Sarkartvelo, my love! Discovering Georgia

Tbilisi: A city of history.

Sakartvelo, commonly known as Georgia, is a hidden gem located only a couple of hours flight from Europe. Last June, two of the GLOCALs took a well-deserved break in this astonishingly beautiful and culturally rich country. Imagine a place where you get mountains as high as the Alps, food as good as Italian cuisine (in my humble opinion), welcoming people and prices 3-4 times lower than in Europe. This is Georgia!

Georgia is one of those unique countries that perfectly combines majestic mountains, tumultuous rivers, massive glaciers, deep forests, and historical sites. However, apart from the stunning nature, Yana and I were also highly attracted by the Georgian communist legacy along with its Caucasian identity and European influence. Therefore, we decided to begin our journey in the capital of this amazing country – Tbilisi.

We took a Turkish Airlines flight from Barcelona to Tbilisi with a layover in Istanbul, which cost us around 230 EUR both ways. As passengers of Turkish Airlines, you are entitled to a free Istanbul sightseeing tour in case your layover is more than 4 or 5 hours long. Always keen to bag a complimentary city tour, we booked our flight back with a 12 hours break in Istanbul and enjoyed a free tour with museum tickets, airport transfer and meals included. The flight from Istanbul to Tbilisi is another 2 hours from here and within no time you are in one of the most breathtaking countries on Earth.

Tbilisi has been the capital of Georgia since the 5th century and its diverse architecture reflects its long and complicated history. The cost of public transportation is less than 20 cents per ride, the best way to appreciate this unique place is definitely to wander its streets, especially in the colorful Old Town. Here are some notable sites to check out:

The Old Town

Cityscape as night starts to fall – find a vantage point and enjoy the view!

The Old Town is an important part of Tbilisi since it preserves a great number of ancient and historical monuments. For example, one of them is the Sulphur Baths which are famous not only for their vibrant design but also for its ability to treat various diseases, such as skin eczema, arthritic joints, digestion problems, and even insomnia! (That’s what we needed after a tough first year of Glocal). They are also very conveniently located right next to a small gorge with a nice waterfall which offers you a quick escape from the busy city life and some breeze on a hot summer day.

Narikala Fortress

The plaza below Narikala Fortress: always buzzing with activity.

Another remarkable sight of Tbilisi, just a 10 minutes’ walk from the baths, is the Narikala Fortress which is an ancient symbol of the capital’s defense. Stretching for 1.5km, it offers stunning views at every point and is a particular delight at night when the city lights shine below. The Fortress now mostly consists of ruins, but one surely get a special feeling roaming around those walls that were destroyed by invaders long time ago.

Mtsaminda Amusement Park

Perfect spot for a nice bottle…*glass* of water… delicious, full-bodied glass of red water.

If you like to combine breathtaking views with some entertainment then Mtsaminda Amusement Park is a place for you. Located at the highest point of the city it offers stunning views and fun carnival rides including a ferries wheel, a rollercoaster and more . You can either hike there or take a cute funicular to get to the top and we’d recommend to go there in the evening to enjoy the city lit up by the rays of setting sun. We won’t tell you what else to bring to the park to make it a more unforgettable experience as it’s actually not permitted, but just keep in mind that no one is going to check what you have inside your “water” bottle.

For history lovers – and everyone else – we recommend joining a free walking tour of Tbilisi organized by local volunteers. They take you around the city, tell you all about its complicated and fascinating history and reveal all the hidden gems that you would never find yourself. Moreover, you can also meet a bunch of cool people from all around the world as we did:

Say Tbilisiiiiiiiiiiii” – This guy!

“A city of churches”

To fully understand Tbilisi and Georgia though, one has to pay close attention to its churches. Christianity has been practiced in the country since the 4th century and still plays a huge role in the local culture. Therefore, just by wandering around the city you can see plenty of Orthodox churches of different sizes, but of similar traditional Georgian style with a very specific angular steeple shape. Among them, the biggest is the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is regarded as the third largest Orthodox cathedral in the world only after the Saint Isaac´s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg and Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow – despite the fact that construction was only completed in 2004 and by no means offers visitors the same amount of history as other churches in the area!

However, it is good to know that Tbilisi is very proud of its diverse religious heritage and in just 10 minutes walking you can visit one of the most important Orthodox churches in the country, a mosque and a synagogue. Locals claim that in the history of a city there never was a hate crime based on religious affiliation.

With so many places to see, it might be hard to decide to go. We suggested starting here.

Where to stay?

“Well… anywhere!”

Accommodation in Tbilisi is very cheap. I mean, everything is. But especially the places to stay. And, as threadbare masters students battling expensive housing markets in EU city after EU city, spending a week in Georgia is like a “Zgvashi Tsveti“, or drop in the ocean when we think about housing costs and in the grand scheme of things, this makes makes all the difference. But how cheap is “seriously mind-blowingly cheap”?

Well, it’s hard to quantify. Imagine the cheapest hostel you can. Picture the filth. The damp. The cockroaches. The faint aroma of shame. Now forget all that, and divide the price of a room by 3. You’re not even close to how much you’ll spend on high quality accomodation in Tsbili.

We chose to stay in a hostel for 3EUR per night. It’s cheaper than a pint of beer in Glasgow, a pack of jamon in Barcelona or half a kilo of Gouda cheese in Rotterdam. The hostel we chose was a small 2-room flat transformed into a guesthouse, which gave it a nice homey feeling. Overall, it was one of the best hostels I’ve stayed I, ever!. The name is Woodmood Marjanishvili. If you don’t feel like staying in a hostel a double room at Airbnb can be found for as cheap as 10EUR per night. Our recommendation would be to stay around the city centre (walking distance from the Liberty Square), although with the cost of metro at 20c per ride nowhere is off-limits and finding a nice place in the suburbs is always an option.

So go on, treat yourself!

Part one of Sarkartvelo, my love!, brought to you by Efim and Yana.