KazbegiDay 122 Thursday 19th May 2016 – Tbilisi to Telavi
Kazbegi Monastery with mountains
Off to see the Georgian countryside today so packed up and asked at reception about getting a taxi to the bus station, we were told that the bus to Telavi stopped up on the main street which is great. We actually think she meant that the bus to go to the bus station that has the buses to Telavi stops on the main street and some words were missed out, plus standing on the footpath looking at the buses we could not tell where they were going as the signs were in Georgian script, wish we knew the number we needed. After a few minutes we grabbed a taxi and after a short drive to the bus station arrived, and were pointed in the direction of the correct bus. Unfortunately there are only vans that go to Telavi but lucky we were the first on board and got good seats and there we sat waiting. After about half an hour we were still the only people and started to worry we would be here all day waiting for it to fill up. The door finally slammed
The moon and time
close and we were off just the two of us. We know that it is about 1.45 hours to Telavi direct but this must be if it is a full van, if not it is the milk run the long way round picking up and dropping off constantly. The scenery is beautiful so it kept us entertained for the 3 hour trip while the driver tore down the road slamming the brakes on if he saw someone signal and then have to reverse about 100 metres as he could not stop in time – shoddy brakes.
Dropped in town and quickly realised that no one knew the name of our hotel in English “Hotel Sweet Home” and soon had about 6 taxi drivers around trying decipher but after a phone call it was sorted with all of them saying “OH” and nodding their heads as if they knew that. We are glad we got the taxi as it was a steep climb up the hill to the hotel and then up a rough road. We checked in then organised a tour for tomorrow to see the local area. Decided to go for a walk and have a
Kazbek Mountain 5047m
snack at a nearby café only to befriend a grumpy old female dog with a gammy leg and her new competition a cute puppy who she tried to shoo away with teeth bared and having ago at him. The puppy ran over to us and fell asleep at Scott’s foot while she settled on the grass outside the café, well the sucker I am I brought some food for them both from a nearby shop.
Later in the evening went in search for dinner and shared a pizza which had a lovely design on top done with mayonnaise, it was revolting and I spent my time trying to scrape it off. The only downside so far is the food in Georgia is not to my taste, it is very heavy and loaded with cheese or bland but this is probably to do with the touristy areas. Day 123 Friday 20th May 2016 – Telavi
Breakfast consisted of great dumplings, fresh bread, cheeses, jams and cream a really good spread. After we started our drive with our driver who only spoke Russian and the lady from reception as our guide,
Sunset from our hotel
she had studied history at uni and spoke English. This area is full of churches and monasteries so that is what we are seeing. In the 6th
century 13 Syrian fathers came to Georgia from Mesopotamia to strengthen Christianity. A short drive from town is Ikalto Monastery which was founded by Zenon one of these thirteen although the existing building date from the 8th
century onwards. The other reason it is famous is because of the academy built here where it is believed the Georgian National poet Shota Rustaveli studied, you see statues or references to him everywhere. The academy is in ruins after the attack by the Persians in 1616. While there, a mass was happening and we could hear the singing as we walked through the gardens. To enter the churches if you a woman you need a scarf and to wear a skirt both are provided at the front if you require them and men can’t enter with shorts so also have to put a skirt on(Hmmm). During the Soviet years the frescoes were painted over in white, this has now been removed but the frescoes here are destroyed.
The next stop was Alaverdi
Qvevri - Wine fermentation pots at Ikalto
Cathedral built in the 11th
century whose dome is 50m high and remained the tallest in Georgia till the new Tsminda Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi was consecrated in 2004. Some of the frescoes in here have fared better and it looks as if further restoration is taking place. In all these places the monks made wine and either crushed the grapes by foot in timber or stone troughs and the juice poured into qvevri which are large clay pots buried in the ground and fermented for 6 months when the wine is removed and bottled (now in plastic bottles sold at roadside stalls). The remaining residue is distilled to make chacha a clear grappa/vodka spirit which is also now sold in plastic bottles and the guide advised us to be careful about buying from the roadside.
We passed Gremi Monastery and had a quick photo stop and headed onto Nekresi Monastery where we had to park 1.5km from the Monastery and a bus takes you the rest of the way up for 1.5 lari each but will not leave until there is 10 people or you pay 15 lari for the bus. Of course there was only
Caucasus Mountains from Telavi
3 of us there so we brought up all the tickets but were lucky as we were about to go another group turned up so got our money back. Once at the top we were told we only had 30 minutes, you could walk up but not sure how you would be welcomed as we did not find the place very friendly. Churches have been here since the 4th
century, but in the 6th
century Abibos another of the 13 Syrian Fathers established a tiny church which is still here but having been reconstructed over the years. The small Church of the Assumption from 6th
century is beautiful and the frescoes inside dating from the 17th
century although damaged can still be made out.
