Tbilisi loves you
None of my friends and family understood my enthusiasm when I told them my travel plans for 2014. I was going to visit Georgia for the first time, already a popular holiday destination among Polish, Ukrainian, Czech and Russian tourists. Five years later, during which Dutch and British TV-shows covered Georgia, the country has been discovered by many (adventurous) Dutch and Brits. And for a good reason, since Georgia has a lot to offer for such a small country. I came back three times more, hiking in mountains along ancient ruins in Svaneti, tasting local wines in Kakheti and visiting the monastery David Gareja in the desert at the Azeri Border. Along the road my Georgian fellow passengers would sometimes exchange food and drinks, including “Cha Cha” (strong alcohol produced from the leftovers of wine production). The country is exotic for first time visitors, with its own unique alphabet, incredible cuisine and languages. When I asked a Georgian whether this was Europe or Asia, he replied it was simply Georgia. It’s known as the country where wine came from.
How Tbilisi changed
A great base to explore the corners of the country is its capital Tbilisi. This city got more interesting over the years. Though it has lost some of its hospitality, it’s still one of my favourite cities anywhere.
I arrived by metro in the neighbourhood Avlabari in July 2014. It’s a hilly neighbourhood with market stalls next to a busy road. I couldn’t find my hostel, so I asked directions to an older man. He spoke no English and I spoke no Russian at the time. He seemed to ask me where I was from, so I told I him. Then he made a phone call. He gave the phone to me, and a voice in Dutch asked me how he could help. That man on the phone was a Georgian living in Rotterdam, and in front of me was his father. I gave the phone back and father showed me the way. This was Tbilisi at the time: people were curious, willing to chat and helpful to tourists. And when they spoke no English they managed to find someone who could translate. I got to know my way around the city, partly with the free WiFi-network appropriately called “tbilisilovesu”.
Over the years buildings were renovated and new businesses opened. By December 2018 the old town looked more beautiful than ever. It is a network of alleys towards an old fortress. My favourite part of the city has always been the waterfall just next to the old town. On the other side of the river, streets that used to be dull are now full with restaurants and bars with English speaking staff. Here an old factory got rebuilt into a “creative quarter” called “Fabrika”. Covered in street-art, Tbilisi got hipster. Unfortunately, tourist touts roam around the city centre, especially in the summer. The city became way more interesting than its tourists, and therefore I’m not surprised that it’s not as friendly as it used to be.