Udabno Photos: Georgia's Semi-Desert

A few weeks ago (as of this posting) I visited the small Georgian town of Udabno, located in the arid southeast of the country, near the Azeri border. The town is on the way to the better known cave-monastery historic site David Gareji, and is frequently used as a stopping point for travelers en route. As a result, there are several cafes, guest houses, and most prominently, a Polish hostel, Oasis Club. The town itself is very small, probably just a few hundred inhabitants, and looks like a mini oasis surrounded by barren land. Most of the locals there are farmers, and animals like cows, pigs, goats, chickens, and horses can be seen roaming around day and night. For me, I stayed at a guest house called Naili, run by a really nice local woman who treated me to the biggest breakfast I’ve ever received. Here are some of the pictures.

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Animal Pictures

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Georgia ( საქართველო)

  • Capital: Tbilisi

  • Population: 5 million

  • Currency: Lari

  • Location: borders Armenia, Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, and the Black Sea

  • Language: Georgian (official), Megrelian, Russian, Svan

 

(click pictures to navigate)

MY TRIP & PLACES in GEORGIA

HOBO ADVICE

HOBO ADVICE

MY TRIP

MY TRIP

TUSHETI: OUTSIDE OF TIME

TUSHETI: OUTSIDE OF TIME

BATUMI

BATUMI

LAGODEKHI

LAGODEKHI

BORJOMI

BORJOMI

DRIVING IN GEORGIA

DRIVING IN GEORGIA

SIGNAGI

SIGNAGI

TBILISI

TBILISI

NIGHT LIFE

NIGHT LIFE

WHY NOT? HOSTEL (IN MEMORIUM)

WHY NOT? HOSTEL (IN MEMORIUM)

WINE GALLERY (TBILISI)

WINE GALLERY (TBILISI)

MOUNTAINS

MOUNTAINS

FREEDOM HOSTEL BATUMI

FREEDOM HOSTEL BATUMI

HOBO ON TV

HOBO ON TV

WORKING AT WHY NOT HOSTEL

WORKING AT WHY NOT HOSTEL

FOOD

FOOD

UNIVERSITY PING-PONG

UNIVERSITY PING-PONG

PEOPLE

PEOPLE

SUNRISE OVER TBILISI

SUNRISE OVER TBILISI

STORIES

MAN ON A MOUNTAIN

MAN ON A MOUNTAIN

TAXI OF TERROR

TAXI OF TERROR

CHEATING DEATH ON THE ROAD TO TUSHETI

CHEATING DEATH ON THE ROAD TO TUSHETI

PENUTS AND BEER: THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

PENUTS AND BEER: THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

Mt. KAZBEK REDEMPTION

Mt. KAZBEK REDEMPTION

TBILISI NIGHTLIFE: THINGS HAPPEN

TBILISI NIGHTLIFE: THINGS HAPPEN

PHOTO ALBUMS

SVANETI: NATURE

SVANETI: NATURE

STREET ART IN TBILISI

STREET ART IN TBILISI

MT. KAZBEK

MT. KAZBEK

SVANETI: TOWNS AND VILLAGES

SVANETI: TOWNS AND VILLAGES

TUSHETI

TUSHETI

TRUSO VALLEY & KAZBEGI 2018

TRUSO VALLEY & KAZBEGI 2018

MTSKHETA PHOTOS

MTSKHETA PHOTOS

BORJOMI PHOTOS

BORJOMI PHOTOS

Hobo Advice

I'll get straight to the point. Go here and do everything you can. Explore every corner of Tbilisi and hike (or take a cable car) up to the Mother Georgia statue and ancient fortress and look out over the whole city. Then make sure to go out at night and take part of the vibrant energy. Eat the food, try the wine (and the cha-cha if you feel adventurous) and dance at any local place. But while Tbilisi is a great city, make sure to go to the countryside too. Don't just see the mountains, hike them, cycle through the valleys and maybe even try to summit one. Be part of the wild nature that has still somehow managed to mostly avoid the tourist industry. And lastly, get to know someone or some family there. The people are among the warmest and friendliest I have ever met and will be glad to share their culture with you. But if I could give one word of caution, just avoid the taxis. Georgian drivers make Russian motorists look tame and timid.

