The tiny Eastern European country popped up on my list since it allowed me entry with a Qatari Resident Permit (yippee!!!). It was my first trip of 2014 in the month of April and I decided to go solo in the real sense (read hostels). The decision did not go down pretty well with my apprehensive folks back home and I decided to avert ..or did I (wink).
I stayed in the somewhat strangely named and supremely welcoming hostel Why Not Tblisi?
Cut to my arrival at Tblisi airport , I was warmly greeted by hostel’s driver who was quite surprised to see an Indian , an Indian girl and an Indian girl traveling alone ; in the same order. The old taxis caught my attention so did the highly modern airport terminal and the calligraphy. Tblisi airport is located 17 kms southeast of the city and it takes 20-30 minutes to reach the city. Taxi service is available 24 hrs for a fixed price of 25 GEL. Train and buses are scheduled at regular intervals.
I met Ferdinand , an Italian solo traveler and guest at the same hostel, and we decided to visit the famous and widely photographed Mtshketa city the next day. I had a hearty dinner of Georgian wine with Lobio (the famous Georgian bean dish) and Khinkali at a traditional restaurant situated in the city centre.
The next day , after a big complimentary breakfast and chatting with some more like minded people , we set out with our cameras. Mtshketa is located 20kms away from Tblisi and is a UNESCO world heritage site. As we neared the city streets turned into cobbled pathways , scenery became greener , air became thinner and atmosphere turned quieter. The city is located at a confluence of rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi. We wandered on the almost deserted streets and bumped into smiling nuns from the near by convent and played with their little dog for a while. That was unquestionably the most astounding sight of green patch I had seen in a long while . A church was perched atop a distant hill.
The famous Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is straight out of a movie set. It is so beautiful it looks unreal .
Postcard eque ..I bet!!
The photo friendly site where the confluence of rivers serve as the perfect background is a few minutes walk from the cathedral. It is one of the few sites which characterise Tblisi. Again , pictures would speak louder than words .
We had to leave before sun set as the skies were turning grey hinting at an impending downpour . We were luckily successful in hitchhiking .Another “real solo thing” for me.
In the hostel , I was warmly greeted again , this time by a cat . She seemed to be a favourite of all the travellers . I ended up having an interesting conversation with an Egyptian man who could have easily passed off as a Rasta priest due to his hairdo and beliefs. He wore a saffron T-shirt and had enough years of experience behind him , to know my sun sign by talking to me! “You are a Sagittarian”, he declared , much to my amazement. He owed the conclusion to my short history of solo travel, my love for my profession and my err personality.For once , I believed in the typical traits of Sagittarians according to Linda Goodman. He strengthened my resolve of being on the move to discover new lands and shun comfort zones. He embodied wanderlust , what with his insane journey across continents and his “I don’t know where I will be next” attitude. A bit extreme and scary for me at that point , however he surely made me realize how small we were in a larger scheme of things. That was quite a rendezvous!
The next day over breakfast I met Per or as I call him now “American who speaks Mandarin”. I was amazed by his height , his tales of travel and his spontaneity in decision making. Well , spontaneity is another important element of solo travel which makes it not so..(so)lo . Not sure if you got the joke there. It was my first realization that solo travel entails forging new relationships , learning about different people and their stories , getting inspired , drawing comfort from like minded people and living or perhaps seizing the moment.
After the breakfast we decided to go for a wine tour to Kakheti to witness how Georgian marvel is bottled from ordinary looking grapes. We were a set of six now. There were 3 guys from Belgium who had high end banking jobs but were on a sabbatical , Ferdinand , Per and myself. We learnt that it was better to leave by afternoon , live in one of the local’s house and go for the wine tour the next day. We happily agreed at the proposition of not just witnessing but experiencing the authentic local household. It was a wonderful idea by the staff of Why not Tblisi and he was kind enough to accompany us .
We set out with our night stop kits and boarded the much talked about Marshrutka. At a glance , Marshrutka mirrors a homely ,meek, domestic and typical “wife material” girl (van) ; however things take a wild turn (pun intended ) as she hits the streets. The docile Marshrutka turns into wild, aggressive , intimidating ,bad girl .
The 90 minutes journey from Tblisi to the village in Kakheti is by far the most nerve racking road trip of my life . Our Marshrutka housed 10-15 people and hit the road at a blinding pace on a moonless night , on a lightless road , where other “bad girls” were charging at a similar if not higher speed from opposite direction. Weirdly , I liked the thrill. ( I am a bad girl myself shh).
We blessed our starts (another “real solo” thing) as we reached our host’s home and called it a night . I was taking my baby steps in the direction of a seasoned solo traveler .
More on the wines coming up in my next blog.