And now here’s part 3 of my Georgian adventure, where I experienced some impressive highs and some lacklustre lows… After having spent a day in Kutaisi and a day exploring Tbilisi it was time to head out of the city and see what the area around Tbilisi had to offer: the Uplistsikhe – Gori – Mtskheta – Jvari day trip.
Luckily, a Georgian friend of friend happened to be in Tbilisi and was happy to play chauffeur as he hadn’t been to most of the places since he was a kid. First stop was Uplistsikhe Cave Town.
Carved in the rocks atop a hill overlooking the area this ancient site is one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia – dating back to the Iron Age! It was such a unique and surreal setting and I had to keep reminding myself that this was not the Flintstones filmset, it was where people actually cried, laughed and danced for centuries.
Look at this view! How would you ever want to leave?
Gori seemed to be a place where everyone stopped. It’s home to the Stalin Museum which (depending on your ethical views) you can visit. It turned out it was more a place housing a random collection of stuff Stalin owned without providing real background info, with everything written in Georgian or Cyrillic. You can always book a tour, but in the end it wasn’t worth the money.
I was really curious to lay my eyes upon Mtskheta as it was supposed to be a real slice of ancient history. But everything seemed to be restored and rebuilt. It was cute and quaint with a market through the high street and a famous cathedral, but it lacked a bit of the history I was expecting. To give you an idea of how big the tourism is in Georgia: we ran into the couple that we shared a taxi with to visit the monasteries two days earlier. And their trip wasn’t going much better: they were stuck in the middle of nowhere when their taxi broke and once they arrived to their destination in the middle of the night their room was given away. So we definitely had lots to catch up on.
If you’re feeling peckish on your travels, I’d recommend stocking up on churchkhela. You’ll see these everywhere, and no, they are not sausages like I initially thought. They are a snack with walnuts and grape juice, also known as Georgian Snickers, and they are actually the most delicious natural sweet I’ve shoved in my mouth.
As we travelled around chowing on our churckhela, we kept spotting the Jvari monastery on the hill calling us to come visit, but more on that later.
Before we trekked up the hill to meet Jvari, we sat down for a quick lunch and our first experience of Georgian lemonade – my advice is skip the vanilla-flavoured version and stick to the original lemon variety, or if you’re feeling daring go for the tarragon infusion!
One of my favourite Bosnian dishes is brown bean soup and I am very picky about it, so you can imagine I was sceptical about trying the Georgian version! Don’t tell my mum … but I LOVED it. The Georgian spices work well and their cornbread was delightfully crunchy. If you see lobio soup on the menu you must try it!
And then it was time for Jvari. And honestly? Jvari is a shameless tease that gets you all excited while driving around it. But once you get on top, it’s not as big or impressive as you might have guessed – Uplistsikhe is a way better experience.
To end the post in bad-luck style: after that we went back to Tbilisi train station and learned that the trains to Batumi were booked for the rest of the week. So where did that leave us? Did we flee off to Armenia? Back to Kutaisi to take the first flight back home? Go to the Kazbegi mountains? Stay tuned!
Have you been to Georgia? Or do you have any questions if you’re thinking about going?
Following up on my time in Kutasi, here’s what happened on my rather up-and-down Georgian adventures when I finally reached the capital Tbilisi.
That evening we exhaustedly arrived at our guest house. But drama struck again – our room was given to someone else and we given a sub-par alternative where the only window faced an interior hallway, couldn’t open AND had no curtains so as you can imagine I heard and saw every guest doing all sorts into the night. I don’t have visual proof, so here is a photo of a very extra hotel I spotted the next morning – maybe something for my next visit.
New city means new Free Walking Tour! Sadly the rain had closed the famous vintage bridge market, but all was not lost. The tour was great and I learned a lot about Tbilisi – all of its hidden gems and lots of insider details that are not on Wiki – such as the fact a lot of statues get stolen by local guys trying to impress the ladies. Or that everyone has at least two family members named after St George and St Nino. Teachers must have it very easy.
As part of the tour you ride the cable cart to the top of the hill, explore the fort, see the botanical garden and enjoy the amazing views. And if you are in need of inspiration for your next Instagram pose, this is the place to spot posers.
