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Posts tagged ‘tbilisi’

day tripping

Since it is a new travel destination and a former Soviet nation state, infrastructure is not amazing.  There are a few public transport options but it’s a small country so I thought I would try my hand at doing day trips from Tbilisi.  It was tough to find enough information that I felt comfortable booking anything before I arrived so figured I would just wander the streets and see if I got lucky as I have in other former Soviet states.

ancient georgia

On my early morning wander while most people were still sleeping, I spied a travel agency on the main street, Rustaveli Ave 14.  Once I got into my room and had a short nap, I repeated my journey and found that Holidays in Georgia now had brochures on the sidewalk so I took one and sat on a bench reviewing the options.  In the end, I hadn’t allocated enough time to Georgia as I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find day trips and more than five days in Tbilisi was likely too much.

There are quite a lot of tour options in the Old Town.  I tried to find the website for Holidays in Georgia but without success so here is some contact info per their brochure: (+995) 32 230 53 30; infoholidays01@gmail.com.  It seems very easy to organize day trips once you arrive in Tbilisi.  The only challenge you will face is that most tourists will speak Russian so they will likely get more information and attention from the tour guide but both tours I did were also done in English.

The quality of your tour guide will also impact how much you enjoy the day.  My first tour guide was exceptional while the second was just adequate.  Both tours were inexpensive so I felt that I got my monies’ worth even with the sub-optimal tour guide.

There are places worth spending more time than a day tour will allow.  The time we spent in

modern georgia

Mtskheta and Telavi felt very rushed but we did see some highlights.  Mtskheta was the first capital of Georgia and a cradle of Christianity first settled in the 5th century BC.  Telavi is also an ancient city (it boasts a 900 year old tree) and the capital of the Kakheti, the wine state.  Georgian wine is also off the radar but the country is in an ideal physical setting for growing grapes and there is both cheap decent wine and slightly more expensive excellent wine.

So where should you go?  My first day trip was Mtskheta-Jvari Gori-Uplistsikhe – the original capital, some stunning scenery, an ancient city on the Silk Road and a cave city.  The second day I went to wine country Kakheti-Sighnaghi-Bodbe.  Had I stayed a bit longer, I would have also gone to David Gareja, a monastery complex hewed out of rock and to the Prometheus Caves.  There is also the coastal city of Batumi on the Black Sea.

The country is physically blessed with mountains, cliffs, rivers as well as ancient history so there is an abundance of spectacular sights – and tour companies happy to take you there if you are too lazy to figure out how to get there yourself 😉

am I in asia or europe…

finally!  something posted…

My journey to Georgia was part of my copious reading.  Somewhere I read about it as an emerging travel destination.  I wasn’t quite sure where it was except that it was close to Russia – but being close to the largest country on earth doesn’t exactly pinpoint the location.  Later I did some silly quiz in a magazine about your personality and one of the options was if Georgia was your dream travel destination.  Of course, that was my pick.  I can’t remember the personality description but it definitely meant you were adventurous and a bit intrepid.

the spectacular capital

A lot of my travel destinations are chosen in that kind of random way, like some mysterious force is telling me to go there… It often takes a few years from the initial catalyst until the time and money are gathered to actually execute the idea.  Georgia was no different.  It had been on my radar for a few years but it is on the border between Europe and Asia east of Ukraine and north of Turkey.  It’s small in size and population and it is getting more popular with tourists but is still not the easiest place to get to so it got postponed for other easier to reach locales.

Then I cashed in some travel points, which got me to Zurich business class for very little money so the question was what else to do since I was in the middle of Europe.  Some fooling around on the internet led me to discover that there is a direct flight that isn’t that long between Warsaw and Tbilisi so my itinerary was set.  It’s on LOT Airlines and you fly in the middle of the night so it might not be for everyone but it works really well.  I learned from a late night conversation with one of the hotel staff in Warsaw that there was a close relationship between the countries, especially the former presidents.

Georgia is a complicated place as is the case for many former Soviet regions.  It’s also the birthplace of Stalin so apparently wasn’t treated quite as harshly as other regions.  It’s a stunningly beautiful place that feels both old and modern.  In many ways, it is an experience of the modern 21st century in all sorts of ways – the good, the bad and the ugly.  For tourists, though, it’s all good.

I arrived in Tbilisi extremely early so got to just wander around while people were still sleeping.  Like so many parts of the former Soviet empire, you see faded old architectural glory along with grand images of propaganda.  Tbilisi is also in an incredible physical setting.  Just aimlessly wandering around the city is highly rewarding – and excellent exercise as there is a lot of elevation.

getting out of town

I stayed at the Rooms Hotel.  It was advertised as being in an emerging hipster neighborhood.  It was hard to tell as a tourist but I expect that’s true.  The room and staff were fantastic and I certainly wouldn’t not recommend it but it is quite far from the Old Town so for first time visitors you can spend less and do less walking by staying in or near to the Old Town.  If you like to avoid tourists, the Rooms Hotel is definitely a good choice and there are a selection of restaurants and bars in the vicinity so you don’t have to walk all the way to the Old Town for sustenance.

Georgia is getting more tourists but tourism is still pretty young so you will receive a warm welcome and find there is plenty to do.  It’s a very budget friendly destination.  If you want a western European experience, it will cost you but, if you want to live like a local, your dollars will stretch very far.

So, if you’re looking for a destination off the normal traveller path, Georgia is the answer!

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