I flew out of Manchester one Wednesday afternoon. Two days later, I arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
September is a good time to visit Georgia. The weather is balmy and the grape harvest is in full swing. Since I last visited Georgia three years ago, I have been yearning for the taste and texture of simple Georgian life and the unadulterated and natural Qvevri wines.
Turkish Airlines can get you to Tbilisi in just over eight hours with a two hour transit in Istanbul but a stop over in the Turkish capital reduces the cost of the return flight by nearly £200 and the take off and landing times become more civilised.
Flight TK1996 got me to Istanbul in four hours, drinking good Turkish white and red wine on the way. A car was waiting for me at Ataturk Airport and Neorion Hotel was comfortable and welcoming. Next day I took a city tour and ate lunch at the Ottoman Hotel. The £200 saving on the flight covered all expenses.
That evening I took a taxi to Sabiha Gökçen Airport in the Asian part of Istanbul from where the flight to Tbilisi took off. It is about 90 mts. driving from the centre of Istanbul but that day, traffic was heavy and we crawled along the motorway. “It is always like this” the young driver shrugged. I was going to miss my flight. “Drive on the hard shoulder” I told the driver in desperation. “I will be breaking the law and if they catch me, I will be fined €50” he said nervously. “Break the law” I told him thrusting a €50 note in to his shirt pocket. He broke the law. They didn’t catch him but I caught my flight.
It was just past midnight when we landed in Tbilisi where the women immigration officers at the airport are fashionable and well groomed but most unfriendly and offensive. I was glad to come out in to the arrivals hall and to Tamara’s warm and comforting embrace and speed along George W. Bush Avenue towards Tiflis Hotel in the old town. It was very warm and very still.
I think the best way of getting to Tbilisi from the north of England is flying with Turkish Airlines (TK) from Manchester (MAN) via Istanbul. TK1996 departs Terminal 1 at 16.05 at reaches Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) at 21.55. Turkey is +2 GMT. The connection to Tbilisi departs at 00.10 and is in Tbilisi (TBS) at 03.20. Tbilisi is +3 GMT. On the return journey, you leave Tbilisi at 04.15 and arrive in Manchester at 10.45 with a two hours transit in Istanbul.
A better option is to stop-over in Istanbul both ways.The flight is about £200 cheaper – enough to pay for two nights B&B in a good three star hotel in Istanbul and airport transfers. You also avoid inconvenient flight times and have the option of a full day city tour and a night out in Istanbul. The drawback is the long and tedious transfers to and from Sabiha Gökçen Airport.
- You can buy air tickets online. Option one with TK costs £496 and option two £305
- A double room at Neorion Hotel in Istanbul costs €196 per night B&B. Payment is required in cash on arrival
- One way transportation to Neorion Hotel costs 35 Euros for 6 with luggage from or to Ataturk Airport and 70 Euros from or to Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul. The hotel can arrange this as well as city tours
- A visa is required to enter Turkey. A 90 day, multiple entry e-visa costs $20 pp and is easily obtained online
- Private transfer to Manchester Airport from Harrogate costs £85 one way