Friday, April 25, 2014

Tbilisi, Georgia Part 3

The Georgian Stonehenge, which is actually called the Chronicle of Georgia, was my favorite part of the trip. I found the monument itself interesting, but perhaps equally amazing is that no locals seem to have a clue about it.  When I asked in Tbilisi, people questioned that it was in Georgia at all.  One woman even tried calling a taxi dispatcher for me.  After much discussing back and forth the person thought he knew what I meant, but had not been there and did not know that it had a name.  It just seemed weird that there is so little information about it.  It was almost like a secret destination.

I mean, this thing is big.  How can you miss it?
Now if you are actually trying to FIND the place, here are some hints.  This blog  has better pictures and instructions for how to get to the there.  Based on the directions from this blog and from a friend, we went to the Sarajishvili metro stop even though google maps and the metro map make a couple of other stops appear closer.  Google Maps does show Chronicle of Georgia (labeled in English and Georgian), but even with it written in Georgian and a screenshot of the place I had on my iphone, it still took the taxi driver a brief discussion with a couple of other drivers to figure it out. We were also told to try saying that it is near Temca (Tem-kuh) by the Tbilisi Sea and to call it the Black Monument.  While those things were not helpful for us and the map and screenshot was enough to clue someone in, these other tidbits might be helpful to others trying to find the place. It's up above the city and visible as you get nearby.  It is located near a popular swimming spot.  How can the locals not know where it is?
See, nice view, especially if it is a pretty day.

Wouldn't this be great with a blue sky?

I have no idea who these people are.

It looks like either it was never completed or else it was damaged.
It would be so cool if the bottom wasn't just bare wood panels.

Many Biblical scenes makes me wonder why it is not a more popular spot
in a Christian county.

View of typical apartment buildings.

Walking back down to the taxi.

As we were leaving I noted our taxi driver was chatting with the two guards(?) park police(?).  Since I don't understand Georgian, I made up my own translation of the conversation in which the taxi driver was asking where we were and what this was supposed to be.  I had the guards respond that they had no idea, they were dropped off here each morning for work and picked up in the evening.  I can't say that we were the ONLY people there because we did see a group of three people while we were there.

Now the boys alternated between being totally bored at the monument and running around like madmen. Since it was all but deserted, running was fine.  They gained their strength again when we said lunch was at Wendy's.

3 floors.  Evidently one of the bigger Wendy's in the world.
 We ate typical Wendy's food, though they didn't have some of the items on their menu.  Instead of a cheap toy prize, you get game tokens with your kid's meal or combo meal.  We got to go upstairs and play games to spend our tokens.
 An air hockey game for up to four players was our favorite.  Not only is there a big puck (worth 100 points), but there are tons of little pucks (30 points) that are sometimes released.  It makes it crazy and is fun for everyone to participate.
End of Part 3.  Working on Part 4: Funicular and Amusement Park

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tbilisi, Georgia Part 2

Part 2 of Tbilisi, Georgia Trip

Oops!  It seems that I forgot to mention our trip to the Georgian National Museum.  Part of that is because, well, it was not very impressive.  The museum also prohibits taking pictures, so I didn't have any to remind me we were there either. While they have a no photos policy, it does not seem to be enforced as I saw many people taking pictures without employees seeming to care.  I would have taken a few too if my children weren't there.  Don't want to set a bad example.  We ended up at the museum after we picked up some croissants at a French bakery.  I had planned on us eating them in the park, but evidently the park didn't open until 10:00.  Silly me.  I don't think I would bother going back to the museum again.  It is inexpensive though and right on Rustaveli Ave so it might be a good rest stop and bathroom break if it is hot outside.

Back to part two now. After lunch we were all ready for a break so we went back to the hotel, put our leftovers in the fridge, and had a little down time.  Justin, of course, read.  Poor boy kept having to DO things and walk so he was happy for a break.

Reading break!

After our break we were able to get the kids out again by saying we would look for a playground.  They can walk to playgrounds.

Random building on a side street.

The playgrounds we saw were quite small, but the boys are easily entertained.  A couple of Georgian (?) children came while we were there and the boys enjoyed playing tag/chase as that doesn't require speaking the same language to enjoy.

As exciting as the playground was, Rob and I decided that we should do something else before heading back to the hotel for the evening.  We doubted dinner would be of interest to anyone after our huge lunch, so we opted for the zoo.

I had very low expectations of the zoo.  It was, indeed, a very sad zoo.  Justin was already in a bad mood that he had to do something else that wasn't a playground and that didn't help.  Ryan was upbeat and cheerful, except when he would fall.

They did have lemurs!  That was probably the highlight.

 The zoo had a small ferris wheel that Ryan wanted to go on.  Too bad there wasn't much to see.  The animals looked just as pathetic as they did from ground level.  Okay, the zebras didn't look too bad, but everything else was just very dingy and depressing.
Who knows what Justin is looking at.

Ah, such a lovely view from up high.
Bleak apartments, at least from the outside.
The highlight of the zoo trip had to be the signs.  They cracked me up.  I guess they get the message across and were much more entertaining than the sad animals they had there.

Justin shares his feeling about being forced to the zoo.
While we weren't really hungry because of our huge lunch, we figured we would want something before going to bed.  We had a taxi drop us at McDonald's and got a few things to eat back in our room.  With the metro so convenient to our hotel, it made for one segment of the trip that Justin didn't complain about.  I think that the boys enjoyed the escalators too.  They are the loooooooooong kind where there are times you can see neither the top nor the bottom.  Puts the long Washington DC escalators at places like Rosslyn station to shame.  Goes at a faster clip too.  A ride within itself!

