Georgia on my Mind

A little background music while you read courtesy of Ray Charles.

So I’ve been stuck in Doha since January 2020. At that time, I had already booked Sydney and Melbourne for spring break which would have gave me six continents. For the summer 2020 I was going to explore Portugal, Malta, Amsterdam and Belfast (Sons of Anarchy led me here) before heading to South Carolina. Hotels, flights, train tickets and tours were booked. I’m still chasing money from Air India! Early February 2020, the term Coronavirus was circling the globe. Crazy rumors were swirling related to it; such as deriving from a wet market in China and created in a lab. Regardless of where it came from, the outbreak spread and it quickly became a pandemic. And the pandemic halted the whole world very quickly. By early March 2020 my flights were canceled for spring break and summer was hanging in the balance. On March 8th, schools in Doha closed and I was introduced to blended learning. So very long story short, I’ve experienced multiple lock downs over the last 17 months, show an app on my phone to enter anywhere and I’m 100% vaccinated. Overall, Qatar has done what I believe to be the best job possible to protect those living in the country. So I know this is about Georgia, but I thought a little catch up would help. 

Now Georgia… Not Atlanta, Georgia. How did I come up with Georgia? Well it’s cheap, close and you don’t need a PCR test if you are post 14 days fully vaccinated. However, I will need a test on the return. So about four weeks away from Eid break I started my typical flight, hotel and tour research. After some back and forth I chose Qatar Airways due to a direct flight. I almost took Fly Dubai. While the layover wasn’t bad and the flight was cheaper, the older I get the less I like to stop unless it’s mandatory. Also as a transit passenger I would need the PCR test to go through Dubai. I’ve cried every test I had to take. 

So here’s a quick overview of my trip planning:

May 11th – May 18th 

Flight- Qatar Airways 

Accommodations- Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center and Badagoni Boutique Hotel Rustaveli 

Airport Transportation via Booking– LTD Georgia Travel (from airport)

Travel Insurance – Seven Corners 

Tours – Freetours App, Trip Advisor, Airbnb Experiences

Local Transportation- Bolt App

Food Delivery- Wolt App

I didn’t think I would be sensitive to traveling considering how much I did prior to Covid, but there was nervousness. The walk to the ticket counter, security and just boarding the plan felt like a task. Trust me, I printed every document I thought I would need, completed travel authorizations, etc. Also, Georgia is visa free for American citizens. I left my itinerary pretty flexible which is not like me. I also used Girls Love Travel® and Black Travel Movement on Facebook to make connections with some travelers already on the ground. One thing that I noticed during my search is there are quite a few bars with craft beer on top of the wineries. So I’m considering curating my own little beer tour. This is the itinerary I created before leaving;

5/12- Tbilisi free walking tour (this is great for getting a lay of the land and introduction to the culture).

Georgian Wine Experience and SMA Craft Beer Bar 

5/13- Open Check out Dinehall and Varazi Beer House

5/14- Tbilisi Walking Tour with Cable Cars, Wine Tasting and Traditional Bakery

All About Georgian Wine in a Pocket- Airbnb Experience Huggo Bar

5/15- Kakheti Wine Region Tour 

5/16- Beernest, Los Crayfish Hermanos 

5/17- Wine Buffet/ Divino / Tbilisi Hilltop 

The flight was a little bumpy, but landing was smooth. Getting through passport control was simple and my transport was waiting with a sign bearing my name. In about 20 minutes we arrived at Ibis next to freedom square. It’s also very chilly and the streets are empty due to the curfew. Check in was easy and I settled in my room for the night. This is the third Ibis I’ve stayed in and I have to say they are very comfortable. I did get a good night’s sleep and I’m ready to see what Tbilisi has to offer.  

View of Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center from the patio of Bernard Sushi.

