A Travellerspoint blog

It's Armenia Day

semi-overcast 30 °C

Day 35 Wednesday 28 June 2017
Tbilisi to Dzoroget, Armenia / Border Day

  • So we leave Tbilisi. Put it on your list of cities to visit. It has come a long way since 2003 when the so called Rose Revolution brought to an end the post soviet era Shevardnadze government. It still has significantly further to go. But the transformation is very much a work in active progress.
  • Perhaps allow a good week / 10 days to visit Georgia & get a proper feel for the place. Change & transformation is happening rapidly. International hotel chains are opening up, small boutique hotels and backpacker hostels are getting in on the tourist act too, particularly in Tbilisi. Once air access improves ( currently only a few European airlines fly here - Lufthansa for example ) it will surely become the next tourist hot spot. So come now & be ahead of the crowd.
  • Regrets? We have a few .... Not having time to go for a Hamam experience in the sulphur baths is one. ' Tbili ' means warm in the Georgian language. And the natural hot springs that flow through the Hamams are the reason for the city's name. Local advice is to book a private room or try Baths 5. Don't count on a mellow asian massage experience, expect a full on Russian one!
  • We've done our best to catch up on our wasted first day's walk. But now it's time to move on to our next destination - Armenia.
  • Just as the day is starting well and we are about to set off, we open up the truck, stationary for the last 2 days in the the underground carpark. There is a strange buzzing noise inside. The fridge playing up again? No, the water pump has been left on - no doubt by SG - for 48 + hours. Although the truck starts, the control panel indicates the main battery is at a dangerously low level. Fingers crossed the battery can still be recharged by a decent bout of usage. If not, a new battery may have to be at the top of our Armenian agenda. Self inflicted injury & problems are all the more annoying. SG is sent to the naughty step - again!
  • It's a 75 km drive to the Armenian border. We are crossing at Sadakhlo.
  • It's getting hotter. Barely 11 o' clock and already the truck gauge is showing 30C.
  • For some reason, which we have yet to ascertain, as we approach the border, stalls on either side of the road sell cleaning products. Bags of the stuff and in large quantity. Is there a P&G factory nearby we wonder?
  • At the border, driver & vehicle passenger(s) must separate. SG joins the queue for pedestrians and hopes she has the correct paperwork. The master file is with AG who has to stay with the truck while it is searched. In the pedestrian queue there is much rank pulling - people push in ahead with their minders and this seems to be tolerated by the rest of us. SG chooses to bite her tongue. The whole process lasts about an hour and is relatively painless. It does have a cost because we have the truck - Insurance costs $10 and vehicle road tax $40. Expensive for 6 nights.
  • Why oh why, can't we enforce the same financial fees for short term use of our British roads by foreign cars ? It must be possible. After all we are an island and that should facilitate border control ( for vehicles at least ) .
  • Before arriving at our hotel in Dzorget located on the bank of River Debed, we visit three notable medieval churches & monastery complexes:

1. Akhtala, which lies 18 km NE of Alaverdi, built in 13C, located high up on a promontory overlooking the valley below. Alaverdi is a real rust pot of a city, a legacy from the Soviet era, and dated by Russian standards. Neither the church nor Alaverdi appear to have been embellished since their creation. The church of course is beautiful, even in its neglected state, the town much less so. Akhtala is famous for its stunning 13C frescoes - they also look completely untouched for centuries. You get the powerful feeling that you are peaking at truly original art.

2. Haghpat monastery is a World Heritage listed building - selected as a fine example of Armenia's medieval cultural heritage & ecclesiastical style of architecture. It was founded here in 10C and expanded in size during the following three centuries. Walking around the site we do wonder whether any money has actually flowed from World Heritage funds to the organisation responsible for its care and protection.

3. Sanahin Monastery is also a World Heritage site. By the way, there is no longer any cable car access from Alaverdi, despite what tourist books may say. It's hard to imagine there ever was.

