Is Yazd the most beautiful city in Iran?

Je Jazd nejhezčí město v Íránu?

Previous part: To Iran without a plan

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Noodle ice cream in Shiraz

In Shiraz, we were already expected by our first Iranian couchsurfer. We weren’t able to contact him about our exact time of arrival, so he had to wait for us a little bit longer. You won’t find WiFi on board although the VIP buses have WiFi logo. It is so because they are imported from Europe and they are used. We’ve visited the Bagh-e Eram Garden, the Hafez Tomb, the Shah Cheragh Mosque and the Karim Khan Citadel. Except for the mosque, we paid the entrance fee everywhere, which is at least for one zero higher for tourists. At the Shah Cheragh Mosque, as foreigners, we were provided by a free and obligatory guide. She was very nice and told us a lot about the place and allowed us to take photos with our big cameras. The Karim Khan Citadel, which formerly served as the seat of the ruler and later as a prison, wasn’t worth the money. For us, it would be sufficient to see it just from the outside. We also tried the traditional frozen delicacy called faloodeh, which is frozen noodles with lemon syrup and rosewater. The taste didn’t get us.

We finished the day somewhere on the outskirts of Shiraz in a hidden teahouse with a hookah, kebab, and tea, and then we moved to the south for about 80 kilometers to the Zanjiran village. Our couchsurfer has his house there. We spent the evening playing cards and talking about our lives and our religion. Simplified about why we are atheists and why they believe and what it means for their lives.

The following day we went back to Shiraz for lunch where I enjoyed lamb meat probably for the first time and also for the last time in a kebab form. Our idea to spend another night with another couchsurfer, so we get to know more people, wasn’t so good. He lives in a small district in the suburbs of Shiraz, where our previous couchsurfer took us. The new one was like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. But not funny. First, he insisted that we should go on a city tour back to Shiraz, but we already saw the city and didn’t want to go back again. Another option was to visit Persepolis, but our plan was to go there the next day. The last rescue option was to go to the “mountains” next to the city, and we greatly appreciate it. The problem was that in the end, our couchsurfer didn’t welcome this idea and in the middle of the hill he said he is tired and wants to go home. We spent the rest of the day with him in his small room and tried to keep the conversation while checking his collection of coins and paper cups (in Iran they have at least nice design). Several times we were asked if we want to go to the shower (we didn’t stink), and when we will finally take a shower. The situation was saved for a while thanks to a dinner – some rice with legumes which was very good and tasty, and I would eat it all if I didn’t feel stupid for it.

On the last day in Shiraz, we originally wanted to visit the famous ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis and then head to Yazd. In the end, we weren’t so much into it, and we would have to go back to Shiraz from Persepolis to catch the bus to Yazd according to our couchsurfer. We didn’t want to spend our time by going there and back again and again, so we were just accompanied to the bus terminal in Shiraz. The farewell with the couchsurfer deserved a big high five, and before noon, we were on the bus to experience another endless journey through the Iranian desert to Yazd.

The desert city of Yazd

We arrived at the bus terminal in Yazd, located on the edge of the city, after dusk. Right after getting off the bus we were surrounded by taxi drivers offering us a ride. I immediately refused the first offer of one driver and suggested much lower and more realistic price. He accepted without any resistance. No fun with this guy. For accommodation we chose the Kooshk-e Now district near the main mosque (the name Jame Mosque means that it’s the main mosque in the city, so it’s not named after some James or jam; you will find mosques with this name in several cities), where the most tourists accommodate. The driver brought us to the Oasis hostel through old narrow streets, led us inside, and left back to his old car without asking for the money. KaÄŤka has probably begun to enjoy the free ride, but I stopped him and paid the agreed price. Karma, right?

We found the Oasis hostel expensive, so we tried other hostels in the area and ended up at the Dalan-e behesht hotel, where they offer shared room in the basement for $10 per person. And men and women can be there together! Don’t tell the ayatollah. Besides us, only two or three Asians were accommodated in that room. The price included unlimited access to tea and breakfast with a good selection. Just the internet connection sucked. For this, we had to ask at a reception for login information. And the connection with one specific credential was restricted to a specific (and very small) amount of data, so it did not last and we were at the reception again. And again. Later we found out how the system works, so sometimes we managed to use older credentials with the reseted data limit, sometimes we guessed another credentials.

The desert city of Yazd is the city I liked the most, especially our district. Narrow alleys with walls of mud were perfect for wandering to unknown and interesting places and windcatchers, known as badgir (serving for cooling the air inside a building instead of air conditioning), create a great atmosphere. Yazd was also the first place where we encountered tourists at every step, and we didn’t feel like in country nobody wants to travel to. During the day we visited the main mosque, the Clock Tower, bazaar, Amir Chakhmaq Mosque and Square, and a tourist library where you can go on the roof for admission. Luckily we managed to get on the roof for free at the Irani Cafe next to the main mosque.

In the evening we took a taxi and went to watch the sunset to Zoroastrians’ Towers of Silence. A taxi driver wanted to wait for us and to take us back because it would be difficult to grab a taxi there. Yeah, we know these tricks. As usual, we paid the tourist fee and found ourselves in front of two hills on which the Towers of Silence – the dakhmas – are built. Below the hills, there are several ancient Zoroastrians’ buildings, an underground water tank, and their present cemetery. For the sunset, we chose the tower on the left and higher hill. These towers were used by Zoroastrians to bury dead bodies that were eaten by birds, leaving only bones. In Iran, however, this burying was banned at the beginning of the second half of the 20th century. The sun slowly drowned in a sandy cloud, and we went back. Well, the taxi driver was right, there was no free car, and we weren’t able to leave with other tourists. So our first Iranian hitchhiking took place there. It took a while, but eventually we stopped a young student girl (what a surprise, we weren’t picked up by a girl in Georgia or Armenia), and within a second a taxi stopped behind her. She was listening to Persian hip hop and didn’t care about her falling hijab. She spoke English just a little bit so that we couldn’t chat a lot, and drove us to the Amir Chakhmaq Square where the fountain is color lightened in the evening.

For the first time in a desert

We left Yazd the next morning and headed by bus to the small desert village Toodeshk. We were surprised by the police checkpoint before reaching the city Naein. Everybody had to leave the bus which was searched by dogs. Some young Iranian girl was unlucky because they had found something in her bag, but then she continued with us. The bus driver wasn’t happy about it and gave her some lesson. I guess. We arrived at Toodeshk around noon, and while walking to our place I had to take a selfie with one local. In a moment I was sitting at our guesthouse, eating lunch together with other young foreigners.