Overall Impressions

  • The mountains are incredible! (like the Alps, but bigger and without tourists)

  • The food and wine even put Italy to shame

  • People are very welcoming

  • You can get nearly everywhere by a Marshrutka

  • Every section of Tbilisi seems like it was built in a different century

  • Cats are everywhere and in nearly every restaurant and cafe

  • The nights are lively

  • For a country that is so small, there is so much to do

  • The society is very open

  • Alcohol and cigarettes are abundant and there is no taboo

  • Older people are more likely to know Russian and younger people are more likely to know English

  • The drivers are insane/reckless

  • Many roads outside the cities are unpaved or semi-paved

  • Stoplights are virtually non-existent

My Trips

2015, 2016, and 2017

I first came to the Republic of Georgia in June of 2015 to begin my backpacking trip through Eastern Europe. I didn't know that much before going, other than that it was part of the former Soviet Union, in the Caucasus mountains, and was raved about every backpacking blog I had read. Turns out, all the stellar reviews I read were an understatement. In my opinion, there is literally no place like it, and I never had so many exciting moments compact into such a small period of time. It didn't matter if I was in Tbilisi, another town like Signagi, or up in the mountains. Georgia was incredible and the nature, food and wine were out of this world. I enjoyed it so much that I returned again a second time the following year, and even came back for a third trip in to work at Why Not hostel in Tbilisi.

Lagodekhi

In terms of nature, Georgia is known primarily for its giant mountains and semi-tropical Black Sea coast. However, there is a little hidden gem in the eastern corner of the country that has rivers, waterfalls, lush green valleys, and wild forests. I came to Lagodeki without knowing much of the region and upon leaving immediately wanted to return. Although I only stayed for two nights, the town and surrounding nature left an impression on me, and in this post, I will try to explain why as I combine story with a semi photo album.

Putting it into perspective. Remi standing next to it.

Putting it into perspective. Remi standing next to it.

First, I must begin with the hikes and treks. I put them in bold to catch your attention. During my stay, I did two of these leg travel activities. The first of which turned out to be more memorable experience than the scenery (although the scenery was still pretty nice). It was a walk with my friends Teresa and Remi (see Awesome People) to an ancient ruined fortress right on the border of Azerbaijan. And by this, I’m not joking about right on the border. In order to get there, we actually had to pass through a Georgian military checkpoint, roughly one kilometer before the fortress/border. Atop a hill, they had a tent set up with a couple armed guards who checked our passports and recorded our names and the time we passed through. Teresa and Remi made it through in seconds, being EU citizens, but mine… took a bit longer. Being American, I got pulled aside for some questioning and had to sign about 5 legal papers. I’m not quite sure what I was agreeing to since the papers were all in Georgian, but I figured it couldn’t be any worse than Apple’s or Facebook’s terms and conditions. Eventually though, they let me through and we made our way to the fortress. The fortress itself wasn’t much, as it was mostly in ruin, but the views of the surrounding nature were really nice, and we were so close to the border, we could actually see into Azerbaijan (see photo below). There was also a small church on site that was in much better condition than the fortress, so we decided to walk in there and were greeted by a friendly live bat. Overall, it was a good adventure.

Border between Georgia and Azerbaijan

Border between Georgia and Azerbaijan

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The second one was for the scenery. Again with Teresa and Remi, we decided to hike to a nearby waterfall. As several guidebooks to the region will tell, there are actually two main waterfalls in Lagodekhi, a bigger one and a smaller one. Naturally, we went for the bigger one. We were told the trail would be difficult, but at first, it was just a simple dirt trail through a forest. However, the nice trail did not last long. After about 20 minutes, we came to a excessively rocky stream. Most of it was dried up, therefore leaving a lot of large rocks exposed, but there was still one section of raging water that went up to our knees. Looking around, we saw no other way to cross but to take off our shoes and trudge through. The water was cold and the rocks were slippery, but we made it eventually and breathed collective sighs of relief.

