(March 2016) When I received the email announcement of the IMW wine trip to the Republic of Georgia, I responded immediately but was waitlisted for two months before I received the good news that someone cancelled and I could have one of the 20 spots available. Turkish Airlines, with a direct flight from SFO to Istanbul and then another 2 hours to Tbilisi, had the best price, so I booked a flight and found myself pleasantly delighted with the great service, food, and wine on the plane. Their lounge in Istanbul was also amazing, and even included a golf practice area, pool table, and grand piano.
|Grand Piano in Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul|
Arriving and Leaving Tbilisi in the Middle of the Night
Most write-ups on Tbilisi will mention that the small airport is buzzing in the middle of the night with every shop and restaurant open. This is because for some reason all the international flights arrive and depart in the wee hours of the morning. My flight left Istanbul just after midnight, and flew the 2 hour flight to Tbilisi, arriving at 4:30am with the time difference. Departing was similar in that my flight left at 5:30am, requiring that you arrive at the airport around 3:30 in the morning.
|Welcome Sign in Downtown Tbilisi|
Taxi or Private Car to Downtown Tbilisi and Mercure Hotel
I arrived a day early so I could attempt to recover from jet lag (exactly 12 hours different from San Francisco) and also see a bit of the city before we started our wine tour. The wine tour hotel was the Mercure, about a 20-minute drive from the airport. I had emailed them in advance and asked for a car and driver to pick me up at the airport. This went seamlessly, and soon I was in a nice Mercedes sedan being whisked away from the airport for a total price of 50 gel (about $21). The driver had been waiting with my name on a sign, and since I hadn’t checked luggage I was in my room by around 6am.
|Mercure in Old Town Tbilisi|
The Mercure is new with clean rooms, good service, and a great breakfast. They also have a gym and rooftop bar that serves local wine and beer. There were a few issues, such as lukewarm water some mornings, and at one point a bad odor – perhaps coming from the sulfur baths just down the street. The great thing about the Mercure is its location – right in the center of the old town and on the river.
|View of Downtown Tbilisi with River|