Georgia: step one, Tbilisi

I took a van from Yeravan with destination to Tbilisi capital of Georgia and also to my friend’s house, Elene. I met her back in India and since I was passing by Iran, this was the perfect chance to see her again!

The journey was longer than expected, however I never had an easier border. It took literally less than 10 minutes and no money at all. It could not have been easier. Once I got to Elene’s house, I was quickly offered all kind of spoiled treatments. She went beyond offering me all kind of stuff and letting me rest until she was getting back to work and finishing off to meet up later at city centre and show me around. She introduced me to the local food and took me around and we had the chance to catch up with all things that had been going on since the last time we saw each other, so many months ago.

The next day I was left on my own to explore the city but I preferred to sleep and take it easy and I didn’t get up to much. Armenia had been to intense and now I needed a break. But I still had time to have a stroll around and visit the main Cathedral in the city, that happened to be huge and took me longer than expected. Therefore, after that, all I did was to meet Elene for more Georgian food and sights to a different part of the city.

For my next day, it was about time to employ my time actively and I went to explore the heights of the city and hike up a bit through the botanical gardens, including a fortress and a church on top of other hill that turned out to be closed but allowed me to ring a bell outside it without hesitation, as there was nobody around. I got to cover less than expected as I improvised all the time and visited places that were on my way but not in the initial rough itinerary I had in mind. So, by the time Elene finished work, I met her to get more delicious food and we went for a drink afterwards.

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Some church I visited on the way

The days have been busy and I had been trying to catch up with my sleep, while getting things ready for my next steps in my journey, visiting the city and hanging out with Elene. Everything was almost sorted and it was time to get truly active and get to see stuff out of the city. So, for my first stop, I would try Mtskheta, which was close by. Unfortunately, the weather had suffered a dramatic change and from the glorious 40 degrees we were having we changed to grey skies and colder temperatures. But I was decided and actually I wanted to hike around.

So, I went to the marshutka station to get one to my destination and after a while asking around and avoiding the taxi offers, I ended up in one where I met two Portuguese girls. They were really nice and I started to chat and tell them half of the story of my life in my usual voice tone. The marshutka was full with local people that started staring at me. It didn’t bother me at all, nothing new. But I was not getting the signals until someone made a shh noise and then one of my new friends told me they were asking me to shut up. Upssss.

I kept my mouth shut for the sake of peace in the marshutka and once there, I was ready to hike. The weather was not so good and these girls were in a rush, so they accepted a taxi offer. Considering I was with two more people, I bargained their taxi and joined to have a comfortable ride to the top and check a beautiful monastery.

We got back to our taxi and on the way back, the man decided to make a stop to get a plastic bottles filled with wine and offer us some. He was keeping a bottle of wine in his boot! I guess for emergency purposes, like this case! Once at the main town, we checked the main cathedral over there and got something to eat. I was having fun with them and I was especially delighted by the fact they thought I was 21 years old. I was thinking of going hiking somewhere else around the area by myself when it started raining. So it was clear that I had to make my way back home.

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Taxi driver getting wine for eveyone!

There, Elene’s dad was already home and he offered me some wine he make himself and we also had lunch together. I had all the evening for myself to relax, which was nice and Elene came back from work later on. That night, her mum came back from Batumi, where she had been on holidays with her friends. She immediately took control of the kitchen and ensured everyone was having good food. She was gas, even though her English was limited there was nothing that was stopping her from chatting away. A really fun woman. She served dinner in a simple way (I was backpacker and I didn’t need anything fancy. She got it right) and then even made cake for the occasion. Unfortunately, the cake was burnt a little bit. Then, she offered me some Georgian sweet that she had left from some other occasion and when I had a look to it I could see a worm inside saying hello to me. I laughed, she laughed and everybody laugh when they saw it. It was no dessert day.

 

I had planned my own stuff for next day and I was very excited with the idea of arriving to Vardzia, even though I had been advised how far it was. The plan initially had been to get there from Kutaisi or to make my way to Kutaisi from there, spending one night around. But the plans had been continuously changing, especially due to the weather conditions and I decided on a day trip to this wonderful thing I was so interested in seeing. So I had to wake up really really ealy to make sure I could take a marshutka early enough, as early as possible. The first surprise came in early as well. There was no direct marshutka to Vardzia until 10am. That was more than 2 hours I would have to wait and also, too late! But I managed to find a different way to do things and I got a marshutka leaving in a few minutes that would drop me in a town in between where I could take another one to my destination. So I got to Akhaktsikhe after a few hours and also after waiting for some time, I got to Vardzia. The driver probably read my intentions and adviced me, in body language, that the last van leaving Vardzia would be at 3pm and that meant that I would have to make it back in one hour and 15 minutes if I wanted to take it. That was so short!!! So I went to the ticket office, got my ticket and run all the way uphill to gain some time to check the awesome place I had before my eyes: A complex of caves excavated in a mountain looking at the river. Also, a monastery and some tunnels around that seemed to be connecting places. And I had to do it under the rain because it just started raining right when I arrived to the first caves. There was no time for being under cover.

After my rushed visit, I managed to get back to the marshutka and then I was driven back to the nearby town where I linked vans previously. I was hungry and sick of seating in these funny minivans and their crazy driving, so I decided to ignore all people that was looking for people going to Kutaisi, Batumi and Tbili and got on my way to look for food and also to some nearby castle that was in this town. And that was a mistake, because when I came back 30 minutes later, I found the marshutka station completely empty. And I started panicking and getting worried about how I would be able to get back to Tbilisi. I talked to a few people around and the same guy that had given me the wrong time for the last marshutka that morning, put me in a van going to some other town which name was completely unknown to me. He ensured me that I would be able to get something going to Tbilisi over there and it was my only chance and the only way to get closer to Tbilisi, so I gladly accepted and thought that the closer I could get, the easier it would be to hitchike if needed to be.

