Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Elite Status: IHG Platinum

Holiday Inn Tbilisi is a modern 4-star Intercontinental Group property located near the Technical University metro station. It was a lifesaver.

First off, I screwed up. I booked it sometime back, somehow forgot that I was taking an overnight train, and booked it for the wrong night. When I showed up at the hotel, the front desk manager was a bit quizzical, but he actually didn’t give me a hard time. Instead, he assured me that it was not going to be an issue as they still have rooms, and he went above and beyond. I was actually early for check in. He ushered me to the restaurant for a free pot of tea, while they expedited a room. It was ready within 30 mins.

I spent one night here on points – 20,000 IHG points.

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Check In/Check Out

Although I showed up at 11.30 am with the reservation for the wrong day, Holiday Inn Tbilisi actually accommodated me. It took them 30 mins to get the room ready, and while waiting, they provided me with some tea in their restaurant.

Check out was easy as well.

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Room

I was given a deluxe room in the second highest floor. It is large, and offers views of Tbilisi. There’s a King bed, two large lounge chairs, and a long desk by the wall. About 15 mins after I settled into the room, a staff member also brought in a welcome amenity consisting of a platter of dried fruit and nuts, and a beverage.

There are power outlets by the bed, and wifi worked fine during my stay.

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Bathroom

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

The bathroom features a very long sink with double taps. There’s also a tub/shower combo on a raised wood platform, along with toilet and bidet. Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the shower, as there’s no barrier, but the platform drained the water away.

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

They stock Archive-brand shower amenities, with some interesting scents like Green Tea and Willow. I found it pleasant.

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Service

What can I say? I totally screwed up this one, and they were so amazingly gracious about my screw up, and went above and beyond in their generosity towards me. Their service scores an A+++ from me.

Amenities

They have a beautiful lap pool, and a 24 hr gym. The lap pool’s temperature is perfect, and the area around the pool is very inviting. They also provide poolside service.

Holiday Inn Tbilisi

Overall

Although Holiday Inn Tbilisi is located some ways from downtown Yerevan, it was quite easy to reach downtown by metro (~15 min). It has an amazing lap pool, and their service is just excellent.

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Overnight Train from Baku to Tbilisi

Baku - Tbilisi Overnight Train #38

Train Number: 38

Travel Time: ~13 hrs

Travel Class: 4-bed sleeper, upper bunk (kupe)

Price: 34 AZN (~20 USD at time of writing)

Departure Time: 21.50

Arrival Time: ~ 11.00

To save on one night’s accommodation and also travel efficiently, I booked a second-class, four-bed train from Baku to Tbilisi. The trip took about 12 hours, although quite a bit of it was basically waiting to clear immigration on both ends.

Baku - Tbilisi Overnight Train #38

Booking the Ticket

Azerbaijan Railways actually has a website, where you can book the tickets online. I did muck around the website, and even got as far as selecting seats. In the end, I didn’t click through to buy, although there are reports of people being able to do so online. I am not sure how payment works, although for sure, it is possible to purchase online. Why? Because when I showed up at the train station to buy my ticket, the attendant asked if I were here to collect my online ticket. During popular months of travel, I’d suggest you purchase online, just to guarantee your seats.

After checking that there was plenty of availability, I decided to just buy my ticket the day before departure. I rolled over to the railway station, which is at the 28 May metro station. Follow the signs for “Railway Station” exit, and then turn left. The railway station is at a mall of sorts, and the ticket sales is near the KFC in the mall.

In the middle of the ticket sales is an attendant. You want to talk to her to get a queue number. I waited for about 20 mins before I was served. Remember to bring your passport. I told the ticket agent my route, date, and class of service (in English), and she ticketed it in 5 mins. Online reports of cash-required are outdated. I was able to purchase my ticket with a credit card at the window.

Baku - Tbilisi Overnight Train #38

The Trip

I’d say the announcement system wasn’t particularly helpful. Thankfully, at around 9.30 pm, there were only two trains. I just walked down the platform, and located my train, which wrote Baku-Tbilisi.

If you can’t understand your ticket like me, just approach the ticket attendants. They will point you in the right direction and tell you your seat number as well.

The four-bed cabins are pretty okay. At around 10.30 pm, a train staff came by to distribute bed linens, so you won’t have to sleep on their rather well-used pillows. I actually passed out for a good 9 hours, and by the time I woke up, we were already at the Azerbaijan-Georgia border on the Azerbaijan side.

On the Azerbaijan side, the immigration officers board the train, and proceed to check out passengers individually, so expect an interview with the immigration officer. After about 1.5 hrs, the exit immigration was done, and after about 20ish minutes, we were on the Georgia side.

On the Georgia side, they simply boarded the train, collected everybody’s passports, and processed them in a building. They did call some individuals, although that is more the exception than the rule. At about 10 am, we pulled away from the border and headed towards Tbilisi.

The train pulled into Tbilisi station at around 11 am. The Tbilisi railway station is actually very close to the Station Square metro station. Just exit the railway station at the ground level, take a right, and you’ll be at Station Square metro station.

Overall

The train journey was pretty fine. They don’t have anything on board, so bring supplies. Also, although I didn’t personally venture, apparently, according to my German cabin-mate, the bathroom is nasty. It is not the Orient Express, but it’s a functional overnight train ride. The few daylight hours we had on the train weren’t particularly scenic; I am not sure if this would be different for a day-time train.

Marshrutka from Tbilisi to Yerevan

Please note that information is only accurate at time of posting, so please note date of posting, and check for updates accordingly.

