Setting a leisurely pace through Georgia

Gemächlich durch Georgien

Photo gallery

(English below)

Welcome to Georgia

Welcome to Georgia

Batumi Botanical Garden

Batumi Botanical Garden

Architecture in Batumi

Architecture in Batumi

Waiting for a visa in Batumi (not so hard after all)

Waiting for a visa in Batumi (not so hard after all)

Jason and his Argonauts supposedly sailed to Batumi to steal the golden fleece

Jason and his Argonauts supposedly sailed to Batumi to steal the golden fleece

Smoked fish from the market - delicious and cheap

Smoked fish from the market – delicious and cheap

Pork was back on the menu in Batumi

Pork was back on the menu in Batumi

...to exactly??

…to exactly??

Tough to wake up to this view in the morning

Tough to wake up to this view in the morning

Adjara Province in Georgia

Adjara Province in Georgia

Having a dip in the afternoon

Having a dip in the afternoon

To think that most of the drivers are probably drunk too!!

To think that most of the drivers are probably drunk too!!

Eine einzige schmale Linie am Boden und augenblicklich wurden Minarette durch Kreuze, verschleierte Frauen durch sich bräunende Strandschönheiten, Teetässchen durch Bierhumpen, freundlich zulächelnde Gesichter durch ernsthaftes Starren und breite Pannenstreifen durch schmale Holperstrassen abgelöst. Der Kulturschock hätte grösser nicht sein können, als wir am 23. Juni die türkisch-georgische Grenze überquerten und dem Schwarzen Meer entlang nach Batumi radelten. So spannend es auch gewesen wäre, nach der Türkei den Iran zu bereisen, so sehr spürten wir auch ein leises Gefühl von Erleichterung, uns wieder in einer kulturell etwas vertrauteren Gesellschaft zu bewegen. Ungefähr 20 Kilometer nach der Grenze erreichten wir die Hafenstadt Batumi, wurden in einem kleinen Hostel (Divine Hostel) freundlichst von Nino, Daniel und Brett empfangen, gönnten uns erst mal ein kühles Bier und freuten uns auf eine viertägige Velopause. Die Stadt Batumi mit ihren modernen Bauten und der palmenbesäumten Strandpromenade glänzt vor allem an der Oberfläche. Ein zweiter Blick verrät jedoch, dass Schein und Glanz oft grössere Bedeutung beigemessen wird als Nutzen und Stabilität: Auch die neusten Gebäude bröckeln bereits vor sich hin oder stehen trotz aufwändiger Erbauung leer. Die Stadt wächst und wächst, lässt jedoch einen gewissen Charme vermissen. Nichtsdestotrotz genossen wir unsere vier Tage in Batumi, die wir hauptsächlich im gemütlichen Garten unseres Hostels, in kleinen Cafés, am Strand oder mit dem Genuss georgischer Spezialitäten (z. B. geräucherter Fisch und Käse und hausgemachter Schnaps namens Chacha) verbrachten, in vollen Zügen und spürten, wie die Anspannung der vergangenen Wochen in den türkischen Bergen langsam von uns abliess. Unser Einreisevisum für Azerbaijan erhielten wir problemlos und unerwarteterweise innert dreier Stunden statt dreier Tagen, so dass unser Aufenthalt in Batumi in jeder Hinsicht sehr erholsam war.

Mit wieder erlangter Motivation, ausgeruhten Beinen und drei neuen Reisegspändli (Claire, Mark und Raz aus England) verliessen wir Batumi am 27. Juli und radelten gemächlich durch die Adjara Provinz Richtung georgische Berge. Die idyllische Umgebung mit ihren dichten Wäldern, hohen Bergen, kaum befahrenen Strassen sowie kristallklaren Flüssen liessen uns jeweils kurz nach Mittag unsere drei Zelte aufstellen und den Nachmittag mit Essen und Baden verbringen. Anstrengend wurde es erst wieder, als wir am 29. Juli den Goderdzipass auf 2000 m.ü.M. überquerten und gleichzeitig mit Holperstrassen zu kämpfen hatten. Dafür gönnten wir uns am 1. Juli eine Velopause, drängten uns zu fünft in ein Taxi, das uns zur Burg Khertvisi und zur Höhlenstadt Wardzia, in welcher noch heute einige Mönche leben, chauffierte. Nach einem weiteren gemütlichen Abend bei Bier und Khinkali (typische georgische Fleischtaschen) verabschiedeten wir uns von Claire, Mark und Raz im Wissen, dass sich unsere Wege spätstens nach paar Tagen in Tbilisi (Tiflis) wieder kreuzen würden.

