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Georgia

Tbilisi - Worth The Wait

sunny 28 °C

Tbilisi
Day 33 Monday 26 & Day 34 Tuesday 27 June 2017

  • It's our wedding anniversary.
  • Thanks to his electronic PA, even AG remembers. How time passes. 35 years. We are also spending 2 months in the car, side by side, day in, day out! We know many people consider this pretty amazing too.
  • Our special day will be spent sightseeing in Tbilisi and this evening we are meeting up with old friends from Guangzhou days, Philippe & Pascale. They are currently living & working in Georgia and will hopefully take us to a restaurant that will not be on the usual tourist trail. Insider knowledge is gold.
  • We are signed up for the free city walking tour which starts at Freedom Square at 12 noon and is scheduled to last 3.5 hours. Many significant cities operate such walking tours - free but tips are expected. SG has mentioned the concept previously and we have mostly had good experiences.
  • However this is not the case with today's noon departure under the command of a young Ukrainian called Svan, or Sven - whatever! We should have recognised the tell tale signs, walked away and done our own thing. The tardy departure, the verbal waffle about dogs, beggars and cars, the bad jokes, the lack of historical knowledge and content - oh the list goes on.
  • We are not sure whether it is due to lack of training ( organisational responsibility ) or whether Svan has personalised his tour - badly. A full hour after the tour start we have barely walked 500 meters.
  • The dilemma is to go or stay? We naively hope that things will improve. It doesn't. The walk lasts over 4 hours. The highlight is our visit to a basement bakery where we purchase some bread. We would have bought a lot more, had we known it would be our only opportunity to eat or drink anything.
  • We return to our hotel hot, hungry, thirsty & very tired. We are annoyed with ourselves. It has been a massive waste of time. If this was the only tourist experience in this fabulous city, we would leave incredibly disappointed.
  • Fortunately we have Day 2 to try again. Tbilisi definitely justifies 2 or even 3 days depending on your daily stamina. And if you are using Tbilisi as a base to explore some of the places we have already visited, then add a day for each destination you choose. And definitely allow at least 3 nights if you go to Kazbegi.
  • We are staying in the Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi. As soon as we enter the foyer the style, ambience and decor is familiar - our hotel in Kazbegi belonged to the same Georgian chain. This hip Tbilisi hotel has also evolved from an old industrial building that used to be a printing house. It has the same industrial chic feel. No doubt for a while Rooms has been offering a truly unique experience in this city - original design, outstanding service, wonderful staff, a true feast of a breakfast, interesting people to watch - but it does not come cheap. We note that the Intercontinental is busy refurbishing an old building just around the corner. This may result in some healthy competition.
  • In case you are interested - between the two Rooms experiences, our preference is for the Kazbegi establishment ( see blog & photos for Day 22/23/24 ). But there are alternatives. Whilst wandering around the renovated area of Tbilisi ( near Shavteli St ) we have seen several lovely looking boutique hotels & hostels - Hotel Balcony, Hotel Urban Oasis to name just a couple. They are located within a traffic free zone but would also be convenient for historic sights, restaurants & bars.
  • Thankfully a disastrous day of sightseeing is saved by a truly magical evening spent with our friends. First they take us to their appartment located in the old area of Sololaki where the long process of restoration of historical buildings has just started. It will be several years before gentrification will be complete. Their appartment block for instance is number 300 in the Sololaki improvement plan.
  • See photos of exterior of their building and imagine whether you would have even reached the point of going inside to take a look. Again the saying 'don't judge a book by its cover ´ comes to mind. Peeling paint, huge cracks in walls, rickety staircase - all lead to the most amazing refurbished appartment - tall ceilings, massive double doors opening onto all main rooms and best of all a wide terrace that looks onto a quiet verdant courtyard. Our friends are a rare species to choose to live in an old Georgian building in a local residential area. Most expats prefer home comforts and live in western style apartments further out of town.
  • Philippe & Pascale have spotted a facebook entry mentioning our special day. In true French tradition, champagne is served. Then they drive us to Littera - without inside knowledge you would never realise from the street entrance what lies beyond - a beautifully restored old Tbilisi house, the former home of a famous writer and a wonderful garden area for outdoor dining.
  • Needless to say we stay until late, putting the world to right and catching up on each others lives. It's a great way to end our special day.

