A Glimpse of Georgia

Four days gave me a brief first impression of Georgia. Here’s how I describe it: Captivating. Modern. Historical. Unkempt. Cloudy. Come back to me.

A little-known former Soviet country, Georgia sits in the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia, and is surrounded by Russia to the north, Azerbaijan to the southeast, Armenia and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the west. Tbilisi, its capital city, is six hours away from Yerevan, Armenia. When we get guests in Armenia, we suggest they also visit Georgia because it’s Armenia’s sister country and, hey, it’s only a drive away. This time, we saw it for ourselves!

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Early in the morning of my brother’s birthday last July, we started Yerevan to Tbilisi roadtrip. Sights that greeted us outside were the lush forests of Dilijan and provincial traffic of Ijevan in Armenia.

This is a lake in Azerbaijan’s territory!

Later, we stopped at the Armenian border office, where the officer in olive green cleared us. In a few minutes, we rode away and entered the Georgian immigration desk, where a cheerful Georgian in navy blue granted us visas. Armenians trailed us as we jumped on the pavement of a new country.

We rode for two more hours before reaching Tbilisi. Until we reached that city with tall, looming buildings, I glimpsed sunflower fields and street signs in Russian and spaghetti-like Georgian.

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Seeing Tbilisi from afar struck me as a hill-encircled Manila. This reminder only went so far until I saw the Caucasian faces of people, as well as the European Union’s flag. Then, we swept into the heart of the city as diverse architecture, cracked buildings with chapped paint, graffitied walls, and tall churches with narrow, triangular roofs like Armenian churches’ filled my eyes. Modern Tbilisi was a stark contrast against our traditional-style Yerevan.

Finally, we reached our hotel, and, though I was tired, I skimmed the pages of a Georgian encyclopedia from the lounge. I learned how to distinguish the letters “a”, “b”, “d”, and “g” from their alien-looking and weirder-than-Armenian language.

The letter “A”.

Later, the tall, crisply-dressed manager knocked on our door, bringing our A/C remote, an offer of wine made by the hotel owners, and a lively conversation. He introduced himself as Archie, a Georgian-Russian with an American accent and a fondness for the Japanese language and culture. We became fast friends.

For dinner, we concluded my brother’s two-country birthday where we hadn’t eaten in for several months – McDonald’s! Though it’s more expensive than usual, we were happy kids because it reminded us of home. After, we strolled back to the hotel.

The Bridge of Peace at night. Also, spot the lady who just got a nose-flat.

A side street restaurant.

The underside of a balcony.

The closest I got to an ordinary church. (It’s actually on Wikipedia).

The former Parliament building of Georgia. Note the Georgian and EU flags.

The next day, we went to the 10th-century Jvari Monastery. It stands on the mountainside where it overlooks the city of Mtskheta and the convergence of the Kura and Aragvi rivers.

The chapel’s right side.

I think the Kura is on the left and Aragvi is on the top.

Several walls and outer buildings made of rough bricks were in ruins or held up by scaffolding. We found graffiti written by Soviet soldiers from the 1940s or even earlier.

This says “Stepanov, V.V. 1944” (I translated that on my own 😂).

Entering the monastery, I felt like an intruder because I didn’t want to disturb the prayerful.

At the centre was a cross with small panels depicting biblical scenes. Below it was the unique Georgian cross made of branches. Instead of having a straight horizontal bar, it had a curved wooden beam. Tradition says that the design came from Saint Nino, the lady missionary who brought Christianity to Georgia in the 4th century.

The middle of the chapel.

St. Nino and her cross.

After Jvari, we crossed the river towards Mtskheta, the former capital. Despite overcast skies, business was booming at the market outside the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Mom bought us some sun-dried churchkhela – candy that’s hung up on thread, made from nuts, and wrapped in hardened grape or fruit juice. It had a fascinating crunchy and rubbery texture, and tasted like chocolate-less Snickers.

She also got Georgian bread and silver earrings from a Turkish vendor, whom Archie conversed with in the same language. He also recommended that we try Georgian lemonade, which tasted like Sprite with a distinct, sweet, lemon flavor.

Talking about the orange-haired, blue- (grey-?) eyed lady who whipped up our refreshments, Archie remarked, “She’s a true Georgian.” Light eyes and light hair set apart pure Georgians from those with mixed heritage, owing to the fact that Georgia was invaded by the Persians and Ottoman Turks.

Then, we moved into the Svetitskhoveli complex. The 10th-century cathedral towered above the surrounding defensive stone and brick walls. Beggars approached us, and I watched a funny, black-robed priest spray water on the passersby. He wore a golden chain necklace, which Archie said must’ve cost more than his flat!

Svetitskhoveli viewed from Jvari.

