Tbilisi Old Town
Free walking tour, 10 am daily with Envoy Hostel. Highly recommended, book online day before.
In continuing with my Stalin Soviet Tour, it was only natural that I visited Joe's hometown of Gori, Georgia, a former republic of the USSR, where there is a museum that recounts Stalin's life with scant mention of any atrocities committed under his reign. Still very interesting...
What was also interesting is that I was not that enamoured with Georgia on the whole and I believe I was vicitmized by my overly high expectations. This does not happen very often because I have learned to temper my expectations since there is a lot of lameness out there including today's visit to an overly hyped monastery in Eastern Turkey which I visited today and will describe in the next blog entry.
Looking back, I really did not plan well enough my visit to the 2 Caucasus countries - Armenia and Georgia. The trip to Armenia worked out very well but I did not know what to expect there and it turned out to be very pleasant.
Time to look forward to almost 4 weeks in Turkey where I arrived yesterday after an inexpensive and fairly painless 4 hour journey from Batumi, Georgia to Trabzon.
$US ≈ 1.65 Georgian
Tbilisi Accommodation and food
I initially reserved 2 nights at Hosfer Hostel situated almost exactly halfway between Rustaveli and Freedom Square. Not a bad location but Tbilisi is quite hilly and getting to the hostel required a stout climb up Chavchavadze Street (not Chavchavadze Avenue as I bitterly found out while looking for the hostel in the blazing midday sun). Booking.com listed an 8 person dorm bed for 25 GEL with breakfast. Without booking online I later got the bed for 22.50 GEL. New place, clean, WiFi, free laundry. Food in that part of town is either expensive or of the cheap döner/khachapuri variety which gets tiresome. There are a couple of shops in the Freedom Square area that have prepared foods to go, not expensive and good variety. Good coffee from the vending machine in the Rustaveli metro station. Transport
Arriving internationally by bus to Tbilisi will probably end up at Ortachala bus terminal southwest of the city center. Marshrutka
94 cruises right through the terminal grounds to Old Town then up Rustaveli for 0.80 GEL (a.k.a., 80 tetri). I came from Vanadzor, Armenia in a marshrutka
for $8-9 (buy a ticket the
Metekhi Church, Tbilisi
Originally built in the 13th century.
day before) but it took an obscure, albeit quick, border crossing making the journey time ~4 hours. Within Tbilisi is a decent metro line which cost 50 or 30 tetri depending on day of the week and whether it's the first or subsequent trip of the day. 2 GEL deposit for the fare card which can be refunded (along with any residual fare) within 30 days as long as you saved the receipts. Passport needed for the windfall refund. Didube bus station is in the north of the city (metro stop of the same name) and is the definition of organized chaos. No way to describe the layout but people are helpful in finding the correct marshrutka
. To Gori is 4 GEL, Kazbegi 10 GEL, both leaving frequently more or less on the hour. Leaving Tbilisi, I took the night train to Zugdidi (14 GEL 2nd class air con seat, not recommended) with the intention of catching a marshrutka to Mestia (Svaneti region, 15 GEL, 3 hours) The minibuses leave right from the Zugdidi train station when full which will not be long after the train arrives as hordes of tourists alight from the train each morning clutching their Lonely
King Vakhtang Gorgasali
Founded Tbilisi as the capital in the 5th century.
Planet guidebooks muttering, "Mestia, Mestia" like a bunch of zombies. I made the spot decision not to go to Svaneti as I was only going to stay for 2 nights and didn't think (possibly incorrectly) that it was worth it. And I've had this sinking suspicion for days that the guidebooks have ruined the place. Instead, I waited an hour and a half for a different marshrutka
to Batumi which took a couple of hours and also left from the train station (12 GEL, buy all tickets inside the station which helps avoid being overcharged). Inside the station is a very small cafe serving Turkish coffee, kompot
(juice with fruit), and chadi
(filling Georgian corn patties with a hearty slice of cheese). Gori
Easy to get to from Didube. Marshrutka will stop at the Stalin Museum on the way into town. 15 GEL includes entrance, English speaking guide, and entry to the rail car. Allow half a day from Tbilisi. Alternatively, stay in Gori on your way out to Batumi, Kutaisi, or Svaneti. There is a tourist office close to the museum which can help with accommodation.
Kazbegi Accommodation and food
At the marshrutka stop
in the center of town, a few of us without prearranged accommodation were met by Lela who offered us half board for 30 GEL each. Good deal, homecooked food, hot shower, and 2 really good nights sleep in quiet Kazbegi. Go with half board as there are only a couple of rudimentary cafes and the hotel restaurant in town. Homestays in LP charge 35 GEL for half board. Limited supplies if camping or trekking around Kazbegi. Transport
Arrive at least 30 minutes early if you have a preferred time to leave Kazbegi. 2½ hours back to Didube, a bit faster than the ride up. A group can charter a marshrutka
for 100 GEL if you bargain and may be able to stop along the way for photos. Myself and two others hired a taxi to drive us to the Sameba Church to start the hike towards Kazbegi. Cost was 40 GEL and it saved us a couple of hours hiking through the forest (i.e., no views). The driver's 26 year old Lada Niva was unstoppable on the poorly maintained road and he frequently passed Landcruisers and other yuppie oligarch SUVs.
Batumi Accommodation and food
night in Globus Hostel for 25 GEL in an 8 person dorm with AC which was fortunately only occupied by 4 persons. No breakfast but good, unlimited Turkish coffee is provided and there is WiFi, maybe free laundry. Don't remember where I ate but choices run the gamut from mega schwank to greasy spoon. Transport Marshrutka
from Zugdidi. Also many trains (book 2 days in advance for the night train) and buses to Tbilisi. Border crossing to Trabzon, Turkey
I highly recommend the direct bus from Batumi to Trabzon. The fare is only 20 GEL and contrary to what LP says I don't think it's possible to do it cheaper or faster by taking a series of marshrutka
, and bus from Batumi to the border crossing at Sarp, then to Hopa, Turkey, and finally Trabzon. The whole trip, including time at the border for all 30 passengers, was 4 hours (once we left Batumi) in a comfortable, air conditioned bus with proper luggage storage. If you need a visa on arrival for Turkey, the visa office is inexplicably located after passport control. I waited in the passport control line then was told to proceed to the bank
Old Town and Mtkvari River
Seen from the castle, Tbilisi.
to purchase the visa (15€ this year, $20 last year, saved $1.50, can pay in either currency) and come back to the window without waiting in line to get my passport stamped. Inefficient system. FOREX and cafeteria at the border. 15 minute stop near Rize, Turkey where there is a lokanta
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