A Travellerspoint blog

Georgia

Back to Georgia

The land where drunks sing in harmony and chips are a "healthy option".

all seasons in one day 24 °C

Logodekhi_woods_2.jpg

The first town we stopped at in Georgia was called Lagodekhi, set in wooded low mountains. Just outside the town is a nature reserve, which we headed straight to. The girl working there made us immediately welcome and arranged for a homestay just down the road - and what a homestay. The grandmother was probably one of the best cooks in Georgia and immediately set to feeding us up - not that I really needed it! Georgian food is a mixture of really healthy local, home grown fruits and vegetables and some serious white flour and saturated fat combinations. In one meal alone we were given: the tomato, cucumber, onion and herb salad that you get with every meal, potato salad, chicken, dolma - vine leaves with a meat stuffing; chicken; katchapuri, a baked cheesy dough; a delicious broad bean mixture; home-made yoghurt; home-made tomato ketchup/sauce; chips; bread; home-made wine; cha-cha (home-made vodka); freshly picked grapes; cakes; homemade jam and probably a load of other things I've managed to forget.

After a massive breakfast and loaded up with lunch, we waddled up to the reserve to walk off the food. After Azerbaijan, the people seemed twice as friendly. The houses were similar, but everything was scruffier and slightly anarchic. The girl at the centre let me use her computer in the office to copy some photos onto DVDs, gave me book on Georgian birds as a gift and then kissed me goodbye.

The walk we had chosen was apparently one of the easier ones and we set off expecting it to be a stroll in the woods. This is what it was at first and it was easy to imagine that I was in one of the nicer parts of England until I glimpsed bits of mountains through the trees. After a short while a Georgian Cow Dog attached itself to me. I had seen these dogs before in the mountains in Mestia. If you think that sheepdogs are clever, you should see these dogs! Every morning the dogs take the cows from the villages and towns onto the pastures in the mountains - by themselves. They know the routes totally and lead them up some pretty steep tracks, guard them all day and then in the evening, they bring them back down again. If the cows dawdle they are barked at until they get going and the dogs know all the routes so well that they often run ahead or behind at the tricky places to make sure they go the right way. Well, this dog apparently thought I was a poor lost cow and in need of herding. It stayed with us the whole time, making sure we went the right way and impatiently herding me if I wanted to stop and admire the view (usually when going up a steep bit). When we stopped for lunch it accepted our food, but it didn't act like most dogs do, wanting to be stroked and looking for attention, it stayed its distance and backed away if we tried to get close. When we were safely back, it just disappeared again.

lagodekhi_..cow_dog.jpg

After an hour of walking through the woods and across streams, the path became more seriously uphill and became more of a clamber than a walk. This was fine, except it had rained quite a lot in the night and you might remember my fear of going downhill in slippery conditions and this is what they certainly were. Clinging onto the branches and occaisional handrail when the path went steeply up through streams, I put this to the back of my mind until the way back and after another couple of hours we came to a steep climbdown to the waterfall, which was worth all the effort.

lagodekhi_waterfall_2.jpg

Eventually the downhill journey couldn't be put off any longer, and wondering, as I usually do at this point, why I like walking in mountains, I set off determined that it wouldn't beat me. I would be lying if I said I hadn't wanted to be "beamed up, Scotty" quite a few times, but after some tortuously slow climbs down the wet rocks and path, I decided that if I was going to get back that day I needed to speed up and eventually got into the rythm of it. As we got to the easier flatter bit, we met a party of teenage Georgian girls wearing teenage Georgian shoes (the same as English teenage shoes, but more so). "Are we nearly there?" they asked plaintively. They weren't happy with the answer and carried on closely followed by their teachers who didn't look too happy either. It was very beautiful in the woods and I strode along the easy level path, following the Georgian Cow Dog. Those of you who have read my previous blogs might guess what was about to happen - yes, I then slipped on a flat, wet rock and went sprawling on my back with a large rock stuck in my ribs! Pretending I was ok, I got up and carried on, but the reality was that my ribs were painfully bruised for the next couple of weeks. Duh! Going back through the woods we also passed a couple of policemen, their police car parked by a stream with the radio on loud, a bottle of Vodka in hand, enjoying their own private party.

