Georgia (Part 1)

October 9th: We woke up early and headed to the bus stop in Sheki. Unfortunately, I’m not great with time management and we missed the 8am bus by 5 minutes. The next bus wouldn’t leave until 10am. This was especially frustrating because we needed to make a bus connection an hour down the road in Qax. Les’s frustration was palpable. I somewhat redeemed myself by getting us a taxi to Qax where we were able to catch the connecting bus to Tbilisi. We were back on track! We arrived in Tbilisi early that evening, tired and hungry. Our hosts at the Green House Hostel were amazing and recommended a nice walk to a restaurant – perfect!

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Les is patiently waiting for the go-ahead.

October 10th: We spent the day walking around Old Town and up the main shopping street – Rustaveli Street. We got SIM cards to make life easy (Google Maps!) It was so cheap. It cost 13GEL ($6.30CAD) for a SIM card with 4GB of data!

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The underground pedestrian crossings are lined with art.

We stopped back at our hostel for some mid-afternoon tea and got to talking to one of our hosts, Maia. She mentioned that her husband, Alex, gave good advice on hiking in Georgia because he used to be a geologist in the area. I told her that I am a geologist and she smiled and yelled downstairs to her husband. When we went downstairs, Alex was excited. He wanted to know what kind of geology. His English isn’t great but he is good at communicating. I said “minerals, mining, gold”. He said “Oh! Come, let’s test” and we followed him to the kitchen. I thought it would be a rock identification test or something. No. It was a big shot glass of homemade chacha. Chacha is a liquor made from the grape residue after wine making. He made it clear that if I was truly a geologist, I could handle this shot. Les got to be an honorary geologist. I think we passed but it must have been 50-60%.

So with an instant happy glow, we went out for dinner to another restaurant they recommended.

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For dinner, we had Adjarian khachapuri: a bread “boat” filled with cheese and topped with a raw egg and a slab of butter.

October 11th: My birthday! We did another self-guided walking tour. Our first stop was the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

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It was built between 1995 and 2004.

From there we walked to a restaurant that Tina and Jonny (in Ireland) had recommended for it’s lobio (stewed beans).

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We ended up coming back here another 3 times during our stay. I am going to make this when I have a kitchen!

With bellies full, we took the funicular up to Mtatsminda Park. There are rides, games, and a petting zoo up there! We walked through it all and took in the view.

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View from Mtatsminda Park.

For my birthday dinner, we ordered a bottle of wine (along with food of course). We’ve never ordered a bottle of wine with dinner. We felt like adults. It was $12.

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34!

October 12th: We took a bus out to Davit Gareja, a Georgian Orthodox rock monastery in southeast Georgia along the border with Azerbaijan.

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Both buses pulled over at a “view point”. We were stumped. The beauty is very subtle. Rolling hills of dried grass.
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On the trail to the caves.
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If you look closely in the sky, there are huge birds circling (that’s not flecks stuck to your screen).
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Les for scale.
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These caves have been repeatedly attacked and ruined since they were first built in the 6th century. It continues to this day in the form of names scratched into frescoes.
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There were lizards everywhere!
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The caves are present all the way to the end of the cliff face in view.
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“I’m not going in there.”

October 13th: We walked around again! We have a preferred way to see a city it seems. We wandered around the old city and made our way up to the Narikala Fortress.

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Below a portion of Pushkin Street are ruins of the Tbilisi wall. The extent is not known because the city has built up over top. The ruins were only discovered in 2012 during street maintenance. This is not a good picture of the wall, but I like how Les resembles the dandelion puff with his new hair cut.
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View of Narikala (top right) from Old Town.
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Part of Narikala overlooks the Botanical Garden (the lush vegetation on the left).
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However steep this looks, it was steeper.
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We’ve been seeing lots of people posing for Instagram photos. We have been taking similar shots, partly mocking, partly because we don’t know how to pose for photos. This is Les tousling his hair.
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Instagram pose at Narikala overlooking Tbilisi.
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The Georgian Wine Festival in Old Town! There were free samples and live music! I fell in love with the voices of Ansambli Metexi – listen to that link!

 

October 14th: We spent the afternoon exploring the Tbilisi Botanical Garden. It isn’t known for sure how old it is; it’s thought to be from the early 1600s.

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Arched bridge in the garden.
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Instagram pose.
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Going for that serious look. Also curious what I look like when I don’t smile.
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We’ve noticed in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia that bread is disposed of separately. Often it is in a plastic bag hanging from a hook.
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More art from the underground pedestrian crossings.

October 15th: We took a marshrutky (mini-bus) up to Stepantsminda/Kazbegi in northern Georgia along the Georgian Military Road to Russia. We arrived mid-afternoon and after checking in to Nunu’s Guesthouse, we walked uphill for sunset.

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Nunu’s was just 50 metres from the bus stop.
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Ioane Natlismcemeli, the Georgian Orthodox Church on the slope behind Nunu’s. The tall peak is Mount Kazbek.
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The debris flow channel just beside the church. Everything here is built on debris flow fans.

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October 16th: We hiked up to Gergeti Trinity Church (1 hour) and then to a viewpoint of Mount Kazbek and the Gergeti Glacier (3 hours.) It was steep – about 1300m elevation gain to the view point – and we hadn’t hiked in a couple months. It was a beautiful day with beautiful views so it was easy to find the motivation 🙂

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On the way to the trailhead. “Sip wine eat meat…be happy and injoy life”
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Looking down on Gergeti Trinity Church

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Mount Kazbek with Gergeti Glacier at it’s base. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Mount Kazbek had a purple/red hue, the ridge to its right was orange/yellow, and the grasses below the ridge were a soft green.
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Pack horses on the way down from the glacier.

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Practicing the Slav squat.

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On the way back down: the slopes below the Gergeti Trinity Church.

October 17th: Our legs were pretty sore. Not as sore as we expected though! We could still walk! We still decided to take a rest day. We had tea and read on the deck at Nunu’s. We went out for lunch to a place with a nice patio.

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View from the road while we strolled around.
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Georgian’s love their bread! I couldn’t resist when we walked past a bakery – only 40 cents for a “loaf” (it is flat.)

We had dinner at the Rooms Hotel. The Rooms Hotel is a Soviet group holiday residence that has been converted into a beautiful hotel. It has a large terrace that looks across the valley at the Gergeti Trinity Church and Mount Kazbek.

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Our second ever bottle of wine with dinner! It was too bright to see if I’d taken a good picture or not, so it’s blurry.
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The temperature dropped as soon as the sun went down and we moved inside.

October 18th and 19th: We bused back to Tbilisi and stayed at the Green House Hostel again. We did things like laundry, go out for lobio, drink tea, read, etc. We played backgammon with Maia while Alex tried to get us drunk on chacha so that we’d lose. I still won one game! We spent these days taking it easy and getting ready to head south to Armenia.

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Again, I love the animals here.

Next stop, Armenia!

 

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