It had taken me two (2) years to make good on the promise I made to my Georgian friends that I'd visit their beautiful country. I had initially planned to take this trip as a birthday gift to myself in October. But, things were too busy at work to take it then. Nevertheless, I'm happy to share the images I have taken of this country's rich culture and history, the kind people I have met along the way, and what I've learned during my 4-day solo trip.
1 hour 45 mins away from Tbilisi / 5,047 meters above sea level
Tour cost: 35 USD includes lunch & wine tasting
My trip to Kakheti was unfortunately not long enough for me to enjoy a proper day tour. A usual day tour in Kakheti includes visiting vineyards and traditional bread baking and winemaking centers, architectures of the Middle Ages including the 6th-century Ikalto, Nekresi and Alaverdi Monasteries, and Gremi castle, and Signagi, the City of Love.
Kakheti is known also for its magnificent nature of fertile valleys so you can expect to be taken back in time and be engulfed in natural beauty.
Alas, I didn't get to see all of them. But that and Batumi and the Black Sea (on the other side of the country) are some reasons I'm keeping in mind to go back for someday.
Tbilisi began in 475 AD. Tbilisi, which means warm location, was founded by King Vakhtang I Gorgasali who went hunting in the heavily wooded region with a falcon. Legend has it, the falcon caught a pheasant in this area where there were sulphuric hot springs. Gorgasali and his successor, King Dachi I Ujarmeli, were so impressed with the “warm location” that the latter moved the capital here. And the rest is rich Georgian history.
A day tour in the city includes a cable car ride, lunch to enjoy soulful Georgian cuisine (I'm a fan!), visits to Narikala Fortress and St. Nicholas Church, 1958 Kartlis Deda statue (aka Mother of a Georgian statue or Mother of Kartli) on Sololaki Hill, a waterfall and some historic sulphur bathhouses, Iaone Shavteli street (famous for its al fresco local cafes and restaurants), Bridge of Peace, the Metekhi Cathedral, and the statue of Gorgasali. On this afternoon walk, you can also buy souvenirs.
The castle complex sits on the Aragvi River and is about an hour and a half drive away from Tbilisi. Ananuri was founded in the 13th century and it had withstood numerous battles especially in the 16th century. While walking along its bare courtyard, tight spaces, prayer hall, and cobblestone walkways, it felt like it required a very quiet sense of respect and reverence from visitors like me for what it stood for and what it had to endure.
70 Georgian Laris for a Gergeti village driver to take you up the mountain
May be closed during winter due to weather conditions
The visit to the 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church or Holy Trinity Church starts with a scary, bumpy 30-min drive on a narrow mountain-side road from the main village of Gergeti. I wouldn't lie, I was scared and I held on to my seatbelt pretty much the whole time. On top of a Kazbegi mountain, the view of the old church's surroundings is breathtaking and postcard like. So enduring the rough mountain-trail ride and windchill factor was well worth it. It was little effort in exchange for indescribable beauty and a sudden surge of gratitude and peace only a rich history and Mother Nature can generously provide. Also, thanks to a neither-fast-nor-furious Gergeti-seasoned driver.
Georgian Military Highway stretches 220 kms from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz, Russia
Unfavorably, Gudauri Ski Resort was closed when I visited. The snow wasn't thick enough for skiing and snowboarding. Nevertheless, visiting the mineral water springs and some of the snowy areas of Kazbegi was a little adventure in and of itself.
Some of Kazbegi mountain water streams carry minerals. This particular one near Jvari Pass (aka Krestovy Pereval or Cross Pass on the highway) deposits sulfur and iron, which give the rocks a distinct foamy orange look. In the winter time, the water turns to ice, and the contrast of white and orange makes for a wonderful photo-op location for both tourists and locals.
Also, for the adventurous types, you can go paragliding for 300 Laris. I can imagine that would be an incomparable, exhilarating view of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. By and large, Kazbegi is truly the soul of Georgia.
Exchange your currency to either Georgian Lari (GEL) or US Dollars (USD). Tour operators take both.
List all the places where you'd like to visit & bring print outs/screenshots. Some drivers speak little English, it's easier to get around if you show them a photo of your hotel/desired destination and the address.
Bring a map so you have a better understanding of where you are and where you're going.
Bring a camera, extra juice (you'll need it)
As always, check the weather in advance and bring the right clothes.
Eat the following: Khinkali, Khachapuri, Chashushuli, Georgian barbecue, and churchkhela.
Drink the following: Cha cha (much stronger than vodka so if you've had even just one, don't trust your balance when you get up from your seat LOL) and Georgian wines (red, white, rosé, sparkling, etc.); they are great, because the country boasts of having the most number of grape varieties in the world. Thus, their wine offerings are both vast and affordable. And it is somewhat frowned upon if you don't order wine especially for dinner. I know from experience.
Enjoy a traditional dinner where there are Georgian folk music and dances. I went to Kalanda Restaurant, which was just on the left bank of the river from my hotel.
Bring loose change everywhere you go. There are children and old people who either beg, sell their stuff, or busk on the streets. Your change will get you fresh orange, grapefruit and pomegranate juices in cities and villages. Also, currency-exchange companies only accept bills anyway; you might as well give your coins away on your last day.
Watch my travel-diary video here:
I truly enjoyed my trip to Georgia, and I'm glad to have kept my promise to my Georgian friends. My whole experience of their wonderful country, its rich history and proud yet kind people can be summed up by the Mother of a Georgian statue. Kartlis Deda / Georgia will greet her enemies with a sword, and her guests with a glass of fine wine and her Georgian hospitality -- it is undeniably warm no matter the weather.
Where would you like to travel next? Leave your answer and comments below.