Tag Archives: Cycling Georgia

Day 60,61,62 Georgia wants to keep us longer

1 Jul


We left the Romantik hotel around midday, took a last ride in the old town and had lunch on a terrasse. After we ate some really good falafel, we started cycling east with a pretty good weather. On the way we could see many people selling those sweets, called churchkhela – a mix of nuts and grape mash which doesn’t look really appealing. As we saw it many times cycling georgian roads, we thought we’d give it a try before leaving the country. It is actually pretty good, and full of energy. 😉

Churchkhela

The -ambitious- target of the day was to reach Sighnaghi, an historic village with castle and old church on the heights of a mountain. But during the late afternoon, after cycling 90km, some heavy rain joined the party and gave us romanian memories as we got completely soaked. At 9 pm we still had no idea where to sleep. Fortunately we reached a restaurant on the road, cooking shashliks on wood fire, where we stopped to eat, dry and get warmer. We  asked if it was possible to set the tent on the upper terrasse which had a roof. Mamouka (the cook) called the boss and got a positive answer. Really glad not to spend the night in a swamp. 😉

I took a shower already!

Where the hell is Hellboy…something is coming!

I’m cooking in the rain

Master of fire

Our dry camping spot

We slept pretty well up there and the day after the rain was gone, so we thought it would be our last day in Georgia and that we would enter Azerbaijan, as it was just 70 km away. After we ate a melon offered to us on the road the day before, we started cycling to Sighnaghi with the idea to have lunch there, take some pictures and then make the last 50 km to the border. It was a pretty steep climb but it was worth it. The scenery from the top is gorgeous and the village pretty well maintained.

Sighnaghi

We were surprised to see so many tourists, restaurants and souvenir shops. There even was a casino and 3 ATM’s, high up in the mountains. At lunch we tried another Georgian speciality “khilkali” – it is a kind of ravioli filled with meat. Very good. By the time we finished our meal the rain came back and put our cycling mood at its lowest level, as it seemed it would never end. We decided to take it easy, find a cheap room, enjoy what we could of Sighnaghi, and wait to the next morning.

Khilkali

 In the evening we went back to the center to get some food and met Zura, a pretty funky guy with a big heart who wanted to share a Georgian table with us at his place. We went to his house where we toasted his grandfather’s wine while eating really good food with him and some of his friends.

Sighnaghi by night

The weather came back to normal the next morning, and we left the village in early afternoon. On the way down, we met a group of two polish couples, cycling for 3 weeks in Georgia. We exchanged a few good tips about the country then went back on the road. We have been chased by many dogs packs on the way to lagodekhi, the last town before the border. The road was flat, but we were not at our best, after the previous night’s excesses. The Caucasus facing us is magnificient. On the road, many groups of people, mostly man, whom main goal in life seem to have enough money to buy beer and cigarets. Each of them is calling us, but we only stopped once, next to a shop, as we were hungry. We got offered melon, bread and sausages, that we ate with harissa.

Also, milestone : 3000km on the counter today!

Yeeah!

Amazing Caucasus

Joseph, proud winner of 20 lari (10€) in the tap of a winning bottle of beer

At 7 pm we were in Lagodekhi, close to the border that we decided not to cross, as the custom takes time and we didn’t want to enter Azerbaijan without money, at night. We told ourselves Georgia would keep us one more day, and found a place to stay in this lovely village.

Day 58, 59 : Famous in Georgia!

28 Jun

We got escorted to Romantik Hotel in the morning, then took some time to visit Tbilisi. The city is ten times bigger than any other city in Georgia, where 1 million people live (5 million in the entire country). It is noisy, has a dense traffic, and beautiful old buildings next to funky, modern architecture. Also, lot of street art.

As we probably won’t have many other occasions to get to a bike shop in the coming months, we did a pit stop in the -probably only- bike shop in the city (address: 140, A. Tsereteli Avenue), where we got some more oil and grease for the chains.

We then took a ride on the funicular to reach the top of the hill and visit Narikala, an ancient fortress overlooking Tbilisi and the Kura river. There, georgian television was shooting for the news, interviewing tourists to get their feelings about the city, and Nico got his moment of fame!

After some more walk in the old town and a visit of an art studio, we came back to the hostel, ate the beautiful vegetarian meal given to us, and discussed with an interesting guy from Sweden, who worked from the World Bank and other financial institutions, and who had a very interesting point of view about the system built by the west and where it is going -probably not in the best direction.

At 10 O’clock was the news, and we could see Nico for several seconds, talking about the trip and how nice Tbilisi is. The funny thing is that our danish friends from the hotel were featured in the program as well, that we watched together. After was the Euro semi final. And after that we improvised a reggae party with the sound system of the hotel, with the few travellers that were with us (about 5!). Good times!

Today, it rained a lot and we decided to stay here one more night, as we like the vibe of the place. We only came out to buy a kebab and take that picture below. A productive day.

Day 57 : Flat tire in Tbilisi

28 Jun

In the morning, Davit gave us more insights about the history of his house, built by his grandfather, a well known soccer player in USSR, in the fifties. He spent 4 years in the army after World War II, then got contacted by several big european soccer clubs, but prefered to come back to his village, build a house and raise his children. Their piece of land is full of vegetables, fruits, and animals ; enough for their needs.

