April 2018 - April 2021
Currently traveling
  • Day9

    Flight back

    May 6, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    At 12.30am it's unfortunately time to get to the airport.
    As I have cunningly smuggled a T-shirt into the restaurant by hiding it in my bag, I manage to get changed in the restroom while my travel mates have (again!) to get undressed on the bus or on the road... The weirdest part of it all is that it doesn't even feel strange anymore! We must have been "Georgianised"... 😂
    When we finally start moving, I realise there is an extra person on the bus: a random guy has just jumped on our vehicle and is now sitting on the floor next to Lasha. Again, I am probably getting used to local habits, as I stopped asking myself too many questions and I simply accept the fact that we have an extra unnamed&unintroduced passenger...

    Our lovely crazy driver decides to make this last ride with us truly unforgettable by putting on Latin American music at ear-deafening volume... and obviously starts dancing without caring about the steering wheel! I seriously wonder what's the car accident rate in this country...🤔
    Despite the fact that he made me fear for my life every time I was sitting in the front seat, I will seriously miss this guy and his crazyness: even if our conversations never went beyond "mádlova", "gamardzoba" and "kargad" (basically... thank you, hello and goodbye), he has really found his way into our hearts with his joyful way of blowing the horn to make us laugh, his carefulness when zigzagging through the cows strolling on the roads making sure not to harm any of them and his constant smile despite the endless hours he had to drive for us on unbelievable roads. When a person has a big heart, no verbal communication is needed.

    After giving Lasha a big hug and a sad "Kargad" knowing I will very likely never see him again, I head with the rest of the group towards the airport, where the check-in counter is obviously still closed (after being late for the whole trip, we are now 4 hours early!). When the Turkish Airways staff finally shows up and starts the check-in procedures, I manage to trick the poor employee behind the counter into not weighing my obviously-overweight trolley by showing him I already had the "cabin baggage approved" tag (that I obviously never removed since we left Munich... 😎).

    I realise that many of my travel mates have the Star Alliance card and can therefore go to the premium lounge.... and bring one guest each! Thanks to Silvio, I get can join them and wait for our boarding time in total relax, but not before trying to spend my last lari coins in the duty-free shop (that seems to have adopted European prices and tries to trick tourists by showing prices in euros and making them think it's actually lari!).

    It's now time to leave this unforgettable country and return to our every-day life in Munich. And, as usual always a great holiday, while we are finally taking off I have this bitter-sweet feeling overwhelming me.
    Because yes, another adventure is over. But I am going back home enriched with new memories and amazing friends.

    And if there's anything that life has thought me, it's that farewells are most of the time just a "see you again one day".
    Kargad, Georgia!
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  • Day8

    Gala Dinner, Ethno Tsiskvili Restaurant

    May 5, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ 🌙 20 °C

    It's 6.30pm when our bus driver Lasha picks us up (or maybe I should say "briefly slows down the bus so that we can jump on it with unexpected agility. The traffic is crazy as usual, but the brave driving style of Lasha makes us save quite a lot of time and we get close to the restaurant in just over 15 minutes. At this point Vato makes him stop the bus at the side of the road and informs us that we are supposed to get changed THERE! Yes, exactly... on the side of a road with loads of cars and trucks driven by crazy drivers who have mistaken Tbilisi for a rally racetrack. In order to get our clothes we also need to take our suitcases out of the bus and open them up either on the road itself (with the risk of being run over by a crazy Georgian driver) or on the nearby grass that seems to have been used as an open-air dump and toiletry. The only relief is that we girls have the privilege to get changed on the bus while our poor male companions need to undress on the street!

    When we are finally done it's only 7.15pm: as we expected, we have A LOT of time to kill before we can actually go to dinner. As usual Vato doesn't seem to be too worried and informs us that we will use the "unexpected" (😞) extra time to do a sightseeing tour by bus. The result is that we start driving around in circles in the same decaying roads (and the prohibition ti take pictures as the US embassy is nearby and will chase us down if they see us using our cameras) until Lasha shows us mercy and parks in front of the restaurant. We are still half an hour early but at least can wait inside the private garden of the restaurant.
    The restaurant is indeed impressive with an lush garden, lights, and a very elegant building. There is even a small cable-car connecting the upper and lower part of the whole complex.