Day 2 / Tbilisi

  • Thankfully our second day in Tbilisi is far more productive & enjoyable. We get a city map from hotel reception and work out our own plan to incorporate some of the things we missed yesterday.
  • First on the list of recommendations is the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral standing high above the city on the eastern side of River Mtkvari. Although recently consecrated ( 2004 ), it is constructed in traditional Georgian ecclesiastic style and is visible for miles around. Not surprising really since it is nearly 100 m tall.
  • To walk there would take too long. Instead we decide to take the metro. It has a very Russian feel - no wonder - it was built around 1965 during the Soviet era.
  • The underground is an experience. Although not extensive, if there is a station near where you want to visit, don't hesitate.
  • It has been dug very deep down. The air is naturally chilled. Escalators travel faster than in London but it still takes a full 2 minutes from street to train level. Not only is the system cool & fast but it is also very cheap. Around 15 pence for a single journey, no matter how many stations you pass through.
  • Our church crawl continues with a visit to Anchiskhati Basilica ( Tbilisi's oldest surviving church some of which dates back to 6C.) And last but not least Sioni Cathedral which originated here in 7C but which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since. The structure we see today is only 13C ! Sioni is of special spiritual significance since the cross of St Nino is stored here. Only a replica is on view. But this link with the birth of Christianity in Georgia explains why Georgians who enter the church express their religious piety. This is shown by lots of kissing of artefacts and much body crossing (up/down/right/left) Some may even kneel & do so three times. And even when out and about in town, Georgians will cross themselves if they pass or see a church.
  • Another interesting feature of all Georgian orthodox churches is the lack of seating. During a service the congregation are expected to stand. Services can last several hours.
  • Now it's time for a lunch break. We head up by foot beyond Freedom Square into the Solovaki area where our friends live - a place where appearances deceive. It's absolutely fascinating to wander round. We find a courtyard cafe called Ezo that serves local food. Yet another Katchapuri and salad with walnut dressing is ordered.
  • Its just what is needed to motivate AG for a couple of museum visits on Rustaveli Avenue - the National Art Gallery ( in particular to see some more Niko Pirosmani paintings ) and the Museum of Georgia which is well worth the £2 entrance fee.
  • And that's about all we manage over the two days we spend in Tbilisi. A third day could be easily filled. Check out Trip Advisor for the Top 10 Things To Do in Tbilisi for further 'Don't Miss' advice!
  • Philippe & Pascale introduce us this evening to Keto & Kote - a restaurant in an old house away from the main drag. It has fabulous views over the city looking towards the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral. We eat and drink local and spend another lovely evening in a gem we would probably never discover on our own. Now you know about it too!
  • By the way we drink Chateau Mukhrani wine which Philippe rates highly. They have a website and offer tours at their vineyard which you can easily visit from Tbilisi.

Now We Know Why There are Daisy Fields in Georgia

Now We Know Why There are Daisy Fields in Georgia

And Now We Know What They Make With Them

And Now We Know What They Make With Them

Lovely Drinking Fountain in Shavteli Area

Lovely Drinking Fountain in Shavteli Area

Clock Tower in Shavteli Area Tbilisi

Clock Tower in Shavteli Area Tbilisi

River Mtkvari Tbilisi

River Mtkvari Tbilisi

Tbilisi Skyline

Tbilisi Skyline

Abanotubani - Hamam in Tbilisi

Abanotubani - Hamam in Tbilisi

Metekhi Church & Obligatory Equestrian Statue of King Gorgasali

Metekhi Church & Obligatory Equestrian Statue of King Gorgasali

Georgia Looks West Not East

Georgia Looks West Not East

Basement Bakery - Highlight of Our Free Walking Tour

Basement Bakery - Highlight of Our Free Walking Tour

This Old Lady Is On Her Way To Complain

This Old Lady Is On Her Way To Complain

Exterior of Oldest Church in Tbilisi

Exterior of Oldest Church in Tbilisi

Shavteli Street - Looking Towards Anchiskhati Basilica

Shavteli Street - Looking Towards Anchiskhati Basilica

Restoration Work Ongoing in Anchiskhati Basilica

Restoration Work Ongoing in Anchiskhati Basilica

Restoration Work Ongoing in Anchiskhati Basilica

Restoration Work Ongoing in Anchiskhati Basilica

Tbilisi Metro

Tbilisi Metro

Tbilisi Metro

Tbilisi Metro

Tbilisi Metro - No Advertising

Tbilisi Metro - No Advertising

Tbilisi Metro Goes Very Deep - 2 Minutes on Escalator

Tbilisi Metro Goes Very Deep - 2 Minutes on Escalator

Anniversary Photo - 35 Years

Anniversary Photo - 35 Years


Tsminda Sameba Cathedral Tbilisi

Tsminda Sameba Cathedral Tbilisi

Carpet Washing Day @ Tsminda Sameba Cathecra

Carpet Washing Day @ Tsminda Sameba Cathecra

Fruit & Vegetables & Churchkela for Sale Near Cathedral

Fruit & Vegetables & Churchkela for Sale Near Cathedral

Dilapidated Street Frontage Near To Tsminda Sameba Cathedral

Dilapidated Street Frontage Near To Tsminda Sameba Cathedral

Local Wine For Sale in Plastic Bottles

Local Wine For Sale in Plastic Bottles

Selfie Stick Rules Ok, Tbilisi Cathedral

Selfie Stick Rules Ok, Tbilisi Cathedral

Grapevine Cross, Sioni Cathedral

Grapevine Cross, Sioni Cathedral

Religious Piety in Sioni Cathedral

Religious Piety in Sioni Cathedral

Sioni Cathedral

Sioni Cathedral

Exterior of Oldest Church in Tbilisi

Exterior of Oldest Church in Tbilisi

Rooms Hotel Tbilisi

Rooms Hotel Tbilisi

Rooms Chic Style

Rooms Chic Style

Breakfast Spread @ Rooms Hotel

Breakfast Spread @ Rooms Hotel

Why Are Baths in the Middle of a Room So Popular With Hip Designers? Glass Bathrooms ?

Why Are Baths in the Middle of a Room So Popular With Hip Designers? Glass Bathrooms ?