Davit’s grandparents

Before we left, we received many fruits and some homemade wine for our trip. We exchanged our contact information and hope we’ll be back in Jiorgiashvili some day! And we hope it will remain the same. 🙂

Goodbye picture

The ride to Tbilisi was an easy one, only one though hill, and we felt the density of traffic increasing as we got closer from the capital. The landscapes also got driers, and Tbilisi surroundings are way more desertic than everything we’ve seen so far in Georgia.

Dry lands

Very close to the city, Yves rode on a nail that his back tire couldn’t handle. After 2850km, we got our first flat tire…it had to happen at some point! We took the occasion to repump all our tires at the gas station -impossible to pump 4 bars manually ; put our bikes in the car wash, and smartened them. They seem brand new again.

We now know we can fix a flat tire!

Pimp my bike

Based on a recommendation from our fellow belgian brothers cycling the world (check out their amazing trip here), we wanted to reach Romantik Hotel in Tbilisi, a travellers hotel where you pay 5 euros per night, including free vegetarian dinner, coffee, tea, and homemade wine. We couldn’t find the address anywhere on the web, so if anyone is interested, here it is : 46, Dolidze Street ; close to the Technical and Medical Universities. Highly recommended! For our first night, we found another equally cheap room in Georgia Hotel, owned by the same people. We met a couple of friendly travellers from Slovenia and Denmark, and spent the late part the night working on the blog.

Tbilisi!

Day 56 : Georgian table

27 Jun

One day spent with the locals. Always good. So we stayed for a non cycling day with our host Davit, who planned a fishing day next to the local river with us and his friends. We took a ride on the 36 year old Lada of Davit, met some pigs and donkeys on the way, then arrived to the river. The guys were fishing while were were spending time with the cows of the village. All the cows  go to the river everyday, and the one who look after them changes day after day ; the more cows you have, the more days you will spend looking after them. Today was Tristan on duty, and he spent the day with us. Fishing with nets had proven to be the best way in that river, and that’s how people fish for many generations.

People here fish with good consciousness : “don’t fish too much ; just fish for your needs”. Rural Georgians seems to have understood sustainable development centuries ago and we probably have to learn a lot from them. We were 6 people, so they fished one or two kilos before coming back, get the fire ready to cook them and make a proper georgian table.

Tristan, cow shepherd today

A georgian table is (another) orgy of food and drinks, but has a spiritual dimension : a Tamada is there to act as a master of cermemony -a bit like a priest ; and is responsible for the toasts. Evertime the glass gets full of homemade wine, people listen to the toast and has a thought about what is being talked about. We toasted dozens of times, about friends, water, ground, nature, parents, ancesters, Georgia, Belgium, freedom, and what else. Today is definitely the day with the most spiritual drinking of the trip.

Tamada for the day, on the left

At some point, Tristan’s son joined the table with his german gun, as he wanted to hunt and get us some meat. After some angry talk with his father -because the cows were running away from the river, he went to hunt but only came back with this alive turtle, that we obviously didn’t eat.

12 liters of wine later, we headed home in the Lada, where Nico was waiting for us after a peaceful walk along the fields.

Day 54 : …and back up in the mountains.

26 Jun

Day 54 wasn’t the sunniest one. We left the city under grey and windy weather, on a good road, unfortunately full of trucks commuting in a stone extraction site. We met Bart, a dutch guy cycling Georgia for 5 weeks, advising us not to get to the mountains as the weather was pretty horrible. The only other option for us was to go to Turkey, 20km away, for a one day trip. After some hesitation, we decided to carry on and cycle towards the dark georgian clouds. We got some rain, and even hail, as we were around 2000 meters high, but it didn’t last long.

Bart, showing the way

Pretty windy up here

After few some wet cycling, we wanted to stop for hot coffee and food in Ninotsminda, but there didn’t seem to have many restaurants nor bars over there. Nico smelled food at some point, knocked at the door, and talked to the guys working there. From what we understood, it seemed to be the canteen of an hospital and not a restaurant. They gave us some mineral water, then after a few minutes invited us to eat what was on the table…there were kilos and kilos of meat, fish, vegetables, bread, and so on. We ate like kings, and once again, had to toast with the cooks some vodka shots -we tried to refuse but just couldn’t. It was a normal lunch during the week, and there was 2 vodka bottles on each table of 6 people…more vodka than water. The armenian style.

We couldn’t eat everything

Toast, just a few hours after the last ones 

The clouds passed by as we were eating, and the weather improved a bit for the last part of the afternoon. We went up to 2100 meters, in a beautiful remote rural area with several lakes. We saw many sheeps, cows, people, and several eagles. There were many other birds species that we have no clue about (to my friends Ratnesh and Danuta : you’d have loved that place!)

Stuck in traffic

The old school

I want to sleep

One of the many eagle we saw that day

What’s up, dude?

