I believe it a waste for a budget traveler like myself to go to any new place without a solid itinerary. I don’t have enough money or more importantly time to squander in a place I may never get to visit again. Many go for holidays to relax and chill but not me. I can do that at home. I go to see and absorb as much as I possibly can. The backaches and foot-aches can heal later. By the way, I don’t prefer conducted tours just because I like doing things my way.
I visited the Eastern European country of Georgia in early June, 2016 after much eagerness and calculations. I had just 3 days so I had to come up with a plan that would justify that I have been to this beautiful country. That meant going through travel blogs and websites to get an idea of where to go and what to do, mostly by judging the photos. I suffer from major fear of expecting and this Age of Photoshop has made it worse. Of course, I knew that Georgia would be a treasure trove but I usually prefer to avoid keeping a room for disappointments. Anyway, so I managed to build an itinerary for 3 days in Georgia, copying ideas from blogs that echoed the same things.
It was already 6am when I checked in at the hotel, and 10am when I finally got out of there to begin my 1st day in Tbilisi, the capital city. Immediately, I could feel life slowing down and I was in full agreement. It was a Friday and it was bright and warm, around 80F. The first thing that caught my eyes was the Mthvari also known as Kura river, flowing with strong currents and making its presence felt.
A walk into the much-advertised Old Town felt like being in the real world. I felt the struggle of the people when they were living under Communism and I felt their struggle now trying to step out of it. I saw the pride and resilience of this rich culture in every shattered and inhabitable building and the belligerence in every one renovated. It was all real.
Lunch at a small restaurant in Meidan Square ascertained that every meal would be delightful. Belly heavy, I walked across the Metekhi Bridge, overlooked by the landmark Metekhi Church with the statue of the 5th century King Vakhtang Gorgasali on his horse beside it. In 3 minutes I was in Rike park with my access card to board the cable car to the top of the Narikala Fortress (4th century). You can literally get the panoramic view of the whole city of Tbilisi and beyond from this point. The figure of Kartlis Deda or Mother of the Georgian stands tall on one side of the Hill welcoming guests and at the same time warning enemies.
There are options for walking up to Narikala Hill but I decided to take the easy way and save some time in the process. After a quick stroll around Rike park, I walked across the modern bow-shaped Peace Bridge which is spectacular both in the daytime as well as at night. I desperately wanted go to the flea market at the Dry Bridge not necessarily to buy but to have a look around and check out what the hype was all about. I walked for around 20 minutes at medium pace to get there and it surely was aninteresting place, you could find anything antique in this place. There were also a number of artists selling their art and crafts, highly artistic and affordable. I sat on a bench at the park just admiring everything around me.
It was around 5pm, I had walked up to the fashion street called Rustaveli Avenue named after the famous Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli. This road is the hub of shopping, museums and theaters and also government offices, banks and high budget hotels. At the top or the start of the street is a huge junction called Freedom Square with a huge column in the middle on which stands the golden statue of St.George slaying the dragon. The exquisite architecture of the City Hall is unmissable in the background.
I made my way back to the hotel to refresh and get ready to experience Tbilisi’s nightlife, I had been told that this city parties throughout the night till dawn. The atmosphere is completely different, as if the whole setting changes at nightfall. Restaurants, pubs, clubs, and cafes are lined up wherever you ago offering anything you are in the mood for. Most importantly, I felt absolutely safe and secure.
Did you notice that I didn’t have to take any mode of transportation other than the cable car to the top of the hill? The city is small and convenient. I also loved the small bakeries everywhere selling amazing freshly baked sweet or salted stuffed breads. To quench beer thirst, you can visit the numerous cozy bars and have a local beer(s) with snacks, try the dumpling called khinkali but check the meat first if you have diet restrictions.
I did face some language barriers but nothing to complain about or worry over. Georgians are the most genuine and hospitable people I came a cross in a very long time. Their tone of speech may confuse some people but it’s just the tone and not intentional I’m absolutely sure.