Projects in Tbilisi

I have a bunch of free time here in my new home city, and it occurs to me that as an American who is used to a certain set of conveniences, I could busy myself by starting up some projects in Tbilisi that might help others like myself in their travels in this city.

First of all, today I walked from the Greek shuarma cafe near the Polyteknikuri metro station to the Rustaveli metro station. It was a nice night, I wanted to see more of the city, it’s not a long walk, and it meant I could avoid the transfer at Vagzlis Moedani. Anyway, I passed this place called Elvis American Diner, or something along those lines, which promised that it had what was voted the best burger in town. I’ve been craving a burger, among other things, but I had just had a giant shuarma wrap, so I decided to hold off… however, they also had pizza. Real pizza, not that mayonnaisey stuff they serve in Georgian restaurants. Anyway, I caved and bought a pepperoni slice… but they made it with Georgian cheese, not Mozzarella, so it just wasn’t pizza. Until I got to the end, that is – they did the crust just write, New York style thin crust, and as I ate that crust with its traces of tomato sauce, it actually reminded me of real pizza, and I stood out on the plaza and looked at the moon and an odd statue, and I felt homesick. It was kind of like this:

Except, you know, that it was probably the middle of the afternoon where all of my family is now, so I doubt they were wishing on any stars or anything.


I wanted to solve my pizza and burger dilemma. My first thought was to call up my good old uncle Tony and try to get his pizza recipe. He makes really amazing homemade pizza. That would make a great Adventures in Cooking in Georgia post, but I’m not sure the challenges are surmountable. For example, I’d obviously have to find imported mozzarella (or figure out how to make my own, which seems like a TON of work for some freakin pizza). Also, I’d want to get a pizza stone, to get the crust right. Oh, yeah, and actually having an oven might help too… anyway let’s just say I won’t be making any pizza back at the ranch any time soon, so forget it.

My second thought – and this is where the project comes in – was that I could do a series of posts on Dining Out in Georgia, and have categories for Georgian, American, and International restaurants. So this isn’t really novel – I’m basically proposing to do restaurant reviews – but wouldn’t restaurant reviews be fun? I could get a group of Americans together and we could go out in search of pizza and burgers and various other American foods (yeah, I know pizza is like Italian or something and burgers are from Cheeseburg, Germany, gimme a break here) and we could rate them in terms of their deliciousness, authenticity, and other qualities that folks might look for in a food item experience from the homeland. Who’s with me?

The other project I’ve had brewing for a while is to make a comprehensive Marshutka map of Tbilisi. Now, I know that I personally take marshutka 226 to my home in Gldani, which fact, using my remarkable powers of mathematical deduction, I have used to estimate that there are at least 225 marshutkas whose paths I am not familiar with. Do I want to personally map 225 marshutkas? Not even a little bit. Apparently no one in Georgia does, because as far as I know there is no such map. However. I suspect that the marshutkas have to get their route numbers from some agency. I’ll try to figure out which agency this is, get their contact info, and see what information on routes I can get from them to use as a starting point. After that, it’ll have to be volunteers out riding marshutkas and mapping where they go. I’ll have to figure out some way to give out maps that people can record information on, and then some way of integrating this information back into a central source – this will probably involve the GIMP – and then maybe making this available as a .pdf, or if I get really adventurous, as some kind of interactive online resource.

As for now, I’m really craving some sweet delicious New York pizza. I’d even settle for Chicago pizza.


Speaking of pizza and movies that I watched over and over again as a small child:

That’s right. All Dogs Go to Heaven. Which reminds me of an informal project that I have already started, which is naming all the street dogs in my neighborhood in Gldani. So far there’s Phil, the little energetic black dog; Stan, the ugly white dog near my house, Jeff, the gigantic white dog near the police academy, and Leroy, the brown dog who lays around on the grass outside the ranch (which is what I call the gated compound that I live on). There’s also a black puppy that likes to hang out in the middle of the street near work… but I might not name it until it figures out not to try to take its naps in traffic. Wouldn’t want to get too attached. I know, this might be a sign of extreme boredom on my daily commute, but it’s a fifteen minute walk with no iPod! I wonder if I should name the guard dogs that bark at me while I walk to work, or if that would be presumptuous. I could always knock on the owners’ doors and ask “რა ქვია შენი ძაღლი?” which means “what is your dog called” (I think) but I imagine that would get me some strange looks. On second thought, please ignore this paragraph.

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17 Responses to Projects in Tbilisi

  1. T says:

    i really loved this one 🙂 now u talking for real, nice to meet u…i mean the genuine one of u 🙂
    about the pizza part, try sulguni, this is the kind of Georgian cheese similar to mozzarella, but expansive and keep up with your projects, good luck 🙂


  2. novalis says:

    If you can get the marshutka routes and schedules into GTFS, perhaps using TDF, I’ll set up a trip planner instance for you. Of course, this is much more work than just mapping, but maybe the schedule data is already available somehow and you just need to mash it up with the routes.


    • panoptical says:

      First, if we can make this work somehow, that would be great and I’d totally appreciate the help.

