It’s extremely rare that we find ourselves returning to a country where we’ve lived and worked before. Actually, we never have. That is, until now!
Last week we left our temporary home in Iran and returned to our old stomping ground – Georgia. Being back in Tbilisi is a bit nostalgic. It’s one of those cities that seems to be constantly changing and evolving, but even though a lot has changed in the past two and a bit years since we left, it still has the same old quirkiness and energy we fell in love with.
So why Tbilisi?
There are so many things to love about this city!
At first sight, Tbilisi is a shambles. It’s full of haphazard buildings and rusted tin roofs, all leaning and crumbling into one another. But at the same time, you’ll find historical baths and monuments as well as some wild, uber-modern monstrosities dotted around the city. Take a closer look, and you’ll find quirky cobblestone laneways, flanked with artist’s dens, wine bars and cosy little cafes. The city is a rare concoction of history, arts, culture and modernity.
Georgia is fast becoming a major centre for tourism, with record numbers of travellers entering the country year after year. In 2017 alone, Georgia welcomed almost 3.5 million tourists – almost 30% more than the previous year, and the highest in history. But that’s just the beginning. The Lonely Planet has also jumped on board, adding Georgia to their list of ’Top 10 countries’ not to be missed in 2018.
This is quite unfortunate, actually. We always loved that Georgia was one of those ‘under the radar’ countries, but it seems people are finally catching on. But besides the attractions and aesthetics of the city, there are so many other reasons why it’s worth making a home in Georgia.
My top 10 reasons why Georgia is an awesome place to live.
Life is affordable
Compared to other quasi-european cities, life in Georgia is refreshingly affordable. The cost of living index consistently ranks Tbilisi as one of the most affordable cities in the world, even raking it lower than some cities in India and Asia. Life in Tbilisi is a whopping 67% cheaper than my hometown of Melbourne, but unlike Melbourne, the price of goods and services doesn’t slowly creep up year after year, until one day, you realise you’re paying $4.50 for a latte.
What’s more, is that besides the occasional taxi ride, we rarely find ourselves bargaining and it’s quite rare to get ripped off for anything. We personally never have.
Food, accommodation and phone bills are all relatively inexpensive in Tbilisi. There really is nothing here that will blow your budget, unless you end up drinking coffee at Double B on a daily basis (amazing coffee, but what’s with the Melbourne prices?!). Taxis are one of the cheapest services in Georgia, and although the drivers rarely speak English, there’s always a way of getting your message across. A typical ride will cost you 5 – 10 GEL (1.6 – 3.25 Euro).
Even non-essential services like manicures and pedicures will only set you back a few dollars. Finally! a country where looking good is actually affordable.
Super Speed Internet
In the early to mid 2000’s Georgia underwent an internet revolution. Fibre optic cables were laid out all over the country and as a result the whole of Georgia, including rural areas, can now enjoy high-speed internet. Free Wi-Fi is pretty much standard in every cafe, bar and public space in town. The internet is so good that almost everything can be done online, with next to no restrictions. Banking, residency applications, official business and, as we recently discovered, even government land auctions are all conducted online without a hitch.
The mobile data options are equally impressive. Within minutes of arriving at the airport last week (at five in the morning), we were able to sign up with one of the major service providers and walk away with 8GB of data; all for only 30 GEL per month (less than 10 Euro).
Georgia is one of the most progressive and innovative countries in the world
Did you know that Georgia is one of the easiest countries in the world to start a business? It consistently sits in the top 10 of the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business ranking’, right below the US and UK, and way above Australia (ranked 14). It’s also one of the easiest countries in the world to open a bank account, and not just for locals. Foreigners need just show up with a passport and 20 minutes later, you’re set.
Foreigners however, are not the only ones charging through the red tape in this country, the locals are also taking advantage. Georgian people are not only creative, they also happen to be extremely entrepreneurial. But to remain competitive they have to offer something new and innovative, which may explain the explosion of uber-cool restaurants, hotels and business ventures all over town.
Rooms Hotel is the perfect example of Georgian innovation and forward thinking. It was recently voted the world’s best hotel to stay in 2018, and is just down the street from our current apartment. The attached bar and restaurant are on the pricier side of things, so we only reserve it for special occasions, but that doesn’t stop Rooms from being one of the most popular hangouts in town. Nowadays, there are is not one, but two Rooms hotels, and a number of trendy restaurants each with their own character and vibe. There is also their brand-new project ‘Fabrika’ which is a former sewing factory turned hostel, co-working space and a whole host of hipster cafes and stores showcasing the best of local art and design.
There is no shortage of creativity in Tbilisi, which entrepreneurs are taking advantage of, and all the rest of us are quite happy to enjoy the outcomes.
Safety is a non-issue
Georgia is one of the safest countries in the World. It’s unique in that, unlike other Post-Soviet nations, Georgia is the only one to have tackled the issue of police corruption head-on, and succeeded.
