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.