Issue 5, 2012. October-November

   

TEN THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT...TBILISI FOR KIDS

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, Investor.ge will (re)introduce you to their charms.

You have been to the zoo, seen the fountain at Rike Park, and rode the rides at Mtatsminda Park. Georgians love children, Tbilisi is a great city.

So why is it so hard to come up with things to do with your kid on the weekend?

While there are more and more guidebooks about Georgia and Tbilisi, there is still a lack of literature about the city's attractions for children. To fill the vacuum, Investor.ge spoke with parents, entrepreneurs, and nursery school operators about the city's hidden treasures for the underage set.

1) Planes, trains, automobiles. For all the locomotive lovers out there, there is a train that runs from the central train station to the airport and back again, for two-lari a ticket. The scenery is urban, and the train is definitely Soviet, but with few passengers and friendly conductors, it is a fun trip. Plus, the train station at the airport is new and trés Star Trek.

Times and train numbers are available at www.railway.ge, under the traffic schedule menu. The metro is also a treat, especially for toddlers. Many of the stations are old and lack the glamour of Moscow but Tavisuplebis Moedani (Liberty Square) and Tseretli metro stops have both been renovated. Plus there are outdoor stations on the first line between Vagzlis Moedani (Station Square) and Didube, which offer a cool perspective on the city. Metro rides cost 50 tetri,and children ride free. A Metromoney card is required. It costs two lari to activate and is only available at the metro station) to purchase tickets.

2) Parks, rides. There are three famous parks in Tbilisi: Mtatsminda Park, the amusement and strolling park located on the top of Mtatsminda Mountain above the city center; Rike Park, the new park on the bank of the Mtkvari River, reachable by the glass bridge that connects the two river banks near Sioni Church in Old Town; and Vake Park, the large park that stretches from Chavchavadze Avenue to Kus Tba. But Tbilisi is also full of smaller, neighborhood parks that are worth a second look, such as Red Park on Kazbegi Avenue in Saburtalo. The park equipment is old and in disrepair, but there are great tennis courts, and lovely wooded (ungroomed) trails that are great for exploring. Rose Park, off of Aghmashenebeli Avenue, is a treasure of small amusement park rides and quiet paths. Mushtaid Park, behind Dinamo Stadium, was recently renovated and includes rides and a cafe. Vere Park is located across Kostava Avenue from the Philharmonia concert hall. Closed off to traffic, the park is full of wide boulevards that are perfect for strolling and bike riding. There are public chess boards in case you want to polish your game, as well. Lisi Lake, although less popular than Kus Tba, is undergoing some renovations and is a great starting off place for hikes around in the beautiful nature that surrounds the city. Mziuri Park, located off Chavchavadze Avenue, is also a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. There is new playground equipment in the park and new walkways smooth enough for riding.

3) Fountains, pools. Vere Park has a great set of fountains for splashing and cooling off in the heat, as does the lovely Jansugh Kakhidze Garden at 136 Aghmashenebeli. Tbilisi is also full of pools, although not many are the all-seasons, all-ages pools families are used to in the United States. So it is best to call ahead to check age requirements, as well as water temperature, and pool conditions. Swimming lessons, both private and group, are available at pools around the city, although few allow parents to be present in the pool during the class. For pool addresses and contact numbers, check out the city's great online yellow pages, www.yell.ge.

4) Museums. Museums in Tbilisi are an inexpensive day out and what they lack in polish, they make up for in friendliness. The great history museum, now called the Janashia Museum, 3 Rustaveli Avenue, has a child friendly permanent collection of gold artifacts unearthed during the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline construction. In addition, for older children and history buffs, the top- floor exhibit Museum of Occupation is a must. The Ethnographic Museum near Kus Tba, is an outdoor exhibition of Georgian houses from every region in the country. The trails leading from house to house are good for strollers and safe from traffic. The Money Museum, located next to the National Bank of Georgia, 3/5 Leonidze, is a neat trip through Georgian history via all the different types of coins used - from the ancient Greeks to the Soviets and the days of hyperinflation following independence. The city also has a lovely doll museum, but it is currently closed for repairs and set to reopen on Aghmashenebeli Avenue later this year. When more information is available, Investor.ge will post it to its website and fb page.

5) Theater. Children are a welcome part of theater life in Georgia, and families attend performances at the ballet, www.opera.ge, and the Philharmonia, www.concerthall.ge, as well as the city's other great theaters. Matinees are inexpensive, and, as a rule, children under 3 can attend for free. There are also children's theaters like Meori Sakhli (Second Hand), 58 Aghmashenebeli, and Nodar Dumbadze Theater, 99/1 Aghmashenebeli, and the Fingers Theater, 8 Marjanishvili. Plus, if you are in the Old Town, every day at noon and 7pm there are mini performances at the large clock on Shavteli Street.

6) Feeding small bellies. Eating out is a family affair in Georgia, and children are welcome at restaurants and cafes. Smoking is allowed in most eateries in Tbilisi, but if you go before the dinner rush, i.e. before 8pm, there are normally fewer people, and fewer smokers. While restaurants are child friendly, few have high chairs or booster seats, so if you don't fancy eating with a child in your lap or feeding them from the stroller, come prepared. Children's menus are also a rarity (they do have them at the Tbilisi Marriott and some chain restaurants). However getting an extra plate and splitting a dish is usually not a problem. Georgian cuisine and western style burgers and pizza - as well as a growing number of Italian, Indian, Thai, Iranian, and Turkish eateries - are opening (and closing) with dizzying regularity so it pays to check out some of the city's great online restaurant guides, including www.info-tbilisi.com, www.tripadvisor.com, and www.apetito.ge. Sunday brunch is gaining popularity in the city. All the major hotel chains offer them, normally with special deals for younger children. Betsy's Hotel, 32-34 Makashvili, also offers a Sunday brunch, as does Tartine on Meidani Square and the Hanger Bar on Shavteli Street.

7) Nurturing growing minds. There are a growing number of classes for children of all ages, both by independent providers and organized by preschools. To name a few: Sun Yoga Tbilisi is offering children's yoga and karate classes, as well as family film night, www.sunyogatbilisi.com; Art, gardening, and theater classes are available in English at NataBuachidze's Studio, 599-15-55-13; Hip Hop and other dance classes for children at www.dstarstudio.ge (2220561 and 592703512).

8) Getting out and about. For school- aged children, Tbilikids organizes out of town day trips for school age children (7 and up), and plans to add ski weekends in the winter. More information is available on their Facebook page, facebook.com/Tbilikids. For younger children, Nino Shvelidze-Blauvelt, the director of Vake English Daycare, organizes outings and excursions around Tbilisi.

9) Balls, bats, and baskets. There are a multitude of classes available for children of all ages, ranging from tennis to chess. While it can be more difficult to find activities in English, it is not impossible. There are English-language tennis classes at Vake Park, Tika 555-33-52-64; and softball/baseball teams for children: contact Jackie Koney, for more information. In addition, QSI is holding Saturday sports clinics. For more information, call the school at 253-76-70.

10) Playgroups, parents classes. TIPs, http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/TbilisiParents/, is an online parents' forum where expats and locals exchange information and ideas. The local IWA has a playgroup for small childre: contact group organizer Matt Maloney, for more information. In addition, there is a parenting class, "Mum & Me," held every Monday from 12-4pm at Sun Yoga; visit www.doulatbilisi.com for more information.