Georgia. No, the country. Not the state.
Yes, there is a country called Georgia. And it’s much much more interesting than the state.
I was sitting at home with my friend Tim when he got really excited about something. Tim frequently checks airfare to nearby destinations for quick getaways, and he had found the cheapest airfare he has ever seen to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The price was US$117 round trip from Istanbul on AtlasJet. Unbelievable. This is a place that I had never seen airfare for less than US$350! I jumped on it and booked a flight for the following week. It wasn’t US$117, but US$140 isn’t too bad.
One problem about AtlasJet – the flight times are abnormal. I arrived in Tbilisi at 4am. This gave me two options to get into town. I could wait in the airport until 7am for the extremely cheap city bus into town, or arrange for a taxi or pick-up. Leaving Tbilisi, my flight was at 6am, which left me one option – a taxi or drop-off. I opted for the pick-up and drop-off arranged by my hotel for US$20 each way. I didn’t want to deal with a taxi. I would tell you more about the airport bus, but I’m clueless. I just know it leaves the airport starting at 7am.
If you arrange for a pick-up or drop-off and you are quoted in USD, make sure you have USD. I took out Georgian currency, lari, from the ATM at the airport (it also dispensed USD). The driver who picked me up spoke Turkish so I was able to communicate with him, but he tried ripping me off and overcharging me, and this was AFTER I bought him a pack of cigarettes to break the big bills from the ATM. Luckily, I had a currency converter on my phone. The driver dropping me off at the airport a couple days later was great and he accepted the correct amount of lari.
As for the accommodation, I couldn’t have been happier. I stayed at the Meidani Guesthouse. It is located a few minutes walk uphill in the Abanotubani district. Ekaterine and her brother were wonderful hosts, answered all of my questions, and did everything to make me feel at home. The room was simple yet comfortable and clean. The wifi was good. The bathroom was a wet room. I was also very lucky to have the room early for my arrival at around 5am.
Tbilisi is a very walkable city. For the most part it’s flat. Even where there are hills, they aren’t too steep. I didn’t have a hard time getting around. I only used public transportation twice, both times when I took the metro to get to and from the bus station for a day trip. To use it, you have to buy a metro card which costs a few lari. Instructions are in English at the metro station where you can purchase and refill your card. On the train, however, you need to count stops or listen for the announcement or you will miss your stop. I never saw a metro map on the train and couldn’t really tell where I was at any of the stops.
The other thing about Tbilisi is it sometimes looks shady. It’s not. The city has been through a lot over the years, including a brief civil war and very high crime, but it has truly bounced back in the other direction. I saw crumbling buildings standing next to beautifully done reconstructions. I walked through dilapidated neighborhoods that in other cities I would feel like I was going to get jumped, but that was definitely not the case in Tbilisi. It may look like an uninviting and unfriendly place in some areas, but I found those areas to be the most charming. Of course, take the usual precautions when walking around alone or at night.
You should also get a good map. Why? The Georgian alphabet is lots of squiggly lines. That can be a problem because many street signs are not marked in the Latin alphabet. If you can read Russian like me, you’re fine, because many streets are marked in Georgian and Russian. If you can’t read Russian, well, you’re out of luck. Get a map. You’ll need it.
The best thing about Georgia is the people. The Georgian people are some of the warmest and most hospitable people I have encountered on my travels. They have a beautiful country and they represent it well. I hope to return to see more of it because my two days were definitely not enough.