A Travellerspoint blog

Georgia

Day eighteen - last day in Tbilisi

Friday 13 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

With a day to kill before the night train to Yerevan, I had a leisurely breakfast. Chatted to an English couple who apparently live 6 months of the year in Cyprus. Slight tinge of jealousy! They had taken the train from Kutaisi to Tbilisi the previous day and apparently it was pretty horrendous. So glad we made the decision to do the journey by taxi. I took my time packing up - with about ten hours to fill there was no point rushing about. I decided to take a taxi to the station as I couldn’t face lugging my case around. I have to admit it was not a good buy. Although sturdy, it is a heavy case even before anything is put in it. In countries with few lifts it is a bit of a nightmare. The driver at the hotel took me at a cost of 10 lari.

There is a left luggage place at the station costing 10 lari. I just wanted to dump my bag so that I could spend the rest of the day unencumbered. Going on the metro without a big case was a relief. The turnstiles are tricky to negotiate, the escalators seem endless and the trains are incredibly busy. On the plus side though, they only cost 0.50 lari however far you go.

I got the metro back into the centre and stopped off at Marjanishvili station to return to the Pharaoh cafe for a good cup of Turkish coffee. I decided to do a lot of walking to tire myself out as much as possible before the train journey. Now that I had a better idea of how different areas related to each other, I could avoid the dreadful roads that are impossible to cross. I hadn’t forgotten our experience when we had tried to get to the flea market when we first arrived. We had made the mistake of walking to the river whereas we should have walked down David Aghmashenebeli Avenue to the next bridge. This is the street with lots of cafes and the craft beer bar. There are also a few interesting craft shops. I got to the flea market also known as dry bridge market and had a bit of a wander round. There were some bags I liked but they were far too small for me.

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I rested at the nearby park close to the hotel that I’d just left. The parks in Tbilisi are well used. Lots of seating and plenty of shade. I decided to have lunch at Mama Terra again - the veggie cafe near the funicular. I had Pad Thai - quite nice but not as good as the ones that my sister makes from a Linda McCartney recipe. My next port of call was the old city as I wanted to visit the Armenian Cathedral and also wander around some of the backstreets. There are a lot of beautiful but crumbling buildings down the side roads but there is also a lot of restoration going on, too.

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I didn’t realise at the time but we had walked past the entrance to the Armenian cathedral on the walking tour. It’s on Samghebro Street that leads to the sulphur baths. I started to walk up a nearby steep street and realised that I was heading to the fortress and some great views of the city. I decided to drop down and sit in Rike Park for a while. The queue for the cable car was really long.

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My walk back took me past all the places in the old town that had now become so familiar. I popped into the Galleria to use their facilities - it’s good to locate where the free and clean toilets are located in any city! I had a final stroll up Rustaveli to have something to eat at the Iveria cafe close to the Radisson Blu. Had a tasty courgette soup and a rather unusual banana cake. The advice for travelling on the train was to take food and particularly water as there is nothing available on the train. I had already bought simit at a Turkish bakery so got fruit, crisps and a large bottle of water from a nearby supermarket. As it was now dark I decided that I might as well go to the station and hang around there, even though there were still a couple of hours to go.

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There is a waiting area in the station booking hall. It’s OK but the constant noise of the buzzer is a bit intrusive. At about 9.15 I retrieved my bag. I had hoped that the train would go from Plarform one, next to the left luggage but no - it was platform 3. Although there was an escalator back up to the booking hall, I could only see a long flight of steps to the platform. It also wasn’t clear which platform was which as there was no signage. I couldn’t face lugging my case down then up again. Luckily a fellow passenger confirmed which was 3 and helped me with my bag

The train arrives about 30 minutes before departure as it’s quite a performance getting everyone on the train. Some people were already on the train from Batumi. I think there were 16 carriages - mine was carriage 15. I chatted to a guy who is studying in the US and a man from Djibouti, both of whom were heading to Armenia for the first time. A random train driver looked at our tickets and told us which area of the platform to wait on. It was good advice - it would have been quite a trek if we’d stood at the wrong end. At first I felt a bit stressed about finding the right carriage but they were all numbered and a steward shows you to your seat/bed. The couple in the next compartment were very friendly Geordies and I shared the compartment with a woman from Denmark who was also very friendly. I’d decided to go on the equivalent of first class with only two to a compartment with clean sheets, pillow cases and towel provided as well as a little care package of toothpaste and comb etc. The toilets were ok -I’ve seen worse but unfortunately there was no running water. Luckily I had wet wipes - destroying my eco credentials - and water for teeth brushing. At the other end though of the carriage was hot water for drinks. Although I had tea bags, I didn’t have a cup. Note to self, in future bring a collapsible cup for travelling.

