PHOTO: In the heart of Old Town Tbilisi, on top of the ancient sulphur baths (c) Sery Kim
Despite the exceptional quality of the Emirates Business Class service, my body was in fairly rough shape after a 20 hour haul to the other side of the world. I used to travel to two different countries a week -- with a pit stop back over in the United States to unpack and repack -- and remember managing it all fairly well. Golly!! I must be getting really REALLY old!!! Still, the moment I began my tour of Tbilisi, Georgia, I immediately couldn't help but be overwhelmed by its tranquil beauty.
Independent from the USSR since April 9, 1991, the entire country of Georgia has a charm which has, mostly, been undiscovered by American travelers -- thank God! I joked repeatedly that I was going to name my article, "DON'T COME TO TBILISI!!!!," because I seriously do not want this city (or country) to be ruined by the avalanche of travelers other, formerly, bucolic cities have turned into (see generally Venice, Paris, Dubrovnik, Rome, Amsterdam and, I'm afraid, even the continent of Antarctica).
I'm so sad I am going to have to tell everyone about this glorious town ... and, already, those who follow me on social media have been incessantly telling me they want to come here! Drat!
PHOTO: The rooftop of the ancient sulfur baths in Old Town Tbilisi, Georgia (c) Sery Kim
My phenomenal hosts for the week, the Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace ("Sheraton Grand Tbilisi"), is a super fast 15 minute drive to the heart of Old Town. The streets are well-paved and seemingly had very little traffic, particularly when you consider how small the roads are. Our local guide mentioned "some of the streets are still only capable of horses and wagons" so you can imagine what it would mean for a tour bus like ours to ramble through it.
However, the route we took was a major thoroughfare and provided an excellent initial introduction to the Tbilisian topography. The city seems to have been built inside the base of a mountain range since everywhere I looked there were mountains and more mountains. Houses, sky-rises and other commercial architecture colorful draws the eyes, as does the amazing 6th century churches. All of these buildings were built around water, because that's how people survived in the ancient days, aka by having a natural water source, called the Mtkvari River. The scenic waterway runs directly through the middle of the city before emptying out into the Caspian Sea.
PHOTO: A boy, a peacock and a hawk in the famous Tbilisi waterfall (c) Sery Kim
Despite it being the height of tourist season in Europe, Old Town Tbilisi did not seem to have any tourists at all. In fact, it was ABUNDANTLY clear, we were the tourists that everyone gawked at. Otherwise, the town runs seamlessly with the 1.1 million Tbilisi citizens sprawled throughout the large terrain.
Streets are cobble-stoned but I had 3-inch wedge heels on and managed it very well. Additionally, there were loads of vendors for local Tbilisian treats (more on that later), as well as delicious bottled water. Plus, since the country is such a young democracy, there seemed to be a rapid, entrepreneurial transitioning going on with the people. New and vibrant art sellers, restaurants, other merchants, as well as hotels, museums and various other entities seemed to be being built. It definitely felt to me like Croatia -- before it blew up with tourists after Game of Thrones started filming there -- but with even better food and definitely better wine.
PHOTO: As touristy as I am going to get (c) Sery Kim
Another wonderful aspect of Tbilisi was how incredibly affordable the American purchasing power was. The exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Georgian libra is around 3:1 so you can essentially buy three times as many goods. I was ecstatic to know that here, in the country that invented wine, I could buy a magnificent bottle for a mere $9 - $12 U.S. "Are you kidding me!?! That's so cheap!!!" And you better believe I brought along an enormous wine suitcase just for buying wine!!
PHOTO: Georgian Lira, $120 U.S. dollars worth = $330 lira (c) Sery Kim
Tbilisi is known for their enamel work so a friend of mine and I decided to hunt for it (before we even hunted for wine). We came upon a beautifully designed store called Pokany so I joyfully delved into the world of Tbilisi jewelry and bought this gorgeous ring for $13 U.S. Real silver and, with a very personal inscription meaningful to me, saying "Jesus Saves." A great reminder of why I am living this life and why this country of strong Orthodox Catholicism believes what it believes. I took a photo of the business card and address so you, yourself, can visit when you travel to Tbilisi or you can check out their work on their website at www.Pokany.com.
PHOTO: My gorgeous silver ring at Pokany in Tbilisi, Georgia (c) Sery Kim
I can't wait to do more exploring, eating, drinking and buying here in Tbilisi. I'm so grateful to the wonderful brand Sheraton Hotels for inviting me here. It's been a great 24 hours so far ... and I know it's going to be an amazing week!!
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