Rooms Style

Rooms Style

Beautiful Brick Facade - Old Tiblisi - Restored

Beautiful Brick Facade - Old Tiblisi - Restored

Good Idea

Good Idea

Typical of Boutique Hotels Being Established in Tbilisi

Typical of Boutique Hotels Being Established in Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi Facade

Old Tbilisi Facade

Andy at Entrance to Ezo Restaurant

Andy at Entrance to Ezo Restaurant

Ezo Restaurant in Old Town Tbilisin

Ezo Restaurant in Old Town Tbilisin

Peeling Paint in Old Streets of Tbilisi

Peeling Paint in Old Streets of Tbilisi

Behind Closed Doors, Old House Tbilisi

Behind Closed Doors, Old House Tbilisi

Entrance Door to our Friends' Appartment

Entrance Door to our Friends' Appartment

Internal Door to Our a Friends' Appartmentb

Internal Door to Our a Friends' Appartmentb

10 years since Guangzhou. At  Philippe & Pascale's Flat

10 years since Guangzhou. At Philippe & Pascale's Flat

Philippe & Andy at Littera Restaurant

Philippe & Andy at Littera Restaurant

Guangzhou Reunion / Anniversary Celebration @ Littera

Guangzhou Reunion / Anniversary Celebration @ Littera

Exterior of Keto & Kote

Exterior of Keto & Kote

Interior of Restaurant @ Keto & Kote

Interior of Restaurant @ Keto & Kote

Entrance to Littera Restaurant

Entrance to Littera Restaurant

Littera Restaurant - Old Writers Home in Tbilisi

Littera Restaurant - Old Writers Home in Tbilisi

Hot Air / Small Hole in Wall = Basement Bakery

Hot Air / Small Hole in Wall = Basement Bakery

Another Subterranean Bakery

Another Subterranean Bakery

Live Jazz! Worth Checking Out

Live Jazz! Worth Checking Out

There Are Lots of Thai Restaurants & Massage Parlours in Tbilisi

There Are Lots of Thai Restaurants & Massage Parlours in Tbilisi

Kakhetian Train by Niko Pirosmani 1862-1918

Kakhetian Train by Niko Pirosmani 1862-1918

Imeretian Landscape by David Kakabadze 1889-1952

Imeretian Landscape by David Kakabadze 1889-1952

Chilly Beer  Signboard by Niko Pirosmani 1862-1918

Chilly Beer Signboard by Niko Pirosmani 1862-1918

Big Mareni in Forest by Niko Pirosmani 1862-1918

Big Mareni in Forest by Niko Pirosmani 1862-1918

Posted by sagbucks 05:31 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Udabno Oasis, Church & Monastery

sunny 28 °C

Day 32 Sunday June 25 2017
Davit Gareja to Tbilisi / 78 km

  • Never pack away earplugs & eye blinds. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, not a mosque nor church in sight, no station, no highway - just nature. The menagerie that we met yesterday - the horses, dogs, cats & pigs all start to get on each other's nerves around dawn.
  • The travellers that randomly came together for an evening at Xaveri's 'party' house now prepare to go their separate ways. The Polish lawyers on a photography course. The Polish cyclists who plan to ride 120 km today and who rehydrate with a pint of lager at breakfast. The Dutch family in their Campervan with 3 children under 5 years old & Boyd the Aussie who has just spent a month in Iran, oh and us.
  • Xaveri is Polish and came to Udabno about 4 years ago. Hence the Polish clientele but his fame has spread far beyond. He's a great guy and speaks excellent English.
  • The ideal time to visit Davit Gareja, assuming it is summer and sunset is 8.30 pm ish, would be around 4 in the afternoon - perfect for photogenic light followed by supper and sleep over at Oasis. It is about a half hour drive in a 4x4 from the village to the monastery. By car it would be longer and by bike tortuous. You can also walk a more direct route but that is at least 8 km one way.
  • No pain no gain - you do not just stumble on Udabno village - and you can easily get lost on the myriad of tracks that surround. You need to use navigation devices and plan your route.
  • The same applies for exploring the monastery complex itself. Whilst you can visit Lavra monastery with minimal effort, the climb up the hill side to the Udabno monastery requires robust knees & ankles, shoes with ample tread and a confidence for heights. Don't be put off - lots of people manage it. Just be prepared.
  • The previous evening we had missed the correct path up to Udabno and our time of daylight hours ran out. We return this morning around 9.30 to find the car park already full. At least it means you can ask way. Basically at the watchtower from where you get great views of the Lavra monastery, take the right footpath upwards. Don't be fooled, it looks insignificant. A good 15 minutes scrambling and you will reach railings that you now follow up and across the ridge. This will take you to the Udabno church seen in the photo. A path beliow this then leads to the caves of the Udabno monastery proper.
  • If the monks were seeking solitude and peace when they decided retreat to Davit Gareja, they would have certainly found it here by the bucket load.
  • The little church of Udabno is crowded with Georgians. We have hit lucky again. There is a communion service being conducted by one of the monks. No choir, no organ just chanting. This is why the car park is full - Georgians have come to a rare service at this very special church in their national psyche.
  • A friendly Georgian man who still remembers his excellent school English, tells us that the service is a special event, not a weekly occurance. He also explains that when the Persians arrived in this part of the world in 17C intent on conquering Georgia, the 6000 community of monks at that time lit thousands of candles. This gave the impression that there might be strong counter resistance. Alas it saved the monks for only a few days until the Persians realised that there was no army up here at all. The monks were slaughtered in 1615 on Easter Sunday and their precious monasteries ransacked. During the soviet era the military used the area and further vandalisation occurred.
  • It is therefore a miracle that any frescoes survive. But they do and the scramble up to Udabno monastery is highly recommended. Probably the most amazing cave is the one that used to be the Monks' refectory. There is a fresco depicting Christ's Last Supper painted onto the rock wall that dates back to 11C.
  • From the top of the Udabno escarpment you overlook Azerbaijan territory. When Azerbaijan & Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union it was the Russians who drew the lines. Georgia lost some of its presumed territory to Azerbaijan. Indeed the Azeris would still like to include Udabno Monastery within its border. That's why on occasion there may be Azeri military presence within the monastery complex.
  • On our drive from Udabno to Tbilisi, the remnants of the Soviet Military era are still visible - abandoned army facilities and military roads which are now in bad repair. The town of Rustavi is a bit of a rust pot with many empty Russian style buildings. It's presumably too expensive to clear up and land is not in such shortage.
  • We get to Tbilisi mid afternoon - to our little hotel situated on the river and major network of roads. Thankfully our room is in the attic and to the rear. So maybe ear plugs won't be necessary.
  • We walk along the river towards the Metekhi Bridge in the search of late snack to keep us going. Tbilisi has a traffic problem and the poor pedestrian seems to have been overlooked. At least the foreign one who assumes that there will be pedestrian crossings. And maybe traffic lights at junctions that will slow traffic down sufficiently to give you space and courage to run across the road. It's a bit of a nightmare.
  • So we see a few of the city sights, that we will get to know better over the course of our visit. First impressions are of a capital city with lots to offer.

