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