In July of this year, after 17 months of staying put, I stepped on a plane.
The Decision and the Journey
I told myself either I go big or not at all. So after three flights, including an overnight layover in London, I landed in Georgia, not the US State, but the Eastern European country, considered the European Gateway to Asia.
Georgia was one of of the first European countries to open up to vaccinated travelers without the requirement to quarantine. I had completed my vaccination regimen in March, so I was “hesitantly ready” to don my travel gears again. Hesitantly ready – does that make sense?
The trip took a fair bit of planning, since I didn’t know a lot about Georgia before deciding that it was the place to which I wanted to travel, in the midst of a pandemic.
Once I made up my mind, I conducted my usual due diligence, which included reading many travel blogs, watching YouTube videos, liking and following tourist social media pages from Georgia. Beyond that, however, I needed to ensure that I would be safe, physically and health wise.
Bit of History
Georgia was part of the Soviet Union and became independent after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
Before the pandemic, Georgia was one of Europe’s fastest growing tourist destinations. One reason is that it is relatively affordable. Another reason is because it is so historically rich and lastly it is relatively safe, even for a woman who travels solo.
Let the Tours Begin
I lucked out with the tour guides (a husband and wife team, Alessandro and Mariam) with whom I arranged a full itinerary. In the little over a week I spent in Georgia, I did and saw so much that I would need to do perhaps two or three more blogs to cover it all.
The morning after arrival, I walked from the Marriott on Rustaveli Avenue, where I was staying to Liberty Square.
Liberty Square, is a focal point in Tbilisi and even though it changed names multiple times during its history, it is now a symbol of the Georgian struggle for freedom and independence. In the centre of the square stands the Freedom Monument, a white column with a golden statue on top depicting St George, the patron saint of Georgia.
The guides met me back at the hotel to take me to the Georgian National Museum which also houses the Museum of the Soviet Occupation.
Next on the agenda, during a heavy downpour, was the Bridge of Peace. The relatively newly constructed Bridge of Peace is definitely the attraction one wouldn’t want to miss in Tbilisi. It is a pedestrian glass and steel bridge in a bow-shaped design that sits over the Mtkvari (Kura) river in the Georgian capital. It was officially opened in May 2010.
The bridge is not without controversy though. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili commissioned this project to attract foreign investments. His goal was to distance the country from its Soviet past. However, many locals oppose this modernist piece dominating the 19th century aesthetic of the Old Town.
After the Bridge of Peace we took the cable car up to the Mother of Georgia 🇬🇪 Statue.
Kartlis Deda (Georgian: ქართლის დედა; Mother of Kartli or Mother of Georgia) is a monument in Tbilisi.
She symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies.
After milling around the Mother of Georgia Statue in the rain, we took the steep walk down to the Old Town, to the sulphur baths district.
“The history of the sulfur baths is the history of Tbilisi itself. The location of the city was specifically chosen because of the hot springs that run beneath the earth and even inspired the name – Tbilisi means ‘warm place’.
Most (but not all) of Tbilisi’s sulfur baths are located in Abanotubani district, adjacent to the river and not far from the Old Median. One of Tbilisi’s most recognisable neighbourhoods, Abanotubani is characterised by the brick domes that pop out of the earth like molehills. This design allows natural light to stream into the bath rooms and provides ventilation for the sulfuric steam to escape.
Legend has it that King Vakhtang Gorgasali happened upon the hot sulfurous waters while out hunting with his falcon. You can see the pair immortalised in statue form on the bridge near the baths.
The waters are naturally warm, averaging temperatures of 38-40 Celsius. The thermal springs that feed the baths are said to have health benefits too, helping to treat a range of ailments from heart disease to psoriasis. Today, most people come to the baths for the atmosphere and experience rather than the remedial qualities.”
The day ended with a tour of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. However, churches deserve a whole blog in itself so I’ll save that for another time.
The wine oh the wine! Watch this space.
Have you ever been to Eastern Europe and if so what are your impressions? Leave your comments below.