Georgia; Batumi to Tbilisi to Lagodekhi – 28th April to 22nd May 2017

Georgia; Batumi to Tbilisi to Lagodekhi – 28th April to 22nd May 2017

 

Friday 28th Aprili

Hopa Turkey to Batumi Georgia

Distance: 44.88km
Average Speed: 11.82 kmh
Fastest Speed: 30.02 kmh
Total Distance: 12420.11 km

Our last morning in Turkey. Breakfast is very busy, but it’s basic. No hot food so it’s more bread and chocolate spread for breakfast, same as I had for lunch yesterday in fact!!

We set off and already there is a queue of trucks all down one lane of the dual carriageway. The border is 20 km away!! But after about 7km of passing parked truck after truck and dodging traffic we see the end of the queue.

It seems there is an early papers check here and everyone is milling about getting theirs done. We carry on and at least the road is fairly quiet save for the occasional vehicle that passes us. But we still have an awful lot of tunnels – God I hate tunnels.With about 4 km to the border there’s another queue of lorries. We pass them all by, tooting our horns or waving at the waiting drivers. We come out of one final tunnel and the border checkpoint is before us. It’s chaos; trucks, cars and people all over the place but we get waved through and pass it all. A very happy chap checks our passports, has a ride on Daz’s trike and we are waved through. Yes, easy! Oh no it’s not!

There’s another check ahead and this is the real passport check with a man and a computer. There’s a lengthy delay. We know we’re busted and in trouble now. You see for the last month we have been in Turkey illegally, well, without a valid visa anyway! Sure enough the computer coughs and we are taken away by the police, our bikes left by the checkpoint. We sit in a hallway feeling like naughty school children. We have researched the Web, and there are many conflicting stories about fines and deportation and bans. After about 10 minutes I’m called forward. I’ve exceeded my visa by 28 days. The penalty a fine of 242 Turkish Lira. He asks if I want to pay. I don’t so instead I take a 5 year ban. Then it’s Daz’s turn.

Once that’s sorted we return to our bikes, cycle out of Turkey and into Georgia. We stop and get some money and then head to Batumi. No dual carriageway here, just a rather potholed A road with cars overtaking in both directions regardless of oncoming traffic. Hopefully this chaos is just the result of being between the border and Batumi. After about 8km we turn off the main road and cycle along the coast into Batumi. It’s a very pretty city so we stop for sightseeing.

The sunny and modern Batumi personifies all the charm of a southern city and a sea resort of the third millenium with high-class luxury hotels. It is located on the Black Sea coast and is exquisitely framed by exotic subtropical flora. Palm trees, cypresses, magnolias, oleanders, bamboo trees, laurels, lemon and orange trees, thuyas and box trees delight the eye everywhere. Batumi is located in a convenient natural Black Sea bay and is not only an important seaport for entire Georgia, but also a tourism capital of the country. The romantic picture of ships departure from the harbor is better seen from Batumi Quay. Batumi citizens name this place Seaside Park-Boulevard. It surrounds the city along its sea border for 8 km. It is at all times very crowded. This is the most popular place for both locals and visitors of the capital. There stands the city symbol – the Dolphin with a palm branch. Dolphins frolicking in Batumi harbor all year round, have become the integral a part the resort image.

The city beach is next to the Boulevard. The beaches in Batumi and its vicinities are stony without sand. To the east from the beach there are theatres, cinemas, restaurants, cafes with great food and other entertainments. The residential quarters of Batumi are seen from afar due to their rainbow coloring. The matter is that each house there is painted with certain color.

The Old part of the city is especially interesting, most of the houses were built in XIX century. There reins the spirit of past centuries – rows of small shops of handicraftsmen making copper ware, magnificent aroma of freshly brewed coffee in small cafes. The old city is known for the variety architectural subtleties: buildings are decorated with chimeras, mermaids, atlantes and other mythical creatures.



The architecture of Batumi features the combination of European and Asian styles, the variety of architectural forms. It is possible to see buildings with elements of Georgian, Turkish, Imperial Russian, Soviet, English, French and colonial architectures; the buildings combining European and Oriental architecture. The lights of the evening city are especially beautiful. Modest in the afternoon the buildings turn into majestic palaces by night.

We’ve lost an hour crossing the border and we’ve been pootling around Batumi for hours and gone up the Alphabet tower so it’s time to call it a day.

Plus we’ve been in trouble with the police 3 times already. Once for cycling on the promenade instead of the cycle path, then for cycling in a pedestrian area and finally for cycling over a decorative bridge. So we find a cheap hotel for the night.

 

Saturday 29th April

Batumi to Kobuleti

Distance: 34.82 km
Average Speed: 9.83 kmh
Fastest Speed: 52.42 kmh
Total Distance: 12454.93 km

Super, comfy bed and a great night’s sleep after an episode of Billions (Season 2, Episode 1). Sadly our desperate need to watch Masterchef was frustrated again. This time the internet was fine but our Flash VPN failed – ‘how did it know we weren’t in England? It worked in Turkey’. Fortunately we have Plex to fall back on – Carl Broadhurst we lurve you!!!

Anyway back to cycling (If we must and Darren said ‘we must!’). We cycled through Batumi, visited the cathedral, found breakfast, got ourselves a SIM for Georgia, then returned to the sea front and out of Batumi. We stopped to visit the Botanical Gardens.

The Batumi Botanical Garden (Georgian: overlooks the Black Sea and is one the largest and richest botanical gardens in the world. Located 9km north of Batumi at Mtsvane Kontskhi (Green Cape) it contains thousands of beautiful species of plants. Created by the Russian botanist Andrey Nikolayevich Krasnov in the 1880s, the Garden officially opened on November 3, 1912 and recently celebrated its centenary.

