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Tbilisi - Travel Tips

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Greater Caucasus

Greater Caucasus

Well then… here are some details about the arrangements for my (first) visit to Georgia.

I flew with Turkish Airlines from Edinburgh to Istanbul, and then on to Tbilisi. I chose to break the journey in Istanbul, but (from memory) that was choice rather than necessity. The EDI/IST leg cost £280 and the IST/TBS one was £290.

It adds up to a lot of cash, but I know a ticket from Edinburgh to Tbilisi via Istanbul without a stopover would have been cheaper. I chose convenient flight times for the IST/TBS leg, and I know I could have found a ticket for £100 or less by going for off peak flights.

Georgian Airways has a small route network, but with flights to/from London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris, it is a credible alternative.

If you do choose to fly via Istanbul, remember the new airport there opened in April 2019. Atatürk is no longer used. The new airport is massive, and you have to allow plenty time to move between gates if you have a connection. On the other hand, the new airport is spacious and pleasant compared to Atatürk and so a longer layover would be a more civilised experience.

Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport

The new airport is a long way (26 km) north of the city, so if you are breaking a journey there a trip into the centre is now longer and more expensive. I was told a taxi from Sultanahmet would cost 150 TRY (£19.50 or €22.20) and it is safe to assume airport taxis charge more. My guesthouse organised transfers for me at €40 (£35) per trip. Another option is HavaIst, which operates a coach service between the new airport and the city centre. The Metro is being extended to reach the new airport.

It took just 30 minute to go to the airport on a Sunday morning. It took over an hour in the other direction during Friday night rush hour - even allowing for going against the flow of traffic.

Istanbul’s other airport - Sabiha Gökçen - also has several flights between the city and Tbilisi. Some are with Pegasus, and so much cheaper. It is a long way from the city centre too - on the Asian side.

Tbilisi Airport is modern, efficient and user friendly.

Tbilisi Airport - Airside

Tbilisi Airport - Airside

You can take a city bus (number 37, or 137 at night) to/from the city centre for 0.50 GEL (£0.14 or €0.16) each way. You can buy a Metromoney card for 2 GEL and load credit onto it.

Metromoney

Metromoney

Then you just swipe it at the machine on the bus. Alternatively you can buy a single paper ticket for 0.50 GEL but you need coins and will not get any change.

Tbilisi Airport

Tbilisi Airport

The bus runs every 10-15 minutes during the day, and every 30-40 minutes after 11pm.

The Metromoney card is also used for the Metro and the cablecar to Narikala. Incidentally, locals refer to the cable car as the “ropeway” or the “aerial tramway”. It is a cablecar. Trust me.

Cablecar

Cablecar

Do not confuse it with the zipline from Narikala into the Botanic Gardens. It is a zipline.

Metered taxis wait at arrivals at the airport. I did not use them, but word is the fare will be 30-50 GEL depending on which part of the city you go to, but prices increase after 11pm. Most city taxis are not metered, so negotiation is needed before getting in. This is normal. It what locals do. The driver will expect it. If he does not like the fare you are willing to pay, try the next taxi to come along. They will try to charge a tourist “premium”.

My apartment owner arranged for her father to pick me up and drop me off for US$15 each trip. I was delighted for them to be getting the extra cash.

My apartment was arranged through Airbnb. It cost me £160 for 6 nights, including a cleaning fee and the Airbnb charge. It was excellent in all kinds of ways. It was sparkling clean, quiet and comfortable. It gave me an insight into living conditions for locals. It was central - just 400 m from Freedom Square - and with shops and restaurants all around.

Apartment Kitchen

Apartment Kitchen

As for language, Georgian is the native language for Georgians. The minorities in the country may well speak something else as well (or instead of). English seems to be understood/spoken by most in the tourism/restaurant etc business whom I came across. I guess Russian is too, although my information had been Russian as a second language is for the older generation and English is what the younger generation learns.

Georgian Alphabet

Georgian Alphabet

Service was excellent (with one minor exception) in my experience, however limited the communication was by language, and no-one need be concerned about the “Intourist School of Charm” type attitude.

I bought a couple of guidebooks for the trip. The Bradt one is more detailed obviously, as it only covers Georgia. Probably I would have left it at that but for the day out in Baku which I arranged. I bought the Lonely Planet guide mostly for the Baku visit, but it was useful for Tbilisi too.

References

References

The Bradt one is particularly good for background - such as history - for a country so little known about in the UK.

My other source was Tbilisi in Your Pocket. Being online, but printable and/or downloadable, it was a great facility.

In Your Pocket

I have not included any tips on restaurants - it is such a subjective topic. I am ready to try eating almost anything, and not everyone is so adventurous.

