*UPDATE : The author, DocGelo has been receiving queries and comments regarding the recent increase in charges of Chacha tours, the tour operator based in Georgia that’s mentioned on this article. Kindly be informed that he is not in any way related with any travel agency or tour operator and, therefore has no obligation and control of any changes that may happen in the course of time, with regards to details mentioned on the blog articles he publishes on his site. Thank you for your understanding and support to this blog.
It was not difficult for me to decide to travel to Georgia exactly 8 days after I came from Russia.
- Visa-free for Filipinos with residence visa in UAE.
- Short haul flight of less than 4 hours from Dubai to its capital city, Tbilisi.
- Relatively affordable travel expenses (whether you avail of package tour or travel via D-I-Y-itineraries). It won’t cost you your arms and legs!
- Road trips, cobblestone alleys, wine factories (we missed to go to these!), striking monuments, Orthodox churches, ancient cave towns, medieval castles and fortress, heritage sites, lakes and rivers, beaches, trains and cable cars.
- Mountainous landscape filled with snow (that appears lush green in months of summer).
- Interesting diversity in people, culture and food. An apparent fusion of east and west!
- Khinkali and Khachapuri. Children, repeat after me. Say, KHINKALI. Say KHACHAPURI. (read through out the post and you’ll know it)!
- And let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! I want snow!!!
Following my weeklong winter trip in Moscow and Saint Petersburg with 2 of my good friends, I booked another return tickets from Dubai last December 14 to 17, 2015 via Fly Dubai to Tbilisi for a 4-day-break in Georgia!
Where’s Georgia? Is that in the U.S.?
*shakes head left to right*
Located at the junction of Eastern Europe and West Asia, Georgia, the country (and not the American state) south of Russia and north of Turkey and Armenia, is utterly irresistible and effortlessly seductive!
Can you enjoy it with just 4 days and 3 nights? Where to go to maximize short stay?
What about budget?
Surprisingly similar to how much I spent in Russia (blog feature to follow. I haven’t blogged about Kenya and Russia, I know!), I only had less than 2,500 AED (<680 USD), inclusive of return tickets, food, accommodation, transportation, souvenirs and all other expenses. Yet the sensory experiences are incomparable and ultimately priceless!
Here’s a long and chronological photo-essay of my short, yet memorable days in Tbilisi, Ananuri, Gudauri, Kazbegi, Uplistsikhe, Shio-Mgvime and Gori.
DAY 1 : Dubai to Tbilisi
Flight was set at 12:30PM, Terminal 2 of Dubai International Airport. Arrival at 4PM in Tbilisi.
Airport and immigration proceedings in Dubai during departure and upon arrival in Tbilisi went smoothly. Luggage collected from the belt. Pocket money in few US Dollars exchanged into Georgian Lari in ForEx inside the terminal. Hailed taxi cab from the airport to our accommodation. Et voila! Welcome to Tbilisi, Georgia!
The timing of our arrival called for an early dinner and leather jackets! It’s winter and our stomachs were growling ,while we also wanted to start exploring. So we opted to take a taxi cab from the hotel, passed by the iconic Freedom Square at the heart of Tbilisi (I have no photo! I must return in summer!), that’s dressed with gorgeous Christmas lights; then shortly reached the Funicular – a place where an inclined funicular or cable car takes passengers uphill where few pocket-friendly to expensive restaurants are located. Other than food, it’s also one of the best spots to view Tbilisi in 360 degrees!
Funicular 2-way ride for 2 GEL or 2 Georgian Lari!
The night view from front seat inside the funicular. Here we go!
Restaurant option #1. Beautifully decorated for the holidays. Looks expensive though.
Restaurant option #2. Almost similar with #1. Too complex and sophisticated for us.
Restaurant option #3. Pizza, pastries, tea, hot soup and warm pies. We hit the jackpot!
Heavenly! In Saint Petersburg, Russia, it’s called Napoleon. In Tbilisi, Georgia…..I forgot!
And ladies and gents, boys and girls, meet our very light dinner (no-rice!)! Yey!