The place we were accommodated in is called Tak Taku Guesthouse, and it was founded by Mohammad Jalali, mainly because of cyclists who often rode through this village. He had been meeting cyclist there already as a child and was giving them something good to eat. He claimed that today not so many cyclists pass this route, but it seems that tourists use his guesthouse frequently. We gathered there in more than ten people. Everything is like new in his guesthouse, and it was probably the best accommodation we’ve had in Iran. There are available trips to the Varzaneh desert, where you can also sleep in tents, or farther to the Salt Lake. We chose the sunset without sleeping in the dunes of the Varzaneh desert. Probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Isfahan – the city of bridges

In Toodeshk we spent only one night and the next day we continued to Isfahan, where we again arranged couchsurfing. Sometimes it’s difficult without the internet, so even we got to his address, we weren’t able to reach him through the old good doorbell. So we went to look for public wifi. Along the way, we wanted to visit the main mosque of Isfahan, but the tourist entrance stopped us. We were able to find the wifi at the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, also known as the Imam Square, which should be one of the largest squares in the world. After contacting our host, we found out that we originally chose the wrong door, because he was at home. It must also be noted that this was our first couchsurfing we paid for, which is against the rules and spirit of Couchsurfing. But we didn’t get any other offer and didn’t want to look for a hotel or guesthouse. But after more than a week we could finally wash our clothes! A valuable tip from our host was that the main mosque has free entrance during evening prayers, so we visited it that day again.

The second day we walked through a dry Zayande riverbed and admired bridges. On the banks, there are green parks and gardens, where you can hide from the sun, or to refill drinking water. Which is great about Iran – you can find drinking fountains at many places. The most impressive and most famous bridge is probably the Khajoo Bridge, which serves not only as a little “dam” but also as a place for picnics, reading of Hafez’s poems, or just for chilling. Other interesting bridges are Joubi and Si-o-seh also known as the bridge of thirty-three spans. Next stop was again the Imam Square where we wanted to go to some teahouse and smoke hookah. We also wanted to stop by at the Chehel Sotoun Palace, but somehow we missed the right entrance and headed to a government building, so soldiers didn’t let us in. Searching for a teahouse around the square was endless, and our Lonely Planet guide was outdated. On the square, we’ve visited the Ali Qapu Palace where after paying the entrance fee a miss offered us an audio guide and couldn’t understand we don’t want to pay for it another amount. Thanks to the tourist entrance fees we also skipped the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.

We sadly said goodbye to a non-existent hookah and rather enjoyed free teas thanks to the religious feast of Ashura which accompanied us for the rest of our stay in Iran (I still don’t understand what’s the timetable because the Ashura lasts only for one day). And after returning to our couchsurfing host, we also got hookah because he was celebrating his birthday with friends. It was also our last evening in Isfahan and the next day we went to another desert town – Kashan.

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Next part: Desert, camels and salt lake at Kashan

To Iran without a plan

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During summer 2015 in Georgia, we knew that we want to visit Iran. Everywhere present road signs to Tehran were provoking, but the trip wouldn’t worth it for 4 days at max. Well, last autumn we wanted to go back to Georgia for at least a week, but KaÄŤka said nooo because she couldn’t afford to leave university for one week. So I suggested Iran for two weeks, and suddenly we had flight tickets for the end of September in the mail.

We didn’t look forward to Iran

You want to visit Iran for several years, you’re looking forward to it and then.. Then you return after almost a month from South Africa, Thailand, Ethiopia, and Italy, you have a break at home for five days, and suddenly you’d like to rest from traveling at least twice longer. And both of you has the same problem. Well, what could we do, nobody else would do it instead of us. Moreover, we had absolutely no plan where to go and what to see. On the way to Iran, we opened a few years old Lonely Planet book and chose one of the offered itineraries. As it turned out, it was probably the most common route for first visitors. We flew from Vienna with Pegasus Airlines with a change in Istanbul. It seems that arrivals and departures in the middle of the night are popular in this region. Both in Georgia and in Iran. We touched the surface of the Islamic Republic around 2 AM and headed into the maelstrom of bureaucratic absurdities.

VIE-SAW-IKA

Iranian immigration mess

We knew that there is a possibility that we won’t be able to leave the airport and we will fly back immediately. Information about getting a visa to Iran differs not only source from source, but also person from person at the airport. Perhaps it depends on your face and the mood of officials. Some were given visas for 15 days, others for a whole month. We needed the visa for 16 days. The immigration process is also complicated not only because of the “need” to pay health insurance – regardless of whether you have travel insurance from your country – but also because everyone pays a different price for visa/insurance and by the existence of mystical reference number. Don’t try to find the system in this. It seems that they’re trying to complicate it to tourists and just get money from them. This is also probably the official motto of the Iranian tourist agency, as we experienced when paying entrance fees throughout the country.

One option is to arrange your visa at the Iranian Embassy in your country. To do this, according to the available information, you must have that mystical reference number. This is the business for its sellers. I don’t know who sell it and what it should serve for. Plenty of people went to Iran without it and passed through immigration, so why to spend extra money. We chose the second option – a visa upon arrival at the international airport of Imam Khomeini. The queue at the counter was not long, but you won’t get to the counter itself. Sophisticated officials have a different system – one of them coordinates everything with every tourist, collects your passport and eventually give it back to you with visa.

In our case, it worked quite quickly and without problems. We got the visa for 30 days automatically without asking for 70 euros, and we paid 14 euros for their health insurance. After about an hour we were able to travel to Tehran by taxi because the airport is located about 50 km away and there is no public transportation.

Bargain!

Also in Iran you have to bargain over the price otherwise you will end nicely robbed. From our host, I knew that we shouldn’t pay more than 20 euros, so I just nodded to the very first offer at the arrivals for 35 dollars without even trying to bargain. No logic here. I didn’t get rid of comments about this till the end of the trip.

Tehran didn’t catch our attention

We dedicated first three days for Tehran for the cultural acclimatization. We found our accommodation on Homestay at a young married couple in the Sadeghiyeh district. The first day we used to get familiar with the metro, local glances, marketplace, and Golestan Palace. The price for a metro ticket we knew from the internet was probably outdated so at a desk they didn’t get why we are trying to pay less, and we didn’t understand what they want from us. But we always got a ticket – seems it didn’t matter on the price. Another surprise for us was how big surprise we were for the locals. Not that we were the first foreigners who were spotted in Persia. Those glances were incomparable with the ones from Southeast Asia I already know – people here are staring at you. Without a single blink. It certainly weren’t hostile glances, but it took a few days to get used to it. They also often approached us (well, more me, but on that another time) and asked us where we are from. Some of them were satisfied with the small talk, others wanted to talk in English more, others willingly advised what to do.

Losing in the famous Grand Bazaar was interesting and photogenic, but if you don’t want to buy shoes, carpet, clothes, jewelry, shoes, and carpets you probably won’t buy anything. Oh, did I mention carpets and shoes? Each aisle offers mostly one type of goods, but we didn’t find food aisle.

