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Georgia

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

The border crossing between Turkey and Georgia is a bit overwhelming. For about 5 kilometers on the road from the border crossing the one lane is filled with huge trucks parked along the way trying to cross the border. Fortunately the lane for cars was fairly clear but without any instructions what to do. We arrived on the Turkish side and it was very busy with vehicles and people coming from every direction. We saw a sign indicating cars and followed it. A Turkish custom police told us to move and we parked behind some cars that were parked, after a while he came shouting at us to move. We drove to the exit and the process from there was fairly straight forward. We were checked out and drove to the Georgian side where we gave our passports and papers and was checked through very quickly. We do not need a visa and can stay in Georgia for 365 days, what a bargain.

The road to Batumi was my first taste of the infamous driving of the Georgians, they overtook me on the most impossible places and they were all driving very fast. I realised that i had to be very vigilant and drive very very careful. We arrived in Batumi in one piece and had to persevere the city traffic that did not seem to have any rules, seemed that big counts and it's every car for himself. You see very few cars without at least a couple of bumps and scratches. Batumi also had the most Toyota Prius cars that i have ever seen and every second car was a taxi. There were no camping in Batumi so we found a centrally located self catering apartment and managed to get there and found a parking, body and soul intact.

Butami is a strange and diverse city filled with old dilapidated buildings next modern state of the art buidings. We spent 2 days just getting a feel for the country and taking in the sights around town. The prominade is lined with souvenir shops, fairgrounds and 4 seater scooter rentals. These scooters are very popular and zoom past you every few seconds. We read about the dolphinarium and booked a ticket to see the show, which was really amazing for the twins and for us.

Before we left the morning i went to get a sim card for data, it was very easy and i got 20gig mobile data for less than Euro 10.

We found an eco camp located in the mountains just outside Batumi and it looked like the perfect place to get away from the city. I called the owner and asked if i could get to the campsite with my camper, he said no problem. We got out of the city and followed a winding road up the mountain that became narrower as we got higher. When we were 2km from the campsite the tar road became a dirt road full of potholes, we stuggled on until the camper's tires started spinning on the loose gravel. I called the campsite but got no answer. I walked about 500 meters up the hill and realised we wil never make it and decided to turn around and find some other accommodation. It was the first time in our entire journey that we could not reach a place but in this case i doubt if a 4x4 would have made it. We drove all the way back to Batumi and headed north along the coast to a campsite that was located in the Black sea in the resort town of Ureki. The drive was nerve-racking with cars overtaking you at the most impossible places and with cars coming from the front. I kept my speed at 80km/h and at times it looked like a crash in frint of me was inevitable but miraculously there were no accidents. We arrived in Ureki, there were hundreds of small guesthouses along the road behind the beach and 80% or the cars had Rusian registration numbers. We followed the GPS to the campsite, which turned out to be an overnight parking with no electricity. We saw a sign saying camping in a small sidestreet and followed it, there was a big campsite with electric connections and large pine trees. We had a BBQ and a nice swim the next morning.

We had arranged to.meet a friend in Tblisi by the weekend so we headed east towards Kutaisi. We arrived in this beatiful old city and got our first introduction to the amazing Georgian cuisine. We ordered four different meals and each were finger licking good and very affordable. We had a walk through town and found some beautiful old buildings and monuments dating back to the communist era. We found a campsite at a restaurant a couple of km from town. There were 2 other campers from Gemany. Maia and Gerd were both retired teachers and were on a monthlong journey from Germany. Barbara and Fritz were busy with a Georgian travel guide for campers and it was their 3rd visit to Georgia. There was a wedding at a venue 50 metres from our campsite and the music was very loud, we also had a fireworks display. Gerd invited us for a drink and served us Chacha, the local moonshine. They drink it with the local lemonade which is a sparling pear flavoured drink. It was actually very nice and we had a great chat. Gerd and Maia had very interesting travel stories, they lived for s year in one of the most remote villages of Alaska. Gerd also drove trough Africa in the 70's with a VW beetle. We finished the Chacha and the next morning i could feel the aftermath of the 40 plus percent alcohol.

