Monday, April 28, 2014

Things Eaten & Things Seen: Tbilisi Day 2

Tbilisi day two has been just as enjoyable as day one. I went out early for breakfast at a place on a square in the old town called Qalari Samiktao, which was filled with locals (all men). It is not at all charming, but has a wonderful view of the square and the river and has a big, open kitchen with a large wood burning oven for cooking. Everything on the menu was Georgian. I had a coffee and a khachapuri (ხაჭაპური) which is basically a bread boat filled with some combination of cheese and butter and sometimes an egg or meat. I had the cheese variety. These are a staple in Georgian cuisine. The bread here is remarkable and when filled with cheese and fresh from the oven, it is delicious. That being said, i could only bring myself to eat a small amount of this heart attack on a plate, which seemed to concern the waiter, who asked, "it is not good?" I assured him it was, but i said "if i eat more i will die", which he thought was funny. Oh, and can i just say how wonderful it is to smoke inside, to have ashtrays on every table. It is the best.

Bread and cheese in various forms are sold everywhere, including kisoks for take away seem to be constantly baking everything fresh, producing delious aromas, from even the most uninspiring looking places, like this place in an underground passageway.

Most people here speak Georgian and Russian, although it seems that most people working in the hospitality industry speak some English as well. So far in Georgian the most i can manage is please, thank you, hello, good bye, yes, and no. But i'll always try new words, with varying degrees of success.

After breakfast i walked across the bridge to the Metekhi Church, which sits on a cliff over the river. No services were happening but there were women inside, praying.

I then left the old city and walked down Rustavelis street, which is main thoroughfare through the city, lined with the national museum, gallery, opera house and other large impressive buildings, as well as many well known, European stores. I didn't find it as interesting as the old city for visiting, but it was a nice walk and one church had a service underway which had the same beautiful singing as i heard elsewhere on Sunday. I also stopped by and had a coffee in the leafy courtyard of an english language bookstore and coffee roaster.

I then went down to the dry bridge market, which is really a flea market of mostly paintings, dishes, felted objects, ceramics, daggars, drinking horns, soviet collectibles, and other odds and ends. Nothing really caught my fancy but it was fun to look. 

I made it back to the old city just before noon, in time to catch the show at the whimsical clock tower. At noon, the top door opened and an angel came out and hit the bell with a hammer 12 times, then a second door opened and music played as figures rotated, showing a man and woman getting married, then with a baby, then showing them old, then their tombstones.

For lunch i went to another Georgian restaurant, and had two dishes i had wanted to try: badrijani nigvizit (ბადრიჯანი), which is eggplant slices topped with a garlicy walnut paste and garnished with slices of onion and pomegranate seeds; and khinkali (ხინკალი), boiled soup dumplings often containing meat, but in this case, mushroom. If there is one quintessential Georgian food, it is khinkali which is served everywhere. They were both delicious and bursting with flavor. I sat outside and had a cigar, on the narrow, pedestrian street, watching the passersby.

One other Georgian food i have tried is Churchkela or ჩურჩხელა, which is nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts) strung on strings and dipped in grape juice until it forms a chewy, slightly sweet coating. These are for sale at markets and on the street, hanging and looking like sausages or candles. The different colors apparently come from the different grapes used and is made as a byproduct of Georgian wine making (which itself is a big deal - Georgia is, according to archeologial evidnece, the first wine producing country and it is a big product today). The churchkela is tasty - kind of a nut and dried fruit combination.

One thing i saw on my walks that amused me was one of those machines that you put money into to operate a claw so you can pick up a toy or prize, it had teddy bears inside, and plastic eggs with prizes inside. Normal enough, but this machine also had packs of cigarettes in addition to the toys. No wonder everyone here smokes. I guess they start young.

This afternoon was more aimless wandering, followed by a nap, and then i sat inside one of the many many hookah lounges (the Cairo bar) enjoying some shisha and tea. Certainly there are tourists at these places, but judging by the languages spoken, it seems that it is mostly locals partaking in the hookahs, backgammon and dominos. 

It is raining. Nothing else planned for the evening. Tomorrow i will make a day trip to the towns of Mtskheta (the former capital of Georgia from 3rd century BCE to to the 5th century) and Gori (famous for being Stalin's hometown and where a number of people were killed during the Russian/Georgian war of 2008). I will also visit Uplistsikhe, a cave city and former silk road trading stop dating back to about 5th century BCE. These are all places i had wanted to visit, but couldn't do it all in 1 day, as i was going to travel by marshrutka. Fortuantely, two guys (whom i haven't yet met) staying at the hostel have hired a driver and were looking for a third to share the cost, so i will join them. It should be fun.

Back at the hostel now, calling it a day. I am very happy with my hostel choice. My room is cozy, and it is nice to have my own kitchen for making tea. The staff here speak perfect English, and the shared bathrooms are clean (they also have signs on them advising that sex is not allowed in the washrooms - good to know).
ძილი ნებისა (good night)

1 comment:

Betty-Lou said...

I loved the whimsical clock tower and I can smell the fresh bread from here. It must be delicious.