Tbilisi in the Snow

Tbilisi is trying to erase traces of the Soviet Union, but when the snow comes and you squint you can imagine this as a Soviet City.  Women of a certain age (and some of their daughters) bring out their (or mom’s) luxuriant black fur coats and wear them without fear of PETA.  Russian words creep into discussion (“sneg” is snow) and conversation turns to memories of winters in other parts of the former Soviet Union.  One professor I was having coffee looked wistful, for just a minute, as he spoke of his time in Magadan, the winters and his memories of snow and cold, a slight smile and then he shakes his head.  “But really it was hell on earth, in the winter so cold, in the summer the mosquitos.”  I have a feeling he was not there completely of his own will.

It snowed the last few days in Tbilisi.  On Thursday night I could see the snow on the hills above the city, on the citadel and at the TV tower.  The next morning it was sticking, a little, on Freedom Square.  I wondered at how so little snow could completely tie up traffic.  I have a view of one of two or three traffic centrals in Tbilisi from my hotel window.  But as the snow kept coming it seemed more reasonable that there be some tie ups, and canceled meetings on Friday, although the level of snow we have seen here would not cause a blink in Alaska or Minnesota.

On Saturday I walked through the snowy old town to the Turkish baths; domes snow covered.  Sulfur smell cut through the cold, not so different from Chena Hot Springs except the buildings are more exotic in Tbilisi, although someone in Tbilisi would probably think the Chena Ice Museum was more exotic.

From the baths I walked across the bridge and rode the aerial tramway to the Citadel.  The walks were slick and teenagers run to the top and shoe surf (shoe ski? I think you understand what I mean) back down the walks.  The girls scream as they steer themselves into the arms of a boyfriend.  Everyone has a smart phone to capture the ride.   The walks were slick enough that I didn’t make it up the gentle incline to snow covered titanium Mother Georgia who looked almost like a bride.

When I came down from the Citadel I decided to take the funicular up to the TV tower, the best Tbilisi overlook.   I tried to grab a cab.  The driver wanted 20 Lari, (About $11.30.)  “Too much.”  He said it’s 20 kilometers.  Well it is to the top because of the switchbacks, but from the bottom, well I’ve walked it when it wasn’t icy.  He wanted to know why I wanted to go to the bottom of the funicular, the view was at the top and the cab was more comfortable than the train.  I tried to explain that the whole point was to ride the train.  He said, “No, bad idea, I will take you to the top.”  I walked away and he followed.  “Ok, 10 Lari to the bottom.”  A bit high, but within range. The conversation was carried on in a combination of bad English but mostly bad Russian (on my part) but I got close to what I wanted.

The ride up in the bright red train was beautiful and the view at the top was enjoyed by families and bridal parties photographing the white bride against the white city.  The forecast called for snow all day with a break around 3 in the afternoon for sun.  Just on schedule we got the sun for the wedding pics, although it never stopped snowing.  The music pumped through the PA system on the deck was 50s rock, “Rock Around the Clock,”  “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Hound Dog” and Glenn Miller “In The Mood.”  Old rock really is closer to big band than to modern rock.  The set ended with “Jingle Bells.”  It was completely appropriate for the day, no need for Christmas connotations.

Up the hill toward the TV tower, parents pulled kids up the hill in sleds and kids happily rode down.   I stopped at the café for an espresso.  A family joined me at the table, insisting on paying for my coffee.  In return I entertained their 2 year old with iPhone pictures of whales, sea lions and moose, although he was more interested in his large Lego truck.

I rode down the funicular with the bridal party, the family I shared coffee with and another family with kids.  The train stopped at midpoint, the doors opened, and the kids all bolted.  Fortunately they had hoods on their jackets and got snagged before their escape.

Saturday night and a lot of are people strolled down Rustaveli Avenue enjoying the snow and the crisp air.  Me too.  But now I am back in the hotel room.  It is a modern hotel and my room has a huge window wall looking over Freedom Square and allowing me to hear the delightful chime in the old city hall that tolls the hours.  I think Tbilisi is not used to cold weather because the heating in the hotel is not keeping up with the weather, which is a damp 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius).    It’s supposed to get down to 10 F. tonight.  Glad I have a sweater.

Tomorrow I will post some pictures from my walk through Tbilisi.

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