Last Days in Tbilisi

During the rest of my time in Georgia, I’ll be honest… I didn’t exactly make the most of my time, if you’re looking at it from simply a sightseeing perspective. I, however, was thinking about it from more of a mental health perspective, and part of the reason I even planned to go to Tbilisi in the first place was because I wanted to feel like I could take some time to just relax without feeling the need to run around like a maniac and explore a new city. I had already seen a decent number of things there, and it made me feel like I could take some “me” time.

It also didn’t help that the weather was mostly a bummer. I was there for three days, and it was rainy and gross for two of them. My motivation was already fairly low, and the weather was all that was necessary to completely eliminate any chance of me being adventurous.

While traveling to more cash-based countries, I always have such an issue with the quantity of coins that everyone uses. I hate coins, but in Georgia, there’s a whole collection of them. Here we have the 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 tetri coins, plus the 1 and 2 lari coins. WHY SO MANY???

If only you could also smell it…

On my first day back after Batumi, I committed to doing the few things that I still had on my list. That list was admittedly pretty short, but I figured I should cross off the remaining items so that there was no danger of me leaving the country again without doing them. My first stop was in Old Town, right near the sulfur baths. There’s a sulfur waterfall there that we didn’t end up going to because everyone was hungry… the funny part about that is the fact that it took MAYBE 10 minutes to walk there from the location where that decision was made. It wasn’t anything jaw-dropping, but it was cool to think about the fact that I was standing in the middle of the capital city of Georgia, looking at a waterfall. Like… they have a waterfall in the middle of the city! Of course, it smells like sulfur and that’s gross, but conceptually very cool.

Love locks on the way to the sulfur waterfall

One of the buildings along the way to the waterfall. Not terrifying at all, right?

St. George’s Church with Sayat Nova’s grave marker to the right of the door

I also went back to St. George’s Armenian Church to pay homage to Sayat Nova, since I didn’t realize his gravestone was there until after we had already visited and left (I wrote more about that visit, who Sayat Nova is, and some other famous Armenians whose gravestones I visited here) and Ejmiadzin, the other major Armenian church that was closed last time we went. It wasn’t my favorite church from the inside, but I was excited to hear people speaking Armenian after only hearing Georgian for a few days, and I bought a candle to light just because I could. I asked for it in Armenian, the woman understood me, and I was thrilled to use my hard-earned language skills again, even for something so basic. It’s such a bummer when you spend all this time learning a language while living in the country where it’s spoken, get to a level of proficiency that makes you feel comfortable, and then leave the country and realize that everything you worked so hard to learn is completely useless in helping you to communicate in this new place. I know I’ve talked about this a lot, but it still frustrates me every time I think about it.

Inside Ejmiadzin Church

The door to Ejmiadzin

From there, I went back to the big Holy Trinity Cathedral that was partially built on the site of an Armenian cemetery. In my previous post about visiting there, I explained how the Armenian community freaked out about how the graves were being dug up without any respect, and the only appeasement offered was this little Armenian Pantheon that they hid behind the church. I say “hid” because even though I was looking for it, I STILL had trouble finding it. You might think I mean oh, if someone didn’t know it was there, they wouldn’t find it… no. I knew it was there, I had the location in front of me on google maps, and I still wandered around for at least 15 minutes before I figured out where it was and how to get there.

Holy Trinity Cathedral

Yes, figuring out where it was and then how to get there were two separate steps, and neither of them was particularly easy. I walked in the general direction that google pointed me, and I couldn’t figure out what I was even looking for. Luckily, there were some pictures, and I spotted the top of the highest point in the pantheon peeking over someone’s house. Okay, now I knew where it was… but HOW was I supposed to get there?? I tried taking a direct route, and I’m fairly certain that I walked down someone’s driveway and through their yard before realizing that I couldn’t see my reference point anymore, and there was a wall blocking me from going the way I thought I needed to. Finally, I figured out the roundabout way you have to walk there, including walking by a security guard who, I didn’t realize until afterward, was only there to make sure that unauthorized cars didn’t try to come into the church grounds. I thought I wasn’t allowed to leave that way, but he couldn’t have cared less about me walking past. Good to know.

The Pantheon was kind of sad, mostly because I knew that it was just a shadow of what it used to be. The most notable person buried there (in my personal opinion) is Hovhannes Tumanyan, the writer that I also talked about in my Famous Armenians post.