It took us while to find the entrance to the Golestan Palace. Admission is paid by the exhibitions you want to see. Together with the base admission, we chose only the Mirror Hall and then we tried to get into another room, but tickets are checked carefully. Buying entrance for all exhibitions (or for boredom if you want) would be a waste of money. When walking in the park, we were stopped by the old man with the question if we are from Germany. I asked him why Germany and he said he is looking for someone to explain some things in German. And because KaÄŤka spricht sehr gut, the Iranian gentleman got a German lesson from the Czech girl in English.

The second day we wanted to visit 3964 meters high mountain Tochal, which is located north of the city. At the same time, we wanted to get some sleep that morning. Which, as we discovered later, excluded the visit of Tochal. Traveling through the entire city by metro, then bargain a good price with a taxi driver and finally walking to the first station lasted for so long, that after our arrival we learned we came too late to get to the top of the mountain. Thanks to this the world reminded how small it is because we met KaÄŤka’s friends who were also traveling in Iran that time.

The last day in Tehran we caught up the rest of the “must see” places – Azadi Tower and the former US Embassy. It was in reconstruction around the Azadi Tower, local grass police patrolled so nobody enters the pitch and I finally became a celebrity when locals wanted pictures with me. Then we moved by metro to the Taleghan stop which is next to the former US Embassy. To take pictures, or not? I read a recommendation to ask the security first. Luckily, no security at that time so we could photograph the graffiti without any restriction. But we also lost the opportunity to ask them if we can visit the complex because it’s impossible to take a look because of the wall.

Tehran wasn’t special for us. Millions of people, heavy traffic, and smog. We were looking forward to a trip to Shiraz in the south. We chose about 14 hours long ride by a comfortable VIP night bus for $ 20. VIP means that the bus has 2+1 seat configuration with plenty of legroom and proper reclining seats. The ticket also includes refreshments – water, juice, biscuits and some chemical cake. Take your insulin.

In the next post, we will have a look at first couchsurfing experience in Shiraz, and we will visit the desert city and the desert itself.

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HOSTEL REVIEW: The Circle Hostel Baler, Philippines

The Circle Hostel Baler

WHY BALER?

Baler is a place where surfing started in Philippines. Because of the filmmakers of war movie Apocalypse Now who left there surfboards after filming so locals could start to learn. Over time Baler has become a surfing destination where surf competitions are also held. I stayed for only one day and two nights at The Circle Hostel because of my flight from Philippines back to my country. It definitely worth for a longer visit.

THE CIRCLE HOSTEL

The Circle Hostel is a network of hostels in Luzon island and you can find them in surf destinations. Besides Baler they are located in Zambales and La Union.

[fac_icon icon=”globe” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#000000″]|[fac_icon icon=”facebook-official” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#000000″]|[fac_icon icon=”instagram” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#000000″]
[fac_icon icon=”map-marker” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#ff5353″] Buton Street, Brgy. Sabang, Aurora, Baler, Philippines
[fac_icon icon=”phone” color=”#ff5353″ color_hover=”#ff5353″] +63 917 501 0235

STAFF, FACILITY AND ATMOSPHERE

You will feel really comfortable during your stay and you will be surrounded by friendly atmosphere of staff and other travelers who had headed there also for surfing. The staff can advise you with current surfing conditions, trips around or transportation to Manila. I found my surfing buddies (from Sweden and Philippines) right in the morning so it was not boring in the waves even I sucked that day. But as they say at the hostel “The best surfer out there is the one having most fun!”. And I had. I really liked the colorful interior full of creative drawings from travelers. And you can also enrich some free spot with your work! I did not manage to make it so maybe next time.

You can stay in a classic mixed dorm room with three bunk beds. Each is equipped with mosquito net for a quiet night without unwanted visitors and you can also find lockers in the rooms. But you have to have your own lock. They offer also female dorm rooms. Other options are rooms for two persons or sleeping in hammock. There are a lots of bars around thanks to their loud music and karaoke you will not get much sleep. So bring your own earplugs. Another disadvantage of the rooms is absence of power outlets but you will find them in common areas in sufficient quantities. Check the rates and availability on http://www.baler.thecirclehostel.com/#reservation.

Tidy and clean showers with toilets are shared by all guests and they are divided for men and women. And you can enjoy shower with hot water!

If you want to cook your own meal you can use the furnished kitchen, just remember to clean up after yourself. For relaxation you can use hammocks, a place with beanbags next to the small skating U ramp or you can climb the stairs to the spacious chill area full of beanbags, hammocks and tables. At both places there is plenty of power outlets. You will not find WiFi there, you need to use your mobile data.

 The price includes breakfast which is served from 6:30 (surfers need to wake up early) and it consists of pastry, peanut butter and bananas. There is also free drinking water so don’t worry about buying bottles. They will also gladly prepare coffee for you and you can buy some other refreshments from the current offer at the reception.

Since this is a surf hostel you can rent there surfboard  and the offer surf lessons with instructors. During my stay the surfboard was for 200 pesos per hour and lesson for 350 pesos per hour.

SURFING AND SURROUNDINGS

As I wrote, the main activity in Baler is surfing. The main season is from October to April but you can surf there during the whole year. If you can not get the required equipment at the hostel you can borrow it at many other places around the beach. The Sabang beach is only few steps away and there are four spots nearby: Sabang Beach (beach break, suitable for beginners), Cemento Beach (reef break, for advanced surfers), Charlie’s Point (beach break) and Lindy’s Point (rivermouth break).

And if you don’t surf you can visit 65m tall banyan fig tree in Aurora (Giant Balete tree, Millenium tree), Ditumabo Mother falls, exploring nearby beaches or go hiking to the nearby mountains.

 HOW TO GET TO BALER

In Manila take a bus from Cubao bus terminal (there are more terminals according to bus company). Direct connection should be offered only by Genesis at unpleasant times: five connections between 12:30AM and 5:30AM. You can book the tickets online on https://www.pinoytravel.com.ph/ (at the latest 3 days before departure), the price is around 700 pesos, as an origin choose Cubao, Quezon City, Metro Manila and as a destination choose Baler, Aurora. But you can get to Baler also during the day. Also from one of the terminals in Cubao or Pasay (I went with Five Star company for 185 pesos but Victory Liner and Baliwag Transit also should go there) take bus to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija where you will change to shuttle bus/van to Baler for 200 pesos. Just ask the driver or local people. From the bus terminal in Baler take a tricycle to the hostel for 15 pesos.

From Baler to Manila there is also five direct buses. The first at 4:30AM and the last one at 3:30PM. You can buy the ticket in advance at the bus terminal in Baler. Or you can go with the change in Cabanatuan again.

My first solo traveling. To Philippines!

