Russia Part 3 – Yekaterinburg

Day 157: August 16, 2018

We slept until 9:00 am, but it was still only 6.5 hours sleep after we arrived so late on the train the night before. We had breakfast downstairs then met the group for a tour of Yekaterinburg at 10:00 am.

Due to conflict with Sweden, Russia wanted a more stable supplier of metals. The Urals were far from the capital so Yekaterinburg was created in 1723 by Peter the Great. The town is named after the patron saint of mining/industry or possibly Peter the Great’s wife Catherine I. In the 1690s mines were first constructed in the Urals.

We visited a merchant’s house from the 19th century. From 1924-1991 the city was called Sverdlovsk after a Bolshevik leader.

Merchant’s House

In the main square there was a statue of Lenin put up in 1957. All main streets in a city were named after Lenin in Soviet times. There was a cathedral in the location of the statue previously, but it was exploded by the Soviets.

Across the street was the city administration building with a painting of the Russian victory in WWII on May 9, 1945.

Painting on the City Administration Building

Up the street was a blue mansion from the 19th century. The owner wanted to show off by creating the most beautiful building in the city. He combined three architects’ designs. In the 21st century, it was turned into an official residence of the President.

19th century mansion

We saw many buildings of the constructivist style or what we have been calling “Soviet”. The Soviets wanted to get rid of anything resembling the past regime including highly decorated buildings. Across the road was the city dam decorated with granite on the outside and a beautiful lake on the other side.

Yekaterinburg

We saw a statue of Alexander Pushkin, a great Russian poet and author, in the literary district. From there we walked to the Church on Spilled Blood. It was built between 2000 and 2003 in the Byzantine style. A house used to be situated there and it was location of the Romanovs imprisonment following the revolution. In July, 1918 the Romanov family was sent to the basement and shot. The bodies were then brought to an abandoned mine so that no one knew where they were buried. In 1977, the house was knocked down to expand the street.

Church on Spilled Blood

Outside the church were pictures of the royal family and a statue of all seven murdered members of the family. It is interesting how perspective changes. During Soviet times the people who killed the Romanovs were heroes and now they are seen as murderers. The Romanovs were seen as murderers of the country and now are considered martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The walking tour of the city ended and we went for lunch. Danny and I both ordered salads then shared some dumplings. We tried a buckwheat and orange soda which had an interesting flavour.

After lunch we boarded a bus and drove 17 km out of the city to the Europe-Asia border. We were given ribbons to tie on a tree to make a wish. There were tons there already. Danny and I wound ours together and tied it to a small tree and each made our wish. It was a very nice moment.

Ribbon with a wish

We walked up to a monument showing the exact delineation between the European and Asian continents. The monuments shows an “A” and “E” together in a shape almost like the Eiffel Tower.

Asia-Europe border

Down from there was a cute little area for taking pictures. Many weddings are held there or couples go to take their wedding pictures there. There was a board with Beauty and the Beast where we took one of our best pictures.

Beauty and the Beast

Next we drove to Ganina Yama Monastery constructed in 2009. Nicholas II, the tsar during the Russian revolution, wrote in his journal that he didn’t feel well prepared for ruling Russia. He was well educated and knew many languages, but did not have a military mind.

In 1917, Nicholas was stopped on his way to St. Petersburg and forced to abdicate. His family and him were first imprisoned in St. Petersburg. Then the White Guard, who supported the tsar, moved them to a remote Siberian town, Tobolsk, far away from the fighting with the Red Army. Nicholas II hoped to escape to Europe from there. He was related to many other European rulers, but none of them wanted to risk themselves to save him.

In spring 1918, a decision was made to return the family to Moscow for judgement by the people. They were stopped in Yekaterinburg on the way. The town was very against the tsar and imprisoned the family in an engineer’s house (the location of the Church on Spilled Blood).

In mid-July the White Guard was approaching the city so the Red Army sent a telegram to Lenin asking permission to execute the Royal family. An affirmative answer was received the same day. The family was taken to the basement in the middle of the night. They were read an order that they were to be executed. There were 12 soldiers present. Nicholas, Alexandra (the empress) and their son (Alexei) died immediately. The daughters had jewels sewn into their dresses that stopped the bullets. The soldiers had to stab them with their bayonets. They took the bodies to an abandoned mine and threw them inside. It was full of water so the bodies floated. They tried to explode the bodies with a grenade, but it didn’t explode. Instead they cut up the bodies and applied acid so they wouldn’t be recognized.

Mine where the Romanov bodies were found

The monastery was created to commemorate the Romanovs who were recognized as martyred saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. Seven churches were built inside for the seven members of the family that were killed. We purchased some kvass (drink made from flour and molasses) made by the monks and gingerbread which was tasty.

Romanov children, Ganina Yama Monastery

We drove back to the city, but traffic was quite bad. The typical working hours in the city are 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. We walked to a sushi place and got take out then went to a supermarket to stock up for our upcoming 55 hour train ride.

Back at the hotel we ate our sushi which was a bit disappointing as it was more cream cheese than fish. We drove with the group to the train station and then waited half an hour before boarding. We are in a room with the Punjabi ladies from the UK. They are very nice. They told us all about the origins of the Sikh religion and we discussed spirituality. It was nice to hear their thoughts. We went and hung out in the dining car for a bit then went back to the room to go to bed.

Day 158: August 17, 2018

We went to bed quite late and then I didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 9:00 am. I laid for a bit watching Orange is the New Black. I didn’t sleep very well as I felt the train was much more rocky than last time.

We were given breakfast by the train: crepes with ham and cheese then yogurt, a bun and cookies. It was all pretty heavy. I watched a bit more of our downloaded Netflix then we got off the train a bit to stretch our legs.

I had yogurt for lunch and Danny went to the dining car to play a game of chess with Sasha. I ventured to the dining car later to see how their game was going. It took them two hours to finish the game and Danny won.

Chess game in the train dining car

We got out for a bit and went to a train engine display with the group for a photo. There were a billion mosquitoes there and we all got bit. We returned to the train and I watched more Orange is the New Black. Danny went for a walk and I found him drinking with the American Couple.

Train stop

At midnight we had a 50 minute stop. We went outside the train station to a fast food place. I had quesadillas and Danny had a shawarma. It was actually very good. We returned to the train after our small dose of freedom. Then we curled up for bed.

Day 159: August 18, 2018

I woke up and watched some Netflix while everyone else slept. I slept much better than the night before. We didn’t have our oatmeal breakfast until 11:00 am. The time changes have messed up our schedule. We are now +4 hours from Moscow time.

We watched Archer on Netflix then we were able to get off the train for 45 minutes. Just outside the train station we went to a coffee shop. I got a milkshake which was not very thick, but had a very nice taste. Beside the train station was a mural of Lenin.

Mural of Lenin

Back in the train we sat in the dining car for a bit watching Archer. Then we read in our room for a bit. There was another 15 minute break to get off the train.

Danny riding the rails

We returned to the dining car and Danny played another game of chess with Sasha while I read. Sasha won this game. Back in the room we ate sandwiches for supper before our cheese went bad. Then we got ready for bed.

Yekaterinburg was an interesting town, but nothing too exciting. The train ride has been interesting. We have had lots of free time to chat with the others on our tour and catch up on Netflix. I’m looking forward to getting off the train at our next stop, Lake Baikal.

M

Russia Part 2 – Suzdal and Vladimir

Day 154: August 13, 2018

Danny and I woke up early again and went down to the gym in our hotel in St. Petersburg. I didn’t push too hard the day before because I was worried of straining my muscles. After this workout my arms were sore.

We packed then had to wait ten minutes for the elevator. Apparently everyone was leaving at the same time. We caught an elevator going up, but then the lady in there with us ended up pushing five more floors with her back. We boarded our bus for a three hour drive to Suzdal.

Suzdal is called the Pearl of the Golden Ring which is a tourist track of nice towns. In the 12th century, Russia didn’t exist. There were just fighting principalities. In 1125, Suzdal was made capital of one of those principalities.

