Before the border to Georgia we pass an endless queue of trucks that have to wait here for hours. The entry is however absolutely problem-free for us and immediately after the barrier a lot of tractors are waiting to sell everything what one needs, or not.
We change our remaining Turkish Lira to a course that brings tears to your eyes and buy a SIM card and a mandatory car insurance for 30 days. Then we leave the nevertheless somehow ordered border chaos behind us and drive on to Batumi. The city lies in the south west at the Black Sea and has experienced an unprecedented investment boom in the last years. Numerous new hotels and a 7km long lake promenade have been built and the number of tourists has multiplied. We stroll at subtropical temperatures some hours through the old town and walk through the parks, but then we continue a few kilometers north to the beach where we stay a few days.
Then we continue into the high Caucasus to Swanetia in the northeast of the country. We pass the Iguri dam which has with 271m one of the highest arch dams in the world. Shortly before Mestia we turn into a side valley and stand there on an alpine meadow in picturesque surroundings with view of the glaciers of the 3000 to 4000m high mountains. The next day we make an extended hike to a waterfall at the foot of the Ushba glacier which demands a lot from us with 18km and some meters of altitude. Near our camp there are Irene & Helmut from Germering with a Fuso and Ueli and Vreni from Basel with Bi-Mobil with whom we spend a nice evening at the campfire.
Mestia lies at 1400m altitude and has been developed into a year-round holiday centre. In the winter there is skiing and in the summer there are a lot of backpackers on the way for hiking. The village has several fortified towers and churches on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We stroll around and have a look at the Matschubi family museum. A Matschubi is a building in which man and animal live in one room. It consists of a residential house from the 12th century and a fortified tower from the 8th century, as well as a small family chapel with its own cemetery. Above the room for the animals there were mattresses on boards for sleeping, using the warmth of the animals. Actually we wanted to drive from there over Ushguli and further to Lentheki in order not to have to drive back the whole 150km again. We inquire with the police about the condition of the route and he advises us, if we still need our vehicle afterwards, against it. For the 40km to Ushguli you have to calculate at least 4 hours alone and then the road will be really bad. Since we want to enjoy MOMO for some more time, we cancel the part and drive the next day through the valley back again.
On the way to Kutaisi we pass Martvili Canyon where fossils of dinosaurs have been found. You can visit the canyon from Stegen very well and also make a small boat tour. For the night we will stand on a meadow at the river surrounded by herds of cows and pigs.
In Kutaisi we have to do laundry again and ask at a hotel if we can park on the parking lot and use their washing machine. In the evening we visit the 1000 year old Bagrati Cathedral and then go for a meal in the city centre and stroll through the nice illuminated city. We live up on the mountain and there is an old cable car which we try out on the way back.
We drive further south into the region Samzche-Dschawachetien. In Atskuri we have an address of a hostel where you can stand in the courtyard and let your housewife cook for you. We try it out and after a more than sumptuous meal with Georgian wine we go to the sauna, which the host heats up especially for us. A really nice evening.
Our next stop is the old town and fortress of Akhaltsikhe. A beautifully restored 12th century complex with a church, a mosque and a synagogue on a 7 ha site. When the weather is fine you have great photo motifs, but overall it looks a bit sterile and there is not much to feel of the Middle Ages.
We like the rock monastery of Vardzia better. The journey through the narrow valley alone is worth the effort. The monastery is high up on a 500m high wall carved into the rock. Over steep serpentine paths and ladders one can climb from chamber to chamber and have a look at everything. The monastery is actually a complete city built in the 12th century. In best times up to 800 monks lived here and in times of war it offered refuge for up to 50.000 people.
On the way to Tbilisi we want to spend the night again at a lake. Unfortunately, we missed the fact that it is at 2300m in the middle of nowhere. We drive an unpaved road along the lake and come through small villages with houses where one cannot imagine that someone lives there, but this is the case. An icy wind blows, the temperature drops to 7 degrees and then fog comes up. We are already happy about our comfortable home and like to do without our "morning swim".
We drive around Tbilisi and come to Kakheti, in the wine region in the southeast of Georgia. On the way we visit the small monastery Ninotsminda which is definitely worth a visit. Directly at the border to Azerbaijan lies the monastery David Garedscha from the 6th century with a long and sorrowful history in the Easter night 1615 in a massacre of the Mongols culminated, whereby 6000 monks were murdered. The monastery is still active today and when one arrives after 15km gravel road, one does not see much at first sight. Only when one climbs up the mountain and looks at the whole thing from above, the beauty of the complex opens up to one.
