From Casinos to Mountain Passes

Batumi: The Las Vegas of the Caucasus

Now it was time to leave Turkey. After spending three months it was time to say hello to a new country. The first city in Georgia after the border is Batumi. It’s a coast town, so we epected a nice beach to camp and a relaxed atmosphere. However, upon arrival we realized that Batumi is kind of the Las Vegas of Caucasus. The whole coastline is plastered with Casinos, Restaurants with noisy turkish weddings and fancy hotels. Tourists from Turkey and Russia enjoy the cheap booze prices or the good weather respectively. It was impossible to find a calm place to camp here, but at the very end of the town we found a calm place behind a seemingly empty building. We were going to find a dinner and settled with a supermarket, since the restaurants all looked kind of expensive. In the supermarket started to miss Turkey: No Leblebi (roasted chickpeas), bread, they only had vaccumpacked loafs, and most of all, i didn’t understand shit! While in Turkey we already picked up a lot of food words and the latin script made them easy to read. Georgian Script bears no resemblance to any letters i know (and actually doesn’t relate to ANY other script), and the imported goods were usually russian, so at best i could decipher a little bit kyrillic. But we settled for a jar of roasted eggplant, and some rye crackers, not so bad after all. But when we came back to our camping spot, it turned out the “empty building” we found earlier, just didn’t start the party yet: Now the disco beats where pumping inside and we had to find another place to camp…

In the shadow of the scyscrapers, we found a place to sleep…(Pic by H-H)

The next morning, Hsiang-Hsin was a bit sick of the busy main road, so we searched for another way to Tiblisi, and found one. The Goderdzi pass, passing through the autonomous region of Ajaria (in where you see as many mosques as churches and many people speak at least a little bit turkish). It was supposed to be a bit more hilly, but we didnt‘t know just how much worse the road would get. About an hour in we met four cyclists from Malaysia, they already cycled in Iran and Turkey and now settled for a few months in Batumi, rented a house and do day trips around Georgia.

Four cyclists from Malaysia

They told us that the road over the Goderdzi is really bad, mostly gravel and pretty steep ascents. We were a bit worried, because gravel plus steep ascents plus very heavy bikes can be really annoying and at times dangerous. But we are also stubborn and lazy at the wrong moment, and although we knew that this road would take us several days more than the main road, we didn‘t want to cycle back the one hour to Batumi, to take the other way. Also we thought this road will probably more scenic and will have less cars.

And scenic it was…

These days were the first real hot days we experienced, maybe since last summer. There was some nice weather in Turkey before, but if you stripped down to your shirt and pants, it was still very pleasant. Now we were stripping down to the decent maximum, and were still sweating heavily (the steep ascents weren‘t helping either). On the second day i had of course heavy sunburn on the parts of my skin that weren‘t exposed to sun for a few months. So i had to cover myself again, sweating even more. There were a lot of cars and trucks, and the road was very dusty, so we were struggling a lot. The landscape was beautiful though, with gorgeous gorges, waterfalls and fresh mountain water of the melting snow up in the peaks, was flowing everywhere down the cliffs. At least those could bring some refreshment when we needed it (which was pretty much every half an hour).

What a catch! Proudly i am presenting my first purchase of fresh made flatbread, a staple in Georgia. For around 30 Euro cent, you get a freshly made bread from the stone oven.
We already knew this sausages of walnuts in dried grape melasse from Turkey. Just here in Georgia they come in all kind of shapes and tastes: Walnuts or Hazelnuts are covered by grapes, Pommegranate, Apricot or Cherry. A feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.
Another culinaric specialty: Dried fruit in very flat folded sheets. From Pomegranate to Kiwi, they had everything.
Cows haning out in the courtyard
“Georgia? Mountains and Churches.” That’s what two belgian cyclists we met in Turkey had to say about Georgia. And indeed there are quite some ancient churches – and actually even more castles, i found – that are often in a very scenic environment.
Poor guy 😦

Our first night we found an medieval arch bridge, around one thousand years old, which we had to crosss to get to a seemingly nice camp site. The bridge was around 2 metres wide, with no (seiten) at all and the angle was quite steep. It was quite a thrill to cross it but when we arrived on the other side there was a fireplace and a roofed area. We started to make fire and cook some dinner (we didn‘t do this ONCE in Turkey) when someone showed up and was curious in what we do here. We tried to find out if there was a problem camping here, which took a while, but eventually other people showed up and someone spoke english and they invited us to sleep in their house for the night. We finished cooking and went to have dinner, when the first jar of homemade wine arrived. In Turkey we rarely drank, so upon finishing the dinner we were already a bit tipsy. They brought us up the stairs to their house, which were super steep stairs, around 15 minutes up the hill. They seemed to be some kind of rangers of the national park living here together.

Georgia, when it was still a bit bigger.
The living room was decorated with crosses, murals and a bear skin, shot by one of the rangers, who live in this house

We were already super tired now, but our host showed us around first, and always said that everything would be ready to sleep in „20 minutes“, He started to make a fire and preparing food (we actually invited them to have dinner with us but they declined, we thought they already ate) and showing us the wine cellar, where he stored all the home made wine. We went up again with another two big carafe of different wines and started drinking. The glasses kept being filled. The trick is to not touch them anymore, emptying your glass will just result in another refill, no mathe how much you insist. But it is hard to not touch an full glass of wine, especially if it‘s delicious homemade wine) and we almost fell asleep on our chairs. The phrase „20 minutes“ already became a running gag and he started to serve the second dinner. This seemed to be the georgian hospitality we heard about before. It seems I still had to get used to it: The next day i awoke with a heavy hangover – a feeling i almost forgot how it felt, since we were drinking so little the last months.

This is the view from the house we stayed over. In the fron vineyards, in the back the mountains where they shot the bear haning in the living room.


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