My favourite city used to be Venice, my wife and I went there on our honeymoon. The light of the city was breathtaking, the history and culture almost too much to take in, the food divine, the locals beautiful. It really is the gem in Italy' s Adriatic coast.
My wife and I love Italy so much but we decided to go for a polar opposite. We thought about Saint Petersburg, Russia but thought it would be cultured like Venice, we thought about Tallinn but the flight times and transfers were bad for us living where we do in the wilds of Yorkshire. We discussed my wife's old favourite, Oslo, but it was expensive. Then the idea of Tbilisi, Georgia came into our thoughts and just stayed there.
We discovered that staying in your thoughts is exactly what Tbilisi does. Most folk have never heard of it, those that have don't know where it is. But Tbilisi and Georgia are difficult places to forget. And the Georgians are amazing, friendly people.
Stuck on the southern edge of Russia, Georgia is sandwiched between the Black Sea and the oil rich Caspian Sea. Tbilisi it's capital lies to the far east of the country.
It's a four hour flight from London and it's four hours ahead of GMT. The airport is a huge, fantastic, high tech glass citadel. But as few people use it it's often deserted. Like idiots we stood at the wrong luggage terminal to everyone else, this is our party piece! Nobody else from Heathrow was stood waiting for the luggage from the Minsk flight, just us!
When you arrive you've got to risk your life with a cab drive the fifteen miles to the city. If you've never been in a Georgian taxi, you've never lived! Or rather nearly died! None of the cabbies are from Tbilisi so they often stop to ask for direction! None speak English but they all double the fairs for foreigners. The drive down the centre of the road, into the path of oncoming vehicles and often use the pavement when needs be. But worst of all, the cabbies drive everywhere at a minimum of 120 miles per hour and all have badly cracked windscreens and smashed up high powered cars! They are truly crazy but at the end of your drive you find you've re-affirmed your faith in your God!
A city of huge wealth and extreme poverty, we paid 100 euros per night for a room, which our guide assured us was very expensive. We found a guide easily through the hotel, which was owned by a British man, and she was a wonder, she even brought along a friend of a friend who was a hoot. For a few dollars they took us all over the city for four days and entertained and delighted us endlessly.
Georgia was the first nation state to adopt Christianity and the capital has some of the most amazing churches and cathedrals in the world. The city sits between steep mountains that tempt you to break away from the chaos of the city. But if you can cope with the traffic, and like your history, Tbilisi has more than it's fair share.
We even discovered that Tbilisi was the home to the English patron saint, George, who instead of slaying a dragon, killed a roman emperror, Diocletian, a renouned persecutor of Christians.
The best place to visit in the city? Without doubt, the state Treasury. It's a building that sure didn't benefit from soviet control and on the outside appears more than a little run down. But inside the treasures are mind boggling!
Food in Tbilisi was good and cheap. I'm vegetarian and found that all the bistro's cater for veggies really well.
Take the time to visit Tbilisi. Don't be put off by the traffic, the beggars, the street dogs, or the fact they named the road to the airport George W Bush Avenue! Georgian's love Brits and Americans, most of them speak english, which is a good job because the Georgian language is like martian! Being able to speak only one other language, French, I adopted my old habit of speaking to every foreigner in French! But French wont get you far, learn a little Russian instead!
Tbilisi is a fantastic experience you wont forget. My favourite city.