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Unfortunately though, this was just the beginning. Over the next two hours, we had to cross the stream back and forth at least another 7-8 times. Occasionally it was possible to hop across on large rocks, but sometimes it was not. Two times, the water was too high and rough to walk across so we had to jump from rock platform to rock platform as if we were paying homage to the old Super Mario games. Ankles were damaged, shoes became soaked, and a few waves of terror gripped each one of us, but before we fell into despair, we heard a noise of powerful rushing water. We had made it. The mighty waterfall, 40 meters (130ft) high stood right before us, crashing down upon the rocks. All the bruises, wet socks, cuts and scratches were worth it. Just see for your self.

Guesthouse Lago & Wine Cellar

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Finally, there’s the question of where to stay. And for that, I highly recommend a place named Lago & Wine Cellar. Granted, this was the only place I stayed at while in Lagodekhi, but still, it was so nice that I am perfectly fine with disregarding all the other places. It’s family run, with two women (who I think were mother and daughter) pretty much overseeing everything. They were incredibly nice and funny, sharing homemade wine with us, sitting out at night and telling jokes, and always making sure we got to our destination safely.

The place itself was really nice too.. The house was large and wooden with rooms that were cozy and very well maintained, and the outdoor terrace was as welcoming as anyone could hope for. Best of all though, the place was not at all expensive. I stayed in a 3-person room with my friends Remi and Teresa that had it’s own bathroom and shower for just 70 lari total (23 euro, $27). There was a breakfast option for 10 lari too, which was 100 worth it. Anyway, I’m done rambling for now. Just do yourself a favor and go here.

Border crossing cows

Border crossing cows

Tbilisi

My visits: Summer 2015, 2016, Fall 2017, Now 2018

Long story short, Tbilisi is an awesome city. Tbilisi is alive. There is always something happening and you can feel the energy of the city resonate everywhere you go. And when I say this, I am not talking about the hustle and bustle of a busy city like New York. Tbilisi is different. It has more of a fun and welcoming kind of energy. Day and night, people are out and about enjoying themselves and what the city has to offer.

The layout of the city, too, is among the most interesting I've seen. Being nearly two thousand years old, it clearly was not designed for cars and the 21st century, which becomes apparent when you walk a block or two away from the main street. But somehow, Tbilisi has made it all work. Roads wind up, down and around, switching from pavement to cobblestone to a mix of the two while every part of the city feels like its own independent pocket. If you're on Rustaveli Avenue (the main street) or along the river, it all seems very modern, but move a couple blocks away and you're back in 1950, and then 1800. And I do not mean that things are dilapidated or impoverished. The older sections are still maintained and well lived in. They just weren't torn down to make room for the new.

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Tbilisi's Old Town is pretty unique compared to that of most other large European cities. The buildings and architecture are significantly different than any place I've ever seen before as you can see influences from East, West, South, and others that are specific just to Georgia. Interspersed throughout the renovated buildings, you can often see segments of ancient city walls and old churches carved out of light brown stone (I know very little about geology so this is the best description you'll get on this site). There's always some sort of commotion from shops that never close, nightlife that doesn't end, and street vendors that never relent. There also happens to be an abundance of awesome statues in this area (see picture below) which particularly caught my interest, and connecting this all together are many narrow, windy cobblestone streets that weave through like a spider web. The only downside here is that is can be fairly touristy and pricey (compared to the rest of the city), but if you're able to look past the occasional people waving those abominations known as selfie sticks, you'll see how it is a really fascinating place.

Georgian-Armenian film director Sergey Parajanov

Georgian-Armenian film director Sergey Parajanov

The best way to see all of this is to take a cable car or to hike up to the ancient fortress or Mother Georgia statue overlooking the city. From here you can see everything. You can see the different ages of each area and see how the city was built up over centuries. You can see all the twists, turns, hills and valleys. But most of all, you can see exactly where the city stops and nature begins. Having grown up in the US, I was used to the unending suburban sprawl surrounding cities like Boston and New York, but around Tbilisi no such thing exists. When the city stops, trees, grass, hills and wild nature begin.

