There are many upsides to being married to an arty stylish Frenchman – he is a great cook, he takes me to wonderful restaurants, he is ruthless and graceful in his wardrobe support advice (his words ‘ I tell you what not to wear not what to wear’), and he is a perfect husband on many fronts. But one unexpected upside to being married to a frenchman is that I get to spend time in abandoned buildings and deserted alleys (which occasionally, well often, stink of pee). But over the years I too have developed a deep love and appreciation of brutalist architecture and street art, so I now look forward to these excursions to slums and derelict buildings. So, here we are in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. I have been before, and there is a standard list of tourist sites – freedom square, Rustaveli Ave, the Tsminda Sameba (main monastery), the mother of Georgia on the hill….., and we don’t plan to see any of them. To be honest, we are totally monasteried out after Armenia, and I have seen all of the sites before. Instead we are going to tour around the suburbs looking for groovy abandoned buildings. But we start with a visit to my favourite building in Tbilisi – the Stamba Hotel…..
The blissful delights of the Hotel Stamba
The wonderful folks behind the Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi – the first really cool hotel here – have opened Stamba Hotel in the building next door. It is fantastic. Our room was bigger than a flat we once lived in with 4 metre high ceilings. The renovation has been wonderfully sensitive to the building. More info here. Sadly the glass bottomed rooftop pool was out of action, but I loved the huge copper bath in our room and the Miele coffee machine. It was absolutely the nicest hotel room I have stayed in for a very long time, and surprisingly good value for money for the quality.
Rustaveli and surrounds
We dragged ourselves out of our lovely hotel room and went for a wander. Sadly the excellent abandoned cable car station at Matsaminda was boarded up so we couldn’t get in. But we took some photos from the outside, and also went to Tseretelis’ apple of love (go inside and there are lots of carvings of people having sex). We also tried to visit the MOMA Tbilisi, but it was closed for easter
Fabrica and surrounds
After lunch of Kubdari (bread stuffed with meat) and Lobiana (bread stuffed with red beans) we wandered over to Fabrica – another building lovingly restored by the owners of Stamba. It hosts a co-working space, some cool shops (the Flying Painter in particular), a hostel and a few bars – and the inside of the building is beautiful. More importantly, it has wonderful graffiti and some friendly cats. My favourite part of the was the concrete mosaic on the front of the building.
Bridge of Peace
We wandered down to the Peace bridge – opened about 14 years ago, designed and constructed in Italy and shipped to Tbilisi in 200 trucks. It is a lovely pedestrian bridge which links the old town to the spectacular Performing Arts centre in Rike Park.
We had walked our 20,000 steps do took a Bolt back to the hotel and had dinner in the cool but loud hotel restaurant (I am too old for trendy loud restaurants these days)
Brutalist apartment block with bridges
After an excellent nights sleep in the hugest bed, we headed out to the suburbs to see the excellent apartment buildings linked with high bridges. Many of the original apartment balconies having been bordered up. We entered from the bottom but didn’t have the right change to take the elevator – no bother, you can find some stairs that lead up the grassy area behind the building and then up the stairs of neighbouring building to get to the high bridges. These buildings are still lived in, so we were respectful to the occupants, but had a fun hour taking photos.
Abandoned University Library
Close by to the apartment building is an abandoned University Library with excellent concrete baffles (hard to see in the photos) and some lovely murals. It is also right next to the Maglivi pedestrian bridge which allows students to swiftly cross one of the many gullies that weave through Tbilisi (where the road route around would take 20-30 minutes).
Abandoned Archaeological Museum
Thankfully there were a few Bolts (Georgian ubers) in Sabartalo near the library, so we managed to get a ride up to the abandoned Archeological museum which had a wonderful frontage, and excellent door and a very friendly dog. It is built like a bunker, and we did find a crawl hole which would have given us access to the back bunker, but neither of us were that keen to give it a go.
Bank of `Georgia
My favourite building of the day was the Bank of Georgia – designed with two main entry points – one at the river level and one high above on a main street. Getting between the two to take photos from different angles did necessitate some off road strolling and navigating a pack of wild dogs – but the building was spectacular. The bottom end was a slightly challenging place to pick up a Bolt so we did end up hanging out for about 20 minutes watching the traffic drive insanely fast along the river highway (Georgian drivers are not famous for their speed restraint)
Next stop the Georgian Expo – a series of pavillions that hosted the expo, and some lovely mosaics, scupltures and parkland. There wasn’t much to see but it was very quite and peaceful. We exited the expo into the gritty underbelly of the commercial area of Tbilisi with lots of tyre shops and car repair outfits. There was a highly recommended restaurant a few minutes walk away, so we headed for lunch. Oddly we were the only guests together with one man who left soon after we arrived. And there were seats for about 400 and at least 30 staff. It was 1.30 on Easter Saturday so perhaps everyone was at home eating family lunch. We had a grill for two people (which we shared with the two friendly cats), incredible walnut and tomato salad and an outstanding kachapuri. We still had some energy left so went back to Fabrica and had another wander around and then went to the Dry stone market to inspect the tat (which didn’t really merit much inspection)
After another nap (and a visit to the worlds smallest hotel gym), we went to the feted Barbarastan for dinner. It was very expensive (london prices) and of variable quality. To be fair the waiter did try to warn me off the aubergine starter by saying some people didn’t like the smoky flavour – i like smoke though, so ordered it, and was surprised the dish had basically no flavour at all – it was like eating balls of heavy glue. The roast chicken was a better choice – delicious with an excellent demi glace. There was live music, which was deafening to us oldies, so the accordion man and the slightly off pitch violinist had us out the door by 9pm, for another early night.
That was it – a short but very sweet revisit for me to Tbilisi, and hubby’s first visit to Georgia. I think he is close to having visited 100 countries now, but being less obsessive than his wife, he isn’t really counting.
Tbilisi, 16 April, 2023
This blog was super helpful on Tbilisi street art with up to date google map, and her husband writes an equally good blog on architecture. Both were invaluable. For more generic tourist advice, this blogger was long winded but helpful
It was easy to get around with bolt and very cheap. I had an esim on my phone which cost $5 for 1 gb with airalo. A local sim would have been a little cheaper, but we didn’t need much data for a weekend, so an esim was faster.