We had a lunch of salad, borscht, rice and breaded chicken. I’m not sure how I feel about Russian food yet as there seems to be a lot of pickles.

After lunch, we started a walking tour of Suzdal. Suzdal has 30 Orthodox churches and 14 bell towers. Its current population is approximately 10,000. The town was founded in 1024. The Mongols captured Suzdal in 1238.

The first church we saw had black cupolas and was built in 1667.

Church, Suzdal

During the rule of Catherine the Great she passed a law of securalization of church land which passed church land to the state.

Then we moved into an active convent founded in 1207. It was closed by the Soviets who opposed all religion then reopened in 1995 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Inside the convent was a white church built in the 1550s that we walked through. In Soviet times it was a power station.

The gate to the convent had glazed tiles not common to Suzdal. After WWII, rabbits were kept inside. The bell tower was constructed in 1812, but was put on hold during Napoleon’s siege. It was then completed in 1819. A couple of us in the group climbed to the top of the bell tower to get a nice view out over Suzdal.

View from the bell tower in the convent, Suzdal

We walked on to the Red Monastery built in the 14th century to protect Suzdal from the Moscovites. At the height 25,000 peasants would have been inside the wooden walls. In the 1660s, the walls were changed to brick, but were no longer required for defence.

Red Monastery, Suzdal

Next was the White Monastery which was established in the 14th century and is still active. Basil the Third, the Grand Prince of Moscow, had his wife become a nun there. She was then married to God and he could divorce her. After twenty years of marriage she had not produced an heir so he remarried and Ivan IV (also known as Ivan the Terrible) was born.

Inside the White Monastery, Suzdal

Next was the Kremlin which used to have a wooden wall built in the 11th century, but it has since burned down. We saw the Nativity Cathedral built between 1222 and 1225. The Mongols burned the upper part and it stood without a roof for 90 years. It was reconstructed by Basil the Third.

The Nativity Cathedral, Suzdal

The guide had a very dry humour which was enjoyable. He also filled the tour’s quiet moments with discussions of Russian cars which Danny enjoyed.

Suzdal

After the tour we returned to our lodgings, a quaint inn. We relaxed a bit then went up the street for some groceries and honey mead. Back in the inn, we sat in the common area with some of our group.

At 7:00 pm, we went down for supper with the group. We had fried zucchini, dumplings and steak which was pretty yummy. We sat outside for our meal and enjoyed the cool air. The flavoured vodka is very good here. After supper we returned to drink some more mead before bed time.

Day 155: August 14, 2018

We had a nice breakfast buffet in the inn. Then we checked out and drove to Vladimir, a larger city on the Golden Ring and took over the title of capital city from Suzdal in 1157. Vladimir was first believed to be mentioned in chronicles in 1108, but newly discovered chronicles mention it in 990.

The current population of Vladimir is around 360,000. The Soviets built many factories to attract people to the area which made it grow to its current size. It was also able to grow larger than Suzdal due to the Trans-Siberian railway passing through town.

We started our walking tour in front of the “Three Lazy Men” statue which shows a soldier as the protector of the city, an architect representing the prosperity of the city and a worker symbolizing the industry of the city.

We visited the Assumption Cathedral founded in 1158. Limestone from near Moscow was brought along the rivers for the construction. The chapel and bell tower in front were built later. In the 15th century an artist decorated the cathedral’s interior with frescoes. Catherine the Great funded restoration, but people didn’t know how to do it.

Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir

Next was the Cathedral of Saint Dmitris which was founded in the late 12th century and made of limestone. The church has 1,504 different carvings on the exterior showing images such as lions and palm trees.

Cathedral of Saint Dmitris, Vladimir

Religion came to the area from the Byzantine empire which is why the icons inside showed very Greek looking people as shown below.

Relief in Cathedral of Saint Dmitris, Vladimir

From there we went to the Golden Gate Tower which was the main entrance to the city. The height of the wall was 15 m. The doors used to be gilded, but were taken by the Mongols who thought the doors were pure gold. The city walls were eventually removed to allow the city to expand. Inside the gate tower was a diorama of the Mongol invasion of Vladimir in 1238.

Golden Gate Tower, Vladimir

We went for lunch up the street and I had a very good burger and fries. The milkshake I ordered was typical European, not very ice creamy. After lunch we got back in the bus to drive back to Moscow. We stopped at a grocery store to purchase food to eat on the train.

Then we went to the train station. We are on the top bunks in a room of four with the American couple, Wendy and Gary. We shared some mead then ate our supper of yogurt, berries and buns. We played two rounds of Hidden 31 and Danny won both. Around 12:30 am we finally went to bed.

Day 156: August 15, 2018

I woke up and really had to pee so jumped down from the bunk. Most of the group was out in the hallway so I waited out there for everyone else to wake up. We had oatmeal for breakfast then sat chatting. It was interesting learning more about the American legal system. They were very good at explaining their views on American politics.

We got off the train at lunch and walked around for a bit then back on the train. Sadly, our train did not have a dining car so we had to rely purely on the food we brought. For lunch we had little baguettes, cheese and sausage. We read for a bit then had a nap. For supper we ate packaged noodles.

By the end of the train ride we were ready to get off. It felt like being a caged animal or imprisoned. You just wanted to escape anywhere, but there was nowhere to go.

Ready to get off the train

We got off the train around 11:30 pm in Yekaterinburg. We met our driver who took us to our hotel. We checked in and went to our room. I had a shower so that I would feel a bit better for bed. We stayed up a bit chatting about the people on our tour then fell asleep.

Suzdal and Vladimir provided a bit of history about Russia during the Middle Ages. Suzdal was a beautiful town and I wish we had a bit more free time there to explore. Our short train ride was just a taste of what is to come. For now, I am glad to be off the train and am ready to explore the city of Yekaterinburg.

M

Russia Part 1 – St. Petersburg and Moscow

Day 150: August 9, 2018

We were up super early (1:00 am) to catch our flight from Batumi, Georgia to St. Petersburg, Russia. We had breakfast then packed to go. We called a cab with an app similar to Uber; it was supposed to be a minute away. After about seven minutes of waiting outside we gave up and just hailed a cab on the main street. The airport was only seven minutes away so it was a cheap ride.

At the airport there was already quite a line of people waiting to check in so we were in line for some time. Once through security we got on the plane quickly.

Our journey had a stopover in Minsk, Belarus. In Minsk, we filled out a landing card for the Russian Federation and went through customs there. It wasn’t too long before we boarded our plane to St. Petersburg. We went through customs again on arrival then once we had our bags we found our transfer driver.

Driving from the airport I was surprised how much it looked like Canada. In the downtown area, it was less like Canada and the buildings looked more Austrian inspired.

Our hotel is right in front of one of the many canals. We were too early to check in so we ordered lunch at the restaurant in the hotel. Danny had borscht and I had chicken with vegetables. We went for a walk around the block then our room was ready.

I ended up napping for a bit then we went up the street to a restaurant. We ordered three different types of dumplings. They were all yummy. Lots had pumpkin inside them which added a sweetness. They were much better than the Australian use of pumpkin.

Dumplings

After supper we purchased some water at the store because we read we shouldn’t drink tap water here. Back at the room we went to bed right away. At 9:45 pm we were awoken by a call from the front desk that there was a letter for us. At first Danny said, “Oh, we’ll get it in the morning,” but then curiosity got the better of us. We were wondering who would have known the hotel’s address to send us something. It turned out to just be our train tickets which was pretty anticlimactic.

Day 151: August 10, 2018

I did not sleep very well. I forgot to turn off my alarm from the previous night so it went off at 1:00 am. Then I woke up around 4:30 am because it was cold.

We went down for breakfast in the hotel then met our tour guide in the lobby at 10:00 am. We had booked everything for Russia through a tour company because we weren’t sure how it would affect our visas if we did it ourselves. We now know it wouldn’t have mattered.