Before setting off, our passports were taken away which was a bit concerning but they were returned with a stamp showing our exit from Georgia. There was a scary looking guy walking up and down the train - he looked a bit like Lurch from the Addams Family. We thought he might be security as he glanced into all of the compartments. There is red tape over everything. I naively thought it was to hold things together but we realised it was to stop people hiding contraband in the vents as the tape would show any signs of tampering.

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The train is slow with noisy tracks and I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep not helped by my fellow traveller who snored for Denmark! I think I managed to sleep on and off during the night but at the Armenian border we were woken up as we then had to show passports to Armenian border control. Luckily we didn’t have to get off the train. I think I must have gone comatose after this as suddenly we were being told to wake up - we were nearly in Yerevan!

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:20 Archived in Georgia Tagged trains travel railway tbilisi Comments (0)

Day seventeen - a lazy day in Tbilisi

Thursday 12 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

Now in separate hotels, my friends and I organised a meet up for a last meal together at their hotel in the evening. I had a lazy start to the day. The shower here is the best so far and I also intended to use the bath as I knew this might be the last time I see one for a while! To that end, my mission was to find somewhere that sold bath bombs.

Breakfast was pretty good - the only thing lacking was fresh fruit. We had really been spoilt by the choice of food we had at Chateau Chikovani. I decided to stick around the area close to the hotel and had a wander up Rustaveli again. The previous evening I’d caught a glimpse of a pretty courtyard with seating outside. Retracing my steps I was pleased to see that it was somewhere i’d wanted to get to anyway - Prospero’s books and Caliban’s coffeehouse. Quite an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the Main Street. An appropriate place for someone who rows in a club where all the boats are named after characters in Shakespeare’s Tempest.

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I checked out how much was left on the travel card and also got some cash. I’d hoped to pay the hotel bill by card the previous day but it kept failing so had to use cash leaving me a bit short. I braved the Galleria - a five/six story mall with cinema - as it felt like the most likely place to get a bath bomb. After trying a few shops I finally found somewhere selling them and bought one that was a rose scented.

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I’d found another vegan cafe called the Kiwi cafe on Ivan Machabeli Street, fairly close to Freedom Square. It was another hipster joint with friendly staff and good menu. I had spaghetti which was delicious but as per usual, a pretty large portion. I chatted to an English couple who were spending a week in Tbilisi, doing day trips to other places. They were the first English people I’d met since coming to Georgia. My visit to the toilet made me laugh as there was a Bollocks to Brexit sticker proudly displayed on the wall.

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Next stop was the National Museum of Georgia. I’m not a big museum fan but thought it would be good to have one cultural experience in the city. It cost 15 lari which seems to be the standard entry fee. The best bit for me was the treasury. The jewellery was absolutely gorgeous. It always amazes me at how intricate and beautifully made these artefacts are and so well preserved considering they were made in the 1st - 3rd centuries. The saddest part was the exhibition about Russian occupation. A huge amount of people were shot by the Russians including the clergy, judges, intellectuals and artists. It made me aware of a tragedy that I know very little about and that more recent troubles in 2008 has made relations with Russia strained as they currently occupy 20% of Georgian land at Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This is what I think the protests outside parliament are about.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my bath with rose scented bath bomb. I got ready to go out and planned my walk there carefully to avoid being in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to cross. The route took me past the dry bridge market, over the bridge and then up Tolstoy Street. From there it was pretty straightforward. It seems that the roads to avoid are those that are close to the river as there isn’t a hope in hell of getting over them.

The menu at the hotel was predominately meat dishes but I managed to find enough of the smaller dishes to make a good meal including green cilantro soup which was very good. The was also about the presentation. Also, after quite a performance about the wine choice, overseen by a very young and knowledgeable sommelier, we discovered that it’s de rigeur to have your wine poured for our. It also has to be served from a decanter. Who knew? I also had my last glass of chacha.