Die nächsten Tage (2. bis 4. Juli) führten uns über weite Hochebenenen mit tiefblauen Bergseen, bunten Blumenwiesen und Blick auf die teils immer noch schneebedeckten Berggipfel. Oft begegneten wir stundenlang keiner Menschenseele und einmal mehr erfasste mich das seit Beginn unserer Reise immer wiederkehrende Glücks- und Freiheitsgefühl, mich mitten in dieser wunderbaren Natur zu befinden. Hie und da radelten wir durch kleine Bergdörfchen, wo uns Kinder mit einem freudigem “hello hello” begrüssten, uns nachrannten oder einen Handschlag zu geben versuchten.

Wir erreichten Tbilisi am 4. Juli und trafen uns am Abend ein letztes Mal mit Pauline und Jo aus Lausanne, die sich entschieden hatten, ihr Fahrrad in Batumi einzustellen, d.h.vorerst als Backpacker weiter zu reisen, und damit viel früher als wir in Usbekistan anzukommen. Da wir grosse Strecken in der Türkei gemeinsam zurück gelegt haben, verbinden uns unzählige Erinnnerungen an verschiedenste Begegnungen, anstrengende Passstrassen, Jassabende, Glücksmomente und paar Durchhänger. Wir feierten den Abschied mit einem herrlichen Nachtessen (noch mehr Khinkali) sowie gutem Wein und freuen jetzt schon uns auf einen Jass in Lausanne oder Bern.

Im Gegensatz zu Batumi wirkt Tbilisi äusserst lebendig.  Wir genossen es, von charmanten Cafés aus dem bunten Treiben zuzuschauen, durch die Strassen zu schlendern und am 6. Juli unsere englischen Freunde (Claire, Mark und Raz) wieder zu sehen und – wie so oft – georgische Khinkali zu essen.

Paul und ich verliessen Tbilisi am 7. Juli, nur um tags darauf in Sighnaghi, einem hübschen kleinen Städtchen nahe der Grenze zu Azerbaijan, erneut eine Velopause einzulegen und uns in der Pension von Nato und Lado mit georgischer Musik, hausgemachtem Wein und Chacha (georgischer Schnaps) sowie herrlichem Essen verwöhnen zu lassen.

Wir verliessen Georgien am 9. Juli nach 16 sehr entspannten Tagen. Es gäbe noch viele Burgen und Klöster zu sehen sowie schönste Natur zu erleben. Irgendwann kommen wir wieder!

Setting a leisurely pace through Georgia

The crossing of a single political line on the ground, meant that within the blink of an eye, minarets replaced crosses, women covered from head to toe gave way to bikinis and short skirts revealing far too much skin, shady tea gardens made room for beer mugs and raki shot glasses, friendly smiling faces metamorphosed into serious solemn stares and pleasantly wide emergency lanes receeded into narrow bumpy pot-holed streets.  In many ways, the culture shock for us upon crossing the border from Turkey into Georgia along the Black Sea on the 23rd June could hardly have been more pronounced.

He could definitely get a job designing Ikea furniture

He could definitely get a job designing Ikea furniture

Time for a rest at the top of the Goderdzi Pass

Time for a rest at the top of the Goderdzi Pass

Happily at the top of the Goderdzi Pass (2025m)

Happily at the top of the Goderdzi Pass (2025m)

View from the Goderdzi Pass

View from the Goderdzi Pass

Flower power cow

Flower power cow

Wild camping with a view

Wild camping with a view

A look of joy at seeing the start of the bitumen again

A look of joy at seeing the start of the bitumen again

Not an uncommon site - another vehicle with the hood up

Not an uncommon site – another vehicle with the hood up

Khertvisi Castle

Khertvisi Castle

Vardzia

Vardzia

Vardzia

Vardzia

Mobile honey processing plant

Mobile honey processing plant

Lake Paravani, Georgia

Lake Paravani, Georgia

Wildflowers beside the road

Wildflowers beside the road

Hiding in the forest

Hiding in the forest

The wonky Tbilisi clock tower

The wonky Tbilisi clock tower

The Swiss Connection plus Frank

The Swiss Connection plus Frank

Rainbows of colour on the streets of Tbilisi

Rainbows of colour on the streets of Tbilisi

Eating what else but kinkhali

Eating what else but kinkhali

Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

Streetscapes of Tbilisi

Streetscapes of Tbilisi

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi

Sunflowers on the way to the border

Sunflowers on the way to the border

As exciting and interesting as it would have been to have made it into Iran from Turkey, there was no disguising the fact, that to some degree there was an added element of relaxedness to be back in a culture that outwardly seemed a little more familiar.