We had a private active walking tour and boy was it active. I had 38,000 steps by the end of the day. Our guide, Natalia, started with explaining the founding of the city by Peter the Great in 1703. He moved the capital unofficially to St. Petersburg in 1712 to be closer to Europe. It also was the base for his navy. The city’s name was changed to Petrograd in WWI to avoid it sounding German. Following the revolution, it was changed to Leningrad.

Peter the Great wanted his nobles to dress in European fashions which were much more risqué than Russian fashions. He also forced men to cut their beards and taxed those who didn’t comply. He valued education so nobles were required to finish their exams before getting married.

St. Petersburg is made up of over 42 islands. In Peter’s time there were no bridges only boats to get across. The city started with Peter and Paul Fortress on an island then expanded to three main streets.

We visited St. Isaac Church which was originally constructed in 1712. Peter was married inside. It was destroyed multiple times before the current one was constructed between 1818 and 1858. The cupola (dome) is a mix of mercury and gold. Prisoners were used for the construction and were freed if they lived. The cathedral was not bombed during WWII as it was used as a point of reference for the Nazis. The Russians suspected this and stored items from the palaces inside.

Inside St. Isaac Church, St. Petersburg

We visited the summer gardens where only dogs and sailors were not allowed so they would not disturb the noble ladies. The pond within is said to be where Tchaikovsky got the idea for Swan Lake.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was next. It was built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The church was constructed between 1883 and 1907. In WWII it was used as a temporary morgue. After the war it was used as a warehouse to store vegetables.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Next we visited an Impressionism art display which was part of the Hermitage Museum in Palace Square. I thought I would be very bored, but it was actually very interesting. Our guide knew a lot about the artists which added to the experience. Renoir, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh’s works were displayed inside.

Palace Square, St. Petersburg

We then moved to the Winter Palace portion of the Hermitage Museum. We saw throne rooms, ballrooms, many paintings collected mostly by Catherine the Great, a statue by Michelangelo, Madonna paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, then some other palace rooms. We were thankful to have a guide to point out some of the important items in the museum. If we had gone alone and without any preparation we likely would have been stumbling around.

Inside the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

Our tour ended around 6:00 pm. We left our guide and walked over the river to Peter and Paul Fortress. We walked along the beach there then inside the fortress. Many souvenir shops were selling Putin shirts and mugs.

Peter and Paul Fortress across the water, St. Petersburg

We walked within the fortress for a bit then went around and back across the river. We went to a trendy courtyard with different restaurants. We chose a deli one. Silly me, I forgot to request no mustard so I was very disappointed with my sandwich.

We returned to our apartment which seemed extremely far away for our tired feet. We relaxed in the room before bed.

St. Petersburg was very different than I was thinking. The buildings were very grand and it didn’t look like other cities. I imagined the people in Russia would be different somehow as well, but they are just the same as us.

St. Petersburg
Day 152: August 11, 2018

We woke up and went downstairs for breakfast. Our transfer picked us up at 11:00 am and took us to the train station. The transfer driver’s car remote wasn’t working well and at one point while we were driving the alarm went off and the car stopped. He got it reset and we made it to the train station.

Around 45 minutes before we were to leave our track number came up. We bought burgers to eat on the train for lunch. The train left from St. Petersburg train station at 1:00 pm and we arrived in Moscow around 5:00 pm.

We tried to use an app similar to Uber to get a ride to our hotel, but the app said there was an issue. It said the cost for a cheap ride would be 350 RUB so we went out to get a cab. The first guy said it would be 2,500 RUB. It was going to be metered. I thought maybe that was just the cost so we agreed and got in. I guess we should have asked a couple of other drivers…

We arrived at the hotel and the driver said it was 4,000 RUB. We said that was ridiculous and he had said it was going to be 2,500 RUB which we already thought was extreme. We finally ended up paying part of it and walking out. He didn’t follow us so he must have been ripping us off. Danny was very upset. Inside the hotel, we sat to cool down for a bit.

The tour guide from GAdventures showed up with two other people on the tour. We chatted with the couple while our guide, Sasha, checked us in to the hotel. The couple is from New Orleans and are just retired.

We went up to our room and dropped our bags then hurried down to meet the group for supper. We walked a bit from the hotel to an interesting looking restaurant. Sasha suggested beef stroganoff in a clay pot so that it was what we had. We also had some very tasty vodka.

After supper we went to the grocery store and picked up some breakfast food and water. We figure it will be much cheaper than breakfast in the hotel. We then returned to the room for bed.

Day 153: August 12, 2018

We woke up at 7:30 am and went down to the hotel gym for 45 minutes. They had ALL the machines. Back at the room we had yogurt for breakfast then went to the lobby for 9:30 am to meet the group.

We took the metro to Red Square and met our guide for a tour of the Kremlin. Kremlin actually means fortified complex. The Moscow Kremlin was founded in 1147 and started as a small village with a wooden wall. In the 12th century the Mongols invaded and the village grew as people sought protection.

In the 14th century Russia had different principalities fighting each other. They were unified under Moscow and the tsar settled in the Kremlin. The Kremlin is now the working residence for the President, however, Putin does not live in the Kremlin at this time.

The Kremlin is divided into two parts: administrative and tourist. It covers 28 hectares. The walls originally had 18 towers which used to have double headed eagles on top. The Bolsheviks replaced them with a five pointed star which symbolized them populating five continents on their spread of communism.

The current Kremlin walls were built between 1485 and 1495. A yellow building in the square was built by Catherine the Great for the Senate. Later the Bolsheviks lived inside.

Inside the Kremlin, Moscow

We saw a 40 lb. canon cast in the 14th century and a huge bell that weighed 200 tons built by Empress Anne. There are very few birds in the Kremlin area as falcons are used to keep them away. The birds used to scratch the buildings many of which are gilded in gold.

We walked through Cathedral Square which has three cathedrals. We entered the Assumption Cathedral then the Archangel Cathedral. The third cathedral is the Cathedral of the Annunciation shown below.

Cathedral of the Annunciation, Moscow

We then went to the armoury, which was a museum. We saw dresses from the empresses, different carriages, Fabergé eggs, different gifts the Royal family received, armour and chain mail. I found it very interesting, but Danny was getting bored.

After the tour we were given free time. Danny and I went to the Red Square. There was a concert going on with stands covering the square so we didn’t get a very good view. We walked around to St. Basil’s Cathedral then over the bridge to get a good view.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

We walked back to the square to see if we could find Stalin’s grave which we thought was near Lenin’s mausoleum, but we couldn’t find it. Leinin’s mausoleum is only open from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm every day and there is a huge line up to enter. We think Stalin’s grave must have been inside the mausoleum somewhere.

We walked up the road a bit to get a taste of Moscow away from the Kremlin are, but it was a pretty boring walk with not near enough ice cream. We returned to the Kremlin area and found the Metro station near the State Historical Museum.

Square in front of State Historical Museum, Moscow

Upon return to the hotel we chilled for a bit then went to a nearby Italian restaurant before bed.

St. Petersburg and Moscow have always been near the top of the cities I would like to visit. They both had much different vibes than I imagined. St. Petersburg is called the Venice of the North and it had a similar whimsical feel to Venice. I think the movie Anastasia gave me a different impression of St. Petersburg. Moscow I found a bit boring honestly. I was not as awed by the Kremlin as I thought I would be. Maybe I was growing tired of cities as well by this time. I would like to see St. Petersburg and Moscow in the wintertime covered in snow. I think it would give both cities a different feel.

Tomorrow we head out of Moscow to the countryside to visit some small towns. I’m looking forward to escaping the big cities for a bit.

M

Georgia Part 4 – Batumi

Day 145: August 4, 2018

We were ready to leave by 8:00 am. Sadly, we had to throw out some of our watermelon. It was just on much and we didn’t have enough containers for the amount we had leftover.

