TBILISI / ბილისი
My 25 year old son, the offspring of two wanderers, has lived a life for the past few years that we all dream of. Drifting from this country to that one, propelled by friends to visit places most of us have never even heard about. But when he needs to settle for a few weeks, his place of choice is The Republic of Georgia.
He beckoned us there. Wanting to show off the reason why this country is the new travel destination of the young and adventurous. We, being old but still adventurous, took advantage of our frequent flyer miles, and went. Our daughter, residing at the time in London, hesitated not at all when we asked if she would like to join us. (Our youngest, currently living with mom and dad, could not go due to newly acquired employment.)
Getting to Georgia is not easy.
We took off one incredibly hot May evening in 2017 on an overnight flight from Washington-Dulles (Which is technically in Virginia) to Munich Germany.
Mike and I arrived in Germany the following morning; we planned to spend the next three days acclimating to the time change (+6 from the East Coast to Munich, +8 from the East Coast to Georgia) and touring the painted towns of the Alps.
Our daughter caught up with us on our third day in Munich and all three of us flew Turkish Air through Istanbul Turkey with a connecting flight to Tbilisi.
There are multiple options for non-stop flights to Georgia, but they all seem to arrive in the wee hours of the morning, but the connecting flight through Turkey had us arriving at a reasonable time in the afternoon, with the added benefit of a layover in the extremely entertaining, lively and multicultural Istanbul Ataturk airport.
We arrived fresh at the tiny, but well organized Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport. The airport is small but surprisingly modern. On the main level everything you need before you venture out is all within mere feet of each other. You can grab your checked bags, buy the local currency, purchase sim cards for your phone, and pick up a rental car.
SIDE NOTE: It was explained to us that when Georgia regained its independence in 1991, the government had the foresight to introduce English into the school system; deciding that English would be the best option for the future of business for their country. You will find that a majority of twenty-somethings speak English pretty well, while the older generation speaks Russian. And almost everyone speaks the unique, and impossible language of Georgian.
We had reserved a car with Avis which has an office in the terminal. Anticipating the arrival of Americans, the manager had an under thirty assist us with the rental because he spoke English.
If you do not need to rent a car, there are dozens of chain smoking, but polite locals waiting outside to assist with your ride into the city. Georgians drive on the same side of the road as we do in the United States, although the traffic laws are shall we say, up for interpretation. My husband, who had just spent three blissful days racing around the Autobahn was up for the challenge.
The ride out of the airport was eye opening, there is still a lot of work to do here. The buildings are still a little shabby but hang in there, the adventure is just getting started.
As you draw closer to the city center it becomes a different world. There is a purposeful bustle all around. Construction to repair the buildings and sidewalks, street cleaners, shop keepers organizing their wares, there is an appealing tidiness to the Capital city. We were encouraged, the sigh of relief was audible.
Tbilisi, (Pronounced “Tib-eh-lee-see“) spilling from the hills, with it’s boggling mix of ancient and modern architecture, art and sculptures around every bend, and incredible statues in impossible places, with the muddy swift Mtkvari/Kura river winding through it all, went a long way toward energized us from our travel.
And then, as we rounding a corner and descended toward the city, there she was.
Kartlis Deda the Mother of Georgia.
A powerful symbol of the Georgian people. Erected in 1958 to celebrate 1500 years of Tbilisi, she is a little over 65 feet tall (20m). She holds a bowl of wine in her left hand for friends, and a sword in her right hand for her enemies. She is inspiring. She is imposing. She is worth the trip alone. More about her a little further on.
We arrived at our hotel adjacent to the famous Freedom Square, Which is actually a roundabout, jet lagged, hangry, and a bit queasy from the smoke filled lobby, only to find out that our daughter thought we were handling her hotel accommodations, and we thought she was staying with her brother in his rented apartment.
Daughter, a very resourceful young woman, quickly found and booked a hotel a block away. ~More about her hotel shortly.
Crisis averted, we were able to enjoy the chaos that is Freedom Square out our street facing window before walking the block to her hotel to check her in. Freedom Square, which is currently a multi-laned roundabout, easily converts into a parade and viewing ground during celebrations (More to come about that!) This “Square” has a rich and colorful history, I encourage you to read about it on this outstanding blog site: “Georgia About.”
Meanwhile our son texted to say his apartment was literally across the alley from her hotel and would meet us in her lobby before taking us to dinner at a favorite local spot.
Checking our daughter into her hotel we realized immediately that we needed to cancel the reservation at our current hotel, and book into her hotel.
The Ibis Styles was literally brand new. So brand new that while we were there they were having a grand opening celebration that included a visit from the Prime Minister. It was whimsical, clean, half the price of our current hotel, but most importantly (For me) a smoke free establishment.
CROSS TIP: If you decide to stay at the Ibis, ask for a suite with a terrace. At the time of our stay the suite rooms with a terrace were the same price as suites without. And the suites were not much more expensive than a regular room.
Time to talk about food and the beginning of a five day odyssey to find the correct Georgian Orange wine.
Our son reunited with us at his sister’s hotel and we all headed out into the balmy May evening in search of authentic Georgian cuisine.
First up, daughter absolutely had to have Khachapuri, the delicious cheesy bread with an egg on top. It was a heavy buttery cheesy plate full of yumminess, perfect for the jetlagged.
Dad and I were fully versed on the proper way to eat them (Please educate yourself by watching hilarious YouTube videos that your children WhatsApp you prior to arriving in Georgia; or you will make a fool of yourself…apparently). These delightful steamed dumplings filled with spiced meat and juice were every bit as good as we had heard, and we left the stems on the plate in true Georgian fashion.
Unfortunately, at this restaurant, the Orange wine that dad ordered was not the wine according to our daughter. She had tasted an incredible Georgian wine in London and was hoping to find it again in Georgia, but it was not to be on this first night.
Between the jet lag and the other patrons smoking during their meal (A lot of restaurants are starting to prohibit this though) we were ready to head back to our hotels. We taxied back because we didn’t think we could manage the cobbled stoned streets and hills at night as exhausted as we were.
CROSS TIP: Settle on the fare before entering the vehicle. There are no meters, and it is customary to haggle for the fare, but don’t be too cheap, they are trying to make an honest living!
Taxis are readily available, and inexpensive, like everything in the county. Some drivers speak English and the ones that don’t will ask the ones that do to translate, and they will help their comrades without “stealing” the customers from them.
We said goodnight to our children as we trundeled off to our respective beds with a plan to meet up in the morning for a fun day in the city. I hope you enjoyed my very first blog post! Let me know what you think, and please continue reading about our Georgian adventure by clicking the link below. It will take you to the next part of the series.