At sunset, we found a church in front of lake Paravani, and decided to camp there as we would have a beautiful sunset on the mountains facing us. We put the tent next to the little church, to stay dry and be protected from the wind, but a monk came to make us move further from his holy church. We moved next to it in the grass, then he came back some time later because we were “too close from the church”. We set up the tent for the third time, now far from the church, as it was getting annoying to be bothered by the monk.

We got really lucky during the night, as a big storm was close to us, with lightnings every few seconds. We took some pictures and luckily didn’t get wet. The next morning, the blue sky was back and the scenery quite exceptional.

We  first thought the judgement day had arrived

But it hadn’t 🙂

Day 53 : Tarmac, mountains, canyons and Armenians

26 Jun

The way down the Goderdzi mountain had been a beautiful piece of cake. We rode 25 km downhill, feeling the temperature increasing as we were going down. Our legs were pretty tired from the day before, and we didn’t cycle too much that day. We stopped after 50 km in Akhaltsikhe, the next big town in the valley. While looking for a terrasse in the city center, we met Rafa, a 16 year old cyclist originally from Armenia, whom family exiled to Georgia due to the armenian genocide after world war I. Many armenian families live in the city, which is as well the hometown of Charles Aznavour’s father.

Akhaltsikhe  castle

Rafa arranged us a room in the city center, and offered us to go together to see a well preserved monastery from the 13th century hidden in the mountains nearby -Sapara monastery. We discussed about the next day’s trip, the city and its history, while eating Khachapuri. It is a delicious cheese pie, one of the georgian culinary speciality.

We left to the monastery in the early morning, after a short night (we worked on the blog until late!). Our taxi driver was an old armenian guy, driving his 18 year old Lada like a rally pilot, on the very bad roads in the mountains. We are still surprised the car survived the adventure ; those old ladas seem to be incredibly robusts.

Rafa and Sergey

Sapara monastery

Visiting the beautiful building and enjoying the peaceful nature of the area was pretty enjoyable and we stayed there for a little while, before  going back to town and sleep few hours more.

The next destination was Akhalkalaki, and the road between the two towns follows a river, going upstream and gaining some elevation. It has brand new tarmac and superb scenery of mountains and castles. We started in the afternoon and  followed the road for about 70km south east, getting very close to Turkey and Armenia. The last bit was a never ending canyon that we went through when the sun was setting, and we reached Akhalkalaki at night time. We got a cheap room in a hostel, shared with friendly armenians and azeris working on the market or nearby shops, they had that scale we used to figure out about our weight after two months cycling.

Old castel on the way

Akhkalaki after sunset

We went out to find a place to watch Euro quarter final, and ended up in probably the only one place in town that shows the game. As soon as we sat on the terrasse, we got invited for an orgy of food and drink at a table of armenians guys ; ate fish, meat, melons, and of course drank vodka. While talking to them, we understand that the city has 90 to 95% of Armenians, which gives it a different flavour to the place…a more spicy one.

Yves lost 6 kg – Nico he’s still the same 😉

One of the friendly Armenian met that day in Akhalkalaki

Day 51 : Tough!

21 Jun

The second phase of the Caucasus ascension was much harder and steeper than the first one. After a morning swim and some time spent enjoying the camping area, we got back on the road and rapidly gained altitude. A group of italian cyclists told us it would be really hard for us, loaded as we are, to get to the top of the mountain, which was about 2000 meters high, main problem being the state of the ‘road’, a mix of rocks and sand after the city of Khulo. It went indeed smoothly up to that point, even if the road is somehow dangerous -narrow with big cliffs ; and started getting really steep already few kilometers before Khulo. We climbed that part under the midday sun and arrived in town pretty exhausted, aware this was just the beginning of the fight. 🙂

We filled our tanks with soup, meat and bread, rested for a bit, then hit to road at about 3PM. Straight after the town, the road downgraded to a steep path of sand, earth, dust and rocks. The conditions didn’t improve for the next 20 kilometers, which were among the hardest, if not the hardest, that we’ve cycled so far.

Kerosene

Steep one

Getting there, slowly but surely

Gaining elevation

Chocolate stop on the way

We arrived at the top of the mountain for the sunset, with magical views over the valleys. It was right on time before the only shop miles around closed, and we bought noodles and beer to celebrate our physical achievement. We were above 2000 meters high, it was cold and we could see the eternal snow closeby. We asked Guguli, the owner of the shop, if there was a warm place to sleep in the area. There wasn’t, but she offered us to stay in her house, with  her 13 year old grandson. We obviously felt very grateful to not have to spend the night outside in the cold, and discovered with amazement the lifestyle of the family, from another era. The house was entirely warmed on the same wood fire used for cooking ; they were eating only homemade natural products : milk, cheese, cream, bread, and various types of conserved vegetables. The water they used was taken directly from the source (no showers and that sort of things), and the toilet was just an elevated platform where the stuff felt directly into a compost (no paper, just water). It feels like a great way to live at this time of the year, but it is probably a much tougher lifestyle during the winter, when they have to deal with the 3 meters of snow they usually get.

Anyway…we quickly crashed in our beds after dinner.

Guguli, cooking for us

Morning view over the shop and the house we stayed in, in the background