On Way to Udabno - a Tortoise Crosses Our Road

On Way to Udabno - a Tortoise Crosses Our Road

Our Wonderful Host Xaveri Prepares Our Bill

Our Wonderful Host Xaveri Prepares Our Bill

Rehydration for the 120 KM Bike Ride Ahead

Rehydration for the 120 KM Bike Ride Ahead

People Come to Oasis Club By All Means of Transport

People Come to Oasis Club By All Means of Transport

Lavra Monastery in Morning Sun

Lavra Monastery in Morning Sun

Udabno Church

Udabno Church

Communion Service Being Held in Udabno Church

Communion Service Being Held in Udabno Church

AG Looking Out Over to Azerbaijan

AG Looking Out Over to Azerbaijan

The Caves of Udabno Monastery

The Caves of Udabno Monastery

SG Spoiling the Last Supper Fresco, Painted in 11C

SG Spoiling the Last Supper Fresco, Painted in 11C

Georgia Looks West Not East

Georgia Looks West Not East

The EU has 'Embassies' in Many Capital Cities. As Well As the Individual Member States

The EU has 'Embassies' in Many Capital Cities. As Well As the Individual Member States

Metekhi Church & Obligatory Equestrian Statue of King Gorgasali

Metekhi Church & Obligatory Equestrian Statue of King Gorgasali

Posted by sagbucks 07:35 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Yippee, Another Georgia Day!

sunny 25 °C

Day 31 Saturday June 24 2017
Genja to Davit Gareja, Georgia / 228 km

  • After a mediocre supper, made only palatable by Azeri red wine, our hopes are for a breakfast that gives plenty of nutrition and choice. Sadly not. It's even difficult to find something to 'take' for lunch. Cold hard boiled eggs are back on the menu and a piece of peelable fruit. That's it.

Decent coffee is essential to our wellbeing, so shamelessly we bring in our own coffee pot and brew.