We left Kutaisi and headed towards Khashuri, fortunately most of the road was a two lane highway so i only had to contend with cars heading the same direction as us. We arrived in Khashuri and headed to our accommodation, what we thought would be a campsite turned out to be a hostel in the middle of town and the camper was too big to enter the property. The owner said we could park on the pavement and use their electricity for the night. We opted to stay in the house and experience a bit of hostel life. The owners, Tamara from Georgia, who is a renewable energy consultant and Christoph from Germany who is a journalist lived for a year in South Africa and Zimbabwe and it was very interesting to get their view on South Africa and the challenges they faced in order to get permission to stay and work in South Africa. They could not get permission and had to return back to Georgia although they would love to go back to South Africa and work there.

Our next stop was in the historical city of Mtskheta. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been inhabited since before 1,000 BC and was once the capital of the early Kingdom of Iberia, today’s Eastern Georgia about 20 km from Tbilisi, at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. Of all the sites in and around town the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral dating back to the XI century is the modt amazing site to see. It has served as the religious center of the country for hundreds of years. The complex includes the church, a gate, a bell tower, castles, and clerical residences. It is said that the mantles of Christ and of the Prophet Elijah are both preserved in the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral as well as a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. The tombs of Tbilisi's founder, King Vakhtang Gorgasali is also inside the building. The cathedral is included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The mantle and cross was very intriguing to Ben and he had a thousand questions about it. At one point he asked me to find the head priest and ask him where the mantle and piece of the cross was. We found a campsite on google and tried to call but got no answer so we drove there, again it was a complete disaster, the site was located on the outskirts of town next to a dam and there were a couple of fishermen trying to catch someting and no facilities. So we stated looking for something in town and found a hotel 50m from the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. We found a delightful restaurant overlooking the cathedral and had aguably the best meal of our journey so far.

The drive to Tbilisi the next morning was a breeze and i actualky found the driving in Tbilisi much easier than in Batumi. We had booked an apartment in the old town close to Freedom square and was in walking distance to all the sites in the old town. The appartment was on the 3rd floor and they were busy restoring the building, so we had to make our way through the building rubble to get to our appartment. At the entrance was also a fruit and vegs seller that we got to know over the next 4 days. I immediately liked Tbilisi, many of the old buildings were being restored and there were about 40 little restaurants around were we lived. The city was also alive and you could feel the buzz walking around town.

We woke the first morning waiting for Deono to arrive to find all the roads have been blocked off by the police, i asked a policeman what was going on and he told me that they were going to film a scene for Fast and Furious 9 around yhe old city and everything was closed off for the day. Ben loved all the trucks and cars and o had to show him what the Fast and Furious movies were all about. I called Deano to hear if he had arrived only to hear that he had missed his connecting flight from Ankara and that he returned back to Istanbul. We were very sad he could not make it, especially the twins which had planned a surprise birthday party for him. We spent the day walking around the old city and watching the movie crew shooting scenes for the movie. At one point all the cars were supposed to chase around the circle where St George's statue is and as they set off the lead car crashed into anothet car and they had to make on the spot repairs in order to continue shooting.

On one on the hills overlooking the city was a huge themepark with a big Ferris wheel that you could reach by a funecular that went up over 500 meters. We took the twins and they had a ball on all the rides and a visit to the dinopark again. Ben's favourite ride was the bumper cars and Ella enjoyed the mini rollercoaster.

I saw on Facebook that Jolene, a friend from highschool was also in Tbilisi and arranged to catch up with her for dinner after our day out in the themepark. It was great to see her and catch up on all the stories from our old school mates.

