Georgia’s historical old buildings and churches are a feature of the city.

I sat down with Mariam Tokmazishvili to learn about her city, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Tokmazishvili is a 24-year-old a master’s degree student at the University of Helsinki, studying intercultural encounters.

There are approximately 4.5 million inhabitants in Georgia and about 1.5 million in the city of Tbilisi. Georgia’s historical old buildings and churches distinguish it from other mainstream world capitals. Georgian people and their hospitality is a salient marker of the country.

The tradition and culture of wine tasting is also a prevalent Georgian feature, especially for those who are partial to a glass of plonk. The country has a huge selection of grapes and offers a big selection of wine that includes modern standard wine as well as more traditional varieties, such as Khvanchkara one of Georgia’s trademark wines. More interestingly, very rare grapes grow in Georgia; hence Georgia is home to rare wines that cannot be found in other countries.

The region of Kakheti is a common touristic attraction, only one hour and 45 minutes from Tbilisi by car. This region profits from wine making: it is entirely for planting and taking care of grapes. Additionally, it is a historical area hence it attracts tourists who are interested in wine and/or historical excursions.

The city’s architecture is mixed, containing both old fashioned traditional Soviet Union buildings and more modern designed buildings. Shardeni Street, for example, looks like a typical European city street with both sides of the street full of plush shopping centres, restaurants, clubs, hotels and pubs. Furthermore, typical tourist accommodations are located nearby Shareni Street, as it is well equipped with services and facilities and is near to the city centre.

Soloaki is Tbilisi’s old town. Its unique architecture and traditional way of living attracts one’s attention. The way houses are built so close to each other reflects the nature of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants. “It is not just a random person living next to you; people there perceive each member of the neighbourhood almost as a family member,” Tokmazishvili says. They share their major life events together, as well as their food.

Marshutka, a yellow coloured mini bus, is the typical means of transportation by local Georgians. Tokmazishvili describes Tbilisi as a yellow city when viewed from above due to their prevalence on the streets of the city. It is not easy for tourists to take such means of transportation. However, taxis are available at very cheap rates ranging from 2-3 euros to the city centre and 4-5 euros to the suburbs.

Generally, the main reason people revisit Georgia is because of its varied and delicious traditional cuisine that is especially interesting for meat lovers. A common traditional dish is khinkali, dumpling filled with uncooked meat. Tokomazishvili explains that when cooked the juices of the meat are trapped inside the dumpling. She elaborates that one has to eat Khinkali in a particular way, and “suck the juice in the dumpling while taking the first bite then continue eating it”.

“Food prices are really cheap, but that does not mean that the quality is low. In fact, the quality of food is really high: vegetables and fruits have very low chemical levels because they are produced domestically,” Tokmazishvili clarifies. Furthermore, Georgia produces its very own dairy products and cheese, such as sulguni, which is definitely worth a try, she adds.

During June, July and August the city is full of tourists. “10 years ago, I never heard a word in English or any other language. Now you could hear people speaking in different languages and detect that they are tourists, which is dramatic change for the good” she adds proudly.

Shaden Kamel
Image: Marc Ryckaert