So when I was looking at flights it turned out that flying from the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi was the cheapest option, and I could get a pretty cheap flight there from Shymkent (Kazakhstan), so that was the route I chose. Plus that would give me a few days to scratch the surface of this Caucasus country that I heard so many good things about. I'd have a 3 nights and two full days to jam in as much stuff as I could.
I arrived around midnight and while driving towards downtown Tbilisi it's impressive to see all the churches lighted up on their hillside perches. My taxi driver was playing a mix of classic rock and soul music and quizzing me to see if I knew who sang each song. Being that I'm American he was a bit incredulous regarding my lack of knowledge in the soul music department, heh. It wasn't my generation!
He dropped me off at the main square and I walked the block to my guesthouse. Lots of people were still out and about at 1am, drinking on various outdoor patios and terraces. I stopped in at one of the hookah places for a bit and called it a night. I was going to have a busy day tomorrow.
When researching Georgia, the one church that stuck out to me (among the many spectacular Georgian churches) was the Gergeti Trinity church, built high up in the mountains a few hours north of Tbilisi. So I decided to cram it into the itinerary. I woke up early that morning and took a taxi to the bus station. After lots of searching and asking around (the letters on the buses are all Georgian script) I finally found the one I was searching for. There were people waiting inside so I hopped in and grabbed a seat. Oddly the lady next me shooed me out of it. Ok, I went to a different open seat, and got told no, no, no. Then the bus driver started yelling at me and pointed for me to get off the bus. I was so confused! Apparently people had already reserved these seats and were just mingling around outside in the bus station. Hmm. When he finally started the bus everyone came wandering in from the woodwork. It turned out there was an open seat, so I was able to take it and we were on our way.
After three hours we all piled off the bus in a touristy little mountain village. This was the base of the hike up to the church. You could see it overlooking the village up in the clouds. The hike itself was pretty steep uphill, but only took an hour to get up to the top. The church itself was extremely well preserved offered great views of the jagged terrain all around. If you had hiking gear, this would be the start of a hike much higher into the mountains. But it really was a hell of a place to have a church!
I spent some time to have a snack and admire the aesthetics of the whole scene, and then cruised back down to the village. I wanted to get back to Tbilisi to get some sightseeing in before it got dark. It took maybe 30 minutes to wait for a bus to fill up and we were rumbling back down towards Tbilisi in no time. I was hoping to stake out a sunset spot, but the skies were mostly a dull gray, so no-go on that front. But I will say that the city certainly has charm. Lots of old buildings, a ridiculous amount ofeastern orthodox churches, and every time you look up you can see the cable cars heading up and back from the fort.
The next day was my chance to get around to all the touristy sites in town. Tbilisi is really a nice place for just walking around. It's very hilly so all the houses are built up almost on top of each other in some places. Most of it is vaguely defined as the Old Town, which lives does live up it's name, as many of the buildings and houses are pretty dilapidated and in various states of disrepair, which is endearing in it's own way.
Next up was the big daddy of the churches in Tbilisi, the St. Trinity Cathedral. I'm pretty sure this is the largest church I've ever been in. It's actually a very new church, finished in the early 2000's, hence it's immaculate condition.
The rest of the afternoon was just more wandering, exploring the sulfur baths, the treelined parkways, some tourist walking streets, vine covered buildings, open air patios, etc. And stopping in for an occasional glass of Georgian wine, which was a nice change of pace after the Stans.
At night I took the funicular (tram that goes straight up big hill) to the top where they have a carnival as well as a nice restaurant that overlooks the city. From this vantage point you can really see how much the Trinity Cathedral dominates the skyline around it. I treated myself to a fancy pants dinner, took the tram back down, packed up my stuff and headed off to the airport. 3 hours to Doha, and then another 14 hours to Chicago, and I was back home! The conclusion to another successful trip!