It was sprinkling on our drive out. We spent a few days more than we needed to in Mestia. We had thought it would be easy to just hike around as it is such a beautiful area. There are not many trails around though. Maybe because there aren’t enough tourists for the infrastructure. It was also rainy the last half of our stay which didn’t make us feel like going outside.

The drive to Batumi took over five hours. We stopped in Poti for lunch on the way and had khinkali and eggplant with walnut sauce.

Khinkali

The grocery store we found in Batumi was very busy and there wasn’t a lot of space to move around. Our host met us at the bottom of the apartment building. The building was a 70s pale green and looks very aged on the outside. The apartment was newly renovated and smelled of new paint.

Driving around Batumi, we had an interesting first glance. There are many dramatic architectural buildings. Across the street from our Airbnb we could see the Black Sea. There was a long beach with a promenade. Along there is a restaurant in the shape of the coliseum, a mini Parthenon, an upside down White House and carnival rides. I feel almost like the city is trying too hard, but then there are a lot of tourists so maybe it works. Danny made hamburger soup for supper and then we went to bed.

Day 146: August 5, 2018

We woke up fairly early so we could go on one more road trip with the Pajero. We drove 45 minutes east to Makhuntseti Bridge. It is built from natural rocky stones and lime. It spans 19.5 m and is one of many similar bridges built in the Middle Ages in the southwestern part of Georgia. It was actually pretty scary to stand on. It is only 2.5 m wide and has no sides.

Makhuntseti Bridge

From there we drove up to Makhuntseti Waterfall. The view from the top…not so good. It was very overgrown and you couldn’t see anything. We did see a viewpoint at the bottom so we drove back down. It looked like there was going to be many vendors there. They were just setting up at 8:00 am. Georgians don’t seem to be early risers.

Makhuntseti Waterfall

Danny and I were the only ones visiting at that time. We enjoyed the waterfall and even danced a little in front. We returned to the vehicle and there was a man with an orange vest who charged us 1 GEL for parking. The parking officials don’t seem very official so we don’t know if we are being scammed or not.

We stopped at a car wash on the way back to Batumi to clean the outside of the car then returned to our apartment. The Pacers was picked up at noon. Danny stormed in after meeting the guys downstairs to give them the keys. They had charged him the cleaning fee for not cleaning the inside which had not been clear. It sounded like it could have been better handled by both parties.

Danny made smokies with peppers and onions for supper. I FaceTimed Erin which was really nice. Afterwards Rayne had emailed me so I called her cell phone through Skype. I started to cry when I heard from her. She means a lot to me so I was glad to hear she was well. We chatted for a bit before I needed to go to bed.

Day 147: August 6, 2018

Danny fell asleep fairly early last night while I was chatting. We woke up and ate breakfast. Then we walked along the promenade to the Hilton hotel which was about 25 minutes away. I booked a massage at the spa there. Danny returned to the apartment then to the mall to try to find me a birthday present.

I should have brought my swimsuit or workout clothes because I had access to the pool and gym inside the spa. I changed into my robe then went down to my massage. It was the best I’ve had on the trip although I wish she had worked on my hips more. Afterwards I sat on the balcony for a bit to relax.

I then got dressed and walked up the street to Books in Batumi. I was able to find two interesting books in English. Then I walked through the park to a clothing store. I tried on some pants, but didn’t buy anything. I continued my walk to the mall which was not exciting. There were lots of small stores and on the main floor there was a large grocery store. I bought some items we hadn’t found at the last store. Then I walked back to the apartment.

It was different having time to myself. I enjoyed doing my own thing for a bit. Georgia has definitely felt very safe. The streets of Batumi were quite busy. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I love Tbilisi, but Batumi feels too gimmicky and touristy to me.

We had leftovers for lunch and decided to do a walking tour of the city tomorrow. We chilled and watched some Netflix. Danny made chicken and cauliflower rice for supper with grapes for dessert. Danny talked to him parents then we went to bed.

Day 148: August 7, 2018

We slept in which seems to be our new norm. Danny went and got his haircut then we went down to the beach. There were lots of people, but we found some chairs that cost 3 GEL each to rent. The sun wasn’t quite shining, but we were hot just sitting there. It is quite humid in Batumi.

The water was really wavy and quite warm. The shore was large pebbles and dropped away very quickly. We lounged for a bit after we went for a dip then returned to the apartment to shower.

At 4:00 pm we left to walk 45 minutes to the cable car station for our free walking tour. There were about 10 people on the tour. We visited the different area where we were shown the cultures that have influenced the city. In the past mostly merchants and foreigners lived in Batumi.

Georgia is approximately 10% Muslim. Adjara, the autonomous region Batumi is in, is approximately 30% Muslim.

The region is famous for their nest or boat shaped khachapuri. Women made it to symbolize a boat for their husbands that were sailing. The egg was meant to symbolize the sun although the men say it is their wife’s watching eye.

Adjarian khachapuri

We saw a building with two little boys playing flutes on top. When the wind blows it whistles through them making it sound like flutes.

Building with boy playing a flute

Many of the buildings were the result of the previous President Michelin Saakashvili. He hoped to turn Batumi into a vacation destination. Some historical looking buildings are new and there are some that seem ultra modern. There were also copies of other historic buildings and statues. The fountain below is a copy of one in Bologna, Italy.

The Neptune Fountain

The Alphabet Tower shows the Georgian alphabet on the structure of DNA to show the link of language to the people.

Modern Batumi

The Ali and Nino statue shows Ali, a Muslim boy from Azerbaijan and Nino, a Christian girl from Georgia. They are from a novel. The sculptures rotate and create a single sculpture at one point.

Ali and Nino Statue

The tour finished at waterfront where it was crazy busy. There were two boys on a double bike circling a girl sitting and waiting for her parents. There were tons of people on electric trike wheelchair things. It got more and more terrifying to watch each second. Three people could ride on them and any age could drive. People were putting them to full speed which was about 30 km/h. We witnessed about three incidents that evening where one rolled or two hit each other. There were numerous other close calls. It made walking pretty scary.

We stopped at a restaurant for supper. Danny went to the washroom and a drunk guy walked by and said something to me. I replied, “Sorry, English”. Then he said, “Menu. I pay”. I said, “No, that’s okay”. Then he walked away. Danny returned then the waiter came and told us the man had offered to pay for our meal. We replied, “No, we can pay for our meal.” The guy returned with the waiter and we repeated that we could pay for our own meal. The guy said, “No, I’m Georgian. You are not from here. I will pay”. We agreed, but were still unsure.

For supper we had khachapuri and trout. Danny still wanted more khachapuri so we ordered a second. The drunk guy left while we were still eating so we assumed we had to pay for our meal. When we asked for the bill the waiter told us it had already been paid.

We continued our walk along the promenade back towards our Airbnb. Ten minutes before our apartment it started to rain. We got inside and got ready for bed.

Day 149: August 8, 2018

We slept in and then basically did nothing all day. We finished cooking the remaining food so we had almost nothing to throw out. I watched Project Runway then FaceTimed Tara before we went to bed. We knew we would have to be up at 1:00 am for our flight to St. Petersburg.

Georgia has been quite the experience. It is a beautiful country with fantastic food. We will definitely be missing the khachapuri. I believe we will also be majorly under budget on this portion of the trip as food and accommodations were half the price of everywhere else we have stayed. Next we move on to Russia where we will take the Trans Siberian railway across the country from St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.

M

Georgia Part 3 – Mestia and Ushguli

Day 140: July 30, 2018

Our sleep was very good at the last Airbnb. We both woke up rested and went down to breakfast: fried eggs, bread, veggies, cheese, jam and dumplings. This breakfast was much better than the previous day’s.

We returned to our room and finished packing. We thanked the host and headed back to the main square to look around. I was not looking forward to it as it was already so hot. Danny wanted to walk and see things so he was frustrated with my bad mood. We returned to the car and started our four hour drive north to Mestia.

We stopped for groceries in Zugdidi. There were no veggies in the store so we had to go up the street to a market. It ended up being much larger than we expected. We bought meat, veggies and fruit there then continued our drive to Mestia. It became very hilly and mountainous.