Mother Georgia statue overlooking the city

Mother Georgia statue overlooking the city

Helpful Tips

  • September is probably the best time to visit
  • On the weekends, bars don't close until the last person leaves. This can be 9 or 10 in the morning.
  • Street cats and dogs are friendly and have often been given all their shots/vaccinations by the city.
  • 3 lari for a beer or glass of wine is a fair price. If it's much more, you're getting ripped off.
  • From the bus station Didube (same metro stop), you can go just about anywhere in the country.
  • Hostels should cost around 15-20 lari per night.
  • Everything is about twice as expensive in the Old Town.
  • Don't drive in Tbilisi. Just trust me on this one.
  • Based on my experiences, it is a safe city.
  • If a storefront is in English, it will almost certainly be overpriced.
  • Local places are so much better and more exciting than those geared towards ex-pats.
  • Tbilisi has awesome statues.

Batumi

While Georgia is more known for mountains and wine, there is also a a semi-tropical coast with beaches and palm trees. The largest and most well known of city in the area is Batumi, where I ended up spending three days during my 2017 trip in September. It was odd, interesting, and pretty unlike anything else I'd come across so far in the country. And while most of the tourists go there for casinos and night clubs, I (being financially broke) had an entirely different experience. Here is how that went.

FREEDOM HOSTEL

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Unbeknownst to me prior to arrival, there happens to be a network of Polish-run hostels throughout Georgia. One of these was my hostel in Tbilisi (Why Not) and another is in Batumi, called Freedom hostel. Naturally, that is where I stayed during my visit. It was a comfortable spot with a relaxed atmosphere and a nice balcony outside the main room, but that aside, the staff (just like Why Not) was awesome! Tomik, the guy who runs the place, couldn't have been more welcoming, and he even invited me and the other guests to a nearby pub in the evening of my first day.

It turned out to be a small, cozy local spot, just a couple minutes walk from the hostel. The people there recognized Tomik the second we arrived. He went over to talk to the people working, and within minutes, we were served drinks and treated like we were family for the rest of the night. It was a great feeling that continued well into the next day. This time, Tomik and the staff bought large jugs of beer for everyone and we all hung out outside the hostel and told travel stories together until the early hours of the morning.

From the second I arrived until the moment I left, I felt right at home and I couldn't recommend it enough. Fair warning on two things though. It is a difficult place for taxi drivers to find so make sure you negotiate a price before you go there or else they may just keep running the meter up on you. Also, these guys party hard. Not like the yelling and in-you-face hard, but the breakfast beer type of hard. It's all great fun, but if you're not prepared, your body is gonna really feel it after a few days. That said, the hostel is still amazing!

BLACK SEA

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Prior to coming to Batumi, I hadn't gone swimming at the beach in over a year, so naturally I made sure to do so every day I was here. Being late September, it wasn't too crowded any more, but still I went only in the morning and at dusk in order to have some peace and quiet (since screaming beach families aren't particularly my favorite thing). The shore was comprised of smooth rocks instead of sand and lifeguards were completely non existent. The water stayed calm, without any large waves and was actually quite warm despite being rather late in the year.

If you go there (and you should), I highly recommend swimming at sunset. You'll get to see the orange glow over the waters as the fading light shines on the not so distant buildings of the city. It's an incredibly beautiful and peaceful setting of which my picture above by no means does justice to. It is an experience in and of itself.

PROMENADE

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Do you like riding a bicycle through urban and natural settings? Do you like being refreshed by the sea breeze? If so, you'll be overjoyed upon encountering Batumi's promenade. The whole thing is closed off to vehicles, extends along the whole coastline of the city and has a specific lane painted for cyclists. Nearly the whole path is lined while on one side stands the city and on the other rests the sea. As you go along the areas shift from calm secluded beach front, to bars, to parks, to built up sections designed for families. It's an odd collection of differences, but somehow it all flows together. Plus the variety makes it interesting. It can be kind of crowded during the middle of the day, but if you go during the morning or evening, it can feel as if you have it all to yourself.

