My last trip of 2016 and first trip of 2017 was Georgia. The adventure started in Kutaisi, where direct flights land from Budapest. Kutaisi is the second most populated city in Georgia, behind the capital city Tbilisi. There's not much in Kutaisi, but we did enjoy walking around and finding our bearings for our first few days in Georgia.
This is the farthest East I've ever traveled, so it was really interesting to be in a place like nowhere I'd ever been. One of the first things we noticed was how beautiful Georgian script is. It's fluid and curvy as opposed to the more straight-lined Cyrillic used in Russia.
We found a few old amusement parks scattered throughout Georgia and took our chances taking the rides for a spin. I only thought I might die once and that was on a terrifying rollercoaster at Mtatsminda Park in Tbilisi. A nice Israeli gentleman has a photo of the hilarious look on my face while going for yet another upside down loop, though I can't say I'm too upset that I'll probably never see it again. Note: The ride below is not the terrifying ride in question.
Most Georgians are devout members of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which was founded in the 1st century. As such, there is no shortage of churches and monasteries in Georgia. We saw quite a few, in various stages of disrepair and renovation, including Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi and Gelati Monastery in Motsameta, both UNESCO world heritage sites.
Making our way to Tbilisi from Kutaisi, we stopped off in Gori to see the Joseph Stalin Museum. Gori is Stalin's birthplace and the small home where he was born is now enshrined in a grand pavilion. The museum, just across the street, is filled with all sorts of odds and ends detailing the life of Stalin...well, only the good bits, of course. His personal railway carriage is also on site to visit. Report cards, photos of his math teacher, astronomical studies he recorded as a teenager and more odd snapshots of Stalin grace the walls of the museum alongside artistic tapestries of the dictator embracing rosy-cheeked children. Along with these snippets of Stalin's life is an entire room housing all the gifts bestowed upon him from foreign dignitaries: a personal shaving set, pipes, tea sets, etc. All very interesting stuff, if not a bit one-sided.
Leaving Gori and Stalin behind to head to Tbilisi was one of the most beautiful parts of my visit to Georgia. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral complex in Mtskheta was a beautiful spot to take in quite a bit of scenery.
When we finally arrived in Tbilisi a few days after our trip started, we were stunned by the fact that there really wasn't a bad view in the entire city. If you visit Tbilisi, expect to climb hills. Expect to have no sidewalks. Expect that if you look up or away for a second while walking, you will likely trip over something in your path or into a hole. You can take taxis - on average, we paid less than $2 to get across town - but you'll have to decide whether the driving or the walking is more treacherous.
During the planning stages of this trip, we debated over whether Georgia is in Europe or Asia. We never really found the correct answer. It really is a place that straddles East and West and that overlap is visible in its interesting architecture and in the overall feel of the city. There's no question that Georgia doesn't feel at all like Europe.
Oh, and Tbilisi's sulfur baths (bath house no. 5 is the one I visited a few times) are a great place to take a quick break from the city.