Trans Eurasia travel

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Almost 10 times the size of any other city in Georgia, Tbilisi is where it all happens. Politically, culturally, economically and socially, this is the hub of the country and the place to which Georgians gravitate for action and excitement. Capital of Georgia (in its various incarnations) almost continually since the 5th century, Tbilisi brims with history and has a dramatic setting on hillsides either side of the swift Mtkvari River. Its Old Town, at the narrowest part of the valley, is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with narrow, winding alleys, handsome religious buildings, and old balconied houses and caravanserais (travellers inns).

Tbilisi's multi-ethnic cosmopolitan tradition goes back to the time of David the Builder in the 12th century. The city's cultural life reflects this diversity: where else could you find Armenian, Russian, and Georgian theaters all within 15 minutes of each other? As you walk around the city you will be impressed by layer upon layer of cultures, peoples, historical periods, and unique monuments. This city reveals its charms slowly. In the morning, walking along the banks of the Mtkvari (Kura) River, you'll think you've grasped the essence of the city that's somewhat akin to Florence on the Arno. Later, on Rustaveli Avenue you'll come upon the Moorish-style Opera House and you'll think of the Mezquita in Cordoba. Both are correct. The city is neither entirely European nor entirely Asian. You, like so very many before you, are standing at the crossroads between those two great continents.

The capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, population 1,234,600 and 349 sq. km, is one of the most ancient cities in the Caucasus. The city is favorably situated on both banks of the Mtkvari River and is protected on three sides by mountains: Mtatsminda to the southwest, Mount Tabori and the Solalaki Ridge to the southeast, and the low undulating Makhat Ridge to the northeast, beyond which is the so-called Tbilisi Sea, now a reservoir, and then the Samgori steppe. On a clear day you can see the mighty peak of Mt. Kazbek jutting from the Greater Caucasus in the north. The sheltering mountains, such as the northeast slope of Mt. Tabori, are the source of sulfuric hot springs, and of cool breezes that blow through the valley. On the same latitude as Barcelona, Rome, Chikago and Boston, Tbilisi has a temperate climate with an average temperature of 13.2° С. A damp spring is followed by a summer which can be oppressively hot and stuffy, then a fine autumn with lower humidity; the first snow appears on the mountains in mid October, but winter in the city tends to be damp and misty with minimal snowfall. January is the coldest month, with an average temperature of 0.9° С. July is the hottest month, averaging 25.2° С. Autumn is the loveliest season in which to visit the city.

Perhaps the most evocative accounts of Tbilisi come from the 1930s, because of the contrast it offered to the rest of the USSR: the author Arthur Koestler said:

'I loved Tbilisi more than any other town in the Soviet Union, perhaps because it was still so untouched by the drabness and monotony of Soviet life. The town has an irresistible charm of its own, neither European nor Asiatic, but a happy blend of the two.'

Tbilisi is also a modern city moving forward in the 21st century after the strife and stagnation of the late 20th. There is a wide and growing array of good accommodation and places to eat, and a busy cultural scene and nightlife. Prestigious new building projects - from a new presidential palace to five-star hotels, shopping malls and leisure facilities - are giving Tbilisi a new dimension, although little money is steered towards the working-class neighbourhoods (or the chaotic and dirty bus stations). The most attractive of the three Caucasian capitals, Tbilisi is still the beating heart of the Caucasus and should not be missed by any visitor.