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GEORGIA | Monday, 18 May 2009 | Views [2937] | Comments [1]

Mother Georgia, the country's fitting symbol of hospitality and fierce pride

Mother Georgia, the country's fitting symbol of hospitality and fierce pride

April 8: Tbilisi

After disembarking from the train and setting off in the streets of Tbilisi in search of a cheap hostel, I quickly remembered something rather important about Georgia: it has its own alphabet. When you can't read the street names, it makes things a little more interesting trying to figure out where you are on your city map. Thankfully, a couple of signs were also written in Cyrillic (the Russian alphabet), so I eventually found my destination.

I was thrilled beyond belief to be greeted at the home-stay not just by an adorable Georgian granny but also a Cocker spaniel puppy with eyes that could melt a dictator’s heart. We (the puppy and I) immediately bonded and I almost didn’t want to leave the house just so I could spend more time with him! (There are few things better than having a dog plant his floppy-eared head on your lap…)

Thankfully for my sight-seeing intentions, I had a friend of a friend who had arranged, prior to me finding the puppy, to pick me up and bring me to his office in the Ministry of Education. He told me to write out my itinerary and he promptly whipped his mobile out of its holster, alternatively yelling for his secretary to find phone numbers and dialing furiously. He had an amazing network of colleagues all over the country and soon had established a contact for me in each region I planned to visit, each of whom was ready to help me with accommodations, transport, and guiding around the sights. I gaped at him dumbfounded; it was the single most efficient hour I had seen anyone undertake within the past year.

With my whole 2 weeks in Georgia more or less ready to embark upon, I set out to explore my more immediate surroundings: downtown Tbilisi. Starting at Independence Square, I moseyed down the main drag of Rustaveli Avenue past various academic institutions, theatres, museums, churches, and St. George monuments. Tbilisi struck me as remarkably European and, well, familiar, and not just because of the more obvious things like architecture and Christianity; Xerox was once again spelled ‘Xerox’, not ‘KCEROKC’ as in Central Asia (the letter ‘X’ in Cyrillic has a different sound), and there were actual pet stores selling vet-approved dog food (i.e. people own dogs here). I slowed down in front of the imposing columns of the Parliament building as I noticed several people, including one stoic old patriot wrapped in a Georgian flag, already gathering on the steps for the anti-government protest scheduled to begin the next day.

At the end of Rustaveli Ave, I looked up to the huge statue of Mother Georgia overlooking the city from the top of a hill. With one hand offering a cup of wine and the other clenching a sword, she perfectly epitomizes the humbling hospitality and fiercely defensive pride that so characterizes Georgian people. I needed to get closer to take better photos of her, but saw no discernable route to the hill. Up until then, I had been loosely following Lonely Planet’s sight-seeing suggestions, but decided to tuck my map away and explore the winding streets of the Old Town for myself. I was rewarded with an impromptu game of football with some little kids, great photo opps of the dilapidated but charming old apartments, and a back-street route through a construction site up to the Mother Georgia statue, and unexpectedly, the Narikala Fortress. The fortress offered panoramic views of the city below, including the landmark of the massive gold-domed Tsmida Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral and the Mtkvari River, which snakes its way through the centre of the city from north to south. From this height, with the slow-moving cars looking like toys, it was almost easy to forget the crowds of protestors that I knew were growing in front of Parliament. Would the next day’s events end peacefully or would there be more blood shed upon the same grounds as 20 years ago?



Holly,I'm home today, not feeling well, so reading your journals is a perfect way to pass some quiet time.
love, mom

  mom May 23, 2009 2:20 AM

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