Posted by IainT 22:17 Archived in Georgia Tagged churches food transport georgia airlines tbilisi Comments (0)

Tbilisi

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Peace Bridge

Peace Bridge

My 6 days in Tbilisi (well, 6 nights anyway) are over.

It is a long trip from Scotland with very limited flight connections, but it was an excellent decision to make it. I will blog about the nuts and bolts of the travel and accommodation another time.

City View

City View

I reckon 80% of the other tourists around were Russian speaking, which may reflect the easy access for them (depending on where exactly they live, obviously) and more difficult travel arrangements if you live in northwest Europe.

Metekhis aghmarti (Metekhi Church)

Metekhis aghmarti (Metekhi Church)

The weather was hotter than I expected for May and I did have to adjust my ambitions in terms of activities. An excursion to another part of the country had been a possibility, but with the temperature between 25⁰ and 29⁰ for much of the day, I was not going to spend large chunks of it in a tour bus or minivan.

Not seeing anything of Georgia apart from the capital is a regret. It is also good reason to go back.

King Vakhtang Gorgasali

King Vakhtang Gorgasali

Wine is a huge part of the economy and you find wine shops around every corner. Excursions to vineyards are popular and tastings in Tbilisi are too. I tried it a couple of times and was very impressed with the Saperavi (a grape variety native to Georgia).

Great Variety

Great Variety

I enjoyed the local food too.

Acharuli Xachapuri

Acharuli Xachapuri

My apartment was a huge success. It was clean, quiet and comfortable - just as I hoped. It was very central and only 5 minutes walk to Tavisuplebis moedani (Freedom Square) - one of the city’s hubs - so ideal for taking a bus or the metro. I had shops close by, and restaurants.

My Balcony

My Balcony

Prices can be incredibly low by Western European standards, but needless to say they can be westernised upwards when it suits. The airport charges “western” prices. I also remember paying 18 lari (£4.80) for a cappuccino and cake in a hipster type place in the city.

On the other hand, the public bus and metro fare is 0.50 lari. At about £1 to 3.75 lari, that’s a real bargain. I got an excellent bottle of Saperavi from Schuchmann (one of the best known vineyards) for 12 lari (£3).

Theatre & Language

Theatre & Language

I found the people to be friendly and helpful. In some parts Tbilisi looks very dilapidated, but the renovated or redeveloped parts look fantastic.

I hope I do get the chance to go back!

Posted by IainT 03:19 Archived in Georgia Tagged food georgia tbilisi Comments (0)

Baku

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Flame Towers

Flame Towers

I had an away day yesterday (Wednesday, 15th May).

I had booked a cheap (about €70 return) flight from Tbilisi (my current location) to Baku. It is an hour each way. Out late morning. Back late at night. Buta Airways did the honours - it is the low cost brand of Azerbaijan Airlines.

Smart move. The outward flight was amazing, with the snow covered Greater Caucusas on one side, and the snow covered Lesser Caucasus on the other (small plane - you can see out of both sides). Just as I was getting bored by this, the coastline of the Caspian Sea appeared and we started to descend.

Relaxation

Relaxation

Baku is so different from Tbilisi in so many ways. It would be easier to mention how little they have in common - geographic location, and both being former Soviet republics.

I had time for an exhausting - but gentle - wander around the city centre (it was warm) and then it was back to the airport bus. One moment I will always remember is coming around a corner in the downtown area and smelling the sea. The Caspian.

Another highlight was the İçəri şəhər - Old City - which is fun just to wander through, get lost and then find your way again.

İçəri şəhər

İçəri şəhər

One thing you notice from that part of the city is the Flame Towers. 28-33 stories high, they are indicative of the city’s modern architecture. At night they are illuminated to provide a light show, alternating between flames, falling water and the colours of the national flag. It was clearly visible from my plane as it climbed away from the airport after takeoff.

The only place I paid to visit is the Şirvanşahlar saray kompleksi - Palace of the Shirvanshahs. It was 15 manat to get in (£7.50) for foreigners and 2 manat for locals. It was a lovely oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling city. It is mostly 15th century and was the seat of northern Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty at the time.

Şirvanşahlar saray kompleksi

Şirvanşahlar saray kompleksi

The “one that got away” is the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijan Literature (or Nizami Gəncəvi Adına Azərbaycan Ədəbiyyatı Muzeyi, if you are local). I wanted to go in., but it was coming up to closing time.

Nizami Gəncəvi Adına Azərbaycan Ədəbiyyatı Muzeyi

Nizami Gəncəvi Adına Azərbaycan Ədəbiyyatı Muzeyi

My impression is I could easily spend 7 to 10 days visiting the country. I saw every few tourists, but until quite recently it was like trying to get into Russia - tough going and expensive to get a visa without booking a tour. Now it can be done online, costs just US$20, and takes 3 days.

