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Georgia Trip Journal from April 16 to 20 and April 30 to May 11, 2010

To read the Georgia Journal.

Our Route through GEORGIA. Covered approx. 1700km on the motorcycles.

April 16, 2010. We arrive in BATUMI. In the Evropas Moedani (Europe Square). A large statue with a golden fleece.

The Black Sea.

With only a couple of hours of daylight left we strolled...

...along the Batumis Bulvari...

...which is a couple of kilometers of park area along the Black Sea. The large ferris wheel dominates the waterfront.

The park is a popular area for locals to walk and hang out.

A fountain across the theatre.

The town has developed into a major holiday spot for Georgians,...

...sporting some beautiful colonial buildings.

The Hotel Iliko for 70GEL ($41.00) was a bit hard to find. This is the main entrance from the road.

Our motorcycle and a Lada was the only thing that fit into the small courtyard of the hotel.

For supper we try one a Georgian specialty, the Khachapuri, which is a pastry mainly stuffed with cheese.

Georgia toilet paper, which is a gray rough paper like material, with no hole in it. It is a bit funny to see all the bathrooms with the toilet paper holder, which are not being used.

April 17, 2010. We travel from Batumi north along the Black Sea and then east to Kutaisi. This is an example of the Georgian alphabet.

We visit the UNESCO World Heritage site, the BAGRATI CATHEDRAL in the afternoon.

The entire cathedral, both inside and outside... being renovated.

Only from pictures are we able to appreciate its grandness.

The interior of the Cathedral was locked, but the Priest let us have a peek.

Old ruined palace-citadel east of the cathedral.

6km east from Kutaisi, lies perched on a rock the MOTSAMETA MONASTERY.

The Tskhaltsitela River winds its way around the monastery.

We park the motorcycle at this entrance. a couple of wooden boards span across the cliff below.

A continuous line of babies were baptized.

Inside the church, the priest/monk asked us what religion we were and he offered to change it to orthodox, right there and then by being baptized. Mike told him not today, but we think the priest/monk was actually serious.

Another 4km east in the trees is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the GELATI MONASTERY.

The smaller Church of St. Nicholas.

King David the Builder founded the complex in 1106.

The south gate, were David the Builder's grave is located.

The Academy with a brand new wooden roof.

A stairway in a corner leads into darkness.

With no one else around Mike descends to find out where it leads to. Just another room.

Inside the Academy.

Entrance to the main Cathedral of the Virgin.

The interior of the Cathedral...

...which has the most colorful and best preserved frescos in Georgia.

Today the Cathedral was busy with weddings.

We arrived in time for the end of one wedding and ...

...left at the start of another wedding party arriving.

In Kutaisi, we stay at Giorgi's Homestay, located on the Ukimerioni Hill.

Giorgi made us park our motorcycles in his garage...

...with his Lada.

This is a homestay. The entire top floor of the house is dedicated to guests and consists of four (4) bed rooms, ...

...a dinning room and a living room.

In the evening we are treated to a Georgian family dinner, with borsch soup, satsivi, a type of cold chicken dish with walnut sauce and a salad consisting of shredded potato, egg and mayo.

Topping it all off was the homemade Georgian Wine.

April 18, 2010. In the morning a full breakfast. The room, dinner and breakfast for 70GEL ($42.00) total.

From Kutaisi we head south to Baghdati and attempted to cross the Meskheti Mountain Range to reach Vale, but a a large rock slide totally blocks the road and we have to return to Kutaisi.

Instead we head east via Khashuri, Borjomi to Akhaltsikhe. At the KHERTVISI FORTRESS...

...we turn south toward Vardzia.

The house in the centre is our homestay for a couple of days while exploring the area.

Parking the motorcycles in the driveway.

The basement of this house had a little cozy pub.

Washing closes the old fashion way.

In the evening we share some homemade black wine out of the plastic bottle with the monks and the homestay owner.

We are just happy to find a warm spot in front of the fire place...

...and a delicious homemade meal. Room and dinner was 50GEL ($29.00) total.

April 19, 2010. VARDZIA should be on everyone's travel itinerary when visiting Georgia.

