Georgia

Exit Georgia

9 September 2013. We drove out of Tbilisi following the small roads towards the southeast, a beautiful trip through rolling hills and highland steppe. On the way, we passed the ancient cave monastery of Vardzia. Not as impressive as Davit Gareja, but still worth a visit if you are passing by. 

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The monastery is still inhabited. These were the monks quarters. No entry.IMG_3438_small

At least our camp site was very nice and with a view! IMG_3453_small

But we did not sleep alone! These two dogs “adopted” us as their temporary parents no matter how much Malene tried to shooh them away. They slept under the car (it was raining a lot) and at times during the night we could feel the vibrations from a deep “grrrrrrrr” under the car when the dogs heard something suspicious out there in the darkness. IMG_3465_small

The next morning the sky was blue and we were ready to leave the monks with their cave-monk business and head for Turkey!IMG_3468_small

Vardzia with blue sky and morning sun.IMG_3469_small

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Tbilisi

7-9 September 2013. Finally, after driving around Georgia for a week, we ended up in Tbilisi. And it is different, as are all capitals!

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Tbilisi.                                                                   IMG_3413_small

Beautifully restored part of old Tbilisi.IMG_3415_small

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Old Tbilisi, un-restored.                                 IMG_3404_small

In Tbilisi you can see all the old churches you would like.  IMG_3389_small

And it is a must to go to the National Museum. We especially liked the section on the arms and weaponry. DSC01964_small

Old photograph. Quite scary!                                             DSC01959_small

And then our food budget exploded! Tbilisi has great Georgian food and we could not resist. Here khachapuri backed on stone, old style. DSC01996_small

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Davit Gareja Cave Monasteries

6 September 2013. Davit Gareja is a fantastic historic site of ancient cave monasteries south of Tbilisi, on the border to Azerbaijan. The first monastery was founded here in the 6th century. Through history, the monks went through much hardship: They had their monasteries destroyed by the mongols, then by Timur and finally 6000 monks were slaughtered by the Persian army of Shah Abbas. During the Soviet era the monasteries were vandalised. Now only one monastery is inhabited but you can visit the old cave monasteries right on the border to Azerbaijan.

The Lavra monastery is the only inhabited monastery today. The cave dwellings for the monks can be seen in the background. IMG_3312_small

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The landscape is beautiful. Here looking into Azerbaijan.IMG_3314_small

Looking along the ridge which borders Georgia and Azerbaijan. The ancient caves can be seen on the upper part of the ridge, right hand side of the picture.IMG_3361_small

Inside the caves you can still see many beautiful frescos although many more have been removed.                     IMG_3328_small

This was the dining room for the monks. They ate at the low stone table in the middle.                                       IMG_3322_small

Dining room wall decoration: The last supper.IMG_3320_small

This is the Annunciation Church with still beautiful frescos. IMG_3333_small

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The monks had a great view.                                                  IMG_3331_small

St George’s Church, the main church of Davit Gareja.IMG_3359_small

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We walked back down past the Lavra Monastery which now had its caves bathed in the late afternoon sun.IMG_3370_small

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And then we camped there in the vast and beautiful landscape which turned golden brown with the setting sun. We enjoyed the view as we sipped our semi-sweet Georgian khvanchkara wine.DSC01906_small

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The evening star Venus. It was an incredibly beautiful and quiet evening.IMG_3382_small

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Khaketi – The Wine Region of Georgia

5-6 September 2013. Khaketi is the wine producing region of Georgia, to the southeast of Tbilisi. The broad Alazani Valley is dotted with vineyards. The biggest market for Georgian wine used to be Russia, who took about 80% of Georgias wine exports until 2006 when Russia banned all import of Georgian wine. Georgia claimed it was politically motivated to punish the country for its pro-western policies. Russia said that Georgian wines made for Russia were regularly falsified and that they found them full of pesticides. This year, 2013, Russia has allowed some import of Georgian wine again, but the production and export of Georgian wine is still much, much lower than it was before the Russian ban. So when driving through the region today, it seems a bit sleepy and empty. 

The broad and beautiful Alazani Valley, bordered by the Caucasus Mountains to the north. It is Dagestan just there on the other side of the mountains. DSC01848_small

It had been a greay and rainy day but suddenly something started happening to the light over the valley.DSC01851_small

The warm rays of the setting sun set the valley floor on fire and hit one of the towers on the old city wall of Sighnaghy. DSC01855_small

Then the church tower of Sighnaghi got illuminated. DSC01863_small

And finally the clouds exploded in colours as the sun was setting below the horizon.DSC01888_small

We slept with a view over the valley to mountains of Dagestan and the next morning we visited Sighnaghi, a lovely hilltop town with “an italian feel” as the guidebook writes. For once we had to agree!DSC01868_small

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There were lots of home made souvenirs for sale but it was hard to be motivated to buy in the late summer heat.DSC01894_small

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Mtskheta

5 September 2013. The town of Mtskheta, close to Tbilisi, is were Christianity was established in Georgia in around 327. It has also been the capital of eastern Georgia for a long period around 3rd century BC to 5th century AD. The town has some of the oldest and most significant churches in Georgia. Furthermore, it is famous for its “lobio”, the Georgian bean stew!