I started my day with a free walking tour of Tbilisi. I typically enjoy these. The guides are known to be knowledgeable and witty. I don’t know what happened with this girl. Maybe due to Covid she was out of practice. We saw some neighborhoods under construction, churches, a bakery, statues and attempts at funny sayings. This just wasn’t it. However, the highlight of the tour was Peace Bridge. It has a unique curvy shape and was designed by Michele de Lucchi. It has human DNA in its material to signify we are all connected. After that I left to explore on my own because I just couldn’t take the tour anymore. I decided to roam around the park and then grab some lunch at MTA 9 next to my hotel. I had a delicious pretzel and cream cheese with several craft beers. This is also where I had my introduction to Khinkali.  So basically it’s a dumpling with the stuffing of your choice. Reminds me of gyoza but much larger and better. I ordered the one stuffed with meat and it was accompanied by molten butter. Between the butter and juice it was heaven. Also, you kind of have to bite it and suck the juice to keep it from running. Quite an experience. You can order the dumplings in portions of 5 with meat, cheese potatoes or mushrooms. I’m sure to try more.

Afterwards I ran by the room and freshened up before meeting a group tour for wine tasting at Organic Wine and Craft Beer. I was thinking the tour would take us around to different places, but we stayed there. For 65 GEL, it wasn’t that bad. We had about 5 wines and some Cha Cha.You may be wondering what that is. Think Everclear, but the wine version, in a shot. It’s pretty strong and not something I need again. It’s made of grape pomace; the leftover residue after making wine. Talk about using all of your resources. Of course you make friends with strangers. Although I was with a coworker, two guys from Israel were next to us. They were very cool and gave us a overview of the current situation with Palestinians. We had a quick bite to eat at a nearby restaurant with the group. Due to the curfew, we were all rushing to be in our rooms by 9 PM.

I slept in today. Maybe I’ve loss my travel stamina or I’m just trying to go with the flow. In my mind I knew I wanted to ride the hot air balloon, visit The Chronicle and Turtle Lake. So I checked out of Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center and walked over to Badagoni Boutique Hotel Rustaveli. I was quite early but my room was ready so I was able to check-in. Situated in Freedom Square, right next to the Marriott you will find a cute patio and hotel. I dropped my bags and had a nice lunch in their restaurant. Afterwards I headed towards the ballon next to Peace Bridge. The ride is not smooth, but the views are priceless. I would say it’s worth the 50 GEL. I was able to get pictures and videos of Tbilisi off into the distance.

@daisyamongroses suggested that I go visit The Chronicle of Georgia. After looking at the map, I decided to catch a Bolt. It was about a 25 minute ride and the driver made a deal to take me to the lake and the my final destination, a restaurant for 50 GEL. For the time and distance we went that was about 15 USD. 

It’s a fairly new monument built in 1985 that tells the history of Georgia, primarily focused on kings and queens at the top of the 30 or so meter pillars. On the bottom is stories about the life of Christ. It reminds me of The Acropolis in Greece. You climb up to the top and you are surrounded by tall concrete statues. Definitely worth the visit. It is also situated near the Tbilisi Sea.

My ride to Turtle Lake was nice and I was able to see some rural areas. Driving up the hill to the lake is beautiful with very tall green trees. There’s a restaurant and coffee shop available for food and drinks. You can rent paddle boats or just bring a blanket and relax. Also the funicular is located there with hiking options.

Today I scheduled a walking tour with cable cars, wine tasting and traditional bakery. The highlight of this tour after more than two hours of walking was the  natural waterfall that is next to the botanical gardens and runs into the sulfur baths. Otherwise, it was hot and lots of climbing. The cable cars are not currently working. On my first tour the guide told us to never look the gypsy kids and dogs in the eyes, but look drivers dead in their eyes when crossing streets. So I’ve avoided looking at the dogs because I don’t want one following me all day. But, I got a ringside seat to see a gypsy child grab the leg of a tourist and beg for money. Now I love kids, and would do anything for them. But, this might be the one time I kick or shake a kid off me. This has to be a taught behavior. How do you get the kid off you? You pay. No payment, they keep screaming. So the guy paid her a few coins and she ran along. Once again I left the tour before it ended. Here are my thoughts on tours right now. Due to Covid, many guides are out of practice. They are just getting back into the swing of things. They don’t seem to have the quick wit, stories about the history that they have perfected and personalized. It’s not just one, it’s all.

