Georgian bathing

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Waterfalls of Lagodekhi

We just crossed the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia and arrived in Lagodekhi, the entry gate of the national park. 

A true playground for the nature lovers, we went hiking between the forest and rocks alongside the Ninoskhevi river, up to the waterfalls, 4.5 kilometres further. 

The itinerary was not difficult but, quickly, there was no path anymore. We walked along the stream to find our way. Between climbing in the rocks and crossed a few times the river, this step of the hike was like a game. At the beginning, for each crossing of the river, we jumped from a stone to another one, avoiding the chilly water. Finally, it was pretty hot and we decided to dive in the river.

After an intense effort in spite of the short distance, we reached the impressive waterfalls and its 40 metres height. 

The waterfalls were noisy and resonated, in the gorges of the river. The surrounding forest offered nice shadows and great lights between the cliffs.

It was time for the Russian Gang to dive in this beautiful natural pool of a turquoise colour. Like kids, we played with the water and dived from the rocks surrounding the main pool. Once we wooled down, it was time to dry. For this, nothing better than a nap like a lizard on its rock. 

The way back was very quiet, each one going at his own pace, letting the dreams of our nap continuing or thinking about the next step of the trip.

 

Baignade dans la mer noire

While travelling, we crossed many seaside sceneries meaning new adventures! A few kilometres before Turkey, we reached the Black Sea. When I was a kid, I read “Tintin in the country of the black gold”. I thought this sea was full of petrol. But once we arrived at its edge, I understood with pleasure that its waters were clear. However, along the small campsite we chose for the night, the sand was very dark. Was it a wink to the origins of the name of this sea? 

Once we pitched up the tent, it was time for enjoying this sandy beach. We played ultimate Frisbee  with accelerations and jumps on this big black mattress. Once warmed up, we enjoyed our first bath in this warm but not too salty water. Behind us, the sun was going down, giving a beautiful orange colour to the sky before to change for a purple nuance. 

When we woke up after this last Georgian evening, there was nothing better than diving and swimming a few lengths to start the day. It was time to go back on the road towards the next country. 

Georgian night spots


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Uplistsikhe

Crossing the small town of Uplistsikhe, nearby the eponym troglodytes city, we went deeper in a narrow path surrounded by high grasses.

This path stopped a few hundreds kilometres later, in front of the Koura river. After a quick inspection for finding the flatter areas to pitch the tents and park the UAZ. We finally chose a cozy spot where everyone had his own space, like in a farm campsite. Before to setup the table, we had to manoeuvre the vehicles between the trees used like shelters for the night.

While we sat in our chairs to enjoy our almost chill beer, a cow herd leaded by a farmer crossed our campsite to go to their farm. Our presence was not disturbing them at all. Like if we were not here, they were enjoyed eating the leaves directly from the trees surrounding us. The night finished by a few « Deutsch » games. The cards were stacking on the table illuminated by the glimmer of the headlights.

The wake up was again early. Like on the eve, the herd of cows came back for going in the opposite direction. The brioche was rapidly eaten before to hit the road again towards West. 

Along the Shaori lake

During an adventure, there are tough choices between pleasure and reason. 

After going along the Shaori lake and its clear water, we needed to take a decision. Above us, the sky was cloudy and stormy. But was it a good reason for choosing safety rather than this breathtaking spot for wild camping? 

This time, we opted for the beauty of the place. We went closer to the lake with our vehicles and set up our camp. We hung the tarp given a few days ago by a Dutch overlander, from the UAZ. We spent the evening under this basic shelter helping us to stay dry while it was raining until we fall asleep. Further away, we saw the Lightning’s on the summits of Caucasia, piercing the ski with a worrying white light. 

Early in the morning, the sun replaced the clouds. The reflection of the sunshine on the lake offered a breathtaking view. It was time to dive in. Nothing better than a few lengths in lake for a morning shower, before to stay a new day on the road. After this, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast, folded the temps and started the engines.

