Published: August 25th 2010October 29th 2009
This is a story about how I fell in love with a country at first sight. I will try and write a short story about each photo. I will give numbers to photos and a short description. However, most part of that trip was not spent in Abkhazia… but in Sochi. We’ve already seen Sochi, so now my attention will be focused almost completely on the three days in Abkhazia. Let’s make four parts: part I - Arrival to Sochi, part II - two days in Abkhazia, part III - staying in Sochi, part IV - a whole-day excursion to Abkhazia.
Don’t try to find Abkhazia on Google Maps. There’s only Georgia there. Abkhazia is a partly recognized country. I again will refer you to some trustful source of factual information to read about its history, the War with Georgia, the customs & traditions, information about visas etc. I will try and give some practical information, though, while writing about my experience in the country. If you happen to be on an excursion - your guide is sure to be an indefatigable source of information.
That autumn I and two of my friends were living in St.
Petersburg; the two were looking for jobs, and I still worked as... somehow I don’t like the word freelance; I worked as a freelance translator. I made trips to Kronshtadt (I’ll make a collection of stories about St. Petersburg suburbs later), Vyborg (no story will appear, because photos are still not recovered), Velikiy Novgorod (the same; just be sure to go there if you’re in Russia), Stockholm and Helsinki (a long story will appear someday) and Kharkov (see some previous entry) during that season.
I cannot say for sure when and why I decided to go to Abkhazia. Perhaps the decision was made on the spot; perhaps not. Surely, I read an advertisement about very cheap tours to Abkahzia, so that’s was it. May be that was the gloomy and grey Petersburg’s autumn with the rains, which made me decide to go to a warm place… I read about the climate in Abkhazia, and found out that it was quite all right to go in October; I managed to get there only to the end of October; there were clouds and rain, though it was warm and one could swim in chilling water). I wonder whether Russian Black
Sea Coast or Abkhazia is popular with foreign tourists, say, from Europe.
We agreed to meet with a girl, an acquaintance of mine, in Sochi. She does not communicate with me now; may be I offended her, but I see no reason for that. Still, I will write about our experience together.
Part I. Arrival to Sochi
I came to Sochi by train. I and Olga (this time let it be the full name) were to meet at the train station. Since there was some time before her arrival, I decided to go to my favourite Villa Déjà Vu Guest House and book a room for the night. It was off season, so I had the room without any problem. After an hour I met Olga at the train station; I saw her for the second time in my life.
Our intent was to go to Krasnaya Poliana and take a ride on the mountain lift to the view point at 2200 m or something. I read about its working hours in the internet and was sure that we would be late. So we were; the mountain lift was working only at the
first two stages; and from the next day, it would be closed completely for routine maintenance. So, I failed to see the Caucasus for the second time.
We were talking about various topics... When we came to the city, it was already evening and we decided to have some champagne and snack on the seashore. We bought a bottle of champagne (I knew that area of the city pretty well already, so we wasted no time in finding where to go), some snacks and went to the seashore, and sat there until it got completely dark. It was wonderful. Though we slept on the same bed, there was no intimacy, because we’re just friends (and no more friends now, I guess). Oh, I slept that night terribly! Perhaps it was excitement because of the girl, perhaps something else. I fell asleep somewhere around sunrise...
In the morning we got up and went to sea again. Olga was to leave home at about 2 o’clock, I would see her off at the station and myself go to Abkhazia then. We sat for perhaps two hours at the seashore, drinking some alcohol - she was drinking Stella Artois
beer, I - some cocktail.
Photo 1. It was October 26th, and the water didn’t seem warm at all. However, I decided to bathe anyhow. The water was chilling cold, and I got out of water very quickly.
Photo 2. I usually don’t like to take pictures of myself. But this time Olga took some pictures of me, and I took pictures of her. It was not at all sunny; it would rain soon.
Photo 3. I was very sleepy because I didn’t manage to fall asleep almost for the whole night. So, I felt it natural that I would lie here, on the beach (as though I were sleeping). Notice the pebbles - the whole beach is pebbles, and the same in the water.