Remains of the original grave markers in the Armenian cemetery

The Armenian Pantheon. The big white thing in the middle is the only reason why I found my way there.

Having crossed those few things off my list, I felt pretty good about relaxing for the next few days. Well, I kind of relaxed. I had a bunch of things I needed to get done, and as is the way with those things, they all took longer than I expected. I also had some things come up related to planning the later stages of my trip, and planning-related tasks are always rabbit holes. You can spend an eternity on them without even realizing.

A piece of the Berlin wall, gifted to the people of Georgia from the people of Germany. It was given to the PM of Georgia when he visited Germany. My first thought was, “Oh, that’s so nice.” Second thought: “Do they just have pieces of the wall in a warehouse somewhere to give out as gifts?” Third thought: “Imagine going on a trip and getting a huge concrete wall to take home with you. ‘How am I supposed to get this home?? I only get two 23kg checked bags!'” (Yes, I’m joking. I’m aware that the PM of Georgia probably doesn’t fly commercial.)

The next day, I went on a sketching adventure. I’ve been carting a sketchbook around with me since I got to Armenia, and I’ve done barely anything with it. I decided that I might as well put it to use if I’m going to keep carrying it with me, so I walked around the downtown area and made a couple “quick-sketch” stops. I’m trying to get better at sketching quickly, rather than always spending hours on each drawing, so I limited myself to half-hour-long stops. After I get better at those, maybe I’ll cut down the time a bit more, but for now, I’ll just say that I need to keep practicing. You have to start somewhere!

I also spent a decent amount of time hanging out with the other people in my hostel. This hostel was much smaller than the ones I usually stay in, so it felt more like a little family. There were some cool people there, and we went out to eat together, played Jenga (Including potentially the world’s longest game where, by the end, we all just wanted to stop playing because it was way too stressful), learned about each other’s countries, and had fun just spending time together. Hostel living frequently becomes such an interesting way to learn more about the world because you get to hear the opinions of people who are actually from different places. We always hear one side of the global narrative in the States, and it’s whatever side the government wants us to hear. As much as we like to think that we aren’t fed propaganda, we are. It’s just slightly more subtle. It’s like the same thing I realized in Armenia… In the US, we have such a different picture of, for example, Russia, than they do there. In Georgia, I met a girl from Russia, and she obviously had another perspective to offer. It’s still not easy to pick out the “facts” (whatever that even means) about things, but hearing different views is a good way to make sure that you’re thinking critically about the information you’re given. That’s a good lesson for life in general.

Anyway, just more random musings. My next stop after Tbilisi was Istanbul, Turkey, and I had an inconveniently-timed 4:30AM flight there. I didn’t bother reserving a space at the hostel for the night because I knew I wouldn’t end up sleeping even if I did. Instead, I just hung around until midnight when I made my way to the bus stop to hop on an airport-bound bus.

There are certain times in particular that not being able to speak the language in a country becomes extra frustrating. One of those times is when announcements are being made, like on my delayed train to Batumi, and you have no idea what information is being shared. Another time is when people are having an argument or someone is causing a ruckus and you can’t determine what your response should be to their actions because you don’t know what the issue is. On the bus to the airport, this guy got on (let’s call him “yelling guy”) and started yelling about this and that… and I had no idea what this and that were because it was all in Georgian. Most people were just ignoring him. Eventually, some guy started shouting back at him and then got off the bus. Then a new guy came and started trying to calm yelling guy down, but I don’t think he made a difference. Eventually, the bus stopped and the driver and some other transit officer came back and then they were all shouting at each other, and calming guy was seemingly defending him…? But who knows because this entire analysis is based on body language and tone. Finally, they got him to settle down a little, and someone motioned for yelling guy to come sit next to him. THEN yelling guy started trying to talk to me (I was standing nearby), and I had the fun task of getting him to understand that I don’t speak Georgian… thankfully, the guy next to him figured it out and explained the situation, but somehow that never seems to stop anyone from still trying to communicate by just speaking AT you. After he was just told that I couldn’t speak, he continued to ask me questions which I responded to with wide eyes and a confused face. The guy next to him kept laughing and saying (I imagine), “DUDE! She can’t understand you!”