After a couple of hours we arrived to the agreed town and the very driver took care to transfer me to another marshutka that actually took me to Tbilisi. Happy days! Really late and tired as ever after so many hours of transport I got back to Elene’s place to enjoy dinner with them and relax.

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Vardzia, it was worth all the marshutkas and all the trouble

On Saturday, Elene was off and we had changed our plans several times (maybe around 5 times) due to weather conditions. I didn’t want to get stressed and also I wanted her to enjoy her weekend, so we didn’t set up any alarm and went with the flow. Once we woke up, had breakfast and got ready for the day, we made our way to a different station than the one I had been using the previous days and, as a marshutka was not available by that time, we took a shared taxi to the region of Kakheti. From the main town, a marshutka would take us to some incredible church and once back, another martshutka would take us to a winery. It was a bit off the route and we had to walk and also hitchhike but soon enough we were there to find an interesting wedding going on.

The dresses, the manners, everything was extremely interesting and also, funny. It wasn’t a typical Georgian weeding. Element used her Russian skills to ask them and we found out that they were Georgian although from a village quite close to Azerbaijan and that’s why everything was like that. We joked about taking selfies with the people and with the just married couple, pure Indian style and she asked me to take a pic with them but I felt too embarrassed to do that….until we had someone asking us to take a picture with the couple to which we couldn’t refuse.

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We got a pic with the bride and the groom. People around them insisted on it and we couldn’t resist, obviously!

After that we went into the winery to get a tour and taste some wine. I got super excited with the blankets we were provided for the cold of the cellar and then, felt like am alcoholic because I was the only one drinking. Once more.

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My favourite part is when we were given blankets to visit the cellars

For the way back, we had it a bit difficult and he had to hitchhike or find a taxi somewhere. We went with the first and obvious choice and we stopped a lovely duo of men that seemed super nice. They were indeed and I had to laugh a lot as well when they asked me about Spaon, about how rich Spain is and especially when they asked me to change to the good religion, the orthodox, because Catholics were allowing gay marriage…

They dropped us past the village where they were going and next to a church and there, after having a look to the church and renovating our karma, that has been bad probably because we had been making fun of old times in India and all the marriage proposals we got, we kept our way. We got to stop a couple in a fancy Mercedes. They hesitated about taking us or not, but they finally did. They happened to be an engaged couple in search of a place for their ceremony. And although they were going to Tbilisi after checking the last church exactly in the town where we were heading, Elene gathered that they were quite embarrassed by the situation because they were not married yet but together (very religious couple in a very religious country) and we decided to look for a place to get dinner in the town and get back to Tbilisi on our own. We took a shared taxi with the usual crazy driver and there was her mum home, waiting for us. We all were very disappointed that we couldn’t get on a tour to some cool canyon because it had been raining so much in that area that it was flooded. So, for the next day, we had our plan changed again!

Next day we didn’t wake up really early either. But Elene and I made it to Kazbegi, a mountainous region in the North of Georgia. We hiked a mountain up to get to a beautiful church, snake encounter included in the hike. It was really and although very cloudy, the clouds allow me to distinguish some snow tops in very high majestic mountains. We had a really fun day and I stayed in the village for the night while Elene went back to Tbilisi to work the following day. I spent the evening under a duvet, seeking refuge from the cold.

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At the top of the monastery and mountains after the hike

Next day I should have woken up earlier. But it was my last day on my own and some extra time in bed doesn’t hurt anybody.  I had planned a huge hike up the mountains until a glacier I knew I wouldn’t be getting to. I woke up late, I had a time constraint by the last marshutka going to Tbilisi and also I had been in poor shape. I did make it to the viewpoint and it was rewarding. I had 10 minutes of semi-decent views before it was totally cloudy and there was no way to see anything. Just when most people arrived to the spot. So I spent some time chatting away with people and then decided to make my way back just to ensure me I had enough time to catch the last ride. And just when I finished hike and I was filling my empty bottle of water, I saw Jeroen, Belgium guy I was hanging out with in Armenia, sitting down and having food and drink with a friend of his. I knew he was going to be around but I never expected to meet him over there. So, I went therrx, said hello, shared a glass of wine with them while we were catching up on Armenian gossip and said goodbye again!

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On the way to the glacier and past the monastery of the previous day

I spent a fantastic day hiking, in the nature and alone with some physical a activity to entertain me and my head. Just exactly was I was in need. I went back to Tbilisi bargaining a shared taxi like a pro and getting it for the same price than a marshukta and the taxi driver kindly left me in my area instead of the station because “I was no tourist”. There, I enjoyed the last night in company of this lovely and fun family that hosted me and treated me like a queen and I said goodbye to them sadly. Who knows where I am seeing them again, but nothing would make me happier than a visit to Europe where I can pay off the favour.

In the mean time, I keep going with me journey, taking direction to the beach and expecting to enjoy a bit of the coast in a weather that seems to be improving, as I got my face completely burnt in the hike. Just when I thought I was over getting my skin burnt.

So, next morning, really really early, I am taking a marshukta once more to get to the coast where I am meeting some special person I have met travelling as well. It seems that it is all about old encounters now!

 

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