Mashrutka from Tbilisi to Yerevan

Time taken: 4 hrs (11.00 – 15.00)

Vehicle: Mercedes Vito

Price: 35 GEL (13.50 USD at time of posting)

Getting from Tbilisi to Yerevan by Marshrutka

Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, but my first marshrutka (shared minivan) ride went very well! Tripadvisor actually has several reports of crappy vehicles, crappy drivers, waiting forever for the van to fill, but none of that happened to me.

First off, there are several bus stations for marshrutkas going from Tbilisi to Yerevan. From my understanding, there are three, one from the Tbilisi Railway Station, one from Ortachala (the most popular, apparently), and one from Avlabari metro station. I chose the last option, because it’s convenient by metro, and more recent reports suggest that you get better vehicles, and there’s supposedly a timetable of sorts.

Based on a supposed timetable by someone on Tripadvisor, I aimed to go for the 11 am departure. I arrived at Avlabari station at 10.50 am. Following the excellent directions from another traveler on Tripadvisor, I located the marshrutkas easily.

Where are the Marshrutkas in Avlabari?

When you come to the top of the escalators, take the left door. Once you exit the door, look to the right. There is a parking lot with several mashrutkas. On the day I was there, they were all heading to Yerevan.

Despite comments suggesting that English isn’t used, the marshrutkas had the English word “Yerevan” written on the signs displayed on their dashboard. Once I got there, I approached a gentleman holding a notebook. I said “Yerevan”, he asked if I had reservations (so, you can make reservations!). I said no, after which he directed me to one of the marshrutkas. I was the second last person on that marshrutka. He filled the last spot in less than 2 mins, and we were off before 11 am.

The marshrutka I got on was a new Mercedes Vito seating 7. It also seems to have a functioning wifi, as advertised – I say “seem” because I didn’t try it myself, but the guy in front seemed to have used it with no problems. I was in the front row, middle seat. Even though I was in the middle seat, it was actually very roomy. I didn’t feel cramped or uncomfortable throughout the trip. I did have to buckle up, because the driver occasionally jammed his brakes, and the seatbelt prevented me from flying forward.

Mashrutka from Tbilisi to Yerevan

Georgia – Armenia Border Crossing

This was easy peasy. The Georgian side didn’t take took long to check me out of their country. We then hopped back on the marshrutka, and he drove a short distance over to the Armenian side. The Armenian side took slightly longer. Be prepared with address/proof of your accommodation in Armenia. It’s not a super strict requirement. The immigration officer just read the address off a third party app on my phone. He also scanned in my Azerbaijiani visas without comments.

For the border crossing, either remember the people in your marshrutka, your driver, or take a picture of your marshrutka. There are several similar-looking vehicles heading in the same direction. I’d say the whole border crossing took under 30 mins.

Changing money at the Georgia – Armenia Border

I changed the last of my GEL into Armenian drams at the exchange after the Georgian border. Rates were ~10% worse than market rates, but whatever.

We stopped for a short rest on the Armenian side of the border. And about 1 hr after the first stop, we stopped for another break, and also for the driver to fuel up. He dropped several people off en route on request.

We finally pulled into Kilikia Bus Station in Yerevan at around 3pm.

Quite frankly, I was expecting the worst after reading all those reports about marshrutka travel. It did not reflect my experience. I had pleasant ride in a new vehicle and a decent driver. I didn’t stumble out of the marshrutka thinking to myself “never again”, so yay!

I Finally Met the Caspian in the Caucasus: A Week in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, 10 – 17 September 2018

Baku

Seeing the Caspian has been an obsession of mine since I read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. I visited Iran after the book, but not the Caspian Sea, due to time constraints. I did get Azerbaijan’s view of the Caspian on this trip. It wasn’t too glorious; I probably went to the wrong place. I will try again from another spot.

Having said that, do visit the Caucasus. I experienced amazing hospitality in my week-long visit. Here goes:

Total Cost

Flight

8,000 UR + $31.50: Air Azerbaijan from Istanbul to Baku, booked through Chase portal ($131.50)

Hotels

23,000 UR points (as statement credit): 2 nights, Hyatt Regency Baku ($230). It’s a Cat 3 Hyatt, so transferring to Hyatt made no sense. I also needed the night credits for requalification, so I didn’t book through the portal

20,000 IHG points: 1 night, Holiday Inn Tbilisi

8,000 UR points (transferred to Hyatt): 1 night, Hyatt Place Yerevan (I wanted to stay here all three nights, but they weren’t available for the other two nights)

60,000 Hilton Honors Points: 2 nights, DoubleTree Yerevan

Others

Local Transportation (train, mashrutka, metro): $42

Food: $46 (food is actually cheap there, I just went to some nicer restaurants)

Azerbaijan Visa on Arrival: $20

Total: ~$140 + 39,000 UR + 20,000 IHG + 60,000 HH

Itinerary

10 September 2018: Istanbul to Baku on Air Azerbaijan, Hyatt Regency Baku

11 September 2018: Baku, Hyatt Regency Baku

12 September 2018: Baku to Tbilisi, Overnight Train

13 September 2018: Tbilisi, Holiday Inn Tbilisi

14 September 2018: Tbilisi to Yerevan by Mashrutka, Hyatt Place Yerevan

15 September 2018: Yerevan, DoubleTree Yerevan

16 September 2018: Yerevan, DoubleTree Yerevan

17 September 2018: Yerevan to Kiev to Almaty on Ukraine International Airlines

Baku