Almost nine months passed after our Georgian trip, several other beautiful and exceptional countries visited; however, Georgia stays one of my absolute favorites in my whole travelling history. When people ask me the “why” question, I can immediately think (and dive into the pleasant memories) about breathtaking intact nature, rich culture, over-delicious food and wine, fairness and hospitality of the people, attractive prices, easiness of getting around and many other reasons why this country stands out so distinctly. I would go there again without any doubts (especially concerning the fact that WizzAir starts direct connection Berlin – Kutaisi soon) and would advise you to do so too!
As you already correctly guessed, this post is dedicated to Georgia, to getting around the country. I already dedicated a separate post to Georgian food – you can find it here: Link. The next post will conclude the triple post and will summarize our experience about finding a place to sleep and choosing the things to do. One of the reasons why I felt so comfortable in this country could possibly be the language: everyone with very rare exceptions speaks Russian; we didn’t have any problems explaining what we need and where we want to go… English is also spoken (but not always) – we even tried to make a little experiment: I had to switch to English and don’t use Russian for some time. It worked, but poorly. Young people speak English with higher probability; English knowledge of elder people is very limited. I switched back to Russian and enjoyed the freedom of expression.
Another reason to feel like home were the sunflower seeds – people eat them a lot and with pleasure, like in Russia.
What was especially enjoyable is that handling and negotiating is not so common in this country, people usually call the fair price right away. I normally don’t like to handle and only learn how to do it now (a very useful skill in some countries)… So in Georgia I could breathe away and relax completely.
Moving from A to B in Georgia was very easy as well: trains, metro, buses, marshrutkas, privat taxi (two remarkable things about the taxi drivers: all drivers without exclusion smoke in the car; and every taxi driver suggested hiring him for the whole day so he could show us the surroundings)…. We checked the options of renting a car as well; but this would have cost us too much. Therefore, we used public transport: a brief check on the internet had shown it was uncomplicated and run regularly. Our rough approximation of the route worked well: we have visited 5 cities in 5 days and thus closed the circle Kutaisi – Batumi – Tbilisi – Kazbegi – Mtskheta – Tbilisi – Gori (the Uplistsikhe cave complex) – Kutaisi.
One peculiarity: the traffic on the roads in Georgia is quite dangerous. Drivers ride like crazy: overtaking, speeding, undertaking dangerous maneuvers (to add to that, they cross themselves when passing a church, but I think, this is only religious, not that they think that their every drive can be the last one…) Still, I’m afraid to think about how it works in winter when the roads are icy or wet – it is probably simply life-threatening. By the way, no safety belts on the back seats… So hold on and stick to the handles! And if you meet a herd of sheep or cows as an oncoming traffic, don’t be surprised – this is also normal.
We arrived at Kutaisi David the Builder airport at about 3:30 at night and were ready to take an expensive taxi. To our big surprise, next to the exit there was an open counter selling tickets for an official shuttle service: 5 Lari p/p (2 Euro). We were three of us in an ordinary taxi-car. What was the difference between a shuttle and a taxi we didn’t understand. At some point we had to change the car, to stop again while our driver was chatting with a local who offered us a full-day-taxi excursion in Kutaisi and surroundings for 50 $ for the whole day. We refused but written down his number to accelerate the whole thing. We simply wanted to conclude our long way to the city (as usual, we headed to the airport after a normal working day).
A taxi to the Prometheus caves and back, couple of hours waiting, a short drive to our “hotel” to pick our stuff and then to the bus station – all these cost us 35 Lari. The taxi driver smiled broadly and was extremely pleased when he get extra 5 Lari tips.
On the way back to the airport we ordered a taxi with the help of the lady at whose apartment we were staying. Early in the morning it cost us 20 Lari (7 Euro).
To go to Batumi from Kutaisi we went to the bus station (only on in the city) and caught a “marshrutka” – a little bus that costs about 10 Lari p/p.
The city is quite small – you can reach any place by foot.
In Batumi you can either walk to the railway station (a huge modern building with a lot of shopping and administrative service potential currently looks very empty) or take a taxi for about 5 Lari.