Budapest is becoming my regular place from which I leave in February. 9th February 2014 to Israel, 9th February 2015 to Sri Lanka and 9th February 2016 to Philippines. I really don’t choose these dates! But this time it will be little bit different.

I was thinking about traveling abroad to completely unknown country for me for about last two years. In summer I went to Georgia for two months but I was there on EVS with 9 other people so it doesn’t count.

Last year in May there was really good deal from Cebu Pacific and the tickets from Dubai to Manila cost only about 55 euros. So I bought it. My three other friends bought the tickets with me but in the end they were too lazy to make web check-in. And that’s how my first solo trip was born.

I spent one night in Budapest through Couchsurfing. I found one Georgian girl and even her status is “maybe accept guests” I had to try it. And it worked! Georgian hospitality is even out of Georgia. Ada lives in Budapest for six years. She studied there and now she works there. At her apartment Ada’s friends visited us, we had lovely dinner and lot of fun. We also diagnosed Georgian syndrom. It means you want to go back to Georgia as soon as possible. I hope me and her Romanian friend are an adequate sample.

In Dubai I arrived to the Dubai World Central airport. Some sheik needed new airport which will become the biggest in the world. But now it looks just like it’s in the middle of nowhere, 60 km from Dubai, only with low cost airlines, metro doesn’t go there and probably won’t in the future. Now I’m in the maze called Dubai Mall because my Couchsurfer’s apartment is nearby. I’m again on Couchsurfing here and right from my bed I can see the Burh Khalifa. And before midnight I’m finally going to Philippines. Or I hope so, Cebu Pacific doesn’t follow departure times so much.

This is going to be really low cost trip. I’m going only with backpack up to 7 kg, all 7 flight tickets cost me about 310 euros and I’d like to not pay for accommodation too much. The next few days I managed to to find hosts on Couchsurfing so it’s great. For the first time I will get absolutely outside of my comfort zone. But I’m really looking forward to meet new people while backpacking. And after this I’ll be prepared for a few months of backpacking in Southeast Asia where I want to go after graduation. Should I rather write my diploma thesis right now? Ah, the sources won’t run away.

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How to get free €37 Airbnb credit

How to get free €35 Airbnb credit

Thanks to Airbnb you can find accommodation cheaper than in hotels in more than 34,000 cities around the world. You can find a really cheap place to stay in shared room, private room or also the entire home or apartment. And you can find unique places to stay like castles, boats, planes or tree houses.

HOW TO EARN 350 NOK (€34) FOR YOUR FIRST STAY

Airbnb is often changing the value of the credit for your first stay. Normally you can get €27 (or equivalent in your currency). But there is one way how to get €37. Follow this guide and enjoy your voucher.

1. Go to Airbnb through this link.

2. You will get to the Norwegian version of Airbnb website (the screenshots below are from the German website). That’s the only option how to get €37 credit instead of €27. Now register with your Facebook, Google or email – it’s up to you.

2a) choose your registration method
2a) choose your registration method
2b) in case you can't see registration options, click the button
2b) in case you can’t see registration options, click the button

3. Enter your information: name, surname, email, password and click the button.

3) enter your details
3) enter your details

4. Check your email inbox and click the button in the email from Airbnb – you will confirm your email address.

5. Switch the language to English on the bottom of the site.

5) switch the language
5) switch the language

6. Now you can use your €37 Airbnb voucher (or equivalent in your currency) before the payment. A qualifying reservation has to be in the total value of 650 NOK (€64) or more (excluding service fee).

6) checkout
6) checkout

That’s all. Don’t forget that the free €37 Airbnb credit is valid only for 12 months. Enjoy your stay and share this post with your friends!

European road trip, part II

European road trip, part II

European road trip, part I

FRANCE AND ANDORRA

From Monaco we went to Cannes where we wanted to… I guess to walk on the red carpet at the Palais des Festivales? Anyway, there just was a sailing festival so we couldn’t get there and we rather continued to the west.

Marseille and Cassis

We arrived to Marseille and we lost a lot of our time as we found out in the evening. We just visited the port, had lunch, bought some souvenirs but thanks to terrible traffic jams we spend there a lot of hours. In the port we have discovered an ad for cruises to the bays near Cassis in the National Park Calanques and we wanted to see it on that day. But Cassis is kingdom of one-way streets that successfully confused our GPS so we broke these rules and drove by ourselves. Unfortunately it’s not possible to go by car to these bays and the sun didn’t want to stay longer with us. So we just went to watch the sunset above Cassis and then to find some place to sleep somewhere nearby Saint-RĂ©my-de-Provence.

Saint-RĂ©my-de-Provence, Orange and Pont du Gard

Saint-RĂ©my-de-Provence was, in change, kingdom of markets and tasting of all sorts of food. Cheeses, salami, fruit, turrĂłn. And, of course, lavender (we didn’t tasted). From the markets we went to explore the Roman Colosseum from the 1st century in Orange. And after that to Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard to which we wanted to get for free by not making eye contact with the staff. But the staff made the contact with us.

Saint-Guilhem-le-DĂ©sert and Pont du Diable

The last stop of the day was the small town Saint-Guilhem-le-DĂ©sert with the bridge Pont du Diable. From there we went to the coast towards Carcassonne, where we wanted to sleep on the beach. First, we arrived to Bages where Dexter could joyfully throw dead bodies into water and that place didn’t have much in common with the coast. Eventually we got to the beach in Narbonne and finally used the grill we had with us all the time.

Carcassonne

Surprisingly there is no entrance fee when entering the fortress town of Carcassonne. But if you are interested in a castle tour you have to pay. In case you are not an EU citizen under 26. I missed this criterion a few months ago and the lady at the cash desk didn’t want to beg about this. So while waiting for others I walked through the city and according their words I made a good decision because I could visit more places in the fortress. The only thing about Carcassonne I didn’t like was the commercialism and dozens of souvenir shops.

Andorra

Across the Pyrenees we headed to the capital city of Andorra – Andorra la Vella. Somewhere near the border we enjoyed nice traffic jam and right behind the border we chose paid tunnel. On the way back we realized that it was stupid idea because we skipped only short section with hairpin turns and we missed beautiful mountain scenery. After the tunnel we went only through valley. I liked Andorra la Vella so much I can imagine to live there for a few months. BTW, one guy in Monaco told us to not go to Andorra because it’s boring and ugly. Well, Andorra was the most beautiful small country we’ve visited during our Eurotrip. From Andorra there are only two roads out – back to France and to Spain. Due to shorter distance to the highway we chose the same route back. But this time we avoid the tunnel and enjoyed the ride above clouds at sunset.

SPAIN

Yes, at late night we arrived to Spain. And that’s because… To arrive to San Sebastian, while looking for a place to sleep pass the ghostly lighthouse and in the end slept in the car near the beach (but it belongs to a road trip, right?). And in the morning back to France.

