Saturday, January 5, 2019

Eurasia (Baku, Tbilisi, Yerevan), Istanbul and Dubai Tour 2019

Tbilisi Old Capital

I ended 2018 with a winter Hokkaido tour in Japan covering Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate, Niseko, Asahikawa, and Tokyo.

I went back to Philippines December 31, 2018 just in time to be part of the celebration of the New Year festivities in Tanauan, Batangas.

Day 0

By early morning of January 2, 2019, I was already heading back to Terminal 3 for my Eurasia Tour.

Eurasia involve 13 countries extending from the borders of the European Union to the Far East: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

My tour covers only Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Then after, I will also be exploring Turkey and Dubai.

Unfortunately, my flight to Dubai via Cebu Pacific (P23,486.43 roundtrip due to early booking) was delayed for more than four hours due to mechanical problems. My flight was slated to leave 4pm but it departed past 9pm. The problem was I had a connecting 2:30 flight from Dubai to Baku and Baku to Tbilisi.

Note: My Cebu Pacific flight is a connecting flight to Baku. I did not bring any baggage and I did not clear Dubai Immigration. I followed the line stating - CONNECTION.

You must have all t he necessary papers, namely: 1. Dubai visa, 2. Georgia visa, 3. Returning flight to Dubai, 4. Cebu Pac or any airline flight back to Philippines and hotels, if necessary.

Day 1 - Dubai to Baku, Baku to Tbilisi

To make the story short, I was able to catch the Azerbaijan flight to Baku about 5 minutes before the gate was closed. Cost of the fare to Tbilisi is 191.13 USD. Cebu Pac flight form Manila to Dubai was 9 hours. Dubai flight to Baku, Azerbaijan was 3 hours. 

Arriving in Baku, I waited for 3 hours for my connecting flight to Tbilisi. This time I boarded Buta Aiways to Tbilisi. Flight was 1 hour and 10 minutes.

By 9:30 am, I was already in Tbilisi, I had to take the taxi and I paid 60 lari for the ride (should be only 25-40 lari). The other option was to take the bus and get route 37. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry and tired and I wanted to rest at the guest house.

After 20 minutes, I arrived at Guest House Zemeli only to find out that my stay was cancelled the hostel. Do not book in this hostel. My booking for a 2-night stay was 63 gel or P1,300. And so by stroke of misfortunes, I had to find another stay and to make the story short again, I was able to find the Shine Hotel.

There are two Hotel Shine that I know (the other one was in Rustavelli and the cheapest rate was 60 USD) and this hotel charged me 30 USD or 80 gel. But trust me the 80 gel is worth it. The staff, the facilities and the breakfast are really great.

So I asked the staff named Nino for possible destinations for a half day tour and she told me to use the Metro. This is what the card looks like.

The card is worth 2 gel and the initial load is 3 gel. You simply have tap it and it charges only .50 gel regardless of the distance of your destination.

There are 2 lines in Tbilisi. She told me that there are three good stops, namely: Rustvelli, Liberty or Freedom Square and Avlabari.

And so after fixing my stuff, I went back to the heart of Tbilisi.

The escalator of the subway is the longest that I have seen in all my tours abroad.

The station itself was quite different but it was very convenient and easy to use.

My first stop was Avlabari and I immediately saw and learned that this is where you get your ride to Yerevan, Armenia. I roamed around  bit and deciced to go to the next stop.

Next stop was Liberty or Freedom Square. This is where all the tours in Tbilisi emanates. You have here the Hop on, Hop Off tour and tbe City Sightseeing tour buses.

Last stop was Rustavelli. It is the best place in Tbilisi. 

And after a very exciting day, I ended it with a very sumptuous dinner.

Day 2 - Tbilisi Tours

There are various tours in Tbilisi but I have chosen the City Sightseeing Tbilisi. They offer various tours, namely the Red line, Blue line and Green line tour.

Red line tour is is worth 50 gel
Green line tour is 40 gel.
Blue line is 40 gel.

They offer combination tours of the Red, Blue and Green and I have chosen the Green and Blue with a discounted rate of 65 gel.

Before I started with the tour, I ordered take out food from Dunkin Donuts and I met these two lovely and kind Filipinas who are working in Doha and were also having their vacation in Georgia.

After the pleasantries, I went back to he office of City Sightseeing Tour. By the way, this information is very important.

How do Filipinos enter Georgia? Are Filipinos required to obtain Georgian visa? You can file an application online on their website. You will pay approximately P3,500. However, upon arrival, I was told that if you have either a valid US, Japan, UK or Schengen visa or a resident of Dubai, then you are exempted from obtaining a visa.

I highly recommend that even if you have any of the said visa, it is a lot safer to have the Georgia visa since airline personnel are not acquainted with the exemption.

And so we boarded the van for our scheduled 11 am tour.

First stop was the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

They say its the highest church in Europe.

Then back to Freedome Squae and headed to Rose Revolution Square and then upwards to the mountains.

