Georgia was on our list for a long time, but for some reason we never ended up choosing it as our travel destination. So when it came to finding a destination for a week vacation on February we decided this was the time. We had heard a lot of opinions about Georgia. Majority of them was positive and suggested to go there in summer. I could understand. Mountain hikes, canyons, beautiful nature and of course wine was the first asociations when we heard ’Georgia’. And of course summer should be the obvious choice. But not for us, not this time.
Our trip proved that it could be a fantastic trip to Georgia even if it’s winter, even if you do not plan to go skiing in the mountains. Here are our list of 10 things (in no particular order) you can do in Kutaisi area (because that’s where our trip started).
1. City streets.
A walk through the city was the first thing we did and although it’s not that big, you can at least see what this city is all about. The central square is very nice and it is surrounded by beautiful arhitecture. There are some parks, and even street art on the walls. You can find multiple sculptures through the city.
2. White Bridge.
If you walk through the city it is very likely that you will end up here eventually. The city’s most famous bridge – White bridge link two banks of the Rioni River since the beginning of the twentieth century. It is famous because of Rezo Gabriadze, a famous Georgian writer, who wrote a script to the movie “An Unusual Exhibition”. In one of the scenes, the main character Aguli was walking with his friend across the White Bridge. He stopped by a boy who was sitting on the railing and compared him with the boys depicted in Picasso's paintings. The boy grabbed the hats of Aguli and his friend and jumped from the bridge into the Rioni River. The sculpture of so-called Picasso's boy was put on the railing of the Bridge in 2004. Also the base of the bridge is made of rusted metal plates and some parts are seethrough glass.
3. Feed some dogs.
I am a huge dog lover, so if you are not, skip this one. Kutaisi is full with stray dogs. At first I felt so sad for them, that they have to sleep on the streets, in cold, without any food. But turned out they are not that misserable. Most of them have chips in their ears that means they had their shots and they are safe and healthy. Locals tend to feed them from time to time. Unlike dogs in Bali, where you never know what they are going to do, here they are polite, happy to see you and very friendly. They know that this is the best way to get some food from people. So do not hesitate to share some snacks with a dog living on the street. It is very likely that they will follow you around the city for a while even if you do not have any food too give them. They just enjoy human company.
4. Green market.
This is the place to go for local snacks and spices. We bought a ton of local sweets churckhelas (dessert made from grape must, flour and nuts/walnuts or even dried fruit) here for 1,20 – 2 Gel per piece. In Tbilisi the cheapest you can get them is 2 Gel (mostly on the street where local ladies sell, them. In the stores they cost even more). So this is your chance to get this delicious treat for less money. You can also buy dried hurma which was very delicious. It was 15 GEL per kg, but I am pretty sure you can get them much cheaper, you just have to do a little bargaining. There are a lot of beans, spices and even teas to take back home as as souvenir.
5. Bagrati cathedral.
I would say this is a must. Not just because of the Cathedral itself, but also because of it’s location. After taking stairs up from the David and Consantine Mkheidze Street, close to The Chain Bridge, we followed some dogs and ended up seeing whole city from above. It is a very good spot to see the city’s panorama (besides Besik Gabashvili Park and panoramic wheel wich might be closed in winter). It is a good spot for photos or even a picnic if it’s warm enough. Just don’t forget your hat, because it tends to be windy up there.
Also The Bagrati Cathedral is a distinct landmark of Kutaisi. It was rebuilt officially on September 16, 2012 after heavy damage ages ago, and now serves as a masterpiece in the history of medieval Georgian architecture. You can actually see where the cathedral was damaged and replaced with new parts.
6. Eat delicios Georgian food.
Oh My God, Georgian foood is delicioooous!!! And I don't even exaggerate. They have a lot of veggie dishes (like ajapsandali, lobiou), famous flat breads with cheese or other filling called khachapuri, huge dumplings – khinkali and a lot of grilled, marinated meets mtsvadi.
Everyone can find something. Flavours are amazing - full, earthy and make my mouth watery just by thinking of that lovely food. My favorite was lobiou (been stew), ajapsandali (veggie stew or ratatouille that contains eggplant, paprika, onions, garlic and other veggies) and ojakhuri (baked meat and potatoes, but there are vegetarian version with mushrooms) and of course khinkali.
The food is very affordable so we really enjoyed restaurant El Paso, where we tried different kind of khinkali (0,50 – 0,70 Gel for a piece). We also loved and Agerari, where we even returned the next day. There Lobio costed 4,50 Gel, kebab 8,50 and ojakhuri starts at 9 Gel. It means you can have a really good meal for two people for around 10 Eur or even cheaper.
7. Take a minibus/marshrutka.
As I said before Kutaisi isn’t that big. So especially in winter when some of the activities are closed it is enough to spend there one day. So we decided to go out of the city the next day, to see something more. Public transportation is very affordable (I would say cheap) and for 1 – 2 Gel (0,32 – 0,64 Eur) you can take minibus and go a bit outside of the city to see closest towns and the real life in the countryside. It reminded me of my childhood. All the shabby houses, kids runing around, cows on the streets. There is a bit of a feeling of chaos and need for development, but it is in a way the cherry on top of Georgian cake. It is diffrent, it is simple and it has it’s charm.
8. Visit abandoned buildings in Tskaltubo.
This goes hand in hand with the point number 7. We decided to take marshutka for 1 – 1,20 Gel one way to visit Tskaltubo (you can also take a taxi 9 – 12 Gel for a drive, if they ask more they just think that tourists can pay more, but don’t give up and give them your price). It was once a city of relaxation, thermal spas and rehabilitation clinics. Now it is small town, 20 min drive outside Kutaisi with many many abandoned buildings. Actually you can easily access them and walk around. There are a lot of Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium's and clinics. Some of those buildings now are used as accomodation for Abkhazian refugees. We didn't have a lot of time, but we saw two of the abandoned buildings, although there are many more.
9. Go to a SPA.
If you decide to go to Tskaltubo this is a good thing to do in a cold winter day. There are 6 Spring Spa resort where you can try thermal pools or a massage. Full Body massage costed 50 Gel, Pools 25 Gel which is a very good price. There are thermal spas in Tbilisi but you will pay much more.
10. Visit Phrometeus and Sataplia cave and Okatse canyon if they are available.
In our case they were all closed, and we checked it the day when we wanted to go. It was too much snow that week, but there is a chance they are opened when you go. So the best way to go there is to get a private driver for a day. We found some at the Chain Bridge. He asked 150 Gel (for a car) for 3 places to visit. Also you can find options in Good Travel Agency. The third option is to look around and there might be locals that offer their service. We saw few cars with phone number in window.
Tip Nr 1
Check the prices carefully, some places they are in USD and you can get confused and spend more than you anticipated.
Tip Nr 2 clearly discuss with your driver the price you are paying for the whole trip, BOTH WAYS, for ALL PASSENGERS not just one. Sometimes they try to cheat and if you haven’t agreed at the beggining they might play it against you. Generally people are very nice here, but there have been some cases when they try to gain from tourists who haven’t been careful and done their homework.