Georgia: Tbilisi and Batumi

Map of Georgia and Caucasus Region

North of Armenia lies the very likeable Georgia and for a country with only 3.8 million people, it certainly packs a punch. An Austrian couple who joined us for dinner at a taverna in Sicily’s Petralia Soprana last year had sung Georgia’s praises to us, guaranteeing that we would enjoy our travels here and we most certainly did.

We arrived in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi from Yerevan after a five hour drive. The road to the border was bumpy and potholed, but the scenic, green and mountainous landscape more than made up for this. At the border, we were met by super friendly customs guys from both Armenia and Georgia and our exit and entry were achieved in no time. It’s good to note that Australians do not have to pay for a Georgian visa. Once we crossed into Georgia, the road improved out of sight.

To be honest, I fell for Tbilisi in a big way. It’s a fabulous city, with the features of a European city but without the teeming crowds. And of course it’s smaller. Tree lined streets, beautiful architecture, an old town with cobbled roads and a jumble of decaying buildings with their long ago beauty etched in balconies, timber and brickwork, sidewalk cafes and wine bars, the list goes on. One could easily stay a month here. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Out and about in Old Town – I loved it all; the sights, the coffee, the hole in the wall bars where I savoured organic Georgian wine – truly fantastic, and the carpet stalls – didn’t buy one though!

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We were lucky to be in Georgia for their very enthusiastic 100 year celebration of Independence from USSR in 1918. Short lived its independence was though, as Russia invaded Georgia three years later and dragged it kicking and screaming back into the bosom of the mother country. 1991 saw Georgia finally break ties with the USSR signalling a continuation of a tenuous relationship. Those who can remember back to 2008 will recall the war that broke out between these two countries. It goes without saying that this day is particularly important to proud, independent Georgians.

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Sobering

War is never far from people’s minds – this photo is of Peace Bridge. Hard not to be conscious of Georgia’s difficult political past and not be moved by their fierce fights for freedom. Hard not to be aware that their struggles may in fact continue. Relations between Russia and Georgia can be fractious and when this occurs, there is always a knock on effect. For example, flights between the 2 countries can be cancelled during tense times.

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Wine making is what Georgians do exceptionally well. Wines are organic and there are many varieties. We found an excellent driver who took us to Kakhetia, Georgia’s most well known wine producing area. Here in the village of Signagi, we drank amber wine for the first time, liked it as much as the reds, and had a fabulous lunch.

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You’ve got to admire the Georgians for hanging onto their centuries’ old wine making skills. Grapes, skins and stalks are pressed into clay vessels, sealed and buried in the ground for about 6 months to ferment.

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Driving back to Tbilisi, we came across this husband and wife team making cheese and baking bread. Bought up big!

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Perfect Georgian roses

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We wined and dined well on dumplings, crayfish, salads, breads and cheese – organic food at its best.

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We were very lucky to meet Natiko who happily drove us out of Tbilisi to Ananuri to see beautiful churches and a castle on the Aragvi River.

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In Tbilisi, we stayed at No 12 Zichi Hotel, just behind Parliament House – great location, fabulous breakfast and a very spacious room.

After exhausting ourselves in Tbilisi, we drove through the Georgian countryside to Batumi on the Black Sea, about 20 kms from the Turkish border. Three days here looking out at this view was good for the soul. Sunny days, but a bit cool for a swim.

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Batumi is Georgia’s holiday town and the rocky beach and blue water lure both Georgian and Russian tourists. It’s also home to casinos and an interesting old town.

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We packed in a lot during our 10 days in Georgia and had ourselves a fabulous time. Could’ve stayed longer but Moscow is beckoning!

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