lagodekhi cow dog brings us safely back

lagodekhi cow dog brings us safely back

The next day we carried on to another small town called Sighnaghi famous for its grapes and wine. The Homestay here was also very welcoming. I sat on the balcony drinking strong Georgian coffee and lazily reaching down for the occaisional grape from the vine growing on it. Not only was this place very cheap and friendly it also had amazing food, cha-cha and wine (they kept giving us vodka for breakfast). The only reason I'm not still there is that I found the town pretty boring! At first it looked really pretty with balconies overhanging the street, but it was the only place I came across in Georgia which had received the "Poundbury treatment". Everything was pristine and re-built and the streets were neatly cobbled ready for the wealthy Tbilisi tourists, but the character had gone and nothing much went on there. To cap it all I was hassled by a Jehovah's Witness in the street! I read somewhere that Georgians, who are Orthodox Christians, are very tolerant of other religions but attacks had been known on Jehovah's Witnesses.

sighnaghi_street.jpg sighnaghi.jpg

Just about every second or third woman in Georgia is called Nino after a Georgian saint who is buried in Sighnaghi at the convent. After looking at this we walked down endless steps to Nino's Well, which is reputed to have sprung up there in time of need of water after Nino had prayed for some. Maybe she should have specified that it should have been nearer the convent as they must have had a difficult time lugging it all the way up there in buckets! There was a little chapel at the bottom where a crowd of people were queuing up to be immersed in a pool inside. I was all for trying it to see if it would heal my sore ribs until Rob mentioned that there were probably quite a few people going in there to be cured of their skin complaints and I decided to give it a miss - well it was cold(ish)!

Sghnaghi__Nino_s_well.jpg

The next day we headed back to Tbilisi by Mashrutka on what should have been a quick easy journey on straight roads. Unfortunately the driver must have been in a terrible hurry as it rattled along like anything, painfully bumping over every pot-hole. We were warmly welcomed back to what was becoming to seem like our private appartment in Tbilisi with a computer with Russian Photoshop at my disposal most of the time and I spent the next few days combining sightseeing, clothes washing and marathon computer sessions.

Posted by sue deegan 10:52 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

Tbilisi

And beyond

sunny 27 °C

Tbilisi river Mtkvar</p><p>Tbilisi has some of the worst pavements I've ever seen;  not only are they broken and have massive holes in them but in places they are quite severly buckled, making it often easier and safer to walk in the roads.  Well it would be if every driver in the city didn't drive like a boy racer, women included.  This makes crossing the road a bit of a chore.  You can try and stare them out and win the right to cross the road, but the odds aren't always strong enough to risk it!  This isn't done with an air of aggression at all, just bravado and incredibly bad parking.  Thats not to say the whole city has broken pavement as there are certainly some posh parts here, but even in the so there is a general lack of health and safety standards -  the steps of an underpass in the main square had unused buidling materials scattered on them after the workmen had gone home.  </p><p>[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/295164/Tbilis_house.jpg

Tbilisi river Mtkvar

Tbilisi has some of the worst pavements I've ever seen; not only are they broken and have massive holes in them but in places they are quite severly buckled, making it often easier and safer to walk in the roads. Well it would be if every driver in the city didn't drive like a boy racer, women included. This makes crossing the road a bit of a chore. You can try and stare them out and win the right to cross the road, but the odds aren't always strong enough to risk it! This isn't done with an air of aggression at all, just bravado and incredibly bad parking. Thats not to say the whole city has broken pavement as there are certainly some posh parts here, but even in the so there is a general lack of health and safety standards - the steps of an underpass in the main square had unused buidling materials scattered on them after the workmen had gone home.

