European sights within a short three-hour plane ride, with lots of affordable holiday options on offer, has made Tbilisi, Georgia a favorite getaway for folks in the emirates in recent years. The beautiful terroir, coupled with old-world charm, topped by excellent food and adventures makes Tbilisi and easy choice for holiday-makers. Our virtual Filipina tour guide former Dubai-resident Ruby Bebitashvili has been living in Georgia since 2013 and has been doing tours for fellow Filipinos around the country under Camp Borjomi Tours, as only an uber friendly and knowledgeable kabayan can. Ruby also has a Facebook page – Juanderers, where she shares information with those who are planning to visit the country. Ruby gives us the lowdown on bohemian Tbilisi and beyond.
Before you go
Traveling to Georgia for Filipinos who are residents in GCC countries is relatively easy. All you need is your passport with your GCC residency, as well as travel insurance to cover your stay. Keep your booking confirmation and ‘show money’ ready as well, just in case they ask you at the airport. It’s advisable to bring your dollars and exchange them for Georgian Lari (GEL) at Tbilisi Airport, as they have lower rates here for all Middle East currencies.
For winter travel, pack warm clothes. Dress in 2-3 layers with warm leggings as well as tops like sweaters and jackets. Do not forget to waterproof gloves, warm scarves, winter bonnets, and thick socks. Autumn is also cold. Snowfall could already be expected by late November. Spring can still be cold, so keep in mind to bring light jackets at that time. On the other hand, summer is just like in the Philippines. But do bring a light jacket if you’re going to the mountains.
Must do’s and must see’s
In Tbilisi, visit the Bridge of Peace, take the cable car to Mother Georgia, walk to Narikala Fortress and eat khachapuri and mtsvadi.
Outside Tbilisi, experience paragliding in Gudauri. Then, bathe in Borjomi’s thermal waters, which is touted to be good for skin conditions such as eczema, callouses, and dull skin. Go on a vineyard tour in the Kakheti region, especially during the grape harvesting season in October. If you have more time, go to Svaneti or Tusheti and visit the towers there. Learn how to make khinkali by attending master classes.
What to avoid
Georgia is relatively safe, but as in any place around the world, always be careful. In particular, watch out for these – beggars on the street that might tug on your leg so you cannot walk till you give them money; overly-friendly taxi drivers who might make you feel uncomfortable especially if you’re a solo female traveler. Near the Mother Georgia statue, there’s a flower seller who likes to put flower headbands on tourists and demand money aggressively. Do not take her photo.
There are also some bars and restaurants in the touristic areas that might add items that you did not order in the bill. Since you cannot read the bill, they are free to do that. Hence, it’s always advisable to bring your guide or someone who can read Georgian with you when you dine out or go to such places.
Traveling on a budget
Buy delicious khachapuri from the street shops for 1-2 GEL if you are in budget mode.
Eat shaurma (yes, they call it that way) for lunch. They cost 5-7 GEL each. Take the bus, Marshrutka or Metro in the city. Either you travel cheap or convenient. You choose.
If you crave Asian food, look for Fire Wok takeaways. A box of fried rice with meat or noodles would cost 7-8 GEL only.
How to get around
Go around by bus. Fares in the city are very cheap, as low as .50 tetri. Marshrutka is the equivalent of our jeepneys. They are the most common mode of transportation. Then there’s the metro, the fastest of them all. The metro has two lines which connect at Station Square.
Best foods and places to eat
Don’t miss Khinkali House. They have reasonable prices plus daily entertainment with Georgian singers, traditional dances during weekends, and a dancefloor for everyone.
The Maclaren’s Irish Pub is a favorite among locals and expats alike because of their music and food. If you want a fine-dining Georgian restaurants with more like a theme park feel, you can go to Ethno Tsiskvili Restaurant where you will find a mini waterfall, a big garden, a collection of different restaurants some with their own live band and a mini tram!
Tusheti Not for the faint-hearted, the Tusheti-bound route is one of the world’s most dangerous roads! The trip is an adventure in itself. The destination village of Bochorma is the highest inhabited village in Europe.
Borjomi is famous for its hot springs. Although Borjomi water is known throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, there are hidden hot springs that most day tour tourists do not see and experience. Bathe in your birthday suit! Just make sure that the villagers do not see you!
Bakuriani – when winter is done, and Gudauri is nothing but a ghost town in summer, the other winter resort opens to the public with their cable cars, ski lifts and the train to the summit as part of their summer activities.
Not so many tourists visit Racha where you can see the best colors of autumn aside from the town of Borjomi. See plants and trees in beautiful shades of orange, reds, pinks, browns, etc.
Best time to visit
Visit any season. Summer from June to early September is pretty cool in the mountains. Autumn is best for that Instagram “fallen leaves” look starting from late October to late November. In Spring from May to June, there is the Sakura blossom Georgian style. But the most beloved season for us Filipinos in the Middle East is the winter season. The ski resorts are open from the second week of December till late March (sometimes till mid-April).
We have a small Filipino community that gets together during special occasions, communicating through our group chats. In terms of food, the number one Asian takeaway is headed by a Filipino chef, Ace, who worked in Dubai and my partner in catering services. There are other Asian restaurants, but they are a bit pricey like Asian fusion in Radisson where there is one Filipino chef.
Read the full edition of Illustrado Work & Play 2019 on www.issuu.com
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