I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT…
We arrived in Tbilisi around 00.20 at local time. It was 1 hour a head from Doha. The immigration counters are very easy to be found. If you have online visa, they will only ask where you will stay in Georgia. If you have Qatar ID even better, because they barely ask anything. Don’t let their straight, unfriendly face let you down, nothing personal really! After we passed the immigration, we split into two, Alberto arranged the car rental, and I arranged the sim card for my phone in order to get the GPS for our direction to go to places.
I was quite impressed and surprised that it was sooo easy to have the local sim and strong internet here. I gave my phone, gave my passport, waited in front of the counter to do something with my registration and voila! I have my phone ready with internet on! I only paid 10 GEL for it, which is around QR 20 / Rp. 75,000 for 4G internet that valid for a month. So much cheaper than having GPS attached to the car which was $5/day, it means for 2 days it will cost $10.
The car rental is expensive. The car itself was actually cost for $40/day. But at the end we paid $150. Consider there is fee for pick-up & drop-off the car ($50), taxes and insurance. The deposit is $100, but they will return it to you if you don’t do any violation, either to the car or to traffic rules. Well, in this case we were not lucky. They cut $30 from the deposit, because we did traffic violation during our trip from Tbilisi to Uplistsikhe. I took off my seatbelt for literally 1 minute to take glasses and somehow they found out! The police stopped us and put 40 GEL fines to us. This was what doesn’t really make sense. They said, they put another penalty if we do any traffic violation, which was $10. So 40 GEL ($20) + $10 = $30. I found it unfair, but it was written in the terms. I found they are bit sneaky, especially after they tried to blame us that the car is dirty and wanted to charge us another $10 (the car was perfect by the way). The Car Rental gave us the restriction to visit some parts of the country, such as Gergeti Church, Batumi, and other high places.
Now, we talk about the hotel. Google said it took 30 minutes from airport to the hotel. Yes it did! But, you have to be careful and paid fully attention to the road instead of to what Siri says, because she got so confused to read the road in Tbilisi and to determine which way we should take. Your common sense as a navigator and driver patience is a must! Short story, we arrived in VICTORIA VIP HOTEL.
VICTORIA – Luxury Name
VIP – sounds promising
Pictures on booking.com – persuasive
So yeah, we booked that hotel! (Note, it was last minute decision. We booked while we were in the bus going to the aircraft). It turned to be not luxury, promising, and not as per how they introduced themselves. The building doesn’t look like hotel at all, wifi didn’t approach the room, and the room is more like apartment than the hotel room, plus no complimentary water bottle in the room. Then come to the breakfast, first of all, it was not included, so they charged us for 17GEL/person, it is ok but, there was literally nothing they offered, slices of ham, sausage, cucumber and tomato, salad that has no taste, the omelette that doesn’t look like omelette at all. Well, see from the positive side. At least whoever read this article will avoid booking VICTORIA VIP HOTEL.
Georgia is not too big. But it has a lot of things to visit. In order to be able to visit as many as possible, I made the plan before leaving the places. My trick was putting the most attractive place as our furthest point. And we started from Tbilisi – to the furthest point – last expected destination. The first day the plan was not made properly, because we had appointment with our friend in Georgia. They are a hands shadow puppeteer, the very well-known one. Maybe you have heard of them, their theatre name is “Budrugana Gagra”. You can follow them in facebook if you want. Well, I got to warn you that most of writing will be in Georgian.
It is much recommended to visit Salobie Restaurant in Mshketa. The interior design of the place was very attractive. The foods are amazing. The service is great. If you want to have some Chacha and Georgian wine by having a very typical food from Georgia with a great ambience, you got to spend your time here.
You go to prepare yourself to face Georgian traffic, when you plan to drive around Georgia. One of the craziest that I have ever experienced. Not about the traffic jam, but the system of the road what is crazy. The roundabout was quite tricky. I might not able to explain it properly. But you will see a lot of conjunction of the roads without proper signals. And the way of people driving was crazy.
THERE IS NO TIME!!!!
We slept for around 6 hours after we arrived in the hotel, and started our first day journey. We woke up at 10am and started the day with having breakfast in the hotel. Then we drove to Ananuri Fortress Complex. It took 1 hour and 30 minutes by driving to go to Ananuri. Before we reached the Fortress we were served by a very nice view of the Zhinvali Reservoir. Ananuri was a castle from the 13th Century. It used to be place of lot of battles. It was destroyed by the fire in the 18th century. There are 2 churches between the building. One has the grave of Dukes of Aragvi which is Church of the Virgin (17th Century). And the Church of the Assumption which was built in 1689 is for the son of Duke Bardzem. We didn’t have to pay the entrance fee to come in. It was quite fun to be inside of the Ananuri Fortress Complex, we climbed from one small room to another small room until we reach the highest part of it. If you are interested you can take a picture with Georgian costume and War Knight costume for 2 GEL (around QR 4/ Rp. 15,000). As soon as we finished exploring the Ananuri Fortress, the rain fell and everyone hide into their car, including us.
