The Road Goes Ever On…

At least that’s how it feels. We depart from seaside Kvariati for inland Vadzia, a distance of 240 kilomtrers.

Because of the state of the roads, this ends up taking ten hours of driving.

(Have we used this title before? I think so. Anyway, it’s from Tolkien.)

It’s very scenic, but the road is so bad, we often travel at speeds of single digits.

About midway, we come to the village of Khulo and take a break.

Even in Khulo, Georgia, you can always hear the King call

We reach the top of the Goderdzi Pass. There is a ski resort up here, with what looks like hundreds of rooms being added. God knows how people get here in the winter.

Local houses, NOT a ski resort

We finally reach asphalt roads again. This part of southern Georgia looks almost like Wyoming or South Dakota. (Or at least like Wyoming or South Dakota look like in my imagination.)

Another fortress. According to Wikipedia, there are over 100 fortresses in Georgia.

Khertvisi Fortress

Sight or Insight of the Day

Finally, after ten hours of driving, we reach our goal for the day: Vardzia.

Vardzia is a complex of caves/monastery that dates from the twelfth century.

It sits above the Mtkvari River, the same river that flows through Tbilisi.

It’s too late in the day to visit, so we have dinner in a roadside restaurant.

From the Mountains to the Sea

The Black Sea, that is. We drive down to sea level and spend a few nights at Ureki, a beach on the Black Sea south of Poti.

Black Sea, black sand

Seeing the Black Sea is one of the things that attracted me to visit Georgia in the first place.

When I was a kid, I went to see this movie, ‘Jason and the Argonauts‘. Great special effects, eh?

Where Jason goes in search of the Golden Fleece is Colchis, an actual kingdom that existed on these shores over 2,000 years ago.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

It was the easternmost edge of the known world in classical antiquity. Colchis was famous for having lots of gold, as well as skilled goldsmiths. We saw many examples of this at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.

The story passes down through the ages, from Euripide’s Medea to Apollonius of Rhodes’s Argonautica to the cinematic sword-and-sandal opera of my childhood memory.

Today, ‘Golden Fleece’ means ‘overcharging tourists’

Ureki is an interesting place. It’s popular with Russians and has a slightly run-down vibe. Few people speak English. We can imagine hordes of workers vacationing here in the Soviet days.

On our second day here, rain comes down in buckets.

Sheltering in place

It continues to rain for the next two days. Traveling south, we go through Batumi, Georgia’s second-largest city. It has a lot of somewhat bizarre architecture.

The Miami of the Black Sea

We drive on through the centre of town. It’s a busy place.

Lots of currency exchange places

We take advantage of a lull in the rain to visit the Gonio Fortress. Also known as Ἄψαρος’ (Apsaros).

This is a mostly Roman fort, with Byzantine and Ottoman add-ons.

Finally, a break in the weather and we spend a couple of days at Kvariati Beach, just before the border with Turkey.

The Georgian Riviera?

This beach has smooth pebbles instead of black sand.

Beach girl

But it’s clean. And quiet.

Beach boy

Well, except for a few restaurants that insist on blasting out loud, bad music. This is another third-world trait. Unfortunately, it drives the both of us right up the wall.

We walk down the road to see how close the Turkish border is.

We decide it’s not close enough and turn back. Besides, there are trucks thundering down the road in both directions.

We get a good view of the beach, though.

Our balcony is a great place for a sundowner.

The sun sets in the Eύξεινος Πόντος

Almost three weeks we’ve been here already. Feels like longer than that. We agree it’s been an enjoyable trip so far. Laughs aplenty. Lots of Zen moments. Indeed, these are the days.

Sight or Insight of the Day

We might have to start calling this the daily dog entry. While trying to read my book, a young dog – a pup, really – walks up and begins rolling around under and around me, begging me to play with her.

Dog Day Afternoon

I give in and combine reading with a canine wrestling match.

Mestia and Ushguli in Svaneti

In the north of Georgia is an area called Svaneti. After spending a night in Zugdidi, another pleasant mid-sized city, we drive up into the mountains again.

The road is switchback much of the way.


Frequent landslides take out chunks of the road.

We arrive in Mestia, the main town. Our room has a great view. We stay here a total of three nights.

Room with a view

A popular hike is the four-day trek from Mestia to Ushguli. We are not keen on leaving the car unused for that long, so we do the first stage from Mestia to Zhabeshi. We wind up walking on the road to Zhabeshi because we couldn’t find the beginning of the trail in town. (Have we mentioned that information can be hard to come by in Georgia?)

This is not as bad as it sounds because there is very little traffic on the road and the scenery is pretty spectacular everywhere.

Maria likes the fancy gates on some of the houses.