The next day we headed to the Kakheti region and stayed inTelavi which is the capitol of the wine region in Georgia. Before i came here i was unaware of the amazing wines and wine culture that was here. Georgia is the oldest wine region in the world. Archaeological excavations have uncovered that vine was first cultivated in at least 6000-8000 BC on the territory of Georgia. From 4000 BC ancient Georgians were burying clay vessels (Qvevri) in which wine was stored and fermented. Qvevris come in every shape and size and this tradition of wine-making is still present in Georgia, the wines stay in contact with their skins, stalks and pips for months and further ferment in huge clay amphorae (qvevri) buried in the ground.

The territory and climate of Georgia are perfect for wine-production, as there are no extreme weather conditions. There are over 400 varieties of vine in Georgia, yet just 38 of them are grown for commercial purposes.

My faviurite wine is the dry red Saperavi and it is made from the grape with the same name. The best white is Rkatsiteli it has an amber colour due to the process of fermenting it with skin, stalks and pips. I tastes much lighter than it looks. We arraged for a taxi to take us to a couple of wineries and had and did a couple of wine tastings and a tour of one of the biggest wineries in Georgia that was built in a tunnel to keep everything cool. The next day we headed north west to Tianeti on our way to the mountains in the north. We found a place in the countryside that had cottages and a big yard so the twins could run around, play in the sandpit, kick ball and we could just do nothing for a couple of days. There was also a television and because Georgia was playing in the Rugby world cup all matches were broadcast live. South Africa was to play New Zealand on the Saturday and i would be able to watch the match live. After 15 minutes of the game there was a power failure and our host told us that the whole region was affected and that the problem wss big, so much for the rugby, and we lost. Later in the afternoon we headed to the closest town that was about 10km ftom where we stayed to have dinner at a restaurant. On our way we saw a tiny black creature crossing the road. Isabeau told me to stop and there was a pitch black kitten barely able to walk trying to cross the road. We picked it up and took her with us. The twins were ecstatic and wanted to know if we can keep the little kitten. We gave her some milk at the restaurant but she was too weak to drink. We took her home and when we got there, still no power. We managed to get the kitten to drink some milk and water and a bit of food. The night was freezing cold and as we did not have electricity we could not turn on the heater we saw that it was zero degrees during the night. I put the kitten in a crate with some old curtains that we took down from the camper to keep her warm. I checked up on here a couple of time during the night and she was ok. We spoke to Leah, the owner, next day and she said would find a home for little kitten, which by now had a couple of nabyrsthe

My faviurite wine is the dry red Saperavi and it is made from the grape with the same name. The best white is Rkatsiteli and jas an amber colour due to the process of fermenting it with skin, stalks and pips. I tastes much lighter than it looks. We arraged for a taxi to take us to a couple of wineries and had and did a couple of wine tastings and a tour of one of the biggest wineries in Georgia that was built in a tunnel to keep everything cool. The next day we headed north west to Tianeti on our way to the mountains in the north. We found a place in the countryside that had cottages and a big yard so the twins could run around, play in the sandpit, kick ball and we could just do nothing for a couple of days. There was also a television and because Georgia was playing in the Rugby world cup all matches were broadcast live. South Africa was to play New Zealand on the Saturday and i would be able to watch the match live. After 15 minutes of the game there was a power failure and our host told us that the whole region was affected and that the problem wss big, so much for the rugby, and we lost. Later in the afternoon we headed to the closest town that was about 10km ftom where we stayed to have dinner at a restaurant. On our way we saw a tiny black creature crossing the road. Isabeau told me to stop and there was a pitch black kitten barely able to walk trying to cross the road. We picked it up and took her with us. The twins were ecstatic and wanted to know if we can keep the little kitten. We gave her some milk at the restaurant but she was too weak to drink. We took her home and when we got there, still no power. We managed to get the kitten to drink some milk and water and a bit of food. The night was freezing cold and as we did not have electricity we could not turn on the heater we saw that it was zero degrees during the night. I put the kitten in a crate with some old curtains that we took down from the camper to keep her warm. I checked up on here a couple of time during the night and she was ok. We spoke to Leah, the owner, the next day and she said would find a home for little kitten, which the twins had by now given him/her several names.