HOW TO GET THERE

There is actually the potential of flying there from a few nearby countries, as Batumi has one of Georgia's three international airports (the other two being Tbilisi and Kutaisi). However, the most common way people arrive is through ground transport, either by train, bus, or marshrutka.

From Tbilisi

  • Marshrutka from Didube station every hour (20 lari)
  • Train from Tbilisi Central Station at 8:00am (14 lari) or 5:35pm (20 lari)
  • ABSOLUTELY take the train over the marshrutka. They take roughly the same time (5-6 hours) and the train is infinitely more comfortable and cheaper.
  • If you're adventurous, you can also try hitchhiking for free.

From Kutaisi

  • Marshrutka (2.5 hours) several times per day (15 lari)

From Turkey

  • Bus from Trabzon (2 hours) traveling 4-5 times per day (25 lari)

Photos of Batumi

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Mountains

July 2015 and June 2016

If you happen to find yourself in the Republic of Georgia (you absolutely should!), make sure to see the mountains. I've seen mountains in North America as well as in the Europe so far, but nothing has compared to the Caucasus, particularly the section in Georgia. The way I can describe it is like this: image the Alps but bigger and without tourists, just locals and a few backpackers. They still feel wild and untamed, and are surrounded only by small Georgian farms and villages, not hotels, shopping centers, or other 'wonders' of the modern world.

Two of the most popular mountain destinations in the country are Mt. Kazbek (the one I unsuccessfully attempted to climb)* and a three-to-four day trek from the towns Mestia to Ushguli in the Svaneti region. Of the two, Kazbek is the easier one to get to, being just about three hours north of Tbilisi and with Marshrutkas going nearly every hour for 10 Lari ($4). If you do go here, most people just climb or take a car up to an old church overlooking the small town below, but I recommend definitely going further. If you climb, the church will take about an hour (maybe a little more depending on the weather) to get to, and for most people (lazy fools) that is enough, but if you have the adventure spirit, go higher! The tree line stops shortly after and there you can get incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. Plus, the crowd of people becomes exponentially smaller after the church, giving the romantic feel that you have the mountain all to yourself. That said, MAKE SURE TO CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE YOU CLIMB! I was an idiot who didn't and got stuck in the cold rain for hours and was nearly struck by lighting on several occasions.

I recently made it up to Svaneti in the end of September/beginning of October, with the initial intention of doing the 3-4 day trek, but since everyone there seemed to be doing it, I decided to make something a bit different (climbing up a random mountain and hiking to different, lesser known villages in the area) which was awesome and entirely deserted. But if you're not as weird as me, the main trek is supposed to be really nice too. If you spread it out over the full four days, it is set up so you can stop in a different village each night, all the while being surrounded by 4000-5000 meter peaks. Some people prefer to camp, but I recommend staying with a family or at a guesthouse if you can. Sure it will cost a little more, but it is still cheap, and you just might be treated to one of the best dinners and breakfasts you've ever had. Georgians have a well deserved reputation for being incredibly hospitable, and I have never once been disappointed. That said, if you're an experienced trekker or in pretty good shape, you can complete the whole thing in three days, and I even met two guys who did it in two 10-hour days. Challenge perhaps?

There are a few other regions that are supposed to be pretty gorgeous and mountainous like Shatili and Tusheti, but I have not yet gotten to visit yet. They're much more rural and harder to get to, usually requiring a hired car. But if you can, you'll get a much more realistic picture of Georgia country mountain life without the distraction of tourism. Once I do go there, I'll update this page to include it.

Why Not? Hostel

June-July 2015, June 2016, August-October 2017

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There are certain decisions we all make that change the trajectory of our lives. Ideally, they are well thought out and pertain to a major event such as choosing a university or starting a new job. They don’t usually come about at 4:00 in the morning as you deliriously stumble your way through airport customs, but as you can probably guess by my specific, bizarre reference, this was the case for me. It was a night in June of 2015 at the very start of my first trip to Georgia when I realized I had not yet booked a place to stay. Panicked, I turned on my phone and quickly checked through the internet and booked the first place I found: Why Not Hostel. The name felt fitting for my current situation, so I decided to go for it.

