This is was the first stop after Tbilisi. The most popular places in the region of Imereti and Samtskhe-Javakheti (or the once we managed to visit): Borjomi, Vardzia, and Khatski Pillar.
To move away from Tbilisi, you should go to Didube metro station where the bus station is and take any van/taxi to a planned place. Don’t forget to bargain. Move around and ask for prices to compare. It should take about 4-5 hours to get to Borjomi, where we stayed at the guesthouse that booked earlier on http://www.booking.com. Since the economy is stagnating, almost every city/village hosts tourists for money. Conditions are way nicer that in hostels of Tbilisi (about that in the next post).
What to see in Borjomi? Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park – one of the largest in Europe with native forest and alpine meadows. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any wildlife. But you can take a wonderful stroll around it, which will lead you to Radon Baths.
It doesn’t worth visiting Borjomi factory, anyway, you will not have a permission. But you have a chance to go to Borjomi Mineral Waters. This place has hundreds of different springs and each one has its own taste and temperature. The water here is rich in microelements and minerals.
Katskhi Pillar is next to the town of Chiatura. The two churches found here are some of the oldest churches in the world (as Georgians say, I bet Armenian have a different opinion, let alone Syrians). The first church dates back to the 5th century and built on the top of a 40-meter high cliff, which can only be reached by climbing a metal ladder. This is not a typical location for churches in Georgia and we now believe that Katskhi was the home of hermit monks who came from the Middle East. To get to this place from Borjomi, you need to reach Khashuri and then make your way to Katskhi.
Vardzia a cave town that is one of the most important and impressive historic monuments in Georgia. At an altitude of 1300 meters above sea level and starting 100 meters above the valley floor, the caves continue up for a half a kilometer and had 13 floors, connected by a complex system of tunnels.
Vardzia was built by King George III in 1156-1184 and this incredible town quickly grew to consist of over 3,000 caves that could accommodate 50,000 people at a time. The Vardzia complex had living quarters, refectories, barns, wine cellars (marani), stables, drugstores and even libraries. The town had a potable water supply and a sewerage system. A monastery still exists and practices in the caves today.
Next stop, Kutaisi.