20km past the border crossing we reached the seaside town of Batumi and set about enjoying a few days of rest (from the 23rd until 27th June).  We checked into a small pop-up hostel (D’vine Hostel) close to the centre of town and a 500m walk to the beach and were made to feel at home thanks to our wonderful hosts there, Nino, Dan and Brett.  Of highest priority during our time in Batumi was the procurement of an Azerbaijan visa for one lucky empty page of our passports.  Arriving early Sunday meant that we had the rest of the day to relax, wash away the sweat and enjoy a cold beer in the shade of the peaceful garden of the hostel before the Embassy opened the following morning.

Vast building works and investment have occurred in Batumi especially within the last 10 years, and the city markets itself quite heavily as a seaside tourism center for Turkish and Russian tourists.  Whilst not all that sparkles is gold, it is clear that there have been huge efforts made in renovating and developing the thin strip of real estate running parallel to the sea.  These renovations seem not to have quite reached further back from the waterside into the town, and there can one witness a more representative view of the current fortunes of the general population of Georgia.  An array of sparkling, modern, highrise buildings stand sentinel along the waterfront, and an immense collection of sculptures and artworks dot the promenade making for a pleasant spot to wander.

The days of rest were spent swimming in the Black Sea, eating inummerable ice creams, sipping European coffee for the first time in over a month, sampling the typical delicacies of the local markets (think local smoked fish, homemade salami and a diverse range of biscuits, alongside deliciously tasty fruits and vegetables, as well as the odd chicken in a cage, or a butchered pig hanging by a hook from it’s snout), and getting to know the local rocket fuel, chacha.

The visa situation more or less sorted itself out.  Within 3 hours, rather than the 3 days we’d been expecting, we had a freshly printed 1-month private visa for Azerbaijan stuck into our passports, courtesy of the friendly consul there and our journey was cleared for continuation eastwards.  Not being quite ready mentally or physically to ride on however, meant that we enjoyed a few more days lazing about in Batmui, enjoying the sun and getting the bikes back into A1 condition.

Full of motivation and in the company of three new English cycling companions (Claire, Mark and Raz) we met at the hostel, we said our goodbyes to the Black Sea and set off due east (27th June) through the mountains of the Adjara Province upon the advice of Dan from D’vine Hostel (who’d spent a year there teaching English).  His recommendation turned out to be a real winner.  We’d heard horror stories about cycling the main road between Batumi and the capital Tbilisi, so as soon as we discovered the beauty which the valleys of Adjara afforded us, we where in heaven.  Dense forests beginning almost at the coast continued alongside winding roads towards bald mountain peaks of just over 3000m further inland.  Steep valley walls meant some precariously placed bends in the road hugging for dear life onto cliff walls, but traffic was surprisingly light, and we were greeted with awe-inspiring views along the river at every corner.

Knowing that we had quite a bit of time up our sleeves before being able to enter Azerbaijan, we set about enjoying the riding through Georgia without any stress about having to make too much progress everyday.  Three 50km days of riding winding up the valley towards the Goderdzi Pass (2025m) left us plenty of time in the afternoon to paddle in the crystal clear waters of the river on the valley floor.  The 20km either side of the Goderdzi Pass still failed to posses the bitumen promised to be finished in 2012, and so the going over the final 800m ascent and subsequent descent turned into a bumpy struggle which burned the legs a little more than usual and filled all orifices with dust.

Upon arrival in Akhaltsikhe (30th June) it was decided that a rest day for the following day was in order so that we could explore the surrounding area.  The next morning (1st July) the five of us crammed into a small taxi and headed up another windy road into a side valley for a little sightseeing.  First stop was the Khertvisi Castle sitting atop a clifftop at the junction of two valleys.  After scrambling up the path it appeared that we weren’t the only tourists there – about 15 cows had already beaten us inside the grounds and seemed to be enjoying the views offered through the gaps in the castle walls.

The main destination for the day though, was the cave monastery site of Vardzia on the left bank of the Mtkvari River about 60km from Akhaltsikhe.  The rows upon rows of cave monasteries built into the cliffface date from the end of the 12th century and extend some 500 meters in length over different 19 tiers.  A major earthquake in 1283 damaged a large part of the site, facilitating the need for substantial repairs.  Subsequent conquests by the Persians and Ottomans in the 16th century forced the monks living there to eventually leave and the site was abandoned.  The site contains the impressive Church of the Domition as well as numerous other naves and chapels all containing important wall paintings.  The highlight of a visit to the site is the fact that you’re able to walk through the whole site, up and down the cliffs via stepped terraces and tunnels.  Some respite from the scorching heat of the midday sun could also be found in the shade of the caves.  A dinner of kinkhali (traditional Georgian style dumplings) washed down with beer rounded out the day.

