A subway can tell you a lot about a city. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I come from Genoa, Northern Italy, a city that has one (!) metro line of eight stops which shuts at 9 pm (!!). The whole thing has been built in 30 years (!!!). I guess it will be clear by now why I do tend to observe the subway of other cities while I’m travelling… And many elements of Tbilisi’s underground railway system struck my attention.

 

metro or taxi?


Photo Source: ttc.com.ge

 

At my arrival in Georgia my knowledge of the Tbilisi subway is very limited. A Georgian friend living in the city is hosting me and showing me around, but when he is at work I have a few hours to wander around on my own. Actually, he suggests that I should use the taxi, as it is cheap and certainly easier for a tourist like me who can’t say much more than madloba – thanks – or gamargioba – hello – in the local language. However, I feel ready to complicate my life and once I find out how to get to the closer station from home I decide to try the Tbilisi subway experience.

The first testing experience is the ticket purchase from a desk.

Unlike her colleagues I would meet in the following days, the cashier does not turn out to be the kindest person in the world despite my somewhat stranded expression. Still, at the end of our – not memorable – encounter, I manage to understand that I am holding the pass for the metro lines. When you buy it for the first time – only on that occasion – you spend 2.5 Lari. Later on, you can top it up by as much as you want, considering that one trip costs 0.5 Lari. When compared it to other European capital cities, the price is definitely convenient. If your departure and arrival points are close to a metro stop, it is on average cheaper to prefer the subway to the taxi, the fare of which varies according to the length and, as I’ve personally learnt, the driver’s level of honesty… Also bear in mind, however, that not all the areas in the city are covered by the subway and distances between one station and the next may take over 20 minutes on foot.

TWO LINES INTERSECT ONLY AT ONE POINT

Tbilisi metro station -min


Photo Source: ttc.com.ge

 

In Tbilisi that point is Sadguris Moedani, or Station Square, where you can also change for national and international trains. It is the only exchange stop between the two metro lines: Akhmeteli-Varketili, built in the 1960s, and Saburtalo, built in the late 1970s and still expanding. In particular, you might want to know about the former, as it hosts the closest stops to interesting tourist sites. In addition to the already mentioned Station Square – in the proximity of the Boris Paichadze Stadium, for football lovers like myself – you could get off at Rustaveli and walk along the posh avenue of the same name as far as Freedom Square, another “strategic” subway stop for those willing to explore the magnificent Old Tbilisi.

While inside a station, you will notice that directions and maps are not exactly user-friendly. Rather, they can be confusing. Therefore, before you get on a train make sure it’s headed in the direction where you want to go.

 

deep underground

Tbilisi metro


Photo Source: ttc.com.ge

 

Strange as it may sound, in calculating how long a subway journey will take you will have to consider the depth of certain underground stations. If some of them are on the surface – like Didube, from which you can take a marshutka to the beautiful historical location of Mtskheta – others such as Avlabari, close to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, are so deep that one may think they have been dug to explore the centre of the earth. The slope that the long and efficient escalators carrying passengers have to fight against would be able to leave the Tour de France winner short of breath.

For these reasons, I advise against: 1) looking behind you, if you suffer from vertigo, and 2) tripping, thus reaching the opposite hemisphere in a few seconds. Remember that you have come to visit Georgia, not New Zealand!

about escalators


Photo Source: chessbase.com

 

Used as I am to seeing people rushing and elbowing their way to stay in front – maybe in front of a race to the highest blood pressure at 50 years of age? – in London’s and Milan’s subway escalators, I was kind of impressed to experience a sense of static quiet in Tbilisi. Once they have set their feet on a step, passengers hardly ever move or try to overtake those in front, even though the climb may take as long as about 3-4 minutes – only an educated guess, I didn’t actually take the exact climbing time. Wondering whether this lack of hurry to the escalators is caused by any particular factors – the heat, for example – I share my impressions with a Georgian friend. “No, it’s not,” he answers “We’re just very lazy.” Who knows.

However, living in the frenzied Western world where everything is fast, from food to the Internet connection, I actually don’t mind standing there peacefully on my step as I enjoy my gradual ascent to the blinding light of Tbilisi’s summer sun.

 

turnstiles

Tbilisi georgia metro stations-min


Photo Source: ttc.com.ge

 

All of a sudden, while I’ve almost reached the top of the escalator, a thought sends a shiver down my spine. No, it’s not the fear of being stolen, as the stations look generally safe, with at least one policeman patrolling every platform. Lost as I was in observing Tbilisi’s subway’s trains, so reminiscent of Soviet times, I cannot find my card. Where have I put it? I search my pockets, filled with all sorts of things, from the phone to the passport, wallet, keys, my friend’s notes on how to get back home safe and sound, etc., but I just can’t find the card as I’m getting closer and closer to the turnstiles, patrolled by a policeman. What to do? How am I going to explain the situation? I keep searching my pockets even where I don’t have pockets and many worried thoughts cross my mind… which disappear in less than one second. Firstly, because I’ve found the card. It had got stuck to the back of my phone. I was sweating too much, I suppose. But, above all, because the turnstiles are there, but they are fake. Even if you don’t touch out, they will let you go through.

And at that point, my mind goes to Genoa, with the difference that while in my native city turnstiles are used as “ornaments” both at the entrance and at the exit of the subway, on entering the Tbilisi subway you are obliged to touch in the card, or you won’t pass. Feeling almost at home, I get out to see the sun and the beauty of Tbilisi.