FRANCE

Hendaye

I wanted to visit Hendaye for one reason – baguettes I’ve enjoyed two years ago. At the same time we needed wifi for finding accommodation close to the ocean somewhere near Hossegor and Seignosse. It wasn’t easy because it was expensive/far away/people didn’t respond, but finally we managed to get some great accommodation in Hossegor.

Hossegor and Biarritz

It was beautiful house in a pine forest with swimming pool and Japanese garden (Do you want $20 credit on Airbnb? So click!). The owners, a married couple, took really great care of us and they were well traveled so we had a much to talk. E.g. they spent a few years in Lebanon and Japan in which they fell in love so we had a room with Japanese elements. And why Hossegor? Because of surfing and Surf-Trip.cz! The waves wasn’t so good for my (in)abilities and the fish that can kill you? Weever, which according to Wikipedia, killed about one man. Anyway, the pain caused by stabbing wasn’t very pleasant. Then the coast guard explained me what was going on.

Gouffre de Padirac

We left Hossegor in the afternoon and headed back to the east. We spent the night in the tent near Gouffre de Padirac where we were going the next day. Gouffre de Padirac is a chasm and caves in which you ride a boat. It looked kind of like in Jurassic Park.

SWITZERLAND AND LIECHTENSTEIN

The same day we arrived to Saint-Julien-en-Genevois on the border with Switzerland, built the tent on the French side and to the toilet we went to Switzerland.

Geneva

In the morning we visited Geneva for a while, looked to the UN and Lake Geneva and then we headed to the easternmost part of Switzerland.

Lauterbrunnen

The first stop was 297 meters tall waterfall Staubbachfall in Lauterbrunnen. From there we continued to the most famous Swiss waterfalls.

Rhine Falls

First we arrived to the Rhine Falls from the south side where is also a viewing platform. Surprisingly, here you pay the entrance fee. Probably before you enter the area of Laufen castle. But in our case we thought that the cash desks are there only because of cruises. And because nobody had checked the tickets we got to the viewing platform for free. What does it matter that it was weird there were turnstiles. But also opened wheelchair doors next to them so we could walk through it. So we saved 5 francs.

Then we crossed to the north side to Neuhausen am Rheinfall, where it’s not possible to get so close to the waterfalls. And along the way there we were stopped by police for the first time. Probably because they noticed us staring on them when they drove against us. Or they were interested because of passenger without seat belt? In a while they were right behind us with lit police beacon. Luckily it was just a routine check without a fine, we talked about our trip and when they saw our stuffed trunk we didn’t have to show it.

Sankt Gallen

From waterfalls we headed to our final destination – to St. Gallen where my friend KaÄŤka, who is in Switzerland at Erasmus this semester, provided us accommodation. Actually I didn’t see much of St. Gallen, but I visited a lecture at the university. In German language.

Vaduz a Malbun

From St. Gallen we made a trip to the last small country. Liechtenstein offers mainly Vaduz and mountains in which we chose ski resort Malbun. By visiting Vaduz we probably increased its population by a few percent, we visited the square of this capital village and then we rather went up into the mountains. Around the Vaduz Castle, which is still used by Liechtenstein’s Princely Family so it’s not accessible for public, through many other villages to Malbun.

And that was it, the next thing was just to get through Germany to Brno without any scheduled stops. A bit of statistics?

We drove more than 6000 kilometers. Fuel cost us less than €480, we spent millions by paying toll. We slept 9 times in the tent including 3 nights in camps. Once in the car. Three nights at our friends, two via Airbnb and one at the hotel. 10 countries in 17 days.

European road trip, part I

European road trip

After returning from Georgia I didn’t spend much time at home and I went to travel again. This time I had a plan for road trip through western Europe with my friends. Austria, Italy, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, Spain, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany. How did it go?

AUSTRIA

GrĂĽner See

The first stop was GrĂĽner See in Austria even though we were considering whether to go there or not because of the level of water. This lake is popular for divers in spring and early summer when the water level is high due to melting snow and you can swim around benches on which we could sit down. In the end the visit was definitely worth it even though there wasn’t so much water.

Hallstatt

From Oberort we continued to Hallstatt lake where we wanted to spend first night. Parking lot at the lake said that we don’t have to pay during the night but we can’t camp there. We parked the car so nobody couldn’t see it, built  a tent and ate or food from home, including Georgian beer I still had. The weather at night was bad and we didn’t build the ten properly so sometimes some water drops landed on our faces. Fortunately, the rain stopped early in the morning so we were able to leave the place around 6 a.m. without paying. We stopped in Hallstatt for a while and then we went to Werfen.

Werfen

In Werfen, there is a castle Hohenwerfen to which we went by food so we could find out that we have to pay an entrance fee of 11 euros. Well, at least there was wifi so we could relieve our cold turkeys and then we continued to the Alps to check out Grossglockner.

Grossglockner

We chose the Grossglockner High Alpine Road which was really great experience and it definitely wort that 35 euros. Thanks to this route it’s possible to reach the Pasterze glacier which is just bellow the Grossglockner. In Austria, we haven’t anything else to visit so Italy was next destination.

ITALY & SAN MARINO

Lago di Garda

Thw whole route through the Alps was full of amazing scenery, hairpin turns and villages, we drove through Cortina d’Ampezzo to Trento and started looking for accommodation. We couldn’t find anything appropriate on Airbnb so around midnight we reached a camp in the north of Lago di Garda. In the morning we wanted to go to southern part of the lake to Peschiera del Garda and we chose great road on the coast. About one million people had the same idea so it took us some time. By the evening we wanted to reach Venice which we had planned for the next day. But it wouldn’t be right trip without any problem, right? On the highway near Verona the car stopped working and we had to spend about two hours at SOS place before the tow truck arrived.

Verona

It was luck that right in Verona there was Ĺ koda service station. Very friendly and helpful lady took care about us. She arranged with us everything important and helped us with finding cheap accommodation. It was a hotel a few steps from the service. Quite a change with comparison to the tent. Not that we were unable to find accommodation by ourselves, but there was nothing for affordable price in Verona. And it wasn’t sure when the car will be repaired so staying in Verona was in the game. The only solution was to rent a car to not lose a weekend in one city.

Friday morning we visited the city and it wasn’t bad unscheduled stop at all. And one great news was waiting for us – the car will be repaired in the afternoon.

Venice

We arrived close to Venice in the evening, spent the night in the nearby camp and in the morning we went by bus to the islands. Because we bought the bus ticket from driver, it would be probably cheaper to go by car and park right in Venice. We took the circuit through Venice in go with the crowd style and in the afternoon we headed on another journey – to Rimini in the south which should be our place before visiting San Marino the next day. Actually we found the camp a little further in Riccione, enjoyed swimming in the sea with jellyfish together with local hotel security, because exactly that part of the beach we’ve been to was private.