But now we finally want to taste the highly praised Georgian wine and drive to a winery which is located along our route. Obviously other people know this and when we arrive around 17:00 there is still everything full of tour buses. But one hour later we are almost alone. Stupidly only that the two men who make the wine tasting in the afternoon have probably also drunk along strongly and hardly bring out a straight sentence. We try some white and red wines, but can't quite understand the hype that is currently being made about these wines. We enjoy the dinner in the beautiful tropical garden and for the night we can stay on the parking lot in front of the house.
Unfortunately it starts to rain at night and the weather forecast for the next days is not good at all. Nearby is the small town Sighnaghi, according to the travel guide one of the most interesting places in Georgia and of course we want to have a look at it. The city is situated on a hill and from above you have a wonderful view of the valley and the snow-covered mountains of the Great Caucasus. 75% of the houses are from the 17th and 18th centuries and are listed. During our visit, the weather did not really play along and the much praised beauty of the place was therefore not really revealed to us.
It remains cloudy, rainy and cold and we drive to Tbilisi. Just around the corner of the Iranian embassy we find a parking place in a dead end street from where we can reach everything comfortably with public buses. Fully motivated we stand on Monday morning at 10 o'clock at the embassy to apply for our visa only to find out that we will not work again until Wednesday. So we do a city tour first. With the public collective taxi, which is called Marschrutka here, we are quickly at the Freiheitsplatz, a good starting point from which all highlights can be reached comfortably on foot. Tbilisi is a city with many faces. From old and half dilapidated buildings to ultra-modern new buildings, everything can be found. The old town is dominated by the sulphur baths and the Narikala fortress. Unfortunately the weather remains rainy during the first two days and cloudy up to a maximum of 20 degrees, but still better than being here in August where temperatures often reach 45 degrees and more. On Wednesdays we are at the embassy again and this time we are even open. A few days before we had already got a reference number from the travel agency Saba Tours in Munich and so everything went smoothly. We hand in our passports, have to pay 50 Euro each at the bank and the next morning we can pick up our finished visas. No questions, no multi-page applications to fill out and at the end the officier wishes us a nice holiday in German language. We are very pleasantly surprised. After that we go into the city again because today is sunshine and we absolutely want to photograph the highlights again in a better light.
We leave Tbilisi in a northerly direction and drive up the Georgian army road into the Truso valley at 2100m, only a few kilometres away from the Russian border. We stay there for two days and make a nice hike into the valley, which flows into a high valley after a few kilometers. Here some thermal springs rise and by the warm water calcareous deposits and discolorations have formed, similar to the sinter terraces in Pamukkale, Turkey. A few Ossetians, who do not speak Georgian but only Russian, still live here in extremely poor conditions. However, most of the houses are abandoned and dilapidated.
Shortly before the Russian border lies the place Stepanzminda on 1800m. Already from the main square you can see the Zminda-Sameba Church (Holy Trinity Church) from the 14th century high up on the mountain. In order to overcome the 500 height meters there, one has to drive up a steep serpentine road that ends above the tree line at the parking lot. There we stand for the night with a magnificent view of the church and the snow-capped mountain peaks. The church is a place of pilgrimage and may only be entered in appropriate clothing, i.e. long trousers and women must wear a headscarf. The next morning the sun comes for a few hours and from our bedroom window we have a great view of the 5033m high Kasbek.
On the way back to Tiflis we pass a cemetery for German prisoners of war near the Kreuzpass, which was used for road and tunnel construction. Not to be overlooked a few kilometres further is a semicircular, 70m long monument which was erected in 1983 on the occasion of the 200-year Russian-Georgian friendship. From the viewing platform you have a beautiful view into the valley. The path is lined with other monasteries and churches from which we can still see the Ananuri church fortress from the 17th century, which is located on the northwestern shore of the Shinwali reservoir. Here we also find a nice overnight place directly at the lake.
In Tbilisi MOMO gets a well-deserved service and then it goes on quickly to the border of Armenia. You can find out what we experience there in the next blog. Until then, enjoy reading and looking at pictures.