Trans Eurasia travel

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Located around Chavchavadze and Abashidze avenues, this is one of Tbilisi's posher districts, home to many expats and nouveaux riches. While not quite as atmospheric as Old Tbilisi, Vake is home to some lovely parks, pleasant nineteenth-century architecture, and some of the city's most high-end shopping, including luxe furniture store Missioni. There are also plenty of elegant, if understated, bars and restaurants in this area... In Vake there are two buildings of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi state university. The university is founded by Ivane Javakhishvili in 1918 and is one of the historical buildings in Tbilisi.

Vake and Saburtalo are two districts in western Tbilisi that were unpopulated and outside city limits in the 1920s. Vake (Plain) is said to have been built over the graves of the victims of the 1930s purges. Vake was once home to the communist bourgeoisie, and now, because it still has the city's best telephone and power supplies, is home to most of the city's expatriates and NGOs. It's a pleasant neighbourhood of apartment blocks and houses, with a good sprinkling of bars, cafes and shops. The district was built by Beria on top of the mass graves of the victims of his purges; the Bolsheviks executed many of the Georgian aristocracy here in 1923, and a public toilet was built on the site, now replaced by a memorial.

The university was Vake's only claim to fame, and it was not until just before World War II and into the 1960s that development took off. Built between 1900 and 1916, this stately white building has the special charm oа a neoclassical edifice in a southern clime. It was originally a school for the nobility. It houses the office of the rector of the university and a number of the humanities departments. Other buildings in Vake and Saburtalo house the 20 departments that instruct in 145 fields.

Because Tbilisi University, numerous institutes, and other professional organizations are situated in these two posh districts, they are also home to many of the city's intelligentsia, academics, professionals, and the well-to-do. Since the distance between places of interest in these two areas is great, it is best to tour them by car or taxi.

Attractive Vake Park is about 2km beyond the university. A sporadically operating cable car (10am-8pm) sails up to Kus Tba (Turtle Lake), a popular summer spot for sunbathing, swimming, boating and strolling. Stretching along the Vera valley, the park includes a 120-hectare (296-acre) zoo and a botanical garden. Nodar Dumbadze, the novelist, founded this park and is buried near the entrance.

At the end of Chavchavadze Avenue is the main entrance to Vake Park, which covers 226 hectares (558 acres) across the valley and up the slopes of the Trialeti Range. The waterfall that runs down the hillside emanates from a square that con-tains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a World War II memorial. The Statue of Victory, 28 meters high, was unveiled in 1976.

The Open-Air Museum of Ethnography (admission 1.50 GEL, tour 10 GEL; 10.30am-9pm Jun-Sep, to 4pm Oct-May) is about 3km beyond, and uphill from, the park. This collection of nearly 70 traditional, mostly wooden houses from around Georgia is spread over a wooded hillside with good views, and makes an enjoyable visit. The most interesting exhibits are in the lower section of the museum (near the entrance), where the buildings are kitted out with fine traditional furnishings, rugs and utensils. There's also an archaeological section, which includes a basilica from the 6th and 7th centuries. You can reach the open-air museum by walking up from Vake Park, or down the road from Kus Tba (about 2km).