And then onwards. Our initial impression of Georgia; fewer street dogs, much less litter and the roads and traffic are horrendous. We can only assume that when learning to drive, the driver is awarded super bonus points for overtaking with heavy oncoming traffic. These points are doubled if an oncoming vehicle is also overtaking. Triple these points if the car you’re overtaking is already pulling out to overtake some pesky, British trike riders. Finally consider all points multiplied by a factor of 10 if the road is narrow (most of them), in shit, potholed condition (yup all of them), and has plenty of blind bends. So pretty scary. We can only pray it improves once we’re well away from Batumi. So after 20kms I’m drenched in a stress sweat and suffering heart palpitations. And then a tunnel! Could it get any worse – well I thought I’d come to terms (although not happy ones) with tunnels. But I’d failed to account for a Georgian wedding convoy. So we’re cycling through the tunnel in our usual mid grade panic when horns start blaring. Shit, are we in the way, what’s happening. More horns blaring. The noise is phenomenal – it’s tortuous! It’s so bad Daz has stuck his finger in his ear (he’d do both if he could cycle without hands) and I feel like my heads going to explode. Then a wedding convoy hammers passed. Horns tooting, hazards on and forcing other cars out of the way. It’s not the first wedding convoy of the day either. Despite the heavy traffic every convoy is driving at ridiculous speeds and it must be Georgian custom that other car drivers get out of their way! We stop in Kobuleti for food and Daz goes to the bank and I attract a crowd of admirers.

I’m sure it was me and not the trikes that held their fascination. Then a few kilometres later we find a garage with a lovely grassed area to the rear and decide they have the perfect spot for our tent. They’re more than happy for us to camp here and so are their dogs.

 

Sunday 30th April

Kobuleti to Burnati

Distance: 61.2 km
Average Speed: 8.93 kmh
Fastest Speed: 52.57 kmh
Total Distance: 12516.13 km

A noisy and bright night kept us from a sound sleep. Dogs barking, car doors banging and forecourt lights to name but a few of the disturbances. But porridge for breakfast. Unfortunately it’s the larger variety of rolled oats and the eating consistency is horrid, at least the dogs like it. When we pack up we realise we shared our tent with a small, bright green frog.

Then we wave goodbye and set off. After about 3 km we notice one of the wild dogs from the garage has followed us, well we did feed them last night and this morning! We stop and he catches up. More food? Oh go on then, have one of our hard boiled eggs. Yummy says Ozzy (short for Ozurgeti, the next big village). For the next 20 km he follows us. Walking up the hills beside us and trotting downhill to catch us on the next up. We stop a couple of times and entice him into one of the numerous cooling streams or rivers along the route. He lies down to cool himself in the water whilst we stick the kettle on for a brew and a snack.

Then we have a final descent into Ozurgeti and pull into a market to buy some provisions. I wait outside whilst Daz goes to get the shopping. I see Ozzy trot past the junction but I can’t leave the bikes and he is soon lost in the town. We look but can’t find him, that’s the 3rd dog we’ve adopted and lost so far!! We pull over by a park to drink our milk but we are soon surrounded by men looking at the bikes. I show one old man who is very persistent how to ride them, he keeps pushing me and touching my legs, it’s all a bit weird.

No sooner am I out of my seat than he jumps on and tries pedalling. He kicks my bike computer off and looks set to do more damage. Finally we manage to get him off. Meanwhile Daz’s trike has had 3 men jumping all over it for a photoshoot … we cringe as they use various parts of the bikes to lever themselves out of the seats, not good. We think in future we need to be more strict about people using them; they’re so rough with our babies! We cycle out of town only having drunk our milk, no real lunch stop. By now it’s roasting and later the temp hits the low 40’s.

Towards the end of the day we reach Chokhatauri and finally stop for dinner. We can’t work out where the cafe/restaurants are but a man points to one. Then he’s on the phone. We’re sitting in the restaurant and the man enters with a young girl, his daughter.

He rang her and summoned her to come sit with us to translate as she is the only one with English! They are Mary and Koba sit and we chat about Georgia, Koba’s family, school and university. They offer us a bed for the night but we decide to push on. Unfortunately after a day of beautiful river valleys we leave Chokhatauri uphill for the next 5km looking for somewhere to camp.

Not a flat spot in sight. It’s not until we have descended about another 4 km in twilight that we ask 4 men in a dark village if there’s somewhere to camp. Fortunately they point us round the side of a derelict warehouse and a flat spot for the night. It’s 9.15pm so a long day. A quick bucket wash to get rid of the worst of the days grime and then bed. Day done!

 

Monday 1st May

Burnati to Shuamta

Distance: 25.53 km
Average Speed: 9.95 kmh
Fastest Speed: 41.79 kmh
Total Distance: 12541.66 km

Last night we were serenaded by frog croaking. They’re both plentiful and very vocal in Georgia. Any wet area and the frogs can be heard. We wake up at 7.30am, decide to relax and next thing we know it’s 10am. Whoops.

Well I think we needed the sleep. After breakfast we head off and spot a shop in the next village, Bughnara. But as soon as we stop we have an audience. Vasos is the spokesman because he speaks English. He’s an architect from Tiblisi but this is his home village and they’re having a huge breakfast supper (well lunch) after his friend’s wedding yesterday. He takes us into the hall where everyone is preparing the celebration meal. He feeds and waters us, shares wine with us.

He even buys our shopping because we don’t have any small change. Incredibly embarrassing. We will seek him out in Tiblisi and repay him. We head off and climb; it’s so beautiful but so very hot. We plan to stop early for the day to replace my chain tensioner spring (my chain doesn’t seem to be moving freely in certain gears) but this plan changes when I get a puncture about 10km before Vani. So here we sit on the grass verge; I’m writing the blog whilst Daz beavers away to sort out my bike.

Once the work is done we set off. My gears run like a dream. (Note: my chain tensioner spring broke the day after we left Uhersky Brod – I think it hit a rock. We managed a bodge fix in a village bike shop where the bike mechanic unwound the spring to create another tensioning arm. Honza (Azub) sent us a replacement but we decided to save it). It’s taken over 6000km for the ‘bodge’ fix to lose its effectiveness).

We forge on but in the next village, Shuamta, Daz spots a river and a potential camping site. So we stop and set up camp. It’s still roasting hot so I lie in the river.

We get beers and stuffed bread in the village for our dinner and then we’re joined by some local lads. Saba, Guram, and Givi get a ride on my trike and then play rugby with Daz. It’s a beautiful evening and a great finish to another lovely day.