  • Weather is more as you would expect for Central Asia - sunny & 25C as we hit the road.
  • Is Azerbaijan on the cusp of development or in decline from a previous burst?
  • Petrol stations that are not in service, empty showrooms, clocks all over the place that can only tell the correct time twice a day, half finished buildings, hotels that are empty save for us and a few local businessmen, a non existent hospitality industry except for Hubble Bubble bars, tea shops and hotel restaurants where we eat in solitude.
  • And yet looking at the 'work in progress' in the central part of Genja, there are definitely aspirations of grandeur. One day the bulldozers will leave and the transformation into a traffic free, leafy, historic centre with modern facilities will be complete. This has no doubt already been achieved in the glitzy capital of Baku.
  • Despite the abundant sunshine in this part of the world, there is little evidence of solar panels. Oil is presumably too cheap to bother with more expensive alternative types of energy.
  • Thankfully today is another Georgia Day. We leave Azerbaijan, on balance glad that we have come; regretting perhaps that we did not have access to a local guide to give us insight into the Azeri culture. But we are also very disappointed with the accuracy of the Lonely Planet guide for this region. It is not up to their usual standard either in terms of depth or accuracy. We cannot even write to challenge - the author has compiled the Azerbaijan section under a pseudonym.
  • As we leave through the west of the city, the feel of oil wealth is more in evidence - the wide dual carriageways with monumental roundabouts, flagpoles ready for the next important political visitor, a huge park with facilities for concerts, fairground, museum and a full size copy of the Arc de Triomphe, - and there's not a soul in sight.
  • In fact the Azeris have done a good job of also copying intellectual property rights of oil companies. Some of whom are presumably in partnership with them in other business streams. AG is particularly good at spotting faux branding - how's about Azpetrol - it uses forecourt canopies and tankers in the BP livery, identical in all but name. Or Likoil instead of the correct Lukoil brand of petrol stations ( Russian company ) - an unfortunate choice of name really!
  • This is not the first country that we have visited where there are blatant copyright infringements. Copyright protection is expensive and seems impossible to enforce in a global market ...
  • Car ownership in Azerbaijan no doubt reflects socio-economic divisions in Azeri society. There are many old and even older Lada cars, rust buckets practically held together by tape. Then there are the Mercedes, BMWs & Toyotas. The police patrol cars use BMWs.
  • As we head west on the M2 road we are not far from the Armenian border - as the crow flies it is perhaps 10 km away. But there is no open crossing point and no mention is made in road signage of the proximity of an international border. Judging by the terrain and ridge of mountains it looks very much like a natural geopolitical border.
  • The Azeri / Georgian border crossing that we select is known as Siniq Korpu. It gives us the closest access to Davit Gareja, our destination for today. It is also the busiest we have so far encountered. It's going to take a while to get through. Plus it's a Saturday which despite its Muslim allegiance is a weekend for Azerjaiban too. We queue with trucks and cars from Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. We are the only outsiders. Money changers pace up and down the queues of cars, touting for business. We have spent all our Azeri didgeridoos at the hotel this morning and we already have some Georgian currency. So no deals from us.
  • The big expensive cars approaching the border seem to think they can queue jump. It's a test of nerves - police v influence in some other area of society. AG and SG do our best to prevent it happening, but sometimes we feel on dangerous territory. Literally.
  • There is embellishment of the Azeri border going on - more work in progress. There always seems to be. Today it is the central reservation area separating the traffic leaving Azerbaijan and those just arriving. We cannot help but reflect that money would be better spent on improving procedures rather than on aesthetics.
  • The border process lasts 2 hours. To be fair the majority of that time is spent in the queue that we share with trucks to get to the exit gates. We use one of our passports to leave Aerbaijan and our second one to enter Georgia. This is to facilitate , we hope, our entry into Armenia in a few days time. As mentioned before relationships between Armenia & Azerbaijan are strained and they do not welcome passports with each other's stamps.
  • Once again our route takes us tantalisingly close to Tbilisi but it is still not on our agenda. Not until tomorrow. Instead we turn off the main road and civilisation and drive across spectacular open and remote countryside to Udabno .
  • We arrive mid afternoon at the Oasis (Party) Club & Hostel in the little farming village of Udabno. In Soviet times 2000 people lived here, now there is only a population of around 200. Many houses have simply been abandoned. But nowadays it is a great stopping place to visit Davit Gareja - either for the night or a late lunch before heading back to Tbilisi. Oasis Club seems to be the focal point of the village - the restaurant is full and raucous as we enter. The Locals (men ) come drinking here too. Accommodation is comfortable but basic - there is a dormitory and a 'hotel wing' of 4 rooms with small private bathroom. It is worth mentioning that on the back of Oasis Club's success at attracting a constant flow of clientele, there are now other home stays advertising their facilities within the village. Oh and you can also camp in the grounds, presumably at an even cheaper price.
  • It's a very chilled place - after the stress of the border crossing and driving on very rough roads in the heat, we also need to chill down a bit ourselves - then we'll feel more at home.
  • But to settle in right now, would be to miss out on evening light at Davit Gareja. So that's where we head - a half hour drive or so on very rough track. We see several cyclists who are pushing their bikes and looking extremely tired. Why would you?!
  • We do indeed see Lavra Monastery in a gorgeous light. Established in 6C this was the original in a complex that grew to incorporate 15 different monasteries in a very remote area close to the Azerbaijan border. It has been restored since Russian times and there are once again monks living here. In fact as we peep inside the church, a monk enters to illuminate the candles in front of the closed altar. No doubt an evening ritual as sunset approaches.
  • We do not have time to explore Udabno Monastery - we take the wrong footpath and it's obvious we'll run out of daylight if we persevere. We will return tomorrow morning. But now it's time to return to our Oasis for the night and do some chilling.

Ganja's Historic Centre - A Work in Progress

Ganja's Historic Centre - A Work in Progress

Ganja's Historic Centre - 17C Hamam

Ganja's Historic Centre - 17C Hamam

Queuing with Trucks to Leave Azerbaijan

Queuing with Trucks to Leave Azerbaijan

Road To Udabno - Middle of Nowhere

Road To Udabno - Middle of Nowhere

Landscape around Udabno

Landscape around Udabno

Man and horse and dog

Man and horse and dog

Oasis Club Hostel Udabno

Oasis Club Hostel Udabno

Oasis Club Is The Place To Be In Udabno

Oasis Club Is The Place To Be In Udabno

Bed Breakfast & Horse

Bed Breakfast & Horse

Caves of Lavra Monastery

Caves of Lavra Monastery

Church of Lavra Monastery

Church of Lavra Monastery

Posted by sagbucks 08:17 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Sighnaghi the Prettiest Town in Kakheti