Finally, we made it to the airport, and I jetted off the bus. I still had some time to wait before I could check in, so I made myself comfortable on an airport chair and began a long night of non-restful sleep in various awkward and uncomfortable positions.

Rustaveli Avenue and Holy Trinity Cathedral

They’re building a new mall, and the lighting is so fun!

Sunday started off with khinkali for brunch. It’s not really a brunch food, but brunch also happened at about 1PM so at that point I don’t think it matters anymore. Khinkali is a classic Georgian food that you can also get in Armenia, and it’s one of my favorites… after I describe it, I’m sure you’ll be shocked. It’s basically a dumpling with any variety of things inside – beef, cheese, mushrooms, other meats, vegetables, etc – and either boiled or fried. They’re folded up to look like little money bags (I’m unfortunately not one of those “take pictures of my food” people, so you have to use your imagination), and you’re supposed to pick them up, bite the side, and drink the broth. Definitely not a first date food. Fried cheese khinkali is the best, in my opinion.

Maybe we didn’t go to the right place (though we did ask a bunch of people for recommendations), but I didn’t think they were much better than the khinkali you can get in Armenia. I mean, they were still great because how can you mess up khinkali, but I assumed that going to the source would result in a superior culinary experience. This is very Armenian of me. “Yes, khinkali is originally Georgian, but in Armenia, we do it better!” Not necessarily better, but about the same. Like I said, maybe we didn’t go to the right place.

The plan for the day was to walk down the main street, Rustaveli Avenue, and take in the sights along the way. The only other thing that I wanted to do was go to the church with the golden top. I had no idea what church it was, but it was bright and shiny, we saw it from every overlook in the city the day before, and I wanted to see it up close.

Our walk took us past the Opera and Ballet Theatre, a gigantic, wedding cake-looking building painted in yellow and maroon. The theatre was completed in 1851 and went through its most recent restoration just last year, so it was at its best for us. I wanted to go inside, but the doors were locked… I suppose that means I have to go back and buy some tickets to see a show! We tried to peer in through the windows which didn’t work very well. The glass was too dark to see anything more than the hint of some chandeliers. Darn.

Opera and Ballet Theatre

Movie theater. Clearly.

As we continued down the street, we started noticing some interesting outfits. Tara and I were in the middle of a “have you noticed that fashion is way more of a thing here?” conversation when we walked past the building where Tbilisi fashion week was in full swing. Oh. I guess that explains it. We tried to snoop around a bit inside, but we stuck out like sore thumbs in our bland clothing. We couldn’t get a good sense of what was going on before feeling like we should get our boring, regular outfits out of there.

We also saw Parliament, the Georgia National Museum, another church (because you can’t walk 5 feet without hitting another church), and the City Assembly before hopping on the metro to go see the shiny church! Turns out that church is called Holy Trinity Cathedral, and it’s basically the equivalent of St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan (with a little bit of Etchmiadzin mixed in). It was built to celebrate 1500 years of the Georgian Orthodox Church, is massive, and is still unfinished despite being “completed” in 2004.

Parliament

City Assembly and Liberty Square

It’s huge

I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently, part of the church complex was built over an old Armenian cemetery, Khojavank. It started out as the site of an Armenian church, built in the mid-1600s, and the cemetery grew around it until the 1920s. It contained more than 90,000 graves and was the largest Armenian cemetery in Tbilisi.

The first destruction happened in the 1930s, ordered by a Georgian Soviet politician. The church on the grounds was demolished, and the church materials plus some gravestones and khatchkars (carved cross stones used for a variety of things including marking graves) were taken and reused in the construction of other buildings.

The Armenian Pantheon was opened in 1962 and contained saved gravestones and khatchkars and the remaining graves. When this new church was designed, it supposedly wasn’t going to touch Khojavank, but that wasn’t true, and a significant part of the park was dug up and destroyed. Armenians obviously weren’t thrilled about this, and during construction, they said that it was horribly disrespected. Bones and tombstones were dug up and scattered by excavators before getting carted off to some unknown location. Protests managed to stop construction for a second, but it soon resumed without any changes.

Inside Holy Trinity Cathedral

Now, a much smaller Pantheon houses the graves of numerous significant Armenians including Hovhannes Tumanyan (a poet/writer who has a lot of roads in Armenia named after him. Not to be confused with Alexander Tamanyan the architect who ruined Yerevan).