 

Tuesday 2nd May

Shuamta to Kutaisi

Distance: 49.06 km
Average Speed: 10.85 kmh
Fastest Speed: 52.28 kmh
Total Distance: 12590.72 km

It was a lovely night by the river. The morning is warm, the scenery fabulous, the traffic considerate but the litter abundant (the lack of litter must’ve been a ‘Batumi tourist thing’). We stop in a few villages for coffee, water or ice cream and in each we return to our trikes surrounded by a group of men. These trikes are so fascinating! At least these men are just observers and not throwing themselves onto our trikes without asking!

We cycle along the bottom of a ridgeline for a while then turn north towards Kutaisi. On the way we pass an ancient castle and Palace but they really are just a pile of rocks – nothing to see really. We cross a wide river at a dam and cycle through a deserted looking village of tenement blocks. Everything looks worn, old and disused. We see 4 puppies on the road, licking up some sort of road kill. Cars are braking and having to swerve around them. I park up out of the way and run back but already a man has stopped to move them onto the hard shoulder. We move them down a side track and give them our sausage and bread.

They’re starving; just skin and bones! Finally as we near Kutaisi we pass grass fields with small bushes dotted around. The bushes are covered in windblown litter, it looks a sight. The outskirts are more tenement blocks, probably Soviet era. We stop for some food in a dingy bar, but the food, kebab and Georgian cheese bread is divine. We were starving, but we’re soon stuffed on the delicious food. With about 1 km to the city centre Björn, our Norwegian cycling companion, finally catches up with us.

He stayed in Trabzon a few extra days to look after the Marilena and Dominik who were hit by a car. It’s great to see him again and we decide to head to the centre for a celebratory beer. There’s a festival on in the town and there’s people everywhere. We’re cycling towards the centre when we see another cyclist, Hans, from Germany. He got the ferry from Bulgaria to Batumi. We sit and have beer in the town centre.

Björn tells us that Marilena has a broken leg and her neck is so painful she can’t move without help and Dominik has broken ribs and has broken his pelvis. Dominik’s family flew out on Sunday so they have the help they need until they can go home. After a beer we all head off to find a hostel. The first is fully booked but the 2nd has rooms. Sadly they’re only available for one night and because we’ve decided we’re having a day off tomorrow (the weather forecast is rain, rain and more rain and high winds) we decide to look elsewhere but Hans and Björn book in. We find a place in town. Super! We shower and sort out our laundry and then into town for a beer.

The heavens open and there’s torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Sadly Björn doesn’t make it out of his hostel.

Wednesday 3rd May

Kutaisi
Distance: 0 km
Average Speed: 0 kmh
Fastest Speed: 0 kmh
Total Distance: 12590.72 km

Ahhhhh. Blissful, a day off and since it’s rain, rain and more rain we feel both justified and very smug. From an admin point of view, some disappointing news. Norwich & Peterborough are our current account of choice because there are no ATM charges on foreign withdrawals – a super tip many moons ago from Dawn Baker. Sadly N&P are closing all current accounts; they’re part of Yorkshire Bank who want to concentrate on the one brand. A tedious and time consuming search and there’s nothing to rival this account. We have 6 months before our N&P account closes. A possible alternative is the Nationwide FlexPlus account – no fee for foreign ATM use but a few for card purchases. Daz goes off for a haircut and I manage to access a new VPN and then we have a marathon session of Masterchef. Daz is swearing and slagging off the judges. Positive discrimination as Fumbi stays in despite 3 failed courses. Apparently they taste superb, unfortunately they all look like a dog’s dinner.

Thursday 4th May

Kutaisi to Ajameti Reserve
Distance: 37.44 km
Average Speed: 8.71 kmh
Fastest Speed: 46.25 kmh
Total Distance: 12628.16 km

After a lovely rest day we’re actually up early enough to want breakfast. We mooch around Kutaisi; enjoy their extensive indoor market and find a bakery and buy a couple of savoury bread pasties for our breakfast. After a coffee we head back to the hostel to pack. As we’re leaving the hostel we realise we’re being stalked. Another dog. We’ve never seen this dog before, let alone enticed it with food. Later we realise she has a thing about (or for) bikes. Now for the naming ceremony; Kutaisi because that’s where we found her; Bagrat or Bagrati because we’re heading to Bagrati cathedral when we pick her up. But actually we realise these don’t suit her. She she has the doggy equivalent of small man syndrome and wants to take on the world, regardless of their size. She has a true gladiatorial spirit as she takes on every dog, pig and cow she meets. Initially she’s just happy to fight them all but then she realises she can aggravate every dog, pig and cow she meets but now has a couple of 3 wheeled minders to look after her. So after an initial confrontation she trots to the front ensuring she places Darren and his trike between her and her latest infuriated victim. Then she adopts a rather snooty, up-yours, supercilious trot with her tail wagging (congratulating herself on another successful mission). We call her Maximus-Bagrati but actually her attitude makes her more of a trouble maker than a guard dog.

Anyway she follows us up to Bagrati cathedral then out to Sataplia, where we enjoy the dinosaur footprints and an incredible cave formed by an underground river.

Sataplia is a rather small cave located in Tskaltubo, Georgia. It is famous for fine speleothems and the dinosaur footprints nearby. The tour enters the through-cave on one hillside, crosses the hill underground and then goes back on the surface past the dinosaur footprints.

The cave is named after Mt. Sataplia (494m), an extinct volcano, which is now the Nature Preserve. The preserve was intended to protect the five karst caves of the area and the dinosaur footprints. At the moment there are 200 footprints known, found in two different layers of the Cretaceous limestone. The 30cm long footprints of the lower layer belong to an unknown predator, the 48cm long footprints of the upper layer to an ornitopod herbivore.

From Sataplia Max chases a large group of Russian cyclists and we assume we’ve lost Dog Number 4 but we find her a couple of kilometers down the road. We cycle back to Kutaisi, stop for a late lunch of spicy kebab and then head south to the Ajameti Reserve.