We get to Zhabeshi early in the afternoon.


We stay the night in a scrupulously-clean guesthouse and are stuffed to bursting with our hostess’s lavish cooking.

We depart from Zhabeshi the next morning, returning to Mestia by the real trail.

Runnin’ Up That Hill

Unfortunately, we are completely on the wrong track. We follow what we think is the trail nearly to the top of a considerable mountain. We’re scratched mercilessly by thistles. The trail peters out to nothing. I consult my Maps.Me and find that the path actually begins way down, parallel to the river.

We eventually find our way. In one village, a small herd of elegant goats struts by like a party of supermodels.

Goats do roam

These towers are everywhere in Svaneti-land.

Dark tower

Eventually, inevitably, we lose our way once more.

WTF? Not again!

We only get back on track by coming across other hikers. The signage on this trail needs improvement.

This is looking down on the valley before reaching the pass back to Mestia.


We get back to our hotel in Mestia after 10 hours of walking, dog-tired but with a sense of accomplishment.

Next day, we take a local transport vehicle to Ushguli and back. (We can’t take our rental car because the roads are too bad.)

The overnight rains have cause landslides. A work crew clears the road while we wait.

Note the right-hand-drive

Ushguli is full of stone buildings in various states of picturesque dilapidation. We’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Sight or Insight of the Day

On our day-trip to Ushguli, we meet a young Russian woman who has fled Russia and moved permanently to Georgia. (Sorry, no photo.) She acts as interpreter between the driver (who knows Russian, like most older Georgians, but not a word of English) and us.

It’s a shame that ordinary, non-insane Russians feel they have no choice but to leave. This woman was studying data analysis, a sought-after skill at the moment. Now she has to change career paths in a strange country.

She’s pretty adamant, though. When we part ways, I say we hoped she could go home soon. She replied without hesitation ‘My home is Tblisi!’

The Gori Details

We climb into Uncle Joe and head south again.

No sooner do we come across the long queue of Russia-bound trucks does a herd of sheep cross the road.

Herd on the street

The road back to Mtskheta goes through multicoloured mountains that remind us of Iceland.

We mentioned passing by a Soviet-era monument to Russia-Georgia friendship. We stop here for a break.

Traffic through some of the tunnels is squeaky tight.

Exsqueeze me?

We drive through the plain that lies between the Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus ranges to the town of Gori, Joseph Stalin’s birthplace.

Our address

Our guesthouse is on a nice quiet street. There are grapes growing in front of every house, children playing, neighbours gossiping.

The main attraction in Gori is the Stalin Museum. Because Stalin is a local boy who made good (or at least gained prominence), it has little bad to say about the man

Nice building. Shame about the subject.

On the grounds is Stalin’s personal railcar. Stalin didn’t like to fly. He attended the Tehran Conference, the Yalta Conference, and the Potsdam Conference in this car.

Gori is an attractive mid-size town. There are no shops geared towards tourists. Lots of second-hand clothing stores.

Gori old town

We celebrate my birthday with a fine Georgian saperavi.

Vieille tortue

I get everything I ask for. A T-shirt from the Stalin Museum gift shop. And a carpet.

For the cottage floor

Sight or Insight of the Day

Stalin’s statue gets two thumbs down from Maria.

The perfect pigeon’s perch

I think it’s ironic that the statue of this man directly responsible for the death of millions stands unmolested while poor old Sir John A. Macdonald’s likeness is vandalized and toppled for his misguided Victorian notions by frenzied screaming mobs with complete impunity.

‘How are the mighty fallen!’ – Samuel 1:19

As Margaret Thatcher said when she was booted from office, it’s a funny old world.

Mt. Kazbegi and the Truso Valley

We rent a car for the next eighteen days. A Toyota Prius. It’s great on gas.

This is Uncle Joe. (The car, not me.)

Of course, driving here has its challenges. Like three quarters of the world, Georgians drive like crazed maniacs. Not to mention the hazard of animals roaming the road.

We take the Georgian Military Highway up to Stepantsminda.

Down below is a Soviet-era memorial to eternal Russian-Georgian friendship

Stepantsminda is dominated by Mt. Kazbegi, This is the view from our balcony.

That’s our balcony in the middle.

A more dramatic zoomed-in shot of Mt. Kasbegi. Gergeti Trinity Church sits in the foreground.

Prometheus was here (maybe)

We go for a stroll through town.

Next day, we hike into the Truso Valley, about twenty kilometres away.

Semi-abandoned villages are everywhere.

We begin walking at Kvemo Okrokana village, after driving a few kilometres down a shitty road from the highway.

