Published: July 23rd 2011July 23rd 2011
To Georgia: six hours …on a marshrutka (shuttle) !
At B&B in Yerevan: Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head… found my way downstairs and drank a cup, looking up I noticed I was late… skipped breakfast, walked out, saw a taxi, arrived at marshrutka (minibus) station, guy runs up yelling “Tbilisi?” - grabs my backpack and we’re off to Georgia. ET: 17:00, ahhhh.
Nevertheless, the driver’s urgency faded as we stopped in the first town at a grocery store then waited five extra minutes for the barely walking old guy to return from the can. Then, ditto the second town, old guy and all, then 20 minutes later a lunch stop… I complained, asking how many stops on this 6-hour trip? We also needed about 45 minutes at the Armenia-Georgia border.
Uneventful review of my passport and Welcome to Georgia. Georgian border facilities more upscale/techy than Armenian side as if trying to prove something.
Arrived in Tbilisi, took taxi to Hotel City, a nice mid-scale boutique place-recommended, excellent location in the old city. Relaxed in AC and waited for my daughter to arrive. Went to recommended Georgian restaurant serving the usual Caucasian fare: mayonnaise filled salads, shashlik (meat kebabs), khachapuri (cheesy bread) and lobio (sloppy red bean stuff). Pretty good quality.
Walked around the city the next day: First toward the big new Orthodox cathedral and domed Presidential administration bldg (no photo please), across glass caterpillar-like bridge, then over to the sulfur baths and a mosque. Declined sulfur bath, too hot and too much man-on-man touching. The baths are natural and are covered by interesting Star Wars-like brick domes and …well, smell like sulfur. Climbed to peak of old monastery on tricky handrail-less path to peak with a cross and a great view. The city is v picturesque with its hills and river and red tile rooftops. Some kids asked where we were from then wanted pictures with us (apparently thinking we were as close to Hollywood as they had been so far?).
Tbilisi offers a hint of surprisingly US southern style architecture. Some balconies and wrought iron railings reminiscent of New Orleans. This feeling later affirmed by the hip-roofed, wrap around porches of the “plantation” style houses in the country I saw from the train.
Back at hotel, asked desk clerk for non-Georgian cuisine suggestions, met with blank stare even though we later found about 30 touristy places down by the river. Little initiative shown by hotel clerk. Ditto the information center who had information but only scant and inaccurate information.
Next day went to mountain village of Kazbegi. Took metro to get marshrutka. Judging by the stares, we were evidently the first foreigners ever to take the Tbilisi metro.
The mountains on the road to Kazbegi, were beauty. Very high, some grassy smooth, some rugged, mostly green with either grass or trees but capped by snow. We went through a ski resort that was like a poorly maintained Swiss village, then had a blowout, luckily on a flat straight section. Everyone got out and waited while the driver struggled with the spare.
The village of Kazbegi itself was small and had little of interest. We hiked to a church, ate local vittles and ran from lari-hungry excursion drivers.
Next day back in the city, we went toward the tall mountain funicular hoping for a scenic ride. Funicular was defunct, but at daughter's insistence, I asked the guards (in broken Russian) if we could climb the maintenance stairs up. To our surprise they said, ‘sure, knock yourself out,’ or something to that effect. So we climbed the long (500 meter/65% grade) track all the way to the park at the top. Upper doors locked, so we climbed off the track and hiked through the trees on the mountainside. Great view and good exercise. Daughter always likes climbing.
Later that day, my daughter took off for the airport back to Turkey. I ate out and then went to the beyond hideous 80s Central Train Station/ugly mall for my overnight train to Batumi. Train schedule was pushed back an hour, but they did in fact have my online reservation, a bit of a relief given the difficulty of reserving. (English site still half in crazy Georgian.)
Georgia is very beautiful scenically and the people were pretty nice as well.
(overnight train to Batumi )
Thought I booked a 2-bed compartment, but got a 4-bed. Train attendants all helpful but no upgrade. Met an Ohioan guy living in Georgia (to install bio-lab of some sort) on the train with his Georgian co-workers. Once I mentioned Georgia’s beauty they invited me in for piva (beer) and snacks and a discussion of President Saakashvili. Cool guys, good time, easier sleep with alcohol seasoning. Compartment mates good: 2 fem, 1 male, minimal snoring (except by me probably).
Georgian scenery really beautiful the next morning as we approached Batumi with the Black Sea on one side and the thick lush subtropical mountains on the other.
Train station on outskirts of city adjacent to a botanical garden with a single-person chairlift running through it. Very fun.
Got to my nice hotel, Galogre Hotel, giant suit in the historic quarter. All historic area has new streets and sidewalks. New buildings with hist. architecture next to old slummy buildings added character to the city. With its palm trees and port it was like Miami Beach meets Minsk or something (Havana?).
Overall interesting combination of the old and beat up and the new and improved. The harbor is part working (for a nearby oil refinery) and part playing with its (pebble not sand) beach. Found a great Georgian restaurant near the hotel. It rained part of the time as expected in a subtropical landscape. Overall interesting.
Next, off to Turkey: see Turkey blog for more.