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Saturday, July 9, 2011
Traveler and Blogger Ethan Martin: Tbilisi "may be the most beautiful city I've laid eyes upon"
On the eastern shore of the Black Sea there is a long beautiful beach, not of sand but of smooth gray stones. It's well over a mile long, and it's where I'm sitting in the early afternoon, enjoying a beer and a quick visit to Batumi, my second and final stop in Georgia.
I haven't seen a beach like this, or more importantly heard a beach like this — the sound of the waves raking the stones back and forth is supremely soothing — for about seven years, when I spent a couple days in Nice.
Sitting in the sunshine listening to the stones roll over each other is just one reason I wish I could stay longer in Georgia. It was only three days ago when I arrived in the capital of Tbilisi by overnight train and just last night when I left. I have an appointment in Istanbul that I can't afford to miss.
The capital may be the most beautiful city I've laid eyes upon. Ancient churches with octagonal towers look over the city from hills and ridges that offer a full panorama from along the crenelated walls. The city has cafes on thin cobbled streets in old neighborhoods along the winding Kura river, naturally heated sulfur baths covered by brick domes, and a high saturation of beautiful apartments and residences that are almost Tuscan with their bright smooth facades, arched windows and orange tiled roofs.
Things are cheap in Tbilisi, and quality is high. The beer, the wine, the hearty food, the cozy apartment-sized hostels, the transportation. A subway ride is about 50 cents (though pricey compared to Baku, Azerbaijan) and gets progressively cheaper with each ride in a day.
Just outside the city, accessible by shared minivans found in a hectic market, are some great day trips. There's Gori, the coincidentally named hometown of Joseph Stalin, and site of the museum in his honor. I sat in his personal train car, formerly belonging to Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II. The small city also saw some action in the recent conflict with Russia, and now has an EU Monitoring Mission office there.
There's Mtskheta, home of Georgia's most important cathedral and an ancient hill-top monastery that gives a fantastic view of the city nestled into the confluence of two rivers. I'm normally not very impressed by churches, but the thousand-year-old cathedral is truly stunning. My good luck at arriving in the middle of some sort of rite helped the favorable impression: incense wafting from swinging censers, towering ceilings with aged murals, flagstones and pillars smoothed with years, chanting priests, male and female choirs harmonizing, gilded icons gleaming in dim light.
I think I'm in Georgia for just long enough to want to stay longer. Sure, there are travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department, but you can always count on the government for overexaggerating to cover their backs. The Georgian tourist maps also state bluntly that there are areas not in control of the government, but they're easy enough to avoid. Hopefully it's just the early season, but it seems that at the moment Tbilisi and Batumi are pleasantly undertouristed.
I arrived in Batumi this morning, and I'm going to leave in a couple hours, as soon as the beachside Ferris wheel starts running so I can get a ride before I move on. I've spent the morning strolling around town, happily unburdened of my luggage. The train station was so small that it lacked any sort of bag storage, but I've managed to talk the good folks at the enormous Sheraton into holding on to my stuff.
It's a short visit, but better than none, and a perfect example proving that the more places I travel to, the more places I want to see.
Ethan Martin is traveling throughout Asia and Europe, and keeping a blog, http://v-w-x.blogspot.com. The 2001 Exeter High School graduate's column on his travels will appear monthly in the Exeter News-Letter.
Original article here
Posted by LinkGeorgia Admin at 9:09 PM