Enguri Resevoir on the drive to Mestia

We arrived at our Airbnb and were shown our apartment. Danny said it reminds him of his Nan and Pop’s home because everything is crooked. We watched some Netflix after Danny called his sister then we went to bed.

Day 141: July 31, 2018

I woke up early this morning to FaceTime Jacklyn then I went back to bed and we slept in. Danny brought yogurt and fresh blackberries out for breakfast. At the market we had bought one litre of blackberries for 4 GEL ($2 CAD).

I watched 13 Reasons Why while Danny went out for a run. Then we went into town to see if we could find the groceries we were missing. On our drive we found no grocery store only small “markets” which were similar to what you would find in a small town gas station.

We bought a couple of breakfast items then finally purchased a watermelon. There have been so many people along the drive with watermelons for sale. They were all huge so we thought it would be unreasonable for two people to eat that much watermelon. The one we purchased was smaller, but still too much.

The prices in Mestia seem to be a bit more inflated than the rest of Georgia because it is more remote and touristy. Danny referred to the town as a “gritty Jasper”.

For lunch we purchased some Imeruli khachapuri, round dough with cheese and a bean pie. On the way home we bought bread. I tried to buy one loaf with a 10 GEL bill, but the baker shook his head no. I had to go back to the car and get change as the bread was only 1 GEL ($0.50 CAD). It was still hot when he handed it to me. I couldn’t resist tasting it and then we ended up eating half the loaf because it was so delicious. It was crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside.

I watched more Netflix and Danny went for a walk around town. There are towers scattered around town that are connected to homes. They are called Svan Towers and were used for protection against enemies and natural disasters. The youngest one is 200 years old.

I called my parents for a chat while Danny made supper. Afterwards we went for a short walk around town before bed.

Day 142: August 1, 2018

We woke up around 6:00 am and got on the road by 7:00 am. We brought our bags with us because we thought we might end up spending the night in Ushguli even though we kept our Airbnb in Mestia. I slept for most of the beginning of the drive while the road was concrete. The road soon became gravel with tons of potholes so I could no longer sleep.

The road took about two hours to get from Mestia to Ushguli. There were a couple of stream crossings, but nothing impassible. About 30 minutes from Ushguli, two girls with big packs enthusiastically waved us down. We offered them a ride and they were very grateful. One girl was from Russia and the other was from the Czech Republic. They chatted with us about their trekking.

We stopped a couple of times to take pictures and Danny said, “Just letting you know this isn’t a direct flight.” The Russian girl also enjoyed taking pictures so it was fine. We arrived in Ushguli and parted ways with our hitchhikers.

Danny and I went for a walk around town to get our bearings. The roads were mostly too narrow to drive through. There were lots of Svan towers. Apparently at one time there were over 200 in Ushguli.

We went into a small museum which had a guide outside. The museum was the guide’s great grandparents’ house. We had to wait for our eyes to adjust to the dark before we could see anything. He explained that in the winter the animals would live inside the house with the family. Cows and bulls would be separated on the bottom. Sheep would sleep on the other side and humans would sleep on a platform above.

Inside a historical home, Ushguli

There would be a fire in the middle, but no chimney so the house would get very smoky. They would hang their meat inside and it would get smoked. Salt was not plentiful. There was a mug with a carving of the guide’s great grandfather and other dishes. There was an ashtray with a snake wrapped around it and an eagle on top. A tower would have been connected to the house, but it was destroyed by the Red Army. It was a lot more interesting than we were expecting.

Dishes inside the historical house, Ushguli

After we walked up a small hill for a view into the valley. We decided into the valley would be a good direction to walk.

Danny in Ushguli

First, we returned to the car and drove to find a guesthouse. The first one had no space, but the second one had a room for 40 GEL a night. We left our bags and drove up the road to the valley.

We parked near a small ski lift for some pictures and met a very friendly pregnant doggy. There are way less cats in Georgia, but tons of friendly dogs. We saw a truck driving up the road we were going to walk along and decided to try driving. There were lots of people walking and very few vehicles. The road took a bit of manoeuvring, but wasn’t awful.

We reached a tent café where all the other vehicles stopped so we decided to walk from there. We discovered the hike was to Shkhara Glacier. We followed the road which turned out to be the wrong way. Danny had “told me so”. The road ended and there was a steep drop so we went back down and along a narrow path through shrubs.

Hiking path to Shkhara Glacier

It was raining quite a bit at that point. It took about 30 minutes to walk to the glacier within the valley. The rain hadn’t stopped and it didn’t appear to be clearing. We took some pictures and headed back out.

Shkhara Glacier

The rain almost stopped by the time we reached the vehicle. We were thankful it wasn’t +35 degrees, but could’ve done without the rain. We ate our lunch at the car then drove back into town. There were pigs on the side of the road that I tried to pet. They smelled my hand for food, but would run away when I tried to pet them.

We stopped at a café for a tea and tart. Our pregnant doggy met us again outside. We returned to our room, read for a bit then played cards.

Around 5:30 pm we got hungry so walked up the road to a restaurant. No one else was there, but the lady tried to explain to us what she had. We sat and she fetched her nieces who were from Tbilisi and helping her for the summer. They spoke English very well. We ordered a cucumber/tomato salad, oskra? (A stew) and a meat khachapuri. It was all yummy and felt like home cooking.

Another couple sat down next to us and asked some questions about the town then we got chatting. They were from Romania and planned to go up to the glacier the next morning. They then were headed to Batumi. After supper we returned to our room to chill before bed.

Day 143: August 2, 2018

I didn’t have the greatest sleep. I wore ear plugs because it was quite loud in the guesthouse. We packed and left around 8:00 am. We stopped to take a bunch of pictures on our way out.

Other tourists had mentioned the road gets worse in the afternoon due to the increased water flow. This made us glad we stayed the night an could leave in the morning. The drive out took about two hours.

We drove into Mestia town centre to see if we could buy some cereal at one of the markets, but it seems to be non-existent here. We settled for some oatmeal packs.

Back at our Airbnb we ate the oatmeal and I carved up our watermelon. It is actually very tasty which makes me very happy. Eating that much meh watermelon wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.

We relaxed for a bit and then started to get hungry again. In the town centre we went to a restaurant and ordered eggplant with walnuts and khachapuri. It was all yummy. We returned to the fruit and veggie place we had been the previous day and bought tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber and nectarines.

We returned home and I chatted with my mommy while Danny made supper. We had chicken and rice with some sort of spicy sauce. I found it a bit too vinegary. Watermelon was our dessert while we watched some world history videos on YouTube before bed.

Day 144: August 3, 2018

We woke up fairly early and Danny and I went for a run before the rain set in. We spent the morning lounging then visited the Svaneti museum in town. There were a lot of artifacts from the church, but not much information on the people or the culture.

We ate more watermelon at lunch then decided to go out for supper. The place we planned to go had no free spots so we ended up sitting outside at a restaurant across the street. It was raining and the tent only covered half our table. We had khachapuri and stewed vegetables.

Khachapuri and stewed vegetables

Then we went back home to pack our stuff and get ready to head to Batumi tomorrow for some relaxing. We could have spent a few less days in Mestia and Ushguli. The scenery was very beautiful and I’m very glad we did get to see it. The roads weren’t as awful as I was expecting, but I could see how they could get bad.

M

Georgia Part 2 – Bakuriani and Kutaisi

Day 135: July 25, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast. Then we drove back south and up to Uplistsikhe, a cave town fortress near Gori. It was a centre of the region during the 4th century BC – 4th century AD. In the 13th century it was taken over by the Mongols. We walked around the fascinating buildings.

Uplistsikhe

Into Gori we ventured where we parked near a post office, but it was closed. We had lunch at a nearby restaurant: dumplings in a clay pot and eggplant salad. Up the street we bought some groceries.

