By Ruchira Guha
While most modern people like to greet each other with a traditional hello, in the beautiful country of Georgia one should ideally say Gamarjoba! And, if you want to look more local, just add a line “rogora khar”, which means how are you? Sounds like Dothraki, is it? Well, for a traveller, picking up local language is one of the most important aspects of an expedition. Won’t you agree?
During my latest expedition Georgia– a secluded country tucked between the borders of Europe and Asia, I learned about some of the most interesting food and travel things-to-do in Eurasia — and trust me, it is nothing less than a wonderland. Follow me to get to know more about the most popular weekend getaway for UAE residents.
For most UAE citizens, Visa is on arrival after a three hours flight time, so if you are travelling to Dubai do try an include a weekend to this little country. A much-needed break and an impromptu plan brought me to this land of beautiful landscapes, intoxicating wineries and delish food. And, I am so glad that I avoided a group tour and decided to explore it with my better-half just as if I discovered the secret world of Narnia.
One weekend is not enough to explore this semi-presidential republic with an approx. Population of around 4 million. One can spend weeks here and soak in the Georgian sun, sip wine and admire the beauty of mother nature. A splendid place to behold!
How to plan your travel?
Visa: For UAE residents, VISA on arrival. The airport authority asks for a couple of documents like passport, a photograph and medical insurance only (No hassle especially for Indian Passport holders). For other countries, an e-VISA is required which is, again, effortless through its website. It takes less than 5 working days for the processing.
Climate: The best months to visit Georgia is from June to October, September being the best. I travelled during mid-Summer which was pretty pleasant too. The days had ample of sunshine with a hint of rain and the nights were nippy. Packing up for here can be a little tricky. The winters are freezing cold but the locals bet it is magical around Christmas.
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Sight seeing: Tbilisi, the capital city, is the most beloved place for travelers. It is split by the Mtkvari river into new Tbilisi city and the old town. The cobblestoned old town portrays richness and diversity of cultures that it has been a part of with its state of the art orthodox churches, monasteries and aesthetic stone castles. The new Tbilisi, on the other hand, has futuristic and ambitious architecture. I was taken aback by surprise at the amalgamation of western and eastern influences over the city.
One of the most influential landmarks in Tbilisi is the Bridge of Peace. This Italian architecture spectacularly rests over Kusa river with its mighty steel and glass built and numerous leds. An aerial cable car can be spotted from BOP that connects Rike park to the fortress of Narikala, which is situated on a hilltop. When I reached Tbilisi, I immediately opted for a city tour that took me straight to Narikala in a car, which is the second (not the best) option to see this 13th-century fort.
Taxis and buses are available at every corner but it is best to explore Tbilisi on foot. The most remarkable place to be in for a stroll is Shota Rustavelli avenue that starts at Freedom Square. The Freedom square abodes a 40-meter tall column with Saint George (after whom the country was named) in gold, slaying the dragon. The avenue has a number of cafes, shops, hotels and buildings of historical and political interest. The Parliament building, Opera and Ballet Theatres, National academy of sciences, National Picture Gallery, Art Museum, are amongst the many.
Travel plans: It is best NOT to pre-book for any tour from Georgia. Most of the tours are 2-3 times more expensive as shown in the leading travel websites. I booked the tours to Mtskheta, Jvari, Kakheti, and Kazbegi from a local tour company (on Shota Rustavelli avenue) that cost me only 30-60 Georgian Lari/tour.
We deliberately, opted for group tours which was more fun and gave us a chance to mingle with travelers from other countries too. Our tour guide was a local, proficient in English, Georgian & Russian language. He was honest about the history and present scenario in Georgia and had a great sense of humour too.
Mtksheta: Points of Interest
- Jvari monastery which is a 6th-century masterpiece located on a mountaintop. The views from Jvari is picturesque and unforgettable. It is on the list of World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
- Shio-Mgvime monastery looked like a captivating painting on the mountains behind. There was a sense of peace and happiness in the air. The mini hike was totally worth it.
- Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, a 4th-century building, barely surviving on the ground, had an enchanting history. I witnessed a Georgian wedding in the same cathedral and it was beautiful.
Kakheti: It is a premier Wine producing region of Georgia. Signangi, also known as the City of Love, is most frequently visited here. The city looks like a dream. Walking through the great Georgian wall, driving in a battery operated car through the cobblestoned streets, exploring local fruits and handicrafts, paragliding amidst the picturesque landscape are a few activities not to be missed in Signagi.
Kazbegi: Trekking to this dormant volcano and discovering Triniti Church was one the most adventurous part of Georgia. The roads to Mount Kazbeg are narrow, muddy and massively scary but once it is cruised, the views are ingrained in the memories forever. It is a full day trip of 9-10 hours and can be extremely hectic for a few (me). One should be ready for the temperature and oxygen saturation dropping down.
Hotels: I would recommend on choosing from a list of hotels on Rustavelli Avenue (budget and luxury both), which is the most dynamic part of the city. I stayed in Radisson Blue which had a fabulous location and view of the city from the room. Services and food were not up to the mark but it dwelled a fabulous casino that hooked me on for hours, so much so, that I forgot about everything else.
Entertainment: Apart from the lively street performers, there are numerous clubs/bars in Tbilisi, where the nightlife can be enjoyed. Every five-star hotel in Tbilisi has an in-house Casino that runs round the clock. There are a couple of flashy strip clubs too in the avenue. The streets are hustling bustling even at 4 AM and are absolutely safe (apparently). For the sophisticated crowd, there are opera/ballet, movie theatres, and museum/art galleries.
Food & Wine: Wine tasting was my most favorite activity in Georgia. They have a variety of sweet, semi-sweet, dry and sparkling wine. On can even find stalls of hot wine on the streets. Any meal without a glass of wine is incomplete here.
Georgian cuisine with its influences from Europe and the middle east has a distinctive style. It is a meat lover’s paradise. Vegetarians can indulge themselves in Georgian cornbread, bean pie, eggplant rolls, Mushrooms & risotto. Churchkhela is a traditional Georgian fruit candy that can not be missed.
Cost: Travelling to Georgia is a relatively inexpensive affair. My lavish five days stay in Tbilisi, including flight tickets, tours, food/wine, casinos, shopping, and spa cost me roughly ten thousand Dhs (Approx 1.9 lakh INR). The expenses can be cut down as per requirements.
So if you are bored of seeing the usual cities and popular tourist destinations, look no further travel inspirations and book a flight to this awesome destination.
(The writer is a Dubai-based doctor and loves to explore world cuisines and culture in her free time)