Our trip to Georgia and our favorite things do in Tbilisi

It was about time we set foot in a small country somewhere on the border between Europe and Asia. A little country, which lies on the other side of the Black Sea. A piece of land famous for the beauty of its nature and interesting people with a rich history. Welcome to the country of unexpected beauty and pleasant surprises! Get ready for a trip to Georgia and our favorite things to do in Tbilisi!

Our trip to Georgia, the old capital Mtskheta

First impressions of Georgia

What can you expect from Georgia?

Let the answer be the following video from our journey from the Kutaisi airport to the city itself.

Arriving in Kutaisi

The first thing we experienced when we arrived at the airport in Kutaisi (second biggest city) was a mild cultural shock.

The difference between the polite Ukrainian taxi drivers in Kyiv and their Georgian colleagues was that the latter burst into your personal space and refuse to let you go easily. We, typically confident, glared at them and showed how much they annoy us because we were in a hurry for the rent-a-car office. All good, but there was no such office. A polite lady at the tourist information center told us we have to get to the city Kutaisi. We bargained and an old man charmed us with his pleasant Russian and we agreed to let him drive us. We gave him the business card of the rental company, but he still had to stop 4 times to ask for directions and he even had the gall to charge us for it.

The journey with natural air conditioning and playful Georgian music was unforgettable. In Kutaisi, we waited at traffic lights and the smell of exhaust and the heat were starting to grate on us… we arrived. At the rental office, we even managed to find a man who spoke a word or two of English and things started to look promising. We rented a scratched Opel but after 4 days on the Georgian roads, we started thinking that it would have been better to get a truck. Our gas tank was almost empty and we had two partial maps of the country when we headed for the capital. Our plan was to stop on the way to interesting places and then reach Tbilisi in the evening.

Not only the air conditioning wasn’t working, but the car was about to overheat so we enjoyed natural breeze and drought during most of the trip. Until we reached the first church we were nicely sweaty and we needed to go to the toilet, but we didn’t manage to. We only nodded at the priest and decided to look for places with a toilet and cool drinks more carefully. A pity there weren’t many of those.

Things to do in Tbilisi – the capital of Georgia

Tbilisi is a successful clash between modern architecture and very old, but preserved buildings. It was a very pleasant surprise after a whole day on the Georgian roads, filled with ninja-drivers and 40 °C heat.

Indulge in Georgian wine

Our sweaty and dusty faces smiled long under the sprinklers of a café in the old town while drinking the acclaimed Georgian wine. We tried to find our way to our accommodation in Tbilisi with the help of a paper map. We were forced to go up and down steep streets. All in all, we had trouble with navigation and no trouble with wine and the amazingly delicious food in Tbilisi.

Old Town Tbilisi

Tbilisi is a big city, situated along the length of the banks of the Kura River. There are newly erected parts and plattenbau neighborhoods like in Bulgaria. However, the old town is preserved! It is like walking into a museum in the middle of the city. Again, we are lucky to spend the night a steep alley away from 2-thousand years old things. We almost forgot our exhausting journey. The view of the Turkish bath and the blue mosaic relaxed us, even before the first sip of Georgian wine.

We relaxed and went on a quick tour of the near center. The dinner consisted of a greasy and delicious doner kebab, we even drank airan. Before going to bed we watched through the window of our humble bedroom and we hoped to avoid overheating because the air conditioning was on the floor below us and we were up- where the hot air likes to go. We proved that the hard head can be used as a tripod.

When it rains in Tbilisi

The rain the next morning came as if by our demand – it helped us sleep and hydrate. So when it rains in Tbilisi, you can relax and plan your sightseeing activities for the times when the rain would stop.

The morning hours passed by slowly while we thought at the speed of lightning how we would fit in less time all the places we wanted to visit in Tbilisi. We’re going to use the turbo mode.

Explore Tbilisi on foot

Tbilisi is an interesting mix of old and new, the authentic and the innovative.

We recommend wholeheartedly a walk the streets and alleys. Not only they are a good cardio exercise but they show many of the hidden wonders of the old city. You’ll pass baths, fortresses, churches, modernist buildings, highways that end in museum walls, things like that.

