Georgia and Armenia are not widely known in the Philippines. We were asked a couple of times in which part of the world map can they be found (they’re below Russia and beside Turkey). Some even said they only knew about them through the photos I posted.
So I’m delighted to share these Caucasus countries’ beauty based on or short visit.
When we booked our Dubai plane tickets, our initial plan was to cross the borders of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In the process, however, I figured that the transportation cost would be very expensive. So I looked for another country replacing any of the three. Thank God there was a seat sale to Turkey. ^_^
We didn’t expect so much from Caucasus countries. To our surprise, Georgia in particular offered us one of a kind sceneries and profound experiences. Although situated in Asia, it is exuding with European and Russian vibes in one.
DAY 1: GEORGIA: TBLISI & KAZBEGI
We landed in Tblisi, the country’s capital, at 3am. Through taxi, we reached our guesthouse past 4:00 AM. I was too clumsy not to notice the gap of our arrival and check-in time, because again, we were too preoccupied with planning for Turkey and bahala na sa Georgia and Armenia. It was only right there and then, freezing outside the doorstep of our guesthouse, when I found out that our check-in time is still at 1pm!
Fortunately, the door opened and our hosts allowed us to check-in early for free! Our room was even upgraded free of charge because that was the only room available when we arrived. Hats off to our hosts’ goodness and consideration.<3
We booked a private tour recommended by a friend, Jayson, who I knew through Instagram. Our tour guide/driver was Mr. Gia, the nicest person we’ve met in the whole trip! Because of him, we were left with the impression that Georgians are very hospitable and warm people.
Our itinerary consists of the following:
1. Jvari Monastery
Listed as UNESCO World Heritage site, Jvari Monastery or the “Monastery of the Cross” overlooks and lies across the first capital of Georgia: Mtskheta.
It exemplifies remarkable centuries-old Georgian architecture and remains to be one of the most sacred places in Caucasus.
2. Zhinvali reservoir
The reservoir plays a very important role of providing water supply in the country. It makes as a great stopover because of its panoramic view.
Wearing one of their traditional hunting clothing.
3. Ananuri Fortress Complex
It is a castle that witnessed many battles in the past. It also served as a fortress for the locals against invasions.
Despite its frightening history, it boasts a relaxing and breathtaking view of the river.
4. Pasanauri: Confluence of the Rivers Black and White Aragvi
What’s amazing about this tourists’ stopover along the Georgian Military Roadis the meeting of two rivers of different colors, black and white.
The town of Gudauri is popular for its ski resorts. It is especially crowded during winter, but looks like a ghost town in summer.
Nevertheless, the adventure-less town in summer is compensated by the lush Green mountains surrounding the Georgian Military Road. Not to mention the ice caps that add to the picturesque view.
It is also in this place where we got stuck for an hour because of a child who was locked in a car. Our tour guide Gia helped the family in rescuing the child.
Driving through the countryside did not bore us. We were mesmerized by the nature even from the car window.
Another interesting sight along the way to Kazbegi is the long queue of trucks all the way from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, going to Russia. Each wait for their turn for inspection before crossing the Russian borders.
Kazbegi, also known as Stepantsminda, is the nearest town to the Russian border. It is known for housing the historical Gergeti Trinity Church, which boasts a majestic panoramic view. We weren’t able to hike going to the church because it was raining. Instead, we killed-time at the amazing Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, which likewise offers an incredible view of the town and the Church.
7. Khinkali and Georgian Pork Barbecue
Our tour guide brought us to his favorite restaurant somewhere in Gudauri on our way back to Tblisi. He introduced Georgia’s dumpling khinkali and taught us how to eat it! Their plate-filled-pork barbecue is also to die for!
8. Sameba Cathedral, Tblisi
Gia was too kind to even bring us here after the jam-packed day from Kazbegi . This is the biggest Georgian Orthodox cathedral in the country.
DAY 2: ARMENIA
We booked an arranged day trip to Armenia on our second day. We were fetched by a van in Meidan Square in Tblisi at around 9am. In just an hour, we reached the Georgian border to cross the Armenian border.
For Filipinos, we only need visa on arrival to enter Armenia.
TRIVIA ON ARMENIA! Did you know that the Kardashians are Armenians?? Haha. Armenians’ surname end in “ians.” According to our tour guide the Kardashians were one of the thousands of Armenians who fled the country during the early 90s to escape from the Turkish genocide, which up to now is not recognized by Turkey. Hence, both countries are still not in good terms.
Did you know that the Kardashians are Armenians?? Haha. Armenians’ surname end in “ians.” According to our tour guide the Kardashians were one of the thousands of Armenians who fled the country during the early 90s to escape from the Turkish genocide, which up to now is not recognized by Turkey. Hence, both countries are still not in good terms.
Meanwhile, Armenians also claim that they are the first Christian-State in the world. Most Armenians are members of Armenian Apostolic Church. It is an independent religious institution; neither under the Orthodox Church popular in Caucasus and Russia nor the Catholic Church under the Vatican.
Our itinerary consists of visiting three monasteries and a lunch in a local’s residence to get to engage with the locals despite the short visit.
1. Sanahin Monastery
Sanahin literally means, “this one is older than that one,” referring to the neighboring Haghpat Monastery. The structure is very simple that even its altar contains no any ornaments because Armenians believe that connecting to God needs no any accessories as it will be just between an individual and God.
Sanahin is under the Armenian Apostolic Church. Not only is it integral to the religious institution but it also played an important role as a learning institution. Children of the royal families were sent here to learn sciences and philosophy.
