Category: Silk Road (Page 1 of 3)

Dilijan and Lake Sevan

Dilijan is a lovely little town high up in the mountains, it is a wonderful escape from the city heat! The cool change has arrived! It was wonderful to actually be cold for a change! Glynis came to pick me up from the bus station. As we walked to her hotel we passed the museum, and of course we hopped in, as you do! It was surprisingly good! Some excellent contemporary art.

Glynis’ son, Joe and his friend Asya, joined us for lunch. There is a lovely arty-farty cafe In the Main street. The B&B was basic, but not too expensive. Two nights for the price of one! The old part of Dilijan has been renovated, and is rather delightful! Little fancy boutiques, and a wood carving shop, jewellery shop, and galleries. Very attractive.

After Glynis left the next day, I visited the monastery, Hagharts, 11-13th century. I saw some Khatchkar stones, scattered in the country site. ( from 996) the other monastery was not accessible, due to the heavy rain the last day and night, there were mud slides, and it looked like there was more rain coming! The taxi driver still charged me though, although he knew full well I wasn’t able to get to the actual monastery! Ah, well, such are the breaks!

Lake Sevan was only about an hour away! For the first time on this trip, I was yelled at! Three Polish hikers were on he marshrutka and carried their big packs on to the bus. One of the packs was dropped in front of me, and I just held it up, so it wouldn’t roll around on the bus! This young woman hopped on the bus and by the look on all the other passengers, I know she was not being polite at all! As she is yelling at me, I very politely and friendly pointed out that this was NOT my back pack, and that she could yell at me all she liked, I didn’t understand a word she said! The back pack was moved to be with the rightful owners in the back, and the woman grumpily sat down! Very unusual, the yelling I mean, as Armenian people were up to now so incredibly polite and welcoming towards tourists! May be Dilijan just has too many of them!

At Lake Sevan I found a lovely guest house, where I managed to book a taxi driver to visit the Hayravank Monastery. Afterwards I visited Sevanavank Monastery, Arakeslots Church (874 AD)
It was just so incredibly busy with tourists, that I decided to go back the next morning, without the crowds! The guest house had locked the gates! Hm! Now what? I use crawled underneath them, and walked the half hour to the top!

I was on my own for the first hour! Stunningly beautiful, quiet and peaceful. Lake Sevan is very, very blue, due to the moon stone that is found here!
I slept all the way back to Yerevan, so I have no idea how long the trip took! I caught the metro back to the hostel. One more day to go, before leaving Armenia! I was so fortunately that my cousin wrote to me about the fabulous museum of Sergey Parajanov’s, an Armenia artist, filmmaker and very famous person! It was a wonderful way to finish my visit to this amazing country. Five days of rest and relaxation in Oman, and another fabulous trip has finished. I am grateful and feel incredibly blessed.

Yerevan, Armenia

Yerevan, oh Yerevan. What can I say that does you justice? The first thing one notices is the water fountains! Fountains are absolutely every where. Drinking fountains and coffee dispensers on nearly every corner! Large leafy trees provide one with the necessary shade. Yerevan was hot, stinking, boiling hot. Most days it was forty degrees, in the shade!! I had so many plans, but running around in this heat was just not practical! Instead I found a lovely cafe with very friendly staff, and cold, cheap beer! It became my favourite watering hole!

The museum was fantastic. Informative and well set out. It was a tad confusing that they had the national art gallery on the second floor and you needed to buy extra tickets! I saw the works of Minas Avetisyan, an Armenian artist, who died quite young, at age of forty seven in a car crash. His works are vibrant, colourful and stunningly beautiful.

I did a tour of three of the major attractions. Khor Virap, which has Mount Ararat as a back drop. However, it is unusual to see the mountain in the summer time due to the haze. I was fortunate that the fog lifted for about ten minutes and I could see the impressive mountain. The mountain, as the myth has it, was the landing place of Noah’s arc. It was from this mountain that he send the doves to see if the water had diminished. The mountain has always been part of Armenia, and is regarded as a Holy site. Now, however, it belongs to Turkey, which is an on going dispute between the two countries. Needless to say they are not friends.

Khor Virap was build in IV till XVIII, I was disappointed there were no frescoes of importance. When I saw the Armenian churches in the Armenian quarters of Isfahan, Iran, my expectations were set too high! After KHor Virap, my crazy taxi driver, Artur, drove me to Etchmiadzin, the Hripsime church, which was build in 618. (I was suppose to see the cathedral, to this day I am not sure if this church was the cathedral or not! ) Not having a Lonely Planet is a problem at times. I realise how much I rely on the information in the guide book!

Last but certainly not least, we visited Zvartnots. The first cathedral in Armenia, if I am correct. The remains of St Gregory are buried here, or was it St George?? So many Saints, such a small brain to retain all the information given to me! If I had been smart I could have written down the main points of interest!