It was fairly dark outside by the time we made it to the church, but we still could have checked out the Pantheon had we known it was there. Some prior research in this situation would have been helpful. That’s one of the dangers of just going with the flow… sometimes you miss things. Well, in general, my conclusion after writing about the weekend is that I need to go back to Tbilisi to do the things we didn’t have time for, so I’ll add that to my list of places to visit.

The church, besides being built on the graves of Armenians, is pretty cool. It’s huge. Like super huge. It also has the same number of lights shining on it as the rest of Tbilisi combined. That’s made up, but I do have some night pictures of the city where the church is unarguably the brightest spot. It’s part of a whole complex that also has a monastery, seminary school, and more.

Can you guess where the church is?

I’m a fan of smaller churches because they usually have more personality, but there were definitely some nice features of this church. The carvings were spectacular. The inside was overwhelming, but honestly, it wasn’t my favorite. It was one of those “makes you feel like an ant” churches. I felt like it was too big. That’s okay though. I liked the outside much more.

Holy Trinity Cathedral on the epic approach

You can see that they’re in the middle of doing the carvings on this column. So cool!

After we finished getting lost in the church, we hightailed it back to the hostel to meet our ride. We had the same driver as on the way to Georgia, and it took the same impossibly long amount of time. I don’t know how. We didn’t get a flat tire or anything, and it still took seven hours. HOW?

The infamous tree

I passed out in the backseat and woke up to us stopping in the middle of nowhere. No lights. If we were in the States, I would have been sure that he was going to murder us, but this is Armenia so that never crossed my mind. My friend in the front seat said that he wanted to show her some tree. What. I got out with them because that sounded sketchy to me, but he literally just wanted to show her some gigantic, hollowed-out tree that has a church inside (of course). It was supposedly planted by Vartan Mamigonian… he’s an Armenian saint and military hero who was commander of the armed forces in the 5th century. He and his army fought in a battle against the Persians that is credited with leading to religious freedom for the Armenian people. They lost the battle and he was killed, but he “saved Christianity” in Armenia because eventually a treaty was signed allowing Armenians to worship freely. It’s a little depressing that the greatest Armenian military hero both lost and was killed in the battle he’s famous for, but we won’t get into that. Anyway, what everyone DOESN’T know about Vartan is that when he wasn’t fighting battles, he was planting trees in Sarigyugh. I’m sure.

If you look at a map, you’ll probably understand why it took us seven hours to get home because Sarigyugh is absolutely not on the way. Oh well. If it made sense, we wouldn’t be in Armenia.

Sulfur Baths and the Bridge of Peace

Sulfur stream. You can see the baths to the right side of the picture.

A trip to Tbilisi isn’t complete without a trip to the famous Tbilisi sulfur baths. According to legend, the sulfur hot springs are the reason why a settlement was started in that location in the first place. “Tbilisi” comes from the Georgian word for “warm”, tbili. The sulfur baths are still going strong today, and there are a few different bathhouses to choose from, ranging from super shady looking to super expensive looking. Supposedly, the water is great for your skin, and you can get a body scrub and massage to go along with it. There are public baths (separated by gender) or private, and I’m guessing most tourists go with the private option. There are stories about mothers going to the public baths to scope out wives for their sons because that’s not weird at all (everyone is naked, in case you didn’t catch that). I personally don’t understand why I would want to soak in questionable rotten egg water for an hour, but maybe if I go back I’ll have to check it out as one of those “try it once” experiences. Eh. Or maybe not.

Doesn’t this look like something out of a fantasy movie? Elves. Definitely elves in this movie.

 

Do you remember Mike’s friend Hovsep who showed us around Vanadzor? If not, Mike (my brother) has a friend, Hovsep, who he met about 4 years ago when he was in Armenia doing a service project. When my family went to Vanadzor, where Hovsep lives, he showed us around.

While we were loitering by the sulfur baths, plotting our next move, I saw a guy who looked vaguely familiar walking up the sidewalk. I was 80% sure that it was Mike’s friend, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name (there are too many Armenian “H” names – Harout, Hagop, Hrant, Hovsep, Hovhannes, I could go on). I wasn’t willing to commit to a hello on the 20% chance that I didn’t actually know him, so I instead stood there, stared at him, and gave the world’s least awkward wave when he looked at me. I could practically see the gears turning in his head and the face of recognition once he remembered how we knew each other. The whole thing was incredibly weird. I don’t even see people I know in Armenia… How on earth did I manage to see someone I know in GEORGIA? He gave us a few recommendations of things to check out, and we parted ways. I think both of us were still baffled by the time we said goodbye. Talk about random.