There are things to see in the new part of the city. The fact that the streets are horizontal and straight alone attracts the wary feet. Marti completely shamelessly tore her shoes on the straight modern streets so the whole of the polite society saw us attaching them by improvised means. It lasted to the Shop, which offered Marti the coolest flip-flops to complement her evening wear.

Cable car to Narikala Fortress

A romantic end of our daytime adventure was the ascend by cable car to the Narikala fortress and a walk through the wild nature with a view towards the whole city, but above all- the guardian of the fortress and her backside, which few manage to take in with one look.

In case you wonder where to stay in Tbilisi, it’s a relief to know you can find anything that caters to your budget and style.

One city can’t give us a whole picture of the country. So we got in the battered Opel and set off towards other interesting and secret places in Georgia!

Our road trip in Georgia (beyond Tbilisi)

Georgia has a beautiful nature.

In the beginning, we were impressed by the brown and grey rivers, whose real names we have forgotten. We remember them in Georgian but we shouldn’t strain us too much. Beautiful letters and unintelligible language.

The locals are true masters of the Russian language. In the end, we were hard-pressed to speak it ourselves in order to be understood. Their mastery was questionable since they mistook Bulgarian for Russian. It is possible that they are more broad-minded and could sense the subtle difference. We were often taken for Russians or Polish. All in all, Georgians are kind and ready to help.

Gori, known as the birth city of Stalin

This city carries the atmosphere of the Soviet Union and something more… The fun thing about these places is that you expect them to look like the last decades have passed them by. Some things meet your expectations. The buildings and the city center honestly look socialist, but the life there has never stopped and the children playfully dip in the fountain only steps away from the museum of Stalin.

This city is most likely supported by the tourists, who would like to know more about Stalin and his deeds, especially his train carriage which is stationed next to the museum. To enter it you have to pay an additional fee, but for me, this carriage is the most memorable part of our visit. After we read the letters between Stalin and people X, Y, Z (I don’t want to offend them by not remembering their names correctly) we had to move on with our walk along the main pedestrian street. It had two lanes on both sides. The fountain was a good alternative in the heat, but it was full of children and we had no choice but to enter the first welcoming restaurant. Despite our expectations, the food was good and the prices were affordable. The atmosphere reminded us of yesterday’s brawl but there was no sign of violence. Completely satisfied, we headed for the place we had parked our car, thanks to a helpful Georgian.

Uplistsikhe Cave Town

In contrast, we are about to tell you about the Uplistsikhe Cave Town. Apart from being an interesting phenomenon, it is also comparatively hard to find.

The root of our problem was our inability to find the right exit from Gori. Even when we got lost in a sleepy village we didn’t see a trace of the famous Georgian stereotype of scary people. Nobody ate us in the dark, especially because it was day and the food there is a thousand times better tasting than us. Helpful people in the middle of the village gave us directions on our dumb map on how to take the correct turns.

The rock formations were worth the climb. When we reached nearly the highest point, where a small church is situated, we laid ourselves out on the rocks just like the small lizards around us.

The old capital Mtskheta

The old capital Mtskheta is a preserved small town with cobblestone streets and a big church, which is full of history.

The nearby river is known to raise its lever and sometimes it is suitable for a boat trip.  For an old capital, Mtskheta attracts lots of attention. They were even shooting a film in front of the city gate. The architecture and the feel of antiquity are well-preserved. Even some new houses were built in the same style.

We ate something delicious on a stick – nuts, covered with something sweet with a fruity taste, the whole dessert had an elongated form. it was a small snack before the long breakfast and hazelnuts with blueberry coating. It turned out that those treats can be found in Etara in Bulgaria.

Sataplia Reserve

Georgia has a plan of its own. We tried to follow our own plan, but at some point, it didn’t work out. The weather changed our plans drastically in Tbilisi. The reality of the roads dissuaded us from visiting the sea resorts. The lack of options for night stay was also a factor. However, the mountain town Borjomi was introduced into the plan with flying colors and offered us a lungful of mountain air. Our attempts to shorten the journey by omitting Sataplia Reserve, the local version of Jurassic Park near Kutaisi, turned out to be fruitless. Not only were we chased by a storm, but the dirt roads tried to kill out rented Opel. If you encounter a road that looks shorter on the map and has a suspicious color – avoid it! However, if we had followed our own advice we would’ve missed one of the most genuine views in the country.