2. Lunch at a Local’s House
This is actually the highlight of the tour for me: to relish authentic Armenian cuisine straight from a local’s kitchen, cooked by the host herself.
There were 8 of us in the group, of different nationalities, plus our cool Georgian tour guide and our driver. Over lunch, we talked about Georgia vs Armenia in terms of economy, food, and natural resources, Russia-Georgia politics, Turkey-Armenia history, diaspora, tribal disputes in Armenia hiking, arts, movies, and so much more.
We also learned that wine is not actually the number one produce of Georgia, contrary to popular belief, but walnuts!!! I learned a lot from everyone and I love it!!! ^_^
3. Haghpat Monastery
Haghpat Monastery is believed to be established by one of the students of Sanahin Monastery who became dissatisfied of the system in Sanahin Monastery.
Both monasteries are considered as one of the remarkable medieval Armenian architecture. Armenians are known for masonry. These churches reflect their ancestors’ gift in masonry, manifested by the intricacies of their works. Even Georgians back then hire masons from Armenia.
4. Akhtala Monastery
It is one of the most preserved monasteries in Armenia. The most distinct feature of this monastery is the frescoes or the paintings inside it; that some of which remains to be untouched or have never been altered since it was created.
BACK IN TBLISI
The sun’s still up at around 6pm when we arrived back in Georgia, enabling us to still tour around the “Old Tblisi.”
We climbed the Narikala Fortress and watched the city from above. You may also opt to ride the cable car going back on the ground.
We then strolled around Meidan Square until we reached Rike park at other side of the river through the architecturally famous Bridge of Peace. Their park was filled with Christmas trees! As in the real ones. Haha. #ignorantalert.
Their periscope-shaped music theatre cannot likewise be overlooked.
Tblisi have funky structures! We don’t have photos of the others though, as we only saw them from car rides.
Plus the chic streets all over the place.
We also found their iconic clock tower!
We ended up at Dunkin Donuts for dinner with this view from the window: the Liberty square and this Tbilisi City Hall.
It was safe to walk anywhere that we just walked from the city centre to our guesthouse. ^_^
DAY 3: TBLISI, GEORGIA
Our guesthouse booking included breakfast. Our hosts told us to come by the dining table at 9am. Apparently, breakfast is served and shared by the guests all together in one table. It felt so much like home!
Even after check out time at lunch, our host allowed us to leave our bags in their place since our flight leaving Tblisi was still at 11pm.
Remember our day 1’s host Gia? He fetched us at around 4pm and toured us around the city FOR FREE!!! before we headed to the airport.
Prior to that, we spent the afternoon in the historical sulfur baths also in the Old Tblisi, just beside Meidan Square.
The discovery of these sulfur baths prompted the transfer of the capital from Mtskheta to this area. It was thereafter called Tblisi which means “warm place.”
2. The only thing left in our bucket list was to havewine. Georgia is known as a producer of good wines. When we asked our Armenian tour guide why they Georgia does not have its own produced coffee or at least identified as a Georgian coffee, he said because wines are their coffees. They consume it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Haha.
And so here we were, savoring the ticking off our bucket list, paired with a great pizza, overlooking the historical sulfur baths. I think it was just perfect.
Gia first brought us to Gardenia Shevardnadze. It was so sweet of him!!! Flowers are my favorites since I was a child. My mom used to tell me that I have a green thumb because as early as 7 years old, I already had my own garden with plants I grew and nourished with my own hands!
After that, he took us to Chronicle of Georgia. The facade portrays renowned Georgians while the inner pillars depict life of Jesus Christ.
We had early dinner at a McShauarma place. Boy, not only it was the biggest Shawarma I ever had but also the best!!!
Since it was still early to go to the airport, Gia invited us in his sister’s home for coffee, which is just near the airport.
I didn’t know what to expect. We were just surprised at how hospitable and welcoming they are!
They went extra mile by buying us food and coffee in a convenience store. We were even entertained by Gia’s very pretty 6-year old niece with a dance and gymnastics! ^_^
We then headed to the airport just in time to catch our flight.
For a capital’s airport, Tblisi airport, for me, was so small. It looks only a little bigger than Davao Airport. This says a lot about how it’s not much of a tourist destination yet. Indeed, it’s a hidden gem that everyone should see. ^_^
DAY 0 : TURKEY – GEORGIA
Flight from Kayseri Airport to Tbilisi Airport
Money exchange (best rates in the airport!)
DAY 1 : KAZBEGI, GEORGIA
Check-in to Kipiani Guesthouse
Pick-up from the guesthouse at 9am
Road trip to Kazbegi:
Jvari Monastery, Mtsketa
Ananuri Fortress Complex
Pasanauri: Confluence of the white and black rivers
Georgian Military road
Gergeti Trinity Church, Kazbegi
Dinner: Try Georgian Pork Barbeque and Khinkali!
Back to Tbilisi
Visit Sameba Cathedral: 3rd tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world
Visit Narikala Fortress at night
DAY 2 : MONASTERY HOPPING IN ARMENIA
Armenia Shuttle pick-up at 9am at Meidan Square
Crossing the Georgian-Armenian border
Get visa on arrival
Armenia Tour includes:
Lunch at local’s house
Back to Tbilisi, walk tour:
Mother of Georgia
Bridge of Peace
DAY 3 : TBILISI, GEORGIA
Tbilisi city tour:
Sulfur baths in Old Tbilisi
Try Georgian wine & Pork shawarma
Chronicle of Georgia
Tbilisi beach (actually it’s a lake!)
Coffee at our Tour guide’s neice
Flight To Dubai, UAE