Category Archives: Georgia

The Back Roads of Georgia

2009/08/13: Camp East of Gori 93 km
We headed west from Tbilisi. Much of the population of Tbilisi also heads west to Batumi – a resort town on the Black Sea Coast – at this time of year, so we shared the road with cars packed with beach paraphernalia, and passed stalls that sold hammocks, umbrellas, and beach balls. Our map showed back road options, so we turned off and began to meander through villages, – dodging cows and flocks of geese.

People were remarkably friendly toward us. We stopped to try and buy plums, but found we weren’t allowed to pay for them. The fellow with the plums brought out a cartoon of Jumber Lezhava to show us. Jumber is a legendary Georgian long-distance cyclist, now in his seventies, who lives in Tbilisi, and about whom the French couple Bruno and Isabelle had told us. I think part of our especially warm reception in Georgia stems from the fact that they have a well-developed sport culture, and another aspect is that people, in a country which has seen conflict, now see the arrival of independent tourists as a sign that they are becoming more stable. No sooner had our attempted payment for the plums been refused than an old woman approached us, handed me an armload of tomatoes, and shyly walked away.

We camped in a quarry (which also partially served as the local garbage dump) before reaching Gori. Some of the tomatoes enhanced the one-pot dinner.

2009/08/14: Prickly Trees Camp 55 km
We pedalled to Gori for a second breakfast, and visited the Stalin Museum. Gori is Stalin’s birthplace. There is a Stalin Street, and a grandiose museum with rooms full of memorabilia and black-and-white photos, all labelled only in Russian and Georgian. The rail car in which Stalin travelled during WWll was on display outside. It was in this that he also travelled to Yalta, Ukraine at the end of WW2 to sign the treaty which – some would say – defined the post-war era.

We continued on tiny roads, and needed to stop at each of many junctions to confirm our winding way. At one point we were invited for coffee with a friendly family, and many neighbours came round to inspect us.

At another junction, a woman walked out from her farmhouse with a platter of hot cheese fritters, and the minimum we were able to accept was two each, even though we’d just eaten a large lunch. We ate one in her presence to show our heartfelt approval, and tucked three away for a convenient supper.

2009/08/15: Borjomi 43 km
At one point, before we got onto the lesser road to Borjomi, a policeman called out “Hello my friend!” on his loudspeaker from his patrol car. Only in Georgia!

Borjomi is in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, and is a source of various mineral waters, some for drinking and others for bathing in. We parked our loaded bikes under the watchful eye of security guards – never scarce here, and who never seem very busy. We hiked about three kilometres past gaudy amusement park areas and into more peaceful woods, where we bathed in warm sulfurous water in a concrete tub by the river. On our return, we found a hotel rather than press on into the evening.

2009/08/16: 1st Turkish Camp 75km
We rode a gorgeous road through the National Park towards the Turkish border. Old forts were on every crag and peak.

Forest gave way to meadows, some grazed and cultivated, as we ascended. I saw a sign for an Elkana test plot, and we detoured down a track to inspect it. In Tbilisi I had bought booklet published by Elkana, which shows many of the old varieties of grains that they are trying to ensure are preserved through their agricultural diversity program, so a quick look at the test plot made that more real.

It seemed we had rushed through the Caucusus far too fast. This is an area of exceptionally high biodiversity with many endemic species, a paradise for naturalists an birdwatchers. It cries out to be explored again at walking speed and with binoculars in hand.

We changed our remaining Georgian lari into Turkish lira in the bazaar at Akhaltsikhe, and headed for the border. Madlobt Gurcistan -Thank you Georgia.

M

"Welcome to Georgia!"

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.

Parliament building with the Georgian
and EU flag flying

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.

2009/08/11-12: In Tbilisi
On Tuesday, we set out to the velodrome, as this was where we’d heard we’d find a bike mechanic.

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.

Views of the old town which is in the early stages of development for tourism

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.

M