Monday, December 4, 2017

A bit more Tbilisi

We ate very well over the time we were in the city and prices were VERY cheap, maybe $12 for two  of us for a simple dinner with a house wine or beer.  

Having an interest in wine, we tried the one highly recommended venues which specialized in Natural Georgian wines - Vino Underground.  The natural refers to the traditional wine making method

Grapes are stomped by foot and put into egg-shaped clay pots called qvevris, which are then buried in the ground or kept in cellars. As the wine ferments, the qvevri's shape promotes circulation, clarifying the wine. The clay provides natural temperature control and a little oxygen exposure, all of which makes for some truly dynamic wine unlike anything you may have tasted. There's also skin contact, which gives white wines that iconic amber color and more tannin's than conventionally made whites, where the skin is removed before fermentation.
The complete article on Georgian wines: 

Below is a qvevri, terracotta wine jar - an advertising prop outside a local wineshop

The wine industry is huge for the country and there are a lot of places trying to sell to tourists.  We tried a few wines, but really only found the best ones on our last night in the city.  A local cafe Dadi offered wine by the glass and the staff were happy to listen to what we liked and make sensible suggestions.  And the food and atmosphere were excellent.

We had another local food venue down the street from us that was in the Lonely Planet, Racha (with great street art graffiti on the wall outside. Andrew particularly liked watching the dumplings being made and the traditional fried potato and meat dish  Ojakhuri 

One of Tbilisi’s last duqani (cheap, traditional, basement eatery, literally 'shop'), Racha serves up tasty home-style staples such as khinkali (spicy dumplings), mtsvadi (shish kebabs), khachapuri and badrijani nigvzit (aubergine slices with walnut-and-garlic paste) at great prices. Perhaps not a place for beginners: the menu is a board written in Georgian and no one speaks any English.  (From Lonely Planet)
It was very good, simple food and we went back twice.

The other great eat was at Sofia Melnikova's Fantastic Douqan, which we picked up off Tripadvisor with consistently good ratings. The reviews said how hard it could be to find the location and it proved a challenge.  Finally we walked into the museum we knew was near the actual location and of course I had forgotten the actual long name of the restaurant.  Saying Sofia a couple of times resulted in blank looks.  But i remembered the name for the dumplings for which the restaurant was well known for and saying Khinkali?  resulted in a big smile, and they directed us through a door and pointed to where we needed to be.  

And the salads and dumplings were well worth the search!  No one deserves to watch the video I have of Andrew eating/slurping his dumplings, so just a photo.  The dumplings are very large and the local technique is to use your hands.  The knot at the top isn't eaten and used more as a handle.

We found some very good coffee at independent cafes around the city, but it was relatively expensive by local standards 

Andrew did cause a bit of an international incident one day when we were walking along the street.  A young man gave Andrew a fright by grabbing his arm from behind.  So startled by this, he yelled at the top of his voice "F*** Off!" The guy backed-off and started saying America, America - we weren't about to contradict him.  Then he started to follow us.  Periodically yelling 'America'.  15 minutes later we ducked into a museum to lose him.  He probably was high on something or perhaps had some mental health issues.  

The museum was actually on Andrew's list, being the National Gallery.  It was one of the most disappointing  places we visited this trip.  There was an exhibition of Italian paintings - but they were just copies.  Then one gallery of local artists which had a limited number of paintings and were of a primitive style.  A picture taken of the favourite local artist, Pirosmani 

 On the other hand the Georgian National museum was outstanding and well worth a visit - we happily spent a few hours here.  The displays archaeological items in bronze and iron ( many were thousands of years pre BC) were really interesting and the items in the treasury were stunning.  On the top floor is an exhibition on the Soviet Occupation from the 1920s until the early 1990s and covers the 2003 Russian invasion in disputed Georgian territories.  A particularly effective, yet simple exhibit, was lighting inside a rail car, so as to highlight the bullet holes.

The green building in the photo above, is a police station.  According to some reading we did, post independence Police Station were built of glass as part of the idea of transparency and moving away from corruption - how true that statement is we don't know, but we did see a number of glass police station in Tbilisi and on the drive to Armenia.

We took a trip to the large market called Deserters Bazaar.  There were no shortage of large articulated lorries distributing produce and transit vans where the vegetables had been pileed in directly and the vendor selling directly from the tailgate.  If it was grown or made, you could probably buy it here. 

We originally had a plan to head to particular lunch venue after the market but we hadn't factored in local customs.  The city didn't really get going until 11:00am and cafes weren't always open when we wanted.  The ones that were probably though we were odd, eating so 'early'.  I read somewhere some people's working day didn't start until 13:00.  Of course things were open much later in the evening, but we kept our normal routine and were asleep before the fun started.

There was a trip to the weekend flea market at the Dry Bridge.  Lots of people and some interesting items for sale.  There was no shortage of Vinyl records and vintage cameras/lenses.  One special stall that surprised us was the surgical instruments, and they had a lot of stock to sell!  Also a good collection of firearms and swords.

The people were helpful and kind to us, but they had the eastern European more reserved natures.    While we couldn't read the local script and had 3 words in Georgian, we had no problem communicating with people. The only time we got caught out was when Andrew purchased a bottle of milk.  He said it made his tea taste funny.  Turns out it was Kefir not milk.  He had missed the English words on the label, but no harm done and I'm sure his gut health was improved.  And it is similar to the time in Russia where he nearly bought horse milk rather than cow milk before a kind local pointed the label out to him :-0 

Andrew noted that a lot of the cars had 1 or both bumpers missing - probably related to the driving styles commented on earlier.  There were not the same number of expensive cars that we saw in Azerbaijan  but there were a LOT of Ladas.

Tbilisi was a great base for exploring and we had plenty to do.  At another time of year the mountains are an hour away and would be worth day-tripping to do some walking.

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