We pass a military logistics base – Support Logistics Command for the Georgian Army and soon after find a lovely meadow. The cuckoo is calling, it’s not the first we’ve heard this year, but the most persistent. Max has been fed but nearly took our fingers off in her excitement and the evening is full of birdsong. Very tranquil.

Friday 5th May

Ajameti Reserve to Shrosha
Distance: 48.80 km
Average Speed: 9.23 kmh
Fastest Speed: 32.60 kmh
Total Distance: 12676.96 km

We follow a gravel potholed track for 20km this morning. It’s scenic and there’s hardly any traffic and just a few tiny villages. So it’s rather pleasant.

We stop by a river for a cuppa and Daz spots an alternative route which will get us on the main road in 3km instead of the 10km on the gravel potholed track. We go for it and this more minor route is actually better than the one we were using until it comes to the river crossing. There is a footbridge which we think is cyclable but actually it’s about 3 inches narrower than our front wheels so we have to man handle the trikes across, feeling the rickety bridge sway under us as we cross.

On the other side we find a freshwater stream and give Max a bath; she’s a bit stinky. 10km later we’re in Zestaponi where we stop for food. From there we follow a river valley for another 20km before stopping by the river and setting up camp. We have a dip in the river; it’s so refreshing after another hot day.

Max just sleeps. She’s had a tough day and we’re really not sure if she can or should keep this up, but she seems so happy with her new adventure!

Saturday 6th May

Shrosha to Khevi
Distance: 27.52 km
Average Speed: 8.36 kmh
Fastest Speed: 27.86 kmh
Total Distance: 12704.48 km

Today we start off strong, cycling up the Dzirula river valley which is very pretty and lush, with the valley sides thick with deciduous trees. We meet 2 young German cyclists and stop for a chat. We push on but there’s a strong headwind and Max’s erratic behaviour makes cycling more stressful than usual.

She likes to run on our left which isn’t good on this really busy road. Each time we stop she cries when it’s time to set off. We know she has some problem with her front right leg or paw and hates being on gravel and limps until she’s warmed up a little. We switch to following the Rikotula river and in Khevi see a nice, flat area to camp in the middle of the village. It’s been a short day but the 3 of us fancy an early finish.

Daz and I have a wash in the river whilst Max gets her head down after wolfing down a tin of sardines. It’s Saturday, but we are in such a rural spot we haven’t seen a single wedding procession today, a God send on this narrow twisting road. We did meet a young Scottish lad on the road, he was in a UK R reg ford escort and had driven it all the way from Scotland via Europe and Russia! He was driving towards Chechnya to meet some friends!! The car only cost him £310 and has done him proud.

Sunday 7th May

Khevi to Borjomi
Distance: 57.12 km
Average Speed: 8.80 kmh
Fastest Speed: 45.67 kmh
Total Distance: 12761.6 km

We’re feeling a little jaded this morning after drinking a jug of homemade wine that a local chap gave us. We also had a couple of strange visitors last night; one particularly fat bloke seemed to be suggesting Daz should sell me to him for the night. Later a van with 3 men tips up and again Daz crawls out of the tent to deal with the visitors. They ask Daz for ‘documenti’ and flash some ID cards, but Daz just says ‘polizei?’ and they shake their heads and drive off!! For the rest of the night we are buffeted by winds but no one else comes by. After scrambled eggs for breakfast we have a long, slow climb of 10km. Max cries every time we resume cycling after a quick break. We think her leg is really sore. Finally we reach the top of the valley but there’s a 2km tunnel so instead we take the diversion over the top.

We’ve got a long descent in front of us. We know Max won’t be able to keep up and she’s just too big to have on my lap; I can’t see properly, steer properly nor brake. Plus she’s prone to suddenly trying to leap off which is causing her more injuries. So we decide to hammer down the hill as fast as possible to deliberately lose her. We can hear her crying whether through pain or heartbreak at being separated from us we don’t know but it’s devastating to hear! I refuse to look in my mirror, I don’t want to see her trying to catch us. In Surami we stop for lunch. I watch the road constantly in case Max appears, but she doesn’t. We head into Khashuri because we need an ATM and some provisions for tonight and then we head up the Kura valley to Borjomi.

The river is swollen from the melt water and it’s a lovely valley to cycle.

It’s swelteringly hot but around 4pm the thunder starts and there’s black clouds to our left. We think we’re going to miss the rain but suddenly the downpour starts. We take shelter under a tree and then a young man offers us shelter at his house. His name is George, he’s studying in Tbilisi to be a lawyer and his English is excellent. He’s actually just visiting for the weekend and he’s shortly going to head back to Tbilisi but whilst packing his car he offers us wine, cheese, meat stew and a local dish which is like a fruit jelly. By the time he’s ready to go we decide the rain has moved on and we should push on to Borjomi. We swap details with George and he offers to send us map excerpts of local places of interest. Sadly the rain resumes and we hit Borjomi at the same time as a torrential downpour.

We hadn’t actually expected to make it this far today so we use booking.com and find a cheap apartment and then discover we’re sharing with the family – a homestay. From the outside the grim apartment block makes me want to run a mile but inside it’s cosy, we get our washing done and get cups of tea and tourist advice. A winner!!!

 

Monday 8th May

Borjomi
Distance: 0 km
Average Speed: 0 kmh
Fastest Speed: 0 kmh
Total Distance: 12761.6 km

No cycling today but bus tour with 2 Russian girls, Veronica and Mary, from Moscow to some local tourist attractions. Fortunately their English is excellent and they translate from our bus driver / tour guide.

As we drive up the Kura River Valley we see there are several hydro electric stations under construction; the plan to make Georgia self sufficient in electricity. Our first destination today is Rabati Fortress at Akhaltsikhe. The President of Georgia described the recently restored Rabati Castle as a “crown of restoration in Georgia”. Built in the 13th century, Rabati castle developed under the influence of different cultures over subsequent centuries and this is reflected in its architecture. Within the 7 hectares castle complex there is a Church, a Mosque, a Minaret and a Synagogue.

