:: 4 photographs ::
We Lyft to SFO San Francisco International airport and board Turkish Airlines flight TK80. Our Boeing 777-300 takes off around 6:10pm. More than 13 hours later we land in IST airport at 5:39pm on Saturday May 11. We have a six hour layover so we wander around the new airport. We fail to enter the Turkish Airlines and Miles & Smiles lounges, so we find a Turkish cafe, order some food and take over a table for a few hours. We board Turkish Airlines flight TK386. Our plane model is changesd so our seats, 6J and 6K are moved to 23J and 23K because our old seats are now in business class. Nonetheless we try and sit in our original seats. For about 10 minutes we enjoy Turkish Airlines business class, with bubbly and hazelnuts until we are kicked back to our new seats (even though the entire business class cabin is empty. Our Airbus A330-300 takes off at 11:44pm. Two hours later we land in TBS Tbilisi International Airport at 3:02am. Zara has a bit of confusion moving through immigration, but we sort it out after several back and forths tos ome random office on the side where nothing happens other than being told to "try again with immigration officer." We find our luggage and take a driver to the Tfilis Palace Hotel. The first drive into town in a new country is always interesting; you see new businesses, brands, new gas statoins, new cars, new traffic rules, new ways of doing things. We check into our room, at first a room on level one, but we protest, and are moved to room 209, with a great view of the old city from a small wrap-around balcony, but also with a slight sulfer smell from the sulfer baths below. We take a quick, ritualistic stroll nearby down a bar street where, even at 4:30am, the bars are thumping with random muisc, some rock, jazz and euro-trash. Several dogs wander around, each with a tag in their ear. I assume they are stray, but they seem to have their shots.
We somehow wake several hours later and meet Zara’s parents over a lovely hotel breakfast. Of notice are several Georgia cheeses including the sulguni in plain, smoked and wine-soaked varities. The soft-boiled eggs are seperated into 3- and 5-minute version (impressive) and there are several stewed vegetable dishes. Fresh-squeezed orange juice can be ordered. Yum. We leave the hotel and board the Hop-on Hop-off bus. We drive down Kote Abkhazi street through the leafy historic old city. There is so much to take in, so many ancient churches, some synagoges, shops, pedestrians, and some traffic. We hit Liberty Square, snap some shots and continue down Shota Rustaveli street passed museums and a shopping center. We continue down Davit Agmashenebeli and see all the varied architecture. It’s a mismash of styles. At one point a passenger hits their head on the part of the bus roof where the open air portion changes to covered area. I take note, but no sooner bang my own head amidst a photo-shooting frenzy. It hurts, but I’m so embarrassed that I ry and play it off. Silly me. We take the entire ride without hopping-off, which seems good in our jetlagged state, so the tour ends quite quickly. We take the Aerial Tramway cable car gondola up to Narikala Fortress. We walk around a bit and see the Mother of Georgia statue. I breifly hike down to the Botanical Gardens. We take the gondola down and have some lunch at Seidabadi on Meidan Square. We order spinach pkhali (spinach, ground walnuts, vinegar, onions, garlic, and herbs), nigvziani badrijani (fried eggplant stuffed with spiced walnut and garlic paste), red bulgarian peppers filled with walnut paste, khinkali (minced meat, onions, chili pepper, salt, cumin, parsely and cilantro), mixed kebab (excellent chicken but chewy lamb) and some mushroom soup. Food-induced jetlag hits. I try to to fight it by walking around town, but it soon begins to rain, so I head back to the room, drink a Georgian beer, and no sooner am asleep. A few hours later we wake in a blur and head up to the rooftop. It is Farideh’s birthday so we have some cake, some dry Saperavi red wine. We take a walk to the nearby waterfall and stop in to hear some live music at the Marani Restaurant and Bar. The band is great but unfortunately end moments after we arrive. For some reason the band is hanging out by the door, so we strike up a conversation. They are all old-school cool cats, for sure. Time for bed. What a day!
Wake up early for a great walk around the old town. Meet the crazy dog. Walk back to town and am met by a pack of barking, stray dogs. Always fun. Good breakfast. Went up to the church. Tried to go to the museum, clsosed, went to H&M. Jetlag hits hard. Walk back and have lunch at . We order more eggplant and try khachapuri (traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread with an egg yolk. In the evening, we visit Gulo’s Thermal Spa. The water is so hot, it takes us a while to get in. We both take s scrub, which is not too pleasant. Eventually, I dunk in the cold pool, whch makes going in the hot pool much easier. I dunk cold again, hot, cold, and hot. We have some Georgian beer. The hour goes by too quick. I suggest at least 90 minutes next time. We head to bed and crash hard.
Early morning walk around Metekhi and Rike Park, over the Peach Bridge and back to the hotel. After breakfast, we visit Mtskheta and tour the sixth-century Jvari Monastery and the 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Both places are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We shop around a bit and buy various types of churchkhela, my favorite being the beat-red wine-musk variety. Perhaps it is the freshest because it is the easiest to chew. Welcome to Georgia musical at night
Walk to the Batumi Tower and tour the construction site and see the Ferris wheel up close. Visit a wine bar and buy some home-made wine. Walk around twon a bit. Try some Tenili cheese at the Garage wine bar. I need to try this again. Awesome 12-mile bike ride south of town. Dinner at Ukraine Restaurant. Walk around town a bit. Have some mint tea at the jazz courtyard.
We take the train from Batumi to Kazbegi