San Marino

It would be really great to head to San Marino early in the morning to see the sunrise, but sleep is sleep. Even so we arrived at a time when the city began to wake up and on Monte Titano there were almost no tourists. On the mountain  there are three forts which were never conquered – La Fratta, La Guaita and La Montale which has an entrance in the underground and served as a prison. BTW, did you know that the San Marino F1 Grand Prix wasn’t take place in San Marino but in close Italian Imola? Its name was only because Italy already had one GP.

Cinque Terre

From San Marino we went to west coast to the region ofCinque Terre (so we skipped Florence and Pisa), which is located between cities La Spezia and Genoa. Cinque Terre is famous because its small colorful villages on the coast in which you can’t go by car. So you have to park on the edge and take a small walk. We’ve visited three of these villages – Riomaggiore, Corniglia and Vernazza.

We wanted to spend the night in Genoa by couchsurfing but nobody was able to take four people. In the end an idea of going straight to France and camp there won.

FRANCE & MONACO

It took us about four hour drive to get to France and we got there around midnight. We wanted to build the tent in French Menton on a nice patch of grass, but local police didn’t recommend us to stay there (I mean they forbade us to stay there so they don’t have any problem because of us) and sent us to another place down the road which we weren’t able to find. But we got to a nice hidden beach right before Monaco and we went to sleep around 2 a. m.

Monaco

The next day we went to Monaco where we had arranged accommodation. We relaxed a while in the swimming pool and in the afternoon we walked almost the whole Monaco – Larvotto beach, Japanese garden, port Hercule, Monaco-Ville with its Prince’s Palace, Saint Nicholas cathedral and the Monte Carlo casino.

Which of the small states was the most beautiful, which fish can kill you while surfing in France and where we were stopped by police for the first time? You will find out in the next article.

European road trip, part II

Transportation in Tbilisi

Night Tbilisi

Public transportation in Tbilisi is good, bud the traffic can be madness. Into three lanes fit at least four cars and drivers are not used to give priority to pedestrians. The only safe options are crosswalks with traffic lights, overpasses and underpasses. But you can cross the street anywhere you want, you won’t get a fine and you will notice that everybody does it. You just need to be brave enough, guess the right moment and also wait in the middle of the road if needed. After some time you will run between those cars as anything.

For public transport in Tbilisi purchase METROMANI card which will save you money while changing lines. Without this card you will pay for every single ride by bus 0.50 GEL and you won’t be able to use the metro. You can get METROMANI card at every metro station for 2 GEL and you can charge it there with any amount. Another charging option are orange pay boxes which you can find around the city with any problem and you can also use them for top up your mobile phone credit and another services. Just place the card at a designated point on the machine, insert coins or banknotes (the lowest accepted coin is 50 tetri) and you are recharged. But beware that pay boxes won’t give you change so charge only with amount you really want. With this card you pay also 0.50 GEL for the ticket but it’s valid for 90 minutes so while changing line or bus you won’t be charged again. However, if you get on a different bus, use the card again at the machine, you will get ticket for 0 GEL. Therefore it is good that everybody have their own card. Although the card is not tied to a name and you can take any amount of tickets, the discount will be applied only once. Before leaving Tbilisi you can return this card (up to 1 month from purchase) and if you provide your purchase receipt, they will give you 2 GEL back.

BUS

In every bus you will find a machine in which you can buy the ticket for 0.50 GEL – just put there coin or their sum or place the card and it will give you the ticket. At every bus stop there is always departure stop which is also in English and the ID of the stop can be useful. You can find all of the stops, routes on ttc.com.ge where you can plan your journey, find timetables etc. There is also an Android app which offers same functions as the website and one of the useful function is Route Maps. Are you standing at the bus stop and you don’t know where the lines are going? Just enter the line number and you can see the route on the map. To find a route it is easier to use ID of the stop than writing the name. It is interesting that in a lot of buses you will meet employees who will pass you the ticket and sometimes check your ticket even you just purchased it in front of them. You can also meet inspectors but I found their approach to controls quite lax. I also noticed that passengers often didn’t buy the ticket if the employee wasn’t at in the bus, before getting off the bus they checked the bus stop if there are no inspectors and they had the ride for free. BTW, the fine for black passengers is 5 GEL.

Departure table and pay box
Departure table and pay box
Ticket for 0 lari. You can see the line number (14), date and time
Ticket for 0 lari. You can see the line number (14), date and time

METRO

Metro in Tbilisi has two lines – First Line (red) and Saburtalo (blue) and the only transfer station is Station Square I (Sadguris Moedani I). It runs from 6:00 till 23:59, the signs are in Georgian and English, so the announcement about the next stop and at each entrance there are turnstiles.

Map of metro
Map of metro

MARSHRUTKA

If you are missing fast and furious intercity marshrutkas, you won’t get this kind of ride in Tbilisi. Yeah, it would still be full of honking and crazy driving. They will make a stop for you almost everywhere you say/wave and the price is 0.40–0.80 GEL per ride. You won’t find marshrutka’s departures on the stop boards but will find the routes in the Route Scheme or you can plan the route on the map.

TAXI

Sami lari! You won’t regret with this sentence in Tbilisi. Sami means three and because the prices are mostly between 3 and 5 GEL you probably always find some driver who will accept this price. Except you don’t want to go through the whole city or to the airport. The city is full of taxis so you can get it anytime and everywhere, that’s why you can try sami lari with more drivers. These taxis doesn’t have taximeters so always bargain about the price in advance. But of course you can find also taxi services where you can order taxi by phone. They have taximeters and they should be slightly cheaper. You won’t find UBER here but you can use the app Taxify (iOS, Android, WP) which is kind of Eastern European copy of UBER.

HOW TO GET TO/FROM THE AIRPORT

The cheapest option is bus or train. The bus #37 goes to the airport and his route starts at Station Square and goes through Freedom Square. Between 7:00 and 20:00 it runs every 15–30 minutes and then every one hour till 23:00. The train goes from the Tbilisi central railway station (next to Station Square) only twice a day and it also costs 0.50 GEL. From the central railway station it goes at 7:55 and 17:20 and from the airport to the railway station at 8:45 and 18:05. Since a lot of flights are early in the morning you won’t probably avoid the use of taxi. It should costs a maximum of 25 GEL from the city center to the airport, some of taxi services can do it for 14 GEL.

CABLE CAR

Do you want to visit Mother of Georgia (Kartvlis Deda) or Narikala fortress but you don’t want to walk up there? From Rike park you can take cable car which offers view on the old city and takes you directly next to the fortress which is just a short walk from the statue. For the ride you need METROMANI card (you can buy it there) and it costs 1 GEL per ride.

