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Borjomi was the bizarre wonderland of the Russian tsars. I say “bizarre” because if I was the supreme ruler of the Caucasus, than it really is a peculiar place to choose. It’s certainly a beautiful place, but kind of on a second tier of beautiful places in a region that abounds in beautiful places. And the thing that’s really made it famous, the springs, is a far cry from something I’d spend two weeks and a large guard to get to and hang out at. But it became the local Romanov go-to vacation resort, and as such, what once was a military garrison town popped up palace after palace to cater to the affairs of the Court and the hundreds of attendants and secretaries that would follow along.

First impressions

When I first went to Borjomi 10 years ago, I saw what appeared to be the ruins of a resort town. Something of a town post-collapse, mites and beetles hiding underneath the remains of what must have been a glorious Soviet getaway. But in the weirdness that was Soviet and Russian culture, it was all ruins of a strange children’s kitsch, as though some factory in China were busy making slight alterations to Disney characters to make second-rate themed amusement rides for developing countries. And though that’s still very much the case now, back then it was even weirder, what with all the vines and vegetation that was then growing over everything (now it's only growing over half of everything).

Borjomi street

Random corner near the park

The parks are filled with falling apart buildings, old hotels and past-Pioneer lodges, swimming pool projects that were never finished, half-planned dreams that were never even half-realized. But around these crumbling concrete aberrations there is still life. A small bazaar of Chinese children’s toys here, Russians having a faux-supra with rot wine there, some Saudis piling onto a jeep to ride the nature trail over there. Sometimes a new guesthouse sprouts some life like a hopeful seedling trying to break free through the shadowy undergrowth.

I do find this kind of living ruin a bit charming, and it certainly is a quiet escape from the bustle and hubbub that Tbilisi can get to be. The town is snuggled in a valley in the low Lesser Caucasus, following the Mtkvari River north and so