Published: October 2nd 2011August 1st 2011
Valley in Svaneti
First we went to the western part of the country and the mountainous district called Svaneti.
This year we decided to go to Georgia in Caucasus for our summer vacation. Ake has been to Georgia once before. But that was fifteen years ago and then he went there in winter so he expected it to be quite a different experience to go there now. Also fifteen years ago there weren't any guidebooks on Georgia so Ake basically travelled around on random then. There were many very interesting places he didn't go to then simply because he didn't know what there was to see. We'll get back to tell more about that later on.
We first arrived in Tbilisi but we stayed there only for a day before we went to the western part of the country. There we went to a mountainous district called Svaneti. Only a few decades ago large sections of the Svaneti were very difficult to visit because the roads were in such poor conditions. If there even were roads between the villages. In many places there were only trails linking one settlement with the next.
The isolation the people of Svaneti lived in didn't make them safe from wars or other kinds of fighting. To stay safe in times
To stay safe in times of unrest the people of Svaneti built themselves fortified towers adjacent to their houses.
of unrest the people of Svaneti built themselves fortified towers adjacent to their houses. The towers had a similar function like modern bomb shelters. When there were fighting going on they could go and hide in the towers until it was over.
These towers are not much in use today. Many of them have even collapsed from lack of maintenance. The towers are unique for the hill villages in Svaneti and they are today a symbol for the entire Svaneti region.
The main destination for visitors in Svaneti is a village called Mestia. There is only one major road that leads into Svaneti and that road ends in Mestia so it is no coincidence that most tourists go there.
We didn't enjoy Mestia though. We thought it was not really a village. It felt more like a resort. We were hoping for something really authentic but instead we ended up a Disney-style version of what we were looking for. Maybe we are exaggerating a little bit. But it is true that we thought it was a bit too touristy.
Mestia is a good place for hiking. The days we were in Mestia we went on two
The towers worked like bomb shelters
The towers had a similar function like modern bomb shelters. When there were fighting going on they could hide in the towers until it was over.
easy day-hikes. The first went to a place were there in the 1980-ies were a resort. The resort was abandoned about the same time as Georgia left the Soviet Union and has since then slowly been turning into a ruin. Visiting this place made us realise that resorts aren't all bad. When they are not is use and haven't been in use for a couple of decades they can be pretty cool. But then strictly they aren't resorts anymore, are they? They are ruins and that is something totally different.
On the other trek we made we went to a glacier near the border with Russia. Actually the glacier was so close to Russia that we had to pass a border checkpoint before we were allowed to go there.
One day we decided to share a jeep with some people at the guesthouse we were staying at in Mestia and visit a neighbouring village named Ushguli. The village Ushguli is smaller that Mestia and less easy to access. Ushguli had everything we were looking for in Mestia but didn't find there. It felt much more genuine and less catering for tourists. But we can also see why the
We went on a hike to an abandoned Soviet era tourist resort.
locals wish to draw the tourists to a Disney-version of Svaneti rather than to the real deal. The roads in Ushguli were covered with horse and cow manure and in the dirt there were pigs rolling about. It was not always a pretty sight. A piece of advice to anyone planning on visiting Ushguli - leave you flip-flops at home.
We left Svaneti after a few days there. We took the same road out of Svaneti as we took going in. That road took us to a town called Zugdidi. West of Zugdidi is a district called Abkhazia. Abkhazia is a bit strange in the sense that it both is and isn't a part of Georgia. When Georgia left the Soviet Union in 1991 a civil war broke out in the country. As a result of that war two regions in Georgia, Abkhazia being one and South Ossetia being the other, declared themselves independent. Since pretty much no other country has recognised these two as independent nations they are officially still a part of Georgia. But to enter any of these districts is more like crossing a country border, a hostile country border, then to pass from one district
The remains of the resort
The resort was abandoned about the same time as Georgia left the Soviet Union and has since then slowly been turning into a ruin
to another within a country.
We didn't see any reason to visit Abkhazia itself but we wanted to visit the border crossing between Georgia and Abkhazia. We wanted to go there to see a sculpture there. The sculpture is called Non Violence
and shows a gun with a knot on the barrel. This sculpture can be seen in several places in Sweden and one copy of it is also located outside the UN headquarters in New York City. Since we have seen this sculpture in several different places over the last years we have, just for the fun of it, decided to collect all the photos we have of the various versions of it and put them in one blog entry. Follow this link
if you want to read that.
The sculpture we wanted to see is next to the border between Georgia and Abkhazia. The border is guarded by the military and they are not entirely happy to have foreigners lurking around at sensitive areas. Therefore we first went to an EU office in Zugdidi and asked for advise on how to get up to the border without getting shot. They wrote us a paper stating our
Emma enjoying the views
Emma is enjoying the views over the valley
reason for visiting the border and then instructed our taxi driver where to take us and what to say. So we took the road up to the border. We were at first stopped at a police checkpoint. But when we showed them the paper from the EU office they let us through. It did help us a little bit that we also had a photo of the sculpture with us, a photo we had found on Internet. When we showed the photo to the police officers they simple looked at it and relied "Well that sculpture is located in Georgia so you may go and have a look at it if it makes you happy".
The last place in western Georgia we went to was Batumi, a resort situated on the Black Sea coast. We found that Batumi looked pretty much like resorts do anywhere. We didn't stay there more than a day, partly because we didn't have more time and partly because we are not big fans of resorts in general. But we think that if we were the kind of people who stay in resort towns we probably would have enjoyed staying in Batumi for a week
This street was not Disney-esque
We didn't enjoy Mestia because it was too much of a resort. Well this cow did remove the Disneyland feel for a while we have to admit
Now we have reached the end of our first third of this trip and we will therefore finish this blog entry. We hope you enjoyed reading it.
There are more photos below