The most convenient way to go to Tbilisi from Batumi is train. The train Batumi – Tbilisi goes twice a day – at 16:35 (arrives at 22:00) and at 01:40 (arrives at 07:00). A 2nd class ticket costs 18 Lari, 1st class – 25 Lari. The train is equipped with a flat screen, a charger and a fairly good Wi-Fi connection.
In Tbilisi there is a metro. You have to take it if you want to go to the Didube bus station, for example. The system is simple: for 2 Lari you buy a re-chargeable plastic card (one card is enough for a group) and upload the necessary number of the rides (one ride costs 0,5 Lari). The names of the stations are announced in Georgian and in English; directions are depicted in the middle of the waiting hall.
Once we had a peculiar situation. The situation itself was pretty usual: a nice old man was selling sugar in metro. We bought some, why not helping. Back to Berlin, my boyfriend decided to drink some tea with this “sugar”. The taste was weirdly sweetish disgusting, to put it mildly… After a little research in the Internet, we realized it was nearly not sugar but a preservative used for conservation of fruit and vegetables.
Stepantsminda was previously called Kazbegi, many people still call it so. To go there from Tbilisi you have to take a metro to the Didube bus station and take a private taxi (I assume, there are marshrutkas as well, but the price is not much lower). If you are four passengers in the car, you pay only 15 Lari p/p. We were three persons and didn’t want to wait for the forth, so we agreed to pay 20 that is still not much for 3-3,5-hour drive.
The advantage of a private taxi is that we could make a pause whenever we want. We stopped at Ananuri Fortress to enjoy the 13th century former castle and a breathtaking view to the Aragvi river. Besides, we didn’t refuse to take a photo in traditional Georgian dress for 2 Lari.
In Stepantsminda there is only one “bus station” (you can’t call it so, it is just a square where buses coming and going) – right in the center of the city, you simply cannot miss it.
Mtsketa, one of the oldest Georgian cities, is located on the way from Stepantsminda to Tbilisi. We decided to visit this city before returning to Tbilisi. For this drive we found a big taxi for 10 Lari p/p from the center square in Kazbegi: the driver agreed to bring us to Mtsketa (and drop in the center of the city). On the way we have seen many handcraft and meal stands; springs with fresh water as well.
Taxi to the Jvari Church on the hill close to Mtsketa – 20 Lari. The driver even lured us with the homemade wine that we could have been drinking in the car while he was driving us there. However, we were too tired to accept his offer and went for a short walk in the city instead.
Marshrutkas from Mtsketa to Tbilisi costs 1 Lari p/p. After 20 they go very rarely, at a restaurant we were even told that they don’t drive at 20:30, but we had luck and caught one at 21.
…Gori (the Uplistsikhe cave complex)
To explore the Uplistsikhe cave complex you have to go to Gori first. A marshrutka from Tbilisi (Didube) to Gori costs 3 Lari (a taxi from Tbilisi to Uplistsikhe would cost us 60 Lari). We had to wait about 30 minutes until the mini-bus was literally completely full, including the isle seats. Thousands of short stops were made on the way to let people out.
From Gori to Uplistsikhe and back plus one hour waiting cost us 20 Lari. We wanted to take a bus, but the taxi driver convinced us that there is no another way but taxi to reach the cave complex. Indeed, the bus stops seemed to be quite far from the entrance – we have checked it during the drive, just to make sure that the driver does not cheat – he was behaving slightly sly and pushy.
From Gori we headed to Kutaisi. On the way back from the caves our driver was telling us (nonsense!) that no public buses go to the intersection where the buses to Kutaissi pass. Annoying, he was asking us the whole way back if we want to go with him there. We refused and jumped out from the car. At the very same moment we found an ordinary marshrutka which took us to the intersection (it cost us less than 1 Lari p/p and took 10-15 minutes to get there). The driver even stopped for us the right bus because the destinations on the windshield were all written in Georgian.
So far about our experience of getting around in Georgia. Next part will be about finding a place to sleep and choosing the things to do and to see. Stay tuned!