It is not a very long way from the hotel to the train station. We went there on foot. I saw Olga off and took a bus to the Russian-Abkhazian border (it lies on River Psou, the buses go to the Kazak Market). After one goes through the Kazak Market, there’s the border… No modernity here. All is old and simple, and the queue was rather long; there were
many people, many of them carrying lots of things… it was about half an hour before I passed the border. They looked at my passport, took thirty rubles (it’s the mandatory insurance for three days; look, I was first going to spend there only three days and then go back, but later I changed my mind and stayed longer, not in Abkhazia, but in Sochi)).
Part II. Abkhazia, I Love Thee!
I took the marshrutka to my accommodation - the holiday hotel Litfond, located in Pitsunda. It was not a short drive. The road is amazingly picturesque from the very beginning - it goes close to the coast. Most of the people descended at other destinations, and only two or three people, including me, descended at the Litfond. It was already afternoon, so I had my room, and was very glad to be in Abkhazia.
Photos 4, 5. This is the view on the famous Inkit Lake from my room, at the 11th floor. It is a salty lake and some old myths are connected with it (please try and find a link in the web). I found the hotel quite comfortable - and it had
the “buffet style” meals! I never tried that before.
I had about two hours or so before supper, so I went for a walk along the coast.
Photo 6. There is a cat in this picture. I noticed how many cats were wondering in the vicinity of the hotel, they were everywhere.
Photo 7. I was walking along the coast and enjoying the sea air and the sun. They say the Black Sea is very clean in the Abkhazia Region and also warmer than on the Russian coast. I was inclined to bathe again and did it.
Photo 8. A solitary tree, a pine perhaps. It reminded me of the famous Russian poet M. Lermontov and his verse about the solitary pine standing lonely … somewhere at the rock perhaps, don’t quite remember it exactly.
Photos 9, 10, 11. The sun was slowly setting while I was walking, and the sunset was simply charming!
I had my supper, everything was so tasty! After supper, since it got dark already, I went to my room and watched TV for a while; I seemed to be sleepy. During supper I also decided that
I would go on an excursion to Sukhum (the capital of Abkhazia) the next day.
Photo 12. I took the picture of this cat while waiting for the breakfast. Doesn’t it look funny?
After breakfast I paid for my excursion to Sukhum (600 RUR), and in an hour we (a group of about 10 people) were to set off in a small bus. The price included a snack. The excursion covered the Sukhum Apery, the Botanical Gardens, and the Sukhum Embankment.
Photos 13-19. First we went to the Apery. Look at the animals! They do look funny at times, but sometimes one thinks they look like little prisoners asking to free them. At the entrance to the apery, you can buy food and feed the monkeys. There are many species of them; but be careful when feeding, then can bite you! Also, don’t try to tease them and imitate their sounds, that will make them angry. Look at the monument to the monkey - as far as I remember, that is the only monkey monument in the world. The animals are quite emotional and they bark sometimes. When some of us fed them, the
animals took food from their hands very gently. Those “prison bars”…
Photos 20-23. Next was the Sukhum Botanical Gardens. A wonderful place, I should say, and the guide there was such a jolly and intelligent man! He spoke in detail about each plant, told some stories and asked us to guess this or that. He has worked in the Botanical Gardens for about 30 years! In Photo 22 you see a very old tree (350 years), one of the Gardens’ patriarchs - the Caucasian Lime Tree. I could not remember names of all trees and plants which grow there - and the guide told us a detailed story about each of them.
Photos 24-27. After the Gardens we went to the Sukhum Embankment. There is Café Brigantine. I guess the picture of the horseman is from the Soviet times. I like to see such reminders of the days past. I was only 6 or 7 when the Soviet Union collapsed. I walked along the street and wondered how pretty the girls there were, especially their dark hair. While walking, I also had a very peculiar feeling of staying in such an unusual place! You see, there was a
war between Georgia and Abkhazia in the 1990-ies; one still can see some of the destroyed buildings there. The country has no industries, it lives by tourism mostly; there are many unemployed people. And so, I was thinking of how far away from home I was, and of what a particular atmosphere there was.
Photo 28. This was intended to be a Marine Passenger Terminal. However, it has not been completed due to the war, if I’m not mistaken… On the way home we saw a convoy of military trucks (there were about 30 of them!)
