Monday, June 8, 2015

Best Things About Living in Tbilisi

Apparently, my last post on the "5 Worst Things About Tbilisi" aroused some anger on the part of people, Georgians and expats alike, who thought I was being unfairly critical of the city. The point of that post was to express an alternate and more complete picture of a place I have almost exclusively gushed positively about on this blog. In my attempt to provide some balance, however, I may have gone too far the other direction. So, here is a new list of my personal  favorite things about living in Tbilisi.

1. it's not shiny 
Tbilisi is old and honest and authentic. It's a crumbling monarch, fading yet still gorgeous. It's not overcrowded with soulless corporate office buildings or sky scraper apartments. Corners are soft and muted, small gardens and parks are whispering and sweet, and the dominant vibe from bustling Pekini Street to romantic Leselidze is self-confidence. Tbilisi does not put on airs, does not force you to be someone else, does not try too hard.

My hope is that the government works harder on preserving the cultural and historical treasures, improves some of the roadways, and doesn't pull too hard towards western modernity (cough, cough Rike Park)

New architecture:
The presidential palace and theater/exhibition hall

2.the people
Tbilisi is often referred to as a big village. Like all city folk, Tbilisebi are a bit faster, pushier, and more aloof than their country-dwelling counterparts- but not by much. The famous Georgian hospitality is alive and well here, seen through my neighbors in impromptu supras in the yard and lazy Sunday evenings at the dacha. My new favorite past time is giving big, American smiles to the security guards on my street and watching them progress over time from worried, to confused, to shy reciprocation. 

I don't know what this is, but it looks fun
3. the background
Tbilisi is surrounded by lovely green hills, and without tall buildings compressing the city inwards, Old Tbilisi simply sighs out into the surrounding suburbs and villages toward the hills. From almost every part of the city you can catch a glimpse of some famous landmark- Kartlis Deda, the tv tower, the Mtatsminda ferris wheel, the St George Statue, or Narikala- making the city seem constantly familiar.

view of TV tower from my front yard
4. accessibility to the rest of the country/region
One word: Didube. 
Georgia is located at an ancient crossroads, opening the way to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Black Sea region, and the Middle East. I live in a constant state of romantic fantasy, thinking that any time I could get swept away onto the Silk Road (and the 15th century), and knowing that I can actually head to the Didube transport hub and find a ride to anywhere in Georgia, and many cities in Russia, Armenia, Turkey, or Azerbaijan. Poor road and weather conditions often block off some sections of the country, mostly high mountain passes, but for the most part you can get anywhere your heart desires, and it's always an adventure!

Didube: metro, marshrutka,
bus, and taxi station, and market
5. it's endlessly diverting

This city is never boring. Packed full of secret courtyards, artisan fountains, and unexpected bursts of color in paint flaking off shutters and trees heavy with scented blossoms. Tbilisi is surprising and captivating, driving me from street to street scanning every inch like a hidden-picture puzzle. There are so many eclectic neighborhoods and cool cafes, I try to explore a new area or two a week!

6. the river
The Kura/Mt'k'vari River is one of the most important features of Tbilisi. In my opinion, a city without water is dead. I need that lifeblood flowing, and Tbilisi is blessed by having its river in the center, flanked by dramatic cliffs where old pastel buildings cling. While the water quality is unfortunately declining and the murky, muddy current is not exactly refreshing, its simple presence is so soothing to me, and I love living just a 15 minute walk from the water!

7. it's diverse
Tbilisi isn't New York, or even St. Petersburg, but there is a lot of diversity here if you look a bit below the surface. Racial diversity is more subtle- the vast majority of people are some variation of "white," but the sub-ethnic groups are incredibly rich, and it continues to surprise me that every Georgian knows his or her ancestral roots! There is a diversity in languages, you often hear Georgian, Russian, and English in combination, and a diversity in experiences. Tbilisi has both natives and immigrants, everyone with a unique story to tell.

8. the weather
While my last post mentioned the heat (and mainly the lack of air conditioning in homes and public spaces to combat it), I generally love the weather here. The past week we have had a series of storms that left gorgeous patterns in the clouds, lit up the sky with sparks of lightening for half the night, and played several long seconds of rolling thunder. Some of the most beautiful moments are in the early morning when the fog from the mountains has not yet burned off and the sun reflects golden through the misty alleys of my neighborhood. 
In general, the temperature range is very comfortable, we get all four seasons, and storms are breathtaking.

9. it's affordable 
I almost didn't want to mention this because it's such a base thing, and I want to feel like my life here is enriched by the intangible,  not the extra laris in my pocket. The favorable exchange rate from dollars and low prices from groceries to transportation, however, cannot be ignored. For those living on a salary in GEL and paying credit and interest in dollars, it's certainly not easy, but for most expats, whose salaries are still in USD, Tbilisi is a very budget-friendly city. 

Now you've seen the good and the bad. 
I think the good in Tbilisi far outweighs the frustrations. This city has so much to offer any visitor from a backpacker looking for hostels, to a young couple looking for a romantic getaway, to luxury resorts and more- Tbilisi has something for everyone. Come see for yourself, and don't forget to let me know your thoughts on what you consider the best things about the city!

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