[img=https://photos.travellerspoint.com/295164/Tbilis_house.jpg

Tbilis graffitti

Tbilis graffitti

Tbilis block of flats

Tbilis block of flats

You might be thinking that this concern with health and safety is not like me, but if you read my last blog you will remember that I had a mangled knee and ankle so I was more concious of all these things. Not concious enough though, as 2 days later I was hobbling along a comparatively flat pavement ( have you noticed a pattern beginning to emerge here?) when all of a sudden the ground gave way and I realised my leg was trapped up to the knee in a swivelling sewerage cover! I was pretty quickly hauled out by two passers-by but unfortunately my good leg was a bit mangled up as well. The evening before we had walked around Tbilisi with some other travellers we'd met and were joking about the massive number of chemists in the streets which they kept pointing out to me incase of further injuries. Do you think I could find one then to get something to disinfect my injuries? Suddenly they had disappeared! I just hobbled back the way we'd come till we were back in the land of the chemists and then went back to the safety of my bed, muttering and sniveling about it always being me.

The next day I managed to pluck up enough courage to walk the streets again and then spent the next couple of days walking around Tbilisis feeling odder and odder until I realised that I had a temperature and that my original knee injury, which I hadn't really taken seriously , was infected.

It did make for interesting experiences on the Metro though. Tbilisi has a small Metro system left over from Soviet times, which has some of the longest escalators I've ever seen. You get vertigo just standing at the top of them. They are also quite scarily fast, but still it takes ages to get down to the bottom. In typical Georgian style, instead of a frantic rush of people walking down there, people just stand, or even sit quite happily, unless they are in a real rush, but its a rare sight. The air isn't the greatest down there, and in my slightly feverish state it all seemed very strange and echoey. The trains are pretty efficient and quick though.

Tbilisi typical Georgian group

Tbilisi typical Georgian group

The buildings in Tbilisi, like the pavements, are often very dilapidated but beautiful. Most houses have balconies, either wooden or metal and I imaginged the people living in the ones in the old part of the city were fairly poor. Thats until you realise that many of them have some pretty posh cars parked outside and then when you look in through the courtyards you realise that they are in better condition inside. Its hard to describe, and I haven't seen it anywhere else like here, but its a sort of mixture between poverty and shabby chic and also a strange sort of mixture of beauty and ugliness. There are some seriously big buildings here as well and second time aaround, I'm enjoying it all a lot more. Especially now I can walk (though I do have another injury which you'll hear about later on).

Tbilisi balcony with vines

Tbilisi balcony with vines

Tbilisi balcony

Tbilisi balcony

I spent a few painful days here, looking around, trying to buy difficult things like memory cards and womens walking boot ( if they have to go walking Georgian women would do so in a pair of high heels or plastic slippers) and then we booked a ticket on the overnight train to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan which went from the biggest, fanciest train station, with shopping mall, I've seen.

Clothes shop Tbilisi

Clothes shop Tbilisi

Posted by sue deegan 06:59 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains buildings trains backpacking georgia tbilisi caucusus Comments (1)

Mestia

Where I discover that the Caucusus Mountain consist of huge amounts of gravel and realise why hiking people have sticks, special drying clothes and hiking boots.

all seasons in one day 29 °C
View Mıddle East and Caucusus on sue deegan's travel map.

When I first heard about Mestia it was mentioned in a slightly older travel guide (2004). It described the area of Svaneti as wild and mysterious with a high risk of getting way-laid by bandits on the road up there - see previous blog. Things change. The bandits chiefs had been killed by the police a few years before, and the only risk of banditry in Mestia these days is being overcharged for transport around the area. Don't think I was disapointed by this, as it made for an easy life and during my whole stay there I had no lock on my door where I left my camera stuff and money and the house I was staying in was full of teenagers - but not as we know them. (Though I do have to point out here that all my children were perfect, model teenagers who never dissed their mother and were always willing to any chores at the drop of a hat.)

Typical Mestia House

Typical Mestia House

We actually slept next door to the famous Nino's Homestay but ate our meals in hers. This was great for us as we had a big room off the main upstairs veranda - which was like a room in itself with a table and chairs and ran the length of the house. The neighbour spoke no English, but the teenagers did and so we all managed to communicate. After a week of staying theré, we'd all become very fond of each other and I was sorry to go. Nino's itself was a very organised guest house where food was served with frightening regularity. Not just food, but dish after dish of home-cooked feasts. The house was, surprisingly, full of Israelis. A few weeks down the line I realise that I now assume most tourists in Georgia are Israeli, (however apparently there were 17 Uk tourists in Tbilisi the other day according to the tourist info).

