By Jessica Hynes
The last time I travelled with my sister Zoe was a trip to Turkey 17 years ago. She beat all the men off the backgammon table, I tried to hire a moped without a licence and nearly crashed it, and my mother got so badly sunburned she had to stay in her hotel room. This trip was infinitely more sophisticated – not, as you might think, because we are old bags, but because Tbilisi is heaven on Earth. Not just because you can still smoke, or because the food you eat in every restaurant is fresh, seasonal and unlike anything you've ever eaten, or because you can drink usakhelauri, a wonderful light semi-sweet red wine (I am cradling a bottle to open on my sister's birthday). But also because, despite relentless onslaughts over centuries from unfriendly neighbours, the Georgian culture and spirit remain undimmed.
It was the Georgians I met while filming the BBC show World's Most Dangerous Roads whose enthusiasm, kindness and pride in their country inspired me to return. My sister is a fashion designer and jumped at the chance to join me. She and I travelled a lot as children, to stay with relatives in Canada and America in the summer holidays. As adults, we have both been all over the world for work, but rarely for pleasure. With five children between us and the busy, erratic schedules of self-employed mums, a weekend away from it all felt well overdue.
My intention was to push life's stresses from my sister's head by filling it with the wonders of the city (ie, waffle on at her) – something she let me do, a wry smile at the corner of her mouth.
First up was the Kashveti Church on Rustaveli Avenue. An eclectic array of framed religious paintings climb the walls, but beneath is a grey wash, all the original religious murals gone – the Communist contribution to this beautiful place. My sister and I refrained from whipping out our cameras and capturing a rather handsome portrait of Jesus because it felt disrespectful, but trust me, he really did look a bit like James Franco.
Next door was the National Gallery of Georgia. The gallery space is huge and grand, with comfortable benches for sitting and looking, which is what we did with great pleasure, this trip being a rare chance to evade childcare. We both loved Imeretia – My Mother, a stunning portrait of painter David Kakabadze's mother doing needlework. It made me feel desperately inadequate that I have not, as yet, ever crocheted a pair of socks.