Windows of Tbilisi

Still obsessed with the river

Etchmiadzin Cathedral

Once I recovered, we realized we were starving and went to grab lunch/rest our aching feet. It was way after normal lunchtime, so by the time we finished and hit the road again, it was starting to get dark. No matter though, we still had things to do and places to see! We were close to the former “Armenian quarter” in the city and decided to head there next. On our way, we saw a sign for Queen Darejan Palace and figured we might as well check it out. We had no clue what we were headed for, but isn’t that half the fun of exploring?

On our way there, we passed a church playing beautiful music on its speakers outside. I thought it was just some mood music, but nope! There was a service going on, and the singing alternated between the priests and a group of five women. I don’t know if it was the night, the church acoustics, the lighting in the church, or just the harmonization, but it was magical. Every time the five women sang, I got chills. I’ve never heard anything so awesome. I know that’s a bold statement, but seriously, they were incredible. I’m sure the ambiance didn’t hurt… I was getting a little lightheaded from breathing the air in there (based on the excessive incensing, I assume it was a Georgian Orthodox church).

When I was about ready to pass out from the fumes, we went outside, looked out over the city, and tried to process everything. My friend Tara said it was the most magical thing she’s ever experienced, so there’s some proof that it wasn’t just me! There was something awesome happening in that tiny church, and we got to be part of it because of a last-minute detour.

View of the city from the palace/magical church… plus a terrifying number of birds (bats??) that happened to be flying by

The palace is right next to the church and was closed, but it didn’t even matter. We peered at it over the fence and then kept moving. We decided to make a new rule for our exploring – no backtracking. That means that if you make a wrong turn, you can’t just turn around. You have to keep going and figure out a new way. If you’re trying to get somewhere on a schedule, I strongly discourage this approach. If you’re in it for the adventure, strong recommend. We wandered past the other Armenian church, Etchmiadzin (creative name, right?), and the Presidential Palace (it has a glass dome!), made a few less-than-ideal street crossings, and eventually made our way to the most futuristic-looking bridge in the city, The Bridge of Peace.

The Bridge of Peace, fully illuminated

Okay, when I said that Narikala Fortress is my favorite thing we saw in Tbilisi, I forgot about the bridge. We can let them share the #1 spot, but seriously… This. Bridge. Is. So. Cool. It’s a pedestrian bridge over the Kura River (the one that runs through the middle of Tbilisi), and I’m sure it’s one of those things that everyone complained about when it was built because it’s modern and doesn’t match anything in the city. I don’t care about any of that. All I care about is the lighting. THE LIGHTING. I was losing my mind and no one else seemed even remotely excited or impressed. Apparently, there are four different lighting programs that change hourly, and if I had been there by myself, I might have stayed for four hours to see them all. There are lights in the canopy over the bridge AND in the glass handrail panels. I’ve never seen anything like those panels before… the LEDs were in a grid between two sheets of glass and looked totally seamless. It was like magic.

The program running when we were there was mesmerizing. The canopy was lit in white and red, making the Georgian flag, and the lights brightened and dimmed in waves. That was coordinated with the handrail lights which turned on and off in waves, so when you walk across, a wave of light shoots past you and fades into the distance. It was like something out of the future. Like I said, no one else’s excitement level was even close to mine. Bummer. I need to go back so I can stare at the lights again, this time unburdened by guilt from making people wait for me while I nerd out.

Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition… quite the mouthful, huh?

Our intended destination after the bridge was a restaurant, but our “no backtracking” rule had us going in all sorts of wrong directions (also because I wasn’t trying very hard at navigating. We’ve already talked about this – going the right way takes the fun out of everything). We popped into another church that we happened to pass (because why not?) and then made a last-minute turn into the Tbilisi History Museum. You usually have to pay to go in, but there happened to be a temporary modern art exhibition opening that night. We walked right in and got to experience the joys of modern art including amusing ourselves by pretending that normal things in the room were part of the exhibition. Tara and I spent a good five minutes scrutinizing an air conditioner and were thrilled when a woman came over and gave it a second look. Otherwise, it was pretty much par for the course on modern art. Some of it looked cool, some of it looked unfinished, and most of it looked weird.

