Issue 4, 2012. August-September



In the race to see Georgia, there is a tendency to forget Tbilisi. Despite popular opinion, the capital is more than just Vake, Vera, and Meidani Square. Like any small city, Tbilisi is full of colorful neighborhoods and, over the next several issues, will (re)introduce you to their charms.

Historic and majestic, Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue is the perfect place to be a tourist in your own city. The wide avenue hosts block after block of exquisite architecture, an eclectic mixture of Classical, Renaissance, Moorish, and Art Nouveau buildings.

Aghmashenebeli, as it is known today in honor of King Davit the Builder, was originally known as Mikhail Street - named after Russian Viceroy Mikhail Romanov - although it is more commonly known as Plekhonov, its Soviet-era name.

The avenue stretches from Dighomi Stadium to the Dry Bridge on the left side of the Mtkvari River. While it is well known today for the government's (controversial) efforts to restore the buildings that grace it, Aghmashenebeli offers a lot more than just architecture.

1. Great parks for hot city nights. Back in the old days, before the renovation works, Aghmashenebeli was infamous for dusty traffic jams, and warring marshrutkas. Today, however, although reconstruction work continues on the east side of the avenue, the street is a nice place for a stroll, with sidewalks wide enough - and smooth enough - for a baby stroller. Nestled between shops, restaurants, and museums, there are two great parks where locals walk their dogs and pensioners gossip away their afternoons. Rose Park, two blocks east of Marjanishvili Square, is a large expanse that includes a covered table tennis room and two squares closed to traffic. Up the street, at 136 Aghmashenebeli, there is a lovely fountain and splash park, with upgraded benches and plenty of room for kids to cool down in the water. If you keep going straight through the rose garden, there is a new playground as well. Great outdoor lighting from the Marjanishvili Metro station to Tamar Mepe makes it the perfect place for an evening stroll.

2. Shop, shopping, shopped. From six lari bikinis to 500 lari watches, if you need it, Aghmashenebeli has got it. The newly renovated facades now house an eclectic mix of inexpensive Turkish brands and high end Italian chains. There are also a number of bookshops and stationary stores, as well as the occasional green grocer. On the east end of the street, where renovation works are just starting, a large, Turkish household goods store provides a quick Target-like fix for those longing to peruse aisles of dishware and Tupperware knock offs. The street is also home to some of Tbilisi's best fabric shops, which offer everything from buttons to glitter dots.

3. Gowns. While purists would argue this belongs with shopping, they have not witnessed the phenomena that is the wedding and fancy gown shops on Aghmashenebeli, where there are literally city blocks of dress shops. Denim and lace wedding dress? Check. Red shiny formal ware? Check. Window shopping has never been so good.

4. Eating Out. There is a plethora of places to eat in Tbilisi, but among the nimiety of cafes and restaurants, Aghmashenebeli stands out for its variety. It is literally a one stop destination for any group of guests with widely different eating expectations. But the street's stand out specialty is Turkish, from yummy-sticky bakhlava by the kilogram to upscale cuisine, Aghmashenebeli has got it. And, for dessert, there are competing French bistros across the street from each other at Marjanishvili Square.

5 Breakfast. Okay, so technically this is part of the whole 'eating' motif mentioned above. But, as any breakfast lover wasting away in Tbilisi knows, eating breakfast out in this city is no easy feat: most eateries open their doors at the crack of noon. Aghmashenebeli, however, is different. It boasts three - THREE - breakfast-offering, trend-bucking cafes within a 50 step radius at Marjanishvili Metro (full disclosure: one of them is McDonalds, but still). All advertise opening at, gasp, 8am, too, when most people from the western hemisphere actually, well, eat breakfast.

6 Turkish barbers. Baby, if you are missing Istanbul - and you need a trim - this is your place. Brush up on your Türkçe while you are getting a cut at several locations around the 120 block of the street.

7 Travel agency central. Whether you are in the market for some air tickets, or just want to dream a little dream while gazing at beautiful posters of distant lands, Aghmashenebeli has you covered. HQ for Turkish Airlines, the avenue also boasts a titillating number of tour and booking agents. In case you need some excuse to travel, the Georgian Railway Museum at 136 Aghmashenebeli will put you in the mood.

8. ... along with Aghmashenebeli's many other museums*. From Folk History to Georgian Dance, the avenue and neighboring streets are peppered with museums that are often overlooked. The House-Museum of Galaktion Tabidze, one of Georgia's many talented poets, is at 4 Marjanishvili, while the Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography, 6 Kargareteli, hosts great exhibits that blend art and Georgian culture. The Folklore State Center, 68 Aghmashenebeli, includes a restaurant, as well, in case centuries of creativity inspires an appetite.

9. Have you been to the theater lately? A block from Aghmashenebeli is Tbilisi's famous Marjanishvili Theater...but don't stop there. From the delightful "Second Home" children's theater at 58 Aghmashenebeli, to the Kakha Bakuradze Movement Theatre at 182 Aghmashenebeli, the avenue is Tbilisi's Broadway. Other venues include the Vaso Abashidze Music and Drama State Theater, also at 182 Aghmashenebeli, and Turmanishvili Theater at 164 Aghmashenebeli, a real treat that also includes a lovely café.

10. Restoration, in real time. In 2010, the Tbilisi Mayor's Office started an ambitious program to repair, restore, and in some cases, rebuild the facades on 70 buildings on Aghmashenebeli. Two years later, the project is still going strong, and the public's reviews have been mixed. Since the rehabilitation is ongoing, however, you have the unique chance to judge for yourself. To check out the new, which includes landmark buildings like the historic Apollo - Tbilisi's first movie theater - and the former palace of Prince Oldenburg, which currently houses the Museum of Theater, Music, Cinema, and Choreography, head west from Marjanishvili metro station. To bask in the originals, head east from the metro. Which is better? You decide. But bets are that, regardless of your preference for the oldest or the newest facades, you'll be wowed by this Tbilisi treasure.

* Due to all the construction and renovation work on and around Aghmashenebeli Avenue, some museums and theaters might not be open.