Georgia is booming, becoming more popular as a tourist destination, and is a great weekend getaway from Dubai on FlyDubai. However, what do you really know about this small country, bridging Asia and Europe? This guide provides you 20 things to know before visiting Tbilisi, Georgia!
1. While it might not look like it at first glance, Georgia is incredibly safe. As long as you avoid the Abkhazia and South Ossetia areas, and keep your wits about you, you should have no issues.
2. Georgia is also one of the most religious countries I have ever visited. In a 2004 survey, 98% of the country identified as actively religious (84% of those the Eastern Orthodox Church). It wasn’t unusual to have your taxi driver make the sign of the cross multiple times per trip.
3. Those big, shiny sausage like delicacies being sold by street vendors? They’re actually candy. Referred to as the Georgian snickers, churchkhela are made from natural grape juice and different kinds of nuts.
4. Georgia is the English name given to the country. The local people actually call their homeland Sakartvelo.
5. The food is plentiful, cheap and delicious. Make sure to try the khinkali and khachapuri – they’re absolutely delicious, though one or two are enough.
6. Tourism is booming in Georgia. You can’t make it down most streets without being hassled by some tout. Beggars are also commonplace, and seem to head for western-dressed tourists
7. Georgia is quite famous for its quality mineral water. It seems strange that you can ‘taste’ the water, but it certainly tasted delicious and refreshing to me. I’d avoid the stuff out of the tap, though.
8. For a small country, Georgia has many, many traffic accidents. The driving there is some of the worst I’ve seen. Be really careful when crossing the roads, and hold on tight when you hop into a taxi.
9. Georgians love rugby! When we mentioned we were from New Zealand, the first thing Georgians would mention were the All Blacks!
10. If you want to get a booking at a popular restaurant, go for an early time slot. People eat later – and enjoy long meals – so the earlier you go, the more likely you’ll get in. This is how we got a booking at the lovely Barbarestan!
11. You aren’t technically required to cover your head and knees when visiting churches, but you should. We travelled with a private local guide, and out of respect for him, I did so.
12. It’s not unusual for everyone to get naked in the bathhouses. Including your masseuse. We didn’t get a massage. I don’t think either of us was delighted with the concept of a large, sweaty, half (or fully) naked Georgian man sharing our quarters.
13. The roads in Georgia are terrible. Don’t be surprised to be driving down a country road to find a giant pothole. If no one is coming the other way, you’ll be expected to cross the centre line and go around it.
14. If you visit Mtatsminda Park – a creaky old Soviet-style amusement park – you’ll notice a rather James Bond like mansion on the hill nearby. This belongs to the ex-Georgian Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and it’s pretty evil-genius looking.
16. In 2017, Georgia was apparently one of the cheapest countries in the world relative to income (the seventh, in fact). You can buy a modern, one bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Tbilisi for around $30,000USD (130,000AED) – and this can get you a residency permit.
17. The scenery in Georgia seems to change every 30 minutes that you drive. You can go from a busy city to a quiet village, passing farms, mountains, lakes or rolling hills on the way. If you’re the kind of person that likes to pack a lot into your holiday, you’ll love Georgia.
18. You don’t need to tip. Your bill will probably be in the squiggly Georgian script, but will likely include a service charge. There is no onus on you to provide any more than this, but you can if you like.
19. Buy your Lari in Georgia. Bring USD, or another currency, to exchange. We got fleeced with a terrible exchange rate in Dubai, and there are hundreds of exchange outlets in Tbilisi and the major cities.
20. If you’re into wine, Georgia was apparently the birthplace of your favourite tipple I didn’t sample any of the famous orange stuff, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether any of its 400 varieties are worth a sample.
Read about my recent trip to Georgia by visiting my blog post on Gori, the birthplace of Stalin.