The town of Mestia is long and thin and full of stone Svan Towers, which were used for defense purposes and some date back to the 12th C. Its a strange mixture of ancient, ex-soviet dilapiration and new building - due to its impending tourism boom. I'm so glad to have seen it before it changes too much. Pigs and cows happily roam around free-range with the chickens and old soviet vehicles rattle along the streets. The fastest river in Georgia, the Enguri, thunders through it, its wide stony bed is several feet wider than the actual river ever gets.

Lorries by Enguri River, Nestia

Lorries by Enguri River, Nestia

View from roof of Svan Tower

View from roof of Svan Tower

bus, Mestia

bus, Mestia

There's not much there, just a few shops, which you need to take a while to realise they are shops, a cafe where everyone is miserable (unusual for Georgians and food, but the food is also unusually bad for Georgian food so no wonder!), a church, a very basic hospital, a school and a couple of Museums. I'm not a great museum person, but I loved these. The big one was full of amazing gold and silver icons, ancient books and manuscripts and some very old domestic stuff - cooking things, furniture etc. The best thing about it was that you could actually get right up close and touch the stuff - not the manuscripts ofcourse, though it would have been possible. Svaneti was so removed from the rest of Georgia that whe maurading Russiians and Turks weren't able to get up there to get their hands on all their treasures. The other museum was an old house arranged as it would have been in over the last few centuries. Svaneti has its own language, which broke away from Georgian several hundred years ago and is quite different now.

Boy on Horse, Mestia

Boy on Horse, Mestia

Stairs, Mestia

Stairs, Mestia

The weather wasd definately cooler up in Mestia but the days were hot and sunny, that is until we went for hikes! Every time we slogged up the steep slipery bit in full hot sun and the moment we got somewhere good, the skies would open. Rain, hail, thunder and lightening! Once we were wet (and hurt from the hail) and just wanted to go back down, the sun would come out again. Thats often when the trouble would start for me though - I didn't imagine that the Caucusus were made nearly entirely from slidey gravel and shingle and that sports sandals didn't really do the job! It was suggested that if we'd got up earlier and walked in the morning we might have walked up in cooler weather and then missed the late afternoon storms, but what do they know?

8cross_over.._mestia.jpg

The following 2 photos are how it looked when we were walking up:

Enguri river,  Mestia

Enguri river, Mestia

Bridge to the glacier

Bridge to the glacier

This is how it looked when we got there!

hailstorm_..Glacier.jpg

I was sad to go back down the mountains again to stay in the town of Zugdidi for the night before going to Tbilisi, the capital, the next day on the overnight train. We had wanted to go the same night but the train was full, a fact I only realised half-way through attempting to buy the tickets in Russian. I now know the Russian for tomorrow quite well. It was lucky there were no tickets, as on the way to the hotel from the station, after days of careful manouvering down shingly, slidey mountains, I slipped on a pebble on the street and went sprawling on my face in the dust, trapped by the weight of my rucksack! Result - one mangled knee and twisted ankle.

Posted by sue deegan 10:10 Archived in Georgia Tagged landscapes mountains buildings people backpacking caucusus Comments (3)

The Road To Mestia

up in the mountains - does contain passing reference to a toilet.

all seasons in one day 28 °C
View Mıddle East and Caucusus on sue deegan's travel map.

JOURNEY UP TO MESTIA

Arrive at the Mashrutka stop at 8.30. A reminder - Mashrutkas are Transit mini buses that go from one fixed stop to another, only leaving when they are full of people or goods.

See the van is empty so order a coffee - Turkish Coffee in Georgia is not only more available, but better than in Turkey - and you get a much bigger cup.

Go off to buy food from the market for the trip while waiting for the coffee. Although I'd like to say I'm such a relaxed traveller that I casually strolled around the market, knowing there would be some time before we leave, in actuality, I rush as quickly as possible, just incase.

About 9.30 we sit and eat breakfast and drink the coffee at the only table for miles, we have food so we are a table priority! (see previous blog)

Watch people arrive, some dodgy looking men in black and sunglasses sit in a van loking menacing. An Englsih -speaking Archeaologist from Tbilisi tells us that we have already been assigned to a "Homestay"in Mestia with Nino ( we took a card with her name on) and she is unable to arrange a cheaper place for us to stay and goes away again, leaving us a bit puzzled. A group arrives which includes an old lady, a young teenage girl, an older teenage boy and a drunk man in his 30's.