After a lovely walk around the fortress we head on to Vardzia: The underground halls of the “mountain queen,” dug out of the solid rock, Vardzia looks like it was taken directly from the pages of Lord of the Rings. In reality it is a cave-palace-monastery built not by dwarfs, but by Georgians in the Caucasus for their fabled queen Tamar. In desperate circumstances people are often driven to perform feats of mythical proportions. In the late 1100s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes, the most devastating force Europe had ever seen. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185, and the digging began, carving into the side of the Erusheli mountain, located in the south of the country near the town of Aspindza.

We also stop at the fortress of Tmogvi which was an important fortress-town of Georgia. It stands on a high rocky mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari river, in Javakheti. In historical sources, The fortress is first mentioned in the 10th century. The upper and the lower parts of the fortress were linked with secret tunnels.

Our final stop is a hot spring, it’s inside a dilapidated looking barn in the middle of nowhere. We haven’t got our swimmers, but Daz joins the driver and Veronica and Mary in his underpants! At least the girls have swimming costumes!

During our lunch stop at Vardzia we met a British cyclist from Brighton, Tori. She started in USA and went West and now she’s heading home after several years. She has cycled alone along the route we are taking (in reverse) and is still bright and bubbly after all this time! We wish her well on her final leg home across Europe.

When we get back to Borjomi us and the girls head to a lovely cafe and eat cake and drink scrummy Georgian wine. We say farewell and they invite us to see them in Moscow one day.

Tuesday 9th May

Borjomi to Gori
Distance: 72.24km
Average Speed: 14.69 kmh
Fastest Speed: 42.22 kmh
Total Distance: 12833.84 km

This morning when we wake at 7am all we can hear is the deluge of rain falling outside. We decide to read and nap, hoping it’ll blow over and surprisingly it does. By 10am we’re walking around Borjomi Central Park and we take the cable car to the plateau. We walk back down and go in search of Prometheus – a Titan in Greek mythology and creator of mankind – why his statue is in this park, I’ve no idea. There’s also hot spring pools but we didn’t bring towels or suits so we miss those. This area is also famous for Borjomi Spring water which not only tastes wonderful but also has medicinal and curative properties!

After the park we stop for a late breakfast / early lunch then return to our homestay and collect our trikes. We’re retracing our steps to Khashuri and despite a little light drizzle initially and one sudden downpour (which we manage to shelter from) we’re soon out from under the clouds and make good speed to Khashuri. We push on towards Gori and with a decent road and a tailwind we manage 75km without too much pain. We’re also blessed by beautiful glimpses of the snowcapped Caucasus to our left and rolling hills to our right. We stop just short of Gori, looking down from a nearby escarpment.

Wednesday 10th May

Gori to Kvemo Nichbisi
Distance: 54.24km
Average Speed: 10.95 kmh
Fastest Speed: 55.44 kmh
Total Distance: 12888.08 km

This morning after our porridge breakfast we have a lovely downhill run into Gori. We admire the castle and Stalin’s birthplace and then push on.

Gori is a city in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia. It is most famous (or infamous) for being the birthplace of Iosif Vissarionovich Jughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin. Today, surprisingly, it does not look much different from when Stalin ruled the USSR. Gori is also located a short drive from Uplistsikhe, an ancient Silk Road cave city and former regional center of pagan worship.

We meet a large group of Iranian cyclists, 18 in total. For the first group we stop and chat and let them take an inordinate amount of photos of us, the trikes and them on the trikes.

Today it’s beautiful rolling hills and moorland. We can hear birds singing and we see plenty of different species, I just wish my knowledge and eyesight were better so I could identify the various species. We watch stormclouds gather on the hills and then watch as the lightning comes ever closer. Twice we’re hit by a thunderstorm but both times we’re quick enough to take cover. After getting some water we find an area to set up camp.

Daz is cooking which is great because I’m starving. The whole area we have cycled through today has been stunningly beautiful. Georgian urban areas look incredibly run down due to the lack of government spending in the post Soviet Era, but its countryside is spectacular.

Thursday 11th May

Kvemo Nichbisi to Tbilisi
Distance: 46.02 km
Average Speed: 12.09 kmh
Fastest Speed: 58.46 kmh
Total Distance: 12934.1 km

Last night we found ourselves in the middle of a maelstrom as a storm front moved directly over our tent. Initially the winds nearly flattened our tent as the pegs were pulled out of the soft ground. Then the lightning and thunder was a continuous barrage. After about 45 minutes, the storm finally blew over. And we had survived. In the morning we cycle into Mtskheta, the original Georgian capital and a UNESCO site.

The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta are located in the cultural landscape at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers, in Central-Eastern Georgia, some 20km northwest of Tbilisi in Mtskheta. The property consists of the Jvari Monastery, the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and the Samtavro Monastery.
Mtskheta was the ancient capital of Kartli, the East Georgian Kingdom from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD, and was also the location where Christianity was proclaimed as the official religion of Georgia in 337. To date, it still remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.


The favourable natural conditions, its strategic location at the intersection of trade routes, and its close relations with the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, Syria, Palestine, and Byzantium, generated and stimulated the development of Mtskheta and led to the integration of different cultural influences with local cultural traditions. After the 6th century AD, when the capital was transferred to Tbilisi, Mtskheta continued to retain its leading role as one of the important cultural and spiritual centres of the country.

After Mtskheta we head into Tbilisi. Initially we were on the main highway into town but decided the side roads would be more interesting. Eventually we find ourselves in Freedom Square.

Our hosts in Tbilisi are the British Defence Attache and his wife, Dave and Sara. Their flat is magnificent and large enough for our trikes to sit in the hall.

They are both keen cyclists and have a tandem but they’ve left it in the UK. When Dave comes home from work we go out for food and a pint. They’ve been out here since last November. Dave had to do a year’s Russian language training, whilst Sara had a tutor for Georgian. They clear up a few mysteries for us. The staring, unsmiling Georgian is a common phenomena ; they don’t like to smile and think smiley people are mad. Yes, there is a very obvious police presence everywhere but they don’t actually appear to do anything. The depressing, run down apartment blocks actually hide very attractive and well cared for flats. The flats were given to the Georgians 25 years ago when the Soviet Empire disintegrated. Without Soviet money nothing is spent on management or upkeep of the actual block hence their rundown appearance. Georgia is in a very vulnerable position geographically and is desperate to join the EU and gain protection from the EU and NATO. Unfortunately they are not even close to being EU compliant.