Photo 29. I am not sure what this is. The guide said there were ruins of the Abkhazian Atlantis somewhere near the Embankment, so I guess this is it. They do look like ruins, don’t they? By the way, time was already approaching for us to go back to Pitsunda…
There were men playing chess and checks on the embankment. On the whole, everything looked very quiet and peaceful and the sea was so blue. A bit of paradise, Abkhazia is...
Photo 30. That evening I also walked on the coast and bathed, and made this little inscription. The waves
are going to destroy it… I had no one to dedicate this photo to, so let it be just a manifestation of my sympathy to the people I like.
Photo 31. I love watching sunset and listening to the waves beating more than anything! I could do it for hours perhaps. The beach was pebbles, as well as in Sochi. I made a smile with stones (Photo 32), that’s what my imagination was capable of…
Part III. Staying in Sochi
In the evening I asked the hotel receptionist about the means of transportation for tomorrow morning. They arranged transfer from the hotel to the train station in Adler on a small jeep for a reasonable fee, so I didn’t hesitate to express my consent to join the others. One more important thing - I knew that there were some other great attractions in Abkhazia, so I decided to go to Adler, give back my train ticket, buy an air ticket to Moscow for a later date, and thus I would try to kill two birds with one stone - I would go to Krasnaya Poliana again to look at the mountains and take a whole-day excursion
How important it is to know the details of one’s Visa card without having it with oneself! I managed to buy a ticket via internet; I would regret so much to have chosen that particular air company soon… After arranging the tickets, I went to the same Villa Déjà vu Guest House (my third stay there), and it was no problem to have a room. I was missing Olga that time; it felt quite lonely when I remembered the short time we spent together.
That very day I found an excursion “booth” (actually, a table with a person selling various excursions; there are pictures and printed information about them) and paid for a whole-day excursion to Abkhazia. It was not high season, but tomorrow there would be a whole large bus of tourists.
Photos 33-35. I had some spare time so I decided to have a walk. I went up on Medovaya Street and soon there were no houses already and it was only the forest and one could see a good panorama of Adler. I walked for about an hour and saw Zeu’s wheat trees. Sometimes there were small areas with
houses, may be those were villages or may be it was part of the city. There were many dogs and their barked very actively when they saw me, fortunately they were kind not to bite me. The area was very quiet and green; the hills were not too steep. After the walk I returned home.
I’ll return to Sochi at the end of this story. But now it’s time to write about the excursion to Abkhazia.
Part IV. A Whole-Day Excursion to Abkhazia
The excursion cost about 1000 RUR. It was a whole bus of tourists, though it was quite off-season (the end of October). Our guide told us many interesting facts about the country on our way. We were to visit many different places. In my mind there is a distorted collection of facts I remember about Abkhazia and its people, natural wonders etc, but I find it more suitable to dwell on personal feelings.
Photo 36. This is a welcoming sign after the customs post. The sky was overcast during the whole day and it also rained.
Photos 37, 38. We had a very short stop (20 minutes perhaps) in
Gagra (one of the towns) and it rained heavily during that time. We took pictures at this monument. We didn’t stay in Gagra longer, but started to another destination. My next stay in Abkhazia will begin in Gagra.
Photo 39. We made a visit to the Reserve of Relict Pitsunda’s Pine. Some trees are about 200 years old. It’s an excellent place for spiritual rest, when you breathe fresh air filled with the smell of pine needles and the sea. Oh, the sea was furious that day! Look at the waves!
Photo 40. The wind was strong that day and waves were big. I walked along the sea shore and enjoyed looking at the sea.
Photo 41. At the next stop we had an opportunity to taste some honey and it was really tasty. The road was narrowing during the way.
Photos 42-45. This is the Blue Lake (a name I found in the web, the guide called it “Lake of the Blue-Eyed Elder”), a very small one, but doesn’t it look awesome! The colour is very beautiful. The road lies along the Bzyb River and the Blue Lake is also close to that River.
Photos 46, 47. Soon the canyon becomes narrower and narrower and rocks are so getting so close that in some points it seems that there is no more road in front, but only the solid rocks. How bad a guide I am! I now have found a Russian page in the web detailing the road to Ritsa Lake, and when I read it I understand that I’m unable to speak of all those facts and give so many details (information of that kind has to be very precise)… Anyhow, Abkhazia is not a place to learn by reading articles, but by visiting it. When you go there, the guide will tell you the names of each river, canyon, etc.