With my new found Chinese friend and travel buddy in Georgia, Sisi from Dubai. Aren’t we looked so coordinated despite we didn’t talk about what to wear? Like-minds think the same! She’s been to 40 plus countries, btw! Now, you know why we clicked in a blink! And we remain friends after the trip!
Spectacular night view of Tbilisi from the Funicular.
DAY 2 : Tbilisi to Ananuri, Gudauri, Panorama and Kazbegi.
Sisi and I agreed to avail a Day Tour Package from Chacha Tours, a local tour operator recommended by our Chinese colleague, Jason who went to Tbilisi before us. Actually, it was his incredible photos that compelled me to experience winter in Georgia too! And I can’t be thankful enough when he referred his tour agents generously! I immediately called, Temo of Chacha Tours after I confirmed my return tickets.
Chacha Tours, Tbilisi, Georgia
+995 558 19 27 47 (contact person and tour guide – Temo / or Nini)
Skype : chachatour2015
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
I highly suggest you ring them and ask for Temo to coordinate with your tours.
You’re welcome, btw!
Temo and the driver picked us up from the lobby of our hotel before 10AM. The entire day tour with our preferred itineraries cost us 250 GEL in total, excluding lunch (120 GEL for all of us) and the 70 GEL – the fee for the other van and driver that took us to Trinity Church in Kazbegi. Sisi and I split the expenses.
One of the ancient must-visit-sites off downtown Tbilisi is the Ananuri Fortress or Ananuri Castle. Dramatically located along the serene, Aragvi River, the castle was noted to witness feudal dynasty and several battles. Its architecture alone with Orthodox Church of the Assumption, plus the breathtaking surrounding view, must be enough reasons for you to thank yourself for deciding to travel to Georgia! You’ll feel you deserve a tap on your shoulders!
The Road to Gudauri Ski Resort
From Ananuri, we continued the road trip to Gudauri. The Asian kid-at-heart in me became so thrilled silently! Seated quietly inside the van and with headphones listening to my playlist, my mind wanders upon the sight of mountain range filled with immaculate snow! Excitement in me heightened when we stopped for a bladder break, and my thrill soared upon inhaling crisp mountain breeze! I tried my best to fill my lungs with freshest Gudauri air! The feeling was euphoric, the view was surreal! It was certainly a visual feast!
Love at first sight.
I was in awe! It looked magical!
Have you ever drank from a frozen falls? I did! I did excitedly like a kid!
Gudauri Ski Resort
“Gudauri is a ski resort located on the southern slopes of The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range in Georgia. The resort is situated in the Stepantsminda District, along the Georgian Military Highway near the Cross Pass, at an elevation of 2,196 meters (7,200ft.) above sea level. Gudauri lies 120 km (75 miles) to the north of the capital Tbilisi.” -via info-tbilisi.com
And then I was speechless. The view was breathtakingly beautiful!
I was so ecstatic as I did not expect it to be this pretty at all!
Imagine how’s it like to stay at least a night in that cottage and wake up with this fantastic view!
Then do nothing but frolic in the snow all day!
Hope to try ski next time (yes, I hope to visit again!)
You’re so pretty, Gudauri Ski Resort!
Can’t believe I set foot in Gudauri! Ahhhhmaayzing!
Even our local tour guide, Temo was fond of my travel buddy, @gelothebear! (check out his Instrgram account. His photos receive more likes and comments than mine, and I’m just a proud bear-Dad!)
After an hour or so in Gudauri Ski Park, Temo and the driver took us to a special viewing deck called, Panorama.
It’s not your typical balcony. It’s adorned by murals that depict Georgian tales and arts.
Can you spot that frozen lake?
Then, they took us to this place by the road, where iron water flows. We drank it, tasted metallic, of course! Good thing, I didn’t have diarrhoea (you can be infected with protozoa and other microbes) when I sipped water from that frozen waterfalls, and mind you, lack or excess of iron is bad for our red blood cells. Don’t get me started with medical stuff. Just be cautious when traveling! Smile always! That’s a note to self.
