I moved to Tbilisi, Georgia’s charming and ancient capital in the South Caucasus, on a whim in the summer of 2014. My plan was to explore Georgia for three months before disappearing over the border into Russia for an adventure in the Far East.
But, as fate would have it, for the next year I hardly left the city of Tbilisi. Like many before me, I fell all too easily for Tbilisi’s dilapidated charm, village atmosphere, and sense of community. Renting a rundown, but grand apartment in the Old Town, I slowly began to explore my new neighborhood using my camera.
On the streets of Old Tbilisi, it’s easy to get the impression that time is standing still. Few cities bear the scars and splendor of bygone times in such raw display. Each crumbling edifice — every household — exposes another layer in Tbilisi’s long, astonishing history.
Perhaps most curious of all is Old Tbilisi’s unique architectural style. Absorbing influences from both the East and the West, the result is what Boris Pasternak, the Russian poet and writer, called a Chimera — a fanciful beast with a Western head and an Eastern body. This is reflected in the Oriental motifs that adorn the otherwise European-style buildings, the Persian-inspired mirror halls inside the State Academy of the Arts, and, perhaps most magnificently, the recently restored neo-Moorish Georgian National Opera Theatre on Rustaveli Avenue.
But it is the Georgian people that make any trip to the city linger in the memory. Countless times I have been invited off the streets by my neighbors in the Old Town and subjected to delightful hospitality. Georgian hospitality is the stuff of legend, the height of which can be experienced at a Georgian Supra: a traditional and abundant feast involving a lavish spread of local dishes and plenty of Georgian wine.
Tbilisi is also in close proximity to the rugged scenery Georgia is famous for. A two-hour drive north along the Russian Military highway, you will find Kazbegi: a small township cradled by majestic mountains. It is an opportunity to take a break from the hubbub of life in Tbilisi, get an insight into rural life in Georgia, and drink up some of the most stunning scenery on the planet.
These days, I receive a lot of emails from friends asking me how they should spend their time in Tbilisi and Georgia. Indeed, Georgia seems to be growing in popularity as a tourist destination, which is great news for the burgeoning post-Soviet country. My advice for visitors is to be present, open to new experiences, and don’t drink too much Chacha (a ubiquitous home-brew brandy) with the locals. Amazing things will happen.