Posted by IainT 00:20 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged baku azerbaijan airlines Comments (0)

Orientation

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Rustavelis Gamziri

Rustavelis Gamziri

Well, here I am in Tbilisi. My first visit to Georgia. My first visit to the Caucusus.

I arrived in the early evening yesterday (12th May) to a thunderstorm and torrential downpour. By the time I got to my city centre apartment and found somewhere for dinner, the day was gone.

Today has been about finding my way a bit in a new place. Orientation.

Opera and Ballet Theatre

Opera and Ballet Theatre

As promised, my apartment is quiet, comfortable and well located. The plumbing and wiring are kind of “post Soviet”, but it all works. There is a noticeable slope in the bedroom floor.

Home from Home

Home from Home

Breakfast was easy - it involved 5 Lari (about £1.35) and a 100 metre walk. Ideal.

After tackling that wee challenge, I just turned right and went wherever my instinct took me. The cablecar across the Mtkvari and up to Narikala Citadel was a highlight. Good value at 2.5 Lari.

Cablecar

Cablecar

From Narikala I meandered through the Botanical Garden. It was another highlight. Georgia’s unique climates mean it has many species (380) which are found nowhere else. The garden is a wonderful place to relax.

Botanic Garden

Botanic Garden

People? Well locals are friendly, and very willing to help a visitor. The older ones speak Russian as well as Georgian. The younger ones, English. Only 84% of locals are Georgian. The Abkhaz and South Ossetians have de facto seceded now, with a bit of help from Russia. I believe you can visit Abkhazia but not South Ossetia. I am not going near either.

The weather has been better today. Sunny and up to 25⁰c, but with a breeze so that walking about was pleasant.

Panoramic

Panoramic

I keep trying to get my head around where I am. Grozny in Chechnya is 300km (185 miles) north, through the Caucusas. The Caspian Sea is 500km (310 miles) eastwards. The Black Sea is 300km west. Alaverdi in Armenia is only 120 km (75 miles) to the south.

Food? I had acharuli xachapuri for lunch, with a bean, walnut, coriander, garlic and onion (lobio) filling. I have quickly realised it is not a place to visit if you are watching your weight.

Acharuli Xachapuri

Acharuli Xachapuri

Dinner was something light.

Bridge of Peace

Bridge of Peace

It is such a photogenic city. I am excited about tomorrow already.

Posted by IainT 11:43 Archived in Georgia Tagged bridges food restaurants transport georgia tbilisi Comments (0)

Sheffield - Travel Tips

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Victoria Quays

Victoria Quays

Sheffield has been a regular destination for years - it is a centre of excellence for ice hockey. This month I have been to the city twice to support my son and his ice hockey team.

I have used a few of the city's hotels, with mixed results. The Holiday Inn a few years ago was dreadful. Last year the Novotel was a big success.

Novotel

Novotel

For this month’s first visit, I had one night in the Novotel. It was expensive. £184 including breakfast. That is almost double what I would usually be paying - anywhere, never mind a Novotel. As before, it was very good. The location suits me - a 5 minute walk to the railway station and about the same to the tram line which takes me to and from Ice Sheffield.

I had dinner at the Novotel when I arrived - it was great. £14.99 for a 3 course menu, so it was good value for money too. I blew any savings on a couple of glasses of wine.

Novotel Dessert

Novotel Dessert

I travelled there and back by train. I used Trans Pennine Express on the way south from Edinburgh, with a change of train in Manchester. Journey time was about 4.5 hours, with a 5 minute connection!

The return journey was on CrossCountry Trains via Newcastle, but I did not have to change. The journey time was just over 4 hours.

All those trains were right on time.

TPE

TPE

Prices are a bit meaningless as it all depends how far in advance you book, and whether you are flexible enough to travel when it is cheapest. I have reached the time in life where a Senior Railcard comes into play, so I get big discounts.

Winners!

Winners!

On my second trip I stayed at the same Novotel for two nights, at half the price per night.

I drove to Sheffield and back. It takes about 4.5 hours each way - in distance it is 295 miles (472 km) in each direction. I would always prefer the train (or a plane) for that distance but it was Easter weekend and the British trains are often madness at this time. The flight times just did not work out.

I only drive about 750 miles in a month, so it was a bit of an adventure for me. I reckon I spent about £60 on fuel, and my lease costs for that kind of mileage would be about £100. The train would have been cheaper. So would the plane.

Supertram

Supertram

Sheffield has two tram lines - or light rail, I think. The yellow line goes past Ice Sheffield - £2.50 each way or £4.20 for a day ticket. They have conductors on board to sell you tickets, so there is no need to worry about messing around with ticket machines.

Posted by IainT 09:52 Archived in England Tagged trains sport transport ice_hockey sheffield Comments (0)

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