Next we visited Gori Castle. We climbed to the top, but there wasn’t much there except lounging guards trying to escape the heat. Below we walked down to a group of sculptures called “Requiem” dedicated to Georgian warrior heroes. They were very impressive.

Requiem, Gori

We walked up the street through Stalin Park to Stalin Museum. Stalin was born in Gori in 1878. The house he grew up in was in the park.

Stalin’s childhood home, Gori

The museum was much like when it was first constructed immediately following Stalin’s death. It focussed on his life and had very little about the terror of his reign. Danny said it felt a bit like a time capsule.

Stalin’s office furniture, Gori

We drove on to our Airbnb in Bakuriani. The place wasn’t quite as nice as the pictures. The towels were still wet and the bed wasn’t made. The bed was actually just a fold out couch. We also couldn’t get the oven to work and there was no toilet paper. We were both feeling frustrated.

I made pizza for supper and after we ate we both felt a bit better. I called my parents and talked for two hours. They set me on the table while they ate lunch which was nice. My dad has been counting the days since we left and the days until we are home. We are getting close to the halfway point depending on what day in December we return. After the call we went to bed.

Day 136: July 26, 2018

We slept in then made banana pancakes for breakfast. They stuck to the pan so they were more like sweet scrambled eggs.

After breakfast, we drove into town. There seems to always be a lot of people around here, especially children. In a park there was a little fair going on. We went to the grocery store and picked up a couple of things. We also bought a giant sugar cookie and some raspberries on the street.

After we drove back to the Airbnb. I updated our expenses which we have been slightly over budget on everywhere excluding Egypt, Slovenia and Hungary. At least it hasn’t been extremely over budget.

Danny started planning the next couple of days in Georgia. He made cooked supper in a pot because we had no baking dish. It turned out really well: chicken with stuffing, potatoes, carrots and cabbage. He used some ham in place of salt meat.

Cooked supper in a pot

We ate and watched some more World History videos then did a bit of research on Mongolia before bed.

Day 137: July 27, 2018

I was up at 4:30 am because I couldn’t sleep. The couch was not very comfy and we couldn’t keep the window open because it’s so noisy outside so I was too hot as well. I had a shower then had breakfast and a tea while trying to watch 13 Reasons Why, but the internet was too spotty.

I eventually went back to bed for a bit more sleep. We left around 8:00 am and drove to Khertvisi Fortress. The buildings are from the 10th-11th centuries. It was really cool to go through as no one else was there. There were a couple of towers and walls remaining, but not really any rooms.

Khertvisi Fortress

We returned to the car and ate some leftovers for an early lunch. It was only 10:30 am, but I was already starving.

Next stop was Vardzia, a cave monastery and town. The main construction there occurred in the 12th century. Most of what remains are the store rooms of the dwellings as they were the furthest back in the cave. We had to walk up a hill to get to the start and I was drenched by the end. It was soooo hot. Luckily the insides of the caves were nice and cool.

Vardzia

There were lots of rooms to see. We even saw where the wine press was located. We skipped through the last half as the rooms got a bit repetitive and it was so hot.

Back at the parking lot we purchased some freshly squeezed orange juice. The oranges were more watery than the ones in Morocco. We chatted with the seller, but he only spoke a little English. A man on a bike translated a bit for us when we asked what else there was to see in the area. We crossed the river and got a full view of the caves.

View of Vardzia caves

On our way back to our Airbnb, we decided to take a different route. Both ways looked like paved highways on GoogleMaps, but the way we took turned into a gravel road, actually more like a cobbled road in rough shape. It was quite bumpy and we were again grateful for the SUV.

We went passed some small towns and then there were just hills. There were some small huts scattered around what seemed to be for cattle and sheep herders.

Drive back to Bakuriani

We passed one vehicle, a station wagon, with hay piled on top. The man stepped out to check it after going over some bumps and hay came out from inside the car.

Hay transport

We had planned to drive to Tabatskuri Lake tomorrow, but would have had to drive back up the same road. We decided to visit it on the way so we would only have to take the road once.

The road eventually led to Ktsia-Tabatskuri Managed Reserve. Heading towards the lake, we saw a line up of gravel trucks and a police check point. We slowly drove passed unsure if we needed to stop. A policeman carrying an AK47 then yelled at us to stop. We backed up then they took our passports and car registration. We had no idea it would be so formal to get in. One of the gravel truck drivers came to my window and offered some puffed chips. I took a couple and then he handed me the whole bag. I was wondering if that meant we were in for a long wait.

A couple of minutes later the police officer came out and sent us on our way. The road was similar to what we had already experienced. The views were amazing with no towns in sight. Off to the side of the road there were some tarped dwellings with many animals around. A boy was waiting by the road and we thought he was waving so we waved back. He then made more of an urgent, “Stop” motion with his hands. We pulled over and I rolled down my window, only part way, unsure of what he wanted. With dirt coating his face, he demanded, “Chocolate.” We said we had none, but handed him the puffy chips we had received from the truck drive. Then we drove off before he questioned us any further. Both of us burst into laughter. The way the boy requested the chocolate was very amusing.

Our drive continued for another 40 minutes. The view to Tabatskuri Lake was incredible and the pictures do not do it justice. There is a dormant volcano in the background. You could see waves on the lake. A small town below looked like it was in Alaska.

Tabatskuri Lake

We continued down to the town and obtained a little bit more petrol. The roads through town were crazy potholed. This did not stop the locals from bombing around. Actually most of the drivers in town were young boys, some looked much younger than driving age.

In town we weren’t able to get a better view of the lake so we headed back out not quite ready for the amazing experience to end. Luckily, on our way out of town some guys standing on the side of the road motioned for us to stop and share a drink. They shared beer and some salt fish. They were trying to explain something to us and made a motion of killing then pointed to our car. We hadn’t thought the road was that bad! They said, “No”, then one of them baaaed and we understood that they were killing sheep. Then they pointed to us indicating they wanted us to come with them to kill sheep.

We now understand how easy it is to be Georgian kidnapped where you are invited to share a meal with Georgians, then sleep there, then live there because of Georgian hospitality. We both wanted to go to have that experience, but tomorrow we head to a new town and five guys drinking didn’t seem like they were up to any good. They gave us their phone number so we could call to meet up with them tomorrow to go kill a sheep.

We drove away still debating if we should go back, but it wasn’t practical. We drove back and the police officer asked how we liked it and we said it was beautiful. He sent us one our way and we continued down to Bakuriani. We stopped at a restaurant in town for supper. We ordered a bread with red beans, skewered vegetables and some sort of meat. Sadly, it was all rather disappointing. I thought we couldn’t go wrong with any Georgian meal, but I was mistaken.

We returned to our Airbnb and I was less than satisfied. I had some yogurt and berries for dessert and I felt much better. Now bedtime.

Day 138: July 28, 2018

We both slept a bit better last night. We kept the balcony door open and used ear plugs. We had eggs, sausages and veggies for breakfast then packed everything up. We stopped to fill the air in the tires as the front passenger wheel was looking a bit low.

We drove 2.5 hours to Katskhi Column. Along the way we passed many Soviet style apartment buildings. They all looked very run down. Out the window we saw a huge statue so we pulled over to take a look. There was a woman with her arm up and the wind blowing. In front of her was a soldier walking. We believe it was mother Russia pointing a soldier forward. The town seemed to be a centre for mining and was quite busy.

Soviet statue and buildings

Up the highway was Katskhi Column. It is a natural limestone monolith with a church on top. The first documented ascent to the top was in 1944. We stopped and ate our lunch near there then continued our drive to Kutaisi.

Katskhi Column

Groceries were purchased and we found our Airbnb. It was within a hotel, but we had our own private apartment. Danny made a stir fry for supper and we used the tasteless meat from the night before. It tasted much better drenched in soy sauce. We ate and watched Aljazeera which was the only English Channel on the TV. The wifi wasn’t working, but they had called about it. We played a game of Ace to King rummy then went to bed.

