Well I have been working a lot for the past couple of months and needed to take a break for sure. It has high time that after working tirelessly, I needed to recharge my batteries. Since I was in no mood to do a self-travel plan, I looked up for our trusted and dependable Holiday Factory. You can check out the package details here. Georgia was the favorite and hand picked destination by my wife who was mesmerized by the snow capped mountains and lush greenery. It was the closet to Switzerland!
We planned to visit in July 1st week and opted for the 3-star package considering the high season period wherein the package cost shots by 30% when compared to other period of the year. Just for a change, Holiday Factory had planned Gulf Air as the carrier for this package but unfortunately due to some issue with airlines HF had to switch to Fly Dubai! Yes, this seems to be my second life partner considering the number of times I have flown with them. But no complaints, as always it is a value for money deal with Fly Dubai.
As always with Fly Dubai, the flight schedules are at odd timings and this was no different. The onward flight was at 8 PM in the evening which was a blessing for me, as I could finish my work and head straight to airport. While the return flight from Tbilisi was at mid night 12 AM. The flight duration is 3 hours and it was breeze without any turbulence.
One big advantage of living in UAE is that many countries allow UAE residents to either visit visa-free or visa-on-arrival. For Georgia, all UAE residents can travel visa free with valid UAE residency permit which has minimum 6 months validity. Also UAE emirates ID card is mandatory. Please do check here once before making your travel plans to ensure the above is valid for you. Once you land at Tbilisi airport the immigration is fast and your passport is stamped in no time. Please note at times the immigration officer might demand for a valid travel insurance and also enquire on your liquid cash (US $) at hand.
The transport system in Georgia is easy and convenient for tourists. It is well connected with most parts of the country and one can easily make travel arrangements even on the day of arrival. Taxi system in Georgia is not regulated or structured, so be careful with the fare. There are no meters and ideally you can expect 5 GEL to 10 GEL for travel between any two locations in Tbilisi city. Do try out the cable car experience which gives a very good view of the city. It will cost you only 2 GEL.
Georgian currency is called called as Lari i.e. Georgian Lari which is designated as GEL. Please check below conversion details dated 11th July’2017:
1 AED = 0.65 GEL
1 USD = 2.39 GEL
I suggest you carry around $300 – $400 per person for your expenses considering 3N/4D (accommodation & breakfast is excluded). This is good enough to cover most of your expenses if you are a budget traveler and spend money wisely.
Food in Georgia mostly has cheese in it and expect to eat a lot of cheese! If you are an Asian and more so Indian, then your tummy wouldn’t be happy in Georgia. But as they say, as a traveler the whole idea is to respect and experience the culture, food, tradition of visiting country. And what I do is for breakfast and lunch, local dishes is tasted, while for dinner I find an Indian restaurant/dish! And surprising I could find an Indian restaurant in each of the country i visited. And you can find many Indian restaurants like Taj Mahal, Anarkali in old Tbilisi. Personally I would suggest Anarkali considering the taste and price. Taj Mahal seems to be very expensive.
People in Georgia are very friendly and probably one of the few countries which can be considered safe to travel at mid nights, ALONE. Many do not speak English and you will struggle to hit conversation with them. Georgian or Russian is widely spoken with few managing to speak English. Surprisingly, Indian music is quiet famous in Georgia especially Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja…..I bet you each of the Georgian you meet will know the song or at least tap their feet after hearing this song, especially taxi drivers.
My accommodation was at Grand Palace hotel arranged by Holiday Factory which is a 3 star hotel and frankly speaking it is a good/decent hotel. The hotel offers good breakfast with limited dishes and free WI-fi. It is close to Tbilisi city center and one can easily commute for city sightseeing. Suggest you ask hotel representative to arrange taxi for you which will cost less. Alternatively you can also try Iveria Inn which is quite far from city center.
I suppose most of the important information which is required for your Georgia travel is detailed above. In case you need more info, feel free to ping me. I’ll now let the pictures do talking and give brief/minimum write-up below.
Tbilisi city sightseeing: Metekhi chruch, Mother of Georgia, Narikala fortress, Love Lock Bridge, Bridge of Peace, Meidan street and taste Georgian Snickers.
This picture is my favorite and you can see the beauty of Tbilisi city from top after reaching via cable car. The colorful vista of this picture is inexplicable.
I like the statue of Mother of Georgia which has a wonderful meaning detailed in it. If you notice it consists of sword in one hand and wine in the other hand. It is said that sword is for those who visit Georgia with enmity and wine is for those of who wish to celebrate and enjoy Georgia people/culture.
it is believed that couples who are in love, to ensure longevity of their relations come here and put lock around the railings of bridge.