Koutaissi and the mountains of Caucasia – 5 days – 200 metres above sea level

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The Georgian capitale being behind us, we did a first stop 20 kilometres further to visit the monastery of Djvari. Sadly, the building doesn’t have much specificities. Plus, there were too many tourists. A crowd which didn’t help to enjoy the view over the Mtskheta city. 

At the bottom of the cliff, we stopped in the fortified city which was the capital of the country in the past. In the historical area, we visited the Cathedral of Svetitskhoveli, an impressive building by its architecture and the fortifications. In one of the pedestrian steets, we enjoyed our first Tchourtchkela, a speciality with a shape similar to a French saucisson. But it was a sweet made of nuts and a gelatin made with grape juice. 

Not convinced by this speciality, we stopped on a terrace of a café reminding the British gardens for a lemonade with an aniseed or lemon flavour. 

Still accompanied by Maika and Christoph, we continued our trip on a small road in the Georgian countryside. Mid-afternoon, we reached the ancient troglodyte fortress of Uplistsikhe. The archeological digs revealed the first caverns have been sculpted from the Iron Age, before the site became a big medieval city. But it was hard to imagine how was the life in these rooms dug in the rocks. We loved watching the lizards enjoying the shadow of the caves. 

After a night spent along the Kura river. We visited in the middle of the morning the Gori city, place of birth of Joseph Staline. His family house was exposed on the main square at the bottom of the museum in tribute to the father of the Russian people. In the park, the vendors were selling many souvenirs reminding their hero. We bought some matches with the celebrity printed on the box. We finally went to the fortress on the top of the city. 

Then we reached the thermal city of Borjomi, famous for its natural sparkling water. We arrived by the river before to enter in the city at the beginning of the afternoon. Lunch break in a restaurant for a fresh salad to cool down a bit. After this, we hiked in the thermal park of the city. We started along the Borjomula river where beautiful villas with wooden facades have been built at the best of the city, the 19th century. At the beginning, the park looked like the old amusement park from the Soviet period before to enjoy a quiet pine forest. The small path led us to the public baths before to go up to reach the cliff overlooking the city. During this hike, the clouds brought the rain. We sheltered under a tree to avoid a shower. 

Back in town, late in the day, we looked for a guesthouse where we could dry and shelter due to the stormy forecasts. We chose a small studio apartment, rented by a family in a cul-de-sac. With our three vehicles, no one else were able to go through. We spent the evening on the terrace in front of the studio, sheltered by a trap given by a Dutch traveller to Maika and Christoph. 

After a hearty breakfast prepared by the studio’s owner, the Russian Gang were back on the road. Nice curves along the river before to climb up the mountain. We started the road under a blazing sun before to get rain and hail, just a few kilometres before the village of Khertvisi. The rain suits were not sufficient to protects us from the hailstones which were as big as little balls. We stopped to get some protection under the trees and we finally found refuge in a café. 

At soon as it stopped for a bit, we used the Uaz van to reach Vardzia, a troglodyte monastery. The road was climbing up the mountain between the canyons revealing a breathtaking view over the historic site. Built on the mountainside Erusheti at the 12th century, there were about 3,000 caves during its golden age including 900 which are still up today. While walking in the city, we were impressed by the chapel and enjoyed crossing the labyrinth of tunnels going through the mountain. Back on the road back, we stopped a couple of times to manage going through the cows.  

The following day was rainy. Again, the road was going between the mountains. We followed the advice of Claudia, a German lady met around a glass of wine, we left the main road leading to Koutaïssi, to start a circuit of 200 kilometres in the Racha area. On the asphalt, we saw old tractors from the Soviet area and many Lada cars. 

After 20 kilometres, the road were going up and there were more and more curves. At the top of the summit at 595 metres above the sea level, we did a small break with a view over the Tkibuki lake. On each side of the lake, there was a conflict between the dark clouds on the right hand side and the last sun rays on the left hand side. We observed this show with some tourists including a guide who gave us delicious and unexpected pieces of watermelon. We took the opportunity of this break for wearing up our rain suits. The target for wild camping tonight seemed already under the dark clouds. 