The second and probably less known is funicular from Vilnius Square to Mtatsminda amusement park where you can find Ferris wheel and TV tower. You won’t succeed with METROMANI card here and you have to buy another card which also costs 2 GEL. The ride is for 2 GEL and you don’t need more cards for more people.

View from the Rike-Narikala cable car
View from the Rike-Narikala cable car

 

How to fly to Mestia from Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Kutaisi

Flight to Mestia

Updated on July 23, 2019

Curious about how to get to Mestia in Georgia? You can spend many hours on the road to get to Mestia by bus, or you can take a flight to Mestia and be in the beautiful mountains in less than one hour!

Vanilla Sky offers flights to Mestia from Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Kutaisi throughout the year. Service Air operates the flights to Mestia on LET-410 UVP aircraft (registration UR-LSA) for 19 passengers.

In addition to these routes, they also operate flights between Natakhtari and Ambrolauri, and between Tbilisi and Batumi.

Currently, the flight schedule is available until the end of December 2019.

Flights between Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Mestia

Natakhtari airfield is located in Natakhtari, approximately 30 km north of Tbilisi city center. Flights between Natakhtari and Mestia are operated up to six times a week and up to twice a day.

Ticket price for Natakhtari – Mestia (one way):

  • adult: 90 GEL
  • child 3–12 y. o.: 63 GEL
  • child 0–3 y. o.: free

Flight schedule Natakhtari – Mestia in 2019

DAY NATAKHTARI – MESTIA MESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday 9:00
17:00
11:00
19:00
Tuesday 9:00 14:30
Wednesday 9:00 11:00
Thursday 9:00 11:00
Friday 9:00 14:30
Sunday 9:00 11:00

DAY NATAKHTARI – MESTIA MESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday 9:00
17:00
11:00
19:00
Tuesday 9:00 14:30
Wednesday 9:00 11:00
Thursday 9:00 11:00
Friday 9:00 14:30
Sunday 9:00 11:00

DAY NATAKHTARI – MESTIA MESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday 9:00
15:00
11:00
16:45
Tuesday 9:00 14:30
Wednesday 9:00 11:00
Thursday 9:00 11:00
Friday 9:00 14:30
Sunday 9:00 11:00

DAY NATAKHTARI – MESTIA MESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday 10:00 15:00
Tuesday 10:00 12:00
Thursday 10:00 12:00
Friday 10:00 15:00
Sunday 9:00 11:00

DAY NATAKHTARI – MESTIA MESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday 10:00 15:00
Tuesday 10:00 12:00
Friday 9:30 14:00
Sunday 9:00 11:00

DAY NATAKHTARI – MESTIA MESTIA – NATAKHTARI
Monday 10:00 12:00
Tuesday 10:00 15:00
Thursday 10:00 12:00
Friday 9:30 14:00
Sunday 9:00 11:00


TourRadar

How to get to Natakhtari airport

Natakhtari airport
Natakhtari airport

The price of the flight ticket from/to Natakhtari includes transportation between Natakhtari airfield and Tbilisi by van. The departure is from the Rose Revolution Sq. (corner of Kiacheli str. & Rose Revolution sq., the opposite side of the Bike monument), find the pick up point on the map below. The departure is 45 minutes before the indicated check-in time.

If you don’t want to use the provided transport for any reason, you can use a taxi. You can use Bolt (formerly Taxify), and it will cost you around 25 GEL from the city center of Tbilisi. Get 5 GEL off your first ride with this Bolt promo code: BCV5C. There is no Uber in Georgia

You can also hitchhike or catch a marshrutka heading north. Ask the driver to stop in Natakhtari and then walk from the main road to the airport for 1 km.

Accommodation in Tbilisi

prices from €3/night

In Tbilisi, you will find many hostels, guest houses, apartments, and hotels. I recommend staying nearby Shota Rustaveli Ave., Old City, or Marjanishvili Sq. You can also stay next to the Natakhtari airport at Vanilla Sky hotel.

Flights between Kutaisi and Mestia

The flights are operated from the David the Builder Kutaisi International Airport. Flights between Kutaisi and Mestia are operated twice a week. This is perfect for those arriving in Kutaisi with Wizzair.

Ticket price for Kutaisi – Mestia (one way):

  • adult: 50 GEL
  • child 3–12 y. o.: 35 GEL
  • child 0–3 y. o.: free

Flight schedule Kutaisi – Mestia in 2019

DAY KUTAISI – MESTIA MESTIA – KUTAISI
Tuesday 12:30 11:00
Friday 12:30 11:00

DAY KUTAISI – MESTIA MESTIA – KUTAISI
Tuesday 12:30 11:00
Friday 12:30 11:00

DAY KUTAISI – MESTIA MESTIA – KUTAISI
Tuesday 12:30 11:00
Friday 12:30 11:00

DAY KUTAISI – MESTIA MESTIA – KUTAISI
Monday 13:30 12:00
Friday 13:30 11:30

DAY KUTAISI – MESTIA MESTIA – KUTAISI
Monday 13:30 12:00
Friday 12:30 11:00

DAY KUTAISI – MESTIA MESTIA – KUTAISI
Tuesday 13:30 12:00
Friday 12:45 11:15

Accommodation in Kutaisi

prices from €3/night

Even though Kutaisi is not a beautiful city, there are some unique places around to see (Sataplia Nature Reserve, Okatse Canyon, Martvili Canyon, or Kinchkha Waterfall). For easier transportation, I recommend staying close to the bus/marshrutka and train station (both next to McDonald’s).

Prices start at €3 for a bed in a hostel dormitory, but you will also find guest houses and high standard hotels.

Queen Tamar airport in Mestia

Queen Tamar airport was built in 2010, and you can fly to Mestia from Natakhtari (Tbilisi) and Kutaisi.

How to get to/from the airport in Mestia

Queen Tamar airport in Mestia is located 2 km east of the town center. You can easily walk, take a taxi or hitchhike, but there is not much traffic.

Queen Tamar airport in Mestia
Queen Tamar airport in Mestia

Vanilla Sky airplane at Mestia airport
Vanilla Sky airplane at Mestia airport

How to book the flight to Mestia with Vanilla Sky

You can book the flight to Mestia online, or at Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi. If you want to cancel your booking made online, you can do it no later than 48 hours before the time of departure. It’s not possible to make any change in your reservation. The baggage allowance is 15 kg per passenger.

For more info, read terms & conditions, or contact Vanilla Sky on Facebook, they reply quite quickly.

Also, don’t hesitate with the booking, flights to Mestia are sold out quickly!

Book the flight online

Booking your flight to Mestia online is the easiest way, and you can make a reservation for up to 4 people at once. The highlighted days in the calendar mean only days with flights, not days with available seats, so you have to try your desired dates. Also, you can’t see how many seats are available.

Payment is possible only with VISA or Mastercard cards, and there is a 3.5% fee for a transaction.

