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Greetings from Tbilisi!  The Christmas/New Years’ decorations were still up when I arrived, and they were honestly breathtaking–I literally gasped when I first saw Freedom Square.  In most circumstances I think that the ridiculous number of lights would be tacky, but in Old Tbilisi they worked.  The sparkle made the city feel like it was from a fairytale.

Beyond the festive atmosphere and holiday decorations, though, the center of Tbilisi and in particular Rustaveli Avenue looks quite different than it did when I was last here a year and a half ago, and the changes are for the better.  The street is quite crowded, even at night, which gives a sense of vibrancy and life to the area.  There are less empty storefronts than I remember; things are quite clean, and the museums have re-opened and the scaffolding is down.  Rustaveli Avenue now looks bright and shiny like the main thoroughfare of a European city.

There is, however, a bit of a gray lining to the silver cloud.  Many of the shiny, new stores are European or American chains.  Access to more Westernn goods is considered a step in the right direction for Georgia, and as an American living here I certainly appreciate the access to familiar things, but I really don’t want Rustaveli to start looking like every other main street in Europe.  It has a charm all of its own.