Tbilisi Georgia…I know the cold season is almost here and I recall the beautiful memories I made from my first winter trip. I am a South East Asian who had never seen snow, so my trip was quite exciting for me. Let me bring you to Georgia, a beautiful country at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Tbilisi is its capital and is rather known as a neighboring country of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Georgia is a quiet beauty, unknown and maybe often unheard of, by many. Perhaps one will only recall it as a part of the USSR countries. However, recently, due to the influx of tourism, Georgia became an instant favorite among travelers who seek this country’s enigmatic charm. It is a country dominated by the Christian Orthodox religion and whose architecture was carved by its glorious past.
In the UAE alone, Georgia is a very favorite destination. Aside from the short haul flights, there are direct flights from Dubai to Tbilisi on a regular basis. And since I went in the winter and the low season, my flight was reasonably cheap.
Upon arriving in Tbilisi, I went on a free walking tour organized by local guides. Georgians love to share their beautiful country and what it can offer to visitors. Indeed, my first day was full just going around the many historical points in the old town. I briefly checked out its leaning clock tower and once I took a closer look, I realized it was an amazing work of art, odd and bizarre. What caught my sight was below the clock, there was a screen that opened and showed the circle of life: boy meets girl, then marriage, childbirth and funeral. I would highly recommend you do not miss this part of the old town when you are in Tbilisi.
The skies were clear so I thought the walking tour was really lovely. However, I could feel the sharp, cold temperature pinching though my skin, sending waves of shivers and trembling. I experienced winter for the first time. I kept my pace slow at the walking tour, religiously putting my hands in my pockets, despite wearing a pair of gloves. It was too cold I thought. And I was right, the temperature was 8C degrees. Is that really cold? Or was I over reacting?
The best area to stay in Tbilisi is in the old town, where more heritage sites and Georgian architecture can be explored. Tbilisi’s physical structure boasts of three distinct features being European, Russian (being a former member of USSR) and Georgian. These architectures are face to face, side by side, in the old town, most of which are really amazing and full of stories to tell. Along Pushkin Street, a street named after the famous Russian poet and artist Alexander Pushkin, the government had discovered a century-old wall in 2012 and turned it to a tourist attraction full of trendy bars, wine clubs, museum, art cafes and retail brands. There are still the remnants of the fortified city wall, believed to be built in the 13th century.
Coming from a tropical country, I had never seen snow in my life, until I went to Georgia. The best time to visit is from December to March, when temperature drops to as low as -10C. The snow was thick and the ski resort in Gudauri, a town in the north of Georgia, towards the Russian border, was packed full with ski goers, both young and old, beginners and experts.
But, on our way to Gudauri, we drove through a beautiful road network, passing through the dangerous but beautiful curves of the Georgian Military Highway. The Georgian Military Highway is itself a significant part of Western Europe’s history, being part of the silk road that connected trading from China, Egypt, Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and Russia. It was such a beautiful feeling for me traversing this road, looking eagerly side by side at the snow-laden mountains, trees and houses. I reckon the roads were dangerous at night, when they get drenched and slippery and the blind curves are sometimes covered in fog. I wondered what life was like at night, when winter was at its peak.
We briefly stopped at a a beautiful reservoir leading to the Aragvi River, deeply frosted and beautiful in white. On its banks is a 13th century monastery and the fortress of Ananuri, a compound that houses two churches. The House of the Virgin and the Church of the Assumption which were both built in the 17th century.
Going further, before we caught the twilight, we headed to Mtskheta, one of the oldest cities and the former capital of Georgia. Here, you can find the cobblestone streets and old houses that depict the old life in Georgia. It is a lovely community with quiet neighborhoods. One reason why people flock to this old city is to visit the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Cathedral of the Living Pillar), an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is venerated for countless miracles believed to have happened because Jesus Christ’s mantle is believed to be buried in this church.
Georgia is really amazing. One week is not enough to explore Georgia. I know for sure what I saw was only a tip of the iceberg, my initial winter trip. Georgia has more depth than just the beautiful Georgian architecture and the religious façades. There is more soul to its history, a dark past that was buried, when they got freedom from the extremes of communism. There is a story behind people’s inhibitions, there is coldness, yet there is a sense of warmth when they smile. I know I will go back to Georgia to explore it in summer time, see it when its grass is greener and the sun is shining all day. I would love to experience the vivid night life once again, a night life that is truly European in style, full of revelry and vibe. I am going back to Georgia for sure.