What comes to your mind when you hear the word Europe? Paris (France)? London (United Kingdom)? Berlin (Germany)? or Prague (Czech Republic)?
Does Tbilisi ring a bell? Yes, Tbilisi—the capital city of Georgia. No, not that Georgia in the US but Georgia—the country!
I spent a few days in Georgia the week before Christmas just because I had an extra day off due to Qatar National Day and simply, I want to experience real winter (with snow).
Me: Hey, I’m leaving on Thursday. I’ll be skipping Qatar National Day. I heard the celebrations got canceled anyway.
Friend: Where to?
Me: Georgia, the country (yes, I have to state it clear)
Friend: Why Georgia?
I was too lazy to justify my choice as I believe I really don’t have to so I just uttered my usual answer: “Why not.”
But seriously, why would you not consider visiting Georgia? I’m aware many are not that familiar with the country and its history or even where in the world it is. When everything is just one click away, doing a quick read on anything that you don’t know isn’t hard at all. Go make those finger tips work.
5 Reasons why you should visit Georgia NOW
Being in Europe while in Asia
Do you remember that scene from 2003 film A Walk To Remember? When Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore) wanted to be in two places at the same time? Yes, that scene where they went to border/boundary of Virginia.
Well, you can give Jamie a run for her money when you visit Georgia. There has been a debate whether or not Georgia is in Asia or Europe. One definition of Europe marks the Caucasus Mountains as its border, putting Georgia firmly in Asia. In other definitions place the whole Caucasus region, including Georgia, in Europe. I understand that most Georgians will call themselves Europeans but for tourists alike, we can assume that being in Georgia, you can be physically in Asia but legally/territorially in Europe. Sweet!
The country’s rich history and it’s unique geographic location reflects how Georgia is today. The overall vibe is very pleasant. A lot of old structures, fortresses, and alleys that date several centuries back blends well with modern designs of present modern day buildings and bridges.
Walking around the city on my first day, I can see the post-Soviet influence still present. Russian Cyrillic is still used in some establishments although the majority of the signages are written in English and of course, native Georgian alphabet. It brought me back good old memories of Omsk and Russia from my trip in 2011. It was strangely familiar.
As BBC would describe it: “It feels more like 19th-Century Sicily than the modern-day EU.”
Outside the city center, there are more interesting and UNESCO-protected sites, most of which are century old cathedrals and monasteries. Yes, this country is highly religious having Orthodox Christianity as the main religion.
Food is Good (Pescatarian friendly)
If I would sum up how dining in Georgia is, I’d put it as: “It is not for lactose intolerant and with gluten allergy” Why? Because Georgian cuisine uses a lot of cheese (and other dairy) and bread. They are also huge on meat and varieties of vegetarian dishes. History plays a big part on how Georgian food is diverse being a mixture of European, Middle Eastern, and even Chinese influence.
Among the popular ones is Khinkali (Georgian dumplings) which comes in different variations (pork, beef, vegetables, mushroom). It is a must-try when you go to Georgia and pretty impossible to miss as every restaurant that I went to offers this dish both fried or boiled.
Tip: You must learn how to eat it “properly”. Drop your utensils and grab it by hand, turn it upside down and grab a small bite. The juice from the filling (caution: it’s hot!) will flow so you have to sip it and once done, go and enjoy a big bite of your yummy Khinkali!
Another dish you shouldn’t miss is Khachapuri, which like Khinkali, comes in different variations and each city or region has its own variation. It is basically bread smothered with local cheese or curd. Some are filled with meat, eggs, or vegetables.
I decided to try the one that most locals would tell me, the “messiest” to eat: the Adjaran khachapuri which is basically a boat-shaped bread topped with (lots) of butter, cheese, and egg. I didn’t care that I ordered it over lunch along with khinkali even if it appears to be a breakfast staple. It was on the savory side and yes, messy to eat. You have to stir the egg and cheese while it is still hot so the flavor will blend well. One pun I thought while eating a boat load of melted butter was: The (more) butter, the better.