How gorgeous is Old Tbilisi? All these buildings are sulphur baths that offer complete relaxation and torture massages. Rumour has it that King Gorgasali loved the hot sulphur water so much that he decided to found a city near the springs and Tbilisi was born.
Like any basic white girl, trying out new cuisines and dishes always tops my to-do list. This scrumptious platter with small dishes included: eggplant with walnuts, chopped vegetables combined with walnuts, herbs, onions, garlic and mashed beans with spices.
Thanks to investment by a rich businessman who wants to bring Tbilisi closer to Europe, the city has a very…interesting mix of old and new buildings like a tube-shaped theatre, a mushroom-style government building and a maxi-pad-inspired bridge. You might also spot a Tony Stark-esque mansion on the hill – home to that very rich businessman!
All that walking meant it was soon time for a well-deserved soak, which led us to a private bath at Gulo. And it was EVERYTHING!! Soaking in the hot and cold water was the best £15 I spent in Georgia, maybe even the best £15 I spent this year.
The hunt for food then continued with the discovery of a new favourite dish: lobiani – a Georgian quesadilla-type odish with spicy beans instead of cheese. And a simple, but mouth-wateringly good salad cucumber, tomato, walnut salad.
Stuffed full of Georgian cuisine we headed back to the guest house to prepare for our day-trip.
One random night me and my friend decided it was time for us to visit Georgia – no, not the US state and home of Coca Cola, but the little gem of a country that sits between Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
But it wasn’t as easy as we thought. The pre-trip drama: everything was supposed to start on a Friday. We would both meet up in Milan to take a cheap flight to Kutaisi. But one day before departure my Easyjet flight from London-Milan got cancelled and the only other flight there was £400. Since that was almost double the budget I had for this trip I booked a cheap direct Wizzair flight on the Sunday, hoping meet my friend in Georgia. You’d think it would stop there … nope – my friend’s flight got delayed so much that she’d miss her connection in Milan. So instead, she booked on my flight on the Sunday and flew to London.
Our flight on the Sunday got ridiculously delayed as well – meaning we finally made it to Kutaisi in the middle of the night! After a quick nap at Tami Hostel we found a bakery, made a plan of action while enjoying two random khachapuri. As we had 2 days less we had to cut out some of the things we wanted to see and do.
The first thing on our list was a walking tour through Kutaisi as I knew nothing about the city, and it was a great starting point. This fountain near the meeting point is just everything, so ornately beautiful.
Guide Kako shows you around his city and tells you bits and pieces on the history. Like the former summer residence of the king with an inspirational garden that comes complete with a 300 year old tree – scary to think of how many things that tree has seen!
We also caught some serious street art outside the market that basically tells you everything you need to know about Georgia; this mural has the story of Jason and Madea’s (the drama in your favourite soap opera doesn’t compare), David the Builder (not related to Bob) and obviously their love of wine.
Inside the market there’s your standard vegetables, fruits and meat sections. But there’s also a corner with second-hand clothes where we discovered t-shirts with random Dutch slogans!? Are you missing your Schoolcamp ’07 t-shirt? Good chance someone in Kutaisi is walking around with it.
The tour ends on the hill where we got to peek inside Bagrati Cathedral, enjoy views of the city and fill up water bottles. Top money-saving tip – most monasteries have a water fountain where you can top up your bottle for free.
After that we joined forces with two people from our tour and found a taxi driver to take us to two famous monasteries: Motsameta and Gelati. The views and frescoes at Motsameta Monastery definitely won me over. But also the fact that we stumbled upon a group of 20 women who sung hymns and did a ritual where they crawled three times under the ark thee times to grant a wish – and you thought Aladdin had it tough.
The Gelati complex wasn’t a let down by any means – it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites for a reason. There was so much to see and frescos is more colourful than an average teen girls’ room – I’ll share those later. For now, look at this view.
Back in Kutaisi we sat down at Tea House Foe-Foe for tea and traditional Georgian dishes. We chowed down on stuffed grape leaves and Georgian cheese with traditional cornbread and cucumber, and tomato and walnut salad (which was a winner and we ordered it for literally every meal).
After that, it was time to say goodbye to Kutaisi and take a mini bus on to Tbilisi. But not before raiding a mini-market and stocking up on the essentials. Like this Snickers with sunflower seeds instead of peanuts, that means its super healthy right?
Stay tuned for Part II. Where the drama (spoiler alert) did NOT end.