A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: NZBarry

Holy Trinity Cathedral - Georgian Orthodox

sunny

To look at this cathedral, you might think it is pretty old but it was only completed in 2004, to celebrate that the Georgian Orthodox Church has been in existence for 1,500 year and, apparently, the 2,000'th birthday of Christ (in which case, the timing is a bit off). It is huge - one of the largest religious buildings in the world. It sits up on the hill behind the Presidential Palace - I find it incongruous that you'd have two such fabulous buildings into which millions have been poured surrounding by housing which is so old and precarious that its falling down.

The Cathedral sits on a rather large area, surrounded by a wall - you can only get in by going through a gate.

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I have got used to these churches not having any seating - although I don't quite know how things work. There are a couple of pulpits, but not up the front - every so often a fellow in robes would come and read silently from a book, then wander off again. Most people there seem like me, just in to have a gander, but some are obviously here to carry out a form of religious observance - walking around the various pictures and saying something, presumably a short prayer, in front of each.

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Wandering around the grounds, I hear an annoying buzzing noise - a drone, it turns out. There's a fellow making a tourism video - he's engrossed in his work, but his off-sider explains what's going on. This building is so high, I wish I had a drone.

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Big as the main church is, there is an even bigger area underneath it, on two levels - completely empty. Maybe in time they will find a use for it.

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There's another, much smaller church on the street heading back down. Down on the flat, I am intrigued by a wee cat - it is evidently hunting something but neither I nor the other people who stopped to watch can work out what, and then he just wanders off.

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This is looking back up from where I came from.

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I walk past this building several times, and never work out what it is - it seems quite an impressive and modern building to not be used, but it is obviously empty. I spot a sign beside it with the European Union symbol, but have no idea if there's a connection.

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Posted by NZBarry 05:30 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

D. Aghmashenebeli Avenue - Tbilisi

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I spent most nights in Tbilisi on the Left Bank of the Mtkvari River, but not a whole lot of my time there - the Old Town and lots of other things are on the Right Bank. Still, there are some decent things to see in my neighbourhood. The main street is D. Aghmashenebeli - named after a King from nearly a thousand years ago (David IV The Builder), who is given credit for repelling the Turks and kicking off the Georgian Golden Age. It is a bit of a frustrating street - nice neo-classical buildings from the 19th century but I walk up it for about a mile without finding a basic place to sit down and have a drink - no bars at all.

That said, on my first walk up it, I find a restaurant which is quite famous. I only go in because it looks intriguing (there are even canaries in a cage in the corner, quite talkative ones) but it turns out that Barbarestan has quite the backstory, one which has even featured in the New Yorker Magazine - until 2015 it was struggling along with nothing in particular going for it. The owner went to a flea market and picked up a cookbook published in 1874 (written by Barbare Jorjadze, one of Georgia's first female authors and probably its first feminist). Seventy years of soviet rule erased many of these recipes from Georgia's cultural memory, so the owners of Barbarestan decided to bring them back. Apparently the family running the restaurant cooked their way through all 815 recipes, although nowhere near that number of dishes feature on the menu. To my shame, none of this is known to me when I dine there - I just think the things on the menu sound really strange and don't look too closely at them, having a steak instead. It is a busy place - I am seated near the door and see many people sent away.

One place I do go to a lot is opposite the Marjanishvili station, Entree cafe - just a small place with maybe ten tables, but a lot of baked goods and decent coffee - I go in at least once a day and it doesn't take long before the staff recognise me - even when I go away for a few days and come back.
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It is on Marjanishvili Street, site of the Marjanishvili performing arts theatre (no signage is in English so I don't go in), which has its own cafe. I only go in to the cafe once and am given very special treatment - I only buy a coffee, but they give me a free (and delicious) biscuity thing (I do ask what it is but don't understand the answer) and then they give me a flask of coffee, asking me to tell them whether it is any good.
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Going south down Aghmashenebeli Avenue, the buildings are a bit less special but there are a couple of famous places to stop in at. One is the Laghidze Water shop - which basically only sells lemonade and has done so since 1900, but in Georgia lemonade comes in many flavours, so we're talking fizzy water to which a flavour syrup is added. Chocolate lemonade doesn't sound very appealing to me, so I go for a lemon flavoured lemonade. There is also a Khachapuri (cheese pie) bakery called Machakhela- there are three or four women all clad in white in a glass-walled room busily rolling out pastry, filling it, and baking it the whole time I am there.
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Towards the end there is a block or two of bars and restaurants - none showing many signs of life any time I walk through:
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The Presidential Palace is up on the hill above the street (I do go up there, but that's another post)
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It takes me a while to find out what that tubular structure is below the Palace - there are actually two of them - the Rike Concert Hall and an exhibition space
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It is in Rike Park - a pretty splendid park, apparently quite new, and one which cost 2.5 million Euro. I am stopped in my tracks as I go in by a fellow with a very brightly coloured bird, one I don't initially believe to be alive, but sure enough, it is. Beside him is a steampunk tree.
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There are other things to see, like the oversize grand piano, and a band is playing near the entrance from the Old Town
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To get to the Old Town, you either go up in the Aerial Tramway and walk back down or you walk across the Bridge of Peace - also built around 2010. It has unkindly been nick-named the Always Ultra, because some think it looks like a Maxipad (I wouldn't know!):
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Posted by NZBarry 05:38 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Chronicles of Georgia