On the way back into town we stopped to look at an 800 year old Plane tree before being down back at the hotel. We have decided to have dinner at the hotel tonight as the offerings in town are not great and this turned out to be a great decision. When told what was on offer in the morning we thought we would choose one or two from the selection,
Church at Nekresi Monastery
how wrong were we. It started with a super fresh salad followed by hot vine leaves stuffed with spiced mince, then khachapuri (bread boat filled with cheese), then chicken cooked in a garlic butter sauce with a large basket of hot fresh bread on the side. The cook is amazing all the food was so good that we finished everything and got to sample the local wine, after dinner the cook offered us chacha the local fire water which true to its description burnt on the way down. We have both been complaining about the food in Georgia and then we get this fantastic feast. Day 124 Saturday 21st May 20– Telavi
Breakfast today included bread, cheeses, jam and cream and also nice scrambled eggs with fresh herbs, chilli, tomato and of course cheese. While we were sitting gorging ourselves the cook asked Scott if we would like a shot of Chacha which he quickly declined, the wine at breakfast the other morning was a novelty but chacha was a bridge too far. As we waddled back passed reception they asked if we would like dinner at the
Walls of the church at the Ananuri Fort
hotel again tonight to which we both answered “yes” without hesitation, may need to undo the top button of our trousers soon.
Walked around the town today it is only small but pretty, unfortunately Batonistsikhe Castle is closed for renovations so we could only walk around the outside walls. Inside the walls of the castle is a collection of museums but all are now off limits due to a large renovation of the entire site. There is not much else to see but it was good to build up an appetite for dinner. The whole hotel has been overtaken for a teenager’s birthday so through the afternoon the noise slowly started to build till dinner time it just about hit a crescendo. Luckily for us they put us in a separate dining hall so we avoided the worst of it and were able to enjoy yet another 4 course feed. Tonight we got a large salad, bread, a homemade lamb and vegetable soup with a pastry crust top and then a large plate of lamb skewers – thankfully we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We didn’t get any Chacha but was given complimentary sticks of the local delicacy
Dog day afternoon
called churchkhela, which are a string of walnuts coated in a waxy grape juice they look like candles hanging everywhere and have been told some foreigners have taken them home and tried to burn them. They are very chewy and not to our taste. We returned to our room just in time to catch the last of the daylight over the mountains. From our balcony the view was sublime and had us a bit sad to be leaving here. Telavi has been a real unexpected treat, with lots to see, great wine and incredible hospitable people, so glad we made the effort and maybe we will return one day. Our room is on the third floor which gave us the great views and also gave us some distance to the party which was on the ground floor so we were spared the worst of the Russian discotheque, but it was still fairly noisy till 1am. Day 125 Sunday 22nd May 2016 – Telavi - Tbilisi
Bugging out today and heading back too Tbilisi. Our hotel which is called Hotel Sweet Home has felt like a home as all the people
Woolly headed drivers
running it have been lovely and cooked us some incredible feeds. The owner/chef chatted with us over breakfast and then drove us to the bus station. As we left the hotel all the staff came out and waved us goodbye, and by the time we got to the bus station I sort of felt like asking the owner to take us back. The “bus station” was just a small carpark with a couple of taxis and 3 minivans, one of which (the oldest most battered one) was ours. Said goodbye to the hotel owner/chef/taxi driver and jumped straight into the minivan and took off to Tbilisi. There was only one other couple waiting for the ride and our driver was happy to take off with only 4 people knowing he would pick up more along the way and lucky for us we got to ride shotgun.
It was another 3 hour journey back to Tbilisi with lots of stops for pick up and drop offs, and eventually we got dumped by the side of the road in a northern suburb of Tbilisi near a whole bunch of taxis. The first taxi driver we spoke to must play
Inside the Ananuri Fort Church
football for Georgia as he carried on like a pork chop when we told him that his 10 Lari fee should be only 3 lari. He walked off screaming and ready to fall on the ground the other taxi drivers had to settle him down and we half expected a stretcher to appear with a doctor and a referee giving us a red card, but eventually they persuaded him and us to agree on 5 lari for the 3 lari journey. It was only a ten minute journey and he was all smile when we gave him the cash, so we knew we had paid too much – Georgia 1 - Australia 0.
