Time of travel: end of April, 2016.
I had been really anticipating to visit Georgia this year and secured a cheap flight ticket four months before the scheduled date. Unfortunately, due to the delay in the procedure of my new resident permit for Poland, I had to shorten the trip by two days and re-enter Poland before my old resident permit expired. Ah, the wonders of traveling on a weak passport.
I had been dreaming of Georgia’s rolling green hills, snow-capped mountains, spectacularly located old monasteries and its interesting culture ever since I booked the tickets. Before I had even booked, actually. When the time finally came, I was thrilled. It felt like flying somewhere remote, somewhere exotic. And Georgia is indeed in an interesting geographical location: in the Caucasus region that divides Europe and Asia.
It was early morning when our WizzAir flight from Warsaw landed in Kutaisi, one of the largest cities in Georgia. We had arranged a pick-up from the hotel where we were staying and the driver was waiting for us as we passed the immigration control. The trip to the hotel took about 40 minutes or so on the empty dawn traffic. I was exhausted and desperately needed a few hours of sleep before the sightseeing began. The 2 hour time difference with Poland isn’t much but the entire journey had taken all night.
Our hotel was within walking distance of the center, but in a quiet location with picturesque views from our big balcony. I do not normally like booking tours or hiring vehicles when traveling, but we had made a reservation for a jeep and a driver as our time in Georgia was too limited to explore on our own. The first day was allocated for the main sights in Kutaisi, the city we were in.
Our first destination was the famous Gelati monastery in the outskirts of the city. The uphill drive to monastery passing vast green hills reminded me of Nepal a lot. We were not so lucky on the weather side as it was quite cloudy. The monastery is a historic building from Georgia’s golden age (dating the 11th century) and a UNESCO world heritage site. The views from the monastery were beautiful; although it was slightly cloudy. Parts of building were in renovation. One local man noticed that we were talking in Polish (I in broken Polish but I guess he wouldn’t figure) and gave us a tour of the whole area. Even I could pretty much understand him although he was mixing up Russian with few Polish words that he knew. There was an event taking place inside the main church, and it was – surreal. Beautiful and surreal. There were tombs of some royals buried inside the main monastery hall. The musaic and mural inside the church were colorful and telling. Most Georgians are Orthodox Christians and this was my first time entering an Orthodox church and all ladies had to cover their hair!
Georgia is full of beautiful, old orthodox monasteries. Our next stop was at Motsameta monastery, a short drive from Gelati monastery. The monastery is situated at a cliff top offering beautiful views of the nature. It was a very serene place. We enjoyed the spectacular views of the surrounding areas, listened to the sound of fast-flowing river (named Tskhaltsitela) flowing through a gorge and took many photos. Needless to say, it was all very similar to Nepali hills minus the monastery of course. The monastery was isolated, smaller and much quieter than Gelati. I definitely recommend anyone visiting Kutaisi to visit Motsameta. I especially loved the smell of incense inside each of the monasteries and the pin-drop silence.
Our first proper Georgian meal consisted of some mouth-watering dishes. Food was one of the top reasons why I was so excited about visiting Georgia. We had warm cheese-filled Georgian bread called Khachapuri and ordered mushrooms and fried potatoes-meat as side dishes to eat with bread. Bread and mushrooms were laden with thick, fresh cheese and I loved it. The fried potatoes and meat were equally tasty with just the right amount of spices. We were in love with Georgian food. Too bad I didn’t take photos but I was too busy eating! So savory.
Besides the amazing natural scenery, unique culture and language, age-old monasteries, Georgia is famous for something else too: and that is caves, including world’s deepest cave! The small country is well-known for some of the most interesting caves in the world. Prometheus cave is the biggest in Georgia and takes over an hour just to tour the section that’s open for tourists.
I am not big on caves (not that I’ve been to that many), but once I found out from the counter that there was an underground river, I was so in. We were provided with a young tour guide who switched between Russian and English (just for the four of us non-Russian speakers.) The underground cave was magnificent! I had never been anywhere like it. The underground world was mind-blowing! Different sections were allocated as different halls (like “love hall”) complete with LED lights and sometimes even music, making the cave cooler than it already is. My favorite part was the little boat ride on the underground river. Amazing! How awe-inspiring our earth really is and how small we humans are in the presence of vast nature.
City center and Bagrati cathedral
The rest of the day and evening was spent by wandering around the city center and walking uphill to the city’s most well-known site, Bagrati cathedral. It was raining but that didn’t stop us from exploring the city. There is a beautiful fountain (especially at night) depicting some story from Bible through its statues at the very center of the city . The points of interest in the city center are Opera house, a lovely park, White Bridge, the fountain and myriads of bars and restaurants.
We walked uphill in the drizzling rain to Bagrati cathedral from the city center. The views from the cathedral of the city at night time, despite the rain, were beautiful! We spent some time inside the cathedral and spent the rest of the time gazing at the city lights. Georgia, ah so beautiful and unique. The night was spent downing tasty Georgian home-made wine and playing card games.
We had a long ride to Mestia in the Svaneti region ahead of us the next day.