Tbilisi at Dusk

It’s no secret that I’ve spent plenty of time in Tbilisi, but I haven’t written a post specifically about the city.  This post is devoted to things that are new to me– fairly major attractions that I didn’t feel were worth my time at first, so I come to them late in the game (I assume many others may feel the same way).  Here’s what I think:

Tbilisi Zoo:
The bar for the Tbilisi Zoo had been set very, very low, so I was delighted to find that I had a lovely evening there.  I was lucky enough to accompany my friends on a visit to the zoo led by their friend who works there, which made for an incredible visit.  The infrastructure of the zoo can’t compete with the slick American zoos I’ve visited, and seeing the animals in more cage-like enclosures was a bit sad (I have very conflicted feelings about the morality of zoos).  The zoo was far bigger than I thought, and the mixture of animals and amusement park attractions made it a big hit with the children visiting, and their high spirits were contagious.  I found the bird collections particularly interesting–who knew there were so many beautiful kinds of pheasants!  The real highlight of the trip, though, was watching my friends’ friend interact with the animals: he knew all their names and would call them to us (some of them even responded!).  It was really obvious that he cared very much about the animals, and that they loved him.  I had always thought hyenas were quite nasty (I blame The Lion King for this stereotype), but they were so sweet, and looked more like eager puppies just wanting to be pet than like ruthless killers.  (DISCLAIMER: Don’t try this at home!  He’s a highly-trained professional).  It was great to see another side of the zoo, and to see the relationships between the animals and the staff.  It was a lovely trip.

Verdict: Worth a visit, particularly if you have an “in” but don’t expect it to be like the best American zoos (which are the ones I grew up around).  On the flip side, it is far less expensive than an American zoo.  Not one of the top sights of the city, but certainly not a waste of time.

Mtatsminda Park:
It’s funny that I never made it up here before, because it’s one of the most obvious attractions in the city: the ferris wheel and TV tower are visible from almost everywhere.  I finally heard from a friend of a friend how to get there not that long ago and Richard. and his girlfriend really wanted to  explore, so I finally made the journey.  We made it there (mostly) on foot: we took the new cable car from Europe Park up to the Narikala Fortress (I was a bit suspicious of the cable car, but it was a lovely ride).  From the cable car, walk along the ridge towards Mother Georgia (in the direction of Mtatsminda).  Walk under Ivanishvili’s mansion and down the road a bit.  On the left-hand side of the road is a staircase signed “Mtatsminda Park:”  follow those stairs up. Keep following those stairs up.  They’re quite well-maintained, and often nicely shaded.   There are some benches and mini-playgrounds along the path, but not many other walkers.  The views on the walk up are stunning, and make it worth the exertion.  The amusement park at the top isn’t particularly special, but it offers a nice perspective on the city and would be great fun for kids.  We rode the ferris wheel, which didn’t provide the views we hoped, but was still pretty cool.  We returned down the mountain via city bus 90, which runs both directions–a more logical route might be to take the bus up and walk down…

Verdict: Worth it primarily for the views and the khachapuri-counteracting potential.  Bring water!

Sameba Cathedral

I didn’t actually see the interior of the cathedral since it was hot out and I was therefore not dressed appropriately for going inside.   My visit was only to the grounds and looking at the exterior.  It was interesting to see Sameba, because it really looks like most of the Georgian churches I’ve seen, but with one major difference: it’s brand-new (and paid for by Ivanishvili).  It’s interesting to look at Sameba and imagine what some of the old churches now in ruins might have looked like in the glory days, and to see the consistent elements of Georgian religious architecture.  That said, though, it isn’t really THAT different.

Verdict: If you don’t have the opportunity to see some of the iconic churches outside of Tbilisi, certainly stop by.  If you’re particularly interested in Georgian churches, definitely go.  If you’ve seen lots of churches in Georgia, you aren’t missing out on too much without this one.

With these new sites, though, I still recommend, first and foremost, a wander around downtown–Rustaveli and Old Town and a visit to Dry Bridge Market as the best places to visit as a tourist in Tbilisi.

This is an old video, but a good one.  Doesn’t it just make you want to come and visit ჩემო თბილის ქალაქო (Chemo Tbilis Kalako My Tbilisi City)