Upon arrival, (after an incredibly fast taxi ride) I had no idea if I was at the right place. Wandering through a quiet alleyway, I finally saw a sign for the hostel pointing towards a residential alcove. Could this be it? I thought. I decided to check anyway and walked into what looked like a housing complex and was immediately greeted by a family of cats at the foot of the outdoor steps leading to the building. It looked more like some family's place instead of a hostel, but none the less, I bent down to pet the cats. They just seemed so friendly. As I did though, I noticed another sign, pointing up the stairway for the hostel. I guess this had to be it. I ascended the stairs and entered.

Entrance. Picture taken in day time, looks different at night.

Entrance. Picture taken in day time, looks different at night.

I had no idea what to expect, but the second I caught a glimpse of what was inside, I felt right at home. The whole place was decorated in a warm, welcoming way, and another cat, bigger and more orange than the ones outside, walked by and rubbed up against my leg. The girl at the front desk, having just woke up, introduced herself and took me around to see the rest of the hostel, which included a balcony, nice lounge area, and 30 (later reduced to 18) person bedroom. Despite my deliriousness from jetlag, I was instantly mesmerized. However, this was just the start.

Two of the neighbor cats.

Two of the neighbor cats.

I was told there was a free breakfast, so, always looking to save money, I made sure to be present at the table the next morning. I was expecting the standard toast, jam, milk and cereal that are common for most hostel breakfasts, so when these items came out, it was little surprise to me... but then there was more (a lot more). Next came a tray of freshly sliced red and gold apples, then hard boiled eggs sliced in half, and granola with yogurt! To drink, not only was there water, but coffee, milk, and multiple pitchers of tea. It was all included, and it was magical.

I didn’t quite realize it yet, but things were now in motion that would affect my future and gravitate me back towards Georgia. Since I enjoyed the place so much, I remained in contact with several of the staff, and after quitting my job in the summer of 2017, I messaged the manager, Krzysztof and asked if I could work there. He quickly agreed, and I soon found myself back in Georgia, only now for a much longer stay than before. But then October came and things changed.

After seven years as one of Tbilisi’s most vibrant and welcoming hostels, Why Not Hostel unfortunately closed its doors in the location where it had been since the beginning. Even though it had only been part of my life for a few months, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy as I helped break down the furniture and bed frames and load them onto a moving truck. My first home in the country was no more. But this was not the end. The old spot on Tabukashvili St (my first home in the country) was no more, but a reopening in a new location for 2018 is already well into the works. Where it will be and what it will look like is still uncertain, but what I can tell you for sure is that I’ll be working there and I’m certain the staff will create a new, welcoming house for visitors just as they did before.

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Signagi

June 2015

Another place definitely worth a visit is an ancient town about an hour and a half east of the capital Tbilisi, called SIgnagi. This was the first trip I did outside Tbilisi, and was suggested by a group of people from Finland staying at the hostel who I befriended, so I thought why not? The town was fairly close, just about an hour and a half southeast of Tbilisi in Georgia's wine country area. Unlike the mountains to the north and sea to the west, this area was much more dry and arid, but still picturesque green fields and valleys as far as he eye can see.

The town itself was, as expected, was a quaint little spot, almost resembling an 'old town' section of a European city' on a hill overlooking the vast open countryside. It was  significantly smaller than Tbilisi and a bit touristy, but still was something definitely worth seeing. The main draws here are an old church and monastery dating back to the third century, thus predating Georgia's official conversion to Christianity, which of course we checked out. But the biggest highlight of the town, to me at least, turned out to be something completely unexpected that we came across by accident.