We went back down towards the old mining city of Tkibuki. Today, almost abandoned, the buildings were falling into ruins, leaving rust progressing on the metal. Once we visited the city, we climbed up a last col. The road continued on a plateau along the Shaori lake and clear waters. It was along the river that we camped under the rain during all the evening. 

Early in the morning, we continued our trip along the river before to go down and reach the city of Ambrolauri. We went on the left to take a small mountainous road in a canyon made by the Rioni river. There were many stones on the road so we were very cautious with an eye looking on the right side. Between the village of Lajana and the small city of Tsageru, the road went up before to go down with a beautiful view on the mountainous scenery. 

We reached the Prometheus caves. We walked through 1.5-kilometre galeries among the 11 kilometres of the caves. A guide was mandatory for the visit with a big group of tourists. We stayed the last ones on the group to enjoy some quiet time in this impressive place. We tried to guess the shapes made by the stalactites and the stalagmites. Some freshness and poetry during this hot day. 

For the next step, we stopped in the thermal city of Tskaltubo. Known during the glorious Soviet years, its hot water sources were enjoyed a lot by Joseph Staline. Big buildings have been built to offer public baths or spas. Today, due to the obsolescence, the hotels were abandoned. We enjoyed a little session of “urban exploration” in the ruins of the public bath number 8. 

We arrived at the end of the afternoon at Koutaïssi. We climbed up the small narrow streets to find a hotel found on Booking.com. But no one at the address specified. We chatted with a neighbour who made a small hostel with two rooms in his house. Nothing fancy but a great welcoming. We finished the day with a beer on his small wooden terrace at the bottom of his garden, by the Rioni river. While going back up to the hostel to walk in the city, we have been kindly invited for a tea and a glass of wine liquor with the family. The kids in the living room were celebrating a birthday under a disco ball.

On the following day, after a new hearty breakfast prepared by the owner, we went discovering the city. We passed by the impressive theatre of Lado Meskhishvili, crossed the central park before to reach the Bagrati Cathedral on the opposite side of the river, above the city. Longtime into ruins, the renovation works succeeded themselves during the 20th century for ending a few years ago. Magnificent, it has the originality to wear iron wings.

During our visit, several pops were praying around a coffin. A chorus of men was singing a cappella. The ambiance was heavy but beautiful from this emotion resulting of the ceremony and the greatness of the place.

At midday, we took the direction of the Black Sea, by the main road of the country, also used by several trucks. But surprisingly, even if this road was one of the busiest roads of the country, we had to slow down a lot for several level crossings. 

Arrived at the sea side, we setup the camp at the well-named “black sea campsite”. Then we had a dinner with the feet in the sand, in the shared kitchen and its walls made of bamboo. This was our last Georgian night…

Before crossing the border, we stopped a few kilometers after the campsite, in a garden honoring Georgian and international musicians and singers with nice statues. We saw Edith Piaf representing France…

Then, we passed the seaside city named Batoumi, with its futuristic architecture, before to reach the border in Sarpi. 

Arrived at the custom building, Emilie, Christoph and Julien managed alone the crossing with the vehiclies. While Marie, Maika and I went by foot to the immigration. It was a modern building looking like an airport. The paperworks were smooth, altering between immigration counter and duty free shops. We left the building 15 minutes later with a new stamp on our passport and waited Emilie, Christoph and Julien.

The sidecars arrived less than 1 hour after  we left them on the Georgian side. Again they did not need to open any luggages… In another hand, this was a lot more difficult for Christoph, with his Kazakh registered vehicle and Cyrillic documents. The customs asked him to go back to Batumi for translating in English the vehicle documents.

Therefore, it was at this border that our paths were diverging. We planned to meet them in a few days on the Northern coast of Turkey.