The Herr Lobio Supreme.                         DSC01827_small

The 6th century Jvari Church.                 DSC01820_small

The 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.DSC01808_small

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Stalin & Georgia

4 September 2013. Stalin was  born in Gori, Georgia, on 18 December 1878. He was born into a poor and uneducated family and he rose to become the leader of the biggest and one of the most powerful nations on earth. Fascinating, one has to admit. He also has to take the blame for some 20 millions deaths in war, famine and forced labour camps. And he did not spare his motherland Georgia when it came to repression. An interesting character if not very likable! So a visit to Georgia has to include a visit to the Stalin Museum in Gori.

The Georgian profile.                                                                                                 DSC01745_small

Stalins birthplace. A very small and poor house. Now sheltered under a big concrete canopy.DSC01792_small

The Stalin Museum is a very heavy and not a very enlightening experience…. But the building is lovely!DSC01773_small

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Resembling the interior of the Lenin mausoleum in Moscow. The death mask of Stalin.DSC01767_small

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Svaneti

2-3 September 2013. Svaneti is a beautiful and quite remote region in the northwestern part of Georgia, bordering Russian Caucasus to the north. It is famous for its ancient villages, buried deep in the mountains of the Great Caucasus, and for its tall stone watch towers.  

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Mestia is the main center for tourism in the region.DSC01668_small

Below are photos from a vwalk around Mestia in the late afternoon sun. DSC01597_small

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The next morning we tried to reach the remote village of Ushguli, located about 3 hours drive from Mestia along a dirt road. Unfortunately it had been raining heavily the night before and we were just a few kilometers from Ushguli when we were stopped by a queue of cars. The road was blocked. The had been a rock slide over part of the road, which runs along a small but fierce river. A minibus had tried to pass but the remaining part of the road was too narrow so one wheel went out over the edge of the road towards the river and then he was stuck there. We turned around. It had started raining again and it seemed like it could take hours if not days to get the road cleared. 

We had to give up to visit Ushguli and instead we went to see the old photographs at the museum in Mestia. Here it is the village of Ushguli back in the late 19th century.DSC01732_small

Svans. Quite tough guys.                                     DSC01730_small

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Below are photos from the road to Ushguli in the rain. DSC01707_small

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Back in Mestia, we all needed a shower. Including Frida. But first we stopped at the bakery (the baker is there in the window behind Frida).DSC01719_small

Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh fresh hot georgian bread!!!DSC01720_small

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Entry Georgia!

31 August – 1 September 2013. We exited Russia and entered Georgia through the Verkhny Lars border crossing, one of the fastest and easiest border crossings of our trip. Just 15 km south of the border we stopped in Kazbegi for the night. The streets were full of young western tourists, so different from Russian Caucasus! And we ate our first “khachapuri” in a small stylish cafe before going to the free camping area just on the other side of the river from the village. Our fist impressions is that everything is very safe, very relaxed and the food is very nice!

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The next day was very grey, but we had to go and visit one of the landmarks of Georgia, the 14th century Tsminda Sameda Church, which stands on a hilltop above Kazbegi. DSC01492_small

In good weather you would be able to see the 5,047 m high Mount Kazbek behind the church but the day we went it was very grey. No photos were allowed inside the church but it was lovely with its rough stone walls. We were lucky to enter while there was a small mass going on with the monotonous recital of the priest enhancing the atmosphere.DSC01499_small

From Kazbegi we drove south along the “Georgian Military Highway” as it is called, towards Tbilisi. On the way we found this nice panorama.DSC01513_small

We stopped to the Ananuri fortress and church for a break. DSC01522_small

We turned west before Tbilisi and drove through Kutaisi towards Zugdidi. Close to Kutaisi the traffic was very heavy with trucks and lots of cars but close to Zugdidi it became more pleasant. Below a peaceful moment in the late afternoon on the Georgian roads.DSC01552_small

Watermelons and green Zhiguli in Zugdidi.DSC01543_small2

From Zugdidi, we took the smaller road leading into the northern Svaneti district in the heart of the Georgian Great Caucasus. The road was in quite good shape and the trip took about 3 hours including some waiting for road works. Just pay attention to falling rocks and cows on the road.
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And finally, we emerged out of the steep valley into the beautiful Svaneti region. Here it feels like you are in a different time, in an older Georgia, very very far from Tbilisi.DSC01565_small

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