    When we can actually get to the dining hall we are welcomed by a dancing performance, while some singers continue to entertain us throughout the whole meal.
    Despite a slow-food service, we are done eating by 9pm and we still have A LOT of time ahead of us before we can go to the airport (our flight is scheduled at 4.25am!). Luckily a live singer entertains us with some danceable music and we decide to kill time by hitting the dance floor. Despite the weird getting-undressed-on-the-road part, this is probably the best evening I had in Georgia so far.
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  • Day8

    Tbilisi

    May 5, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ☁️ 23 °C

    After a couple of hours of driving we arrive to Tbilisi, but we find a crazy traffic getting into the city. Once again, we cannot agree on what to do so we have to split into two groups: one is left in the old city with instructions to get back to the drop-off point by 6.00 pm while I stay on the bus with Vato and other 7 people with the aim of exploring a suburb on the left side of the river.
    As usual, we are a bit confused about the instructions of our guide: why do we have to meet so early if dinner won't start until 8pm? Vato seems however sure that we will need two hours to get changed and go to the restaurant (we have to get changed because apparently the restaurant is fancier than the ones we have seen so far and has a very strict dress code, so basically we won't be even allowed to step in the entrance gate without proper garments...😒).

    After dropping the others off, we drive farther towards the river and we get off the bus to start our walking tour. This after going through a underpass and crossing a bridge we find ourselves in a very different area from the ones we had seen so far. This suburb looks like a sort of "Schwabing" in Munich: a street with cafés and bistros crowded WITH young people and street artists opens up in front of us. When Vato invites us to enter the courtyards of the houses, the whole picture changes: all of a sudden Schwabing is replaced by an old suburb of Southern Italy. The contrasts of Georgian cities will never stop surprising me.

    When we start getting back towards our drop-offpoint, Vato calls our bus driver and realises that he won't be able to pick up the other group and vehicles are not allowed to stop in that street. He consequently decides to leave us to our destiny (trusting that we will be able to find our way back) to go and find the other group and then lead them to us. Luckily finding our way back proves to be pretty easy and we even have some unexpected extra time to stroll in some narrow streets in this area of the town and have our last pomegranate juice of this holiday.
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  • Day8

    Borjomi

    May 5, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Last wake-up in Georgia. At least for the this year, I guess...
    Some people were so brave to get up at 7am to go to a local market, while I just manage to take my bags to the bus and get to the breakfast hall 5 minutes before departure.
    Tonight we have to be back in Tbilisi and our holiday is unfortunately over, but we will first stop in Borjomi for a couple of hours. This town not far away from Tbilisi is world-renowned for the production of mineral water. Our driver seems to be a bit crazier than usual and starts overtaking on bends with cars coming in the opposite direction... I will never get used to Georgian driving! On the way to Borjami we also see an amazing fortress: the Surami Castle.

    A friend back in Munich put me in touch with two very good friends of his that are living in Tbilisi. And one of them - Mishka - happens to work at the water plant in Borjomi! We decide to meet at noon at the entrance of the Borjomi gardens, so I have the time to stroll a bit in the park and taste its famous mineral water from a hot natural spring. I must admit the taste is not exactly exciting...
    Mishka picks me up right in time before we are hit by a crazy storm and it starts pouring with rain. After a short drive into the valley, we decide to stop at a traditional restaurant where we order a crazy amount if food, including am interesting walnut-filled trout, grilled beef, fried cheese and the inevitable Khachapuri. Since we are obviously not able to eat everything up, we ask the waitress to wrap the remaining Khachapuri up: now anything can happen, but with my Khachapuri doggy bag on my side I will feel safe.
    I think I underestimated Georgian hospitality because there is no way I can convince Mishka to let me pay for at least half of the total bill, nor to avoid that he buys me sweets and magnets in the streets.
    We get back to my bus right in time to leave. I hope they would have waited for me if I had arrived one minute later...
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  • Day7

    Kutaisi

    May 4, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    After this unplanned dance break we get back on the bus and this time Silvio sits next to me. Talking definitely helps to kill time and, before I even realise it, we are already in Kutaisi. We are kindly given an hour to check in at the reception and have a shower before we go out again to explore the town. As I'm sharing the room (and the bathroom) with Lola, it takes us slightly longer and we get to the lobby two minutes later than the agreed time... Just to find out that the others have already left!
    Luckily a group of 30 Germans strolling in the streets of an old Georgian town doesn't go unnoticed and we quickly catch up with our travel mates.
    Kutaisi used to be the capital of Georgia before Tbilisi and still has many monumental buildings, alternated with ruined abandoned houses. This contrast between modernity, luxury and poverty is what I personally find most striking about Georgian cities.