A lot of boxes and goods arrive. An older Israeli couple arrive and its looking like the bus might be going that day. We are told to get on the bus. The drunk man tries to fight the bus driver, but they are both held back by others and at 11.30 we finally leave.

We drive through small towns and villages for about an hour. The houses all have verandas and wrought iron gates, mostly peeling paint. The veranda have a variety of stairways, some plain and some round and sweeping. There are free-range pigs and cows in the road and gardens, which have vines, fruit trees, nut-growing palms and sweet corn. Eventually the road climbs upwards and we reach a beautiful milky turquoise resevoir which is fed by a fast-flowing river.

The older teenage boy can speak English and translates for us. I swop Mp3's with him for a while as he likes lots of different music. The road begins to get a lot bumpier. He says the drunk man is his neighbour and that he wants us to know that he drinks because his wife died.

We stop at a roadside cafe, overlooking the resevoir. The toilet is just a shed with a hole which drops into the strream below. A lot of people have missed the hole and its not smelling too good. We all drink and eat and everyone starts to look a lot happier. The boy returns my IPod and presents me with a flower he's just picked.

When we get back on the bus, everyone is much more talkative and friendly. The drunk man has a bottle of Vodka and a bottle of beer now, but only drinks the beer. The road carries on up and the sides get steeper - upwards and downwards, keeping the resevoir on the side.

Suddenly the bus stops and reverses to a small shrine on the roadside, overlooking the resevoir. . Everyone gets out. The shrine has shelves with glass doors with flowers and glasses in them, there is a black tombstone with two men and a car etched into it.. The old lady hangs on to the back of the shrine and starts to wail and cry uncontrollably, held by the girl. The boy stands and cries. The drunk man gets out the bottle of Vodka and starts to orate - its called toasting - he pours a large amount of Vodka on the ground, takes a gulp and passes it on. All the other men take it in turns to do the same, so elequently, if only I could have understood what they were saying! The boy and the old lady continue to cry and the rest of the women look on and cry as well, me included. A car had gone over the edge a few years before and two men had been killed, one of them the boy's father and the old lady's son. Eventually the driver goes back to the bus and the small group are left by themselves at the shrine, while we get back on the bus. Soon they come back on the bus and it pulls away. The boy casually gets out his MP3 and starts to listen to his music and everyone carries on as before.

The road goes up and up, getting bumpier and bumpier, until there's no tarmac left, though later on the road turned into a proper one briefly before getting much worse again. The mountains get higher and the resevoir turns into a fast-flowing river. The boy translates for us, they tell us that there are bears and wolves in the mountains, but no-one hears or sees them, except maybe in the winter when they are hungry. I'm quite disapointed but not really surprised. He tell us the drunk man is a good hunter and that they stay away. "He's a rich man!" the boy tells us.

After a few hours we stop again at a bridge. People get out with bottles and we're led down to fill our bottle. What a surprise when I realised it was fizzy - the best water I've ever tasted! The drunk man points to a mountain futher on and tells us that its his mountain. ""Our mountain" the boy says. The drunk man tries to pull me further down the path, but I go on back to the bus.
We carry on futher up and up, it starts to rain - something I haven't seen since Istanbul. The drunk man invites us to visit his house and says he will take us to Mestia later. We decline his offer and he gives us his name and phone number. I show him my name written I've been practising writing in the Georgian script and he takes it, saying he'll sleep with it next to his heart and I'm glad we declined his offer to go to his house. Soon they are dropped off in the rain on the side of the mountain and we get out and look at their houses, which we can just make out.

The bus goes on upwards for another hour, until I think that its not possible to go up for any longer! The rain stops and the mountains look beautiful and fresh.

At about 7 pm the bus arrives in Mestia and we get dropped off at a house. "This is Nino's" said the driver and we went in.

View from roof of Svan Tower

View from roof of Svan Tower

Posted by sue deegan 12:58 Archived in Georgia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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