Now at height 800 m there is an extremely narrow and dangerous section of the road. It is a short strip of road lying on a piece of rock, like a ledge or something, and when you look outside the bus window, you see now road, but only trees 800 m below you… This is called the “Chabgarsky Karniz” (Chabgarsky Ledge Rock). People usually scream when driving on that area. And so… soon after the Ledge Rock there is
the Ritsa Lake; it’s a charm! However, I saw it in a gloomy mood, so to say, because there were clouds embracing the hills and the mountains could hardly be seen.
Photos 48-52. The Ritsa Lake. I wish I saw it on a sunny day… Return there next summer perhaps. I managed to zoom in the mountains through a little opening in the clouds. We stayed there for an hour or so, had a bite and I had a quiet walk along the lake. Stalin’s and Brezhnev’s (I hope you know who they were, if not - Google it) dachas (residences) are located in its roundabouts; I know that visitors are not allowed to some of them. For me personally, a combination of a lake and high mountains near it is an explosive mixture; I like it immensely. A bit of paradise, remember?..
Photos 53-57. The Novo-Afonsky Monastery. An admirable one, no doubt. The stone path, the guide told us, was built like that: each sinner was to bring a stone for building the path and his/her sins would be absolved… So there’s the path.
Members of our group went inside; me too, but I don’t
like very much to be inside religious constructions, just because I fell uneasy there since I don’t say any prayers and am absolutely neutral about God (gods?..) and the religions. You won’t hear a word from me on religious matters. Then there was a wine shop where the group went to taste and buy wines; I did not.
Photos 58-65. Not a long way from the Novo-Afonsky Monastery there’s the Novo-Afonskaya Cave. I had an emotional burst there; there cave is so majestic! The pleasure I got there I can compare only to the Stockholm Vasa Museum. It was my second time in the cave (the first one was when I was a fourth-grade student at the institute). The experience of walking in a cave can be compared, I suppose, to very few things. The guide took us through 5 or 6 halls of the cave and each of them was interesting and lovely in its own way. Sometimes I got afraid there because, you know, it can be dangerous to stay under the ground… This is one of the best places I ever been to. So you have one more reason to go to Abkhazia, in addition
to Ritsa and Novo-Afonsky Monastery. By the way, I managed to see only some of its attractions, but there are much more, of course!
The Last Day
When back in Sochi, it was already 9 o’clock in the evening. I would go to Krasnaya Poliana the next day and see the mountains.
Photo 66 shows what I saw. It was autumn, so there was no sun and only the snow and clouds could be seen at the view point at 2200 meters or so. I was very disappointed, however, that served me right, because next time I’ll not go there during the off season.
Photo 67 is a statue representing two characters from A.S. Pushkin’s poem Ruslan and Ludmila, the wise cat and the mermaid. There’s a monument to the poet himself near.
Photo 68. The flight was detained for 24 hours only, what a ‘pleasant’ surprise that was! First they said it was detained for only two or three hours, and then more, and more… Finally they took the rest of us who didn’t manage to get new tickets to a hotel, and the plane took off only the next day. They
said they had technical problems with the plane; I seem not to believe that.
The highway in Abkhazia is serpentine, however, drivers seem not to care at all about the curves and outdistancing other cars; that’s dangerous! There are often cows and other animals seen lying on the road or near it (they are not dead, of course, merely having a peaceful rest after the laborious eating of grass and mooing). I don’t remember quality of the roads there, but plenty of jeeps I did see - so a jeep is quite convenient there, I suppose. The nature is flourishing there; on the road to Litfond there are about 700 or so meters of plane tree alleys. Everything seems very quiet and peaceful in the country, but one has to know its history. There is not much flat land (Pitsunda is the greatest strip of flat land). Prices are not high, and there are different types of accommodation there. People are said to be hospitable. There is a railroad connecting Adler and Sukhum, but last time it was not working, because Sochi was building something there for the Olympic Games. There might be also ship connections between Adler
Well, that’s quite all I remember of my short, but most emotional and eventful stay in that small bit of paradise - the Republic of Abkhazia.
There are more photos below