There is one culprit to blame for the delay in this blog being posted: vodka.
We woke on Saturday morning behind the terrific rest stop near Gori where we had been spoilt with swathes of wifi and electricity into the small hours of the night. Ant and I experienced another uncomfortable digestion night during which we thanked our lucky stars that the wall adjoining our tent was one of an outside toilet. Never mind the stares of the truckers parked there for the night, the fact we could run in there straight from the tent in our boxers saved us!
Following a chunky breakfast indoors, we headed into the already toasty sun Eastwards towards the capital of the country we have been growing to appreciate slower, though now nearly as much, as Turkey. A rest stop by a fountain revealed a potential reason for upset stomachs. The aforementioned ill among us realised we had an interesting variety of flora (and fauna?) growing in the bottom of our bottles, Alex saved of this fate by having bought brand new bottles for the trip. We gave them as much of a clean as possible, creating traces of clean so clear that we swore not to drink from them again until we could wash them out thoroughly with hot water!
10 km outside of Tbilisi, we stopped in Mtskheta where we visited Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, an impressive 11th century building now also a hub of tourist traps among the great history it harbours. We bumped into a priest who unashamedly tried to sell us his hostel, which we were far from falling for even if slightly shocked by the sales tactics! Frescoes and carvings galore, the site is also said to hold Christ’s shroud amongst its foundations so was full of pilgrims as well as hosting a wedding in the middle of all the tourists!
As we rode along the river, Jvari Church stood majestically up on a hill and has tempted us enough to ride up there tomorrow. The entry into Tbilisi was unlike other cities we have entered in that it is hidden from the North by a large mountain, above which there is no sign of the sizeable metropolis that extends for kilometres on both sides of the valley around the corner. We rode over horrendously cobbled streets, reminding me of the Champs Élysées, up from the river bank to Rustaveli, shaking our bikes enough to undo Ant’s rear wheel. At the top we met our terrific host for what turned out to be the next few days, Tazo ‘Kung Fu’ Chillen and his friend Kevin, who quickly whipped us off for lunch by the river before kindly offering us his Grandfather’s flat for the next few nights to rest and use a bit of our time to spare before we are due in Baku.
Rest is the key word which we have not really been experiencing, though certainly not against our will. Local Georgian friends came through the evening bearing gifts of beer and vodka, sharing music and chatting in what is a surprisingly comfortable English to the majority of people we have met here. Our hunger controlling us as it often does, Ant and I headed to look for food at around midnight and asked some locals in the street for the nearest outlet. Interested by our odd behaviour no doubt, they replied that so long as we drank some vodka with them, we were welcome to join in their house party and the buffet which it included! We agreed, and after picking up Alex and a couple of remaining locals, returned for a while to meet lots of other friendly Georgians, and a Parisian who swore this was the most hospitable country he had ever come across!
Sunday morning saw a later wake up than usual, as we met up with Tazo for a Vake district tour by foot, stopping off at a spookily derelict fairground, a
French pastry shop, and the best ice cream parlour in town. We kept walking up the hill which closes on Tbilisi from the West, with great views over the city from above, snaking below the funicular train as we climbed to the top and the tourist attractions there.
By complete luck on a day with rather less crowds up there than usual due to the drizzle, we bumped into Tazo’s family who kindly invited us to join them for food with a view. We were treated to proper Khinkali and Adjaruli Khachapuri, as well as a guide to eat them like a Georgian! As the afternoon wore on we headed down by the train and rushed to put trousers on before we met up with Benjamin Paine, a contact we had hoped to spend some time with, in Liberty Square. Typical of the local welcome which he has more than embraced, we were delighted to be treated to a whole variety of different Georgian
produce, from spicy entrail sausages to three bottles of wine which we gratefully enjoyed!
It was great to meet an expat revelling in the local culture, set up as an independent English law solicitor with business all over Central Asia, and delving into the wonderful Caucasus hiking available within an easy car ride at the weekend!