This is the story of Georgia and Tbilisi – the topic of many a great writer! During our trip to Georgia, Tbilisi was our central point. It was from here that our day trips started and it was here that we arrived late in the evenings. In this last post about our trip to Georgia, I will focus on the capital as well as the practical details of our trip. You find our previous stories about the trip here >>
Altogether we spent two days and a half in Georgia’s amazing capital. We are so happy with our trip. Actually we were quite convinced that we would be met by a beautiful country and nice place. It was just very surprising to see how great it was in reality.
Georgia and Tbilisi: a Short History
A Short History of Georgia
On our first day trip to Kazbegi our guide told us that he would need ages to tell us the entire history of Georgia. I guess that is the case with most places. What comes to mind in the case of Georgia is that it has been a history of persisting in the face of adversity. Great neighbors have always been present and it has been a fact of life. Georgia – together with the other states in the Caucasus – lie on the borderlands of Europe, at the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Asia. Because of its location, the country has been important in wars (such as the Roman-Persian wars) and it has also been a place of interest for foreign powers (such as the Mongols and Russia).
The role of Christianity has been important in the country ever since it converted to the religion in 327. In fact, it was one of the first states in the world to do so. Religion is an important aspect even today. Much of the tourism is religious in nature and very many of the country’s main sights are churches and other religious centers.
The Russian Empire annexed Georgia in 1801 and the country would be a part of Russia and later the Soviet Union for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Georgia gained independence in 1991. A turbulent decade resulted in the Rose Revolution of 2003.
The people we talked to during our trip showed mixed feelings about the past and the present. They told us that the current situation for the “normal” Georgian is difficult – salaries are low, the costs of living are high. Politicians and the elites are still corrupted and there are big differences between the different classes in society. Other developments were worrying as well, urbanization being one of them. At the same time people were positive about finally living in peace and relative economic prosperity. Politically and culturally, the European Union was not considered the obvious ally. Actually many expressed their pride about being both eastern and European.
A Short History of Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a relatively new city. According to the legend King Vakhtang I Gorgasali built the city after his falcon fell into one of the hot springs and died. The king thought that this place with many hot sulfuric springs would be an excellent place for a town. The word Tbilisi (derived from the words “T’pili” and “T’pilisi) literally means “warm location”.
The king’s son Dachi I Ujarmeli moved the capital to Tbilisi from Mtskheta. He also built a fortress. From the 6th century, Tbilisi grew at a steady pace due to the region’s favorable and strategic location. The city also benefited from being situated along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.
Georgia and Tbilisi: First Impressions
We knew that we would enjoy our trip to Georgia. We arrived in the middle of the night and the taxi drove us past the lightless streets of Tbilisi. Our first thought was that the city was eerie and worn down. We caught glimpses of roofs that had fallen in and old wooden houses. Here and there spectacular constructions (such as the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi and the TV tower) would light up our way.
We were very happy when we finally arrived at our hotel. It had been a long journey and we looked forward to falling into our bed.
When daylight broke, we were positively surprised. We stayed in Avlabari, which is one of the upcoming hip neighborhoods of the capital. It is a part of Old Tbilisi, located on the left bank of the Kura River. It is difficult to describe the area, but imagine cobblestoned streets, old wooden houses (and yes, they did look quite worn even in daylight) and cozy cafés.
Here it might be a good idea to explain what Old Tbilisi is. It is also known as the Tbilisi Historic District and it is the area around the Kura River. This is where you find the majority of the tourist attractions in the Georgian capital. According to Wikipedia: ” It chiefly represents a 19th-century urban fabric with largely eclectic architecture which includes the buildings and structures from the 5th to the 20th century. However, most of the pre-19th century city did not survive due to the devastating Persian invasion of 1795.”
Georgia and Tbilisi: Enjoying Our Stay
We enjoyed many things during our stay in Georgia and Tbilisi. The nature really is spectacular: we saw high mountains, green hills, and wild rivers. Tbilisi is an interesting mix of old and modern, east and west. Nature is also present in the city with waterfalls, rivers, and high peaks.
The Georgian Cuisine
The Georgian cuisine is famous and it did not disappoint us. It is characterized by herbs, fresh vegetables, bread, and a lot of meat. It comes in many forms: shashlik, stews, soups, and so on. One of the things we really enjoyed was the possibility to share a big plate of food.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. It was so funny because they had wine tasting in the supermarket. At least I find it funny, coming from a country where supermarkets don’t even sell wine. We found a new favorite: saperavi. Saperavi is native to Georgia and it is one of the most common red grapes in the country. Saperavi is also the name for a red wine made from the grape with the same name. It originates in Kakheti and it has been produced since 1886. In Sweden it is difficult to find any Georgian wines (or restaurants for that matter) whatsoever, so we know what we will be looking for the next time we go to Estonia.
We must also mention the Georgian hospitality. Most of the people we met were really friendly and helpful. They really liked talking and telling us about their country and their lives. The language barriers did not always stop them.
History of Georgia and Tbilisi
We were amazed at all the history in Georgia and Tbilisi. We walked the same streets and Pushkin and Stalin (OK, don’t know if the latter is so great). But really, experiencing all the history in such a way that we did in Georgia is fantastic. Firstly, it humbles you when you think about all the things that a country can go through and still survive. Secondly, Georgia somehow made me understand patriotism (the positive kind, mind you) a little more. Thirdly, how many countries can quote statements like the one below from the 6th century?
მე ჴორციელებრითა დიდებითა გადიდენ თქუენ ნათესავთა ჩემთა. და სახლსა ჩუენსა ნუ შეურაცხჰყოფთ, და სიყუარულსა ბერძენთასა ნუ დაუტეობთ.
I for my life glorified you and all of our race. And do not insult our home, and do not abandon the love of the Greeks.