We decided to continue driving toward Tbilisi. But on the way, we randomly chose a place to visit – Bazaleti Lake. This astonishing lake has 1.22km2 surface area and used to be a place of the Battle of Bazaleti in 1626. The very peaceful golden colour of the lake own a legend saying that there is a golden haired child is laying on the golden crib on the bottom of the lake, and the water in the lake was a tears of his mother. We didn’t find so many people around, which made it even more perfect. We stopped at the place name Laguna Beach Club Bazaleti Lake, we entered without entry fee. There was a swimming pool there too. I can imagine how fun is the place if it is a summer time. We stopped in the restaurant inside the club to have some beers. We paid 7 GEL (QR 14/ Rp. 40,000 )for 650ml Heineken! Cheeeeaaaaaaap!
We got to drive back to Tbilisi at 2pm, because I had some friends who I was really looking forward to see in Ratuveli. We promised to meet them at 03.30pm. We met them in their small studio for practicing their hand shadow puppet show, which was awesome experience too, because I have never seen their studio before. Their studio is located in Ratuveli Theatre Building, beside Tbilisi Marriot Hotel. I was super excited to see them, because I have never seen them for more or less 5 years!
We went to Mskheta to have dinner in Salobie Restaurant. We love the restaurant. We were spoiled by amazing Georgian Food, such as khinkali, khachapuri, mstvadi, chvishtari, lovio, and mchadi, . We had also Georgian wine, some lemonade with different flavour and off course chacha! I was quite impressed with the service, it was fast and friendly. After lot of laugh and overfull tummy, we head to Mskheta Church. It was located not far from the restaurant. This church originally built in 4th Century. It used to have a lot of medieval frescoes, but not all of them survived. Afterward, we went to Jvari (Monastery). This legendary church that is located in the top rocky mountain at the confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. If you pay attention, this church has four apses, every direction has one apse, it is called tetraconch. You can find the same kind of design in The Basilica of San Lorenzo (Milan) and Mauselom of Galla Placidia (Ravenna). Our visit to Jvari Monastery was the end of our journey in 1st day, and then we returned to our hotel in Tbilisi.
The next day, we started a bit late. Well, blame it on the night, don’t blame it on me. We finished the entire bottle of chacha only in 1 dinner time, plus the wine, plus the beers I had in Bazileti Lake in the almost empty stomach. We leaved the hotel at 11am and started traveling again. Our planned route was Tbilisi – Uplistsikhe – Gori Georgia Castle (Gori Fortress) – Samtavisi Cathedral – Rike Park – Ride Gondola to say hi to Mother of Georgia – The Bridge of Peace – Tbilisi Airport.
I should say Uplistsikhe is my favorite place in Georgia. If you love Petra in Jordan, you probably will love this site too. Uplistsikhe is an abandoned rock-hewn town. It used to be a very important political and religious centre in Georgian States from the 6th Century BC until 11th Century AD. After the Mongol Invasion, the site is virtually abandoned and only be used for temporary shelters occasionally. The fall of Uplistsikhe was started on 14th Century. Archaeologists found lot of artefacts from different periods. You can see them in National Museums of Tbilisi. The site was mostly destroyed due to the earthquake on 1920. It was rainy day when we visited, but it didn’t stop us to explore. In fact, the rain was beneficial for us because we got to see their watering system what through the site. You will notice several holes while you exploring. They are used for varieties functions, some holes were used for baking, some for wine cellars, some for ceiling, some for water supply, etc. Under the rain, we can imagine better how life was happening on those ages.
After 27 minutes’ drive from Uplistsikhe we arrived in Gori Georgia Castle. In the beginning, we didn’t know how to get up the hills and reach the castle. There was not ticketing office, there was no entry nor exit sign. Desperately we asked random people who actually wanted to answer our question but challenged by the language barrier. But we finally just picked one little gate beside of the church, and we got lucky in our first approach. We were welcomed by big statue of 8 Georgian warrior who sat on the hew stone blocks. Then we walked up to the top of the Gori Fortress. On the top, we can see the view of Gori and the hills surround. In the bottom part of Gori Fortress there was a cobblestone walking path, it was pretty cute street with some restaurants, cute gift stores and little shops.
Rain started falling as soon as we were back to the bottom of the castle. We ran to the car and heading to Samtavisi Cathedral. It was only 20 minutes driving from Gori Fortress. According to Georgian tradition, the first monastery was found by Assyrian missionary in 572 and later on rebuilt on 10th Century. Therefore on 15th Century, the western wall and the dome were built. Just like most of the heritage sites in Georgia, Samtavisi Cathedral was also partially destroyed by the earthquake on 1920.
After the very short visit, we continued our journey to Rike Park and spent almost the rest of the trip there. We started by going around the small cobblestone road what full of hotels, restaurants and shops. We later discovered that is better to book hotel around this area, we found that there are some better hotels than Victoria VIP Hotel what have cheaper prices here (LOL, guess the hotel we chose was a complete mistake, but what to do, I mean it happened already). Then we took gondola to reach the upper hills to visit Mother of Georgia and have small walk up there. Later on, we had food and drink in one of the restaurant around the park and watch some fireworks. After that we walk through the bridge and walked back to our car and heading to the airport.