Friday 12th May

Tbilisi

Today we go sightseeing. We take the funicular up to Mtatsminda Park, overlooking the city. We were hoping to go on the Ferris wheel but the ticket booth is shut.

We walk down to the Fortress and Mother of Georgia statue. We walk through the old town, over the Peace Bridge and then go in search of cycling shops; Daz needs a new pair of cycling shoes.

We find the shops but no shoes! In the evening we are entertained by Tracey, the Flight Sergeant from the Embassy. It was an incredible stroke of luck that Daz got Tracey’s details from an Army colleague, Al Hood, and she was more than happy to host us but Dave said he had more room for all our gear. Tracey is great fun and takes us to a few bars and introduces us to her chums.

Tbilisi – a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious city on the crossroads of history, a city neither European nor Asian but a heady blend of both East and West.Tbilisi was founded in the 5th century AD and has attracted visitors ever since, drawn by the hot springs for which the city is named, by the lively atmosphere of its cobbled streets and caravanserais or simply by what Alexandre Dumas called the “strange, fascinating charm” of this “city of legend and romance.”

 

Saturday 13th May

Tbilisi

There’s a wine festival today in Mtatsminda Park so we head up after checking out the market and meet Tracey and Achilles.

The festival is held each year and this year there are 133 vintners from Georgia giving free samples of their new wines. We enjoy the music and crowds as we sample, and sample, and sample… you get the idea!

We also meet Vaso again. Vaso was the guy we met in Bughnara whose friend had married the day before. Dave and Sara join us mid afternoon and we show them their first geocache ; hopefully we’ve made geocaching converts. In the evening we are invited to meet the American Marines that are dining with the American Attache.

They are here to help train the Georgian Army.

Sunday 14th May

Kazbegi

We’ve decided we must visit the Caucasus mountains so we get the metro to the main bus station and a bus to Kazbegi. It’s a 3 hour drive up the Military Road but we have 2 stops for sightseeing.

 

Stepantsminda, commonly known as Kazbegi, is a small town in the north-east Georgia, close to the Russian border. It is one of the must see destinations in Georgia, mostly due to amazing hiking routes and stunning nature. We’ve been told by many people about an incredible hotel here. Rooms is a boutique hotel with a small casino, cigar bar, swimming pool, and an astonishing design.

It has floor to ceiling windows giving the most incredible views of the surrounding mountains.

Monday 15th May

Kazbegi

Breakfast is a sumptuous affair with all sorts of wonderful foods including crispy bacon, sausages, cakes, cold cuts and cheeses. Breakfast heaven! We enjoy our fill then sit looking out at the mountain of Kazbegi across the valley. It is 5033 metres high. In the foreground is Gergeti Trinity church, situated on the right bank of the river Chkheri (the left tributary of the river Terek), at an elevation of 2170 meters, under Mount Kazbegi.

After such a hearty breakfast and feeling foolhardy we decide to hire mountain bikes to check out the local area! We descend into Stepantsminda first down a steep cobbled street then cross the river. We follow a gravel track along the valley to Pansheti then Arsha. Along the way we see an old watchtower and then Arsha waterfall. It’s great being back on a mountain bike after so long but we soon feel the discomfort of riding on a normal saddle!!

We cross back over the river and head up a side valley to the village of Sno and its ancient fortress sitting on the river bank. Finally we head back to Stepantsminda and climb back up to our hotel. It’s been a beautiful ride in the countryside.

To recover we have a lovely cup of tea then head down to the glass fronted pool and sauna room. After a swim and sauna we relax in the warmth reading our kindles and admiring the stunning views.

After several hours relaxing by the pool we’re ready for dinner and a session in the casino. I have an urge to play poker at a casino table. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it’s only pontoon and roulette so instead it’s another extended session of Masterchef. We were both disappointed to see Alison leave and whilst Sahila was truly brilliant she wasn’t our favourite.

 

Tuesday 16th May

Kazbegi

After another luxurious night’s sleep we go get breakfast and then check out. We leave our bag at the hotel as we are going to climb up to Gergeti church before heading back to Tbilisi. The guide book says it’s a three and a half hour walk. We set off across the valley before climbing steeply towards the summit where the church sits.

A dirt road zigzags up the steep hill but we take the even steeper foot trail through the woods, in our crocs! It’s hard going and we stop often for a breather but still manage to pass a few people on the way up. Near the top there is a rocky promontory and we walk over to have a look. As we arrive a man has just got down on his knees and is proposing to his girlfriend, very romantic!

We carry on up to the church. Built in the 14th century although not much is known of its history, it was mentioned in one of the guide books from 1906, that the church was built on the place that used to be for pagan idol worshipping. And in 18th century, the church was turned into storage for the main Georgian relics that were transported here in the time of Persian invasion of Tbilisi. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Soviet government had closed the church, and it was only returned to the Georgian Orthodox Church in the 1990’s.

But for a long time it had served as a popular waypoint for travelers on the road connecting Russia and Georgia. We decide to descend via a less steep route but end up swinging from branch to branch in a silver birch forest on a steep slope.

Eventually we come out on the track! Back in town Daz heads back up to the hotel to grab our bag whilst I play with some puppies on the side of the road! Then we grab some food and wait for the bus to Tbilisi.

Wednesday 17th May

Tbilisi

Our final day in Tbilisi and a day to get all our chores done. In Kazbegi we applied for our Azerbaijan visas. They’re now evisas – so a simple process and only 20US$ each. This morning we need to apply for our LOI (Letter of Invitation) for Uzbekistan. Strictly speaking we don’t need an LOI but if we have one then in Batu we can pick up our Uzbekistan visa in one day, instead of waiting a week for it to be issued. In order to request an LOI we need an entry date into Uzbekistan. We’ll only be allowed in country for 30 days so this needs to be as accurate as possible. So we check our route and work out when we’ll get to Baku, estimate when we might leave on the ferry to Aktau, Kazakhstan and from there how long to cross to Uzbekistan. Once that’s done we apply to STAN tours for our LOI – €68 each.