The homestay is located directly across the cave city and a five (5) minute stroll over the new bridge to the ticket office.

The monks have rigged up a trolley and pulley/winch system to get their groceries up to the caves.

Approximately 2000 monks used to inhabit the cave city in its hay day.

In the 16th century Georgians were defeated by the Persians and Vardzia abandoned.

Since around 2000 it is yet again a working monastery with about seven (7) monks.

In total the complex consists of over a 100 cave groups, 13 floors, 400 rooms, ...

...twelve (12) smaller churches and 25 wine cellars.

In the centre of the cave dwellings is the...

...Church of Assumptions.

Giorgi III built the fortification and...

...his daughter Queen Tamar recreated the monastery.

Inside the Church of the Assumption.

This fresco shows Giorgi III with his daughter Tamar.

The frescos depict many scenes from the New Testament.

We climb up these steps and luckily we had our head lights with us.

We found a tunnel high above the main Church,...

...which lead deep into the mountain, descending via numerous flights of steps to finally end up behind the Church of Assumption.

I don't think we were supposed to be there.

But it felt like being Huckel Berry Flynn, exploring the caves.

A great view of the vast cave complex along the cliff side.

Another chapel, one of many.

Storage rooms.

Perfectly carved dwellings.

This cave had even an old vessel still in place.

To exit the dwellings, we follow the path that seemed to have...

...the never ending descending steps and tunnels.

Trees or bushes with pieces of clothing tied to them can be found everywhere in Georgia. Tying a piece of clothing to a tree and making a wish is supposed to make it came true.

Our next destination was walking to the Vanis Qvabebi (Vani Caves).

We were told it was approx. 2.5km from the Guesthouse.

After a couple of kilometers we still had not seen a sign, but a road under construction lead up the hill a couple of 100m. It gave us a great view of the TMOGVI CASTLE.

We continued to follow a goat trail in search for the Vani Caves.

Ruby made Mike take pictures of these flowers, as they reminded her of her childhood in Germany.

Every May in Germany the fields are blooming with these flowers called Schluesselblumen, and it was a tradition to pick them for Mothersday. To keep with tradition we sent a picture of them for Mothersday this year.

Back to the road we continue our search and find high above in the cliff what we are looking for.

Wow, we were not sure how we would get there, as it seemed a few hundred meters straight up the cliff.

As we climbed to the base of the cliff, a cow herder approaches us and gets out the magic big key to open the door to the Church in the Cliff.

But first we had to get there. Via sign language he explains to us to turn the key three (3) times counter clockwise to open the door and then he went back to herding is cows, leaving us to find our own way.

After some trial and error we did find the correct cave dwelling with a tunnel and a wooden door.

First we had a snack stop at the remains of this church enroute.

This was the start of our internal climb up through several consecutive medal and wooden ladders.

There are no safeguards and one wrong step leads a long way down. Not for the faint hearted.

We had made it.

An amazing experience as it was all about the adventure to get to the Church and the rewarding view high above the valley.

The Church itself has been vandalized quite badly.

The view beyond the church and the many cave dwelling that used to house monks. The next day we entered Armenia. The border crossing was located at 2184m close to Bavra. See the Armenia Photos for more details.

We re-entered Georgia from Armenia on April 30, 2010. On May 02, 2010 we rode to Gori to visit the STALIN MUSEUM.

Joseph Stalin, former ruler of Russia, was born and grew up in Gori.

This is actually Stalin's home, where he spent his first five (5) years, which stands in the centre of the courtyard, covered by a massive enclosure.

It was not moved here, but is its original location. The furniture are also original.

The museum was built in 1957, after Stalin's death.

This is a model representing the secret location of the press room. The room could only be accessed via the well...

...and then they had to crawl across to the secret room.

Even though the displays are very one sided,... does give a great insight to the life of another well known ruler.

Stalin's office, with its original furniture.

Stalin's bullet proof train carriage.

He did not like to fly and traveled via train mostly.

The meeting room in the train.

Stalin's sleeping quarter...

...and his bathroom with a bathtub.

We climb the Gori Fortress...

