Tbilisi, Georgia: The City that Loves Wine

There are certain general knowledge facts that everyone is proud to know. Tbilisi being the capital of Georgia was always one of mine. It had never dawned on me that I might actually visit the city.

In order to get there I had to forsake the health of my back, my sleep, and my personal space. We had booked an overnight coach towards Tbilisi from Batumi. This meant I was no longer in control of my own fate on the crazy Georgian roads, and instead I placed it in the hands of a strange driver whom developed an unhealthy obsession with my feet.

We squeezed tightly into a mini bus, like James Bate on a Vietnamese coach. In an attempt to get myself comfortable I placed my head in my lap. The man in front then, very inconsiderately, decided to recline his seat, leaving my head trapped in my groin. This was not a comfortable way to travel.

Following an hour of claustrophobic travel I decided to take action (I am not myself when I’m tired) and climbed over the seats to position myself in the gangway of the minibus. People were confused but I was a little more comfortable….until a woman scrapped the dirt from her sole onto my face.

Thankfully some people moved during the night and we were able to obtain some more space. But our 7am arrival was proceeded by minimal sleep.

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When we did arrive in Tbilisi we were quickly able to buy our onwards travel, get a public bus to the centre, and eventually find our hostel before 9am. We decided it was best to have a nap until lunch time. We are starting to see beds as a novelty since we have had 2 nights in one over 2 weeks. We greatly enjoyed our nap.

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Following this we were able to explore the city. We had been warned that people in Tbilisi love their drink. This became evident as we passed the Liberty Square. We were offered several glasses of red wine as we passed the street. We took advantage of the fabulous Georgian red as we walked. In one particular cellar I was given 2 shots of cha cha (50% Georgian vodka) just for checking in on the iPhone app of FourSquare.

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This made for a giddy feel to the rest of the afternoon, as well as a craving for more red wine. In fact, Georgia claims that it is the birthplace of wine. Everywhere is evidence of its love of grapes and it is very proud of its wine making traditions.

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We managed to tour the Old Tbilisi area by getting a cable car to the fortress and walking our own way down via the hamam baths and old buildings. These made for an impressive part of the city.

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Maybe it was the wine, but I was quickly falling in love with Tbilisi.

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At 6pm we met for a free tour around the city. The lady giving the tour was on her first day in the job, and it showed. The group on the tour consisted of a range of nationalities and it resulted in us being more interested in each other than what the girl was saying. This was not really her fault.

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Within the group was an Italian living in Scotland, an Argentinian man, a Hungarian woman, an Armenian man, an Iraqi man, and a Spurs fan from England. He had travelled to Georgia to watch Spurs play in the Europa League. 2 of the tour soon realised that they both lived in Dubai and worked for Fly Emirates as cabin crew, but had never met before. The Iraqi man was quite the showman.

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Following the tour we decided to continue together for a drink and some traditional Georgian food. One Georgian man, strangely named George (who just happened to be a Georgian arm wrestling champion) offered to take us somewhere. We initially ended up drinking Georgian beer at a bar before heading for some food. We walked as a group for quite a while until George instructed us to go into what looked like a very dingy room. However, as we walked in and went down some stairs it soon opened up to be a secret underground Georgian restaurant selling traditional Georgian cuisine. The Italian announced ‘this was not in my Lonely Planet guide’, and it wouldn’t have been.

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Together we ate food ordered by George at very cheap prices. Fletch and I ate khinkali, which were basically giant Chinese dumplings filled with delicious juices. Lovely.

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The group of us then carried on sharing stories of our individual adventures towards Georgia as we sat at another bar. The Iraqi man in particular had a lot to share. This was a fantastic bunch of people. Yet, at around 1am eyes became bloodshot and yawns could not be quashed, resulting in bed. This was not before witnessing two teenage Georgian girls rip each others hair out…one could only guess a boy was involved.

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The next day we woke and packed ready for our overnight train to Baku, Azerbaijan. We decided to walk both sides of the river and have one final tour of the old town before collecting our stuff and making our short journey to the railway station. During this time I bought and ate another traditional food from the country. It was effectively nuts coated in dried grape juice. Very sweet but very tasty. Apparently the locals refer to it as the Georgian Snickers.

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This meant that our stay in Tbilisi was short but I had completely bought into the atmosphere of the city. I’d recommend it to anyone. In fact the city tagline is Tbilisi: The City That Loves You’, and the feeling was reciprocated.

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