Georgia Part 1; Exploring Tbilisi

What do you know about the country of Georgia? For myself, I knew very little and when the idea emerged to trek there for the long holiday majówka and explore the country for nine days, the excitement of a different kind of adventure settled in. In order to keep with the excitement, I decided to not do too much before hand reading about the country and what might be in store for us and instead letting the adventure speak for itself. That’s me though.

Traveling with Agnieszka and I were her brother, Jacek and his girlfriend Nadia. They better prepared for the travel by reading lots and deciding the routes we would travel and together they paved the road for the adventure ahead. We decided to first visit Tbilisi and then go from there, only booking the first few nights and then deciding where to go next depending on the weather. I will say that on this trip we covered a lot of country in these nine days and saw more than I expected to see by doing so, from cities like Tbilisi to the Mountains of Mestia and Kazbegi to the wine regions of Kakheti we covered a lot of ground.

Georgia. Red dots indicate traved locations.

Along the way I managed to capture a ton of images and impressions of the country that will hopefully give you, dear reader and idea of what this country is about and what you might expect when traveling there. For this series I will break it up a bit, giving you a more detailed glimpse of each part of the travel. For this post, it will focus mainly on Tbilisi and the full day we had to explore this beautiful city.

Loading up on Whizz Air

Getting to Georgia is very easy from Warsaw and Whizz air provides direct flights around 3 hours to Kutaisi from Chopin Airport, which is perfect since we live about 15 minutes from the airport. The hitch is that Kutaisi is about 4 hours by bus from Tibilis so upon landing we immediately found our bus we booked and began the freeway tour to Tbilisi enjoying the landscapes along the way. Agnieszka and I found a spot in the front seat and had a drivers window view from our position giving us ample space to get a feel for the land and the occasional cow grazing in the center of the highway (this happened a lot along the way throuhgout our entire trip and it equally terrified and entertained us as drivers navigated around them).

We arrived in Tbilisi in the late afternoon and headed off to our AirBnB to settle in. From there getting a bite to eat was the priority and some time to recharge a bit from the long day of travel. Our Airbnb host left us a list of restaurants to try in the area and we settled on Klike’s Khinkali that…what for it…. specializes in Khinkali! We ordered far too much but enjoyed every last bite of the delicious purses filled with an assortment flavors and delictibles. They cost 1 Lari (1.4zl or .36 USD) and you have to order a minimum of 5…no problem…we ordered 20 along with platters of pickled veggies to accompany with local wine and lemonade to wash it down. So satisfying!

Tbilisi is a very vibrant city and the night was full of people out enjoying the warm air, hanging out, spilling out of restaurants and bars just having a good time. And although it was alluring to go and explore, we decided to retire and get up early to tackle the city since we would only have the one full day to do so. There is a two-hour time difference from Warsaw so even though it felt like 21:30 it was actually 23:30 and the long day of travel with full bellies was taking its toll.

Our plan for the next day was to wander through the city and each of us had something that we wanted to do, eat or see. For myself, I was keen on the idea of taking the Aerial Tramway over the city up to the top of the surrounding hill for a view of the city and visit Mother. But first there had to be coffee. Agnieszka and I set out first fairly early and took a little walk through the neighborhood where we discovered the lovely Café Stamba which is part of the boutique hotel chain ROOMS. They roast their own beans and serve up a delicious cup in a wonderful setting reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie. We all agreed that this was the perfect spot to have breakfast and get our caffeine buzz on before heading out for the day. I highly recommend going there for a little break.

Heading out to explore, we settled in the direction of the river and slowly made our way across the city stopping often to take photos or to just soak in the local feel. Sunny and warm, the day was filled with all kinds of cool locations that we just happened upon and every bit of it was amazing. This is not a small city by any means but somehow, we managed to cover a good portion of it that day walking without too much purpose by letting the adventure lead us and at times our stomachs took over and the need to sample more Georgian food took precedence. We ate more khinkali and of course khachapuri, we had fresh pressed pomegranate juice on the street, we tried Georgian Snickers, sampled deserts and more coffee. Here is a good article on the types of food to expect: Georgian Food. Three of us on the trip are vegetarian and Georgia is a meat centric country but we found it to be very easy to enjoy a vast assortment of intersting foods like roasted eggplant salad or eggplant stuffed with walnut paste. All of it was very good!