Day 139: July 29, 2018

We woke up for breakfast downstairs at 9:00 am. We were given boiled eggs, bread, salty cheese, tomatoes, onion and peppers. Then wieners later on. It was an odd combination.

We had planned on a rest/planning day, but with no wifi we instead decided to venture out. About 20 minutes north of Kutaisi was Sataplia Nature Reserve. We went along with a tour which started in a conservation building. Within were preserved dinosaur footprints.

We continued walking through the park then entered Staplia Cave. We walked 300 m along the 10 m high and 12 m wide cave. The stalagmite in the picture below was 20 million years old.

Staplia Cave

We continued walking through the park and took a break to eat some nectarines. We walked out to a viewpoint that had a glass bridge. The area was interesting because there were tons of new buildings that were falling apart and not used. It made us wonder if the whole project was funded wrongly or corruption was at play.

The walk was nice and easy so we decided to drive another hour north to Okatse Canyon. At the parking lot we were approached and offered a ride to the canyon for 50 GEL ($25 CAD). We said no and went inside to buy tickets then started our walk.

Another guy outside offered us a ride and told us it was a three hour walk to the canyon. We still decided to walk. The path took us through some woods and we stopped there to eat our lunch. Our walk continued down, down, down into the valley where the canyon is located. We were coated in sweat by the time we reached the canyon. I was not looking forward to the walk back up.

We handed our tickets to the attendant to enter the canyon. There was a metal walkway that went further down into the canyon. We walked along, but there was not much to see. We reached a viewpoint and it was nice, but nothing spectacular. Definitely not worth the sweaty walk.

Okatse Canyon

We started walking back up and there was a spot to sit. There was a group of people standing in front of the walkway and we wanted to walk through, but no one moved. I brushed passed one of the girls and said, “Excuse me”. Apparently the entire group then stared at me. Danny gave me a scolding similar to what I would’ve given him.

We stood to leave and there was a new group standing in the way. I scooted around very politely and Danny told me I showed great control. It must be a cultural difference where it isn’t common courtesy to move out of the way.

We walked back to the start of the canyon and were offered a ride back to the parking lot for 10 GEL. We would have been really ripped off at the beginning if we had paid 50 GEL! We decided to walk back to get some more exercise.

In the visitor centre there was wifi so we used that before driving back to our Airbnb. The roads on the way back had lots of pigs in the ditches rolling in the mud. Some were huge.

We drove into town for supper. We had spinach and walnut balls, a pork chop and ham khachapuri. It wasn’t quite enough food so we ordered dessert. We shared a Georgian dessert, pelamushi (grape pudding). It was good, but nothing compared to the chocolate cake we also ordered. We licked that plate clean. The table behind us had ordered the same desert, but hadn’t finished it. We looked over and wanted to take it, but the waitress cleaned it away too quickly. We went out and drove to the main fountain which was cool looking.

Colchis Fountain, Kutaisi

Back at our Airbnb I FaceTimed Caitlin and Danny FaceTimed his parents. We stayed up a bit soaking in the wifi before bed.

Tomorrow we drive up to Svaneti, a mountainous region in Georgia. It was one of the first places we had heard about in Georgia and we are looking forward to the amazing views.

M

Georgia Part 1 – Tbilisi and Gudauri

Day 130: July 20, 2018

We had to wait quite a while for check in and then the line moved quite slowly. At boarding time we were all kicked out of the waiting area and then had to line up to get through again. I don’t know if they didn’t have enough staff, but it seemed very inefficient. Our flight to Kiev had everyone in the wrong seats. Two people had the same seat number. Luckily, there was still an open seat.

We slept a bit on the flight then had to go through security again in Kiev. The people weren’t overly friendly. On our flight to Tbilisi we slept a bit again. We arrived and got through customs easily. On the other side we found a place to buy a SIM card: 4GB for about 4 CAD. We obtained some cash: Georgian Lari (GEL) from an ATM.

Outside, we found a cab to take us to our Airbnb. The driver was very chatty and pointed out different sights along the way. When we arrived, our host’s friend was waiting to meet us. She showed us the one bedroom apartment with a stove top for cooking. It is a nice little place. The staircase up is a bit sketchy though and smells like “cat poop hill” (under the deck at my parents it is dirt and the cats used to poop there so my mom always called it cat poop hill).

We unpacked then found a place to eat across the street called “Old City Wall” restaurant. It was very cool looking inside and had old timey tables and chairs. We shared a “royal” khachapuri with three layers of cheese then had a beef stew and wine. The wines of Georgia are delicious.

After supper we went to the grocery store which was very busy. Our walk back took us through a small park with tons of flower vendors. We unpacked our groceries then went to bed.

Day 131: July 21, 2018

Last night Danny booked a free walking tour that started at noon. I slept in a lot then we had yogurt for breakfast. We walked down to Freedom Square where there was a huge statue of Saint George riding a horse and stabbing a dragon with a spear.

Freedom Square, Tbilisi

The square used to be named Lenin Square in Soviet times. It is tradition in Georgia to name your first son after Saint George. The other famous Saint in Georgia is Saint Nino who many girls are named after. She was a young girl from modern day Turkey who brought Christianity to Georgia. She used grape vines and her hair to fashion a cross.

We met our guide and were in a group with about 40 others. We were told how Freedom Square used to be outside the city walls and was a very popular caravanserais for the Silk Road.

Tbilisi was founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. He was hunting with his falcon who never returned. He ended up finding his falcon with a pheasant dead in a hot spring. He decided this was the perfect location for a city. Tbilisi means “warm location”.

Around 93% of the population in Georgia considers themselves religious. Most of the population is Christian. We visited a Catholic Church built in 1804. During the Soviet rule it was used to store vegetables.

We then visited Jvaris Mama or Father Cross Church which is a Georgian Orthodox Church. The church was very different inside than the Catholic Church. Orthodox churches have no seats and pay homage to icons rather than statues.

We saw a statue of the Tamada or toastmaster. A tiny statue of him was found dating to the 7th century BC. He holds a goat’s horn for drinking. He is a symbol of Georgian supras or feasts. Typically, Georgians have 10 toasts where you have to down your entire drink.

Tamada statue, Tbilisi

We had a break on the tour and were able to go down to a bakery. I bought a sweet cheese khachapuri that tasted similar to my mom’s butterhorns.

Next we were told about the Holy Trinity Cathedral constructed between 1995 and 2004. It is the third tallest Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. It was built partly on an Armenian graveyard. The church was on the other side of the city so we did not visit it.

On our walk we visited a lady selling churchkhela, nuts dipped in thickened juice. We crossed the Bridge of Peace constructed in 2010 following the 2008 war with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Across the bridge was Rike Park where there was a cable car to the top of the hill that we planned to take the next day.

Kutaisi, an area in Georgia, is the land where Jason and the Argonauts searched for the Golden Fleece. The idea of the Golden Fleece is thought to have come from an ancient tradition in the area of using sheep fleece to collect gold pieces in rivers.

We walked to a waterfall in an area that was previously closed off due to floods. There were people with parrots, peacocks and monkeys with which you could take pictures.

Dzveli Tbilisi Sulphur Waterfall, Tbilisi

Georgia has a long history of wine making. There are 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. We passed an old wine press and then after almost 4.5 hours the walking tour was at an end.

Old wine press, Tbilisi

We walked back to our Airbnb and Danny made supper. After, we walked to Rike Park where our guide had told us there would be a concert of traditional Georgian dancing. It was scheduled to start at 8:00 pm, but our guide had said that likely meant 9:00 pm. We arrived around 8:15 pm then walked around the park a bit. There was a giant piano monument and views of the Peace Bridge.

Peace Bridge, Tbilisi

In the 1990s there was civil war in Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2004, the Rose Revolution occurred marking the end of Soviet leadership. Michelin Saakashvili stormed the Parliament with red roses. He took power, fired the entire police force and imprisoned many corrupt politicians. He was later barred from seeking re-election then wanted by the new government under criminal charges. The new political party in power, the Georgian Dream, was created by businessman, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who owns a giant villa on the hill in Tbilisi.

