We thought it necessary to provide a background of Georgia in our first entry from this part of the trip seeing that it is a less well-known part of the world. We are the only backpackers we have seen! We hope very much that this situation will change in the coming years. Not that we wish a plague of backpackers upon the wonderful Georgian people but really this country deserves to be seen and the people deserve to have the tourist industry contribute in a much more substantial way to their economy.
We will now give you a brief day-by-day run down on what we have been up to in our ten days here. We bought a new digital camera with the insurance money taking advantage of the tax-free shopping at Heathrow Airport (every cloud has a silver lining!). We have another full CD of photos to share with you. We will pick out the best ones and upload them shortly.
Wednesday 16th November
Arrived in Tbilisi after a five hour flight from London Heathrow. The time change was very disorientating not helped by the fact that the captain on the plane gave us the wrong time! Georgia would seem to be four hours ahead (not three as all the time zone maps would have one believe). We have still not figured out the logic behind this one but we seem to get more daylight this way so we are not complaining.
We were being met by Tamar Gelashvili, a lovely girl who had brought a group to the Oxford English Centre in the summer, thus fuelling our interest in the country even more and making the practicalities of getting here much easier. Tamar and her mother met us at the airport and drove us to our very centrally located hotel. They wisely left us to rest for a few hours.
Tamar met us at midday and took us on a walking tour of Tbilisi. Marcus summed the city up best by saying it is like “Paris meets, Kosovo meets New Orleans”. You will see what he means from the houses with their brightly painted wooden carved balconies.
Got a great view of the city from the Narikala (Old Fortress) on the hill overlooking the city. Walked along to the ‘Mother of Georgia’ – an unusual statue of a woman made from white/silver metal carrying fruit and a sword who symbolically looks after the nation.
Tried our first Khachapuri – bread with cheese in the middle. Delicious! The dairy-free alternative for Fiona had beans in the middle – also delicious!
Visited the house of Elena Achvlediani – a prominent Georgian artist from the second half of the 20th century. Georgian’s are very passionate about the arts in general and place a great importance on their poets, writers, artists, composers, dancers, actors and theatre directors. Tamar studies at the Georgian School of Theatre and is very passionate about her work and future career as a theatre director – look out for her name in five-ten years time!
Tamar and her mum drove us to Mtshevka – the old capital of Georgia, 20km outside Tbilisi. We saw the beautiful old Georgian Orthodox church where legend says the loin cloth Jesus wore on the cross was buried. Apparently two Georgians were at the scene of the crucifixtion and took the loin cloth back to Georgia. The sister of one of the men touched the cloth and died. When she was buried angels brought down the first wooden pillar to build the church at the sight of her grave.
St. Nino, followed up these Christian beginnings a few centuries later and Georgia has remained a strongly christian country ever since. St. Andrew was also supposed to have reached the western coast of Georgia on his travels north from Turkey – yet another link with Scotland!
Enjoyed kingali – the traditional Georgian dumplings at a rustic restaurant in Mtshevka.
Took a cable car up to another hillside overlooking Tbilisi. Fiona panicked at the breach of health and safety regulations (if there were any in the first place) when the man operating the car opened the full length door for her to take a photo! Please appreciate the risk taken in bringing these photos to you!
Visited the National Museum where we saw a spectacular display of gold items from ancient times. It was the method of collecting this gold that gave rise to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and The Golden Fleece. Sheep fleece was used to seive the river for gold and it was picked out of the wool and made into beautiful jewellery and other implements.
Went clubbing in Tbilisi. London clubs need to take a lesson from ‘The Tunnel’ with its imaginative location in the middle of a mountain as well as the interesting rope ladders and moonscape scenes in the background. Very fun!
Drove into the mountains and saw some spectacular scenery as well as a beautiful horse … photos to follow
Left Tbilisi at 9:40pm taking the overnight train to the West Coast town of Batumi
Explored Batumi and enjoyed the warmer, sub-tropical climate with walks along the beaches. It is late November and such lovely weather. We felt sorry for you folks in Wyoming! We went through the Ajara Museum (Batumi is in Ajara) and we were guided around by very helpful staff. One man, Alex, spoke English well and he later took us to the Stalin Museum, which he operates. Stalin lived in Batumi, illegally, for a year as a socialist party representative. After the museum Alex took us to the Botanical Gardens where we saw some lovely coastal scenery and raided some of the fresh mandarin fruits from the tree. Left Batumi on the sleeper at 9.00 pm
Lazy day in Tbilisi and explored the side streets of the Old Town. Enjoyed a fabulous, authentic Georgian dinner with Georgan wine. The dinner included chicken with the delectable walnut sauce and fish with pomegranite sauce.
More exploring of Old Town and then attended the festivities celebrating the two year anniversary of the Rose Revolution. Saw lots of traditional Georgian dancing and listened to a few political speeches by visiting leaders, including Yuschenko from Ukraine. We understood the Romanian President because he spoke in English. We were right under the impressive fireworks display. A very fun evening. It is exciting to be in the middle of history.
More relaxing walks around Tbilisi. Viewed some of the street vendors’ paintings. Enjoyed some more dumblings and then sampled some “kebabs” though these were spicy, good quality sausages with a very flavorful tomato sauce, spiced with chili sauce.
Writing to you all! We now head to the warm sulphur baths to relax! Will be in touch from Moscow!
We head to Moscow tomorrow for four days before embarking on our train journey across Russia. We will update this blog when possible. Thanks for your patience and don’t give up on us!