“Gergeti Trinity Church (Georgian: წმინდა სამება – Tsminda Sameba) is a popular name for Holy Trinity Church near the village of Gergeti in Georgia. The church is situated on the right bank of the river Chkheri (the left tributary of the river Terek), at an elevation of 2170 meters, under Mount Kazbegi.” – via Wiki.
We transferred to another van with a new driver who happens to be a champion in off-road driving in Georgia, who took us with Temo, to Gergeti Trinity Church up the mountain!
Past 4PM and almost zero visibility. And no one among us was complaining. We loved it!
Temo leads the way to Gergeti Trinity Church. One of the most beautiful churches in the world according to Telegraph in the UK. I must see it in summer. If not his year, in the near future!
Perched and isolated on a hill, Gergeti Orthodox Church is another must-visit place in Georgia!
Our much needed late lunch. All local food! Yey!
We ate at that popular restaurant at the foot of Kazbegi as per recommendation of our tour guide. And trusting them as local will not lead you wrong.
I found out I have high affinity with local breads. I loved Georgian bread the way I loved Bolivian, Arabic and so on.
And that thick beefy soup? To die for!
I am not alcoholic in any way (defensive!), however, I always try to sample local beer whenever I travel. Too bad, we didn’t go to local wineries that are a common tourist’s destinations too in this Eurasian country (craving for Georgian wines now!).
Khinkali. Think of minced meat (lamb or beef and pork mixed), onions, chili pepper, salt cumin, parsley. Think of an extraordinary fusion and gigantic versions of Taiwanese Xiao Long Bao and typical dumpling. Khinkali or Georgian dumplings are juicy, meaty and everything nice! (Craving) Someone take me back to Georgian now! Right NOW! Hehehe!
Day 3 : Downtown Tbilisi, Stalin Museum in Gori, Uplistsikhe Cave Town, Shio Monastery
Sisi and I decided to take a different local tour operator by arranging it through our hotel to maximise our Day 3. Wrong move for us. We should’ve taken Chacha Tours again (don’t ask as I don’t want to rant and be negative). Let’s continue and conclude our day prior our flight back to Dubai.
Gori, Eastern part of Georgia
If you’re interest lies in History of one man, then Joseph Stalin Museum in Gori, a quiet town located at eastern part of Tbilisi is for you! If you must know, Joseph Stalin was the former dictator of Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) who was born in Gori, Georgia, hence an entire museum was dedicated to him.
Late in the afternoon, we moved to a more interesting place. Uplistsikhe Cave Town.
Mother Nature shows off within the Uplistsikhe Cave Town area.
I can sit and stare in this area for hours! I kid you not!
The short and uphill trek to Uplistsikhe Cave Town begins.
Step up into this steep rocks.
Welcome to Uplistikhe Cave Town! A place in queue to become one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Queen Tamar’s Hall.
Christian stone basilica, dating from the 10th century.
Remnants of previously pagan community within the Uplistsikhe Cave Town.
Believe me, my photo doesn’t give it justice.
Mother Nature in Uplistsikhe bids goodbye!
“The Shio-Mgvime monastery (Georgian: შიომღვიმე, Shiomghvime, literally meaning “the cave of Shio”) is a medieval monastic complex in Georgia, near the town of Mtskheta. It is located in a narrow limestone canyon on the northern bank of the river Mtkvari (Kura), some 30 km from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.” – via Wiki.
Sisi and I requested our local tour guide to drop us off at Old Town Tbilisi rather than our hotel. We opted to have our last dinner there (as we’re flying back to Dubai lunch time of the following day) and I wanted to buy my souvenirs – fridge magnets and a few keychains.
Last Dinner in Old Town Tbilisi
After dinner, we strolled our way to Bridge of Peace.
*Although the blogger, Doc Gelo welcomes partnerships with travel sponsors, this is NOT a sponsored post. All words written in this feature were never influenced by anyone, and are honest opinion by the author. Photos are taken using the mirrorless and handy, Fuji AX2, with a few taken using Samsung Galaxy Note 3.