Something Old. Something New.
The city of Tbilisi is one heck of a beautiful, tightly packed, aroma-filled, mash-up.
Walking through the streets on any clear day in Tbilisi is always a fresh experience. This is going to be my attempt to capture some of that in article format. My word of caution is that many of the streets of Tbilisi are just as fluid as the sea; they are always changing. New vendors, new shops, new buildings. With that said, here's and idea of you morning walk in the capital of Georgia.
My personal favorite way to get around town is the underground train systems, or Metro. Like a lot of large cities, this is a speedy way to move about different areas of the city for low cost. I found it to be pretty clean and easy to use, though I have had some who have questioned my opinion on this. Getting to any of the Metro stations is usually pretty easy, as there is also taxi and plenty of open sidewalks. The Metro is also fairly quick about getting you to where you need to go. If it's rush hour, you may find yourself very close to your fellow riders, but nothing a seasoned urbanite can't handle. Rising from the Metro, you find yourself in the heart of the city.
Smells will most likely be the first thing that hits you. This could be in the form of a passing cologne or perfume, as Georgians typically wear this in mild excess when going out and about. Thought I'm not offended by this, some foreigners make note of it in a less enthusiastic way. If there's a tone (pronounced "tone-ay"), the traditional Georgian stone bread-cooking furnace, around, you'll be blessed by the warm aroma of fresh puri (bread) being pulled out for sale. This bread, made with local flour and a generous amount of salt, makes up a good portion of the average Georgians diet. Not to mention, it's perfect for cleaning your plate of all those juices and sauces after a meal!
If you're really lucky, there's a shaurma shop around, and that smell is unmistakable. The hot spinning cone of meat, along with all the condiments that come along, is something any street food addict will have to make a pause for immediately. For those not well versed in the art that is popular street food, the meat is carved off into thin, tortilla-like bread and wrapped with tomatoes, sauces, spicy peppers, and lettuce, then can be handheld and eaten on the move. Though not truly Georgian, it's still the king of street snacks.
Because of Georgia's central location in the Asian continent, and a long list of other supporting reasons, many people from many more cultures and nations have come to make this their home. With this, many have decided to make their national culinary delicacies available to the Tbilisi populace. The different smells that come with this won't let a hungry person walk very far before breaking down and walking in to one of the thousands of restaurants lining the streets. Indian, Czech, Russian, German, Japanese, Chinese, European classic, American comfort, Persian, Italian, Lebanese, Greek, Israeli, African traditional, and of course the ever-present Georgian dining hall. It's all here, and so are the aromas drifting through the streets as their own advertising campaign, to pull you in.
While you're out, shopping of opportunity is always available. Tbilisi won't leave you without options for every need. Many times, simple things can be found at the innumerable "marketi's". These are small general stores that are the lifeblood of living anywhere in the city. They carry most of your everyday groceries, toiletries, household needs, and even some specialty items depending on the owner, which is usually a local family. It's always a little bit of a lottery seeing what they have in stock. Depending on what part of the city you find yourself, these are often flanked by fresh meat and vegetable shops, as well a small bakeries where some of the famous Georgian street foods of Lobiani, Khachapuri, and even mini Georgian-style pizzas are "hot and ready", to steal the phrase from a certain Roman general turned pizza peddler.
Mixing about between all of these things are the people. Georgians, Russians, Azeris, Armenians, Europeans, and even the occasional lost American boy (ehem) are all meandering on the large sidewalks that also sometimes accommodate mopeds and scooters delivering all the foods previously mentioned. The fashions in the capital mostly follow European styles, with more darker and muted colors prevailing. For reasons I haven't quite nailed down, the vast majority of young men choose black as the main color of their garb, perhaps with the exception of their tight blue jeans. Older men cling to many of the same styles they most likely wore during their working years under Soviet occupation, and as such make for a nice dichotomy of new city, old threads. Leather jackets, "cabbie" hats, and multi-colored sweaters abound, as well as the occasional headscarf. Georgian women take fashion much more seriously. Their ensemble is typically much more well coordinated and also follows the European and more so Italian styles, with more adventurism in the way of color selection. One of my favorites is the broad use of the beret, particularly by women. Berets are cool.
While this doesn't encompass every aspect of street life, I wanted to paint the best picture I could, without writing so much as to be repulsive. Perhaps in the near future a "part II" will have to compliment this. With all this said, this is a fairly succinct piece on the sights, smells, and people of the capital of Georgia. Everyday is a new experience!