Issue 6, 2012. December-January



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

The weather outside is frightful, but Tbilisi in the winter can be so delightful you will soon be singing "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

1. Hit the slopes - Skiing starts just 30 kilometers outside of Tbilisi at Betania, which includes a tubing area for children. Other ski destinations include Bakuriani, Gudauri, and Mestia in Svaneti. More information on the resorts, accommodations, and amenities is available on

2. Hit the spa - and get a room at Betsy's, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Radisson, and Sheraton hotels in Tbilisi and Batumi - and Holiday Inn's new hotel in Kazbegi - all of which have special deals for the winter season including discounts on rooms and amenities. For more information, please see their sites:,,,, and

3. Baths - The sulfur baths in Old Tbilisi are a must any time of the year, but especially in the winter. Newly refurbished, the baths have been an integral part of Tbilisi life since King Vakhtang Gorgasali founded the city. Alexander Dumas and even Pushkin visited the baths, so we think you will enjoy them, too. Baths are divided into three categories: men, women, and family. There are a variety of room sizes and prices.

4. O chichilaki - Of course there are Christmas trees available in Georgia - evergreen and plastic. But there are also chichilaki, the traditional 'tree,' carved from tree branches. They are sold around the city, but beware: tradition holds they must be burned on January 19, the feast of Epiphany, to remove negativity from a home.

5. The Nutcracker - Going to the ballet is always a treat in Tbilisi, where the dancers are talented and the ticket prices are reasonable. The Nutcracker is a staple of the season, with shows nearly every day starting December 15, continuing into January. For times and more information, check out

6. Alilo - A religious holiday that is celebrated every year on January 7 with a huge walking parade that goes from nearly every district in the city up to Sameba Church. A donkey from Kakheti leads the pack, carrying donations that the Patriarchy distributes to needy families. The celebration is picturesque - especially when the faithful join for the final ascent through Avlabari to the cathedral.

7. Santa and Tovlis Babua - Santa has arrived in Georgia, via cartoons, movies, and Bank of Georgia commercials. But the native gift giver is Tovlis Babua (Grandfather Snow) who comes on New Year's Eve and drops off a gift before children go to bed. At Mtatsminda Park, both gentlemen stop by to collect lists and pose for photographs around the last week in December. For dates and times, call the park: 243 47 77, 243 47 70.

8. January 13 (Old New Year) - The Old New Year is celebrated in most of the former Soviet Union, where the Orthodox Church continued to follow the Julian Calendar after the government switched to the Gregorian Calendar, which is 13 days ahead. It is a bittersweet holiday, since it signifies the end of the Christmas/New Year season - which, depending on how much holiday you have had, could be a good thing. It is much quieter than December 31/January 1, but people still wish each other Happy New Year to celebrate the day.

9. Head for the white lights - If there is one thing Tbilisi does well, its is lights. Holiday lights start going up at the end of November, and stay on until mid-January. Rustaveli and Freedom Square get star treatment, and every major street in the city boasts some sort of decoration.'s favorite is usually Baratashvili Bridge an Puskkin Street but take a tour of the city at night and judge for yourself: from Rustaveli Avenue to the 'burbs, the lights are spectacular.

10. Hot chocolate - One of the best things about winter in Tbilisi is the hot chocolate. In cafes and coffee bars around the city, when you order a cup of cocoa, you are treated to a thick, spoon-able concoction of pure chocolate. We would tell you our go-to hot chocolate cafes, but there are simply too many to list. At this time of year, it is hard to go wrong. Enjoy.