January 2011

Tbilisi, Borjomi, Bakuriani, Batumi, Gudauri

Wall art in Tbilisi hostel Tbilisi hostel is not very crowded in winter, but some friendly Australians met me with a beer at 6 am when I arrived from the airport Typical home in Avlabari district of Tbilisi At 6 am at night when arriving here I was wondering whether the taxi driver wants to eat me here or not :-) Avlabari has a very nice retro truck exhibition all over The doors and balconies in Tbilisi are very pretty A typical place to grab a beer, or even better, some authentic Soviet-style lemonade Chucky's bride watching you Thursty? Must be perfect in Summer! Georgian hooligan's car Feels like in subtropics despite the cold (and no heating in the hostel!) The new mighty church funded by anonymous contributors Georgians are mega religious - the old and the young, everyone After the breakup of Soviet Union, church marriages are very common Evil Muslims chopping heads of early Georgian Christians View from the church hill across the river to the downtown Tbilisi Balconies are beautiful, but look like they are going to fall off any moment Got my first hachapuri bread from here, yummy! More retro cars Many buildings are in very bad shape... Remains of a collapsed church Soviet signs are still in Georgian and Russian, newer ones usually feature English instead Friendly local babushka Many homes still don't have tap water Southern people like showing off their underwear Spiderman! Nice little church If renovated, it would be a villa with perfect view! Georgian Orthodox The new policemen (old corrupt police were dismissed by Saakashvili) One of the oldest churches, a dwelling place of gypsies Gypsy children don't like to be photographed - and are sometimes quite hard to escape! This chapel is below a church - I wonder if there are no secret tunnels inside the rock! The bridge, where Muslims chopped heads twice in history of Georgia The primary nightlife district of Tbilisi, but not a lively as you might expect Ended up drinking all this cha-cha with these friendly locals :-) Sparrows are the same everywhere in the world Fancy architecture at the Freedom Square The mighty St George klilling a dragon The Freedom Square is not quite a square, but a big roundabout Christmas decorations are still in place Retro phone booth! Stree art sales on Rustavelli Fancy arches are quite common I preferred navigating smaller streets to the busy Rustavelli avenue No comments... The new and shiny convention center The The beautiful new bridge that many locals find distracting Night view of the castle (after escaping from the adventures of a nightclub) Night in Avlabari You thought Las Vegas is in Nevada? Retro taxi Gaming on the streets is very popular despite the chilly weather Many retired sportsmen switched to driving (actually, many people wear sports clothes without a reason) Gypsy family - was quite fun to learn from them that I have lost my love and going to become bankrupt soon. Maybe paying them would fix that prophecy? ;-) 80's style clothes fit retro mannequins well! Old Tbilisi Moroccan and Australian tourists joined an Estonian one in city sightseeing Lots and lots of Zhiguli! Contemporary architecture among ageing houses This guy is surely older than me! Car wash William, a member of local American population of English teachers In Tbilisi, you often encounter Arabic influence Locals like to go shopping in slippers Would like to drive this one! The funicular that is out of service for 4 years already - the symbol of decay of the city.. Hopefully it will recover soon! Remember these buses from the childhood :-) Nowadays, taxis are replacing the broken funicular Theme park above the mountain Hmm, I thought that I didn't have cha-cha today yet, or maybe this is the yesterday's? Not enough snow for snowboarding this year, but at least people can ice skate Soviet art Weed is being sold on the streets in the downtown A business woman Near the At night, Tbilisi transforms completely thanks to the beautifully-lit buildings Don't feel like sleeping yet after a club, cha-cha powers me to do some more night-time sightseeing Homes of prosperous Georgians nicely decorate hillsides of the city Walking with my new dog friend Night Tbilisi I would like to live here, too My new dog friend walked me a couple of hours everywhere and barked at strangers approaching us Tbilisi feels very safe to walk at night despite Lonely Planet's warnings 7 am market before catching a marshrutka to Bakuriani Colorful spices Churchkhelas, made of various nuts put on a string and dipped in grape syrup, make a perfect breakfast! People are initially suspicious of a strange guy walking with a camera (an American?), but when I talk to them in Russian, become friendly Beans, beans, beans, and some churchkhelas In Georgia, tourists have some difficulties with reading... Coffee beans Ever tried a foot soup or something? As usual, at market you can buy almost anything Holes, lots of them! My stereotype of a Georgian man ;-) Passing Borjomi on a 3-hour marshrutka ride to Bakuriani This turned to be the best and most spacious marshrutka of all I have ridden in Old school sledges in Bakuriani Local speciality - pine cone jam! Unexpectedly tasty :-) Retro snowmobile Still not enough snow for snowboarding in Bakuriani... Old test gyroscope for cosmonauts? More pine cone jam and more sledges everywhere Street butchers (they even made a shashlyk here in the evening) Ski and sledge rental - people come here for all kinds of winter sports Still no new snow, so we decided to make a day-trip to Vardzia The oldest building of Borjomi Funicular, this one seemed to be in a working condition The Georgian Coca-Cola :-) Here you can taste Borjomi for free With Roma, our driver and the guide - he brought us 5 litres of home-made wine to make a multiple-hour ride more enjoyable :-) Warm borjomi water poring to my glass directly from the insides of Mother