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Nick and Lindsay walked part of the way back with me but once at the river bridge it was almost in a straight line as the crow flies to get to the hotel. Parks are busy in the evening and so it hasn’t felt unsafe to walk around at night-time. It would be great if women could feel as safe in the UK as I’ve felt here in Georgia.

Posted by Cath_Greig 20:04 Archived in Georgia Tagged shopping coffee tbilisi galleria chacha vegan_cafe Comments (0)

Day sixteen - back to Tbilisi

Travel day from Zeda Gordi to Tbilisi

sunny 23 °C

Travel plans on how to get to Tbilisi kept changing as different people gave us differing advice. Initially we intended to get a taxi to Kutaisi and then get a train to Tbilisi. The schedule wasn’t brilliant as the only two trains were in the afternoon and it is a 4 1/2 hour journey. Dimitiri, our host at the hotel advised us that a marshrutka from Kutaisi would be better as it took less time and there were more of them. We decided to forget the train.

After another filling breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Dimitri and the other staff. Our taxi arrived promptly at 10am. As we wended our way down the valley our driver suggested that instead of paying 60 lari for an uncomfortable marshrutka journey - he could take us all the way to Tbilisi for 200 lari. The idea that we could miss Kutaisi and the hustle and bustle of the bus station was too tempting, so we agreed. Our driver didn’t speak much English but had studied German at school and we managed to communicate quite adequately. He had been a policeman in Tbilisi and now lived in Kutaisi - I think he had a family business now related to cars. Not completely sure about this though!

Quick fact about Kutaisi. Anne Lister - subject of the BBC drama Gentleman Jack - died of a fever In Kutaisi whilst travelling with her wife Ann Walker. Apparently, very few people from the west, let alone unaccompanied women, ever travelled there. Her body was embalmed and it took six months to get the body back to the uk to be buried in Halifax.

We stopped somewhere around the Kashuri area for lunch at a really nice roadside cafe. Can’t pinpoint exactly where it is and what it was called but the food was good. We bought lunch for the driver who seemed to be quite surprised at the gesture.

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The whole journey was relatively traffic free until we hit Tbilisi. He headed to Nick and Lindsay’s Vinotel first. They wanted to have the treat of a luxury stay as their holiday is coming to an end. Their hotel is very tasteful. I then took a taxi to my hotel - Hotello - on the other side of the river in the Mtasaminda area. From the outside it looks quite shabby but the room is really nice - large and very clean plus I have the novelty of a round bed and a bath! Breakfast is also included.

I went for a wander before it got dark. Rustaveli was closed when we were here at the start of our holiday because of the Fast and Furious filming so I had a little wander as it was just behind the hotel. After a fortnight of bread, cheese and more cheese - I headed to the veggie and vegan cafe - Mama Terra which is quite close to the funicular. We had passed it a couple of times. It felt as if I had stepped into a Bristol cafe! I had a Rainbow warm quinoa salad with not a smidgen of dairy anywhere, followed by a plate of fruit. Just what I needed for a change of diet.

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Then it was back to the hotel. There was something going on outside the Parliament building but I couldn’t make out what was happening. Looked like a demonstration about the Russians encroaching on Georgian territory. Apparently they currently occupy 20% of it.

After a cup of tea - there is a kettle AND cups in the room, unlike Villa Dolly - it was time to call it a day as I crawled into my large, round bed! One thing that has been consistently good in Georgia have been the beds - all of them have been firm but comfortable which has been great for my back.

Posted by Cath_Greig 21:00 Archived in Georgia Tagged taxi tbilisi kutaisi anne_lister Comments (0)

Day fourteen - Zeda Gordi becomes a ghost town

Monday 9 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

Like many countries, attractions are shut for the day on Mondays. We decided to hike up to the waterfalls even though we wouldn’t be able to go into the official site, we were given directions to get the the pools at the bottom. It had been a very windy night and when the light wouldn’t switch on, I realised that the power was down again. The hotel has a generator to power essentials but it meant the internet was down again.

After another good and filling breakfast, I went on ahead in the slim chance that I could get a coffee at one of the cafes. As I suspected, everything was closed except the small shop. It was like a ghost town with tumble weed blowing through it, literally, as strong winds were whistling through the village. It was still pretty hot though. While I waited for the others, I was approached by a couple of taxi drivers again. Life was must be so hard for people and, without the walkway and waterfall, the village would not have any external income coming in.