We had intended to enjoy a Tbilisi hot sulphur bath, but Georgian receptionist is so unwelcoming and the private bathing room is totally unappealing especially with the overwhelming smell of sulphur. We don’t think it’ll compare to our fantastic Turkish bath experience and so decide not to bother.

Next chore – head to the Medical University and find the Immunisation centre for our Typhoid vaccinations. It’s quickly done and that’s 80 Lari each. We also in the right area for North Face and manage to get a reasonably priced fleece and T- shirt for Daz. A supermarket stop for porridge oats, batteries and wet wipes and all chores are done. There’s a demo in town today; we’re not sure if it’s pro gay or pro family values.

Back at the apartment we had hoped for a little nap but we need to pack, send off more documentation for our UZ LOIs, get some printing done and phone Daz’s bank HSBC to request that they waive ATM charges now that our N&P account is going to close.

Then it’s time to hit Jospers in the Old Town, an organic beef restaurant, for dinner. We’ve had such an incredible time in Tbilisi that we want to treat Tracey, Dave and Sara to dinner by way of a ‘Thank You ‘ for everything they’ve done for us. We’ve had the most fantastic 7 days in a beautiful city, looked after by fabulous people.

Thursday 18th May – Tbilisi to Ujarma

Distance: 47.98 km
Average Speed: 9.63 kmh
Fastest Speed: 55.87 kmh
Total Distance: 12982.08 km

An early start this morning because Dave, Daz and I are going to cycle to the British Embassy. Luckily Dave’s driver is taking all our baggage. So we’re up, showered and ready for the off by 0800hrs. It’s not often we’re awake at this time. Initially Dave’s on his mountain bike but he swaps with Daz and experiences the novel perspective of trike riding. Sara has a meeting at the Embassy so she’s ‘tail end Charlie’ with hazards on to protect us from the traffic. There’s a bit of a hill going up to the Embassy and we’re passed by numerous vehicles with diplomatic plates who all seem vastly entertained by our bike convoy.

At the Embassy we’ve soon attracted a sizeable crowd and there’s the usual photoshoot session and test rides. The one thing we didn’t get yesterday was more fuel for our camping stove. Dave and Sara discuss what we need with one of the techie guys and he goes off shopping. Then we all head to the canteen for coffee and porridge. The techie guy returns with 10 x 100ml bottles of denatured alcohol from a pharmacy and a bottle of brandy. How kind is that!

Breakfast done, we meet the British Ambassador and then it’s time to say ‘Farewell’. This break in Tbilisi has been the most incredible experience for us. To be looked after so well by people just because we’re ex-army and cycling the world. We know we’re lucky to be having this adventure but it’s easy to become blasé. Then we experience this overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from all these people (and they’re English speaking and from our background (military)) and we feel just feel super-privileged. It’s sad saying ‘goodbye’ to Dave, Sara and Tracey but it’s time to head to a new country but they’ve even arranged contacts for us in Baku and Astana.

And so we leave. We head out of Tbilisi and out to the airport. It’s not particularly scenic and it’s busy but there’s another 10km stretch after the airport which is even more unpleasant. We’re down to single lane and the exhaust fumes are particularly noxious today.

But finally we turn off this main road to head for Telavi and the most northern crossing point into Azerbaijan. There was a shorter route but apparently it’s really dull. Off the main road and the traffic is lighter and our surroundings more scenic.

Daz is having a tough day today. We don’t know if it’s due to the beers last night, his Typhoid jab or even just due to a 7 day break. But whatever, we need to stop. In Ujarma we buy some provisions and then find a camping spot. It is on the outskirts of the village, by a couple of derelict buildings. We thought we’d be undisturbed but we have several visitors and one cow herder is particularly persistent. He doesn’t think we should camp because it’s already starting to drizzle and he wants us to share his home. It’s so sweet but so difficult saying no and not being able to explain that our tent is really very comfy and in fact Daz is already napping. Later we have dinner – scrambled egg and fried sausage and our usual bucket wash.

Whilst I’m washing up I hear ‘cheeping’ from a near by tree. I investigate and realise there’s a nest in a hole in the tree and then hear a clacking. It’s the warning call of the parent – a greater spotted woodpecker I think. For the rest of the evening we watch the parents fly off for food and then return to feed their brood.

An extraordinary spectacle ; the birdlife is so prolific in Georgia.

Friday 19th May – Ujarma to Telavi

Distance: 53 km
Average Speed: 7.8 kmh
Fastest Speed: 61.9 kmh
Total Distance: 13035.08 km

Well Daz certainly needed sleep – he managed about 13 hours and wasn’t disturbed at all by the heavy rain in the night. It’s a bit of a slow start as we want to dry out the tent and we’ve noticed that Daz’s tyres are wearing and they’ll need replacing so Daz checks for tyre availability in Baku and sends a few messages.

Yesterday Daz finally had a successful chat with his bank, HSBC, the previous attempt ended prematurely when he ran out of credit. HSBC has agreed to waive foreign ATM charges but not non-sterling transaction fees. This is definitely a step in the right direction for when our N&P closes but we also have one other avenue to research.

We set off at about 1030hrs and make fairly good progress.

We need to climb to Gombori Pass at 1620m. We stop in Gombori, having provided the school children with masses of entertainment (they obviously find our trikes very amusing) and have lunch. We see a transit van with a big queue of people and realise it is a mobile bank, with 2 counters!

We think we’re near the summit now. Big mistake. We climb and climb and climb. Initially the views are lovely and we’re watching the birdlife and then the cloud closes in. And then the storm closes in. At this point it’s very dark and we can only see 100m ahead. We’re still climbing so progress is painfully slow. Then the storm hits, accompanied by torrential rain.

