Sunday 1 September 2019
01.09.2019 - 01.09.2019 32 °C
After a good night’s sleep we decided that we’d take the narrow gauge mountain train to Bakuriani - a ski resort close by. We intended to get the 10.55 train as we couldn’t quite face getting up for the 07.15. As per usual we started with a visit to the Tourist information to check out exactly which station it went from. As luck would have it, two people who had travelled from Tbilisi on the same bus as us, and another German couple, were about to do a tour to the places we intended to visit on the following day. It turned out that the Rabati Castle/Vardzia tour had three places left so we totally changed our plans in a split second and opted from the tour that was leaving in five minutes.
The first stop was the Green Monastery - a very tranquil place that’s still used for services. There was one going on as we arrived. It was a lovely little church with interesting carvings and a bell tower. Without a headscarf, I couldn’t go into the church but could hear the singing from just outside. Our driver didn’t Speak English so we communicated with him in sign language. He seemed to be very laid back about timings so we came to an agreement about when we should return to the car with our new German friends. Next stop was Vardzia, the cave city that’s very near the Turkish and Armenian borders. It was a long drive but the scenery was interesting and constantly changing. Like many drivers we’ve encountered in the region, ours drove fast on bends, whilst talking and sometimes texting on his mobile phone. There were a few hands over eyes moments.
Vardzia was amazing. Although a popular tourist destination it didn’t have the usual tacky stalls by the entrance, just a cafe and a couple of souvenir stalls. You pay for your entrance fee and can also pay for a minibus to take you up. As the temperatures wer 30c plus and the proactive was totally in the sun we opted for the ride up. We also agree between the seven of us to pay for a guide, a lovely young girl who was very knowledgable and fun. It was strange to look around empty caves and then happen on ones with doors and flowers growing outside. This is because there are several monks who are currently living there. The cave system has tunnels and refuge areas from the time when there were incursions from invaders like the Turks and Persians. I’d definitely recommend a visit as you need to see it to fully appreciate how large and complex it is and a guide is worth every lari.
We walked back down to the car through the tunnels and went to have lunch in the cafe by the river. I had a simple vegetable salad which was very nice, as I needed a break from heavy food whilst the others tucked into Georgian fare such as khinkali, katchapuri etc. Although Vardzia was meant to be a 90 minute stop, I think we were there for nearer 2 1/2 hours.
Our next stop was the Khertvisi fortress - just up the valley from Vardzia. It is one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia, built around the 2nd century. It has been taken over by Mongols and then Turks. Our party were the only people in the fortress. It was very peaceful with great views down the valley. We only had a short stop there as, beautiful as it was, it was a small and mostly in ruins. Our last stop, which meant retracing our steps, was Rabati Castle which is in the town of Akhaltsikhe. The castle has been restored extensively in 2011-2012 in order to attract more tourists to the area. The original site was built in the 9th century but only some of the later buildings survived the many invasions over the years. The first mosque was built here but there’s also a church right next to it. The grounds are beautifully kept and the buildings look great. Plenty of towers to clamber up and little gems like a room with walls totally covered with carved wood. As it was the end of the day, the site was quiet and pretty peaceful which added to the charm.
Finally, we made our way back to Borjomi and as we walked back to the guest house, we picked up some bits from the supermarket deli so that we could have a picnic meal and wine on the terrace. We decided to get up early the next day and catch the mountain train first thing in the morning at 7.15am to make the most of our time as it was going to be our last day in Borjomi.