Howdy all and happy Halloween because, why not? It’s time for another ‘destination of the month’, and for October I am looking at the Republic of Georgia. Sometimes DOM is going to be a country, sometimes a city, and sometimes, well, it might be neither. I could do ‘Destination of the Month – Bottom of the Atlantic Ocean’ – who know? But I won’t, I promise you! BUT it could be a region or something like that of a place. Or a lake, a mountain, so anyways… let’s get to the destination at hand, and that is the country that is the Republic of Georgia.
When I talk about Georgia and having been there, people are divided into three groups. The largest still seem to think that I am referring to the US State of Georgia. Some ask if I mean the country or the state, and the smallest group presume the country.
But it is the country I have visited – for three months where I was mostly teaching English. And it’s an interesting and vibrant place, with an impressive and attractive capital city, seaside towns and resorts on the Black Sea coast. Loads of history, mountains, monasteries and conflicts. Oh, and it’s the birthplace of Josef Stalin, so you know, you can’t go wrong!
The ‘Why’ and the ‘Warnings’
So why am I featuring it as ‘Destination of the Month’? Well, because I really enjoyed my time there. It’s not the perfect destination by any stretch of the imagination. And I will start by stating that it’s a pretty poor country that lacks in infrastructure – I remember frequent power failures, but what it lacks in those areas, it really makes up in heart. It has great opportunities for hiking, something that I did not do when I was there, and it has good weather for probably six months of the year. I wouldn’t recommend visiting it any later than October or earlier than April though. When I was there in November it was bitterly cold – a change came over the country like flicking a light switch. There was snow and sleet. Some days it was nice, others though it was just horrid. And personally I would try to avoid that kind of weather. You MIGHT find, if you’re a snow lover, that winter isn’t too bad when there is snow everywhere and you are less like to experience rain and sludge.
The capital is Tbilisi, which is actually a pretty nice city all told. It’s built along the banks of the Mtkvari River, and like most of Georgia, finds itself on a very hilly location. So warning – you are going to be doing some climbing! The main part of the city in general is sort of down from the hills though. Look up to the hills and you see amazing houses built at angles and churches on top of hills too. Walk up to the top of one for the Narikala Fortress, The Holy Trinity Cathedral is again at the top of a (different) hill. This is a modern but very beautiful orthodox church.
Shota Rustaveli Ave is the main drag through the capital and there’s a large square where political rallies have been held and feels a bit like the centre of town (Liberty Square). The you have the Bridge of Peace, a modern partially glass structure that I think looks quite beautiful – a pedestrian bridge over the river. Also the avenue is full of designer shops for the shopaholic.
Tbilisi comes alive in the summer and is a real buzz. Wine is a proud product of Georgia, and there are loads of cafes and restaurants to entice you inside as well.
Before leaving the capital, know a little about Georgia. Firstly, the people are extremely friendly. And many families MAKE wine at home so if you do get to visit a Georgian family, well, you won’t go thirsty! Khachapuri is perhaps the widest spread Georgian food, a bread with cheese which is offered at least at most dinners and is very hard to escape. Luckily, it happens to be pretty tasty! It supplements meat and stews, things liked stuffed capsicum (peppers) and rice also quite common. Due to it being part of the Soviet Union you can often find Russian food too.
Getting around the country from Tbilisi is not so much hard, as hard on your bottom and your back! Look there are proper buses and trains, but the way everyone seems to get from town to town is generally by the good ol’ marshrutka. This transport device of death leaves when full, is somewhere between a van and a minibus, offers very little legroom and no comfort to the passenger whatsoever. Still, if you’re exploring Georgian you are going to end up on one. They’re not expensive, so that’s something. There are train connections to neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan and across to Georgia’s Black Sea city of Batumi, all of which run night trains although it’s really not that far. The fact is the mountainous nature of the region makes it hard to go by land quickly.
The thing though about taking transport, whatever it might be, through the mountains of Georgia is – it’s certainly beautiful and stunning. And so you have that going for you! Kutaisi is a town not quite on the route to Batumi from the capital, and worth a few nights. It’s a beautiful riverside town/city with interesting fountains and open spaces, churches and the usual. It’s quite charming. And not too far outside you can hire a taxi to take you to the Gelati Monastery. Don’t expect ice cream, but it’s on a mountain top, gorgeous little place with breath-taking views.
Batumi probably feels like the most modern place in Georgia. It sits on the Black Sea and is a great place for jumping off to go up the coast. You might even think about visiting the breakaway region of Abkhazia, which is apparently beautiful. Check the security situation on that and if you are allowed to re-enter Georgia proper.
In the warmer months of the year the Black Sea Coast is abuzz with activity. It has beaches – the only ones Georgia has really – and you can find nice places to stay and just chill and enjoy the weather. You might find a resort, or a ‘sanitorium’.
Batumi, like Tbilisi has top end hotels, restaurants and more. Since I was there, ten years ago now, it’s really built up into a bigger and flashier place. The Batumi Opera and Ballet Centre is a classy, modern building worth catching a performance at. There’s this tower I think you can climb – the Alphabetic Tower according to Mr Google, and there’s even a place to see Dolphin Shows! Which is new and, well, a little unexpected.
Also, Georgia is a country famous for it’s gold and there’s a market in Batumi if you are looking to buy jewellery. Certainly it will be cheaper than in the west, and I had rings custom made there for my wife and I. So if this is something that interests you, it’s certainly worth checking out!
Elsewhere in Georgia there is plenty to keep you busy – there is the ancient cave-city Vardzia, hiking as I said in many places such as Mount Kazbek, and monasteries on many mountain tops!
So Georgia, Republic of. October’s ‘Destination of the Month’. A unique and fascinating place to travel! Thanks for reading today. Take care – And May the Journey Never End!