Meat, especially pork, is widely eaten in the country. I opted to try mushrooms instead as I am a big fan of mushrooms and, a practicing pescatarian.
The best part is, food (and everything else mostly) in Georgia is cheap. A meal would cost around 20 GEL including drinks. Of course, you can always go cheaper but 20 bucks for a full meal is already a bargain on its own.
and Wine too!
Known to be one of the oldest wine countries in the world, wine connoisseur and even novices will surely enjoy Georgia with its wide array of quality wines. You name it, they might probably have it in a fraction of a cost.
Coming from the Middle East where liquor is hard to access and or ridiculously expensive, I really had a great time sipping to my heart’s content bottles after bottles of wine. If it is an excuse, the weather was sub-zero and I needed to keep myself warm!
Honest confession: I drank more wine than water during my entire stay. A bottle of this great white semi-sweet wine costs around 20 GEL which is 1/4 the price of a normal cheap quality wine in Doha.
I am beginning to understand why they put cheese into a lot their dishes here. Maybe so they can pair it with wine every time. They weren’t joking when they say people drink wine any time of the day. For a couple of days, I was like one of them sipping a glass even after breakfast. Like what they say: When in Rome Georgia, do what the Romans Georgians do.
Stay outdoors. (all year round)
Whether you are into trekking or skiing, Georgia got you covered all year round. Hiking and camping are common activities among locals and tourists alike during summer in the countryside while the seaside offers a unique experience swimming in the Black Sea.
I opted to go during winter and Georgia gave me what I came here for snow capped mountains and a busy ski resort. I went to Bakuriani and missed the chance to do paragliding (as I learned it is only offered in Guduari). Just like any other outdoor activity, it is very weather dependent and the weather wasn’t that clear while I was there. Oh well, all the more reason to go back and try again.
It’s the city (and the whole country) that loves you (and your wallet)!
Listed by Forbes as one of Top Destinations for 2017, Georgia welcomes everyone with open arms (and wine). You might have known Tbilisi as “The city that loves you” and surely, you will not think twice to answer “I love Tbilisi” back.
Tbilisi and Georgia, in general is an up and coming tourist destination highly recommended by TripAdvisor, LonelyPlanet and other major travel websites. Truly, a backpacker’s paradise, roaming around this country will not burn a hole as prices of food, accommodation and activities are on the budget side.
This has to be one of the cheapest places I have been but felt like I have splurged a lot. Language used to be a barrier as English wasn’t widely used in the old days. But the present generation of Georgians are now well-versed with English and the hipster vibe that I felt during my stay was rather amusing.
Surprising fact about this country is that despite being a developing country, it has one of the highest literacy rate in the world. I am totally impressed.
Recent trend predicts that Georgia might be the next big hub for concert scene in the region. Last year, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera were among the foreign artists who held a successful concert in Georgia. This year, it has been reported that Aerosmith will perform on May. And the good news is, compared to EU and even GCC countries, tickets are sold inexpensively—something most music aficionados will highly appreciate.
Good food, wine, inexpensive city and loads of activities all year round, what else is there for you not to consider booking a flight to Georgia?
Bonus: Visa Free (to most)
As mentioned in Visa HQ website:
“Holders of valid visa or residence permit of EU/GCC countries, territories of EU countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, UK, Norway or Switzerland are exempted from visa requirements. You can enter Georgia without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period. Please, note that you must present relevant valid visa or residence permit along with your travel document/passport at the moment of crossing Georgian border.”
Finally, a perk of holding a Qatar Residence card!
For Filipinos living in the Philippines, unfortunately, visa will be required prior to travel. Learn more about visa requirements by clicking here.
So go ahead, pack your bags and log in to your trusty airline. Now is the right time. Mother Georgia is waiting for you!