We said “see you soon” to our British companions the next morning (2nd July) and set off towards the Georgian capital Tbilisi, waiting patiently 260km further east, knowing that we’d probably be catching up again there.  These three days (2nd – 4th July) led us along high plateaus with shimmering blue lakes and past colourful fields of wildflowers framed by mountains still covered with the last patches of winter’s snow.  We often rode for long patches without seeing a soul, and the feeling of freedom and peace in such beautiful nature seeped slowly into our bones.  When we did come across a village, it always seemed very sleepy and devoid of activity.  Our presence caused the occasional “hello hello” to escape from a doorway somewhere, and there seemed to be more animals wandering the streets than there were people.

A long descent led us in to Tbilisi (4th July) where we’d booked a small apartment (via airbnb.com) for a few days.  Once again we met up with our Turkish travelling partners, Jo and Pauline from Lausanne, and said our final goodbyes for this trip.  They had a shorter timeframe than us from the start, and had decided to leave their bikes in Georgia for a month and head on to Central Asia by plane with backpacks, before then heading back over the Black Sea towards the Ukraine with the ferry and riding back to Switzerland – great to meet you guys, thanks for the memories in Turkey and all the best – see you back home for a Jass evening!!

Our two days in Tbilisi were spent exploring the old town, half falling down, half renovated, but totally charming, enjoying the plethora of cafés, climbing the cobblestone streets and winding alleys and looking for decent spare bike tubes.  The view from the castle offers a spectacular view over the town, and the cablecar to the top must come in handy for the winter ski season?!?  More kinkhali and beer (almost our daily staple in Georgia – kinkhali that is) was consumed with Mark, Claire and Raz when we met up for the evening in a traditional Georgian basement restaurant.

To again avoid the heat we left Tbilisi (7th July) just on sunrise and covered the 110km to Sighnaghi, a cute hillside village near the Georgian wine region, just in time for a late lunch.  A real treat awaited us there, where we were made to feel like part of the family after checking into a small guesthouse run by Nato and her father Lado.  Fresh watermelon and homemade wine arrived promptly for afternoon tea, Nado’s young daughters sang and performed an array of traditional Georgian music in the evening following a delicious homecooked meal prepared by Nato’s mother, after which we were then filled to pussy’s bow with more wine and chacha – all courtesy of Nato.  Although we’d only planned to spend one night in Sighnaghi, the incredibly hospitality of Nato quickly convinced us that another night was definitely in order, and it gave us a bit more time to wander around the charming old town, along the city walls, and up the defense towers.

In the knowledge that our Azerbaijan visa began on the 9th July, we left Sighnaghi early and headed the 50km towards the border to pass into Azerbaijan.  The 16 days we’d spent in Georgia really helped recharge our batteries and we found that we were both excited about the journey ahead and riding again.  Knowing how many stunning castles and beautiful monasteries we didn’t have time to see in Georgia, as well as the kilomtere upon kilometer of hiking trails through the breathtaking mountain ranges in the north of Georgia means that we’ll deifinitely be back – we’ll just have to find enough holidays 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Setting a leisurely pace through Georgia

  1. Hi Guys, Don’t know much about Georgia so was great to hear your summary & see your photos (they continue to be amazing). Good to see you are enjoying your riding again as no doubt some “Challenges” ahead ! Not sure if you know that Marcus broker his collarbone at footy about a month ago so he has had a tough few weeks after the Op, but up & going again now. Also not sure if you know that Marcus & I have booked on to do the Kokoda trail mid Sep which will be our big challenge, although some what shorter than yours. Sadly this means no chance of me joining you for riding later in the year. Still keen to have some time in Tassie if that works though. Keep smiling & safe travels. Cheers David & family xx

  2. Hello you two, Annina and Paul!
    It was beautiful to see your pictures of Turkey and to watch your fantastic film. I wish I could join you for a small part of your extraordinary journey. Your texts are so well written, your descriptions and thoughts are so interesting and rewarding and of course your films let me take part in your adventures. I think you should make a book out of all this when you are back in Switzerland. I wish you a good continuation, take care and keep in touch!
    Fa / Christoph

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