Issue 2, 2017. April-May

   

SHOPPING OLD TBILISI

It's high on everyone's list: Tbilisi's iconic and colorful historic neighborhood at the heart of the tourist district.


We know you have been to the Peace Bridge, Meidani and up and down Kote Apkhazi (Leselidze to the old timers) more times than you care to remember.

There are all the obvious charms: plenty of souvenirs for quick shopping, a ton of cafes and even fresh-squeezed fruit juice-a new and brilliant import from some of our neighboring countries.

But are you sure you have experienced all there is to offer? We have several reasons why it is well worth your time to fight the traffic and the tourists to go back for yet another stroll.

Fresh-squeezed fruit juice

Yes, it was mentioned two paragraphs ago. But it is worth mentioning again. You can buy fresh squeeze fruit juice in many Tbilisi cafes-for a price. In Old Tbilisi, it comes cheap and fresh (cut, squeezed and poured before your eyes). Pomegranate, orange and grapefruit juices are on offer at most venders. One sip and you will be reliving your last trip to Istanbul-and feeling virtuous for all that great vitamin C.

Ice Cream

You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.

Now you can scream for it all throughout the year, largely due to the wonderful Luca Polare ice cream chain. A local favorite, there is one branch at 34 Kote Apkhazi (Leselidze).

There is also a branch of another beloved local cafe with ice cream, Entree, at 47 Kote Apkhazi.

Eating

We have not counted the steps, but the ruling theory is you can find a different place to eat at every two paces along Kote Apkhazi (Leselidze) and the major side streets. There are lots of gems, especially if you climb above Meidani, into the renovated houses and side streets overlooking the square.

A new kid on the block, Rosemary (41 Vertskhli Street) is getting rave reviews, and Culinary Backstreets (http://bit.ly/2nmnemS) recently posted a glowing review of an old favorite, Sans Sousci -otherwise known as Ar Dairdardo -owned by the Georgian director Rezo Gabriadze, of Gabriadze theater fame (13 Shavteli Street).

If you are looking for something, well, not Georgian, there are also loads of options, including Persian and Indian. You can find plenty of Halal options throughout the district, and even a kosher restaurant (Jerusalem Restaurant, 2 Jerusalem Street) near the synagogue.

There are even some places you can eat breakfast (before 10 a.m., a minor miracle in Tbilisi), including the previously mentioned Luca Polare and Entree and Mado (5-7 Pushkin Street, right off Freedom Square).


Souvenirs

In a word: Everywhere. In a town, nay - in a country -where the souvenir market is still a bit flat, Old Tbilisi is a smorgasbord of options. There are scores of little shops up and down Kote Apkhazi (Leselidze), as well as a ton of options along the parallel streets-especially Bambis Rigi and Rkinis Rigi.

If you are in the market for more than a t-shirt or a drinking horn, there are also several shops from Georgia's growing field of top notch designers, including Dots (22 Kote Apkhazi), a boutique featured in Vogue, and Mortuloba Design Shop (42 Kote Apkhazi), full of lovely hats and other treasures.

There is also Georgia Kalata (33 Kote Apkhazi), where you can find Georgian tea, cheese, spices and much more in cute, giftable packaging.

Sites

There are several places well worth seeing, in addition to the usual fare of sulfur baths and cable cars.

Leghvtakhevi (Fig Gorge) is near the sulfur baths, and a dreamy walk, especially on hot summer days. Follow the brick walkway past the baths in Abanotubani and enter a tiny oasis in the heart of the city.

Shavteli Street is a lovely street, a tiny thoroughfare you can take to traverse the old district from Baratashvili Bridge to the Peace Bridge and on to Erekli II Street.

It is a narrow walkway for most of the distance, and takes you past the lovely Anchiskhati Basilica of St. Mary, said to be the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi, and behind the Patriarchy, the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

On Saturdays at noon, join the tourists and families in front of Gabriadze Theater on Shavteli Street to see the clock toll. It is well worth a trip. Tbilisi History Museum (Karvasla) near Sioni Cathedral on 8 Sioni Street is a great way to learn more about the city and its fascinating past. The Museum of Minerals at 27/1 Kote Apkhazi (Leselidze) is a no-frills exhibition of more than 500 different rocks, minerals and paleontological artifacts. It is not fancy, but it is free, and if you have got a science-loving kid, check it out. The Catholic Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary is a quiet, peaceful spot on Gia Abesadze Street that dates back to the 13th century. It was renovated in 1998-1999.

YOU SAY APKHAZI, I SAY LESELIDZE

While it is possible that no wise man ever said "The only certain thing in life is a Tbilisi street changing names," there is plenty of evidence to support the sentiment.

A case in point: Leselidze, the former moniker for the eclectic thoroughfare that connects Meidani to Freedom Square.

In the Middle Ages the street was called Shuabazari (Middle Bazaar), reportedly because it divided the city into upper and lower blocks. The name changed in the 19th century, when it became the Armenian Bazaar.

After World War II, it was named Leselidze in honor of Soviet hero General Konstantine Leselidze.

Leselidze fought in the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of the Caucasus and the liberation of Ukraine during the war, according to Wikipedia.

It was renamed after one of the leaders of Georgia's 1921-1923 liberation movement, General Konstantine (Kote) Apkhazi (also spelled Abkhazi), in 2007. Abkhazi was a general-major in the Georgian military during the country's brief independence and was one of the founders of Tbilisi State University (1918) and chairman of the Georgian National-Democratic Party (1921-1923).

He was executed by the Soviet Cheka in 1923.

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