It was a beautiful summer morning with blue skies and only a few random scattered clouds. Perfect biking weather and not too hot. I had showered so didn’t smell too bad, had a good hotel breakfast buffee and was ready to head out over the Caucasus. Funny, just learned recently that the word Caucasian comes from Caucasus. If your from west of Caucasus you are a Caucasian and East, well, then I guess your not. Today, not really a particularly significant term for identification. The mountains looked beautiful from my hotel room like a long never ending dragons back of scales where the highest peaks were snow clad. That’s where I was heading, going across, to Georgia.
But it wasn’t really without a little bit of worry. I had read on various sites online that there is a risk I will get refused to enter Georgia. There is definitely some tension. On the other hand there were just as many sites that claimed it was no sweat. The border to exit Russia was approximately a two hour drive and then another 30 minutes of drive in no mans land before the Georgia border.
Fact is while planning my trip there were definitely certain countries and places I was looking forward to visiting, places I had imagined was going to be highlights. Pakistan was absolutely one as was Burma, parts of India, Kyrgyzstan and maybe even more so China. I have spent a lot of time over the last years in China but it was mainly work related and honestly more often than not in rather depressing environments, the vast industrial parks. Thing is my wife and consequently my daughter are Chinese so it was very important to me to find beauty in China. I really wanted a different perspective of the country that is so close to me. Georgia was very far from that list. My knowledge of Georgia was honestly zero. It was a small country I had to pass through to go from Russia to Turkey. Georgia was kind of in the way and hence I had no expectations at all. I just needed to drive through it as swiftly as possible but just like in the case of Laos of which I had basically the same preconceived ideas, I was so so wrong.
Georgia and Laos turned out to be the hidden gems of the trip and when entering Georgia the gem was wrapped in the loveliest weather ever. The road on the Russian side up the Kaukasus foothills was a joy to drive. Winding but still open with an amazing view of the mountains as well as the big wide stream the road was flanking. Not a dull turn, not a dull stretch. I felt good, I felt free.
Getting through the Russia border exit was time consuming due to a lot of vehicles but once it was my turn it went relatively fast. What takes the most time is for the customs to check my luggage but honestly I cant say they were particularly committed to the task. During the hour or so I had to wait for my turn I had a chat with a fellow motorcycle rider. A guy from Poland was doing a tour through Russia and planned to round the Black Sea. I really appreciated the chat. I hadn’t met a rider since China if I exclude a Harley gang in India I rode with for a few hours. This was the first adventure rider since China. We shared experiences from the road and it was in a way nice to know that I’m not completely insane doing what Im doing. A lot of things had happened during the preparations of my trip which kind of led me to believe that what I was doing maybe wasn’t particularly intelligent, that my extreme drive to finish what I started had narrowed my perspective so much that I’ve become nuts. However, that is another story I won’t tell here and now. The upcoming book will deal with that one.
Once through Russia customs we split up and I didn’t see him again. I do hope you enjoyed your trip and got home alright mate! The ride up to the Georgia border which was located at the highest location of the mountains was dramatic. Dramatic in the same way as Pakistan had been just not as tall, more modest but equally beautifully sculptured.
The Georgia border crossing was easy, no traffic, took five minutes to cross and only friendly faces. It somehow feels different when you are met by people dressed in border uniforms rather than military in camo and barbed wire. Coming out on the West side of Kaukasus it was now time to slowly start the decent. Driving down the mountain took basically half a day. I rode through a landscape that looked more like Sound of Music than Sound of Music, if that makes any sense. The mountains were rounded and covered in grass. Not that it wasn’t steep, It was definitely steep, just very organic, soft and friendly.
I stopped at a lookout point to rest and admire the view. An old man was selling fruit. Among other things he had peaches that were so big it was ridiculous. They were like big grapefruits. I bought two. That was enough for lunch. Just biting into these two peaches gave me the same sensation as the first time I ate a Japanese pear. Not quite on par with the Kazakhstan melons but close. The taste was so fresh and light and they were so full of juice I soon had it all over me, I only knew one way to eat that peach and that was like slob, but that was OK. Later on, I passed a few ski resorts, closed of course since it was summer, but then again, I didn’t have a clue Georgia had ski resorts but I guess now I know. The drive down the mountains was great. It didn’t go to fast since the road was really winding with sharp turns and traffic easily built up behind trucks and tractors making overtaking tricky. That didn’t matter though. The view was so nice, the weather so pleasant and the air so crisp I didn’t mind the slow speed.
My goal of the day was to reach the capital Tbilisi and late in the afternoon I arrived at my hotel. It was a really nice little boutique style hotel and from what I had seen so far of the city I realised I cant leave in the morning, I need to explore for at least one more day so I immediately booked the room for one more day.
After a shower and a change of clothes to t shirt and shorts I decided to go out for a walk. I stopped at the first sidewalk café I could find, ordered a capuccino and just took in the atmosphere of the city. It had boulevards like Paris, hills like Lisbon or Rio, Old quarters like Barcelona, restaurants and bars like London or Amsterdam. Tbilisi has got it all. Some of that I didn’t realise until later but It kind of felt good to just go on making comparisons so bare with me. In a sense Tbilisi is almost like a cartoon city or a fairy tale place. Its like someone imagined it and draw their own fantasy only its for real.
The day after I left the motorcycle and just walked for hours trying to discover the city. I didn’t know anything really about Georgia so I tried to study up a bit while having lunch at a sidewalk café and found out, among many other things that wine making was an old Georgian tradition so I decided the evening should be dedicated to investigating if it was true. I really enjoy a good glass of wine and hadn’t had a glass in almost two months. Indeed it was true! Via internet I located a small winebar not too far from my hotel. It was owned by this amazing guy who had made it his call to promote Georgian wine and food. I spent several hours in his little wine bar tasting one wine after the other and eating Georgian tapas. Well actually I wasn’t in the wine bar, I was sitting outside at one of his two outdoor tables. What an evening it was. 20 degrees, a beautiful city, brilliant wines and food and when I left after this absolute orgy he charged me 30 euros. When I was about to leave he said I should go to this other bar for a drink, as if I needed more, and listen to this jazz band playing. I did just that, sat outside, listened to the jazz band with a cold beer, think I had had enough wine actually. I slept like a baby that night.
I woke up in the morning and felt that there was much more to do in Georgia but I was on a schedule so time to start riding. I decided however, to not wait too long before going back to Tbilisi and Georgia. I really want to bring my family.
Next destination was Turkey. And the ride to the border wasn’t particularly long, roughly three hours. I figured Turkey was almost EU so the border crossing should be really simple, yeah right.