overcast 4 °C

My last post was prompted by my visit to the Museum of Modern Art in Tbilisi, which actually features the work of just one man, Zurab Tsereteli. I sat transfixed, watching the video of some huge sculpture under construction which googling revealed to actually be in Tbilisi. I also found out a bit more about Mr Tsereteli - particularly his wont for grand gestures. He became a great fan of Christopher Columbus and, wanting to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage, decided to make a sculpture of the man. Not just any sculpture, it is a 110 metre high monster weighing 600 tonnes: too big, ugly, expensive and basically OTT for the various American cities to whom he offered it (it was the biggest statue in the Western Hemisphere). It became known as "Chris Kong" and "From Russia with Ugh". One reason I saw for it not being acceptable to the American authorities was that it is bigger than the Statue of Liberty, which will not do. Apparently, back in 1997 one Donald Trump was all for it but his views did not prevail. Although Tsereteli ultimately managed to convince Puerto Rico to take it on, the statue lay in pieces for 20 years before finally being put up in 2014 (at a cost of around $100 million) where it is called "Birth of a New World". The insensitivity of mounting a monument to a coloniser on an island where he practically wiped out the population has not gone unnoticed, but that did not trouble Tsereteli.

He also has a Peter the Great statue in Moscow that people hate so much they want to blow it up (and apparently Peter hated Moscow). Some have actually said this was just another Christopher Columbus statue for which Tsereteli could not find a taker so he changed its head and talked to his old mate, the Mayor of Moscow.

So learning all this, of course I had to go see his donation to Tbilisi - which he called Chronicles of Georgia - the basic idea is to present the Kings, Queens and other important leaders of Georgia in the last thousand years or so. Construction started in 1985 but it is still not finished and may never be. A few people have visited and mentioned that the locals don't seem to know much about it or go there and that it is difficult to get to. I actually found it quite easy - go to near the north end of the metro line and then catch a #60 bus to the so-called Tbilisi sea (which is a lake, and not a very big one).
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This is what I see as I approach on the bus:
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You ascend some steps
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The man standing at the base gives an idea of the huge scale of these pillars
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Here's a sampling:
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There are two levels to this chronicle - the lower one tells the life of Jesus - I am not sure if this means he is of lesser importance to Tsereteli than the Georgians or whether they are standing on the shoulders of a giant.
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There's a cute wee church on the grounds, with a view over the northern perimeter of Tbilisi.
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I stay for more than a couple of hours, quite overwhelmed by the scale of the project: I have no idea who any of the people are, and there are no signs to given any information. There is a bloke hanging around claiming to be a guide but he seems a bit suspect to me, so I leave him to it. There are not many visitors but there's never not another three or four groups there (and it is the middle of winter).

Posted by NZBarry 04:46 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Museum of Modern Art Zurab Tsereteli

sunny 8 °C

It starts with a head, well, the inside of a head. I am wandering Rustaveli Avenue , vaguely looking for a coffee shop but really just seeing what I can see, when I see a giant head. Beside it, there's an equally giant hand and a relatively normal sized fellow, reading a book.
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This is enough to make me want to go inside whatever this building is and see what's going on - it turns out to be the Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art , which has no connection with the New York institution bearing a similar name. Mr Tsereteli is quite a big cheese in the international art world. He was born and educated in Tbilisi and moved on to Moscow, where he is the President of the Russian Academy of Arts. His various projects must have cost millions of dollars - while some works have been commissioned in Moscow (and presumably paid for) I have been unable to find out how he made his money. Every single piece of art in this three story "museum" is attributed to him, and entry is free, so this place is not funding his work.
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Unlike a lot of modern art, I quite like what I see here. There are a lot of sculptures - Tsereteli has many heroes and they tend to form the subject matter of his sculptures, including some giants of the art world which he presents in a form slightly larger than life.
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The last two are Matisse and Picasso. His paintings are big and bold, maybe a bit primitive.
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That said, I think this is my favourite - partly because it is in a different style, but mainly because it is a train, one emerging from the mist or fog.
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Here's another gallery - paintings down one wall, and a rather whimsical set of sculptures down the end - musicians and birds.
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Finally, four more sculptures scattered around the place which catch my eye:
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I spend an hour watching a video, getting increasingly confused - it seems to be an installation of sculptures by Mr Tseretel, but there is no narration at all to the video, let alone one in English, so I have no idea where this installation might be. It proves very difficult to track down - it is not on Mr Tsereteli's Wikipedia page - but I eventually get there. It is such a big deal it desrves its own post, together with a bit more about Tsereteli to give some context.