  • This monastery complex is also in a very 'natural', unrestored state. It is a sombre place, a collection of arches, tomb stones, study halls. Apart from the stone carvings on the massive pillars and around doorways, there is little decoration. But the acoustics are superb. It's our lucky time again - there is a priest chanting his prayers. Hardly visible in the dark interior his beautiful voice resonates up & out. His voice is hauntingly beautiful. We are told he has come from Yerevan to pray in this special place and in this unique way.
  • May you be as fortunate and have a similar experience on your travels in Armenia.
  • Late afternoon we arrive at our hotel, the Dzoroget Tufenkian. It is the inspiration of James Tufenkian, an American of Armenian background who came to Armenia and decided to start a business. He currently has at least two on the go - one producing hand made carpets in traditional Armenian design and now employing over a 1000 people. The other is a chain of boutique hotels in heritage buildings or ones built to reflect Armenian design & culture. His aim is to develop regional tourism within Armenia. Besides Dzoroget, there are also Tufenkian hotels in Dilijan & Yerevan. We will be staying in all three whilst in Armenia.
  • A cursory look in the dining room and the sight of a long, fully laid up table, suggests we are an hour or so ahead of a large coach group. We decide to eat before the crowd arrives. We dine outside in the warm evening sunshine and eat a delicious local chicken stew.
  • This gives us plenty of time to work on a change of plan. Our Day 2 schedule has been thwarted by road closure. Just like that!

Lots of Cleaning Stuff For Sale Near Armenian Border

Lots of Cleaning Stuff For Sale Near Armenian Border

Akhtala Monastery Exterior

Akhtala Monastery Exterior

13C Ceiling Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

13C Ceiling Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

13C Wall Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

13C Wall Fresco in Akhtala Monastery

Haghpat Monastery Exterior

Haghpat Monastery Exterior

Polished Stone Floors, Centuries Old @ Haghpat Monastery

Polished Stone Floors, Centuries Old @ Haghpat Monastery

Haghpat Monastery

Haghpat Monastery

Sanahin Monastery Complex

Sanahin Monastery Complex

Stone Engraving at Sanahin Monastery

Stone Engraving at Sanahin Monastery

Sanahin Monastery 10-12C

Sanahin Monastery 10-12C

Alaverdi - Sadly An Old Russian Rust Pot of a Place

Alaverdi - Sadly An Old Russian Rust Pot of a Place

Hotel Tufenkian Dzoroget

Hotel Tufenkian Dzoroget

Appartment Block Opposite Hotel & Lada Car

Appartment Block Opposite Hotel & Lada Car

Two Small Armenian Boys Welcome Us To Dzoroget

Two Small Armenian Boys Welcome Us To Dzoroget

The Reason We Change Our Plans

The Reason We Change Our Plans

Posted by sagbucks 11:55 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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)