There’s no where to take cover so we just push on. At times the storm is on top of us. The road is deluged in the heavy rain. It’s horrendous – the worst conditions we’ve ever cycled in. We can barely see for the rain stinging in our faces and we’re absolutely drenched. Then at last we see the sign, Gombori Pass. I assume once we descend we’ll find drier weather and eventually we do but initially we’re trying to control our speeds on the descent, with horrendously wet roads, with potholes, still barely able to see, but now the added bonus that we’re freezing. Eventually the rain stops, and we warm up a little but our feet and hands are freezing. We’re approaching Telavi and the rain starts again. Yup time for a hotel or guesthouse. It’s been an incredibly tough day.

Saturday 20th May – Telavi to Shilda

Distance: 34.87 km
Average Speed: 11.7 kmh
Fastest Speed: 46.5 kmh
Total Distance: 13069.95 km

Our landlady last night was kind enough to wash our sopping gear so nice clean, dry clothes. We have a lovely late breakfast and then head off. My bike computer failed yesterday so we go in search of a new battery. We find several shops that sell the correct battery but my computer still won’t work. Very disappointing. My bike computer is my only means of gauging speed and distance. Without it I’m a very unhappy cyclist. We head out of Telavi with a fantastic downhill to the river Alazani.

We cross the river and then cycle along the river valley. This area is famous for its vineyards and there are vines everywhere. As we left Telavi there were some spots of rain but as we near Gremi we can hear the thunder rolling and see the black clouds rolling in. We pass a monastery and then spot a cafe in its grounds. We manage to park our bikes under a garden parasol and head indoors for coffee.

We’re just in time as soon there’s a really heavy downpour. We wait for the storm to pass and then head on. We see a sign for Chelti Vineyard and decide to go and have a tour of a Georgian vineyard – and of course a bit of wine tasting.

Kakheti is the most important region for winemaking, characterized by its unique vine grape varieties, well suited climate and centuries of exceptional winemaking experience. In the heart of Kakheti, near the foothills of the Great Caucasus Mountains, is a small city of Kvareli. Shilda, a village of Kvareli district, is home to the very beautiful ‘Chelti Winery’.

The Wine Company “Chelti” was founded in 2001. From the beginning the company had its own vineyards to control the quality of grapes. In 2006 the Company already had its own wine cellar.


As the owner of the wine cellar George Mirianashvili says he is very careful about the quality of the products. His group has set a goal to produce only few appellation, but high quality. The Company was awarded many times. Saperavi Chelti 2010 is 2014 Gold winner in tasting category. The wine is exported in United States, Germany, Kazakhstan, Canada, Russia, Ukraine and China.

In addition to European technology they also use Georgian technology – the Qvevri. A large clay bin in which the wine ferments without the removal of the grape pulp. It produces a much deeper flavoured wine.

As we leave the vineyard they mention a village festival, so instead of turning left back to the road we head right. It’s only supposed to be 1 kilometre away, but after 2.5 km uphill we finally arrive at the ‘festival’.

It’s more of a village car boot sale and by the time we arrive everyone is packing up… oh well! Back down the hill and we soon scout out a remote camping site down a dirt track. It’s behind an old factory. We get set up and have dinner.

The black clouds are rolling in again and not long after we settle ourselves in our cosy tent, the storm hits. Thunder, lightning and torrential rain. At least this time we are more sheltered from the wind, but we do get a river of water flowing under the tent at one point!

Sunday 21st May – Shilda to Kvareli

Distance: 31.83 km
Average Speed: 11.0 kmh
Fastest Speed: 34.3 kmh
Total Distance: 13101.78 km

Our visa for Azerbaijan starts on the 23rd, and it’s only 60km to the border so today and tomorrow’s riding is going to be easy. We head out of Shilda and just before Kvareli head up a side road to Nekresi Monastery.

Just as we arrive 4 minibuses also pull up, full of women and children. There’s a shuttle bus up the 1.5 kilometre hill to the monastery and we jump on before the hoard can beat us to it. It’s a beautiful sight from the top looking down along the green valley. There’s a service going on inside the church and I don headscarf and long skirt to cover my bare legs. It’s very solemn with a lot of chanting. Once back out we walk back down the steep hill and cycle out. But just as we head off there’s another heavy shower and we scamper into an adjacent picnic area for shelter. There’s a group of old men drinking and eating at one of the covered tables and they call us over. What ensues is some very macho downing of homemade wine and singing, and that’s just me!! Daz tries to keep up!

There are lots of families using the area too. The rain doesn’t seem to dampen their spirits. Finally it relents and we decide to push on, a little worse for wear! We head into Kvareli but it’s a bit of a non event. On the way out I pull onto some hard standing in a wooded area and wait for Daz who has stopped for some supplies. A couple of kids and their ‘big sister’ pop out of the woods along with a herd of goats. I ride around with the kids who race beside me on their old bikes but I come a cropper at one point and roll my trike by turning too sharply. Ahhhh my bad arm… again!!

Daz arrives then and rather than helping me (I’m feeling faint) sets up the tent!!! After I recover a little we try chatting with Bella (?), Miriam (9), Marie (8) and Saba (6). We sort of work out they aren’t all related, but live closeby in the woods and Bella is the goat herder.

Monday 22nd May – Kvareli to Lagodekhi

Distance: 41.57 kmAverage Speed: 12.54 kmh

Fastest Speed: 50.2 kmh

Total Distance: 13143.35 km

We would have stayed in bed this morning but the tent is like a sauna and drives us out into the fresh air. Bella comes passed with her goats and gives us both a big hug. After 4 days of clouds and thunderstorms we’re blessed with sun and clear blue skies for our last day in Georgia.

After about 10km we’re stopped by a guy who gives us an ice cream each. He’s dumbfounded when we put the wrappers in our ‘bin bag’ (always clipped to my back pannier). He demonstrates that we should just throw our wrappers on the floor. We stop in the penultimate Georgian town of Ninigori. It’s a beautiful village; each garden has its own vine trellis and an abundance of rambling red roses.

Our last stop is Lagodekhi – the border town. We stop for food and to change currency (Georgian is a closed currency). We’ll camp between the town and the border crossing but here our Georgian blog must end.

 

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