...for a view of the Caucasus mountains to the north and ...

...the town of Gori.

From April 30 to May 04, 2010 we stayed in Mtskheta.

Mtskheta, is the former capital of Georgia, but now only has approx. 2000 residents.

Our homestay (Gulo Merebashvili's homestay) is right across from the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Our home ...

...and family for a few days.

Gulo Merebashvili, had a lot of hugs for us.

Accommodation which consists of a bedroom and large sitting area, filled with nick nacks from a 100 years ago is 50GEL/night ($30.00/night).

We share the bathroom with the other 20 or so members of the household. Sometimes a bus load of Asian tourists also line up to use the bathroom.

May 03, 2010. The JVARI CHURCH, perched on a hill above Mtskheta.

This church is part of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the area.

The inside is typical Georgian tetraconch design.

From the Jvari Church we can see our next destination, the SVETITSKHOVELI CATHEDRAL.

High walls surround the church.

Inside the 11th century cathedral.

Frescoes date from the 16th to 18th centuries.

During the night the cathedral is lit up and it makes for a spooky picture from our homestay.

May 04, 2010. We attempt our journey north to Kazbegi (now actually called Stepantsminda). A lookout point on the Georgian Military Highway (Note the decaying concrete platform).

Heavy snow warnings had been in effect from April 26 to 30 and we were not sure if the 2379m Jvari Pass would be passable or even open.

We have one last look back at the valley we had come up from.

Fresh snow is definately visible. We are getting closer to the summit.

The road is dirt, and the potholes filled with water from the thaw.

A picture for scale to show the amount of snow still present.

We had seen pictures prior to leaving on this trip of this structure. There was too much snow to access it now.

We reach the JVARI PASS Pass and the GPS indicates 2410m.

In the background is the cross erected by General Yermolov in 1824.

Due to the avalanche danger several galleries/tunnels have been constructed.

These tunnels were pitch dark, the road surface uneven and covered in 10 inches of snow and ice.

We were halfway through this tunnel, when we could not keep the motorcycles upright any longer. The ice was too slippery. 20km from our destination we turn around, but then come up with another solution.

The ice built up in the tunnels can clearly be seen here.

A snow barricaded road by-passes each tunnel. We push through the barricade and expose us to the avalanches. A week later we find out that a taxi driver and his two (2) passengers were killed by an avalanche right there and it took five (5) days to find them.

We actually make it to Kazbegi. There is no road sign indicating the turn-off to the Tsminda Sameba Church.

But we can see the church high above us. We get as close as 9km from the Russian Border.

We head through the village of Gergeti and follow a narrow steep stony path up the hill past the cemetery. From here the dirt trail winds its way via switchbacks up the mountain. Approx. 350m from our waypoint the road gets impassable.

Deep mud greets us. Parking the motorcycles Ruby walks to the church.


It is located at 2200m above sea level and ..

...on a clear day Mt. Kazbeck (5047m) makes a spectacular back drop to the Holy Trinity Church. But no such luck today.

The only person Ruby meets, was a lonely monk, who provided a skirt and scarf for me to put on. I was only wearing all my motorcycle gear, plus rain gear.

The view from the church. Below in the valley at about 1700m lies the village of Kazbegi.

The only access to some of the villages is by foot.

Defensive stone towers, like this, were designed to house villagers at times of invasion and dot the country side in northern Georgia.

We decide to head over the pass before the weather changes, but come upon a road block.

The police closed the road for six (6)hours until it freezes again.

A perfect situation for us and the motorcycles.

The road reopens at 6pm and we make it as far as Kvesheti before calling it a day.

May 05, 2010. From Kvetsheti we retrace on the Georgian Military Highway our way to ANANURI.

This 13th Century Fortress lies on the northwest end of the Zhinvali Reservoir.

We are able to climb these towers for an amazing view.

Two (2) 17th century churches are within the walls.

One of the churches has frescos and...

..the other is simple with barren walls.

The view from above.

Mike actually went down into this space and found a room that had a blocked door going to the reservoir.

We continue onwards, by-passing Tbilisi (as we had spent a day in the capital already) and head east until we reach SIGHNAGHI.

