Georgia was a complete delight in every way imaginable. It will be very difficult to give a full account of what we did and where we went in one post, so we’ve split it into two. For myself, I expected Georgia to be the start of the unknown – a gentle introduction to adventure – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Part one had us visiting the Black Sea resort of Batumi (although sadly not its Dolphinarium…), the second city of Kutaisi (and it’s great Kebabary). We pick up our tale on the road to Kazbegi with some time on our hands, having decided that our exhaust was a gnats whisker from falling off and gassing us terminally, whilst we waited for a new exhaust to turn up in Tblisi. We had thought about what to do with our time and decided that the Georgian Military Highway needed driving. This glorious Soviet road takes one from the outskirts of Tblisi to Kazbegi in the Great Caucusus. The road was bumpy and slow, but took us through some wonderful scenery, with one of my favourite camping spots so far. Kazbegi was stunning, a small town at the base of a classic alpine peak (not unlike the Matterhorn in appearance) but with the added appeal of the church of Tsminda Sameba perched high above the town, on a shoulder of the range. We found a small cafe and increased the Kachapuri Count (by now somewhere in the high teens) and pondered how to spend our time.
We camped above the town, thinking we might be able to drive the beaut up to the church. As we started on the track we were perplexed by every 4 x 4 taxi in the world hooting and gesticulating at us. We soon discovered why. The road was a nightmare and our first experience of having to use low range: I’m pretty sure we nearly rolled her. As it was we stopped half way up at a little car park and made camp. We headed up to the church in the early evening and I must say we were suitably impressed. The church is small and perfectly formed, and against the backdrop of these stunning mountains it is a truely special place.
After an eventful evening involving a friendly drunk who gave us a very large bottle of the local brew, then came back to give some of us a gentle grope, we went to bed a prepared for the ascent of Mount Kazbegi. Well, sort of ascent, we resolved to walk most of the way up this behemoth on a moderately taxing track to the glacier. It’s safe to say we all felt that our fitness had been somewhat hampered by a month in a metal box, the walk was moderately more challenging than I’d anticipated.
We got to the col before the glacier and split up, myself and Cobes decided to attempt to get to 3000m and the base of the glacier. We crossed a small river (Coby:1 Rivers:0) and struck up the hill. We got to the glacier and had a little glacier selfie, then headed back down to one of the most navigationly perplexing decents ever.
Leaving the mountains behind we headed back down the military highway (passing and ogling at Georgia’s best Ski Resort) and arrived promptly in Tblisi. We had arranged for the exhaust to be delivered to the Why Not? self proclaimed “legend hostel”, so checked in and stayed the night. The hostel was very friendly and cosy, if somwhat like a sauna. We got taken out to a great traditional Georgian restaurant by a chap called Quentin who, very helpfully, seemed to be some kind of Linguistic Jedi. We decided to move to different hostels after this, and await the exhaust by spending a few days chilling in the gloriousness that is Tblisi. Cue excessive quantities of wine, shashlik and cheesy bread (Katachpuri count now in the low hundreds). All that can be said for Tblisi is simply; Go there. It’s a friendly, exciting and relaxing place to be and its variety of things to do is very representative of Georgia on the whole. We went to old Castles, outdoor art galleries, and rode a roller coaster whilst Tom and Kat investigated the wine region around Telavi and had one of their favourite meals of the trip. We also saw the open air museum of ethnology, which contained houses and artefacts from every region of Georgia- including a working wine making set up with vinyard, press and associated paraphernalia. It really is an amazing place and has a great restaurant close by at the top of the hill.
N.b. On Georgian Wine: Try the Saperavi, the drier the better, it’s fabulous.
We picked up our exhaust after only really waiting five days for it, found that it was different from the one we had already, and lobbed it into the back of the car endeavouring to forget about it until we had time to fit it. On leaving Tblisi we all had mixed feelings of apprehension for Azerbaijan and sadness that we had to finish what had become a real holiday for us. However, Georgia wasn’t done with us quite yet. On the last night in country we parked up outside a farm close to the border. Out came Ellio and Nellie, who greeted us with mild confusion turning quickly into a hospitality of such warmth that it left us stunned, and savagely hungover. They insisted that we have some of their home made bread and cheese, but that it be washed down with their equally home made Cha Cha (Georgian Grappa). This stuff is deadly, especially as Ellio poured “shots” of it that, to my addled memory, seemed to be about equal to a glass of wine. The net result was that Tom and I were distinctly and definitely drunk when the mother of all thunderstorms hit the car in the middle of the night. The violence of this cannot be understated- it blew the tent poles out of place and myself and Coby spent a short while convinced of our impending grizzly end. Turns out we were fine but it did take some days to dry out the deck shoes… In all we were very impressed with the robustness of our roof tent, as we spent the next few hours dodging fallen trees and power lines on the road to the Azeri border.