Saakashvili started many construction projects in the city including the Peace Bridge. We checked out the steel tubes also built by Saakashvili that were supposed to be a theatre, but now sit empty.

Steel tubes, Tbilisi

The concert started around 9:15 pm and we were close to the front. Some singers started and then the dancers came out. They performed many different dances. One near the end included short swords and shields. You could see the sparks flying when they hit. The men would bounce on their knees then up again.

Traditional Georgian dancing, Tbilisi

At times they were on their toes like in ballet, but without special shoes. We ended up staying until the end of the concert at 10:30 pm. Our legs and feet were sore from standing so long. We took some pictures in the park then walked home to go to bed.

Day 132: July 22, 2018

We woke up at 8:30 am then had to rush to eat breakfast to get to our bath house appointment at 9:00 am. We arrived and they showed us to the sitting room attached to the bathroom. Inside there was a hot sulphur pool, showers, marble beds and a washroom attached. It was much larger than we had anticipated. A private room cost us 100 GEL ($54 CAD).

I dipped my leg in the hot pool, but it was scalding hot. Eventually we slowly lowered ourselves in and got used to the heat. We paid 10 GEL extra for the scrubbing. A lady came in for me and scrubbed me with a exfoliating mitt then rinsed me with hot water. Then she soaped me. I kept sliding around and almost slid off. She caught me and we laughed. She finished rinsing me once more.

I covered in my towel and a guy came in to scrub Danny. After we went back in the hot pool, but it was just too much heat to stay in too long. We finished our hour with a cold shower then got dressed.

When we walked out a man offered us some tea so we sat and relaxed for a bit. I was still super hot and my face was red. We paid then walked up the street to take some pictures of the bathhouses with their brick spherical roofs.

Sulphur bathhouses, Tbilisi

We stood in front of the falcon fountain where I practiced my “Falcon Punch”. Super Smash Brothers!

Falcon Punch, Tbilisi

Then we walked across the river to the cable car. It only cost 2 GEL each for a one-way ride, but we had to pay an additional 4 GEL for a transit card. It was a quick ride to the top with quite a view down to the city.

View of Tbilisi from the cable car

We walked to the Mother of Georgia (Kartlis Deda) statue which was erected in 1958. In her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to show if you come as a friend she will share her wine. In her right hand she holds a sword to show if you come as an enemy she will fight.

Mother of Georgia, Tbilisi

We continued down to Narikala Fortress which was built by the Persians in the 4th century. The Mongols named it Narin Qala or Little Fortress. Within, is St. Nicholas Church built between 1996 and 1997. We climbed up the fortress then around and back down.

Narikala Fortress, Tbilisi

We returned home and had bread, cheese, cucumber, tomato and carrots for lunch. Danny and I went for a run afterwards. We passed a whole bunch of interesting buildings on our way back along Shota Rustaveli Avenue: Art Museum, Opera House, Kashveti St. George Church and the Georgian National Museum. We headed back home and then did some yoga.

We were both feeling hungry so we walked to a restaurant our host had recommended. It looked a bit fancy so we went to the other he suggested right across the street: Zakhar Zakhariah. We had a bottle of wine for 15 GEL ($8 CAD), a lamb dish, a veal dish and khinkali (Georgian dumplings). It was all so different, but yummy. They have some different spices that we don’t use such as fenugreek.

We walked to the Dry Bridge to see the Flea Market, but most people were closing up. We returned home and did some FaceTiming before bed.

Day 133: July 23, 2018

We had breakfast then walked up the street to the rental car place. The guy came down with us and went through the vehicle. It is a Mitsubishi Pajero. We had read that a 4×4 is recommended in Georgia as some of the roads aren’t the greatest.

I went and bought groceries for the next couple of days and then we tried to navigate our way out of the city. We couldn’t cross a main road so we ended up going the wrong way for quite awhile until we could do a u-turn. Finally we were heading in the right direction. We had to stop for gas as the tank was nearly empty when we received it.

Just north of Tbilisi we stopped at Jvari Monastery. It was built in the 6th century in the location that Saint Nino erected a large wooden cross in the early 4th century. The cross was said to work miracles. There was a beautiful view from the monastery.

Jvari Monastery

We continued our drive to the ski resort town of Gudauri. We found the building our Airbnb was located in, but could not find anyone at the reception. We walked around the building complex and found a sales office. We asked about the reception and a lady came out to give us the keys.

The place is a bachelor suite, but quite spacious. The building is new, but it already seems like things are falling apart. We decided to go north to Gergeti Trinity Church. The roads are so good and then you hit a section that isn’t paved or they are working on. That is when we are glad we paid for an SUV. On our drive we found the cows especially like sitting on the highway bridges, blocking at least one lane.

Cows blocking the road

We followed Google Maps directions to a small village northwest of Stepantsminda. We drove through the village then reached a washed out road. There were lots of people hiking up so we figured the road up was closed. We decided we would try the hike tomorrow.

Georgian roads

We returned to our Airbnb and it rained on the way so we didn’t stop at any of the sites on the way back. Danny and I tried to find the gym in the building complex, but it appears nothing was open because it was the off season. We went for a little run then did some yoga instead.

Danny made pasta for supper. Sitting on the couch I dropped some pasta and decided it was better to sit on the floor. Then Danny spilled his wine so we both ended up sitting on the floor. We watched some World History videos on YouTube then went to bed.

Day 134: July 24, 2018

We slept in this morning. I got used to staying up late and sleeping in in Germany and now being two hours ahead I really want to sleep in. We had breakfast then drove back up to climb to Gergeti Trinity Church.

Danny and the Pajero on the drive to Gergeti Trinity Church

We went the steep way to start. There were many others climbing up as well as coming down. The beginning part was quite steep and then it was just a little steep. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the top and my feet were blistered.

Hike up to Gergeti Trinity Church

The disappointing thing upon reaching the top was that there were tons of vehicles up there. We discovered that there was a new road to the church just a bit up the highway from the village we had driven through. We did work for the view so maybe we appreciated it a bit more.

Gergeti Trinity Church was built in the 14th century. I was given a wrap to wear around the grounds as I had shorts on. We went up a hill to the side and sat to eat our salad lunch. The view of the mountains was spectacular. There are very little trees on the mountains, but lots of grass. Cows are ranging everywhere on the mountainsides.

Gergeti Trinity Church

We enjoyed the view then hiked down a different way. It was much more steep and I was glad it wasn’t the way that we climbed up. The trail eventually led to the new road which we took down until it reached a trail leading through the village. It was an interesting walk through the village back to the car. The houses were quite different.

We went back to the highway and drove north to Kazbegi National Park. We reached a narrow point in the road with construction then further down we could see what looked like Georgian customs for the Georgia-Russia border. Time to turn around.

Kazbegi National Park

We saw the Dariali Monastery built between 2005 and 2011 then drove back south stopping every so often to take some pictures.

Dariali Monastery

We stopped at the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument which was built in 1983. The inside shows Georgian and Russian history in murals. There were many booths in the parking lot selling honey and fruits. We sampled three different types of honey and bought a small jar for 10 GEL ($5 CAD). I also bought a plastic cup full of watermelon. In the supermarkets and at many stalls along the roadside there have been huge watermelons for sale.

Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument

We continued our drive back to our Airbnb. We had supper at a restaurant up the road. We had a veal skewer with walnut sauce, bread and adjarian khachapuri. Adjarian khachapuri is an open boat shaped bread with cheese inside topped with a raw egg and butter. You mix in the egg and butter with the cheese. It was amazing, but so filling. After supper we returned to our Airbnb for sleep.

I loved the atmosphere of Tbilisi and almost wish we could have stayed there longer. I usually don’t enjoy staying in cities, but Tbilisi had a different charm. Gudauri and Kazbegi National Park had the most beautiful views. We stopped every five minutes to take pictures. Tomorrow we are heading west in Georgia to Bakuriani with some interesting stops along the way so stay tuned!

M