Adjaruli Khachapuri

Without having too much expectation and not knowing what I might be ins tore for, I can easily say that Tbilisi really blew me away from the start. There is an interesting mix of old, really old, ancient and new that blend into one another on every street creating an odd and artistic urban backdrop. It’s a kind of chaos that I have found I appreciate more and more and in Tibilisi and Georgia in general there is no shortage of it. If history and architecture are your thing, then you will find a very wide variety and diversity of it here. I hope that some of the images I took will give you an impression what the city is about.

Besides people, the streets are also full of stray dogs and cats that you will often encounter just laying on the sidewalk resting from the heat or waiting for a handout. None were aggressive to us and often a small pack would follow us until they decided we were not offering much in the way of goodies and went in search for better prospects.

Whatever you might have heard about how Georgians drive, its true. The city streets are chaotic with drivers making their own lanes, passing, honking a warning or a greeting, haphazard turning and so on. Somehow it works but as we would find out through the trip, it often left us hanging on the edge of our seats. Cars seem to be a means to an end and everywhere you look you can see them in various states of repair with auto repair shops seeming to be the main business throughout the country. Some of the cars have right driver seats and others left without much rhyme or reason to any of it. But, as I said, I kind of like this type of chaos and find it thrilling to observe. I can only imagine what driving might be like here and maybe the next trip I will find out.

Taxis and buses are everywhere and easy to get when you need a ride. We didn’t use any on this day but would in the future as well as the popular travel experience, the marshrutka which is the easiest way to get to outlying areas and offer cheap seats for long distance. Whatever the travel method be sure to negotiate a fair price before you get in and make the journey. You can check for the average price online to be better informed. Jacek and Nadia had a guidebook that explained a lot of that so that we had a decent idea of what to expect.

Besides driving, whatever you might have head about Georgian hospitality is true. Georgians are very friendly people and we had such a pleasurable experience throughout our journey even though language was not always easy, there was always a helpful and kind nature to rely on. In Tbilisi, English as not a problem usually but once outside the city it was Georgian and Russian that was spoken. It never felt like it was too much of a struggle to communicate and we made do by a variety of means and at one point a small child around 8-9 helped us talk to his dad about travel, translating English to Georgian for us. Honestly, the helpful and kind nature of Georgians every where we went really helped to bridge the gap of language and we never encountered anyone hostile to us.

Three guys who were very determined to have their photo taken. One was starting work and the other two were observing him doing so. I am certain that theri night had not yet ended. 🙂

We ended the day by going up to visit Mother and taking the Aeiral Tramway I mentioned earlier. I am thrilled that we managed to do this and it was a perfect way to end the day, catch the suset over the city and take in the fantasitc views. The tramway is very easy to get to and easy to get on. It costs us each around 16zl for the trip with return. The trip itself is about 8 minutes long to the top and each car seats 8. Onec to the top, we were greeted with incredible city views and the Statue of Mother overlooking the city. We also found a beautiful patio bar that hangs out over the edge with the entire city in full view. We hung out there for a bit as the sun went down, sipping on wine and for me, coffee chatting and relaxing until the sun disppeared.

If you can’t tell yet, I loved Tbilisi and really look forward to another, longer trip exploring the city. What I loved most about the city was the randomness of it and unexpected nature that appeals to me as a photographer. I could easily have stayed the entire trip planted right there, wandering about and savoring the local flair. Although I am most pleased that we carried on and saw much more of fantastic Georgia.

Next up we travel to the Kakheti region, Sagarejo and David Gareja Monastery. Enjoy the pics and thank you for watching.

Random images from out and about in Tbilisi. For photography I used extensively my Nikon D750 and opted for the 20-35mm lens so I could feel free to catch the size of everything. I also had my 50mm, but found it a little confining for what I wanted from it this time. I also brought some film cameras along for this trip including the HORIZONT Pano, Nikon FM2, and a Olympus LT-1 plus a variety of flms to shoot with. We also had a GoPro that was recording for a lot of it too and we all had our mobile phones to use. Fully stocked! Film images to come soon.