Next stop was the frozen Turtle Lake.

Next stop was the panoramic view of Tbilisi.

Last stop was the Mtatsminda Park.

Then, lunch at Mado. Since the next tour will start around 3 pm.

Around the 3pm, we started with the Blue Line tour (3-4 hours).

First stop this time is the Jvari Monastery.

The Blue Line Tour is also called the Old Tbilisi tour and this monastery is the best spot to see the Old Tbilisi from a higher ground.

We entered the oldest monastery in Georgia and they say it was built before the first century.

This is probably the oldest church or monastery that I have seen. 

We proceeded to two other  monasteries of the Orthodox Church. But the scenry along the way was breathtaking.

This is the largest monastery in Mtskheta Old Capital.

Around 5:30 pm, we headed to  wine cellar.

We had wine tasting of both white and red wine.

According to our guide, the Georgian wine is the best in the world.
I think so because I had so many and I was already tipsy heading back.

Day 3 - Tbilisi to Yerevan, Georgia

The following morning I woke up early and headed Avlabari Metro Station for my van trip to Yerevan, Armenia.

In case you are wondering about the exchange rates.

100 USD is roughly 267 gel or lari.
100 USD is 4,800 amd.

1 cheap coffee in Tbilisi is .60 - 1 gel.
1 cheap coffee in Yerevan is 100 amd.

I cheap taxi ride in Tbilisi is between 5-8 gel.
1 cheap ride in Yerevan is 1,000 - 1,500 amd.

There are various ways of going to Yerevan. You have the options of using van,  bus or train or renting your own car/ride.

I chose the van ride for 35 gel and trip was 5-6 hours.

Van ride has the following schedules, namely: 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm.
Again the cost is between 35-40 gel (700-800 pesos) depending on the season. Travel time to the border is 1 hour.
Travel time from the border to Yeevan is 4 hours. Normally, the van has 6-8 passengers.

I suggest you have to book your ride. I did.

After 1 hour, we reached the border. First I exited in Georgia then boarded the van again and then alighted and entered Armenia. The cost of the visa is 3,000 amd or roughly P300 (visa upon arrival). You must either have USD or Euro for your payment.

After clearing immigration, we went to another stop for a quick snack and to exchange our money to amd.

Nearing Yerevan, I knew already that the weather here would be a lot colder than Georgia.

Finally after more than 5 hours, we reached Yerevan. I was given the option of using train or taxi for my hostel. I opted the easier way and that is taxi since the taxi in Yerevan is a lot cheaper. The cost to the hotel was only 1,500 amd or P150.

I reached the hostel named Yerevan Hostel and paid 23,000 for a 2-night stay.

I was planning to have a massage (20,000 amd) or a night tour of the city.
Instead, I did my laundry and made this blog.

Day 4 - Yerevan Tour (January 6, 2019)

Good thing Yerevan Hostel has private tours and out of the 20 choices listed, I chose Tour #6 which is composed of the Garni Temple, Geghard Monastery, Lake Sevan and Sevanavank Monastery for a price of 35,000 amd or roughly P3,500 pesos.

I had the tour started at 9:30 just after the free breakfast at the hostel.

I was surprised to have rented my own private tour/car for my adventure. 

Along the way, we stopped at a viewing site to witness the beauty and splendor of Mt. Ararat of Turkey.

The scenery along the route was breathtaking,

First stop was Garni Temple.

It is the only standing Greco-Roman  colonnaded building in Armenia.

It was built first centurt AD  and a symbol of pre-Christian Armenia.

Next stop was the medieval monastery in the Kotayk province of Armenia.

It is listed as one of ths UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded in the 4th century and partially carved out of the adjacent mountain suurounded by cliffs. It is called as the Monastery of the Cave.

Here you can buy souvenirs and witness amazing views.

Last stop for the day was located in another province called Sevan.

Lake Sevan is the largest body of water in Armenia.

It is one of the largest freshwater high-altitude (alpine) lakes in Eurasia.
Along the lake, the Sevanavank monastery is located.

It is home of the medieval monastery.

After more than 5 hours, the tour was over and we headed home.
I went to thd city's souvenir site and bought some souvenirs.

Day 5 - Yerevan back to Tbilisi

The following morning I woke up early and proceeded to the Kilikia bus station. Two days ago, I was here and paid 2,000 amd (P200) for a taxi ride to the hotel. Now going back, I paid only 700 amd or P70.00. The first trip is exactly 8:30 am, then 10:30 am, then 12:30. We were only 3 pax but the van left notwithstanding.

Here are the details of the van ride back to Tbilisi.

Honestly, from Tbilisi to Yerevan, I was asleep during the entire journey. I was only awakened when I had to clear the immigration in the border. So I had no idea what exactly the route looks like. I was dazed or dizzyy during the entire trip going to Armenia becauase of the variety of perfumes I was exposed inside the van. 

Going back, I never fell asleep but I was so cold because of the fog. After nearly 6 hours, we reached Tbilisi. By the way, the fare is only 6500 amd or P650. 

