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Monday, August 12, 2013

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Vardzia really had been spectacular and I wondered what would come next as I made my way back up the valley. I didn’t have to wait long; as I turned onto the main Tbilisi road heading for Borjomi I was hailed over by a couple of rough looking characters having a picnic behind their car. I’ve now been on the road long enough to know that I mustn’t judge people, as in my experience almost everyone I’m meeting want to show me the kind side of human nature. Here was a prime example.

My first meeting with Azerbaijan citizens.

I stopped the bike and wandered over, to be greeted by very poor English, but greeted I was and asked to join them for a meal. They were both from Azerbaijan and had come for a look around Georgia during their holidays. They really were amazing and I told them that I would be visiting their home country in only a few weeks time, to which they assured me I would be made welcome wherever I traveled, the Azerbaijan people would show me true hospitality. I never doubted it as I tucked into bread, salami, biscuits and fruit juice. Once more the phrase which has now become synonymous with my trip came to mind: “the kindness of strangers.”

Fully fed and watered I climbed back on the bike and said farewell, then made my way up the long climb in high spirits. Along the way I saw numerous horse and carts carrying all manner of cargo and without exception they all shouted and waved at me.

Georgia – the most friendly country so far? – I think so.

My hope was to reach Lake Paravani and wild camp on the shore, but a strong headwind somewhat slowed my progress as I turned north. The sun was really hot too and by late afternoon I was shattered and settled for camping on the shores of the nearer Saghamo Lake after a pretty decent day of riding. Although it was very picturesque it was unfortunately too dirty to swim in, so I boiled enough water with my pasta to have a ‘flannel’ wash.

The sunset was pretty spectacular, even if the water wasn’t!

Next morning I made a reasonably early start and was surprised to meet up with the young German cyclist I’d seen on his way to visit Vardzia. His name was Niklas, he’d ridden from Germany through Eastern Europe and infuriatingly had had no problem getting his Iranian visa – I wasn’t jealous (much).

Niklas, my companion for the next few days.

It was a pretty tough and a full day of riding, mostly into a headwind with far too many hills! We were looking for a decent camping spot and on almost exactly the 100km mark (for me – Niklas had ridden 22km more) we decided to explore a track leading down to the river in the valley. It was a good move, as we found a nice flat and quiet place to pitch our tents close to the gently flowing river.

After a good nights undisturbed sleep and a decent breakfast, we headed back into the wind and Tbilisi, a mere 70km away. Despite the wind, hills and horrendous driving from idiotic Georgian drivers, we made good progress and reached the city outskirts by 11:30 a.m.

Windblown and in need of a shave!!

The ride into the city was particularly difficult and scary, I know I keep harping on about it but Georgian drivers seem to remove their brains when entering a car and a few times both myself and Niklas had very near misses. If you indicate to pull out you are just ignored and if you have right of way at a junction you’ll get hit if you don’t give way – it’s a total nightmare and we were both happy once we got off the main roads. Now all we had to do was find the hostel.
After a bit of wandering around, we finally located the Why Not? hostel and quickly got settled in. As it was Sunday night it was just a case of getting a shower, organising something to eat, doing my washing and then crashing out. Done with ease!

Why Not? Hostel, Tbilisi

The hostel is the largest I’ve stayed in so far, but still manages to keep a ‘homely’ feel to it. I was concerned about actually getting any sleep in the cheapest dorm which has 20 beds, because I’m such a light sleeper, but it hasn’t been too bad. The 4 staff who work here are amazingly helpful and friendly and I can’t thank Daniel and Nina at the D’ Vine hostel enough for recommending this place. Oh, breakfast (which is the best I’ve had) is included and the washing machine is free to use.

Our hosts – Mariam, Benji and the cats!

Next morning my first task was to find a photocopy shop for my passport and then go round to the Kazakhstan embassy and ask for a visa. I expected there to be a long queue and was pleasantly surprised when I was the only one waiting. It wasn’t long before I was ushered inside by a nice English speaking lady who said she would translate between myself and the consul, who was also very friendly. Forms were filled out (with the translators help) and payment of $60 made, but I’d have to wait until Friday to collect the visa. I was asked to call Friday morning to make sure it was ready and then pick it up between 3 – 5 p.m.

The City

St George slaying his dragon. The statue and plinth are real gold.

Tbilisi is a pretty large city so I chose to walk around a little and use the bike too. I’ll be returning in a couple of weeks, so will probably do a more thorough job with the photo’s, but here’s a few anyway.

Government House, Tbilisi

Mtkvari River, Tbilisi

Kashveti Church, Tbilisi

Frescoe, Kashveti Church, Tbilisi

Frescoe, Kashveti Church, Tbilisi

By far the most impressive statue (IMHO) is this one below which is almost impossible to photograph well due to it’s location – surrounded by high trees with no clear view from above. The text was in Russian and despite my best Google efforts I’m unable to name the statue:

Unknown Statue, Tbilisi

I’ll end this blog post with good news, I’m now in possession of my Kazakhstan visa, so the trip is still on course, despite being unable to enter Iran. Next stop is a visit to Armenia before heading to Azerbaijan.

More soon…

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