Having experienced a couple of mini-bus trips around the country I was keen to experience travel by train. I had traveled by slow train from Tbilisi to Kutaisi last November – a slow and ponderous trip punctuated by some lengthy stops.
This time I would be taking the ‘fast’ train and needed to go through the process of buying a ticket. While tickets can be bought online (not an easy process) the best option was to pre-purchase ticket by going to Station Square Metro Station and heading to the train station. This had the added benefit of familiarising where to go for the day of travel.
First challenge was working out which exit to take from the metro…there are several exits and it is important to take the right one. If you have been on the main line it is the exit with the sign with the least number of options (the others include the other metro line information).
Next challenge was finding the train station… as usual outside many metro stations in Tbilisi there was a hive of activity; stalls, people, mini buses and taxis hustling for business. Nothing looking much like a train station.
I wandered for a while, looking here and there, even inside a shopping mall, but no station. I asked a few people (it takes a few people to find one who speaks English) and they point back to the shopping mall (cunning disguise guys!) Inside amongst shops, I ask again and after going up an escalator I found the ticket booths.
Fortunately the seller spoke English and asked if I want a first or second class seat – price for a first class ticket was only 25GEL and I thought I might even sit next to an English speaker and have someone to talk to during the trip so decision made! Note you must have passport or some other form of photo ID available to buy the ticket and to board the train on your day of travel.
Note: tickets are assigned to carriage and seat. If you want a window seat you will need to ask. No food is served and on my trip there were no food sellers at the brief stops so bring food and water.
The platform is down the escalator and on the right side. All set for my 8.45am departure in a few days!
At precisely 8.45 the train slowly pulled away from the platform and trundled its way through the north-western suburbs of Tbilisi on its 5 hour trip to the sea. My hope of having an English speaker next to me were dissolved as an Indian man armed with a video camera settled in beside me. (He later moved and filmed his family the whole journey.)
In fact, there were no native English speakers in carriage 1 at all – the nearest was a Russian guy who complained (somewhat justifiably over halfway through the trip) about the unclean condition of the only toilet.
The seats were generous and plenty of leg room and came with a free bottle of water and free wifi.
The scenery on the route changed constantly; one minute lush green hills and a few kilometres further on dry hills, then back to green again. This is reflective of all of Georgia and in part has led to the diversity of wines as there are so many climatic and soil types to suit the 500 grape varieties found in the country.
The schedule of the train was well maintained by the timing of the stops. Some were long enough for most to disembark, have a cigarette or two before being ushered back on the train. Other stops last just long enough for someone to get on or off, to the disgruntlement of the keen smokers.
The last part of the trip hugged the lush coast, within metres of the Black Sea in some places
The journey ended at the station (360 image) that is 5km north of the city.
As with all transport places in Georgia I was assailed by taxi drivers – one wanting 10 GEL for the trip into town which is widely publicised as costing 5. I stared him down showing five fingers. He responded with 10. Me five, him 10, so I walked away with the then expected tap on the shoulder “OK five” with such a hurt expression on his face he could have won an acting award. Note an acceptable fare can be as low as 3GEL
A madcap drive into town in the typically mechanically doubtful and tattered exterior taxi, including a stop to put my 5GEL in as petrol to the tank that indicated empty and finally arrived at my accommodation for the next four nights, the centrally located Hotel Verona