When Saakashvili came to power in 2004, he fired half the police force (around 16,000 traffic police!) and immediately trained up new and dedicated recruits. These days the police can be found in glass-walled buildings all over the country representing ‘transparency’ and openness for everyone.
Of course, it’s never a bad idea to practice caution wherever you are, but in general the crime rates in Tbilisi are very low. The streets are also quite safe and I’ve never had any issues walking alone at night.
Heaven for foodies
Georgia is heaven for foodies. It features some of the most unique cuisine in the world, and I may be slightly biased, but it’s also some of the tastiest in the world too.
Our favourite Georgian delights include badrijani (eggplant with an exquisite walnut paste), lobio (a rich bean stew), sulguni (the delicious local cheese) and the most mouth-watering pork shashlik you’ve ever tasted. Each region of Georgia offers a slightly different array of dishes so you’ll never get bored with the food here, even vegetarians, vegans and those like myself) that prefer to eat gluten-free will not go hungry. check out my Pinterest board for some drool-worthy examples of the best of Georgian food.
I could go on for hours about Georgian food, but lets not forget the wine! Did you know that Georgia’s wine making tradition dates back to 6000 BC? This officially makes Georgians the oldest and most experienced wine-makers in the world, and you can’t argue with experience. Some of the best local wines we’ve tried come direct from the vineyard, and are sold by the litre in recycled soft drink bottles. Of course, you can find more refined local varieties from specialty stores and underground cellars, but these are not nearly as much fun. Most local wines are also chemical and sulfur-free, so say goodbye to headaches and hangovers!
Much like the local food and wine, Georgian culture is also one of the most unique in the world.
Not only is the country teeming with artists, musicians and designers, they also have some of the most incredible singing voices (usually heard during a drunken supra) and impressive dance moves I have ever seen. Pause for a few minutes to watch this and this, and prepare to be amazed!
Georgian’s are also very proud of their culture and will happily sit and discuss it with you for hours on end, especially if a glass or two of Saperavi is involved.
Kids still play together on the street
In most western countries, gone are the days where neighbourhood kids meet on the street, hang out, ride their bikes or just kick a ball around – without constant parent supervision. Georgians however have managed to retain a strong sense of community and friendship and you’ll often see the neighbourhood kids playing football on the street or just laughing and mucking around. It’s mostly boys, and a few dogs involved, but it’s still a pleasant sight to see.
There’s always a store on the way
Don’t you hate it when you’ve been out all day and just as you get home you realise there’s nothing to eat in the fridge? Never fear, Tbilisi’s got you covered! In Tbilisi, there’s always a little corner store, butcher, bakery or fruit and veg shop nearby.
I love never having to worry about scheduling shopping trips. You can always grab something on the way to or from wherever you’re going. Or better yet, stop in at the supermarket, or local café and grab yourself a freshly home-cooked meal.
As we are talking about local stores of the ‘mom and pop’ variety, the opening hours are not always reliable, but never mind. You can always pop in at the store on the other corner instead.
In Tbilisi, you can still get something fixed or altered without paying more than what you paid for it in the first place.
A couple of years ago, my all-time favourite handbag was falling apart. I couldn’t bear to replace it, so I took it to the local master instead. With very few words, the old, gruff, Georgian master was quick to understand what had to be done. Within a week he had replaced the entire edging of the bag, through a complicated process of pulling it apart and sewing it all back together again. The bag looked brand new and cost me a total of 15 GEL (4.90 Euro).
Masters are usually found in dark underground basements in the older districts of Tbilisi. Sadly, they seem to be a dying breed, and my favourite master has now closed up shop. Even still, there are plenty of them around and it’s comforting to know that you can get high-quality alterations or repairs for your handbag, belt, trousers or even shoes, in record time.
There’s always a friend or like-minded person nearby
While many countries have online communities and resources for expats, we have found none more extensive than that for Tbilisi. There are Facebook groups for tourists, apartments to rent or sell, language exchange clubs, book exchange clubs and even groups for puppy lovers.
Also, in the past two years we’ve been away, a number of comfortable co-working spaces and hangouts have popped up all over town. This week we’ve been testing the waters with Vere Loft, which is fast becoming one of our favourite places.
With so many expats, and open-minded folks, and so many ways to connect with them, you’ll never find yourself alone in Tbilisi.
And a final disclaimer…
Of course, not everything is perfect in Tbilisi. For one thing, smoking is still permitted in most public spaces, including restaurants, and some people have a penchant for driving like maniacs. Tbilisi has its problems, just like every other city in the world but we think the pros far outweigh the cons.
If you’re liking what you read and want to know more about Georgia, here are a few good places to start…
- Georgia Starts Here, my favourite resource for all things Georgian.
- National Geographic, featuring Georgia off the beaten path (and some incredible snaps)
- Way Away’s vlog about Georgia. A good one if you prefer to watch your content.