Although we had to walk along the road, it was a pleasant one as there were hardly any cars. We had great views all the way along and could see for miles into the distance. We passed a lot of small hotels and guest houses along the way. Not sure if many people stay here or whether they are more likely to do day trips from elsewhere.

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When we got to the last sign for the waterfall we got a bit confused as to where we had to go and ended up turning off too soon but still managed to find a peaceful place by the river to have a rest.

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The 7k walk back felt easier as there was more downhill than uphill. A church was in the process of being built and there was a sign asking for donations at the side of the road. I wonder how successful their fundraising efforts are.

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Near one of the guest houses on the way back down there was a great looking tree house. Would love to have a picnic up there.

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The shop was still open in Zeda Gordi where we bought water and snacks. The afternoon was spent relaxing next to the pool that had just been refilled. I went for the hammock but as the sun disappeared it started to get chilly with the wind still quite high - time to go inside.

I had the Katchapuri and salad which was very good although too much for one person. Luckily the others helped me so it all got eaten. A party of Russians arrived at the hotel so we were no longer the only guests for the night. It looked as if they were on a tour as they had a minibus and Georgian driver with them.

We were going to round off the meal with a cognac but none of the staff were around - it was as if they had disappeared into thin air! Maybe something for tomorrow as it would be our last night at Chateau Chikovani...

Posted by Cath_Greig 00:01 Archived in Georgia Tagged waterfalls river chateau_chikovani zeda_gordi kinchkha Comments (0)

Day thirteen - Sore heads and vertigo inducing walkways

A trip to the Okatse Canyon

sunny 28 °C

Our hotel is within walking distance of Okatse Canyon - our destination for the day. We had a great breakfast with a choice of bread, cheese, olives, pancakes with sour cream, plum jam and melon. None of our friends from the previous evening were at breakfast. I can only imagine how they were feeling this morning.

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We headed for the canyon, timing it badly as a coach party had just arrived creating a long queue. We’ve noticed that transactions take a long time in Georgia and people push in not understanding the convention of queuing. It’s a distance of about 2km to get to the Canyon and the walkway. Taxi drivers try to persuade you that the canyon is like walking to the ends of the earth and that you really need a taxi to get there. The walk was very pleasant and much nicer than bumping along a dirt road. It also means that you can slow down the pace and take things in. There are also lots of animals such as pigs foraging around. To our surprise, who should we meet running up the hill but two of the guys - one of whom had been really worse for wear last night. They looked pretty good and were running to burn off the alcohol in their systems!

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We met some lovely Georgian women from Tbilisi who were touring around to see the sights. The entry to the canyon walkway was through a turnstile - from there you descend down a lot of steps to get to the walkway. There are signs at the visitor centre warning people that it is not suitable for people who suffer from fear of heights. I can see why. The structure ‘hangs’ over the canyon held there by metal stanchions and wire suspension. The metal grating that you walk over allows you to look at the view below. I surprised myself as I have always suffered a bit from vertigo but, as long as I held the handrail, I felt safe and didn’t feel scared at all. At one point you ascend steps and the walkway is on ‘dry land’ until the platform which juts out into thin air just held there by suspension wires.

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At the point we realised that this was a one way system - we’d noticed that we didn’t pass anyone going the other way. My companions were relieved that we didn’t have to go back the way that we had come. Steep steps to the top of the canyon led to a welcome sight - a small cafe selling drinks and ice-cream. Taxi drivers tried to persuade us that we couldn’t possibly walk back and the Georgian women we met checked with their driver about a lift, too. We declined as walking is part of our holiday plans although it was very kind of them to offer.

Once we got back to the village I stopped for lunch and had cornbread and salad surrounded by hungry dogs who looked at me pleadingly. Although the cafe looked quite makeshift, the food was good and it also had WiFi. There seems to be better infrastructure here in Georgia compared to rural areas of the UK.

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The rest of the day was spent relaxing outside in the gardens, reading and relaxing until the evening meal. This time I managed to order the right thing - bean stew. It was the best I’ve had so far, slightly spicy and very thick and creamy. A few drinks - no raucous behaviour tonight as we were the only guests - and then it was time for bed..

Posted by Cath_Greig 12:40 Archived in Georgia Tagged gorge zeda_gordi okatse_canyon Comments (0)

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