One More Sleep in Azerbaijan

Day 30 Friday June 23 2017
Seki to Genja 145 km

  • We have lost confidence in Lonely Planet as far as Azerbaijan is considered. We are now ready to leave. AG is grateful that SG planned only a 3 day visit. The people have been very friendly and willing to help but the language barrier between us is a major impediment to successful tourism. Not their fault, ours! Plus the lightweight nature of the sights that are promoted without proper information in English.
  • Since arriving in Azerbaijan we have seen few mosques and heard them even less. It may be we are simply adapting to the prayer calls but we think it is to do with the fact that compared with Turkey, there are simply fewer of them.
  • Today as we head south from Sheki to Genja, the scenery changes markedly. Fewer trees, wide open pasturelands that are intensively grazed by herds of cattle & sheep. Invariably by the roadside. And grain crops that are currently being harvested. Genja lies half way between Tbilisi & Baku. Lonely Planet describes it as an historic city that is trying to re- invent itself for tourism.
  • Azerbaijan is still horse & cart country and a veritable colony for Lada cars - old ones!
  • Most towns in Azerbaijan feature somewhere in their vicinity one or more large picture(s) of President IIham Aliyev, that is neither a painting nor a photo but strange combination of the two. He looks remarkably like his big ally President Erdogan in Turkey - who is also trying to run an ever more authoritarian presidential regime.
  • Old Azeri women tend to wear a head scarf and calf length skirts. Younger women dress in a normal non- revealing style of western clothes. Bare arms and lower legs do not seem to be an etiquette problem.
  • 20 km before Genja we see fields of sunflowers. They are in full bloom.
  • Before settling down in Genja for the afternoon, we drive a further 10 km South to Goygol, a town on the edge of the area's vineyards. Before 1931 this town was known bizarrely as Helenendorf because of the Germans from Württemberg who came to settle at the invitation of Tsar Alexander. They no doubt had much to do with the cultivation of grapes in this area.
  • Joseph Stalin went & spoilt things by deporting the German population of the town to Siberia in 1942. But traces of the German settlement can be seen in the Lutheran Church built here in 1854 and the different wooden facades of residential & commercial buildings located in the old central area. The last resident of German descent died in 2007.
  • Banks are hive of activity in Goygol on this Friday morning at 11. Is it pay day? Are they short of money?
  • Ramadan observance in Goygol is not strictly observed. Men of different ages are drinking tea and chatting. As they do - often. There is not a woman in sight.
  • From the photos posted to date you will have realised that residential architecture in Azerbaijan is very different from the UK - the houses are built within courtyards surrounded by high walls and accessed only by solid metal gates. The average UK home has windows looking out onto the world which are visible to passers by.
  • On arrival in Genja there is the usual issue with the hotel - where to park and is our room quiet? It seems if you request a quiet room online at the time of reservation, the more likely you will be allocated the exact opposite. SG has to organise a room change for the umpteenth time.
  • Navigator is so exhausted by the last 3 days in Azerbsijan that she, very unusually, crashes for a mid afternoon sleep.
  • In pleasant evening temperatures we sit on the square and sip a full bodied Azeri wine. The bars adjacent are occupied only by men. the Hubble Bubble pipes are out and being puffed. Most bars seem to offer this activity.
  • Even though the Hamam opposite the hotel is very old & authentic, we decide to wait until Tbilisi for our next traditional bathing experience. SG has a private look see - the facilities are impressive & clean but devoid of atmosphere and people. There are no staff here, just empty facilities and certainly no other customers. It's just all very strange....
  • Genja City centre is also a work in progress. When finished it will certainly be a very attractive city - wide tree lined boulevards, fountains, pedestrian zones, mellow architecture - but for now and until an unknown time in the future, it is still a project in evolution. At least money is being spent on urban improvement. It will no doubt mean that Genja can qualify to host some major cultural event such as the Eurovision Song Contest. Ah SG that's harsh!
  • Only one more sleep in Azerbaijan and then back to Georgia.

Driving from Seki to Ganja, the Scenery Changes

Driving from Seki to Ganja, the Scenery Changes

Lots of Herding Activity en Route to Ganja

Lots of Herding Activity en Route to Ganja

It's Horse & Cart Country

It's Horse & Cart Country

Old Style House in Former German Settlement

Old Style House in Former German Settlement

Banks are a Hive of Activity This Friday Morning

Banks are a Hive of Activity This Friday Morning

How a Typical Residential Street Looks in Azerbaijan

How a Typical Residential Street Looks in Azerbaijan

PleaseTake Your Shoes Off - Residential Frontdoor

PleaseTake Your Shoes Off - Residential Frontdoor

Large & Impressive - Has to be Government Buildings

Large & Impressive - Has to be Government Buildings

Old 17C Hamam in the Middle of the Park

Old 17C Hamam in the Middle of the Park

Infamous Bottle House  in Ganja Suburbs Finished in 1967 & Quite a Work  of Art

Infamous Bottle House in Ganja Suburbs Finished in 1967 & Quite a Work of Art

Posted by sagbucks 09:58 Comments (0)

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