After going all over the city center, we decided to venture to the outskirts of the town to get away from the tourists and street vendors, when something caught my eye. Tucked away on the left hand side of the road was a small property behind an open gate. There was a sign in front that read 'Wino i Chleb' (Wine and bread), embroidered with the Georgian and Polish flags. As I an often intrigued by signs, I entered and beckoned my Finnish friends to follow. We walked up the stone path, when the front door opened.

There, in the entrance way, stood a tall shirtless Polish man with short brown hair, looking a little groggy as if he'd just woken up from a nap. He quickly apologised for being in his underwear, but we said no worries and began introducing ourselves. As it turned out, this guy hitchhiked there from Poland a few years back and enjoyed the food, wine and lifestyle so much, he decided to stay and start his own mini business (Wino i Chleb). Naturally, we asked if he had any wine for sale, to which he replied, "Of course."

Happily I indulged and bought the two oddest kinds he had, a black wine and a grapeskin one. The black one was such a dark red that it seemed quite literally black, and the grapeskin, as the name suggests, was made exclusively out of the sink of the grapes. As expected, they were both delicious (and did not last long). We soon said our goodbyes and departed, but made sure to get the business info for Wino i Chleb in the almost definite chance we return, which as of this year will be easier because, according to his website, his house is now a guesthouse. So yes, it has gotten even more awesome.

Food

YES

While my Sicilian grandfather may disown me for saying this, I must be honest and admit that Georgian food is the most delicious thing currently on planet Earth. Imagine a culinary adventure into a magical realm with every bite, where every single mouthful gives an experience unparalleled to anything in the known world. This is what you can expect to happen at any place in Georgia no matter what you happen to order.

I do not know how it is actually done, and maybe no one knows, but somehow the introduction of flavors and mix of ingredients (turns out walnuts, pomegranates, various cheeses, and eggplant, among a variety of spices I previously didn't know existed are frequently used) makes these wonders happen. Personally, I can recommend something called pkhali (a spinach, walnut, and spices puree with pomegranate seeds on top), the massive Georgian dumplings called Khinkali, or anything with eggplant. Even their most famous item khachapuri (a cheese bread which occasionally has an egg on top) puts our western cheese bread (aka pizza) to shame.

And once you finish whatever wonderful food you happen to choose, I absolutely encourage you to wash it down with Georgian wine. It tends to be on the sweeter side and people and restaurants make their own, so whichever one you buy will most likely be as local as you'd find anywhere. It is all unlike anything I have ever tried before, leaving it nearly impossible to describe through comparison, but the best I can do would be this. Imagine All the richness and flavor of Indian food but replace the curry and heat and add a whole new set of savory spices. I can go on and on, but my descriptions will not do it justice. Just go there and try some for yourself!

People

June-July 2015 and June 2016

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One of the points I try to restate on this website as much as possible is that traveling allows you to meet amazing people, and 99% of the time, someone isn't out to get you. I've generally felt a connection everywhere I've been (excluding Manhattan's financial district), but no place have I felt such a warm welcome as the Republic of Georgia... well, maybe Ireland.

This became apparent right away from my initial arrival at the Tbilisi airport. As I walked through customs, I was expecting to be faced with a stone-faced guard, bored with their job and sick of dealing with people. But instead, I was greeted by a smiling, pleasant middle-aged with dark hair. She took my passport and then looked up with a grin. "Welcome to Georgia!" she exclaimed, and then began to give me a series of recommendations of things to do in Tbilisi and places to go in the country.

And this welcoming was by no means a lucky fluke. The Georgians I encountered were eager to share things about their country and get to know who I was. It seemed really genuine and I felt as if I was a celebrity. Everyone I talked to wanted to show me their own personal favorite place, which even once lead me to a wild, underground karaoke dance-bar (it was both absurd and awesome). But above all, there was one interaction with an elderly woman at a fruit and vegetable stand that stood out.