As we approached its entrance, I saw a crumbling relief above the door and beams carved with Georgian letters and several saints. Upon entering, I looked up and was amazed with the high ceilings. Candles, chandeliers, and diffused sunlight dimly lit the interior. Religious paintings lined the walls and relics stood in the middle of the halls. There were marble tombs of Georgian kings on the floor.

Resting in peace 👌

At the far end was a fresco of Jesus Christ, and below it stood a relic that contained a saint’s bones. I watched a veiled lady walk up and kiss the glass. A family of Indians stood beside us and paused to pray.

It was drizzling when we left the cathedral, and fog rolled over the mountains surrounding us. After, the skies started to pour down and we retreated to our car. Back in Tbilisi, we stepped into the Mtatsminda Funicular. For third-world-raised Asians like me, a funicular is sort of a diagonal tram that goes up a hill. I was as frightened as my acrophobic dad on the first ride, but I did enjoy it.

At the top, we ate famous Georgian khachapuri while being served by a waiter who looked like Cole Sprouse, except with blue eyes. Everyone got the boat-shaped khachapuri acharuli with a sunny-side up egg in the middle. Archie presented to us the proper way of eating it, which is to first break off the crust, then break the yolk, and next dip the crust into the egg, and, finally, eat it.

Fresh from the oven. Gemrieli – delicious!

Back at the hotel, Archie came upstairs with some honey he’d bought from a passing salesgirl for us. He and my parents did a couple of experiments, such as setting it on fire, to prove that it was legit honey (it was)! I love how natural products – like honey, fruits, and wine – here in the Caucasus can be so cheap, accessible, and authentic.

The next afternoon, we went to Café Canape next to the sulfur baths and the mosque, and witnessed a Georgian prenup photoshoot. We followed the scene as the bride, groom, and bridesmaids emerged from a white limousine and walked towards a lovers’ bridge for some shots. I congratulated the bride as I passed them next to a loud, brown waterfall.

Beautifully blue.

A dog napping over the sulfur baths.

This is supposedly normal in Georgia!

Rusty locks on the lovers’ bridge.

After, we climbed up towards a botanical garden and rode a cable car for the first time. It took my breath away because I felt like I was flying across the city! We got off at Rike Park, which reminded me of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, and then crossed the Bridge of Peace.

The view before the ride. In the middle is the Bridge of Peace, and to the right is Rike Park.

Next, we had coffee and chikhirtma soup at KGB, a cool café decorated with Soviet memorabilia and propaganda. I took my family there because I’d read about it in a National Geographic article.

A European lady dropped by only to buy a shirt with this slogan.

Some Georgian dudes playing cards.

One of the cats that wanted my soup.

Later, we had our final dinner in Tbilisi with Archie and his Russian mom, Dzhina (who looks like Rene Russo), at Pasanauri, a Georgian restaurant. We loved the beef and herb kharcho soup, pizza-shaped khachapuri imeruli, barbeque, and khinkali – a huge dumpling reminiscent of Nepali momo and Chinese xiao long bao. It’s fun to eat, since you first have to hold its top – next make a hole in it – then suck the soup – and finally take a huge bite.

Just looking at this makes me want to go back to Georgia.

Well, I wish I had more time to explore Georgia; the art and cultural museums, roadside parks, movie theatres, cafes, and street vendors’ lanes. The quick visit was like meeting a new friend for one day and wanting to get to know her more for the rest of your life.

Georgia also helped me transition to new life in the middle of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. I feel like an outsider sometimes in Armenia because the people stare at me, but in Georgia, people seem jaded with foreigners. They just shuffle on without being amazed to see me, an Asian, so I didn’t feel as uncomfortable there.

I did miss Armenia, partly because Tbilisi lacked the random locals on the street who approach me to make friends or simply ask where I’m from (most of the time, they think I’m Chinese). But I can’t judge who’s the more hospitable population since I only met a few Georgians – although I’m biased because I stay in Armenia!

Strangers at the funicular.

There was this friendly old vendor who gave my brother some cherries.

To sum up, I’m certainly going back to visit because my curiosity about Georgia’s people and places wasn’t satisfied in only four days. It’s a compelling country at the cusp of two continents, and I hear it calling for me to come back.

Did this post make you curious about Georgia? Comment your thoughts below!

Posted by Issa Adalia

Teen blogger since 2012. Homeschooled rockstar. Filipina globetrotter. Rookie artist. Asian in Armenia. Rescued by Jesus.

2 comments

Naaliw at nabilib ako sa photos and the article itself! Kudos!

Maria Helvetia Chan

Bravo Issa! I love your blog. ❤️ The detailed description of your 4-day stay offers good tips for travelers. We were also there four days but it seemed like we didn’t get to see much. I certainly want to go back to Georgia!

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