11.06.2017 - 11.06.2017 15 °C
Day 18 Sunday June 11 2017
Kars to Ahalcihe / Akhaltsikhe ( same place, different ways off writing ) / 189 km / Border Day
- Its Georgia Day. It's leaving Ramadan zone Day, it's hopefully have a glass of wine with our supper Day!
- SG concludes that living within earshot of a mosque ( most Muslims do ) is like living near a railway line. You get used to it. Only temporary visitors hear the Mullah 's dawn wails.
- We are driving in a NW direction to the Posof / Vale border post between Turkey and Georgia. We are deliberately avoiding the crossing further west near Batumi which is much busier with road freight traffic.
- At times we are at an altitude of 2500 plus meters. We have that top of the world feeling again. Elevated grass plateau all around. The temperature drops to 12 C and it's mid morning. The shorts we wear, now seem a rather optimistic choice.
- We are both beginning to lose weight - lack of exercise, loss of muscle, nutritious but monotonous food and no alcohol. We are careful not to fill up with junk food. And there's only so much Turkish delight we can consume. AG claims he needs to add another notch to his belt. Literally not metaphorically.
- As usual at the border we must queue at various booths. There is a process but signage is not in English. We rely on Turkish truck drivers to point us in the right direction and in the correct order. We are the only foreign car. Our passports are stamped twice, there is photographic record taken of our arrival in Georgia and our truck is given a cursory inspection.
- We do not however purchase any car insurance. We are not covered by our European policy. But it seems insurance for foreign cars is not compulsory in Georgia. Nor is it readily promoted. We feel a bit vulnerable for obvious reasons.
- The whole procedure has taken less than an hour. We have chosen to stay in Akhaltsike which is the first main town after the border because we feared longer delays. So we arrive mid afternoon and in good time to have a look around.
- Within a few kilometers of the border we see the first crucifix. Many more will come as we travel through Georgia & Armenia. Armenia was the first Kingdom in the world to convert to Christianity in early 4C. Georgia followed in 319.
- According to Orthodox tradition, Christianity was first preached in Georgia by the Apostles Simon and Andrew in the 1st century. The Georgians' new faith replaced pagan beliefs and Zoroastrianism. Georgians remained mostly Christian despite repeated invasions by Muslim powers and their efforts to destroy churches or convert them to mosques.
- Georgians call their country Saqartvelo. They claim to trace their ancestors to Noah's great great grandson, Kartlos ( Gosh that's some family tree research ). Perhaps the English word Georgia comes from the old Persian word Gurj - it may have been a name heard by the Crusaders and taken back with them.
- During our week travelling across Turkey we have seen many large Turkish flags flying proudly. It is only when we arrive at Akhaltsikhe that we see the Georgian flag for the first time. There were none at the border. See photo. It looks familiar.
- In fact we share St George, our patron saint, with Georgia and several other countries: Portugal, Malta, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Ethiopia & Russia for example. No wonder he's not that special!
- In any case who was this George guy?!
- St George was reputedly a senior officer in the Roman army who was executed in 303 AD for refusing to persecute Christians. Venerated as a Christian martyr he was made famous in Georgia by St Nino in 320 s when he brought Christianity to Georgia.
- Georgia celebrates 2 x St George's day - 6 th May which is the anniversary of his execution and 23 th November commemorating his torture on a wheel of swords! In England St George's day is normally April 23. Sadly it is not a national holiday.
- The Georgian flag flies together with that of the EU. Much to the annoyance of Russia, Georgia has opted to look westwards rather than to Russia . In 2014 Georgia signed an association agreement and a free trade deal with the EU. Hence the flag and no doubt other benefits as well.
- Akhaltsikhe is the capital of Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. It was founded in 9C and the fortress ( castle complex) was built in 13C. Today approximately 18000 people live here. So not big. We manage to find our way to our hotel which has been built within the old castle walls. It means parking is a bit of an issue and we have to drag our cases across the public areas to get to the reception entrance. Why on earth did they give planning permission for a new hotel within a 13C castle?! But at least it is convenient for visiting the major tourist attraction of the city.
- The castle was restored in 2011-2 - ( some would say rather excessively) in order to revitalise a town that was in post soviet decline. Judging by the crowds this Sunday afternoon this has been achieved. It is worth mentioning also that there is a reasonable Museum of National History within the complex. Signage is in English and there are some interesting exhibits. Coincidentally it is sponsored by BP, AG's employer for many years.
- We have a meander around the fortress. It is very heavily restored by UK standards of authenticity so do not make it a detour priority. But as a convenient stop over at the start of our Georgian experience it is a good option.
- We decide to eat at the hotel - sitting on the terrace enjoying a very quiet fortress environment now that the crowds have gone home. We sample Khatchapuri, a traditional Georgian delicacy - cheese filled dough served with melted butter and runny egg. It tastes good ( but then when hungry and weary of Iftar food anything would!) It is surely also very calorific and if eaten daily not very healthy!
- Our first Georgian meal tastes all the better since we sample a bottle of Georgian red wine - from Château Mukhrani which is a blend of French & Georgian grapes. Apparently M&S sell wine from this vineyard! Take a look next time you go shopping.
- SG will mention more about Georgian wine in later blogs - we will be staying on a Georgian vineyard during our stay in this delightful country. Suffice to say it is believed that wine has been produced in Georgia for about 8000 years.
- What a difference a day makes...