Georgia - A Trip I cherish the most [OR] Different Worlds
Leeann D Souza
Monday, January 30, 2017
Eid holidays in Kuwait is always an opportunity to plan a new adventure in exploring this vast creation It is not every day you can get your family together and have a week away from work, stress and mundane daily life. This trip has been so fun and one of the trips close to my heart. After 14 years, this was the D’Souza family’s first trip together and we could not be more excited to experience a new exotic country together and learn more about each other. I am so thankful for this successful trip to Georgia and excited to take you along with me in a trip down memory lane.
My family and I made this trip from 9 September until 17 September (both days inclusive) during our Eid holidays and were thrilled. Taking this up as a new opportunity, my sister arranged our entire trip with the help of Info Tbilisi based in Georgia and prepared our itinerary for the next 8 days. Alongside, upon enquiring with the Georgian embassy here in Kuwait, dad learnt that we did not need to apply for a visa (visa on arrival available) before traveling. What a win!
We arrived in Tbilisi (pronounced as bee-lee-see) on 10 September at 5am and met our tour guide, David Beridze, at the airport. He drove us to our hotel & on our way there, we discussed about the itinerary for that day. He quickly informed us, as we drove through the chilled morning within the city, about the famous touristic spots we will be visiting and some of his own personal favorite we can explore.
Vacation Destination – Georgia
Capital – Tbilisi
Currency – Lari
Currency exchange rate – 1 KWD – 7.70 Lari
Day 1 - Walk around Tbilisi
Our day began with a relaxed walk from The Freedom Square, leading to the old city of Tbilisi & to The Peace Bridge – a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge over the Mtkvari River which connects the old city of Tbilisi with the new district. Walking along, we passed by scads of colorful two-story houses on either sides of the street; their balcony fences clothed in big beautiful grapevines creeping on the balcony fences. It was lovely to look at. We stopped at Rike Park, which has an Aerial Cable Car station.
Walking across the peace bridge, we decided to take the cable car up to the mountain where Narikhala fortress is located. With only 3 Laris, we killed two birds with one stone – gazed at the fantastic 360-degree view of the city from the large windows of the cable car and had an easy ride up the mountain. The ride is just a few minutes long, which was our only complaint, because with such beautiful views, the trip goes by far too fast.
After reaching Narikhala Fortress, we continued our walk down the mountain, taking beautiful pictures of the view on our way down, to Abanotubani, which is a district of sulfur bath. Moving over to the other side of Mtkvari River, we visited Metekhi Church, built in the XIII century on a cliff enabling us to take great photos of the old city.
After Metekhi church, we walked along the main (shopping) streets of Tbilisi – Shardeni Street & Rustaveli Avenue – that was a great experience to observe the unique culture & street style (my favorite) of the locals. There were women selling paintings alongside the road (& even painting some more in the absence of customers), souvenir shops, restaurants & bars, big tall trees shading the streets & so much color around. It was a delight walking down the road looking at beauty in the mundane of Tbilisi with a cool soft breeze blowing.
For lunch, we drove up to Mtstsminda Mountain, to Funicular Restaurant, where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the entire city. To top it off, David ordered some authentic Georgian food – Jonjoli, nivrizeh badrijaan & a bottle of lagitzeh water (unusual chocolate water with soda). Nivrizeh badrijaan was my favorite.
Later, he drove us back to our hotel for us to get some rest. We decided we would visit Shardeni Street later in the evening to experience the nightlife and grab dinner. Ah! The nightlife.
Day 2 – Tbilisi – Kakheti – Tbilisi
After breakfast at our hotel, we met David at 9am for a drive from Tbilisi to Kakheti. On our way there, our first stop was at the Bodbe Monastery of St. Nino (Bodbe nunnery), a monastery built in the 9th century but significantly remodeled in the 17th century. Nested among tall Cypress trees on a steep hillside overlooking the Alazani Valley, this monastery is where St. Nino is buried and holds a lot of history & significance to the Georgian orthodox Christians.
