According to legend, Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi, was founded when a prince who was hunting in the area shot a pheasant which fell into a thermal spring. According to one version of the legend, the pheasant was revived, healed, and flew away. According to the another version of the legend, the prince pulled the dead bird from the water and ate it, finding the bird had cooked in the hot water to perfection.
In any case, the prince ordered the building of a city in the location of the thermal springs and named it Tbilisi, which in Georgian means “warm place”.
We went many times to the sulfur bath houses located in the old city. In the baths, you can pay a few dollars to enter the public sections of the bath or pay $20 upwards to $200 to rent a private room depending on how posh you want the room.
Nolan, Kolya, and I frequented the public baths at Bathhouse#5 where you could sit and cook your brains in the sauna, relax in a warm sulfur bath (the springs are sulfur springs and smell mildly of rotten eggs), or take a hot sulfur water shower (all for 5 Georgian Lari or about $1.75).
For an additional $3 you can get a “peeling”or a massage. After my experience in the Turkish baths, I had no desire to try a peeling, but I did get a couple of massages which would be better called “aggressive soaping” rather than massages.
The women’s section of the public baths had only a sulfur shower–no sauna or warm pool–so Ashley and the girls rented a private room a few times. Margaret and Jane loved the soap massage.
We rented a car in Tbilisi and made a few day trips to surrounding towns. We also stayed a few days in a resort town called Borjomi. It’s famous for its mineral springs and sanitariums.
During Soviet times, trains ran direct from Moscow to the resorts in Borjomi.
Bottled mineral water from a source in this town is sold all over the world. According to locals though, it loses its potency unless you drink or straight from the source–which fortunately we did.
A small entrance fee gets you into the park where you can drink the famed waters that are known particularity for curing stomach issues.
The water comes out lukewarm and tastes like water with a pinch of baking soda and salt, and a dash of rotten eggs.
Borjomi is a mountain town, and it’s much colder than Tbilisi. We stayed in a house that had a couple of small furnaces mounted to the wall that weren’t quite enough to keep the place warm. Fortunately, there was a fireplace. The kids loved it. We even cooked dinner on the fire a couple of nights.
There was a young neighborhood cat that kept sneaking in. We all loved him although we had to officially kick him out in fear of what might happen since there was no litter box in the house. The cat, named “Let It Ring Out” especially took a liking to Ashley
Borjomi is also home to a disappointing thermal spring.
We spent a good chunk of one day hiking to the thermal springs, only to jump in and find out they were only as warm as yesterday’s bath water.
With the ambient temperature a balmy 30 degrees, we were all pretty cold, though Kolya and I managed to stay in for a full hour in the hopes of getting some of the purported healing benefits of the springs.
We followed the tepid thermal springs up with a short trip to Bakuriani, a ski town a little too early in the season for skiing, but beautiful nonetheless
We spent another day horseback in the Borjomi National Forest. It was great fun except that it was bitter cold.
This was the only time poor little Margaret has complained on the trip (not just the horse ride, but the entire trip so far!). She was in the saddle with me and I kept asking if she was cold. She shook her head “no” until we got to the turn around spot and then started crying because she was cold. I bundled her up in my coat and she fell asleep for the ride down.
One day, we drove a couple of hours to a town called Vardzia, very near the Turkish border. Like the people of Cappadocia Turkey, Georgians built a complex cave city in the cliffs. Unlike the cave cities in Cappadocia, Vardzia was planned and constructed in a relatively short period of time and was used only as a place of protection during invasions.
The caves were built under the direction of her Majesty, King Tamara (our guide made sure we understood that this woman was a king and not a queen), and featured clay pipe plumbing and a full monastery. In places, the cave city was up to 19 different levels and could house up to 20,000 people.
After our day trip to Vardzia, the cave city, we found an out of the way hot springs “resort” called Hotel Geno (that in no way resembled a hotel or resort) and had a great time swimming in the thermal water and plunging in the ice cold pool
One day, we drove to see the castle in a town called Akhalsikhe. The area was occupied for many years by the Turks and the castle they built featured a Mosque as well as architecture influenced by Muslim culture.
The kids didn’t appreciate the architecture, but they had a blast playing hide and seek on the castle grounds.
My friend Kolya has been coming to Georgia every year for the last several years. He always stays in the Black Sea town of Batumi and was keen on me seeing that city. So one night at midnight, we boarded a coach bus and for $7, took a 7-hour ride to Batumi.
Once the bus was moving and the lights were off, I quickly stripped down to a t-shirt and long underwear bottoms, hoping to get a little shut-eye. I had a hard time sleeping though.
The seats weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible. The reason I couldn’t sleep was the temperature on the bus. It was easily 90 degrees. I was dying.
I looked around to see how my fellow travelers were faring. They were all fast asleep still wearing their winter gear! Most hadn’t even opened the top button of their coats! Kolya asked the bus driver to turn the heat down, but he was told to sit back down.
That was a long bus ride. Needless to say, we took the train home from Batumi. It was much more pleasant.
I had a great time in Batumi. The morning we arrived, I got to join in a game of beach volleyball. Without kids we fit in a packed itenarary of sight-seeing in the area, and we stayed the night with a family Kolya knows. I even got to take a brisk swim in the Black Sea.
After returning back to Tbilisi, we had just a few days until we left for Spain.
Ashley has a friend from Georgia who studied with her in the U of U MBA program. She met up with her earlier on our trip to Georgia, and before we left Georgia, Nona invited our while family to her house for dessert. On the way to her house, we stopped at the TV studio Nona runs. We all had fun seeing what goes on behind the camera, but Jane really had a good time getting a professional makeup application.
Our last day in Georgia fell in the fourth Thursday in November, so we boiled some potatoes and picked up some poultry from KFC to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
On Friday morning 3am the day after Thanksgiving, we dragged the kids out of bed, caught a taxi to the airport, and headed for sunny Spain.
Goodbye, Georgia! A great country to visit.