We had been unable to find anyone who knew where the Chronicle of Georgia was.  In fact, even with a picture of it, people questioned whether it was really in Georgia or we were mistaken.  We ran into some missionaries from our church on the metro and asked them if they knew what we were talking about.  They were able to give us some helpful hints on getting there.  When I got back to the hotel, I had an email from a friend with some suggestions and was able to find a blog post with information.  I swear only foreigners go to it and it is so interesting.  That will be the start of part 3.

Monday, April 21, 2014

April 20, 2014 Happy Easter! Vacation to Tbilisi, Georgia Part 1

The first couple of days this week were busy days as I did lots of laundry and packed for our trip to the country of Georgia.  It is the first trip we have taken since we have been here, and I did not remember where everything was.  It took awhile to get things put together and stuffed into suitcases.  It is also right at the time when we are moving from long sleeves to short sleeves.  I have yet to sort through the boys things. :(

The highway between Yerevan and Tbilisi leaves much to be desired in my opinion.  I can't even imagine trying to navigate it at night.  It took longer than we would have liked to get there, but we made it safe and sound.

Getting ready to enter Georgia!
 After sitting in the car, we were all ready to stretch our legs.  We decided that walking to McDonald's and taking the metro back would work much better than taking the metro there and walking back.  With the metro ride costly the equivalent of 30 cents US each for me and Rob (free for the boys) we could have easily taken the metro both ways, but it helped us get a feel for the city too.  It was about 1.5 km and pleasant weather.
For some reason the boys thought it would be a good idea to do this in front
of a fountain.

I meant to go back and get a closer look at this church, but there
were a lot of services since it was right around Eater.  Maybe another trip
or perhaps if you have seen one Georgian/Armenian church you have seen
them all.
 We got to McDonald's and it was crowded.  Now I realize that this is not the most cultural choice for a meal, but since they don't have a McDonald's in Yerevan, it was a treat for the boys and familiar food for me and Rob.  This was a planned and much talked about thing to do when we were planning our trip.
How long has it been since he has had a cheeseburger? 

Cool looking McDonald's

View from outside the McDonald's

More right outside the McDonald's
 We enjoyed dessert outside and then hopped on at Rustaveli station which is right outside the McDonald's and rode one stop to Liberty Square.  To ride the metro you need to buy a rechargeable card which costs 2 Lari ($1.20).  The nice thing is that unlike in places like Washington DC, multiple people may use the same card.  As you go through the ticket gate it shows you what your balance is after subtracting the fare.  These cards work on the buses and some of the marshrutkas (mini buses) in the city.  It is unfortunate that the metro does not go to more of the tourist type locations because it is cheap, efficient, and clearly labeled and announced in English as well as Georgian.  When I used google maps on my iphone for directions, it has metro and marshrutka information included which can help with planning.  We primarily walked however.  The idea of cramming on a marshrutka with the boys is less than appealing.  Oh, if you are REALLY upset about the $1.20 for the metro card, you can get a refund within 30 days if you return the card, your receipt, and provide your ID.  See what useless knowledge I picked up?

One highlight of the trip was the elevator in our hotel.  One boy would get to hit the call button and the other boy would get to select the floor.  Of course they had to rotate who did which button because I am sure one is more exciting than the other.  Don't ask me which though.  As an added bonus the ground floor is 0 rather than 1 as it is in the US.  Such excitement for the boys to learn about new cultures.

Adieu Elevator Friend!  The boys miss you.
 This is Freedom Square where our hotel was located.  Some places seem to refer to Freedom Square as Liberty Square.  It was a good location for being able to get to the metro or to walk to many tourist sites.  Taxis are also inexpensive here, unlike places in the US.

 We walked to take the cable car from Rike Park up to Narikala Fortress.  There were some nice views from the cable car and from the fortress area up above.  Ryan seemed to be tripping on everything including his own feet, so we didn't explore the area around the fortress as much as some people might want.  In fact, even if he weren't falling every five feet, I can assure you that neither boy was interested in looking around much.  They did enjoy the cable car though.  The cable car uses a metro car and is 2 lari per person each way.  I believe they charged for the boys as well. I am sure that it depends on who is working at the time.  Still, not expensive.  It is also a doable walk, though you miss the cable car view.  There is no entrance fee other than the cable car.  The hours of operation I saw listed varied by website.

On our way to Rike Park.  I am not even going to try to remember what
church was where or what each is called.

Yep, some church or monastery.

Looking up towards the Mother Georgia statue.  She seems to watch you
wherever you go in the city.

On the cable car!

I found looking down into non tourist areas interesting too.

Part of Narakala Fortress

Tbilisi from the cable car

Rike Park with the two funky looking amphitheater tubes.
The bridge over the water is Peace Bridge and is pedestrian
traffic only.

View that includes a church or two.

I think this is part of the botanical gardens.  We didn't go there on this trip. 
Picture is taken from the fortress.

Mother Georgia

It was so exciting to see signs of spring everywhere.

Even Justin noticed how many people sold junk on the sidewalks.
It reminded me of China.  There was everything from fruit and flowers
to balloons and masks.
 We were hungry and stopped by a restaurant that had a menu out front.  I was dreading the boys having to try (heaven forbid!) something new.  I figured Rob and I could eat while they drank and played on the phone and then we could get them something.  They surprised me though and did really well. 
Do you think Justin got a big enough bowl of soup?

Georgian Khachapuri bread.  Delicious!  I took some home to
have for later too.

Khinkali (dumplings)

Ryan trying his shawarma.  He and I each ordered one.
Rob had ostri.
We had SO much food.  We had no idea how large the portions would be.  It should be noted that our meal here cost less than our meal at McDonald's.  This was a lot more food too.  We could have spent even less if we had realized how much food there would be.  Some we were able to take back with us to the hotel, but much was wasted.