By the time we made it to the restaurant, everyone was ready for a good nap. My feet wanted to fall off. I consider that the sign of an exploration day done right, so hooray for us! I slept VERY well that night.

The ceiling in Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition

Cool part of the modern art exhibit. Don’t ask me what the point is because I don’t know. I just like how it looks.

The main atrium in the Tbilisi History Museum. I love that so many buildings actually have lighting that someone put effort into. What a concept.

Tbilisi and Narikala Fortress

Green wall! On the outside of a building! Whose colors are changing for fall! Cool.

Welcome to Tbilisi! I know it probably felt like we were never going to make it, but here we are! Despite our late-night arrival, I was determined not to waste any time! I woke up at 8 on Saturday, took a shower, got dressed, and returned to the room to find everyone else still passed out. It didn’t look like they were getting up anytime soon, so I sent them messages saying I was out for a walk and to text me when they were awake. After getting a map from the front desk, I set off with no plans beyond walking generally south where I knew I’d eventually hit a river.

First reaction: It was weird being in a foreign country that wasn’t Armenia. It made me realize how comfortable I’ve gotten here! Yes, I can’t have an in-depth conversation in Armenian (or even a non-in-depth conversation about anything besides where I’m from, what foods I ate today, or whether or not I’m married), but I can at least say enough to find my way around, say hello and thank you, and feel like I’m not a mute. I hate having to rely on other people being able to speak English because it makes me feel like a bum… I guess, though, that’s mostly because English is my first language. If my first language was Spanish and I knew English to help me when I travelled, I wouldn’t feel like I was just expecting everyone to cater to me. I would feel like we were speaking the international language of travel. But alas, English is my native language, and it doesn’t matter how many other languages I learn if I’m not in a country that speaks one of them.

I think this is an office building. I was sure it had to be something artsy to deserve such a cool facade, but I don’t think so. How about that!?

I tried to learn a few basic Georgian phrases, but I forgot how hard it is to remember things when you’re not used to the sounds. It’s almost better to not know how to say “hello” in the local language because then people know immediately that they need to speak to you in English. I guess after that you can say, “Do you speak English?” but I only like to do that if I can say it in the language. Too many words, so I focused my efforts on “thank you” and “excuse me”. It never really clicked… my default now when I hear other people speaking a non-English language is to start speaking Armenian, and I had to fight against that reflex the whole weekend.

Flea market

Anyway, my first impression of Tbilisi was that it’s not so different from Armenia. Maybe that’s because, if you remember from my Armenian Inventions post, Armenians built Tbilisi. It is true that there was a significant Armenian population in Tbilisi at some points in history (in the early 1800s the city was almost 75% Armenian), but who knows how much the Armenians can factually take credit for. I mean, practically, they’re happy to take credit for all of it. Factually, I’m not sure.

One big difference between Tbilisi and Yerevan is the river. The Kura River runs right through the center of the city, and it makes everything look a thousand times cooler. It’s also not super flat there, so the city is naturally more visually interesting. There are some skyscrapers and a few examples of weird modern architecture, making it feel more western. What’s a modern city without weird, modern buildings, right?

The Presidential Palace, complete with a glass dome, and a weird modern building that I called the macaroni building but that someone else more accurately described as a blood vessel building.

The river and the Bridge of Peace

Cliffs in the middle of a city… See how cool rivers are??

Cliffs cliffs cliffs

The coolest

Me and Tara

After wandering around for almost an hour, I made my way back to the hostel to check on my friends. They were just about ready for breakfast, and after eating, we headed back out onto the streets. Since I basically knew my way around the whole city by then, I was in charge of sightseeing destinations and navigation (though the latter is mostly because I had functional maps on my phone). We walked around a bit just to get a feel for the city before taking a cable car up Sololaki Hill to see Kartlis Deda, Narikala Fortress, and the National Botanical Garden.

Kartlis Deda is basically Georgia’s “Mother Armenia” equivalent (so… Mother Georgia). She was erected to celebrate Tbilisi’s 1500th birthday, and she has a bowl of wine in one hand for those who come as friends and a sword in the other for those who come as enemies. There’s also a fantastic view of the city from there, and after taking a million of the same picture, we headed to the fortress.