    At 8.30pm we are so hungry that we are not listening to our poor guide anymore and he has no other choice than giving us some advice for some good restaurants. I go with a small group to what seems to be a very typical local restaurant and we are quickly joined by most of our travel mates. Judging by the number of guests, food must be quite good here, but I cannot say the same about the service: they bring us a the drinks and a Adjaruli Khachapuri (a sort of ship-shaped open Khachapuri filled with cheese, melted butter and one egg)... and nothing else!!! After an hour we desperately ask one of the waitresses if we will still have to wait for long and we realise they had no idea we ordered something else...
    We end up spending over two hours in the restaurant sharing our dishes as they all arrive at different times. After dinner most of our group goes dancing, but Lola, Jitka and I get back to the hotel: tomorrow we will have a very long day as we will travel during the night flying back to Munich.
    Not to mention that I obviously still have to pack all my stuff into the only small carry-on trolley I brought with me...
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  • Day7

    Martvili Canyon

    May 4, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Last wake-up in Mestia. 🙁
    A long day lies ahead of us as we have to be in Kutaisi by tonight. I will definitely miss these mountains...
    Departure is set at 8.30am and this time I am really the last one to show up in the breakfast hall, but I still make it to the bus in time. We are probably getting used to these long transfers: after a couple of toilet and coffee stops we are already at the Martvili Canyon, a hot rocky valley not far away from the town of Inchkhuri. Even if it feels like we have just left Mestia, it's actually 3.30pm!

    Knowing we wouldn't be able to stop at a restaurant, this morning we packed some food for a picnic. Luckily the weather is again amazing but the heat is terrible and finding a spot in the shade that hasn't already been used by local cows as an open-air toilet is not an easy task.
    Quickly consumed our lunch (we are by now obsessed with the motto of our guide "if it's possible, you may want to hurry up a little bit"), we walk further down the valley until we reach the entrance of the canyon itself. After wearing a life vest, we split into small groups and get on the pier, where some inflatables are waiting for us.
    I get on the second boat together with Jitka, Ralf, Tina and Colin. It looks like only the two passengers in the first row get to paddle, so I can simply sit back and relax enjoying the scenery and taking pictures.
    The canyon is truly breathtaking: a narrow creek with shallow super transparent green water carves its way in a 20- to 40-meter deep gorge. Like other places we visited during this trip, it looks unreal... The boat trip doesn't last long (the canyon stretches for 2,5 km but only the first part is accessible) and we have time for a quick walk in the bush where we get more stunning views of the gorge ans discover some more chasms and waterfalls.

    After a quick walk around we start heading back to the bus: it's not a long way until the parking lot, but the heat is almost unbearable and we have to stop at some strategically-located stands selling pomegranate juice. These people really do know how to do business...
    When we are finally back on the bus, we realise that our vehicle has turned into a furnace after lying for over an hour in the sun. Our funny mute bus driver decides to solve the situation by making everybody get off the bus and turn both the AC and the stereo on, so that the whole valley echoes with the tune of "Despacito". No need to say that some of my travel mates (not the German ones, obviously) can't resist the temptation to start dancing surrounded by enthusiastic locals that reward them for the entertainment with free chocolate. What an experience!!! 😂
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  • Day6

    Mestia

    May 3, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    It's already 2pm when we get back to our jeeps in the parking area and it will take us another 2.5 hours of bumpy driving in the dust on uneven tracks to get back to Mestia. Considering I have just had lunch and I will for sure not get the front seat, these are probably going to be the longest 2.5 hours at least of my recent life...
    Anyways, i somehow get back alive to the hotel, where I just have the time to get changed before jumping on the bus again. Not even mentioning my trekking shoes being completely covered with mud and horse poo (I don't know nor I want to know the proportion of each component as, luckily, the colour is the same), my jeans are a disaster: not only the original light blue colour has turned into an undefined ochre with brownish nuances, but the horse of a girl in my group decided that the lower part of my leg was the perfect tissue for blowing his nose and then scratch his forehead into. I am not going to describe what the result was... I will just say that I am seriously tempted to throw my trousers away in the first rubbish bin I find in this forsaken region close to the off-limits zone with Russia.

    Back to more cultural aspects of the holiday, the tour guide somehow manages to trick me to join him and a few elected on the bus heading to the museum instead of just hanging out with the others. After the second hall with exhibitions of fragments of old copper coins I realise I made a terrible mistake and silently sneak out of the museum with Jitka and Silvio (a funny French-speaking Swiss guy in our group). 😓
    After guilty running away like high-school students banking school, we walk to the town centre and sit in a café for a cappuccino. Considering that the average monthly wages here are 200 US dollars per person, prices in the café are extremely high (or, alternatively, they have a menu just for tourists).
    I obviously make friends with the umpteenth sweet doggy while sipping my latte macchiato and then decide to stroll in the streets of Mestia to really "live the town". I spend a good hour walking around the town and I soon realise I probably don't really resemble a local, as most people are gazing at me as if I were an alien...