St. Nino is the woman who preached Christianity in Georgia. Her icon shows her holding a grapevine cross, which is a symbol of Georgian Christianity.
After a visit to Bodbe nunnery and a mini photo session, we took a stroll along the fortified city of Sighnaghi. Dad, my sister and I climbed up one of the fortified towers and got a beautiful view of the Sighnaghi settlement. By the time we reached the end of the fortification, we got hungry, stopped at the only restaurant located at the end of the fortification (again with a gorgeous view), and ordered some tasty food and beer.
Post lunch, we took a trip to the Gremi Castle, located on the way back to Tbilisi. While touring Gremi Castle, David mentioned to us that he got married in one of the balconies of the castle among his closest friends. How adorable! We were there at around sunset so the backdrop against the balcony was priceless. It indeed is one of the many beautiful places to get married.
Tired and satisfied, after our tour of the castle, we headed back to Tbilisi, on the way purchased some pre-packed Georgian food from Carrefour, and headed to our hotel for a good night’s rest and another adventure-filled day to look forward to.
Day 3 – Tbilisi – Kazbegi
Unlike the usual Monday mornings, ours started with a spring in our step. At 9am, we left for Kazbegi, one of the most popular tourist attractions for hikers. On our way there, we stopped at Ananuri fortress. Oh man! How gorgeous.
Ananuri was a castle and seat of the Dukes of Aragvi, a feudal dynasty that ruled the area from the 13th Century. The castle has seen numerous battles. Since 2007, the complex has been on the tentative list for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage Site program.
Afterwards, we shopped for some souvenirs outside the castle by the street.
Deciding to move ahead with our journey to Kazbegi, en route, we stopped at Gudauri – a ski resort located on the south-facing plateau of The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range in Georgia. We specifically went to the Stepantsminda District situated along the Georgian Military Highway near the Cross Pass, at an elevation of 2,200 meters above sea level. Gudauri is famous for paragliding and speed riding. Along with the view, we witnessed many tourists and local’s paragliding.
We reached Kazbegi at around 5:30pm after a quick, yet hearty, lunch and decided to take the jeep up to Gergeti Mountain to visit the Gergeti Trinity Church. The church – built in the 14th Century, is situated at an elevation of 2170 meters, under Mount Kazbegi. On our way down to the little town of Gergeti, we witnessed a beautiful view of the sunset and a bunch of [tourist] trekkers who had lost their way up the mountain. Mum was appalled when she learnt about the lifestyle of these trekkers.
It was extremely cold in our hotel room but the mattress was so comfortable and after a long day of physical activity, I just sunk into my bed after a hot shower and fell asleep like a baby.
Day 4 – Kazbegi – Mtskheta – Gori – Borjoumi
My sister and I awoke the next morning to watch the mountaintops glisten with the rising sun – the sunrise. These were the moments that gave us an instant feel to live the calm morning in the company of the Gergeti mountains - which was a greater feeling than seeing anything captured through the eyes of a camera.
After our 8am breakfast, we departed to Mtskheta – the old capital of Georgia. On our way there, we stopped at a small spring of natural mineral water (said to contain large quantities of Iron) to visit the Jvari Church, which is located at the hilltop. This church, built in the tetra conk style, has a very interesting history. David walked us through the history effortlessly as though he had lived in the times the story happened. He said, “Another name for this church is ‘The Life-Giving Church’. Here is where a woman, who held one of the torn pieces of Christ’s robe tightly to her bosom, is buried along with the robe. After her burial, there grew a big, tall citrus tree. The tree was a healing tree for animals, birds and people. Later though, the settlers decided to cut down the tree and build a Basilica around it from the wood of the tree, now known as the Jvari Basilica.”
