Finally we’re off to Georgia. We have been looking forward visiting this Country since the very beginning of our trip. Some of many other reasons is the gorgeous food, especially the Chinkali - filled dumplings - which we have been dreaming of for days.
We are quick through the border in Batumi and just after two hours we can enter the country. The border police was less concerned with our luggage, but more with our trip and the roof-bed on top of the car. Dima was busy handing out our contact cards so that the guys can read up on our trip on the blog.
The beach city of Batumi is located shortly after the border with Turkey. It has a small historic center and a huge amount of hotels, casinos and malls around it. The real estate market seems to boom at the moment and a lot of people (Russians) are investing. Unfortunately there is a lack of control so it is a wild mix of architecture. Old traditional houses stand directly to decay apartment complexes and behind them new skyscrapers arise. It is not really what we’re looking for so we decide to quickly pass through and escape to the nearby mountains.
Slowly but surely we are travelling through Georgia’s National Parks, eat our way through its super delicious food and empty the wine cellars of our hosts. Georgia has a lot of nature to offer and for the first time we put on the hiking shoes and Dima needs to activate Kolya’s all-wheel-drive system. We take a bath in the Mtirala Park waterfalls and climb up the mountains of Borjomi National Park. Borjomi is home to the famous mineral water springs and the Borjomi salty-sour Mineral Water – famous drink of the Soviet Nomenklatura. We do try it, but one glass is enough.
Of course we find some time to visit the famous Vardzia caves, where I get lost for short time because I crawled in a hole in the wall which turned out to be an endless tunnel. Enough time for Dima to get pretty nervous and greet me with a lovely: “are you crazy girl?” when I surface back again. The tunnel system is indeed quite complex and in its glory times up to 5000 people lived in Vardzia.
In Western Georgia we travel through the Kakheti wine region and climb up the mountain in Northern Kasbeki to reach the small Gergeti church for a magnificent view of the Georgia-Russia mountain border.
We have mentioned the hospitality of the people we met on our journey, but particularly here we meet people who are genuinely friendly, tell us stories from their lives and ask many questions to us as well. During one of such evenings we get to try out the self-made wine and strong cha-cha in Grimi’s wine cellar. It is an alcohol-rich experience, which we will remember. By the way we believe that sometimes he is hiding in this cellar from his wife, because there’s a music system, a chimney and a TV there as well.
We also set up our camp in a Georgian family’s garden and are allowed to use their bathroom for answering some weird questions about Germany (for example whether we have Coffee and Tea and if you can buy gold there). As soon as we turn up with Kolya people get curious and ask us out about the journey. They really want to know what we think about their country and are proud to hear that we really liked it. Dima is busy talking Russian all the time and Jana listens, smiles and nods from time to time hoping that in one month she can speak some Russian as well.
Do you actually know how to properly eat Chinkali? You carefully bite a small hole on the side and suck out all the tasty juice from the inside. Then you can eat the rest of it, but do not eat the tip. You’re however allowed to eat it if you are very hungry or you want to hide how many Chinkalis you had. You can see how to do it in the video at the end of the text.
We slender through the markets and buy enough fresh fruits and nuts that could last until Vladivostok.
As we arrive in Tbilisi the setting changes drastically. Everywhere we see the EU flag and people see themselves as Europeans. Whereas the people of the countryside were happy that the clearly pro-western era of Saakashwili has ended the youth in Tbilisi would like to see more of it. They want to belong to the West what our guide Zura even demonstrates on his socks. They speak more English than Russian and the architecture in Tbilisi reminds one of modern European cities.
On the other side driving in Georgia was the worst so far. There does not seem to be any rules whatsoever and everybody just does what he wants: driving, stopping, overtaking regardless of any traffic. People are honking without interruption and all this takes place at hair raising high speeds. The funny part is that Georgians do not have car insurance. Whatever happens – happens, so we take it easy and just go with the (traffic) flow.
After one week we have to say goodbye to Georgia. Time is running out and we are travelling to Azerbaijan. Dima is quite nervous due to the border crossing. We have heard a lot of stories connected with car import. Also waiting times have been very different for travellers. But as usually none of it was the case and we are greeted with a friendly “Salaam”. After we pay our car tax of 20 USD we can enter the country and head to Baku.