    At 8pm we have a buffet dinner in our hotel and our tour guide Vato tries to explain the programme for tomorrow. What gets through, however, is just that we will have an endless drive (6 hours) to an (obviously unnamed) canyon in an unspecified location and that once we get there each of us will have the chance to make a choice: either go to the left... or to the right! Judging by the look of the puzzled faces all around me, I am not the only one to be slightly lost. But after almost a week together, we have learned that asking Vato for clarifications has the only result of making things even more confused. Let's get surprised tomorrow...

    Before going to bed we all gather in the bar of the hotel, but we are immediately chastised by the hotel manager for bringing our own bottles. Classic... 😓
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  • Day6

    Horse Riding in Ushguli

    May 3, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    It's finally time for one of the moments I was mostly looking for: horse riding! Only 11 of us signed up for this activity, but I'm pretty sure the others will regret it 🙄
    After being assigned to our horses (as mine seems to be unnamed, I spontaneously decide to name him "Chicco"), we line up and start "riding" towards a fortress placed at the highest point of the town. In reality the "ride" is more a kind of slow walk that takes way longer than a regular on-foot one, since we continuously have to stop when somebody's horses decide it's time for a break/snack/nap... or simply take a different direction. Luckily Chicco seems to recognise in me his master (or, more likely, is simply bored of staying behind) and and brings me quickly to the front of the group, where the stable owner is leading the horses of the two first-timers.
    After reaching the fortress (that turns out to be a church, but that's just a detail... 😑), we continue towards the mountain enjoying a view that is simply incredible: it's just us, the horses and pure pristine nature... and a wee dog that keeps running around in circles at crazy speed. He either had some weed-flavoured doggy food or he is truly excited to see us. 😂

    After an hour of riding, we get back to Ushguli and we join the rest of the group at a café, that not only offers real toilets and warm food... but even a WiFi connection!
    Impressive... 😮
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  • Day6

    Ushguli

    May 3, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    After a three-hour jeep drive in the mountains without seeing signs of life apart from some random skinny cows wandering on the roads, all of a sudden some Middle-Age towers show up from nowhere: we have reached Ushguli!
    This town looks simply unreal with its ruined stone buildings surrounded by majestic glaciers. We are at 2.200 meters above see level but the mountains around us still look enormous.

    We decide to get off the jeeps and continue on foot to be able to enjoy every meter of this amazing place. Once we reach our jeeps, we start strolling the narrow streets among the ruined buildings of Urghuli, crossing our path only with some cows, stray dogs and some silent locals. Despite the mild temperatures, there are piles of snow everywhere.
    I don't know how to further describe it: his town seems to belong to another century.
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  • Day6

    Jeep drive from Mestia to Ushguli

    May 3, 2018 in Georgia ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Waking up in Mestia is one of the most remarkable experiences you can have, especially in the early morning. From the window of our room we can see the snowy peaks of the majestic mountains of the Great Caucasus contrasting with the deep blue sky. Once we get to the breakfast hall, the view gets even more impressive: Mestia is dotted with dozens of defensive towers built over 1.000 years ago both in the town itself and up the slopes of the mountains. It's like being in one of the Lord of the Rings movies!

    After a super early breakfast, we are ready to leave for the our main destination of the day: Ushguli, a fortress-city built up in the mountains at the end of an inaccessible canyon. In order to get there we need to split in groups and get on some jeeps, that will take us to Ushguli in 2-3 hours.
    Leaving aside the fact that I wouldn't drive on these roads for anything in the world and that "road" is not a word I would normally associate to this kind of mule tracks, the 3-hour bus drive to Ushguli is simply spectacular: gorges, waterfalls, defensive towers and majestic mountains all around. So, despite the dust, the bumps and the unimportant detail that two jeeps out of six were abandoned on the way up due to engine failures 😓, everything was just perfect!

    Our jeep driver speaks pretty good English and, considering the rarity of this fortune, I take the chance to ask him a few questions. That's how I find out that we are practically on the border with Russia but that there are no roads leading to it and that, in fact, the whole border area is off-limits. Also, it looks like Russians don't need a visa to come to Georgia, but Georgians need one to go to Russia. Obviously... 😒
    Georgi (yes, there is indeed a Georgi from Georgia) also tells me that his family owns one of the many defensive towers we have seen in Mestia and on the way up to Ushguli and that he speaks English because... he studied Economics and Management in Tbilisi!!! Despite having the chance of a privileged life in the capital or abroad, he instead decided to move back to Mestia and make a living out of his passion for his country by showing it to tourists. Georgians truly are amazing people... and not only for inventing the cheese-filled focaccia that goes by the name of Khachapuri!
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