‘Kvemo Okrokana’ means ‘Lower Golden Field’

I recently read Independent People, by Halldór Laxness. It’s about the hard life of peasants in early 20th-century Iceland. A large part of the book takes place in their ‘croft’, a turf-covered shack with a single tiny window and farm animals living in the bottom part.

This structure looks similar. Strange that peasant societies thousands of kilometres apart would share the same sort of habitation.

A bee and a butterfly share a thistle flower.

The walk starts out high above the river.

You can see snowy peaks in the distance.

Every now and then we come across decorative grave markers.

We stay hydrated.

How Deep in the Valley

We arrive at the mostly-abandoned village of Kitrisi.

This would sell for a few million in Toronto

We’re not sure exactly why so many of these villages are abandoned. Information can be hard to come by in Georgia.

This too

A convent lies further down the valley.

The convent has solid-looking buildings, in comparison to the ruins elsewhere in the valley.

These nuns have several streams of income. They run a cafe and a guest house.

The turnaround point is the Zakagori fortress. Beyond this is the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia.

Approaching Zakagori

On the way, I can’t resist petting this very tame, very pregnant donkey.

A good little burrito

Maria hams it up on the way to the Zakagori fortress.

We have a picnic lunch up here.

Zakagori fortress

On the return trip, we stop for a cup of tea in a rustic establishment.

Café Society

The tea is from Azerbaijan.

Maria poses with the proprietor

A view of the proprietor’s house across the way.

Note the pig to the left of the house

By late afternoon, we approach the place where we left the car. The changed light gives the valley a whole new aspect.

Then it’s back to Stepantsminda.

Sight or Insight of the Day

A sign of the times: about 15 KMs from the Russian border, the road is lined for several kilometres with heavy trucks stranded by sanctions against Russia.

CORRECTION: We learn that these trucks aren’t being turned back because of sanctions; in fact, there are thousands of trucks on their way to Russia with goods from all over in spite of sanctions. So many that there’s no room at the border crossing. Drivers have to camp for days at the side of the road.

Boycott Boycott-busting goes to great lengths

Which also explains why so many of these trucks are from Turkey. Turkey is in dire need of US dollars to fund Mr. Erdogan’s bizarre economic plan (it’s a long story) and has lots of stuff to sell. Russia has lots of US dollars (thanks to the sale of oceans of oil) and wants to buy lots of stuff. Voila!

Mtskheta, Georgia – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

We finally depart Tblisi for the city of Mtskheta. We take the train. It’s only about 25 minutes away.

Not exactly Grand Central Station

The Russian-made locomotive looks like an Indian bus – as if it’s been rolled down a mountainside and returned to service.

Not exactly the TGV

We arrive at the decaying, almost-not-there train station of Mtskheta and hail a cab into town.

Our guest house is a stone’s throw from the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. We are greeted with a cup of Turkish coffee and grapes plucked straight from the arbour overhead.

The hosts have a very large, very friendly dog.

Writin’ the blog, pettin’ the dog

This is one of the largest churches in Georgia.

‘Svetitskhoveli’ means ‘life-giving pillar’

Inside, it’s full of chanting priests, singing women, and soft light.

Talk of the town

Behind a gold door is some kind of sanctuary.


The other main attraction in town is the Jvari monastery.

‘Jvari’ means ‘cross’

It sits high atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers.

Back in town, Maria samples wine ice cream.

‘Fine, rose-like like bouquet, some sweetness in attack, drier on the second nose.’ 

We also visit the Samtavro St. Nino Convent.


The nuns work in the shop, selling religious regalia.

Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

Sight or Insight of the Day

Bread is a staple in Georgia. There are several kinds. It’s cheap and filling. People here consume Olympian quantities of the stuff.

Maria loves it. The primacy of our friend Mike’s homemade bread in Maria’s rankings is under severe threat by this Georgian product.

Just kidding, Mike’s is still the winner

Quiet Days in Tbilisi, Continued

We end up spending a week in Tblisi. We visit a few markets, including the desertirebis bazari (deserter’s bazaar) food market.

Ye shall know them by their fruits.’ – Matthew 7:16

We look for hidden treasure at the Dry Bridge flea market.

Not a flea in sight

Tblisi is known for its sulphur baths. Maria hopes to take the plunge one rainy afternoon, if one comes along.

Tbilisi means ‘warm place’

While crossing the Peace Bridge we come across a wedding photo session. Note the dog in a state of complete relaxation in the foreground.

For dinner, Maria chows down on Shkmeruli, which is chicken in a garlic/milk sauce. Mmmm.

Note the generous hunks of bread

Sight or Insight of the Day

People in Georgia strongly support Ukraine in its struggles in Putin’s War. There are Ukrainian colours everywhere. Sometimes the message is very obvious, as in the seat cushions of this restaurant.

