A week in Georgia – a couple tips on preparations

Georgia is oneof those countries you want to keep visiting again and again. There are two reasons for that. First, one trip’s not enough to see everything you’d want. Second – what we get to see leaves quite an impression. That’s why it’s safe to assume that your first trip there won’t be your last. In case you want to avoid disappointments or simply prepare yourself better – here’s a few general tips.

Landscape taken in Uplistsikhe - village in Georgia, 6 miles from Gori.
Uplistsikhe

The flight

You can get to Georgia from Poland via Wizz Air flight (from Katowice, Wrocław and Warsaw) or via LOT airlines from Warsaw. If there’s no airport near you and you need to reach one first, it’s best to compare the flight timetables. The departure time probably won’t spoil your good mood for vacation, night flights back home, however, can be really tedious.

Accomodation

View of the sea from the hotel room window in Batumi in Georgia
View from the hotel room window in Batumi

The capital offers a wide range of places to stay in – from cheap hostels to high class hotels. The popular tourist resort of Batumi also has many accomodations. Apart from that, we’ll have to use guesthouses, which are very popular in Georgia.

It’s a good idea to take your time and browse through the offers, paying attention to any photos of the rooms and the building. The reason is simple. Although you can count on being greeted with a bottle of homemade wine or chacha (local pomace brandy) everywhere you go, some places can be poorly furnished and ill-kempt.

Traditional georgian food for breakfast in hostel in Tbilisi
Breakfast in hostel in Tbilisi

I made such a poor choice while in Tblisi (that’s what happens, when you have too much to choose from!). Endeared by a photo of an elderly lady making homemade khinkali,I failed to read one information – the showers are in the loo (it’s hard to call it a proper bathroom!). There was a bright side though – we had the best food in Georgia. The night wasn’t great, as first I couldn’t sleep because of the owner, who snored like hell, and then because of my friends, who came back at dawn, all merry and inebriated. Nevertheless nowadays it’s an amusing story to tell. Other accomodations were top notch – no criticism there.

The language

Sellers at the food market in Sighnaghi in Georgia
Sellers at the food market in Sighnaghi

Georgians have both their own language and alphabet – completely unlike any form of Latin orCyrilic script. Most likely, you will not be able to learn it beforehand. This might cause a problem, if you want to find a bus at a crowded station, and all signs are in Geogrian. Our guide book proved invaluable, as it featured place names both in Latin and Georgian alphabet. Surreal as it may sound, it was much easier to point to a name on a map, then try to communicate in any language other than Georgian.

Our guide in Tbilisi in Georgia
Our guide in Tbilisi

English is of any use only in the capital. Outside of Tbilisi, you can only communicate in English in restaurants, museums and with some young people. It’s good to learn some basic phrases in Russian, especially, when you have to tell the taxi driver your destination and have to settle on a fare. Most Georgians are very social and talkative. I remember waiting with our taxi river, until his colleague arrives. He just wante to chat for a while, as he’s been driving two English tourists around for several days. Needless to say, they didn’t understand him.

Bear in mind, that Georgia is a multi-cultural region with many language groups. In some regions you can meet many Chechenians, Armenians or Turks. Most of them speak Russian, though.

Cuisine

Czurczela - traditional georgian sweets
Czurczela

You can’t talk about Georgia without mentioning their rich cuisine. There’s no way you could regret eating something. Try anything you find. I reccomend trying the khacha puri wherever you go, as there are many regional variants. Meatlovers will surely adore the local mutton. Eating a khinkali is a challenge, as you have to be careful not to spill the broth inside – you can forget standard cutlery.For cheese connoiseurs Georgia will prove to be Heaven on Earth, as cheese is a staple of most local dishes, and marketplaces offer a wide variety.They go perfectly with a glass of wine. Another energizing drink around is the freshly squeezed pommegranate juice.This fruit is added to many dishes. Walnuts and eggplants are also popular.

Chaczapuri adżaruli traditional georgian food
Chaczapuri adżaruli

Coriander is the king of local spices – and Georgian coriander smells best. My favourite treat is the churchkhela, dubbed the Georgian Snickers. These are nuts on a thread, dipped in concentreted grape juice.

And remember – it is a local custom to serve the men first in restaurants.

Transport

Bus station in Georgia
Bus station

The marshrutka, or routed taxi cab is by far the best form of transport for greater distances. They are very cheap, which becomes a factor if you travel on your own or there’s only two of you. I wouldn’t recommend the faint-hearted to pay too much attention to the roads, as these – often ill-kempt – buses can go through extremly bumpy roads at top speeds. There are situations, where public transport is simply not an option – if you have a tight schedule, if it’s getting late (typically the last bus departs around 4 o’clock!) or you want to go somewhere, where only taxis can take you (usually it’s not far away, but it’s best to join another group of tourists, if you’re travelling alone). There were four of us, so we used taxis a lot, as they’re cheap once there’s more of you. Sometimes it turned out, they were cheaper then a marshrutka. It’s a perfect form of transport if it’s late, and it proved invaluable, whenever we felt like seeing a lot in one day and then get back to the starting point. We’ve decided it’s best to avoid those drivers, that approach us on their own, and instead look for those, that are calmly reading a newspaper, sitting by the wheel.

View from the taxies.

Places worth seeing

Bookstores offer tons of guides describing weekend tourist attractions in each city, but our goal was to see as much as possible within one week. People have different vacation priorities. It’s best to travel accordingly to your personal needs and interests, instead of treating guides like Gospel.

Before setting out, I ask my fellow travelers, what would they like to see most, what can we skip and then use their opinions as reference, when creating our schedule. I organize it beforehand, so that my colleagues know what to expect. That way, they can prepare themselves – that includes finances.