Got to our hotel “Tiflis Metekhi” and was told that because it was 1pm we couldn’t get our room till 2pm – no worries, only an hour we will get a coffee. They allowed us to drop our bags in the room which hadn’t been cleaned yet, which was nice but noticed that it didn’t seem to have a balcony door but maybe behind the curtains. We book so many hotels you do forget sometimes what is and isn’t included in a room but
Grave site at the Ikalto Monastery
we were both positive on this one, so over a coffee at a nearby café we checked out the details and sure enough in clear print we should be getting a balcony with city views and outdoor furniture. Head back at 2pm and sure enough our room doesn’t have a balcony and we can’t get one plus the one they wanted to give us was still not ready it would be another 50 minutes. Argued for over an hour with the girl at reception who claims to be the owner and says it isn’t her fault initially blaming us and then that the details on booking.com are wrong. This room is on the top end of our budget and the ONLY reason we got it was for a balcony and the room they are trying to put us in is smaller than most bathrooms. She finally told us that if we came back early in the evening we could get our balcony room so we went off for a beer to ease our sore throats from arguing.
Stopped at a travel agency and booked a tour for tomorrow and then got a feed and a few beers
Mass inside the Ikalto Church
and returned at 6pm to discover that she had planned on kicking someone out of a balcony room so we could get it but they hadn’t returned, not exactly a great plan and if I was that person I would refuse to move. We now just wanted to cancel but she refused to let us and rang her equally clueless brother to persuade us to take the bad room. Whilst Shelley waited I ran around the block and saw a better option at another hotel. On my return the brother was there and basically blackmailed us into staying. If we walked he would have us down as a no show on booking.com and bill us 75% of the fee, despite the fact that the room was fraudulently shown as having a balcony. I was ready to cut my nose off to spite my face and walk but Shelley talked sense into me and we opted to take his other option of putting us in the larger quadruple room, which only has three beds. Funny enough this room is also advertised on booking.com as having a balcony, air conditionering and fridge, which it DOESN”T. Oh well I guess we get the
Ring my bell at the Alaverdi Cathedral
chance to tell everyone that reads this blog not to stay at the Tiflis Metekhi Hotel and we can now give it a big fat zero review on booking.com. The weird thing is, if they had just apologised, and tried to make amends it would have been okay but they were perhaps the most deceitful people we have ever come across running a hotel in our entire life of travelling. I truly believe one of the hardest tasks in the world is arguing with someone that lies for a living, because you never get anywhere, but thankfully we believe in karma.
After accepting the room we went back to the other hotel I had looked at and told them we couldn’t take their better cheaper room but all going well we will be back in Tbilisi again before we leave Georgia so will stay there. After all the arguing we were pretty tired by this stage and so we picked up some water and headed back to the room for an early night. Day 126 Monday 23rd May 2016 – Kazbegi
On a one day tour today
Inside the Alaverdi Cathedral
so up early and out the door by 8.30. Breakfast at the hotel we were told wasn’t going to start till 9 so we knew we were going to miss it and didn’t really care as we guessed it would be rubbish. The girl on reception we argued with yesterday was still on the desk and gave us a sneer so we just ignored it.
Picked up a take away coffee on the way to our pick up point and were on our minivan by 9.15 and underway. Drove around the city for ten minutes picking up others and on this tour there was only ten other people and so we had plenty of room on the bus which normally would carry about 20 people. There is an Independence Day celebration in Georgia on Thursday and in preparation lots of streets are closed in Tbilisi as stages are built, and so it took over half an hour to battle through bumper to bumper traffic. Our guide today had to give a running commentary in Russian for most of the people and English for us and two others. The problem we had was he chose to speak to
Church and bell tower
us through a microphone and the crap P.A. system in the van, and at times he sounded like a drunken Russian with a mouth full of bees. It was the same for the others and they soon told him to stop using the microphone but he persisted on and off with it all day so we really didn’t learn much from him as we drove along except that he has a hovercraft full of eels - well that’s what I think he said.
Today’s trip was to the Monastery at Kazbegi, but with all these sorts of tours they try and cram a whole lot of other stuff into your day, which can be good and bad. Today’s first stop was at the Ananuri Fortress, which was the home of the Dukes of Aragvi who ruled these parts from the 13th
to the 18th
centuries. They were eventually eliminated when some rival Dukes (perhaps from Hazard) set fire to the tower they were trapped in killing apparently 700 people if you believe (or could understand) our guide. The fortress was located in a beautiful spot next to a manmade reservoir and contained a large Church. Only had
City traffic at night
about twenty rushed minutes here and sort of wished we could have had longer, but that’s what you get when you are on an organised tour.
From here the road was continually choked by Sheppard’s moving huge flocks of sheep and goats along the road to their summer grazing fields in the mountains. The guide went on to tell us about how these flocks are guarded by vicious ducks that can even take on and kill wolves. This statement had us glued to the window trying to spot these ferocious killer ducks, and then realised maybe he meant dogs? Next stop was at the ski town of Gudauri which was now snow free but is one of Georgia’s premier ski resorts. Our guide explained to me that the ski runs here are faster (or maybe slower) than Switzerland (or was it Swaziland), I guess it didn’t matter as there was no skiing today, but maybe one day when I get to Swaziland I will check it out.