As I was casually buying some apples and a container of spices from the above mentioned woman, she leaned in and pulled me closer. "Хотете чача?" (Do you want chacha) she asked. For those of you unfamiliar, chacha is an incredibly strong form of hard liquor that many people in Georgia make on their own. It's similar to moonshine, but made from grapes instead of corn. I thought for a second and asked to see it. She pulled me around the corner to show the hidden stash, which she had conveniently stored in old Pepsi bottles. I opened the bottle and smelled. Yup, no doubt about it. Liquor. Strong, hard chacha. She smiled and asked for five Lari ($2), and I happily paid.

I conclude by saying, yeah, I've met friendly people everywhere, but here I just bought bootlegged liquor from an elderly woman at a vegetable stand. And not just any liquor, but one exclusive to Georgia and Georgian culture. Maybe she was just trying to make a profit from someone who was clearly a foreigner, but nonetheless, she shared something local with me and helped enhance my time in the country as a whole

Nightlife

June-July 2015, June 2016

I have been to Amsterdam, Budapest, Dublin, and lived for over a year in New York, and I can confidently say that the nightlife in Tbilisi easily puts them all to shame. Because unlike those other places, when you go out at night in Tbilisi, and it can be any night of the week, you enter into an entirely new world of amazement, where your wildest dreams are possible. In this world, there are no obnoxious groups of tourists. There are no British bachelor parties destroying everything is site or Americans staring stupefied at how not everyone is speaking English. Nor are there overpriced drinks or tacky attractions.

The Tbilisi nightlife is alive seven days a week and exists in a way that cannot be fully described in words. It is a world where punk rock bands go crazy near giant out-of-place bicycle statues, where liters of wine pour out of bar taps, and where friendly underground karaoke raves manifest in smokey, windowless basement. Here, cats will kindly rub up against your bar stool while you take a $1/0.97 euro shot of liquor served from a plastic water bottle. And best of all, it is entirely welcoming.

Unlike the other countries in the region like Armenia and Azerbaijan, nightlife is much more heavily entrenched in the Georgian culture, and they always seem to be excited to share it with foreigners. Overall, it just seems like people are out to enjoy themselves. The nights are lively and energetic, but more fun than intense. No matter what, if you happen to be going out, you've got a good night ahead of you.

Freedom Hostel Batumi

Unbeknownst to me prior to arrival, there happens to be a network of Polish-run hostels throughout the country Georgia. One of these was my hostel in Tbilisi (Why Not) and another is in the city Batumi, called Freedom hostel. Naturally, that is where I stayed during my visit. There was only one problem. I foolishly took a taxi from the bus station to the hostel, and as it turned out, the driver had absolutely no idea how to get to the place. We drove in circles for nearly an hour, narrowly avoiding several head-on collisions, before ultimately getting to our desired destination on a small, secluded dirt road. Thankfully, the driver and I already agreed on a price before I got in the cab so I didn't get over-charged.

A royal welcome

A royal welcome

After that ordeal, things got exponentially better. The hostel was a comfortable place with a relaxed atmosphere and a nice balcony outside the main room, but that aside, the staff (just like Why Not) was awesome! Shortly after arriving, I was greeted by a very tall, bearded man who introduced himself as Tomek. He said he was the guy who runs the place and offered me an invitation to join him and some other guests who were all going to a nearby pub that evening. Naturally, I complied without hesitation.

It turned out to be a small, cozy local spot, just a couple minutes walk from the hostel. As we entered and Tomek walked through the door, the bartender's face lit up with joy. Tomek then went over to talk to the people working, and within minutes, we were served drinks and treated like we were family. Before we could even finish a round, they would have another at the ready (no swill for us!) It was a great feeling that continued on to the stony beach ad lasted well into the next day. This time, though, Tomek and the staff bought large jugs of beer for everyone and we all hung out outside the hostel and told travel stories together until the early hours of the morning.

From the second I arrived until the moment I left, I felt right at home and I couldn't recommend it enough. Fair warning on two things though. It is a difficult place for taxi drivers to find so make sure you negotiate a price before you go there or else they may just keep running the meter up on you. Also, these guys party hard. Not like the yelling and in-you-face hard, but the breakfast beer type of hard. It's all great fun, but if you're not prepared, your body is gonna really feel it after a few days. That said, the hostel is still amazing!

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