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Yes, I know bloggers are supposed to promote cross-cultural understanding and be a source of inspiration. But one has to be honest and call a spade a spade when the experience is far from ideal. Rarely am I critical of places as I believe each to their own. But Kutaisi, Georgia was a challenge.
My experiences in Georgia up to Kutaisi were very positive. Without a doubt, my day trip to the Kazbegi region via the Georgian Military Highway was one of the best day trips I’ve ever done. Tbilisi and Batumi garnered a very strong thumbs-up as well.
WHAT’S NICE ABOUT KUTAISI?
Kutaisi had a few redeeming qualities. Firstly, I felt safe in Kutaisi. Secondly, the scenery in the surrounding countryside is pretty so Kutaisi is a good base if you have your own transport.
Prague café/restaurant near the Kutaisi State Historical Museum was relaxed, good value and had tasty food. The museum gave a good insight into Georgian history and customs.
Hotel King David had excellent facilities, friendly staff and was centrally-located so comes recommended.
Architecturally, Kutaisi has some nice buildings. The buildings in the area of the Hotel King David had by the far the most appealing facades but other notable buildings include the Meskhishvili Theatre, the Opera House and Kutaisi City Hall.
A great place to rest your feet for a while is Kutaisi Park in the city centre. While you sit, watch the traffic circle the Colchis Fountain.
WHAT TURNED ME OFF KUTAISI
I suppose first impressions last. Last impressions were even worse. The marshrutka station is located outside McDonalds on Chavchavadze Street which is a couple of kilometres from the main city centre.
My Airbnb host asked me not to pay more than 5 lari for the trip but no taxi driver would take less than 7 lari: They sided with the guy who gave me the first quote. The return journey from the hotel to the station was 5 lari, so my host was correct.
Even departing Kutaisi was problematic. When I boarded the Tbilisi-bound marshrutka a young woman asked me to leave my seat as it was hers: There was no evidence that it was. When I stated that there were no belongings on the seat when I boarded she went to the ticket collector, told her story and he pointed at me to leave the seat and move to a seat where my long legs would not fit. I refused and then he pointed at me to get off the marshrutka.
Absolutely determined to leave Kutaisi behind, I moved to another seat but not to the one he pointed me to initially. By now I was livid, announcing that my review of Kutaisi would be a full and frank account of this disgraceful behaviour, so I’m living up to my promise in this post. I gave a fellow (local) passenger my blogging card who then said something in Georgian to the ticket collector. He allowed me to return to the original seat. The pen is mightier than the sword, I guess.
Kutaisi was also the location of the worst Airbnb I’ve ever stayed in. The hosts were friendly and helpful but their property fell far short of the expectations set by the description and reviews. It made me ill, prompting me to seek refuge in the Hotel King David for the rest of my stay. The upstairs property was derelict so perhaps this added to the building’s issues.
When I sat in the garden reading my book, I heard children next door raising their voices, followed by a woman shouting. What happened after that disturbed me. Whacking and thumping noises were audible, followed by the children crying and screaming.
I walked around the perimeter of the property trying to decipher where the distress was coming from. I tried climbing one of the walls in the hope that I could intervene only to find a man staring at what he perceived to be the weirdness of my efforts.
Kutaisi needs a power-hosing. Crumbling paint is one thing but grime and rubbish is another. This was not an issue elsewhere in the many towns I visited in Georgia. For a city which housed the national parliament, little attention seemed to be given to the basics.
And is Bagrati Cathedral worth visiting? Built between the 9th and 10th Centuries by King Bagrat, the cathedral is a symbol of a united Georgia. It is no longer a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fellow travellers were much more impressed with the UNESCO-designated churches of Mtskheta, Georgia’s ancient capital and spiritual home, than they were with Bagrati Cathedral. Locals concurred with this view.
Interestingly, no Georgian person recommended Kutaisi to me – one person advised me to avoid it. However, the attractions around Kutaisi such as Gelati Monastery, Okatse Canyon and Prometheus Cave were endorsed.
KUTAISI, GEORGIA: IS IT WORTH VISITING?
Some of you may point to the fact that falling ill may have clouded my opinion of Kutaisi. I was ill during my trips to Tallinn, St. Petersburg and New York but yet I have fond memories of those places.
The feeling I left Kutaisi with was similar to that upon departing Santa Clara, Cuba: I couldn’t wait to leave. The best thing about Kutaisi for me was the road to Tbilisi.
It wasn’t so much a series of unfortunate events that chipped away at my patience in Kutaisi but a feeling that I was not welcome. I recounted my Kutaisi experience to locals on my return to Tbilisi who suggested Zugdidi as a better option than Kutaisi.
So is Kutaisi a place worth visiting? For me, it wasn’t. In this post, I’m outlining my experience so you can make an informed decision. My travels in the rest of Georgia were very positive so don’t let this post discourage you from visiting this wonderful country.
For practical information on the rest of Georgia check out my Georgia Travel post.