Next stop was at the side of the road near a natural spring where we could sample some crystal clear water next to what looked like the
Peace Bridge at night
local tip. A huge deposit of calcium cascaded down the side of the mountain to mark the spot where the mineral rich water came from. Had seen these sorts of things elsewhere and they are normally vivid white but here they are brown, probably from everyone clambering over them. Most of the bus went off for a taste of the water but looking at all the piles of rubbish that was here there was no way I was going to try it, would have drank from a puddle of water in Calcutta than here.
Around 1pm we finally made it to the town of Kazbegi where we had to transfer into a 4WD van for the last 7km to the peak of the mountain where the monastery sat. The road was an absolute shocker and we were very grateful to get to the top and hop out. The Holy Trinity Church sits at the 2200 metre mark and was constructed in the 14th
Century, and there isn’t anything overly unique about the structure other than its location which is stunning. Directly behind the church and sitting on the Russian border is the 5047m high peak of Mount
Bad moon rising
Kazbek, and luckily for us it was free of cloud for most of our visit. This was the main reason for doing this tour and would have loved to have stayed there for an hour our two to enjoy the incredible vista but we only had 30 minutes and had to return to town for lunch. As expected the food was crap and would have preferred sitting at the monastery and gone hungry.
Just as we left the clouds flooded in and it was soon pouring rain with some sleet as well, which dogged us all the way down the mountain. It was a long drive back with lots of stops so people could get out and have a smoke (Georgians and Russians love to smoke). One of the stops was at a monument the guide told us was for “Russian and Georgian friendship” although with their long and more recent history he may have said “lack of friendship”. As we approached the outskirts of Tbilisi a car only 50 metres in front clipped a concrete barrier on one side of the motorway and then speared across the road and slammed into the other. Our driver had
The ruins of the Ikalto Monastery
to slam on the brakes so as not to hit the wreckage and although the car was a complete write off the woman driver hopped out and appeared to be unhurt. Our driver went to hop out and help her but there was a police car only 4 cars behind and he basically told him to move on. The drivers in Georgia are some of the most aggressive we have experienced and rarely will they stop at pedestrian crossings and only seem to know Full speed and stop – actually come to think about it I think they drive like me and my family, and really aren’t that bad.
Arrived back at Tbilisi around 6.30 and after a quick stop at our room went out to party. Had a few beers and a feed at the KGB bar and although we hadn’t been here for a while were treated like old friends. KGB bar is a pretty good bar except that at night across the lane is a restaurant that has a guy on a saxophone murdering some really bad songs, and the pain went on for hours. Later in the evening when a band started up
The Ikalto Church
next door playing laid back (go to sleep) jazz we knew it was time to move on. Somehow ended up at the restaurant we had picked up our coffees from in the morning and settled in there for a couple more hours. Some Russian ladies at the next table took a shining to the young waiter and before long one of them disappeared with him for a short while but we are sure nothing bad happened as they both came back smiling. Sometime after midnight (I think) we made our way home and along the way I recalled what our guide had told us today and suddenly it all started to make sense. Day 127 Tuesday 24th May 2016 – Tbilisi
Woke to pouring rain and thunder so no reason to jump out of bed early and so slept in till 8.30. Main project today was getting tickets out of town, but before we could do that we had to work out where we wanted to head. Spent about an hour going through the Lonely Planet and surfing the net to we got a bit of a plan in place
The Alaverdi Cathedral
and decided to go find some bus tickets. Once again we opted to skip breakfast at this dump and instead walked onto the Hangar Bar for breakfast and a coffee, although our friendly waitress was ready to bring out our usual order of two Georgian beers. With a full belly we headed in search of the office for “Georgia Metro” which is a new company that is operating proper bus/coaches in the country. Found the office and the girl spoke perfect English and was able to get us tickets for tomorrow morning on a bus to Batumi. The most popular option to travelling around Georgia is by “Marshrutky” (minivan), which is what we have been using but just wanted to try something a bit more luxurious. This trip cost us 25 Lari each by bus whilst a Minivan would have only cost 10 Lari, so you can see why buses haven’t really taken off here.
Stopped at a supermarket for some supplies before heading back to our room, and along the way it started to rain and had to take shelter on the “Peace” bridge. Made it back to our room for what we thought was going
Frescoes at the Alaverdi Cathedral
to be a short stop but then a huge storm rolled in and we were stuck there for the rest of the day. For dinner we returned to the Hanger Bar once again for a reasonable feed and a few beers, moving on tomorrow so we had planned on having an early night but it ended up being another late one but not too messy. Both really love this city, as it has a nice casual pace and yet a good energy about it, tomorrow we head to the coastal city of Batumi, but all going well we will be returning again to Tbilisi.
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