overcast 28 °C

Day 27 Tuesday June 20 2017
Telavi to Sighnagi /59 km

  • This morning the Ukrainian truck driver has been joined in the queue by a Polish colleague driving an equally long HGV. The Schuchmann Winery is a busy place.
  • Having sampled a few more glasses of wine over dinner last night, there is the temptation to get carried away with some purchases. £3 a bottle. We have ample space in the truck. But tomorrow we are headed back into Ramadan zone again - Azerbaijan - and we do not know if the importation of wine is permitted. Secondly between now and end of July when we plan to return to the UK we will be driving through hot climates, not at all conducive for wine storage.
  • By the way we are aware of what is happening in the UK. We dread checking the news. We despair but prefer to make no comment.
  • A short drive today to Sighnaghi, reputedly the prettiest town in Kekheti, full of buildings of 18 & 19 C with an Italianate feel. It was originally developed in 18C by King Erekle 2 as a fortified refuge for the region's population in the face of Persian attack. Four km of the town's defensive walls still remain & 6 gates .
  • Peaches seem to be the roadside product of the day. And in wholesale quantity. The bucket of peaches you see in the photo costs £3 ( first price without bargaining ) It is a good idea to have coins so that you can negotiate a smaller quantity. We eat them with our bread roll for lunch and they taste delicious.
  • Before we check in at the Kabadoni Hotel we first go directly to Bodbe Convent, a couple of Km South. A visit here is like finding a crucial piece to a jigsaw puzzle - it helps a greater understanding of the early development of Christianity in Georgia.
  • First thing to mention is Nino - she was an authentic historical figure, believed to be the daughter of a Roman General and raised in Jerusalem. She was responsible for the conversion to Christianity of King Mirian of Georgia in the 4C. The whole country then followed and Georgia became the second nation state to adopt the Christian faith. Armenia was the first.
  • There has been a church at the Bodbe convent site since 4C when King Mirian built one over Saint Nino's grave. Of course it has been rebuilt and renovated several times since but the site is considered extremely holy by the Georgian people.
  • They come on a pilgrimage to touch St Nino's tombstone and to wash / drink from the water source that reputedly burst forth from the earth after she prayed on this very spot. The water supposedly has magical healing properties. The source is found some 800 m down a slope that leads from the church. Just follow the crowds. A long flight of stone steps has now been constructed to make the descent easier. Most people do not seem to walk back up but rather are collected by car. We are amongst the few who do the return walk up the steps. It's an ascent that takes 15 minutes of constant effort. It's our exercise for the day!
  • Once down at the source of the 'holy' water, we rest and watch the show - trying to work out what it's all about. Young children are queuing up and paying for a simple white garment. They wear this over minimal clothing ( some take everything off ) and then disappear down into a small dark building. When they re-emerge it is clear that they have had a ritual and probably cold bath. It seems to be an activity only for children and we therefore do not try and participate.
  • Sighnaghi town is very picturesque. No wonder it receives so many visitors - day trippers as well as overnight guests. Unfortunately the skies are still very hazy so views are muted. But on a clear day you would be able to see for miles around. The town itself is like many places we have visited in Georgia - work in progress. It is obvious that many buildings have been renovated but lots more await attention. Sighnaghi is a Georgian equivalent to Turkey's Safronbolu. But more imagination is required.
  • SG checks out the museum which fortunately has information translated into English. On show are the usual archeological exhibits that demonstrate how much human activity has been going on in this part of the world for millennia. There is also a permanent display of some of the artwork of a famous Georgian artist called Niko Pirosmani who was born in Sighnaghi in 1862. He came from a peasant family and received no professional training - indeed his paintings only became collectible, desirable and valuable after his death in 1918. But his posthumous fame is an explanation why restaurants & streets in Sighnaghi & Tbilisi use his name. And why there is a life size bronze statue in Sighnaghi reflecting his famous 'Country Doctor ' painting.
  • We are having supper this evening at a restaurant called Pheasant & Tears. It is also a winery producing only Queri wines. Tuesday must be a difficult night for the chef since much of the menu is 'off' - fish, pork, spinach, dessert are all unavailable. Still there is enough choice snd we eat a reasonable meal. Our departure is pre-empted by the rumble of thunder. Not again surely. We walk back to our hotel in the pouring rain - the cobblestones are slippery and SG is wearing heels. She is not amused!

Schuchmann Chateau

Schuchmann Chateau

Peaches are Today's Roadside Sale

Peaches are Today's Roadside Sale

Church Built Above St Nino's Tombstone

Church Built Above St Nino's Tombstone

Taking Holy Water @ Bedbo Convent

Taking Holy Water @ Bedbo Convent

Getting Ready for a Ritual Bath

Getting Ready for a Ritual Bath

Ritual Bathing Tub Below This Structure

Ritual Bathing Tub Below This Structure

Wet But Not Drenched

Wet But Not Drenched

Nearly at the Top of the Steps

Nearly at the Top of the Steps

View From Hotel Balcony

View From Hotel Balcony

Another Old Car in Daily Usage

Another Old Car in Daily Usage

Lovely Balconies of Old Houses

Lovely Balconies of Old Houses

One of Six Gates of Old City

One of Six Gates of Old City

Old Cars In Georgia are Not Collectiors Pieces - They are Everyday Necessities

Old Cars In Georgia are Not Collectiors Pieces - They are Everyday Necessities

Georgian Equivalent to Hole in the Wall

Georgian Equivalent to Hole in the Wall

Churchkehla - Do These Look Like Sausages or Sweets?