That day, we had lunch at what was, in my opinion, one of the most relaxing places ever - Armazis Kheoba Restaurant. Our table was secluded and under giant trees overlooking a tiny stream. We ate our hearts out to the sound of gracefully flowing water and chirpy birds.
Our round table on the round tall wood post (left); our lunch – Georgian dumplings and barbeque chicken with garlic gravy (right)
We continued our tour to Gori and visited an ancient cave called Uplistsikhe. Before the declaration of Christianity as the national religion of Georgia, Paganism was ordinarily practiced. With Christianization of Georgia early in the 4th Century, Uplistsikhe seemed to have declined in its importance and lost its position to the new centers of Christian Culture – Mtsketa and Tbilisi.
After exploring the caves, we drove to our new hotel in the small city of Borjoumi. We were drained out of energy so we decided to freshen up, play some card games and rest.Day 5 – Borjoumi – Batumi
Before departing from Borjoumi, we decided to make a quick visit to the Borjoumi Park and the warm and cold natural mineral water springs. The cold water contains iron minerals and the warm water contains other kinds of minerals. Among all the springs, the warm spring, discovered by soldiers, is the most famous.
David, my sister and I wanted to alter the itinerary a little bit and make room for the Prometheus Cave which is rated as one of the most recommended places to visit in Georgia. So right after the Borjoumi Park, we hurried back to the car and drove to Kutaisi where Prometheus Cave is located. Not much history here since this cave was discovered only recently. The cave is 1.5 Km long. It also has boat route – but unfortunately, it is currently under maintenance and cannot be accessible.
We reached Batumi by 7:30 pm. As we drove into the city, we experienced traffic. It was pouring rain. We drove to our hotel alongside the Black Sea and past the Batumi seaport. After reaching our hotel, we freshened up and decided to take a walk back to the seaport for dinner. It was a simple, relaxing evening by the beach.
Day 6 – Batumi
We drove down to Makhundseti waterfall in Khelvachauri, which is a 25-30 drive from the city of Batumi. If you are tired from partying every night in the town, you can pack a picnic, drive up to the waterfall and have a great dinner at the tables just beside it.
Just walking distance from there is the King Tamar Bridge. This is one of the largest bridges in Ajara, its length about 20 meters, height about 6 meters.
We scheduled free time to explore Batumi for the rest of the day. We took a long stroll around Batumi, visited the alphabet tower, the shipping dock, took the cable car to the observation deck located at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Batumi and snapped beautiful scenic photos.
Later in the evening, my sister and I decided to rent cycles from Batumivelo – a local shop – and rode our cycles by the beach, in the park and around parts of the city (was a little difficult than expected due to pedestrians). For a while, we felt like the locals. Hehe
Day 7 – Back to Tbilisi
The last day of our trip, we had to drive back to Tbilisi to catch our flight the next day. On our way back, we felt spontaneous and decided to visit the Martvili Canyon located near Kutaisi. Upon reaching there, we opted for both walking around the canyon and the boat ride. It is a great location to take many pictures, after which we continued on our journey back to Tbilisi.
We reached Tbilisi at around 8pm. Info Tbilisi booked us a reservation at one of the popular restaurants to see the authentic music and dance performance of Georgia. With great food and company, we enjoyed ourselves and headed back to our hotel for some quality rest.
Day 8 – Transfer to the airport
Our flight back to Kuwait was at 4pm so we decided to shop for souvenirs and make a quick run to East Point Tbilisi Mall before we got to the airport. It was difficult saying goodbye to David and to a place that gave us beautiful memories to take back with us. He was such a good tour guide and helped immensely to make our trip more comfortable. From explaining about the history to ordering us delicious Georgian cuisine, he tried his best to ensure we had a pleasant experience overall.
I thank our Almighty for being with us every step of the way and protecting us in a foreign country. We feel truly blessed to have been able to experience Georgia at its finest. We could not be happier than we are this moment. All the credit goes to my sister, Leeviana, and to Info Tbilisi for organizing a wonderful trip.
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