      There are, however, challenges. This is one of those cases where things in Georgia are very different from things in US cities. For one thing, Google hasn’t mapped Tbilisi yet, so I don’t know if this will work unless I can maybe give it coordinates from Wikimapia or OpenStreetMap. Also, marshutkas don’t really have schedules… they sort of leave when they fill up, which is usually every five minutes or so, I guess? They also don’t really have stops – they just stop when someone outside hails them or when someone on the bus says “stop” in Georgian. So I imagine that stops.txt, trips.txt, and stoptimes.txt would be a bit hard to populate. Although I suppose you could fudge it somehow, like just make up a schedule based on an average day, although this would require monitoring each line all day for at least one day, which would be an immense amount of work, or you could just claim that the thing runs every five minutes and leave it at that…

      Oh, and as I may have mentioned earlier, streets in Tbilisi don’t have obvious street signs and in theory the names are posted on houses, but in practice it can be almost impossible to discover the name of the street that you are on without looking it up on a map or asking a particularly knowledgeable local. I don’t know what, if any, impact that would have on the process but I just thought I’d mention it. I guess the point is that finding the name of the street would be an extra step over and above just mapping, but I guess it would be worth it.


      • novalis says:

        My trip planner uses OpenStreetMap anyway, so you could totally use that for referencing. If a street doesn’t have a name, it just comes up as a number (as in, “turn right on way 234232141, continue for 102 ft”).

        Claiming a frequency of 5 minutes would be super-easy; what would be tough would be figuring out how long it gets to take from place to place. For stops, I guess you could just declare a bus stop every couple of blocks. Or maybe I need to finally support stop-anywhere vehicles. That sounds tough, but maybe it’s not. Sadly, GTFS totally doesn’t support that. But if you just added a column to trips.txt, stops_anywhere, then I would put in the work to snap the shape to the streets and support getting on/off anywhere. That, plus frequency-based trips (which frequency maybe you could figure out by talking to the drivers or the passengers?) should do it.

        I guess it would also be possible to just add ways to OSM and mark them as marshutka routes, and we could hack together routing on that. It would require some work, but might be easier.


  3. loe says:

    I’m not particularly sure why you’re seeking marshutka adventures, but in any case, if you happen not to have come across yet, here you can see all bus routes (and buses do have stops unlike marshutkas) –


  4. ---> says:


    So… are you going to create something like

    Go for it – you and other TLGers already pointed that lack of reliable information and resources in English about Georgia is staggering. You can see it, but locals usually do not.

    At the same time people who came from societies where time is money would be much more productive to identify problems and fill gaps compare to locals.


  5. Janice says:

    I found this open street map on Tbilisi. I think it would be neat to have all the TLG people “map” their street and if they know any of the local area. Then people could see where the other TLG people are and it would help expand the knowledge of Tbilisi for future English teachers or visitors. I agree that the information is lacking. This map does not even show the “metro” or even “areas” such as Gldani. It’s hard for people back home to figure out where the TLG people are.

    I also found this map which is more detailed of one small area.


    • panoptical says:

      Well, first of all, you can zoom in and out on OpenStreetMap, and it does show the metro as well as various neighborhoods and even microdistricts. If you look on my sidebar there’s a section called “Georgia Info” that has a more zoomed-in version of the map where you can see the metro stops and such.

      As for mapping where TLG people are… I don’t know that it would be possible or desirable to put that information on OpenStreetMap. Having a publicly available index of where every American in Georgia lives would be a huge problem in terms of privacy. I certainly wouldn’t want complete strangers showing up at my door!


      • Janice says:

        You are correct. I was just thinking of mapping their area not saying exactly where they were located. Because it’s in English people would get the drift.


  6. pasumonok says:

    my fav was the dog-naming project.
    so, if u know the name of ur street, and if u can read georgian alphabet u can check out this site: if u click on tbilisi map, it has names of all the streets, alphabetically.
    as for the restaurant reviews, my friend and i have a blog where we are already doing it. check it out:
    we also provide recipes of our favorite dishes in english and gerogian.
    there is a place called Ronny’s Pizza where they have real mozzarella on it. They brought a mozzarella technologist to a village here and he taught local farmers how to make mozzarella. pizza there tastes like american pizza with thick crust. for a thiner crust, peace corps like Pizza and Pasta Fantastico
    and lastly,
    p.s. let me know if i can help with any of the projects, especially the food and dog one 🙂


  7. pasumonok says:

    p.s.s. just re-read this blog. dude, i made a Beef Bourguignon here, u surely can produce a pizza!


  8. george says:

    by the way there in tbilisi on pekini street pekini and vaza phavela intersection lil pizzeria
    owners are american couple living in tbilisi from cali
    you may want to try their pizza


  9. A says:

    I just referenced An American Tail in another comment on another post! Ha


  10. Rich says:

    You can buy Mozarella at Goodwill in Vake. At least they had it last time I was there. Not sure about the quality though!


  11. Andrew says:

    Depending on the price of milk and access to rennet, making mozzarella might not be out of the question. My chef never allowed anyone else other than himself to make it, but it looked easy. Though he may have just made it look easy and it is actually ridiculously hard, but I have seen quiet a few food bloggers make it.

    There are also quite a few food bloggers making pizza on the stove top. I am certain Kenji at Serious Eats did it and had a good post on it, but I am at a loss as to where it could be.


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