Earth Indian-branded Mahindra car While Roma is drivng in the mountains, we are slowly consuming our 5 litres of wine he brought us Georgia has many beautiful castles and watch towers on hills, too bad I didn't have many photo opportunities... Piss and wine stop on the way to Varzdia, towards the Turkish border Local food store National flag is proudly waving in the sky Guess who has the fanciest cars? ;-) Mmm, the perfect lavash bread! Road conditions become more difficult Finally we have reached Vardzia - a cave town-monastery from 11th century Varzdia is situated in a rim of a canyon and was completely invisible before the earthquake that resulted in a land slide Now, the land slide has made many rooms open and reduced their number from 3000 down to current 600 An 11th century church dug in the stone This guy's has some nice hairstyle Vardzia and the Mtkvari river Lots of Estonians that have met each other in Bakuriani Initially, the only way to get to the city was via some well-hidden tunnels Current monks are use high-tech gear to lift stuff to the city In the chapel The chapel, built after the 13th century earthquake Ancient door Vardzia church, with Queen Tamar depicted on the wall Remember the candle-selling lady in Tbilisi? ;-) Deep inside the mountain - there was even a sophisticated irrigation system that still brings holy water to the caves Claustrophobic tunnels that monks used to navigate Finally some light at the end of a tunnel! Enjoying the view Some monks still live and pray here A room with a view Contemporary monks like to drink wine as much The guard of Vardzia Some snow on an overall warm day This guy has been a guide here for 37 years, he walks here for 8 km from his home village every day Traffic jam This guy make the best shashlyk I have ever tried! Food stop on the way to Batumi Pirozhki Tea brake Soviet industrialization More of Soviet architecture Yeah, a couple more hours left of a 7-hour marshrutka journey! Our packed marshrutka Fellow passengers Ancient excavator This fence is made of old rests originally designed to be used under the tanks to pass bogs Architecture in decay on the Black Sea shore More palms starting to appear as you approach Ajaria Batumi silhouette from Makhinjauri Arrived in Batumi Wonder what is says The port of Batumi on the Black Sea Streets of Batumi Roads are in very bad condition - supposedly they are being renovated to prevent floods, funded by the EU, but nobody knows for how long more will it last Ajarian hachapuri resembles Turkish pide a lot, and many Ajarians are Muslims - the influence is very obvious here Batumi is a summer holiday destination for Georgians The promenades are many kilometers long with palms brought from Africa Locals playing in the rain Stalin-style building now houses Sheraton hotel Sometimes you feel that the time has been frozen.. Who needs electronic calculators? Retro-style beers and cha-cha By 9 pm, everyone's gone! This place should be turned into a museum Lemonade? Just like Tbilisi, streets are beautifully lit at night Statue on the central square holding the Golden Fleece, a mythical gift by Greeks that was later stolen by the Argonauts Our Lux Hotel was combined with hair salon and wedding dress shop Pavement outside of the hotel Streets of Batumi The Batman store! Old-school kvass barrel I wonder when these balconies will start falling? Batumi youngsters An interesting discovery The town hall On the way to Turkey (former closed border zone during the Soviet era) Christian cross is overlooking a mosque on the other side of the border Georgian-Turkish border is visa-free, but has a lot of smuggling problems both ways Moving towards Turkey A mosque is the first thing you see in Turkey A taxi driver who smuggles fuel into Turkey has been caught. The funny thing is that he is a former customs officer who was imprisoned for 3 years for bribes Arrived to Hopa, a nearby Turkish town Das Market ist indeed süper Shopping street in Hopa - Georgians come here for cheap clothes Tea plantations Ancient stone bridge somewhere in a mountain village A local mosque with tea as a back drop Trucks waiting in line to enter Georgia Georgia as seen from Turkey WTF? People use a broken truck as a shelter Inside of Gonio Roman fortress The Roman fortress of Gonio is incredibly well-preserved Drinking beers in a bar we learned that there is snow falling in Gudauri, so we rushed to Makhinjauri train station to take an overnight train back to Tbilisi Incredible Georgian hospitality: Ajarian mandarin oranges are mostly rotting on the trees because Russia doesn't import them anymore... One-eyed overnight train to Tbilisi I feel heavy drinking will be happening in the train :-) Our very own coupe Train socialization We had time to grab some beers and cha-cha before the departure Early morning at Tbilisi train station Metro of Tbilisi Metro is incredibly deep over here Yeah, the first snow in Gudauri! (after a 2.5 hour marshrutka ride) Locals always cross themselves when passing by a church, so if you see them doing so - look for a church out of the window :-) Gudauri has modern hotels and skiing facilities After arrival, ski lifts still didn't work because of lack of electricity But later in the day, we were one of the first to get up the slopes, even had to give an interview to Georgian TV :-) Chechnya is behind these mountains, Ossetia is to the west Lone church Gudauri Hut hotel - for some reason popular among Estonians Unpronounceable village names After 3 days of snowboarding, I am moving back to Tbilisi Every Georgian town is supposed to have a Rustaveli street Back to Tbilisi old town Visiting familiar places Approaching the castle The sulphur hot springs district of the city After walking inside the castle for an hour I realized that the gates here were closed! Thankfully, I was able to open them from the inside after some hassle The only permanent inhabitant of the castle