea is for the icons to be more instructive than beautiful.
There’s probably a lot more I should say about Tbilisi. But I still have a ton of photos that need organizing and a ton of sleep that needs to happen.