Vanilla Sky flight online booking
Online booking of a flight to Mestia on Vanilla Sky website

Visit Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi

Another option is to visit the Vanilla Sky office in Tbilisi and make the reservation there. Find the Vanilla Sky contact below.

I recommend you paying with a card in case the flight will be canceled. It will be easier to refund you the money.

What to do when your flight to/from Mestia is canceled

Flights to/from Mestia are operated under Visual Flight Rules. This means if the weather conditions are bad, the flight will be canceled.

Don’t expect they will let you know the status of the flight. They sent us an email one day before with the information that the departure will be postponed but didn’t contact us on the day of the departure that the flight was canceled.

So it’s smart to have a backup plan.

In case you made the booking online or at the office and paid with a card, you will get the refund back to your card within 30 days. You can get it earlier if you contact them by email. The same applies for cancellation from your side.

If you did booking at the office and paid with cash, then I don’t know, I can only wish you good luck. Will you get the refund at the airport? Will you get it at every airport? Or do you have to go back to their office in Tbilisi? Or will they be able to use bank transfer, so you will probably pay a fee for an incoming transaction in a foreign currency? Let me know in the comments if you know the answer.

Canceled flight to Mestia
Canceled flight to Mestia

Other domestic flights in Georgia provided by Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky provides other domestic flights in Georgia.

Tbilisi – Batumi

The route between Tbilisi and Batumi is operated on SAAB 340 aircraft for 32 passengers. Georgian Airways also provide flights from Tbilisi to Batumi.

These flights depart from Tbilisi International Airport, not from Natakhtari.

Natakhtari (Tbilisi) – Ambrolauri

Another destination available from Natakhtari is Ambrolauri, also on LET-410 UVP aircraft.

Vanilla Sky flight route map in Georgia

On this map, you will find all of the mentioned routes, airports and other places.

My review of flight to Mestia with Vanilla Sky

I have two experiences with Vanilla Sky. The first one was in the summer of 2015 when my friend and I flew successfully from Natakhtari to Mestia. The second one was in the summer of 2017 when our flight from Kutaisi to Mestia was canceled due to bad weather in Mestia.

The best part, of course, is the flight itself. You fly over the whole country, and the mountainous scenery of Caucasus is simply amazing! If you have the opportunity to take this flight, do it!

The worst part is the communication and customer service, but that might be better by now.

LET 410 cockpit
LET 410 cockpit

LET 410 interior
LET 410 interior

Successful flight from Natakhtari to Mestia

It was not possible to book the flight online at that time, so we had to make a reservation via email. The communication was slow and insufficient since we had to urge them to get available dates. The payment was possible in cash only at their office in Tbilisi, but it was no problem for us because we were spending two months there.

On the day of our flight, we were provided with transport from Tbilisi to Natakhtari airport and everything was on time. At the airport, there was a registration of passengers before the flight and a standard security check. I had a small knife in my bag, but it wasn’t a big problem for them as they took it and gave it back to me at the airport in Mestia.

Take off in Natakhtari
Take off in Natakhtari

Flight over Georgia with Vanilla Sky
Flight over Georgia with Vanilla Sky

Canceled flight from Kutaisi to Mestia

My second flight to Mestia was supposed to be from Kutaisi, but the weather made it impossible. We received an email day before that the time of departure changed, but on the day of the flight, we didn’t receive any info. So we had to go to the airport to find out the flight was canceled and figure out how to get to Mestia (we hitchhiked).

Then I sent an email asking for a refund and received the money back in less than 30 days, probably within one week. They state the 3.5% fee is non-refundable, but they refunded me the whole sum.

Mestia

Mestia is a small town located in the Svaneti region in the Caucasus Mountains. It’s famous for its stone defensive towers, beautiful nature and a trek to Ushguli.

Mestia has become a popular destination amongst travelers visiting Georgia, and it can be quite crowded during summer.

Accommodation in Mestia

prices from €3/night

Since Mestia tourism is increasing, you will find many guest houses in this small mountain town. You can choose from cheap hostels, guest houses, or go for more expensive hotels offering stunning views of this Svanetian city.

How to get to Mestia

All flights are sold out, your flight was canceled, or you just can’t or don’t want to fly?

To Mestia by rental car

To get the freedom of traveling in Georgia, rent a car with a Georgian car rental company CARS 4 RENT. I had a positive experience with them! Driving to Mestia is not difficult, and the road is normal. Just be careful with potholes and fallen rocks in some parts.

To Mestia by marshrutka or train

If you prefer public transportation, you can use marshrutkas (minibus) or a combination of train and marshrutka. In case you can’t find a direct marshrutka to Mestia, look for a connection to Zugdidi and in Zugdidi for another marshrutka. There are two direct trains from Tbilisi to Zugdidi and also from Zugdidi to Tbilisi. If you are in Kutaisi, you can get on the train in Mukhiani or Samtredia.

  • Tbilisi – Mestia
    • direct marshrutka Tbilisi – Mestia (there might be a swap of marshrutkas on the way)
    • marshrutkas with up to two transfers in Kutaisi and/or Zugdidi
    • train Tbilisi – Zugdidi, transfer to marshrutka Zugdidi – Mestia
  • Kutaisi – Mestia
    • direct marshrutka Kutaisi – Mestia (there might be a swap of marshrutkas on the way)
    • marshrutkas with one transfer in Zugdidi
    • train Mukhiani or Samtredia – Zugdidi, transfer to marshrutka

To Mestia by taxi

You might also find taxi drivers offering a shared ride, it’s more comfortable, and it doesn’t have to be too expensive when the car is fully occupied. We used a shared taxi between Mestia and Zugdidi and then took the night train from Zugdidi to Tbilisi.

To Mestia by hitchhiking

Another option is hitchhiking. It’s not difficult to get a ride in Georgia, but the road between Zugdidi and Mestia isn’t busy. Anyway, I was able to hitchhike from Mestia to Tbilisi and make a stop in Anaklia (a city on the Black Sea coast; a time-consuming detour while hitchhiking) in one day.

Helicopter flight to Mestia?

There is a chance you will find some info about a helicopter flight from Tbilisi to Mestia. The info is outdated, but if you want, I’m sure you will be able to arrange a private and expensive flight by a helicopter.

What to do in Mestia

Mestia is popular among trekkers, and the most popular is a trek from Mestia to Ushguli – one of the highest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other favorite hikes are to Koruldi Lakes (you can hike only to a viewpoint with a cross above Mestia) and to Chalaadi Glacier.
If you are a lover of skiing, you can definitely visit Mestia during winter. There are two ski resorts, Hatsvali in Mestia and Tetnuldi 20km east of Mestia.
Not into hiking and trekking? Make a one day trip to Ushguli with a private driver or visit some of the many restaurants and cafés.