Before we headed on this unexpected journey, we had never heard of Tblisi. In fact, when told we were heading to “Georgia” for work, we expected to visit the East Coast of the United States. It was only when we were asked about our passport status that we realized Tblisi, Georgia was some place entirely different than where we had assumed.
In fact, Tbilisi was formerly in the USSR. Up until 1991, Tbilisi was a part of the Soviet Union. And even today, you can see remnants of Soviet influence in Tbilisi.
For those of you who might not be familiar with Georgia, the country, welcome to the club. In fact, if you were to ask a random person on the street where Tbilisi is, I doubt anyone would know. Tblisi, the capitol of Georgia, is an unknown secret to most. The landscape is a mixture of both the Old and New Worlds with both ancient and modern architecture that season the city landscape.
Georgia sits between Asia and Europe. It is neither, but assumes characteristics of both in its people, food, architecture and culture. Here, you will experience Russian, Armenian, Middle Eastern and Asian influences in addition to hearing an array of dialects throughout town.
We traveled to Tblisi quickly for work so there wasn’t much time to research our destination. However, this was not a problem because Tblisi is so service-oriented that it made maneuvering throughout the city manageable with little foreknowledge. We began our journey by boarding our flight on Turkish Airlines in Los Angeles and stopped in Istanbul, Turkey for a small layover.
Incidentally, the airport in Istanbul is the largest airport in the world. So, there was much to do including shopping, dining and lounging. We stayed in the Alliance lounge to relax and enjoy an exotic meal. And this airport is unique because brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel have flagship stores here; it is easy to assume you are in a high-end mall rather than an airport. Also, the customer service is impeccable with hosts attending to your every whim.
The second flight from Istanbul to Tbilisi is only two hours in length. So, before we knew it, we were in Georgia. Immediately, we were amazed at the artwork that is found within the city. There are sculptures, statues and monuments even minutes upon arrival.
Right away, you can see the Soviet influence in the older buildings in Tbilisi. But there are also several modern structures that stand out against the rugged terrain. For example, The Bridge of Peace, is a futuristic, bow-shaped bridge for pedestrians only. It is constructed of both steel and glass and is illuminated at night. It sits over the Kura River and connects Old Town Tblisi and Rike Park.
It has been said that no one visits Tblisi without a trip up to the Narikala Fortress. Built in 4 BC, it overlooks Tblisi and the Mtkvari River. One can appreciate the grounds and exterior of the Narikala Fortress and also the internal part of the church which depicts early Biblical history and the history of Georgia.
While here, visitors can walk to Kartlis Deda, or the Mother of Georgia statue. This statue was erected in 1958 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Tblisi. The Mother of Georgia represents the Georgian national character: she holds a bowl of wine to welcome friends in one hand. In the other, she holds a sword to welcome enemies.
One clear evening, we had time to visit the thermal spas that Tbilisi is known for. Indeed, the name “Tblisi” means “a warm place”. These geothermal spas have healing properties such as helping to treat infections, help with digestion, minor skin irritations and arthritis. We had to admit, the water smelled like hard-boiled eggs, but it was so soothing!
Another part of town where everyone loves to congregate is Old Town Tblisi. Here, you will find the oldest church in the area, St. George’s Church and you can feast on traditional Georgian foods such as Khachapuri, a delicious dish of homemade bread and cheese.
Once the sun goes down, Tblisi comes alive! There are clubs, bars and restaurants that stay open until very late. People love celebrating the summer climate, especially on hot, balmy nights. In fact, on our stay, it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day, so when it cools down, the city wakes up!
If you are visiting Georgia in the summer months, it is important to factor in the heat. For a more moderate climate, the best months to visit are October, November, March and April. And during the hotter times of the year, we recommend venturing out in the early mornings or once the sun has set.
After working, it is tradition to drink Tblisi wine at local bars and restaurants with friends and co-workers. This region is known for its winemaking and there are many tours you can take while visiting this region. Here, people love to appreciate the simple things in life: friendship and togetherness.
When visiting Georgia, it is important to note, Bolt is an excellent ride share service similar to Uber. Simply download the App to your phone. Bolt was simple to use and efficient. And it also helps that almost everything in Tbilisi is easy to get to, especially by using a ride share service or taxi.
The highlight of our trip was an English-speaking photo tour of Old Town Tblisi. We booked this experience via Airbnb and highly recommend this to anyone who is a first-time visitor of the area. Our tour guide met us with enthusiasm and took us on a three-hour guided tour. We visited of some of Tblisi’s most famous landmarks including Metekhi Church, Holy Trinity Cathedral and Hotel Frieda, which is a bohemian-style, Frieda Kahlo-influenced hotel.
And after our tour, we were presented with Insta-worthy shots of the city in all its glory! This was worth every penny and we were 100% satisfied with the experience.
On our last day, we marveled at what a unique and rejuvenating experience we had in a part of the world we didn’t even know existed. For this reason, we believe Tblisi is one of the hidden gems of the former USSR. And another item to note, the US dollar and Euro are strong here so it makes for affordable, yet luxurious, travel for most.
Most importantly, we found the people of Georgia to be helpful and kind. And with many speaking English, we had no trouble maneuvering about the city by ourselves. The hospitality can’t be beat here and tourism seems to be escalating at a rapid speed. So, if you are seeking stellar food, stimulating conversation, jaw-dropping landmarks, relaxation and an exciting nightlife, Tbilisi is a hidden travel gem for you!
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