We left the peace and quiet of Tianeti and headed up north towards Stepantsminde. The road, called a military road was built in the late 19th century initially to transport armies and military hardware from Vladikavkaz, in Russia, at its northern end to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, in the south, the highway is more romantic than its name suggests. It has inspired the passion and the pens of some of Russia’s greatest writers. The wild Caucasian highlands through which it runs feature in the works of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Gorky. “A Hero of Our Time” by Lermontov starts: “I was travelling along the military road back from Tiflis ,the old name for Tbilisi”. The 1914 edition of Baedeker’s guide described it as “one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world”. And it is spectacular as you wind your way up north. We stayed over in Gudauri, one of two ski resorts in Georgia. The place was dotted with hotels and appartment e

that cater for tourists. There were a lot of new developments in progress to cater for the growing number of visitors from mainly Russia that come here to ski.

We arrived in Stepantsminda and the snow covered peak of mount Kazbeg that is over 5000 meters high towers over the town. We spent 2 wonderful day here hoping we would wake up one morning and the town covered in snow, but unfortunately is was not to be. The main attraction apart from the mountain and little shops and restaurants scattered all over town is the Gergeti Trinty church dating back to the 14th century and located on a hill below mt Kazbeg at 2170 meters. At the bottom of the hill is a parking with lots of 4x4 SUV's doing a roaring business by taking people up the hill to see the church at a cost of between 15 and 20 Euro per person. We decided to go up with the camper. The road to the top is a winding afair climbing more than 400m in 6kms, often having to stop on the narrow road to let these 4x4's zip past you. It was however worth it, the views from the top and the church itself was amazing. After 2 days in in the beautiful mountains we heade back towards Tbilisi along the military highway with stunning rust and red autumn colors starting to appear among the lush green forests. We decided to stay over in Gudauri again and from there to lake Bazaleti close to Dusheti. We stopped in Dusheti where i opened a Georgian bank account within an hour with just my passport. We booked a room online at lake Bazaleti but when we arrived the owner could not find the booking and got very upset with us. I showed him the confirmation but still he said i should pay 50% more if i wanted the room, i refused and after a while he said take the room and was very rude, when i asked him about breakfast he nearly had a heart attack. The place was very nice but we kept out of the owners way.

The next morning we went to the outskirts of Tbilisi where we saw one of the few malls in Georgia and spent the day birthday shopping. We again stayed over in the beautiful town of Mtskheta and treated ourselves to a lovely dinner at our favourite restaurant overlooking the church. We headed south through the grey and flat countryside towards Borjomi where it again became mountainous and green. Borjomi was a bit of a disapointment for us we were told that it was a beautiful city but found it a bit neglegted. While looking for accommodation we parked illegally and got a 10 Lari traffic fine our first fine of our entire trip. We stayed at the delightful youth hostel in the river and had a great dinner at a restaurant that packed with locals.

The plan was to cross into Turkey from Borjomi and to drive all the way to Kars. We set off late and none of us were in a mood for a long drive. We stopped in Akhaltsike, the last big town before the Turkish border and decided to stay there for the night. The town was beautiful with a big fortress overlooking the town and a big mosque with a golden dome in the middle of the fortress. We had our last Khatchapuri and Khinkali that evening and slept under the walls of the castle.

After breakfast Isabeau wanted to buy some small prints of saints from the local monastery, while driving there we got pulled of by cops saying she did not wear her seatbelt, it did not help to argue and we got our second fine in so many days, this time 40 lari nearly Euro 15. We headed to the border and with a sadness in our hearts we said goodbye to beautiful friendly Georgia. It is a country that creeps in your heart and the people are always friendly and helpful from the weird welcome in Batumi to the beautiful mountains in the north and the wine region in the east to the historical town of Mtskheta and the monestries scatterd all over it is country you have to visit. A slogan we saw at one place sums it up perfectly "There are actually 2 laws of physics over which you have no control, gravity and falling in love with Georgia.❤️🇬🇪

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