Short holidays are coming to Dubai, so are my impromptu adventures. I’m back at it again. A call for an express getaway to refill my long-lived wanderlust.
One of the things I look forward to moving to Dubai again this year is keeping the distance closer to some countries that are way expensive to travel from Asia. While not so keen on spending only a weekend or holiday anymore, it would do for now to keep my work, play, work schedule.
Georgia (in EurAsia) is something I haven’t heard of, until I came to UAE. It’s one of the weekend escape choices for expats when the heat is unforgiving in the desert concrete jungle. The weather is cooler, the food is appetizing, the landscape is stunning, and it’s only 3.5 hours away from Dubai. The bonus, Georgia is visa-free for Filipinos who have a valid UAE residence visa.
My friend, Minnie and I planned our trip almost 3 weeks before our scheduled flight. With only 3 full days to spend in Georgia, we managed to fill our itinerary with places that needs a bit of traveling from out of the city. Well, how can you say no to a snowy mountain backdrop, when both of us have not yet seen a real snow in our entire life. Shame. But, it’s the trip of a lifetime, probably the highlight of our 2016!
Passing through Dubai Airport for our flight, we were asked to provide the usual travel documents, passports, hotel bookings, flight tickets, and ‘if we have enough pocket money to support our travel’. It kind of get appalling when we encountered being questioned repeatedly, from checking-in until the last minute of boarding the plane. I mean, I hope they do this with all nationalities, and we have not been stereotyped because we are Pinoy. Anyways, going through Georgia immigration was no trouble, I was expecting it was visa on arrival but they have only stamped the passport for entering & leaving the country, which means Georgia visa requirements for Philippines passport holder who have valid residence permit of UAE are exempted. For other nationalities and Filipinos who are not in Dubai, you can check the requirements and apply for e-visa before your scheduled trip.
Our red-eye flight, called for an extra night at Tbilisi. Minnie did a great job in finding our extra cheap accommodation just around Freedom Square. Our host hooked us up with Gela, our guide/driver for our entire trip. He reminds me of Gru/Mr. Bean, cuddly, friendly and takes us to the most awesome food places. But he only speaks extremely limited english (which explains the likelihood to those characters, coz even if it’s only sign language, we still get what he says, haha) so we have to use online translations most of the time.
Georgia is located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. -Wiki
Clear, sunny and a chilly 7ºC welcomed us in the morning. For our first day, we are on our way to Kazbegi to have our first snow experience. It’s about 3 hours away from Tbilisi without stop, but for the two of us who wouldn’t stop gushing at every dogs, mountains, trees, lakes, castles and everything under the Georgian cold weather, it took us the whole day to get to our hotel. Sorry not sorry.
Stopped by this herd of sheep, cows and shepherd dogs as they took over the road. Farm life is calling me, I know. On our way, Gela took us to a road side restaurant in Mtskheta which served an amazing authentic Georgian dishes. Did I mention that wine is a staple in each meal? Hence, the first drop on my taste bud in Georgia is a home made wine, our guide brought for our trip. Like a pro, wine on breakfast.
Georgian brunch. We had bread, Mtsvadi (barbequed pork), Katleti (like chicken cordon bleu), Khachapuri (cheese pie), lamb meat, and slices of cake on the house. Way to celebrate on our first day, all of it within a budget too. Wine or coffee for breakfast? tough choice.
Very fitting that the only two words I learned from Georgia are gmadlobt’ and gaumarjos! That’s Thank you and Cheers.
Zhinvali Water Reservoir at Aragvi River
Like a scene from a movie, visual treats unfolding right in front of our eyes as we get closer to our destination. We dropped by Ananuri, a castle complex on the Aragvi River. A call for Queens to plan on this castle domination.
Let me adjust my crown, and get the day started. Her Majesty, the Queen, would like to welcome you to my kingdom far, far away…
Within the complex, lies the Church of the Assumption, built in 1689. It has witnessed a number of battles since its earliest parts date from the 13th century which was built by the Dukes of Aragvi. The fortress is on the UNESCO Tentative list.
Outside the walls of Ananuri Castle, there are local businessmen who offers photo op with traditional shepherd’s clothes made of sheep wool, swords and some other knight accessories including a horse. This is also the best place to bargain on winter gears like leg warmers, winter hats and gloves.
On the road again, we passed by our first sight of snow-covered lands.
From our tropical backyard Pinas to the sunny Dubai desert to a winter wonderland snow mountain. On a scale of 1 to first timer, gano kami kaexcited?
The Georgian Military Road offers the most scenic and quickest access from Tbilisi to Kazbegi. The curved road passes to Stepantsminda to the Russian border which boast a splendid view of the mighty Caucasus Mountains.
It has started to snow by the time we reached the Georgia – Russia Friendship monument in Gudauri. The temperature dropped to -3ºC.
The monument is a celebration of Treaty of ongoing friendship between Georgia and Russia. The tile mural that spans across the round structure depicts scenes of Georgian and Russian history.
Jobs fill your pocket,
Adventures fill your soul.
Gudauri is a ski resort which offers high quality skiing experience to beginners and free-riders alike. Skiing season usually starts from December to April.
Waiting for Santa Claus’ sleigh to pick me up. Should I ring a bell?
We had a late lunch, early dinner at another superb restaurant recommendation by our guide. This time we had Khinkali (dumplings), Mtsvadi (barbequed pork), lamb chops, bread because rice is scarce in this side of the earth and of course, wine. The pear lemonade is also a must-try.
Wine is Life ♥
Outside it was pouring snow. Sun began to set at half past 5 in the afternoon. Freezing snow angels looks more like a mannequin challenge.
Our guide warned us that if the snow continued all night, there may be a risk that the road may be close for a day or two. This means if we move further to Kazbegi, there is a possibility that we’ll be stuck there for we don’t know how long. It sounds alarming since we are traveling on a particular schedule and budget and that delay may cause a big trouble. A choice between going back to the city of Tbilisi or forward to Kazbegi. On deaf ears and crossing fingers, we gave our go signal to continue our journey to Kazbegi.
We made it to our hotel at 7 in the evening. Half an hour later, we were swimming! Our fancy hotel offers an indoor heated pool which opens from 6am – 12mn. Excellent view of the breathtaking Caucasus mountain range.
After washing up and sauna time, we spent a little time at the hotel restaurant where we met and played with a massive Italian cane corso. We called it a night after indulging a clubhouse and a signature apple pie.
Part 2 : Winter Weekend in Kazbegi Georgia