© 2006 jim

Tbilisi, Georgia

I was going to title this post “Georgia on my mind”, but that would have been trite, no?

Two days before I was supposed to leave Mongolia I got a request to fly to Tbilisi, Georgia, to participate in a contract negotiation. So, instead of heading east on Sunday morning on my way back to Salt Lake City, I instead flew west to Moscow (three hours in the internationally reviled Sheremetyevo 2 airport), then Istanbul (a seven hour layover!), and finally, at 3:30am, rolled into Tbilisi.

Tbilisi is an ancient city, at least 1500 years old. Legend has it that a king shot an arrow at a deer, who fell into a hot spring and emerged minutes later miraculously cured. The king named the site Tbilisi, meaning “Warm Spring” or something similar in Georgian. To this day the Sulfur Baths of Tbilisi draw the types of people who are always going to bath cities like Bath, England, and Karlovy Vary (“Karlsbad”), in the Czech Republic.

The city has an interesting feel. There are many old Georgian Orthodox churches built in the old Roman Basilica style. Georgia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, sometime in the 3rd Century. The church next to my hotel was built in 500 AD! There are also the remains of the city walls, which today have apartments and houses built into them. For all that, though, the city also has a 19th Century Central European flavor, probably because of all the buildings along Rustaveli street that were built during the period of Russian (and later, Soviet) rule.

Georgians seem to love balconies. Most of the older residential buildings have them, which gives Tbilisi a bit of a New Orleans feel.

The thing Georgia is most famous for (apart from Stalin) is its wine and its food. The wine runs the gamut from mouth-puckering dry reds to sweet reds to whites that resemble a Chardonnay. Alas, since I was only there for five days I was unable to do a comprehensive wine sampling, but what I tried was generally very nice.

The food is delicious. Shashlik is their take on a shish-kabob, and it is very nice. I’ve had shashlik in Armenia, and in the US cooked by some of my Russian friends, and I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying that the Georgian variety is the best. There is also khatchapuri, which is flat bread with Georgian cheese (a distant Georgian cousin of pizza). The Georgian bread itself is very nice, a spongy lavosh similar to what you will find in Armenia (a bit like Indian naan). And there is chebureki, which is the Georgian equivalent of Brazilian pastel (or Mongolian khushuur, or Cuban empanadas).

Of course, I barely had time to get used to the time difference between Mongolia and Georgia (only four hours, but it still knocked me for a loop) before I had to get on a plane again. Back to Istanbul (this time a four hour layover), then to New York, and finally home after a month and a 360-degree trip around the world. It’s cold as Mongolia here, but at least I’m finally home!