Tbilisi and Around

Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia and theoretically everything in the central region should be a simple day trip away. But the reality is not so sure. Ortachala bus station is quite out of the way, even though it is the primary bus station for international routes as well as the major routes within Georgia. Didube is right next to the metro is the same name and serves the road to Kazbegi, along with other main national lines.

The capital of Georgia is in some what of a flux, parliament was moved to Kutaisi this year into a brand new modern building. There are several new projects around the city, especially along the river in old town. Rustaveli Avenue is a long avenue connection Freedom Square to Kostava Street. Here are numerous museums, churches, stores, and the tall gilded statue of the founder of Georgia.

The old city is pretty neat, surrounded by walls and there are plenty of cool new shops and restaurants that mark the area. The puppet theater is awfully quirky with a falling clock tower and (apparently) empty new residences around. Above the city lies Mother Georgia and the fortress, you can take the gondola up the mountain or take a hike from near the old Mosque. The gondola will take your metro card.

Also do try the Borjomi Water. This water comes naturally bubbly from the springs of Borjomi. It might just be water, but for whatever reason, it has a pretty notable taste and feeling. Many say it has the properties to cure illness. You can’t visit Georgia without giving it a try. Make sure it is ice cold for the best taste.

Outside of Tbilisi is a day trip to Davit Gareja. This old monastery was built in the 6th century and much of it is built into highly graffitied/unmaintained caves. Apparently you must go to Ortachala to find some sort of bus that takes you to Sagarejo which is the “closest” city. The truth is that it might be easier just to take an unsuspecting taxi driver the whole course. Most of them have no idea where it is and exactly how extremely far it is. You can snatch a good deal since their counterparts will tell them its near Sagarejo which is around 30 minute drive from Tbilisi on a paved road.

The reality is that after Sagarejo you must travel an unending road for 40 minutes, where only half is paved. This road goes through large desertish landscape which in unbearingly hot in the summer. You will pass through ghost towns and yearn for another human face. The road will finally end at the monastery and the Azeri border. There is a land dispute here as the USSR intentionally cut the mountain top between Georgia and Azerbaijan. This means that technically at certain points you will be walking on the Azerbaijan side.

The lower monastery is currently under restoration (summer 2012), but mostly accessible. Due to the restoration you can’t use the back gate to walk to the top of the mountain (20 minutes) to see the actual caves and the Azeri desert. Instead you must take the path up behind the gift shop. It isn’t long, but it isn’t very secure either. Once you get to the top you will see some sort of weird iron “fence”, we decided it was the Russian border demarcation, because everything on the other side was closed. Also the church at the peak has border guards from both countries just sitting there and chatting.

There are several ancient paintings at the top of the mountain, drawn into the caves. Many of the caves are destroyed or graffitied because of the border war and the long history of occupation. The soviets used it as an outpost, so they destroyed a lot of the caves.

Entry is free, but bring plenty of water as they often run out.

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