Kartlis Deda! Well, from behind. You really can’t get a good picture of her from up on the hill

The view from the top of the hill!

You can see the cable car and the park where we started our ride

The botanical garden plus a coolio building with a partial green roof/underground portion

World’s steepest steps, Noravank style

Narikala Fortress was established in the 4th century by the Persians. Since then, it was expanded and repaired in the 7th and 8th centuries, the 11th, and the 16th and 17th, all by different people… you know, whoever had control of Georgia at the moment. So basically, who knows what the heck it looked like in the 4th century, but it sure didn’t look like it does now.

The fortress is awesome!! It’s probably one of my favorite things that we saw all weekend. We should have just waited until we got there for our view of the city! I love the places where you can go and climb around on things and no one’s yelling at you or telling you not to go somewhere, and this was one of those. No entrance fee, no security people. Just the expectation that you’re not going to do anything stupid. Ah, the expectation of common sense is so rare these days.

We took our time wandering around and investigating as many nooks and crannies as we could find. There’s also a church in the center that was built in the 1990s to replace the previous one which burned down. It was beautiful on the inside (paintings galore!), but I don’t know what they were thinking when they picked the stone for the outside. It kind of looks like it was made of plywood. Ick.

Plywood Church

Narikala Fortress. Doesn’t it look like it’s just growing out of the top of the hill?

Have I mentioned that I want to live in a castle someday?

This was completely safe.

*insert emoji with heart eyes*

See the cliffs by the river?

Okay so every picture is practically the same, but the view is so cool that you feel like you need to keep taking them

Outside of St. George’s

From there, we walked down the hill with nothing more than a general direction to guide us (probably everyone else thought that I was actually leading the group based on the map or some plan, but they say ignorance is bliss, so sometimes there’s no reason to burst that bubble). By chance, we stumbled upon one of the two functional Armenian churches left in the city, St. George’s Cathedral.

There’s some disagreement about when St. George’s was built, so we’ll say it was maybe built in the 13th century and that maybe there was a 7th-century church there before that. It’s also the seat of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church and, which in my opinion should be the church’s biggest claim to fame, the burial location of Sayat Nova! He’s the namesake of about 50% of the streets in Armenia and was a poet and musician who, though he lived in Georgia, was Armenian. And don’t you ever forget it! HE WAS ARMENIAN.

I know, I got distracted again. Back to the church. It has a brick/stucco exterior, common to churches in Georgia, and the inside is covered in murals. It was interesting to see how different it is from churches in Armenia. Everything is way more ornate than in most churches here, and the murals are extensive. I could tell that all of us felt at ease there, maybe because we felt like we were among people with whom we could actually communicate. Oh, the luxury.

Inside St. George’s

After our brief taste of home, we were off again, trekking through the streets in a semi-planned direction. Our next stop was Juma Mosque… which may or may not have been the mosque I was aiming for, but no one has to know that. I actually don’t even know. There are two mosques on the map, and we made it to one, so that’s called a success. (I want to clarify the fact I CAN read a map. The issue, which I can refer to you my university cartography professor to hear about in more detail if you’re interested, is these darn tourist maps that try to be all artsy and end up making a map that’s barely usable because things don’t actually show in the right places. Isn’t the whole POINT of a map to show things in the right places??)

The mosque is plain looking from the outside, just a simple brick building, and we would have completely missed it if the doors weren’t open. The inside, on the other hand, is spectacular. The ceilings, the walls, the everythings were beautiful. I’m a big fan of blue, and it seems like that’s a popular color when it comes to mosque decorations. I was curious about the reason behind that, so I looked it up. It doesn’t look like there’s any connection between Islam and blue, but in the Middle East, blue represents safety and protection as well as immortality, spirituality, and heaven. Those seem like some pretty good reasons to pick blue for the primary color in a religious building! I don’t usually think much about it, but the psychology of colors is interesting. Blue does suggest a kind of peacefulness that seems appropriate in the worship context. Hm.

I didn’t take a picture of the outside of the mosque, but just picture a nondescript brick building and you’ve got it. The inside though… definitely not nondescript

The ceiling

I’m going to give you some time to ponder color psychology, mostly so that I don’t include a full novel in one post. If you’re busy, you can go do your busy person things. If not, look up the meanings of colors in different cultures. It’s interesting, I promise. If you’re into that kind of thing.