Posted by NZBarry 23:19 Archived in Georgia Tagged tbilisi Comments (0)

Tbilisi

sunny 5 °C

There was a bit of a groundswell of chatter - in blogs, on newspaper travel pages, and on TV - about Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, which inspired this trip. The plan had been to spend about a week here: ultimately, it is closer to two. I finally arrive by train from Borjomi at around 9 in the evening. Planning ahead, I have a room booked in the hotel in the railway station - there's not much to say about it but it is convenient. Surprisingly there is nothing to eat in the station: its laughable foodcourt is closed and the various food places outside don't look very interesting. Eventually I find a combination Indian sweet shop/Turkish restaurant where I get some lovely lamb chops cooked on the charcoal grill - they also give me a curried soup and tea.

Tbilisi is strung out along a valley, on both sides of the Kura River - I visit pretty much all of its extremities. Here is what it looks like from the west.
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For the first few days, through until New Year's, I stay on the left bank - the eastern side - in a hostel that gets talked about a lot: Fabrika. It is in an old sewing factory - I take a room by myself: it is very plain (and the corridors are very long) but the hostel is a great place to stay, although you might not think so when seeing it from the outside.
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But you go in and find they have an amazing lobby - seating of all sorts, a huge line of books piled up along one wall, a bar with good coffee and, at the end, a restaurant - somehow I neglect to go here apart from having lunch when I first arrive. On my last day, to help people recover from New Year's Eve, there's a DJ - one song in particular gets to me. It is a woman singing, not in English, maybe in Georgian - her voice is full and rich, and set against the background of some orchestral music.
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Out the back, there's a courtyard in which there are various related businesses - a record shop, a couple of fancy clothes shops and a line of cafes and bars - I have ojakhuri (the pork and potato dish I've now had several times) which is given a modern spin here, by adding pomegranate seeds and a couple of other unusual elements. It's good, and washed down with some lovely black craft beer.
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Although it isn't actually Christmas here for a couple of weeks, they're ready for it - across the river there's quite a large Christmas market fenced off. Very little is happening when I first see it, too early in the day, but at night the place is packed, with several bands going full bore, lots of lights - my camera didn't really like being asked to take photos but one does give some idea.
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Nearby there's a Biltmore Hotel - a bit pricier and posher than my normal haunts, and I have to say they made me feel it as well, but I persist and have a good G&T in their bar - its the sort of place that women walk around wearing full length fur coats, and I'm there in my fisherman's jersey and Swanndri raincoat.
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Most of my days involve just wandering in a particular direction and seeing what I see, but I did leave home with some things I wanted to see. Top of the list was Prospero's Books & Caliban's Coffeehouse: the bookshop is nice enough although much smaller than expected, but the coffee shop is terrible - just a few chairs, bad coffee and a badly prepared cheese toastie.
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I have a much better time at Schuchmann Wine Bar: you go in a narrow door and down some steep steps into an underground bunker. There is just one couple there, apart from the staff: they're from Scotland but living in Saudi Arabia. We have quite a good chat, with the waitress joining in as well, until the conversation takes a racist turn when I mention that I have seen more Indian travellers than anyone else. Luckily, they leave soon after.
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I did pick up a tip from them about dinner: they and the waitress talked about a dish called shkmeruli and told me where to find it - a restaurant full of Georgian workmen when I arrive. The explanation I was given is that shkmeruli is chicken marinated in milk and garlic overnight, there may or may not be boiling, but the chicken is then roasted and served in a milk and garlic sauce with the local flatbread. It looks like this
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Mine doesn't look quite so appetising, and the chicken is overcooked so is quite dry - but it tastes good and there is plenty of it. Of course, I pig out on kharcho first, so it is quite a mission to get through all the chicken, one I fail to complete by about one piece of chicken.
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At the north end, 16 km from the centre, is the Tbilisi Mall - going there is a big mistake. It is completely packed and I lose all sense of direction: I basically have something to eat and feel I must leave, because I hate being in it so much. I have made a rookie's mistake and failed to work out where to catch transport back to the city, not even the map on my phone works. I do know, however, which way I must go, and walk a couple of kilometres. This gets a bit more adventurous than planned, because the road has no footpath, and the only safe option is to climb the bank and walk through the forest, in pitch black darkness. Eventually I find a bus stop, with about an hour to wait for the next bus - it is a chilly night, made worse by me being stopped outside a nice, warm University building with a drinks machine and security to stop me getting at it.

Posted by NZBarry 02:57 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

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