Sadly, we learned later they were unable to enter in Turkey with the UAZ and its Kazakh registration. Maika and Christoph had to reach Germany by crossing the Black Sea with a ferry to Bulgaria. But we know that one day, our path will cross again. Maybe in Germany, France or somewhere else around the world  to gather together the “Russian Gang” !


OUR FAVOURITE PLACES
Where to drink?

Café Tatin
20, Mamulashvili street , Mtskheta

A nice break in the shadow with a British atmosphere to enjoy a drink of a delicious and fresh lemonade.

Where to eat?

Restaurant My House
1200 Kostava St, Borjomi

A good place to enjoy a fresh salad before to hike in the park.

Tbilissi – 6 days – 770 metres above sea level

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We entered in Georgia by the border post of Lagodekhi with Maika and Christoph riding their UAZ van. The office was a bit old but we were, again, well welcomed. Emilie, being the main pilot on the paperwork of sidecar, took care of the import. No checking by the agent and Emilie got a stamp on her passeport very quickly. In the meantime, I didn’t have any issue in the customs office for “passengers”.

A few kilometers further, we stopped by a portacabin to get a vehicle insurance. Each vehicle of the “Russian Gang” subscribed to a 15-day contract. 

It was 2pm when we arrived in the city of Lagodekhi. We parked on the main square and asked a young lady to find a place to lunch. At the first adresse, we found a closed door. We climbed up a few stairs and found a kebab place. The regular customers were surprised to see us. We ordered the only dish left at this time of day: fried bread with cheese. 

Lagodekhi is a city without touristic interest but it’s the point of departure for hiking up to the Azerbaijan border through its natural park. 

When it was the time for finding a place to camp, we opted for the main entry of the park where a campsite was marked. Upon our arrival, the guide didn’t let us to pitch up the tent. He indicated a second entry, more isolated, and adapted for tents. Indeed, after a stony path, we found a nice clearing. 

This night, we shared our table with a German retired couple. They have crossed Europe and Turkey and were heading to Mongolia. It was with a glass of Georgian wine, from a bottle not very tasty they received as a gift, that we spent the night together. 

The area being famous for hiking, the following day we decided to hike up to the Ninoskhevi waterfalls. Breathtaking view with their height of 40 metres, we dived in before to return. 

Back on the road, it was the end of the afternoon. We rode over a hundred of kilometres on nice mountainous roads between little villages. In one of them, we stopped to get bread. Marie took the opportunity to enter in the back shop to see the making of this traditional bread cooked in an unusual way.

The Georgian traditional bread, named Shoti, is prepared in a cylindrical oven made of terra cotta looking like a well. Once the dough prepared, it’s stuck on the inside wall until the unusual boat shape becomes crispy. 

A few kilometres further, we started to look for a place to spend the night. While looking for a spot in a wild field with tall trees, a snake with a length of 1 metre and a diametre of 5cms was right in front of us. 

We finally decided to camp a hundred of metres further, by a few grapevines. 

During our breakfast, a farmer came. He was the owner of this land and was walking with his herd of cows. He said hi and offered us to share his treasure: an old bottle of alcool hidden at the bottom of a tree, in the soil. As it was early in the morning, we kindly declined and gave him a slice of bread with jam. It was hard to discuss with him as he was only speaking Georgian. We tried a few words in Russian, English and German. Maika finally understood he was alerting us for snakes, they were many of them in the area.  

We reached the small village of Udabno in the morning. Upon our arrival, we got rooms in a small hostel. It was a modest house with 3 unoccupied rooms, owned by a retired couple. 

The four of us went in the back of the UAZ van with Christoph riding and Maika giving the directions. Together, we headed to the monastery of David Gareja. Like kids, we stuck our faces to the windows to see the deserted landscapes. The road was in very bad conditions with many stones. Christoph proved his driving skills on this uneven road. 

Isolated from everything, the monastery was right on a cliff at the Azerbaijan border. Some of the rooms have been built in the rock, like troglodyte houses. We climbed up the hill marking the border with Azerbaijan. The viewpoint over this deserted land was breathtaking. Soldiers from each country were together on this imaginary line. But this day, it seemed the border soldiers were preoccupied. A little group of soldiers were around a tourist who probably tried to cross the line. 