In 2007 the village got a major facelift to transform it into the touristy place to be.

This village surrounded by an almost 4.5km of completely intact walls,...

...with 23 towers and 7 gates is not very Georgian, but a beautiful spot.

We rent a room in this guesthouse (Maia's Guesthouse, her husband runs the gift shop beside the Tourist Information Centre) for six (6) days for 50GEl ($29.00)/night.

The motorcycle parking spot.

Interesting building codes!

Interesting Electrical Code!

Having breakfast in our kitchen. This is how bread looks in the Kakheti region.

Ruby's allergies are flaring up and a visit to the pharmacy get her some Russian Claridan (we think). It works, and that is the main thing.

One of the gates that lead into the walled village.

The guidebook had mentioned that the little village perched on a hill had an Italian feel about it.

When we got our first glimpse of Sighnaghi, we knew what was meant by the comment.

The view from our deck is incredible,...

...including the fortress walls and towers,... the white-capped Caucasus Mountain Range to the north,...

...and the Alazani Valley below.

May 07, 2010. We decide on a 220km day trip from Sighnaghi to DAVIT GAREJA.

Davit Gareja consists of 15 old monasteries spread over a large area.

The only one inhabited by monks again is the LAVRA.

Extensive renovations have been completed.

The 17th century Church of St Nicholas is on the upper level.

The monks now live in these cave dwellings.

The door opening on the left lower corner of the building is the entrance to the 6th century cave Peristsvaleba.

Davit and his Kakhetian disciples Lukiane and Dodo are buried here.

Modern frescos inside the cave church.

To get to Udabno, we had to hike up the hill above Lavra monastery.

The only drawback was that the entire area was full of viper snakes, which kept scaring us...

...and kept us from going into the Udabno cave dwellings,...

...but the view from the top of Azerbaijan rewarding.

The path along the cave dwellings.

We take a snack break overlooking Azerbaijan.

After returning from Davit Gareja, we visit the PHEASANT'S TEARS WINERY.

The Kakheti region is Georgia's primary wine production area. At the Pheasant's Tears Studio we meet Amanda (American),...

...who is now part owner of the winery and moved one (1) year ago to Georgia.

For only 50GEL ($30.00) we got a one on one wine tour, starting with the family size wine cellar in the basement and the tasting of (2) white wines, (1) black (red) wine, and the local Grappa called Cha-Cha.

After the tasting, Amanda drives us to one of the vineyards near the town of Tibaani, in the Alazani Valley, approx. 20 minutes from Sighnaghi.

We meet John Wurdeman, another American, part owner of Pheasant's Tears and renown painter.

The vineyard.

Archeologists have unearthed clay amphorae (gvevri) in Georgia providing evidence of viticulture as early as 6000BC,...

...making Georgia arguably the cradle of wine civilization. 540 known varieties of grapes exist in Georgia.

We enter the cellar, which is not at all what we are used to. Large vessels (clay amphorae or gvevri as they are referred to in Georgia) lined with beeswax are buried into the ground.

The wine is fermented and stored up to a year in these vessels and sealed off by placing a layer of dirt/sand over the opening.

As we are ahead of schedule, we hang out almost a week in Sighnaghi with another couple who every day meets up at this bench across from our house.

The village is a great place to relax and take in its laid back atmosphere.

The street we lived on.

Our neighbor's houses.

May 09, 2010 is Victory Day in Georgia and the central square becomes alive with...

...locals performed traditional music and dance.

The ambulance vehicle. No it is not a museum piece, it is for real.

Eastern block vehicles are fasinating.

A lada pick-up truck.

The Stepan Tsminda Church...

... its bell tower.

Another one of the seven (7) gates.

This gates actually allows access to a walkway.

We are able to walk along the wall for a couple of hundred meters and climb its towers.

With a lot of time on hand, we catch a beautiful sunset.

A night stroll through Sighnaghi.

Every street has the old style lantern,... is very peaceful to walk through the cobblestone streets.

On May 12, 2010. We entered Azerbaijan at the Lagodekhi Border crossing.