Most people were skeptical, when they saw the schedule. To put it bluntly, they thought I lost my mind. Fortunately, my travelling mates were more optimistic.

Here’s the initial schedule. We’ve tweaked it during our stay in Georgia, especially in regard to the order of visiting different places.

Kutaisi

Most people I know, who visited this city, loved it very much. I fail to see why. There’s plenty of places more interesting, so there’s no point in wasting time here. A quick reconaissance after arrival or before you go back home is quite enough.

Gelati and Motsameta

Beautiful monasteries – less frequented by tourists, than other monastic sites will see later on.

Zugdidi

We’ve only passed it by.

Mestia

The sights on the way there were astounding and it only got better once we got there. We didn’t have time to visit Ushguli as well. It takes at least two days. I’d like to visit again, to spend a couple of days on mountain hiking.

Batumi

I have a soft spot for the song by the same name, as performed by a classic Polish pop group Filipinki. Nevertheless, I recommend that you skip Batumi altogether. If your plan is to spend your time in Georgia sunbathing by the sea, there are many better places to do this.

Achalciche

A well-conserved and renovated castle with great infrastructure. It’s more akin to typical European sight-seeing. And they have a nice restaurant.

Vardzia

A cave monastery. Definitely worth seeing. Especially if it’s the first cave monastery we’ve ever seen. It is one of Georgia’s most popular tourist attractions. You need to have plenty of time and good stamina, if you want to see everything here.

Borjomi

A Georgian resort, it’s days of glory long gone by. But you can still feel its unique atmosphere. Nice people, great landscapes. Apart from that, there aren’t any tourist attractions around.

Gori

Statue of Joseph Stalin

It’s more of a fun fact, than a tourist destination. In this very town, in the year 1878, Joseph Jughashvili – later known as Stalin – was born. His spirit is still omnipresent in Gori. The local museum features a collection of Stalin’s portraits and his personal belongings. A small fragment of the exhibition is dedicated to the victims of Stalin’s regime. There’s the train coach Stalin used on his way to the Yalta conference, as well as the house he was born in (now relocated to the museum grounds). There’s also a gift from Polish metalworkers – a wooden one, no less!

Uplistsikhe

For me, it’s one of the prettiest places in Georgia. Only about 6 miles from Gori, we can see a rock-hewn city, first founded in the 5th century BC. It’s an interesting place, not only for fans of medieval architecture. But the best part of Uplistsikhe are its picturesque landscapes. Interestingly enough, there were no tourists.

Tbilisi

There’s something for everyone in Tbilisi, so it’s good to wander around in search of your own way. We got of our subway train too early, and since each person directed us in a different place, we decided to find some place with Internet connection, to google for the quickest route. We arrived at our hostel with a huge delay. At the bar, we were being served by an elderly lady, who sipped tea and played cards with her friend, when not tending to guests. A man sitting next to us joined our table and produced a bottle of chacha. We felt like repaying him the same way. Our elderly barkeep provided us with a snack – namely, a chocolate bar, while the liquor was being poured from a plastic bottle. Thus, we’ve spent the evening accompanied by a Georgian Afghan War veteran.

Telavi

The capital of the Kakheti region, famous for its wine. It becomes immediately apparent, that its inhabitants fare much better, than in other parts of Georgia. Everything is cleaner. We stayed here for the night, and although it was nice, I’d rather seek for shelter in the nearby town of Sighnaghi.

The taxi driver we aproached next to the town hall was surrised, when he saw our planned route throughout the region. He admitted it’s the first time someone wanted to drive such a distance. After settling on a price for the ride, he took us everywhere we wanted and waited patiently, until we see everything. He also showed us the local winery, that we visited for a sampling of wines.

Sighnaghi


It’s one of my favourite places in Georgia. You just have to see it. It’s a lovely little town. I fell in love with the local food market. Unlike other markets we’ve seen elsewhere, this one was situated inside a building. We peeked into the gate, lured by a distinct herbal aroma, and left with bags full of cheese, sweets and wine.

Gelati, Nekresi and Gremi

I recommend seeing the nearby monasteries.

Mtskheta

It’s around 12 miles drive from Tblisi. You can get there cheap via marshrutka. I’d recommend taking a whole day to sight-see and go back to the capital in the evening. It’s an important place for the Georgians. It is here that king Mirian III converted to Christianity. You simply can’t visit Georgia without seeing the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. I’m apparently not alone with this opinion, as swarms of tourists there are simply overwhelming. Needless to say, whatever corner of the world we’re visiting, we have to be prepared to have company in some places. Not far from Mtskheta we can see the beautifully situated monastery of Jvari. You can buy tickets for a transport to the monastery in the information kiosk next to the cathedral, or find yourself a taxi driver willing to take you there.

Stepancminda

A small town situated 5741 feet above sea level, a couple miles from the Russian border, better known under its former name – Kazbegi. From here you have a nice view of the Gergeti Trinity Church, featured on most Georgia guide book covers. In order to see it up close, you need to climb higher – 7119 feet above sea level. No need to worry though – it’s an easy hike. Remember it gets cold on higher altitudes, so take some warm clothes and a hat. You can also get there by car. It is one of those places, that never fails to amaze us, although we’ve seen it on thousands of photographies. You can take a morning marshrutka from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda, see the monastery and return to the capital in the evening. Still, I’d recommend spending the night in the mountains. It’s one of very few occasions to see a really starry night sky. It was really a blessing in disguise, that the town suffered a malfunction and had no electricity, when we arrived.

Doing shopping by smartphone light was a challenge, but all you needed to do, was to look up into the stars, to immediately forget about all inconveniences. It was cold, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky and would actually prefer to spend the night on the terrace. This was a perfect farewell to Georgia, although I hope it won’t be for long.

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