Churchkehla - Do These Look Like Sausages or Sweets?

What Beautiful Tomato Shape

What Beautiful Tomato Shape

King Erkehle 2 by Niko Pirosmani

King Erkehle 2 by Niko Pirosmani

Mother & Child by Niko Pirosmani

Mother & Child by Niko Pirosmani

Roe Deer by Niko Pirosmani

Roe Deer by Niko Pirosmani

Doctor on Donkey by Niko Pirosmani

Doctor on Donkey by Niko Pirosmani

Rural Doctor Bronze Figure Based on Niko Pirosmani's Famous Painting

Rural Doctor Bronze Figure Based on Niko Pirosmani's Famous Painting

Pheasant Tears Vineyard Only Produce Qveri Wines

Pheasant Tears Vineyard Only Produce Qveri Wines

Posted by sagbucks 11:25 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

A Break From Our CFM Routine

A Day of Cellar Door Experience & Relaxation in a Wine Bath

sunny 30 °C

Schuchmann Winery, Kisiskhevi

  • Why rush?!
  • We are lingering a day in the Kekheti region. We plan to drive part of the wine route and visit some wineries. A day of cellar door experiences, a sip here, a sip there. No church, no Fortess no Monastery.
  • If you needed a CFM fix, from here in Kisiskhevi , you could easily make a trip to Alaverdi and see its cathedral - built in 11C to an overall height of 50m - it remained the tallest church in Georgia for nearly a millenium. And Gremi Fortress is not far away either.
  • Anyway for us, it's a relaxed start and an invigorating swim for SG in the outdoor pool surrounded by vines. The water is fresh but bearably so.
  • Breakfast is average but the coffee is good enough to render a truck brew unnecessary.
  • Our first visit today is to the Chavchavadze Estate in Tsinandali, just a 5 minute drive from the Schuchmann vineyard. According to Lonely Planet, it is a must see. It is one of two homes belonging to Prince Alexander, the other being in Tbilisi. He was one of most colourful and influential characters in Georgian history.
  • Looking around his former home which is now a museum, makes a change from the usual CFM ( Church, Fortress, Monastery ) routine. It's interesting to see how the rich and famous lived in Georgia in 19C. But Alexander, born into a well connected diplomatic family as he was, used his silver spoon to great effect and achieved much in his life. He was educated & cultured, spoke 7 languages, wrote good poetry, achieved on merit a high rank in the Russian army but was principled enough to later join the Georgian rebellion against Russian rule.
  • Alexander being widely travelled and well connected, furnished his home beautifully with fine Georgian & European artefacts - particularly from France. It was not only 'things' that he brought to Georgia from abroad but also concepts & activities. He was a social innovator, a trend setter of his time. For instance Alexander introduced to his homeland the English game of billiards, the idea of horse riding for leisure and perhaps most importantly, the European system of wine making!
  • Wines that we taste from the Chavchavadze estate are therefore really special - it was here that the whole European wine business started in Georgia back in 19C.
  • The Chavchavadeze estate is busy with visitors any day. But don't let that put you off. Today there is a large group of school children on a photo shoot. They must be members of a dance school given their costumes and posture. A female teacher is shouting out instructions to her pupils to create the 'best' photo. Judging by her physique it is a while since she was able to do the splits herself.
  • Wandering round the lovely gardens of the estate ( but don't expect RHS Wisley standard ) we come across the renovation work of Chavchavadze's old wine cellar that is mentioned in the 2016 Lonely Planet edition. It's still in progress. Indeed it looks as if there is hotel accommodation being built. One of these days, but not necessarily soon, you may be able to stay on the Chavchavadze Estate itself.
  • Next we visit the Shumi Winery in Tsinandali; it is adjacent to the estate entrance.

It's worth going here because the wine tasting is free as is the guided tour around the little museum. Of interest is the 3000 year old Qveri pot and the equipment used to make chacha - the colourless spirit that is a by product of the Qveri fermentation process. During storage in the Qveri pot the grape pulp sinks to the bottom. When the clear wine is removed, this residu is heated up. The alcoholic steam is then cooled to produce the chacha liquor. It's as simple as that!