This is the Georgian snickers which basically has walnut, dry fruits coated with sugary coat. It is very healthy and has no added preservatives. This can easily be stored for at least 6 months in case you prefer to carry with you. The cost of one stick is around 2 GEL.
As you cross Meidan street and finish glancing the various food outlets lined up you can notice one statute which is of particular interest to me. This is Tamada, Georgian toastmaster for weddings or supras (feasts). While it is interesting to understand and also read about Tamada especially the qualities that are required to become one. Just to put some of the qualities which are critical for Tamada: leader, eloquent, intelligent, smart, sharp−witted and quick−thinking, with a good sense of humor. He basically orchestras the event with these qualities. You can call it as modern day master of ceremony. If it is one thing that will stand out or be remembered in my Georgia trip, it will definitely be Tamada!
It will require around 5 – 6 hours to cover up the Tbilisi city tour and by end of the tour I headed to Anarkali restaurant for a heavy dinner. One of the taxi driver took me for a ride, literally! Instead of charging me 5 GEL, I was asked to pay 20 GEL. This I got to know on the last day that the max to pay for taxi from my hotel to Old Tbilisi is 5 GEL.
Kazbegi & Gudauri: Jinvali Lake, Ananuri fortress, Gudauri mountains, Paragliding, Gergeti Trinity chruch
We were informed by our guide that Georgia has many rivers and in fact one of their income comes from exporting bottled mineral water.
Literally had to come three floors to get this picture. But it was worth it.
If you like to include adventure in your Georgia trip, then try Paragliding at the Gudauri mountains. It is one of the most amazing experience and you can get the spectacular view of the mountains, landscapes from top. Literally bird’s eye view from top…It will cost you 300 GEL and I definitely recommend it. This also includes video of the flight which is captured with a Go-Pro. Check my video here.
The landscapes at Gudauri definitely make you feel that Georgia is a mini version of Switzerland.
Up next we headed to Gergeti church and the ride to top of the church is unforgettable. Once you reach Gergeti church base, 4×4 vehicles are waiting for you to take up the mountain midst clouds! The road to top of the mountain is quite difficult to explain and the best way to explain is: A. Your whole body parts are literally dislocated temporarily. B. Your stomach is churned with all sorts of motions!
But it is worth the pain you take to reach top of the church. The view from top is amazing and one can see the Caucasus mountains hiding behind the clouds. For quite some time we never realized that the mountains were hiding behind the clouds until sun came out for couple of minutes. The best example would be as if Godzilla came out of the water to showcase who it was! Check out the below image which is self-explanatory.
After completing day 2 itinerary we headed back to hotel and it was 11 PM when we reached our rooms. The day was definitely worth it and we had some wonderful memories to carry along with us to bed. It is interesting to know that the sunset in Georgia during summer is around half past nine! Even at 9 PM we could see good amount of day light.
Day 3: Last day in Georgia
Kakheti Tour: Kakheti Traditional Wine making, Bread baking, Bodbe monastery, Sighnaghi
This was our last day in Georgia and by night 9 PM we had to leave our hotels to catch the return flight to Dubai. The day started by visiting wine making facility which was educative. It was interesting to know that the word ‘wine’ is derived from Georgian and Georgian way of wine making is famous in the world. This is the second wine making country I’m visiting after Armenia.
After a quick visit to wine making facility, we headed to a local family where bread making was demonstrated.
Up next was Sighnaghi, ‘the city of love’ which is a quite, sleepy little part of Georgia. We loved the calmness and welcoming people of Sighnaghi. One amazing part is people here drive around with Quad bikes! Definitely it was tempting for me and I choose one of the quad bikes to have a quick city tour. Sighnaghi is also known for Punjabi farmers from India who settled down here when purchase of agricultural land was allowed. I was informed that now the government does not allow foreigners to purchase land and it is only leased.
Bodbe monastery is known for Nino, the lady who is believed to spread Christianity here.
This trip was definitely memorable and value for money. Georgians are welcoming to tourists and I would suggest to visit this beautiful little country once in your lifetime. The window to Europe which is nestled between Asia and Europe awaits you.
Special thanks to our wonderful guide Mr. Kakha Kotashvili for educating us on his country.
UPDATE 26th Sept’17:
This special or additional info is to all my fellow countrymen. Please be careful with your e-visa when applied from India. Also in case if you are entering from other countries. I’m informed by my close friend who along with his family were returned back without any justification/explanation. Worst part is they were humiliated. Upon searching on internet I’m surprised to see many such instances.
No doubt entry to ANY country is at govt/officials discretion but Immigration officials should have been gentle considering it was a group of family with small kid.
Please check thoroughly on your visas before landing in Georgia.