I made a mistake with my holiday dates. Went to sign back in at work only to find out that I still had some holidays left. I looked at Fly Dubai flight destinations and saw Tbilisi. I had to do a search on the Internet to see where it was – capital of Georgia, and ex-Soviet country. The city looked pretty cool with the buildings set into the hillside, the fare was cheap and the flight was only 3 hours – all good!
Checked out to see if I needed a visa – I got caught with that once before. I had booked my flight and hotels etc to another destination, and then the thought occurred to me two days before I was due to travel that I might need a visa. Sure enough, when I checked, I needed an invitation from someone in the country or to be booked on a tour. No way will I fall for that one again.
I'm glad I chose Tbilisi. What a fascinating, magical little city! Very picturesque! I loved walking around the steep, narrow, curving streets, and romantic alleyways.
Narikala – castle on the hill: My first expedition was up to the castle on the hill, known as Narikala. On my way up the steep narrow cobblestone streets, I stopped for a traditional homemade drink from a wee street-stand. He said it was full of vitamins. I don’t know what was in it but it sure gave me energy and tasted good. I wound my way up these narrow lanes to the castle on top of the hill. What a great view of the city!
Walked along the top of the hill to the statue, Kartlis Deda – “the mother of Georgia" - a woman in Georgian national dress with a bowl of wine in her left hand to greet guests, and a sword in her right hand to warn those who come as enemies. Made my way back down to the town via the National Botanical Garden – a lovely walk. You can also get the cable car up here if you don’t want to walk.
Anchiskhati Basilica of St Mary: This Georgian Orthodox church stands proudly on the hill in front of the river and has great views. It’s the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi from the 6th century. If I was going back to Tbilisi, I think I would look for a wee hotel near here, just across the bridge from the old city.
Bridge of Peace: This bridge stands out in Tbilisi as a bridge between old Tbilisi and the new district. It was built in 2010 and looks really cool, especially at night when it’s all lit up.
Mtatsminda Park: I went up here to see the sunset. I wanted to go both ways by funicular but I made a mistake and ended going by bus. You can get the bus from near Freedom Square. It’s a steep windy road but an amazing view at the top and a lovely park. There’s also an amusement park and restaurant up here, but I didn’t try either of those. I came back down by funicular. Be aware that if you come down by funicular at night there may not be any transport at the bottom. I had intended to get a taxi but there weren’t any and the locals didn’t think any would come, so a local family drove me back to my hotel.
Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi: This cathedral was reasonably close to my hotel. It’s a relatively new (consecrated in 2004) Georgian Orthodox church. I think it’s worth a visit, if you are not churched out. The grounds are also lovely.
Leaning clock tower: I missed this attraction but it looks really cool in photos and people I met said it was great.
Sulphur Baths: Tbilisi is renowned for sulphur baths. Apparently the town was built around the sulphur baths which are high in sulphur and other minerals. As you walk around the area there are loads of them, public and private baths. Be aware as the quality varies a lot. I opted for a private bath. In hindsight I wished I’d gone for a public bath, but I didn’t have my swimming gear with me and I didn’t want to hire any.
I wandered around for a while looking for a suitable bathhouse. The first one I chose was only for members only. I then called into another one that looked good, but they only had a few private rooms and I would’ve needed to reserve one of these and I was a bit short on time. Some random people on the street recommended a bathhouse so I went there. I decided to go for the whole deal – bath, scrub and massage. Well the scrub was ok but I didn’t really care for the massage. It was definitely not like a relaxing oil massage and it was only about 10 minutes. I didn’t really find the bath relaxing and the place was old and not well maintained. So, choose carefully if you want a memorable experience!
Area behind the sulphur baths: There’s a cool nature area behind the sulphur baths with a waterfall. Lots of young ones and families were there taking photos.
Food: There’s lots of really yummy food in Tbilisi. Just wander around and try out the khachapuri (cheese stuffed bread), khinkali (meat or cheese dumplings), eggplant dishes, traditional bread, bean stew. I really enjoyed all the different food I had. I thought the food was pretty cheap. Everywhere you will see tklapi - handmade fruit rollups. There are so many flavours. I brought back a variety of these for my colleagues to try and they were a great hit!
Day trips from Tbilisi: I went on 2 day trips so I’ll mention these, but there are many to choose from. You don’t need to book in advance as there are travel agents everywhere with trips that you can join. I was alone so it was a good chance for me to meet others.
Mtskheta, Gori, Uplistsikhe: This was an interesting trip but less demanding and shorter than David-Gareja Monastery. We stopped at Mtskheta, the previous capital of Georgia and one of the oldest cities. The main attraction here is Jvari Monastery. It’s an interesting 6th century Georgian orthodox monastery. It’s really popular for weddings and there were many going on when I was there. Gori is the next stop to the Joseph Stalin museum. I wasn’t really interested in the museum so I just walked around. There was a pretty cool statue in a park on the outskirts of town. The third place was the Uplistsikhe cave complex (the Lord’s Fortress). This is an ancient rock-hewn town and one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. I thought this place was pretty cool and would’ve like more time here to explore.
David-Gareja Monastery - highly recommended by me! I absolutely loved this trip. I would hate to have missed it. Be warned though, it’s a long drive and the road’s a bit rough in parts. All of us wondered if we were ever going to get there. You would also be wise to take some snacks and water as well because, although our first stop was the lunch stop, it was getting pretty late by the time we got there. The food is Georgian. I joined in with a couple of others so we could order a selection of food to try – a fantastic idea and all the food was so yummy.
The rock-carved monastery area is only a short drive from the lunch stop. It dates back to the 6th century to a Christian monk, David of Gareja. The caves are carved into a rock face of the mountain and are scattered around. You need good walking shoes as there’s a long walk in the hills to see the cave complex. We spent a couple of hours walking around. The cave paintings are amazing and well preserved.