Category Archives: Tours

Tbilisi to Batumi by train

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.

Tbilisi railway
Tbilisi Central Station disguised as a shopping mall – even inside…

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.

Tbilisi train ticket
Train ticket

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!

Travel day.

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.

I wonder what he is looking at?
Oh him – train spotter, or bored…

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.

Georgian scenery
Near Tbilisi
Georgian scenery
This near Tbilisi, one of hundreds of factories abandoned in 1998

Georgian scenery Georgian scenery

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.

Toilet block
Toilet block
smoko stop
smoko stop
station master
Station Master – you can tell by the hat. We passed through without stopping.
Derelict building
Derelict building. Probably once part of a station.
Abandoned building – so many…

The last part of the trip hugged the lush coast, within metres of the Black Sea in some places

Georgia's version of the Queenslander.
Georgia’s version of the Queenslander.
A better house
A better house
Georgian scenery
More Georgian scenery
Georgian scenery
Georgian scenery – worried about the weather…
Georgian scenery
Georgian scenery – getting near the coast
Georgian scenery - fallow ground
Georgian scenery – fallow ground

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







Hiking to the glacier

A glacial experience

Mestia, in the western north of Georgia is one of the ‘must visit’ places for tourists based on a number of reasons. First perhaps is as stopping off point for trips to the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe, Ushguli , (despite ongoing arguments about whether Georgia is in Europe of more Central Asia).

The other is for what is reportedly some magnificent hiking. While most hikes are multi-day and being in the country suitably equipped with proper hiking gear and tents would allow full exploitation of the region, I was limited to single day hikes.

Pretty view down the valley
Pretty view down the valley

One hike was called ‘the cross walk’, a solid two hour walk up a very steep incline or a longer but easier walk up a road for eight kilometres to a religious cross. Further on there are three different coloured small lakes that afford great views. Unfortunately the weather was not conducive to this (despite looking forward to it)  so an option was to walk to a nearby glacier.

The glacier itself can be reached after a four hour walk from town, passing through some quiet eroded areas and places where quarrying of the river stones was being undertaken, plus past a new hotel in an oddly less than desirable location and certainly not within easy walking distance of town.

An option was to take an overpriced taxi to the suspension bridge that marked the one-hour each way walk proper. With the weather very changeable, from scattered cloud to raining and cloudy again in the space of an hour, this was my preferred option, shared with two other travellers.

The taxi was a small Nissan Cube and three of us piled in. The nature of the road was more like a track (as is typical in Georgian roads – even in towns) and the poor vehicle bumped and scraped its way over the rocks and forded the small streams that ran down from the surrounding hills. Those who opted for the longer walk looked on in either envy or contempt at our choice to miss the first three hours walk.

The start point was a well-built suspension footbridge that started next to an impromptu little coffee shop made out of local materials and powered by a generator.

suspension bridge Mestia
In suspense over the suspension bridge!

The track itself was clear and marked by orange and white paint on rocks, something that would be keenly sought out when the track entered areas of jumbled stone and no discernible pathway. For the first 20 minutes the path climbed through a delightful conifer forest with the ground covered in moss and some small purple flowers.

A delightful walk
A delightful walk
The path ahead
The path ahead

Further on the flora changed to silver birch before eventually petering out as the trail entered the glacial valley proper. While the start of the walk had been through gentle surroundings, now we were in a harsh inhospitable environment of old moraines and tumbling ice-cold water.

Silver birch - bent trunks from growing through the weight of the snow when young?
Silver birch – bent trunks from growing through the weight of the snow when young?
The last line if vegetation
The last line of vegetation

Clambering over rocks and alternating gravel the dirt covered snow tongue of the glacier was finally attained. It was rather insignificant compared to the towering ice further up the valley. My companions opted to climb the final moraine  while I took extra photos. A later attempt to follow them was abandoned owing to the instability of the rocks and remembering the warning I had read about walking past the (now well passed) end of trail religious cross.

Glacier debris
Glacier debris
The river emerges from the dirty tongue of the glacier
The river emerges from the dirty tongue of the glacier. Final moraine in background
A big landscape
A big landscape
Colours of the earth
Colours of the earth
the tough of the glacier with a lot of debries
The tongue of the glacier with a lot of debris
Melting time
Melting time
Glacial dreams - the unattainable dream
Glacial dreams – the unattainable dream

While slightly disappointed that the head of the glacier had been unobtainable, the walk was certainly worth the effort to see such a rapid change of landscape and I was happy to have the taxi driver’s number (though the reception was limited to a small area ) to avoid the three hour walk back to town.


Small world, part of the bigger picture
Fungi - the only specimens seen
Fungi – the only specimens seen
A splash of colour
A splash of colour
the river starts its long and turbulent journey
The river starts its long and turbulent journey them
Conifers…love them