Here’s a quick summary of our itinerary. You can read more by clicking on the links.
Day 1: Getting to know Tbilisi
We walked around in Old Tbilisi, learnt how to use the metro. We also tried Georgian food. Read about the top sights in Tbilisi >>
Day 2: Day trip to Kazbegi
Jesper, I, our guide, and a driver went on a day trip to fantastic Kazbegi. Along the way we saw some amazing sights, such as the Ananuri castle complex. Click here to read more about our road trip to Kazbegi >>
Day 3: Tbilisi again
On our third day in Georgia and Tbilisi, we decided to explore the city further. The visit to the botanical garden was one of the highlights on that warm day in June.
Day 4: Rabati, Vardzia & Borjomi
We asked our hostel for recommendations and they helped us arrange a day trip to Rabati, Vardzia and Borjomi. Fascinating history, caves, fortresses and beautiful nature were the focus of this day – all of them are always present in Georgia. You can learn more about these fantastic places here >>
Day 5: Mtskheta & Tbilisi
We seriously thought that we could visit Georgia and Tbilisi without seeing the ancient capital of Mtskheta. Fortunately we came to our senses and took the short ride to the beautiful town 30 minutes from Tbilisi.
In the evening we spent our last days in Georgia and Tbilisi wandering the streets of the capital. We also made a quick stop at the top of Mt. Mtatsminda.
Do you want to know more about Mtskheta? Click here >>
And the places we missed
There are several places in Georgia that we would have loved to visit but unfortunately we ran out of time. These places include the wine region Kakheti, popular Signagi, majestic Svaneti, and the Black Sea coast with Batumi. I am quite sure that there would have been a lot more to experience in the capital as well. Well, hopefully we will have the chance to visit Georgia and Tbilisi again soon.
Getting There and Back
So, how do you get to Georgia and Tbilisi? There are several operators flying to the airport at Tbilisi. We had three options when looking for flights from Stockholm. It was either with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, Air Baltic via Riga or Aeroflot via Moscow. The best option for us was Aeroflot as they had the most favorable transit times. We had around 6 hours to spend at Sheremetyevo International Airport in both directions. It was actually a quite nice airport to spend the first evening as there were good food options and we could enjoy a glass of wine. Traveling via Russia didn’t cause any problems. Due to the short transit time we didn’t need any transit visa, but it also meant that we could not leave the airport.
In case your country of departure is not Sweden we have a few suggestions on operators flying to Georgia and Tbilisi:
- Athens, Greece – Aegean Airlines
- Istanbul, Turkey – Turkish Airines
- Kiev, Ukraine – Ukrainian Airlines
- Moscow, Russia – Aeroflot
- Munich, Germany – Lufthansa
- Riga, Latvia – Air Baltic
- Warsaw, Poland – LOT Polish Airlines
There is one insteresting fact about the airport in Tbilisi. Do not be surprised if your flight is landing in the middle of the night or if your departure back home is at 3 AM. The operating hours of the airport are somewhat unusual as most flights seem to arrive or depart from 8 PM until 10 AM.
There are also international airports located in the towns of Batumi and Kutaisi.
Getting around in Tbilisi was a lot easier than expected. The walking distances in the center are not that great and the Tbilisi Metro was really easy to use to get around faster. If you opt for the metro you need one Metromoney card; one card was enough for the two of us and it was possible to buy at the metro stations for 2 lari (around 0.8 euros) plus any amount that you would wish to load it with. With the card the single fare was 50 tetri (0.5 lari) per person. It was just to blip the card once to let the first person through the gates and then blip it again as the second person goes through.
There were also local and regional buses, but we were unable to figure out how these worked. Mostly because the signs were only in Georgian.
For traveling inside Georgia there were once again the buses that we tried to use, but we gave up after some time trying to find the correct bus. There were so many of them in Tbilisi and none were using the Latin alphabet.
Our choice of transportation in Georgia ended up being taxis and tour operators. For us it was the easiest way to get around. A one way taxi trip of around 30 minutes to the nearby town of Mtskheta cost us around 20-25 lari, less than 10 euros. This was a lot more expensive than taking the local buses, but it saved us a lot of time and uncertainty. We also used a taxi to get to Vardzia, several hours away. The driver stayed with us during the whole day, more than 12 hours. For that we paid around 250 lari, which is around 95 euros. It is probably possible to find cheaper alternatives, but we were quite happy to travel alone instead of in groups and considering the cost of traveling in other countries it was still cheap in comparison.
Because sleeping well is one of the highlights of any trip, let me end with a few words about our accommodation. We stayed at the Log Inn Boutique Hotel in Old Tbilisi, near the Avlabari Metro Station. The hotel was fairly small and cozy, the service was excellent. A bottle of red wine waited for us upon our arrival. What better way to begin a new acquaintance? The accommodation included breakfast and it was quite Russian in its apperance. Imagine bread, ham, veggies, sausages, and porridge. That was it!
We recieved great help from Khatia in the reception when it came to arranging our day trips. She helped us with suggestions for where to go as well as actually arranging the trips with a local tour company.
We found our accommodation using Hotels.com. It was one of the cheaper options that filled our requirements when it came to location and comforts. As mentioned, the room was cozy and clean and the service was indeed excellent. The only disadvantage was the poor sound isolation, as it was possible to hear the other people in the building. One of the best things with our choice of hotel was the balcony and terrace. There room had a balcony and it offered a nice view. It was the perfect place for sipping on a glass of Georgian wine. When we felt for a bit more comfort we could enjoy the wine on the terrace of the hotel instead. We can recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a comfortable and affordable place to stay near the center of Tbilisi.
To summarize, we really enjoyed our trip to Georgia and Tbilisi!