Around 1:45 pm, I arrived in a different van station. Good thing tbere was tbiz French guy who helped me find the Metro train. And I immediately went to Liberty Square to eat at my favorite resto in Tbilisi - Mado.

I was surprised when I learned that January 7 is the Christmas of the Orthodox Cburch and they were celebrating it.

After eating, I went to Hotel Shine, paid 30 USD and stayed in the hotel.

Day 6 - Tbilisi to Istanbul

The itinerary that day was the Red Line Tour of tbe City Sightseeing  Bus. So I went to Albarav Metro Station.

 The Red Line Tour is worth 50 gel or P1,100. 

However, there was a major change in the plan.
I was suppose to go to the Furnicular and ride it.
I got lost and ended up in the ropeway.
Well, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

I was trying to go to the furnicular (9:00 am - 10:00 pm) but ended in the ropeway (10:00 am - 10:00 pm). I paid the fee only of 5 gel. And I boarded the ropeway and was entertained with a magnificent aerial view of Tbilisi.

It was a 5- minute ride to the top.

At the top, you can either go to the Botanical Garden or Fortress. You can also enjoy the zipline ride for 40 gel. But since it was wintef, it was not available.

Yep! I love it!

You can also see the Mother of Georgia statue at the top.

I bought some souvenirs. Then went back to the hotel and checked out. Boarded a taxi to the airport and paid 35 gel (before it was 60 gel).
Then, boarded the Turkish Airline flight to Istanbul connecting to Dubai.

Day 7 - Istanbul to Dubai

I have a stopover of more than 8 hours which entitled me to touristanbul in Istanbul. It is a private tour hosted by Turkish Air for their passenbers.

To make the story short, the plan was to go to the city of Istanbul. Unfortunately, I was not entitled to it. You must have either of tbe following to be give  the benefit: Turkish visa, valid US visa or valid Schengen visa. I have an expired Schengen visa. I tried the e-visa but Filipinos are not entitled to it. 

So, let me share this. I arrived in Istanbul 8:30 pm and my flight was scheduled 6:35 pm the next day.

I slept at one of the chairs in Ataturk airport. I tried sleeping at tbe TAV hotel but the cost is too much or 105 euro for 3 hours only. 

0-3 hours - 102 euro
3-6 hours - 135 euro
6-9 hours - 167 euro
9-15 hours - 189 euro
15-24 hours - 210 euro

So no choice for me, it was a bit expensive. Namiss ko tuloy ang Sogo Hotel.

The following morning I wanted to take a bath and relax while waiting. Good thing I was able to find the Premiere Lounge and paid 69 euro. The amenities are free food, shower, wifi access, gym, relaxation etc.

I made the best out of it and  consumed whatever is possible.

Since the internet was fast, I even made a video call to my friends who wefe in the Philippines and Australia, namely: Madonna, Johnelyn and Badeth.

Later than day, I boarded the connecting flight to Dubai.

I arrived in Dubai 1:05 am and boarded a taxi to my stay. I paid 42 aed for the ride. Best stay at Al Jawhara Metro Hotel. 

With all honesty, I can say that this hotel is one of my best stays in my tours.

I paid 180 aed / day.

Day 8 - DUBAI 

The following morning there was only one in the itinerary and that is to go shopping to Dubai Outlet Mall.

So I proceeded to Al Ghubaiba Bus Statio and went to the platform where Bus 66 or 67 will be going to Dubai Outlet Mall.

Thank you Maria Crisnel Chin for accompanying and helping me do my shopping because of DFS.

After shopping, I met another former student and we went to a local shabu shabu. Thanks Kimberly!

Day 9 - DUBAI

Early morning, I met a another former student and we had breakfast. Thanks Tin!

Then at lunch, I met another former student named Genine. We went to La Mer and ate a very sumptuous lunch.

La Mer is one of the best tourist spots in Dubai.

 And Al Seef is the Old Dubai.

That night I went to Al Ghurair Mall and accidentally, I met another student named Krystle.

And the remainder of the evening was spent finding souvenirs and this is the best spot to find perfume. It is locate in Union opposite Al Ghurair Mall.

Day 10 - The Frame, Dubai

From my hotel, I took the Red Line and went to The Frame.

I paid 52.50 aed and went to the top.

From the top, you can see Dubai.

After the tour, I went back to Union and accidentally met another former reviewee in Letran.

Then, finally, met Nikka and Kristine in Al Ghurair Mall.

This tour will not be possible without the help of a Cebu Pacific FA or cabin crew named Plinky. Salamat po. She helped me catched my connecting flight in Dubai.


Cebu Pacific - Franz, Angel and PLINKY
Georgia - Nina,  Nino  and Maka
Armenia - I forgot her name yikes
Dubai - Chin, Genine, Nikka, Kim, Kristine, MJ

This blog is dedicated to MJ CORILLO.
I missed her in Dubai.