Saturday 24th of August 2019, 19:13 CET
Travel report Georgia
March 3, 2003
LonelyPlanet TT Eastern Europe/Caucasus

Written by Andrew Smith
Posted by HW on August 23, 2019

Here's a report from my recent trip to Georgia, with 3 kids (boys, 2, 6 and 8).

We flew direct LHR to TBS. Return fare GBP 362 adult, GBP 192 child plus GBP 180 taxes etc (all four of us combined), with British Mediterranean, booked through www.expedia.co.uk. At the Georgian embassy in London, children's visas are free of charge.

There's a new landing card system in operation. Non-Georgians must complete a US-style card, the lower portion of which you keep with your passport for the duration of your stay. One of the fields to complete is the date of departure, which, according to the form, you must adhere to. I also completed a deklaratsia (available in English if you ask), even though the customs official told me not to bother. Nobody was interested in it when I left the country a week later.

First night in Tbilisi, stayed at Hotel Edem, Shanidzes Kucha 31, Vere, tel 252712, good English spoken. We paid USD 100 for one room with 4 beds, including breakfast.

There are now several ATM's in Tbilisi. One near Pilarmonia takes Visa and Mastercard. I also saw one opposite Avalabri metro, which takes Cirrus. Its easy to pay for things in dollars, and on one occasion I got change in dollars when I paid with a large denomination Lari note. The exchange rate was 1 USD = 2.16 GEL; equally good rates were on offer in central Tbilisi, Batumi and Telavi.

We were well and truly in the power cut season. Once or twice an evening, all lights would go out, for around 30 minutes. We were glad of our torch. Water supplies were also intermittent - apparently, there are electric switches in the water system that means when power fails the water collapses shortly afterwards. Everywhere I went, I was told that tap water is fit to drink - in contradiction of the guide books. I tried it and was fine.

Some friends from drove us from Tbilisi to Batumi. We stopped off at Jvari monastery and the Stalin museum in Gori - both well worth seeing. The journey was fine up to Ozurgeti, but as we tried to cross into Adjara, dark fell and so did the fog. As you cross into Adjara, the road deteriorates dramatically - in some places more pot hole than road. If I do this again, I'll take the night train.

We stayed in a private flat in Batumi, organised by a friend of a friend. There is no central accommodation bureau, nor does anyone seem to advertise places to rent in the local paper. In summer, people hang around the train station (Makhindjauri) offering flats to let, but apparently they don't do this out of season.

We made a trip up into the mountains, on the Akhaltsikhe road. The road condition is terrible - and the Ughelti pass was impassible. It's worth making the 500m diversion to the waterfall near Kibe, which is spectacular; go through the village then follow signs to chanchkeri. The road goes higher and higher above the river (Adjaris ts'q'ali) below. Its worth going as far as Khulo where there's a cable car to the village n the other river bank. The cable car operates only early morning and early evening.

Attitudes to traffic police seem to be hardening. When I was in Georgia 2 years ago, the going rate seemed to be GEL 2 - 5 to get them off your back when they accuse you of some imagined offence (and presumably more than that for real offences). But this time I saw many drivers, including mine, refusing to pay a penny, just swearing at the policeman and driving off.

Our host took us on a tour of Kakheti. We were his guests (stumari) and he took his hosting responsibilities very seriously - in fact, I'd have liked a bit more time to ourselves but it apparently causes grave offence to shake off your host.

In Telavi, we stayed in the home of Manana Dzamukashvili (Narkvari 9, tel 33431), who charged GEL 15 per person per night - children free. There are 5 beds laid out in a row, and Manana sleeps in one of them. Not great for privacy, but fine if you're in a group. I found Telavi a bit disappointing - except for the art museum, with a friendly guide who spoke excellent French.

There are many attractive churches and monasteries in Kakheti. The guide books rave about Iqalto, Alaverdi and Shuamta, all within striking distance of Telavi. But for me the highlights were Gremi / Eniseli citadel, the monastery at Nekresi and the town of Signaghi. If you visit Nekresi on a hot day, make sure you ask for directions to the natural spring (ts'q'ali) for refreshment before you descend.

Sighnaghi's may be off the beaten track, but it's a real gem. The fortifications remind you of the great wall of China (OK, smaller scale), with the Caucasus Mountains in the background. In Sighnaghi, we stayed in the hotel Kiziki. It's a 6-storey concrete monster - the only communist era blight on an otherwise beautifully preserved town. Once upon a time the hotel would have had electricity and water - the switches and taps remain but nothing works now. It is cheap though - GEL 5 per bed per night (children also pay), candles supplied.

On this trip, I was determined to buy some of the wine we'd sampled. Most of the local wine is not bottled, but instead sold by the litre in markets or at farmyard gates. I took flat-pack camping water containers, made by Platypus [url] http://www.adventuretools.com/platwatbot.html [/url]. The wine itself was far cheaper than the packaging - GEL 2.50 for a litre of "black" saperavi wine, and white rkats'iteli cost GEL 1 per litre.

I bought some bottled wines in Tbilisi. I was disappointed by Savane wines on Melikashvilis Kucha. This supposedly famous shop is further out of town than it appears in the trailblazer map. They seem only to stock their own label, had limited stock and are a bit snooty about selling only wines, not spirits. The sach'ashniko caves, at Kostavas 60, was much better.

The books suggest you approach Davit Gareja from Rustavi, but our driver refused, saying that the road from Sagarejo is in better condition. Getting out of Sagarejo is tricky - the road to David Gareja is signed initially, but then the signs drop you in a maze of back streets. To get the right road out, follow signs (in English) to the Sagarejo Bioremedial centre. Davit Gareja is on the side of a hill - and there is more to see on the other side of the same hill. To get over the hill, don't climb straight up from Davit Gareja (as I did) - the climb is steep and slippery, and you'll tear yourself to shreds on thorn bushes. Instead, return 300m down the road, where a track (with a 30cm high metal hand rail!) heads up and over the hill.

On our return to Tbilisi, the Edem had double-booked us, so they put us in the hotel Kolkhi at Shanidze 31, tel 226679. They also charged us USD 100, presumably having been tipped off by Edem. But the room was not as good, and no English was spoken.

For guide books, the LP is OK but not wonderful. The Bradt Guide (Tim Burford) is a good read but a bit short on practical detail. The final chapter of the Trailblazer guide to Azerbaijan (Mark Elliot) covers Georgia, packing a huge amount of information into a small space. The hand-drawn town maps are especially useful. If you want to learn Georgian, and already speak German, I found the Kauderwelsch book very good.

Cellular phone coverage in Georgia is good, even in the middle of nowhere.

Bad experience at the airport on departure. They called me to the baggage handling area for "a few questions". They wanted a USD 20 bung to stop my luggage getting lost. I haggled them down to USD 5. I really wanted to tell them where to stick their USD 5, but didn't want to risk losing the luggage. Anyone else had this problem?
 
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