Waterfall near the Botanical Gardens

Prior to leaving I booked a wine tasting through Airbnb at Decanter. It’s a wine shop/restaurant off Rustaveli behind the main buildings. Honestly, you wouldn’t think something so cute would be tucked away like that. Because the sommelier Ksusha only spoke Russian, she had an interpreter for the other guest and myself. What I enjoyed the most about this was her knowledge of Georgian wines. There are 535 different types of grapes available in Georgia, but only about 25 are used in the various wines. She asked us what we thought of smells and tastes such as berries, peaches, tobacco and pepper. We were able look closely at the color, the heaviness and oxidation. Additionally, I had some of the best honey and sunflower oil on the charcuterie board. As it turns out, Lena the other guest and I really hit it off. She’s Palestinian, educated in American schools and universities and now lives in Dubai with her husband. We had some great things in common and I hope to see her again. After downing a bottle, I was hungry. It was getting close to curfew so I knew I had to move fast. A it turns out the first two places I tried were not accepting guests because the water was out in the city. I’m not sure much of the city it impacted. I found a place, but I was “hangry” by then. I ordered dumplings, French fries and chicken. Afterwards, I made it back to my room for the night. 

Lena and I at Decanter Wine Tasting

I booked the Kakheti wine region full day tour because it had great recent reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s going to be really hard for me to write about this with enthusiasm. The company hosting the trip was Gamajorba Georgia Tours. Seems to be a hostel that also has tours. I’ve seen this plenty of time while traveling. Here are the ratings based on my experience: 

Customer service – 8 , Tours/wineries-5, Scenery- 10, Lunch- 10, Tour Guide- 0

That averages to a 6.6, I would say closer to seven. After loading up the bus and counting heads, we headed toward the first winery, Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking. The outside decorations, store and sit down wine room was beautiful. I think for the sake of time and size of group they take you out to the factory where the large barrels are that store the wine. The sommelier or employee attempted to give us some background, but what really happened was she said this is white, this red, this is dry, this semi- sweet. I go to get the history as much as the tasting. After four varieties and 10 year old Brandy soaked in oak barrels we had time for pictures and purchases. But honestly, what did me in was the tour guide. I see the guide as the person that should be overwhelming knowledgeable, able to fill in the gaps with stories, rumors, etc. He didn’t have it and it never came. It was lovely to stop and view the process of traditional bread making. There was an old lady in a small house with lots of dough on the counter. She separates, kneeds, stretches and shapes with indentations in the middle. It in then placed the grooves of  a concrete, oval shaped oven that is above ground but deep. The bread looked and smelled amazing but I just couldn’t bring myself to try it. No mask, no gloves and sweat. I also know my personal limits when it comes to traveling and making new experiences. 

We journeyed on further away from the city. After an hour or so we arrived at Khareba Winery. The entrance is gorgeous. It sits on the mountain side and the grounds are immaculate. Roses, trees, benches and very clean bathrooms. Clean bathrooms are important to me. Before you enter the winery, there’s a group of guys that perform traditional Georgian songs to greet you. I want to warn you that the wine cellar is an underground tunnel and it’s very cold. They provide blankets, but you know me….I don’t who had them before. The tour guide did a little better of a job talking about the artifacts and wine making. But the winery employee once again wasn’t able you showcase his knowledge and the wine or actual winery. It was actually a little funny because at one point one of the ladies on the tour said but can you tell us more. He smiled and said something about grapes. To go with our wine, we had cheese, bread and grape-seed oil. 

Khareba Winery Entry

Afterwards, we headed to our lunch destination which is a family owned wine museum and restaurant. The food was delicious and on time to pick up my mood. It consisted of cucumber and tomato, cheese, bread, Katchapuri, potatoes, zucchini and eggplant, eggplant and walnut and an assortment of meats- pork, beef and chicken. During the meal we were graced by some young dancers showcasing their traditional Georgian skills. It was delightful. The meal was 40 Lari ; 12 USD. 

