So you have two days as a tourist in Tbilisi???

I hope that readers of this blog will contribute their ideas about activities for tourists in Tbilisi. The following is my list, with the most important activity at the top:

Gabriadze (puppet) theater ( Every night adults (children can attend, but the primary audience is adults) can see a very creative performance. I prefer The Battle of Stalingrad, but everything is great. New Yorker magazine voted it the best theatrical performance of the year when the Tbilisi group performed in New York City. Subtitles are in English.

Sulfur baths (Abanotubani district) ( I don’t know where else in Georgia you can go to a public bath and get a massage, and it’s well worthwhile, so do it while visiting Tbilisi. The baths are clean and safe, but not luxurious. You’ll come out feeling very refreshed.

Old Tbilisi ( If someone paints Tbilisi, it will show the houses with balconies that overhang the street. The architecture in very interesting all around the Sulfur baths district.

Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral ( This is the largest Georgian Orthodox Church, and if you visit Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning you may say the Patriarch (equivalent to the Pope), but if you can’t visit Sameba, visit another church. With any luck, you’ll see a baptism and hear polyphonic singing.

Georgian National Museum ( . See the gold jewelry from the 8th century BC to more modern times. It’s right on Rustaveli Ave., the main street, so when you finish with the museum, rest and then walk along a very interesting street.

Dry Bridge art and antiques open-air market ( Susanna and I like looking at the art every few weeks. We also enjoy talking with people. It’s like a big flea market but more interesting because the stuff is not from your neighborhood.

St. David’s Church. This is one of many beautiful Georgian Orthodox Churches, but this one is on Mt. Mtatsminda and it provides a great view of Tbilisi, especially at dusk, when the city lights glow against a purple sky.

Foods. You can eat Georgian food anywhere in Georgia, so I’m not sure of any special restaurants or dishes that can be found only in Tbilisi. Before you leave Georgia, however, you must eat khachapuri (flat bread with cheese inside), khinkali (dumplings with meat, mushrooms, potatoes inside), trout, and eggplant with nuts (walnuts).


“Italian-style courtyard” homes in Old Tbilisi

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Older houses in Old Tbilisi have an “Italian-style courtyard” arrangement, which basically means that several families live in close proximity. The first home shares a wall with the next, which shares a wall with the next, and so on, and a continuous balcony may link them together. The homes may share a courtyard, a water source, and a bathroom. Their kids all play together, and adults can supervise by leaning out of their windows or be watching from their balcony. The arrangement works much better if all the families get along.

Tbilisi: City of balconies

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011






Once upon a time, it got soooooooooo cold . . .

For when (not if) we lose water

Susanna stayed up until 12:30 in the morning doing laundry and cooking a nice dinner for our neighbors and guests the next day. Why? Because that evening we had water and we didn’t know when we’d have water again. For the past week, we’ve been without water for part of each day. Why? Because the pipes that carry city water to our apartment have been freezing. No–it’s not like in Siberia, but long-time Tbilisi residents say the last time winter was so cold was in the early 1970s. We’ve also had an unusual amount of snow. Before we arrived, my co-workers told me that it generally snows 2-3 times a winter in Tbilisi, and the small amount generally melts by mid-day. This year must be an exception, I think, as I stare at 18 inches of snow on the air-conditioning unit outside my window. This winter’s also exceptional because it must have snowed at least 20 days this year. So when Tbilisi residents say, “Once upon a time,” they mean “winter 2012.”


In the park near our apartment in Old Tbilisi; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

Immediately in front of our apartment; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

St. David's Church, above our apartment; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

What happened to my wedding ring?

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Susanna and I visited the bath district near the Mtkvari (Kura) River in Old Tbilisi. The three baths were built between the 17th and 19th centuries. We first looked at the Royal Baths and then the Sulfur Baths, which from the outside look like small domes at ground level. We decided to give our business to Orbeliani Baths, which are located in a building that resembles a Turkish mosque. It is is decorated on the outside with beautiful blue tiles and has minarets on top. We paid for one hour’s worth of time in a private area. Before entering the bathing area, we removed and hung our clothes in a steamy wet area with a plastic table and two chairs. Then we climbed into a waist-high tub of hot mineral water. Of course, instead of hiring a room, you can use the larger public area for less money. In the public room, people not only go to wash themselves, but they also socialize.

Susanna and I enjoy our bath.

The tub was full of water that came from hot sulfur springs deep in the earth. Sulfur, of course, smells bad—think rotten eggs—but for some reason it didn’t bother me at all after the first minute. The water was hot—38-40C (100-104F), and it felt invigorating.

I paid for a scrub (massages are also available). As I laid on a tiled elevated massage “table,” a man used two coarse mitts to scrape away any dirt and dead skin from my body. Then he used a bag of soapsuds to wash me.

In the 5th century, Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting and shot a pheasant, which fell into a warm spring and was boiled. The king decided to found a city on this site and he called it Tbilisi. Tbili means “warm” in Georgian.

And my wedding ring? My silver ring was badly tarnished by the sulfur, but two days later it has almost recovered its original shine. I’ve heard it will return to normal in two more days.

Out with the old; in with the new

Anyone walking in Old Tbilisi will notice that it is enchanting and it is crumbling. I particularly like this description from Architectural Review: “It is a jumble of ancient potholed crooked streets, crumbling walled courtyards, wonky overhanging balconies, amazing wrought-iron gates and doors, higgledy-piggledy spiral stairs and fine (if peeling and battered) examples of art nouveau and neo-classicism. But charming as Old Tbilisi may look, the fact remains that it is in a terrible state. After decades of neglect and an earthquake or two, some historic churches and houses have already collapsed and been lost. Residents are leaving, adding to the sense of abandonment. Houses leak and lack proper water, gas or electricity supplies.”\

You’ll also notice dust and noise from the many (re)construction crews. But I worry that preserving Tbilisi’s cultural heritage is a lower priority than making quick and cheap changes to impress tourists and investors. Why? I think that Georgian officials want to show the world –tourists and investors – that Georgia is a modern European country, which it is becoming, but please don’t throw out the old in your haste to create the new.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011