Extended Family Time

Hello readers,

This weekend I went to Tbilisi. Normally, I would take the 5 hour marshrutka ride alone, bored out of my mind, and stay at a hostel for the weekend, meeting up with my fellow English teachers and spending most of my monthly stipend in a single weekend on fancy mixed drinks and American food.

This weekend, I rode over with Salome, I stayed with two different extended host family members, I navigated the underground bazaars and spent money only on clothing, because a Georgian will never be the one responsible for letting you go hungry.

And spending time with these little angels was no trouble!

And spending time with these little angels was no trouble!

First, I finally got to meet my little host-cousins, Nini (3) and Anastasia (10 Months). I have seen their photos in my family’s albums and Facebook pages, and now I know why. They’re just so sweet and photogenic! Apparently, I am somewhat of a family celebrity too, because when Salome and I went to Nini’s kindergarten to pick her up, having never met me she screamed “Kacie!” across the room as soon as I walked in the door. It was a nice introduction, though reminiscent of picking my brothers up from daycare, and any memory of them makes me a little sad when I am so far away.

I mean, it's hard not to be reminded of the boys in moments like this...

I mean, it’s hard not to be reminded of the boys in moments like this…

The first night I was feeling a little ill after a particularly nauseating marshrutka ride (though honestly, they’ve all felt that way lately) so we decided to stick close to the apartment. My host-aunt, Tamriko, had some friends down the street who make this amazing round bread and thought I might want to eat some fresh from the “oven.”  I did, and it was even more amazing when it was hot. After giving me a chance to remove the bread from the well-shaped stone oven, a delicate process as it just sticks vertically to the hot walls, they cooked some pork on kebabs and bought a 2 liter Fanta for an impromptu meal. If I ever get rich, I am installing one of these ovens in my home, because not only does it cook bread perfectly, but meat too. I would probably have nightmares about the little girl from The Ring crawling out of it, but it would be worth it.

My sad attempt at being a bread maker... I think i will leave it to the pros.

My sad attempt at being a bread maker… I think i will leave it to the pros.

The next night, after a much needed haircut that only cost me 7 Lari (<$5), it was decided that I needed to do some sightseeing while in Tbilisi. I explained that I had already seen the fortress, but they insisted that everything looked better by night. Now, I am compelled to agree. We started with the infamous fortress, an impossible-to-miss landmark by day when it is not glowing above the city. We rode the gondola to the top, took in a fantastic view of the city lights and the many, many churches of Tbilisi, and walked back down through Old Town. It was very cool at night, partly because I wasn’t absolutely sweating in the sun and fighting the crowds of tourists, but also because of the aesthetic quality.

My tour guides, Aunt Tamriko, Sister Salome, and the Breadman

My tour guides, Aunt Tamriko, Sister Salome, and the Breadman

From the fortress, it’s impossible to miss the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi,  more commonly called “Sameba” which means trinity in Kartuli. I was thrilled when my tour guides decided to take me there as well, as it has been a casualty of time in my previous visits to Tbilisi. Built in 2004 to celebrate 2000 years since the birth of Christ (they were a little tardy due to civil unrest in their nation), Sameba is the third tallest Orthodox cathedral in the world. Day or night, it dominates its surroundings. After a quick cab ride, we were at the gates, which looked decidedly closed. I was disappointed, but after a few words with the guard, one of which was definitely “Amerikeli,” we were granted access. We had the entire complex to ourselves, and were even able to enter the cathedral as several maids mopped the floors of it’s impressive square footage.

I don't think pictures can do justice to how massive this place really is

I don’t think pictures can do justice to how massive this place really is.

We walked back to the city center via the Peace bridge, another light show in the city of Tbilisi, and caught a cab back to Tamriko’s apartment. After a midnight meal of khinkhali, round bread, sausages with mustard (which I almost choked on because it was super hot but I was so excited about mustard that I used way too much), and Coca Cola, we decided to get some sleep for the long journey home the next day.

It was nice to see a different side of Tbilisi with the locals, instead of using the city as an excuse to see other Westerners and eat western food. I’m hoping we will go back for Anastasia’s first Birthday!

-Kacie Riann

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Tbilisi: The City That Loves You

Gamarjoba!

Tonight I write to you from Gut’uri, from my home where I have finally set up my Internet, and I will give more on my placement later… but first let me tell you a bit about Tbilisi.

1 church per person…

Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia, and home to almost 1/4 of Georgia’s entire population! I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my life, spending time in numerous capital cities, but I have never seen anything quite like Tbilisi. The tourism slogan is “The City That Loves You,” yet everywhere you look people are frowning. There is a constant battle between old and new, as well as a fine line between friendly and suspicious.

I actually ooh’ed and aah’ed in this city

I walked across the Freedom bridge, a shiny metal sculpture that lights up like Vegas at night (pictured above) and stumbled mere feet into a quiet, classic alley from the 1300s (pictured below).

Then I fell silent in places like this

I rode a modern gondola up to an ancient fortress, I found gated alleyways off of the bustling Freedom Square roundabout, and I dined in a restaurant that featured both traditional Georgian polyphonic singing and beer towers. Georgia has undergone major changes in a short amount of time. The TLG program is less than 5 years old, and 10 years ago many homes had no electricity. There is a really cool oldness to Tbilisi that celebrates Georgia’s place in history, but it is stationed right alongside the displays of wealth and modern architecture that are recently erected or still under construction. Georgia is quickly thrusting itself into the modern world, and Tbilisi is the visual representation.

Both the fortress and the gondola can be seen from all over the city

See that statue on the far right of the picture above? That’s kartlis deda, or “Mother Georgia” and she can probably sum up the atmosphere of Tbilisi better than I. Here’s a close up:

Notice her right hand, now notice her left hand…

The bowl, filled with wine of course, is meant to greet her friends, the sword is meant to greet her enemies. Georgia is known to be very hospitable, which I have been fortunate enough to experience, but there is also a sternness that is tangible in Tbilisi. I rode in a cab where the driver praised my friends and I for coming to teach English, but I also suffered the irritated stares of the waitress who seated the table of 12 westerners in the far back corner. I heard the word “mastsavlebeli” (teacher) spoken through both smiles and clenched teeth. I have never been so confused!

The view from the fortress

As I mentioned before, orientation kept me pretty busy during my time in Tbilisi and there is much more to the city than what I was able to explore. However, from what I saw I can say without question that I will return before my time here is done. I have never been so surprised by a city, and I can only hope that the rest of the country continues to surprise me!

Nahvamdis!

-ქეისი რამი

 

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