Our final stop was in the city of Sighnaghi also known as The City of Love. The architecture dates back to the 18th and 19th century. Apparently it gives you the feel of Florence and Tuscany. There are some breathtaking views that we were able to observe from different parts of the city. We walked along the fortress, through town stopping at a memorial and ending at The Bodbe Monastery. This concluded our trip back to Tbilisi making it just in time for the 9pm curfew. 

Today was wonderful! I went and took my covid test first thing this morning. I shed a tear but he was not that bad at testing. So now I’m just wait for the results. Afterwards I went to see some monuments. I really wanted a picture in front of the big bike. Afterwards I just walked the city taking pictures in front of more statues, admiring the greenery and parks. I found an iced coffee to go for my walk. The most interesting thing about Sunday is all restaurants are closed for sit down service soon everything is to go. After grabbing my drink, I found myself just wandering the city. I sat in a park and listened to the music and the water from the fountain. I stopped by a souvenir shop to grab my country pin and dumpling socks in pink. I roamed the Dry Bridge where locals can be found selling odds and ends. After walking about 5 miles, I headed to the hotel to grab lunch. They have Wolt which is similar to Talabat or Uber Eats. I’ve discovered that Caesar salads are amazing here and I think it’s the cheese. I also had a delicious pizza. I think between lunch and walking so much I needed a nap. After about 3 hours I go up to take another walk and check out this nail salon. I made an appointment for a pedicure and manicure tomorrow. So now, I’m just sitting on my balcony enjoying the breeze and city sounds.  

Covid test results are in…..Negative! I’m fully vaccinated but I wear a mask because it’s compulsory in most places, to protect other people and myself. 

Last day in Georgia! Have you ever traveled somewhere and found yourself feeling to blend in as if you live there. That’s how I feel on top of being completely refreshed. Today I decided to take it slow. I went to breakfast late. I hung around the room and slowly gathered myself. My first stop today was The Poem Nail Bar. I figured it was a good idea to get manicure and pedicure here. It’s extremely cheap and it fit in with my theme for the day. To help you here’s an example. I pay about 300 QAR for gel manicure, pedicure and eye brows. That’s 82 USD. The total cost was 70 lari. Which is equivalent to about 21 USD. I left a nice tip because they are doing the Lord’s work for peanuts. She gave me a whole new set of cuticles. I stopped by Gloria Jean’s for a latte and to write. I decided to treat myself to lunch at Tiffany Bar and Terrance Tbilisi. The views are extraordinary. The menu is decently priced. I indulged in G&T, cheese platter, and fettuccine. I’m saving the Chimney cake for dessert tonight. Very good meal! I tried to go to 8000 vintages but the location I selected was under construction so that was a bust. I did some more walking and wondering before going to my room to pack.

It was still pretty early in the evening. The curfew has also been pushed to 11PM instead of 9PM, so the city is busy with people. I went to the patio of my hotel/restaurant to grab a drink. I told the bartender I only wanted a drink. He questioned my preference and he returned with Gin/Saperavi. It was very cool and refreshing. Chimney cakes….. If you remember I was introduced to chimney cakes while visiting Eastern Europe in 2019. Before coming I saw they were here on TripAdvisor, but totally forgot. Well two days ago I saw the shop, so that was my last treat of the trip. This is so dangerous. Inside my chimney cake was vanilla/cheesecake frosting, cherries and the best ice cream I have ever had.  

I did want to leave you with something- Have you heard of the word toastmaster? What immediately might come to mind is the organization in the United States. Many people join to improve their communication skills and increase confidence. In Georgia the term is Tamada. The tamada is very important in Georgian culture. They are sort of like a master of ceremonies at weddings, celebrations and feast.

Overall, Georgia exceeded my expectations. The locals were very friendly. The food and wine was over the top and don’t foget 1 USD = 0.29 Lari. This place should absolutely be on your bucket list. Also, I am not one to return to a country, but I must go back to see Kazbegi and Batumi.

2 thoughts on “Georgia on my Mind

  1. Fantastic:
    Made me feel as though I was on the tour.! You are so extremely knowledgeable and interesting in your sharings. Thanks. I only did a onetime look and putting myself in your sharing
    But believe me I will entertain myself many more times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences.
    It is brilliant!

    Like

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