Caucasus region is still rarely visited by tourists and backpackers. Maybe this is what makes it special, it's a place that is easily accessible, not far from Europe but seems very different and full of surprises wherever you go - it was the most surprising and nicest airport welcome I have ever encountered while entering a new country.
Georgian Welcome - Arrival at Tbilisi Airport
Tbilisi Airport is situated 17 km (11 miles) from the city center. It is very modern, completed just a few years ago and there's nothing exceptional about it. Except one interesting, and to be honest a very nice thing.
Usually, when you go through passport control, you get very serious and gloomy looks from security staff, almost as if you were a criminal entering their country with the intention of blowing it up.
But not in Georgia. You not only will be met with a smile, but together with a stamp in your passport, you will also receive a bottle of Georgian wine as a gift. (At least all tourists coming to Georgia got it 3 months ago).
Such a nice first impression and surprise. Now, with a little bottle of wine you can prepare yourself to leave the airport and choose the appropriate means of transport to get to the city center. Along the way, you can also change your currency into Georgian Lari. At the moment, 1 EUR = 2.25 GEL and 1 US dollar = 1.65 GEL.
It is better to change money in Exchange offices, there are many of them everywhere in Tbilisi, you will get better rates than at the airport. I arrived in Tbilisi at 4 am, so the only transport system for me was the taxi. During the day, there are very cheap bus and train services (0.50 GEL). Taxi costs around 30 GEL (14 EUR). When drivers notice you are a foreigner, they will ask a higher price, so you must bargain. The journey takes around 20 mins.
In brief, the first couple of minutes in Georgia were amazing. Brand new airport, friendly staff and the nice gift from passport control officers filled my heart with excitement. However, as soon as I got into the taxi, my joy was stifled a bit by the unpleasant smell of cigarettes. Indeed, Georgia is a paradise for smokers. It is allowed to smoke almost everywhere, including restaurants and public transport.
Driving through Tbilisi - contrast between new and old
After a couple of minutes, as we drove through the city center of Tbilisi, I was astounded by its beauty, especially at night. The old town is illuminated with various colors, even the TV mast on a hill nearby shines and glitters with golden light. All this gives you a very nice impression, until the taxi turns around the corner in one of the small, narrow streets. The scenery changes dramatically, everything sinks into darkness, the car can barely fit in between crumbling buildings, there's no asphalt on the road, just dirt. All of this looks very dodgy. At first I thought: 'Where are we?' This cannot be the way to our hotel. The driver got out of the taxi and disappeared in the darkness. Then, for the moment , strange thoughts came to my mind, like 'are we being kidnapped or what?' But I couldn't be more wrong. The driver got a bit lost and came out to ask for directions. It turned out that our hotel was just a couple of steps away. I thanked the driver and entered the hotel. It was much nicer and quite cozier than what it seemed from the outside.
The turbulent history explains the condition the Georgian capital is in. But there are a lot of renovation works going on and it becomes a really beautiful and charming city.
It is a bit difficult to communicate as few people in Georgia speak English, but using a kind of sign language you can manage and it's fun. I got into the room and had only 3 hours of sleep before the adventure in Georgia began the next morning.
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