Borjomi – the last stop in our Georgia itinerary

The kingdom of multilingualism was Borjomi.

We are driving on a meandering road between green hills and enormous mountains and we are entranced. According to the map we are close we must be about to enter the town. Trapped between two massive mountainsides with a river below is the resort town Borjomi. The most famous mineral water in the country is bottled there. It was served to us everywhere in Georgia, but not in Borjomi itself. Water production and trade is marked by intricate politics.

We are looking for the hotel in Borjomi, road signs – none. We are driving and looking around when at some point we find out that the town has ended and we are traveling in the next one. We turn back to the center. We see a crowd as something like a bus station. They send me to do the asking around since I’m all smiling. I don’t bother with English. We are on our third day in Georgia and we already know that the language is useless here.

I start the conversation in Bulgarian with the most convincing Russian accent possible, but nobody has heard of our hotel. A granny takes my problem to heart and heads somewhere, I follow. We enter the bus station but nobody seems to know anything. The hotel is booked from booking.com, it should exist. In the end, the granny takes me to a woman, watching from her window. The woman addresses me with “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”. I am excited, we are switching to my favorite language and we start the conversation. It turned out she didn’t know of our hotel, either, but she recommended another.

Glad that I had the opportunity to practice my German (thank God I went to Georgia so I could speak a bit of German) I go back to the car and tell them to drive to the tourist office in the center. Before that, a grandpa tried to sell the information about the location of the hotel for a drive home. We are polite, but not that much. At the office, we got directions (I am almost sure a Polish guy helped us, but after a consultation with specialists we decided that he could’ve been Russian) and we embarked on an off-road climb towards the hotel.

There we go lost again and asked a passer-by for directions. When we heard us saying “Ciao” (used in Bulgarian for “bye”) he bombarded us with his Italian vocabulary: Bambini, Adriano Celentano and so on. We reached the hotel before dark which was an achievement. We headed for the white bridge and the town park. We were enriched linguistically and exhausted by the journey so we had no choice but to try the beer of Borjomi and breathe in the clearest mountain air under the sound of The Beatles.

The pleasant mountain cool and the music weren’t the only things to calm our souls. Even though the town is small, the people of Borjomi showed themselves as bright and determined to fight for what they believe in. Nature is incredible. The most beautiful thing was the view from the old Ferris wheel on the top of one hill. You could see the sleepy town and the endless green hills.

Kutaisi

Georgia showed us the need to be flexible and how naïve it is to build unrealistic expectations about a place beforehand. The town which was a bit too much for us was Kutaisi. Our last evening was there. We weren’t charmed by the hotel or the service, nor by the difficulty we had with finding it. Yes, we were spoiled by the million-dollar view we had in Tbilisi and the new apartment in Borjomi and the mountain air and the feast that was our dinner. We ended up in a humble restaurant in the company of several types of meat and lemonades in Kutaisi next to the women’s market. It was a gloomy place, even scary after dark. Some of the palms on the streets were misleading. It is a still-developing town and it is not for the fainthearted. Pay Kutaisi a visit, if you have more time in the country. Or use Kutaisi as a base to hike in Svaneti.

Food in Georgia

In Borjomi, It turned out dinner was included in our hotel stay. We decided to see what it was and to go later to seek an interesting pub. However, there was no need, we were very pleased and we stuffed ourselves with local specialties.

Tbilisi confirmed that the Georgian food is lick-your-fingers-clean delicious, though we used utensils at most places (unlike we did it India). The bill usually came in Georgian script so we hope nobody tried to cheat us, which we verified in the Russian menu. We obviously looked so much like locals that the checks would always come in Georgian, even in hand-written Georgian.

Which are your favorite things to do in Tbilisi and places to visit in Georgia? Tell us about them and we promise to visit again this wonderful country and tell you about the things we experience!

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