2009/08/09: Snori 88 km — cross border to Georgia
2009/08/10: Tbilisi 130 km
After the expense and bureaucracy of ten visas in seven months, what a joy it was to cross a border in under half an hour, and to get a simple passport stamp along with a cheerful “Welcome to Georgia!” This country would like to be considered part of Europe, and aspires to join the EU. Many of its tourist handouts are titled “Georgia. Europe started here.” From an anthropologists’ point of view, there is truth in this. A Christian country since the 5th century, it feels suddenly Western after months of Buddha, Mao, and Muhammad.
The weather had still been hot and very humid. We were dripping sweat and a shower beckoned, so we found modest digs in a village. At supper, a jolly drunk tried to ply us with vodka, but we were too tired to start that game (yet again) and the cafe staff was kind enough to save us. Monday brought us into Tbilisi, where we bought a map and navigated, with local help, to the pleasant hotel where we’d made a reservation in order to receive a parcel of bike parts. The parcel, sent from Canada by our favourite bicycle shop, had arrived. Opening it felt like Christmas! Not only did it include everything for complete drive train replacements, but it also included NEW SOCKS!! And there was a new batch of little Canadian flag pins, which people really seem to enjoy receiving as symbolic thank yous for for hospitality or favours.
We were quickly introduced to Xvicha Gavasheli, who’s looked at our cornucopia of shiny new high-quality parts with an appreciative eye.
The velotreki is small, crumbling, and overgrown with weeds, and Xvicha worked on our bikes by standing them against the wall of the small courtyard, rear wheel uppermost and supported on their angled front wheels. As he worked, we met the local who’s who of cycling in Georgia. Xvicha spoke no English. but it all went well, and soon we were test riding on the derelict track.
The rest of the day was spent doing the common errands that seem to be needed on our days off in more major towns: optometrist, pharmacy, and a new sim card for our phone. The optometrist replaced the tired nose pads on my specs, and at the pharmacy we bought Sensodyne toothpaste, floss, and some Amoxicillin for our our medical kit. No prescription was required for the latter and it was dirt cheap. We met a British cyclist and had late lunch with him, then returned to our hotel.
The next day, we took the metro downtown, and were pedestrian tourists in the old city.
The signs in the metro are mainly in Georgian script, with little bit of Cyrillic. No Roman alphabet was to be seen anywhere in the metro, which made it a challenge. Georgian is part of the very small and old Kartevelian language group, consisting of Georgian and a few local languages which have no written form.
We walked in the old town, and had a lunch which included khachapuri, a cheesy pie of which there is a different variety for every region. We also found an English book shop for maps and reading material, enjoyed some really good coffee, made good use of the hotel’s wireless connection, and researched our route ahead.