Pillow talk

Sometimes subtly incorporated into everyday items, like this ad in the Metro for a local snack food.

Russian atrocities are escalating

Sometimes not so subtly, as in the message on this receipt from a pharmacy. (Georgia experienced its own ‘special military operation’ in 2008.)

Nyet, nyet, Soviet

And sometimes in undisguised loathing. This sticker is on an ATM and the message is clear.

No Russian Pigs Allowed

All this takes a certain amount of guts. The Russian border is less than 200 KMs from where we sit. Vladimir Putin could wake up any morning and decide to complete the liberation of Georgia. A simple case of chafing hemorrhoids could push him over the edge.

Quiet Days in Tbilisi

We arrive in Tbilisi after flying via Montreal and Paris.

For our first few days, we check into the Fabrika. It’s a hostel, but also has private rooms.

Full coverage

The Fabrika is in an old Soviet-era clothing factory.

The graffiti on this building is deliberate. But just about every available surface in Tblisi is covered with graffiti. Seems to be a general Euro affliction to deface all of your elegant old buildings with spray paint.

It’s very lively at night.

Fabrika courtyard at night

We spend the first few days gently coming down from jet lag. We visit some museums and sightsee at our leisure.

As in most cities that have a Metro, in Tblisi the underground is the best way to get around.

These tunnels are deep. And steep.

Built in the Soviet days, it’s a bit shabby but does the job well. And it’s cheap. Hey, compared to the O-train, it’s a model of convenience and efficiency.

The Old Town is the oldest part of Tblisi. It’s full of winding alleys and quaint houses in various states of either full restoration or complete decay.

Old Tblisi

Tblisi is full of small hole-in-the-wall shops selling fruit, vegetables, and everything else. (SPAR mini-marts are sprouting everywhere like mushrooms, however. No doubt these tiny shops are doomed.)

Maria purchases a churchkhela. They look like candles, but they’re walnuts dipped in syrup made from grape juice.

Have Yoga Mat, Will Travel

Lots of sidewalk vendors as well.

Georgia peaches. And grapes. And apples.

There are beggars on the street, too. Probably fewer than in downtown Ottawa, though.

This is the Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest church in Tblisi. Like, 6th-century-AD old.

All are welcome

We cross the Peace Bridge over the Mtkvari river.

Peace Bridge

The Mtkvari is the main artery of Tblisi.

The mighty Mtkvari

It’s also difficult to pronounce.

Here’s a view from the Narikala Fortress.

Some typical Georgian food. The pastry with the cheese and egg in it is an adjaruli khachapuri. The dumpling thingies are called khinkali. The soup is a concoction of beef, vegetables, and garlic. All washed down with a glass of tasty Georgian white.

How do you say ‘bon appétit‘ in Georgian?

Sight or Insight of the Day

Tblisi is typically third-worldy in the great number of stray animals in the streets. But there seems to be a campaign to collect strays, spay/neuter them, treat any medical conditions, then release them with a plastic tag in their ear.

They’re very friendly. I don’t think anyone mistreats them, unlike other places where strays are starving, diseased, and despised.

How much is that doggy on the sidewalk?

I can’t understand why the authorities don’t encourage individual people to actually adopt individual dogs. They’re extremely good natured (the dogs, that is.) However unthreatened they may be, road traffic is always a hazard.

If we lived here, I’m sure we’d have a houseful of mutts.

Random Rambles – Reprise

OK, enough is enough. It’s time to get back out on the road.

We leave today for the Republic of Georgia. Why Georgia, you ask? Why not? You have to start somewhere.

Originally, we planned to describe in brief how the last two-years-plus has gone. Like most people, we’ve been stuck at home. Of course, first we had to find a home.

There’s no place like home

Which we did. We are now condo-dwellers. So we won’t be quite as footloose as before.

Maria has become a pickleball enthusiast. I’ve been reading lots of books. Mostly old stuff.

This Must Be The Place

As for recapping noteworthy goings-on, we just haven’t been doing that much. We weren’t even thinking of going anywhere until very recently.

Travel-wise, we went on several canoe trips with friends. And dipped our toes in international travel by visiting Old Orchard Beach, Maine, at the invitation of our friend John.

So this is a short entry in aid of re-learning how compose a blog page, basically.

Sight or Insight of the Day (Year?)

Probably the event that stands out in the recent past is our encounter with a fawn.

Deer me

It’s a long story. While at the cottage, we came across a baby deer that had lost its mother. We took it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre an hour’s drive away. The fawn stayed in Maria’s lap most of the way.

Creature comfort

So long, Ottawa. Tbilisi, here we come.