Surprise! I moved to Georgia.
(The country, not the state.)
To say this was sudden is an understatement. When I decided to shuffle my plans around to attend WTM in London this November, an extra month opened up in my schedule. I wanted to use the time to go somewhere and sit still – rent an apartment, get a metro card, have a kitchen – and just work.
There’s a lot of prep to be done before the convention.
As I was in Turkey visiting a friend when I made this decision, I first though about staying in Istanbul or going to Olympos to chill out and write. Then, her roommate said, ‘Why not Tbilisi? It’s cheap and it’s nearby.’
Strangely enough, I’d always wanted to visit Georgia. I remember seeing the alphabet once when I was younger and being completely baffled and intrigued. So, within the course of an hour, I rebooked my plans for Bangkok, organised my flights to London, and bought my ticket to Tbilisi.
Life is funny sometimes.
Through an absolutely amazing stroke of luck (or fate?!), I was able to find a room before I even arrived in an apartment with three other female expats – one teacher and two masters students. We live in the midst of a massive city bazaar, and just down our street there are vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, house wares, clothing, appliances and – most curiously – religious icons.
My thoughts on Tbilisi so far?
I am dumbstruck in love with it.
How can I even describe why? Maybe it’s the look of the city – beautiful, ornate buildings crumbling in the old town, towering blocky church towers, secret courtyard gardens and grape vines hanging off every house.
Maybe it’s the friendliness of the people I’ve met – the family who spent 15 minutes bartering with taxi drivers on my behalf at the airport, the monk who blessed me in the metro station and enlisted passers-by to translate so we could talk, the women in the market who break into smiles when I attempt Georgian, or even my adorable new roommates.
Maybe it’s the bohemian vibe of the city, the hidden cafes to spend afternoons writing in, the dark-haired hipsters walking down Rustaveli, or the street-art you stumble upon when you least expect it.
Maybe it’s the food, the cheesey-bready-eggy-gooey khachapuri on every street corner, the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve up dinners of eggplants with walnuts and spiced bean soup, or all the different perplexing Caucasian fruit for sale in the bazaar.
Maybe it’s the presence of Georgian Orthodoxy – so foreign and arresting – in people that cross themselves when they pass a church, vendors selling candles and icons and incense on the sidewalk, donation boxes for monasteries and churches in the supermarkets, or priests and monks hanging around, all dressed in black.
Maybe it’s that alien script everywhere you look.
But maybe – no, definitely – it’s the fact that Tbilisi feels like a secret.
This city is so beautiful, so perplexing, so inviting, so intriguing and so thrilling, just like any other European capital like Paris, Berlin or Rome, and yet there are almost no tourists.
Not many people seem to visit Tbilisi. The only other foreigners I’ve met are exchange students doing Russian studies, English language teachers, Peace Corps volunteers, and the rare adventure traveller.
There are no foreigners in fanny packs walking down the main avenue. No tour groups.
But why don’t they come? Tbilisi has blown me away so far, and I’m torn between wanting to tell absolutely everyone how absolutely amazing it is, and shutting my mouth to keep it a secret forever. Funny how that happens.
When I first announced my move, I got messages from a lot of people all expressing the same sentiment. They all asked why I’d chosen Tbilisi (as to be expected) but – strangely – all of them were also crazy excited for me.
I think, for many of us, the name ‘Tbilisi’ sounds so strange, so far-flung and unknown, that it can’t help but ignite curiousity.
I’m happy to say, they had a reason to be excited. Tbilisi is absolutely stunning, unbelievably invigorating, and its crumbling bohemian vibe reminds me so heart-achingly of Berlin, my favourite city in the world.
To every traveller, every nomad and every curious soul, I have a message:
Come to Georgia. Come to Tbilisi. Come visit, and come soon.
I have a feeling you’ll like it.