On the way back to reach our hostel, we avoided a big turtle crossing the path. At the end of the day, we enjoyed a hearty meal prepared by the owner. In the background, the cows were lowing due to the storm. 

For the next step, we arrived in Sagarejo. But before this, we made a detour to visit the wine area of Kakhetie and the vineyard of Antadze. 

Our adventure led us to the quiet monastery of Ninotsmindis. Green and flowery, its main chapel has been destroyed and only ruins remained. The ramparts were still existing. 

We rode the last 45 kilometres separating us from the Tbilissi capital to reach the hostel we booked for a few days. To reach it, we crossed the town-centre by one of the main roads. With the heat and the traffic, it was hard for our engines. Upon our arrival, we needed to push our sidecars in the courtyard as we were not able to start our engines. 

We unpacked and met 3 bikers travelling: a Dutch guy driving a BMW, a Swiss lady riding a Royal Einfield and a French guy with a Husqvarna. We spent the evening with them and shared our bottles of wine bought during the afternoon at the vineyard. 

The Georgian capital built on the riversides of Koura is located between the small and bigs mountains of Caucasia. 

There are many parks and nice flowery courtyards at the bottom of buildings. 

At the end of the morning, we started to visit Tbilissi. From our hotel, we went down to reach the Kura river. To visit the historical centre, we crossed the river on the Saarbuecken bridge and crossed the Dedaena park. There were many book sellers in this park, looking like the ones in Paris with their boxes along the Seine. 

We found some books in French and German. We used the bridge crossing the avenue of Gansakhurdia to reach the marketing street and the nice little square of the Orbeliani garden. We went up the little streets to reach the Rustavelli avenue leading to the shopping mall. We enjoyed an ice cream before to go to the Liberty Square that we crossed by an underground path. 

The city has been built to privilege cars. Therefore, there are main arteries around the city and underground passages crossing the city. 

These passages were sometimes dark and sad,  but sometimes they were full of life and colourful with shops, hairdressing salons or walls painted with street art.

We arrived in the little streets of the historical town centre to lunch. We enjoyed a Georgian pizza name Kachapuri. This dish is made of Shoti, the Georgian bread, stuffed with cheese (the recipe is different from a region to another one but cheese stays the main ingredient). The recipe we chose is coming from the Ajari area (South-West part of the country) and the main specificity is a fried egg on the top.

We did a free walking tour to continue discovering the historical town centre. We started by the medieval gate on the Pushkin avenue where there were only remains left. We loved the sinuous roads of this area and the picturesque atmosphere due to the age of the buildings. The wooden buildings, old and tired, started to incline while others building were being refurbished. 

In these little streets, two buildings became famous. A first one due to its outside stairs (a feature of the Caucasian houses) remind the stairs of Poudlard. The second one has a beautiful courtyard with a U-shape and sophisticated woodworks painted in pale blue. 

We continued our visit with the Clock Tower, emblematic monument of the city. It was ringing upon our arrival at 7pm, symbolised by the apparition of little characters representing key steps of the Georgian life. We crossed the Kura river by the bridge of peace symbolising the reconciliation with Russia after the war of 2005. From the Ride Park, we had a beautiful view over the Narikala fortress above the historical area. There was the big statue of Kartis Dedo representing the “Georgian Mother” holding a glass of wine in her left hand for friends and a sword in a her right hand for enemies. We finished our tour in the area of Abanot, famous for the baths as the water is coming from the Legvtakhevi waterfalls, rich in sulphur. 

To finish the day, we went to La Fabric, a place which includes a cultural centre, a co-working space and artists in residence. The place was highly frequented this Friday evening for bars and street food. We didn’t resist to a delicious falafel burger. 

At the end of the morning, the next day, we went back on the road to leave the capital to continue our trip towards West on the Georgian roads.