Here we are, in Georgia! Crossing the border was very easy for us, but we can’t say the same for our Taiwanese friend, Yan, who couldn’t enter and had to go back to Turkey.
As said in Our Journey across Turkey, we crossed the not-so-busy border of Türgözü; just 16 people had crossed it before us that morning. Once in Georgia, we (the two of us and Eveline) had to walk few minutes till the first petrol station in order to get a taxi. A policeman told us it would have cost 20 lari/GEL (1 GEL ~ €3 in August 2019) to go to Alkhaltsikhe, which is 20km far from the border, so we denied the 45 lari offer and accepted the 25 lari one.
Akhaltsikhe is a town of roughly 18,000 inhabitants in the south of Georgia. As we arrived, we found ourselves back in the Soviet Union! Our Insomnia Hotel was out of the city centre in Rustaveli St where some houses are falling apart and the road needs renewing. The entrance looked very old and we weren’t sure to be in the right place. Suddenly, a lady welcomed us and led us inside the building… well, there was a very nice patio with some lovely kitties waiting for us! The room were new-furnished, ensuite, and very quiet.. we felt immediately at home!
It was almost 5pm and we were kind of starving so we went out for an early dinner. Streets are getting better as you move towards the city centre but the open-air gas pipelines will never leave you; they are actually very common all around the country (they must be safe, then..).
We had dinner in Doubli restaurant having a massive amount of food and a bottle of Georgian wine. Georgia is famous for its food and wine and we immediately understood why! We had khinkali (Georgian dumplings filled with cheese, meat or mushrooms) and a dish called Ojakhuri (a popular Georgian dish with roasted pork meat, potatoes and onions)… just delicious!
One of the reasons why we stopped in Akhaltsikhe was going to visit Vardzia. Vardzia is a cave city site excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Kura River. The main period of construction was the twelfth century; the Church of the Dormition of the Mather of God dates the 1180s, during the golden age of Tamar and Rustaveli (the most important Medieval Georgian poet), and has an important series of wall paintings.
The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred meters and in up to nineteen tiers. It is divided into an eastern and a western part by the Church of the Dormition. In the eastern part of the complex are a total of 242 rooms, including six chapels, “Tamar’s Room”, a meeting room, reception chamber, pharmacy, and 25 wine cellars; 185 wine jars sunk into the floor document the importance of viticulture to the monastic economy. In the western part, there are a further forty houses, in thirteen tiers and with a total of 165 rooms. Infrastructure includes access tunnels, water facilities, and provision for defence. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the 16th century. Now it’s part of a state heritage reserve.
The marshrutka (minibus) leaves at 10.30am from the bus station and then at 3pm from Vardzia (10 GEL round trip); it takes one hour and a half so you have plenty of time to visit the site. The huge mountain full of caves reminded us of Cappadocia and we weren’t super excited at first, but then we got to the monastery full of frescos and we could say that it’s worth the visit. Once back in Akhaltsikhe, we discussed whether to go to visit Separa Monastery (10 km by taxi) or to drink a beer at home.. well, it was aperitivo time and we were really tired so we got a sober 2.5-liter bottle of beer at the shop and chilled in the patio for a couple of hours. Then, we had dinner in a restaurant in front of the bus station and tried some new dishes.
The following day we said goodbye to our new friend Eveline and started our journey to Khulo! We took a marshrutka at 10 and got to Adigeni at 10:50 and then…there we were in the middle of nowhere! Have a look at the article about Adigeni-Khulo-Batumi for more info 🙂