  • At the Shumi winery, like at all the other cellar doors, you can purchase any wine that tickles your palate. We sample with great reservation and self control since it's lunchtime and we're on the road.
  • Our last Cellar Door experience is 20 miles or so away in the Kvareli area. The Khareba winery is famous for its 8 km of tunnels that were dug into the hillside back in early 1960's by the Russians. Today it is privately owned and used to store more than 25000 bottles of wine at a constant temperature of between 12-14 C. It is heavily commercialised and a handsome charge is made for the various wine tasting packages. We opt for a guided walk through the tunnels without wine tasting. The tour really just reiterates what we have already learnt from our previous cellar door experiences. But the lunch we eat in the restaurant, located up a lookout tower is reasonably priced and delicious. The views over the vineyards across the Alazani valley are pretty special.
  • We return home - to the Schuchmann Winery. On balance it is probably one of the best cellar doors to visit / and or stay in this area. Many people come here for a lunchtime experience since the setting is so lovely and the restaurant food is really quite good.
  • As previously mentioned the winery was set up by Mr Schuchmann in 2008 in the centre of the Kekheti wine growing region. It classifies itself as a premium quality vineyard with tourist facilities such as spa, swimming pool, children's playground and sadly, a crazy golf course. Staff also provide travel services ( transport , sightseeing etc ) that can be tailor made if you require and are willing to pay. It is blissfully peaceful except when the barman down poolside plays his music too loud or the dogs become agitated about someone or something - as they seem to do when night falls.
  • It's mid afternoon and the winery is a busy place. It's not just for tourists. It's a wine business too.
  • A long HGV from Ukraine is parked up by the loading bay. The packing department seem to be working frantically - sticking labels on bottles and putting them into boxes. It is apparent that Schuchmann branding differs according to the country of export and customer requirements.
  • The truck driver speaks a little German and so SG is able to chat with him - he is cooking a meal in a small lower compartment down one side of the truck. He has a journey of 3 days / 2 nights back to the Ukraine via Batumi driving over 500km a day. He has no co-driver. As evening draws in and the vineyard workers finish their shift, he closes the curtains in his cab and goes to sleep. We wonder how long he will have to wait for loading to start. The truck will accommodate a lot of boxes of wine.
  • Schuchmann Winery also offers guests a pamper session or two in its beautifully decorated Wine Spa. In fact you can smell it as soon as you enter the hotel. You could say it's intoxicating. One of the many treatments on offer is a wine bath. What decadence!
  • A warm red wine bath for 10 minutes followed by a 30 min massage with Schuchmann made grape seed oil is lauded with the usual incredible attributes - it moisturises, acts as an antioxidant (to wine drinking?!) is anti-ageing & leaves your skin soft and elastic. Please may it work really well ....
  • SG is not good at selfies - her arm does not seem long enough to give the right angle. She obviously needs the dreaded selfie stick. Anyway SG spends most of her 10 min soak trying to take a respectable selfie. With vine leaves appropriately placed. It's neither easy to take nor is the result very good. Reluctantly it is published - for a laugh.
  • By the way the massage is good. And yes very relaxing.
  • The evening ends with another son & lumiere show over the vineyard - put on for free by Mother Nature. It is the second major thunderstorm we have witnessed within a week. Is God angry about something?

Ethos of Schuchmann Winery

Ethos of Schuchmann Winery

Typical Balcony Feature on Grand Old Georgian House

Typical Balcony Feature on Grand Old Georgian House

Fine Dining French Style at Chavchavadze Estate

Fine Dining French Style at Chavchavadze Estate

Typical Fireplace in Georgian Home

Typical Fireplace in Georgian Home

Chavchavadze Estate - The First Winery To Produce European Wines

Chavchavadze Estate - The First Winery To Produce European Wines

Dance Class on Photo Shoot @ Chavchavadze Estate

Dance Class on Photo Shoot @ Chavchavadze Estate

It Looks a While Since the Dance Teacher Did the Splits!

It Looks a While Since the Dance Teacher Did the Splits!

3C BC Qveri Clay Container

3C BC Qveri Clay Container

Traditional Equipment to Make Chacha

Traditional Equipment to Make Chacha

Shumi Wine Offer

Shumi Wine Offer

Lunch Up the Tower with Fantastic Views

Lunch Up the Tower with Fantastic Views

It's a Constant 12-14C Down the Tunnels. AG All Wrapped Up

It's a Constant 12-14C Down the Tunnels. AG All Wrapped Up

All Wrapped Up in Tunnel of Khareba Winery

All Wrapped Up in Tunnel of Khareba Winery

One of Khareba Tunnels

One of Khareba Tunnels

Traditional Tasting Horn

Traditional Tasting Horn

Monastery Red / Qveri Style

Monastery Red / Qveri Style

Details of Qveri Red Wine

Details of Qveri Red Wine

Wine Tasting in Khareba Tunnel

Wine Tasting in Khareba Tunnel

Notting is Wasted. Chacha is By Product of Qveri Process

Notting is Wasted. Chacha is By Product of Qveri Process

Schuchmann Winery - One of the Branding Images

Schuchmann Winery - One of the Branding Images

Export Branding @ Schuchmann Winery

Export Branding @ Schuchmann Winery

Busy Sticking Labels

Busy Sticking Labels

Busy Packing the Latest Consignment

Busy Packing the Latest Consignment

Ukraine HGV Awaiting Its Load

Ukraine HGV Awaiting Its Load

Lots of Space Inside HGV for Wine

Lots of Space Inside HGV for Wine

Truck Driver Cooks His Supper Before a Going To Sleep

Truck Driver Cooks His Supper Before a Going To Sleep

Business as Usual @ Schuchmann Winery

Business as Usual @ Schuchmann Winery

Decadent Bathing @ Schuchmann Winery

Decadent Bathing @ Schuchmann Winery

Reluctant Selfie in Bath of Red Wine

Reluctant Selfie in Bath of Red Wine

A Storm is Brewing

A Storm is Brewing

Posted by sagbucks 21:01 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

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