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An Evening in Tbilisi

Sioni Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

Tourism season is in full swing here in Tbilisi.

In the older parts of town, the stone sidewalks are crowded with people spilling out from the multitude of wine bars, a stationary parade of the young and trendy. The restaurants are alive, and scores of people are on every street with colorful placards selling tours, wine tastings and boat rides in the ongoing dance of separating visitors from their dollars or, in this case, lari.

There are many people who detest going to a new place and being a tourist. I’ve met my fair share of folks who insist they want to “live like locals” during their brief stay.

I’m a nice guy.

I refrain from reminding these people that living like a local mostly means working all day, coming home, ordering take out, and collapsing in front of the television before doing it all over again tomorrow.

You don’t have to go too far from home to live like a local if that really is your bag. At least at home, all the TV channels are in English and not Georgian!

I have to admit, I’m a tourist at heart. Whenever Corie and I traveled around the U.S. I drove her nuts, wanting to stop in as many silly souvenir stands as I could get away with. My mandolin case is plastered with stickers from almost every place we’ve been to, and we have an unparalleled collection of postcards, including one of my favorites, a dinosaur riding a bicycle, from a small museum in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

I secretly do want to stop and see the world’s largest ball of twine just so I can buy another sticker for my case gallery.

Being a tourist in Tbilisi is fun, something I was reminded of this past week when I hosted a photo walk through the city’s Old Town with my friend David.

David co-owns one of the many wine bars in Tbilisi’s Sololaki district. He arrived in Tbilisi a few years ago as part of the Peace Corps and, like many of us, quickly became fond of life in Georgia.

Two people joined us this week, a Kurdish man from Sweden and a woman from South Africa.

David and I generally pick a direction for our photo walks and proceed without a plan. The older neighborhoods lend themselves to wandering through the narrow streets, taking in the beautiful plasterwork on the buildings, and people watching.

Each time I wander through these neighborhoods, I always find something new, even in places where I’ve taken photos before, as the images in this newsletter illustrate.

The four of us ascended a steep stone and concrete staircase to the Upper Betlemi Church, one of the few older churches in town that allow people to take photographs inside. Regrettably, the church was closed for the day, but the view of the city made up for it. Scores of people sat on the benches around the churchyard, drinking beer and wine, watching the sun descend into the horizon.

On the way down, I bought a churchkhela for the group. In a previous newsletter, I mentioned the Georgian candy, a string of walnuts or hazelnuts coated in a wine syrup. The first time I had churchkhela, I thought it tasted like biting into a nutty candle. I’ve had much better ones since then.

This particular churchkhela was somewhere in between, like a nutty candle with a nice hint of sweet.

As dusk settled on to the city, we meandered through the crowded streets, past Sioni Cathedral to Liberty Square, which was reverberating with live music and traffic. I glanced up to the gold St. George statue in the middle of the square, a peaceful contrast to the noise around us.

As I said, it’s good to be a tourist.

St. George Monument, Liberty Square, Tbilisi, Georgia

Jazz Club 1984, Tbilisi, Georgia


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