There is so much to see and do here, it comes down to having the energy and the money. One can do tours, with groups, but only on certain days is one able to visit certain sites. I took a private taxi, which is a tad more expensive, but gives those young people an income as well. Plus it is a lot more fun when one cannot speak a communal language and you need hands, feet and facial expressions to communicate ! We laughed so much. Artur was thirty seven years old and had a seven year old daughter and five year old son. He was keen to show photos of his lovely family, just a shame he was driving while doing so!!

Garni was another fascinating place.i believe it is the oldest pre Christian site in Armenia, it dates from the 8th century BC. The Temple of the god Mihr was beautifully restored. There were ruins of the palace and the King’s bathroom, which had Roman mosaic floors. It threatened to rain all day, and it was extremely overcast. The previous night it had rained profusely, resulting in a rockslide, which closed off the road to Geghard! I had paid Artur to visit both sites, but as this was an act of God, neither of us could help this. We did have an interesting intermezzo with a trail of police cars behind us, sirens blaring, lights flashing, Artur was not disturbed by any of it!

When we were stopped by the police, who had blocked the road, Artur told me it was the president, with his entourage, visiting the rock slide site! Hm! It could have been! I choose to believe him!

I visited the impressive Genocide Museum and monument. Deeply disturbing tribute to the genocide of 1915-1922 , when an enormous part of the population was murdered by the Ottoman Empire. I cried. How anybody can kill small children and innocent babies if beyond my human understanding. ( and still goes on today!) I met a lovely woman from England, Glynis, ( who was also crying ) and we ended up spending the day together, and shared a meal at the end of it. I don’t often eat out, mainly because it is a boring thing to do on my own, and the breakfast at the Bonjour Guest house is so incredibly huge, that I am often not really hungry for the rest of the day. We ended up going back to the museum, and again to see the art of Minas Avetisyan.

Last but certainly not least, was Cafesjian, Center for the arts. An amazing place where I spend nearly a whole day! The main galleries were closed, only open from Friday till Sunday, I happened to be there on a Thursday! Shame! Didn’t have the energy to go back a second time! A sculpture garden and show casing European artist, in a display that changes every couple of weeks.

Glynis was going to Dilijan the next day, and asked if I wanted to come. I had to organise this with the guest house, as I had booked and wasn’t sure if I could change the dates!

So the next day I travelled to Dilijan, high in the mountains, where it would be lovely and cool! Of course it was Murphy’s Law, that the cool change came the night before I left! Go and figure!

Ancient, Amazing, Armenia

Armenia, what did I know about Armenia? I knew it was one of the first Christian countries in the world. That seemed to be the extend of my knowledge. I did visit the Armenian quarters in Isfahan, Iran. Where I visited the genocide museum. So I knew about that too. Two small facts. Hm! I have no Lonely planet, so I visited the tourist information centre in Gyumri. I was helped by the gorgeous Araks. My level of ignorance showed up very quickly.

I had seen a star with Charles Aznavour’s name on it in the fort at Akhalkalaki, Georgia. Here is an enormous statue of Charles Aznavour at the beginning of the centre of town.
What has Charles Aznavour got in common with this region? Charles real name is Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian. His father Michael, was Armenian, born in Akhaltsikhe ( now Georgia) and mother, Knar, was Armenian, born in Izmir, Turkey. Apparently he has got his statue, because of his enormous financial support of the people of Gyumri, after the earthquake.

Earthquake? Which earthquake? On the 7th of December 1988 at 11.45 an earthquake hit Armenia. Two different accounts on how high it was on the Richter scale. One source says 7.2 and another 6.8 either way it was enormous. A large area was affected, mainly Gyumri. Most of the buildings that were build during the Soviet time, had a poor quality concrete, and hence collapsed. An estimated 50.000 People died, and an estimated 130,000 were injured. Over 500,000 people ended up homeless.

There is an enormous monument that reminds people of this tragedy. It also explains why so many of the buildings in town are damaged and derelict. Overgrown with weeds, high grasses and wild daisies, it creates a feeling of despair and neglect, even after thirty years. Large concrete blocks, rubble and an enormous amount of rubbish add even more to these negative feelings. The centre of town, the main tourist area, is being done up beautifully, a lot of major repairs are undertaken.

Arak took me to the oldest barbershop, in Armenia(?), which was completely undated by the earthquake, and still in the same state as when it was first opened!

I have read all the articles suggested by the lovely Araks. I now know about the Velvet Revolution last May, when people took to the streets in their millions and over threw the government. Without any blood shed. I now also know more about the Armenian Genocide, but will visit the museum in Yerevan, and afterwards write about it.

One of the major highlights in Gyumri was the visit to the two sisters, Eranuhi and Mariam Aslamazyan. I liked the bold, colourful works of Mariam the best, while I admired the subtle portraits of Eranuhi. These sisters were something else. Eranuhi was married and had a daughter, while Mariam stayed single. These sisters travelled all over the world, India, Sri Lanka, Africa and painted on location. This is way back in the seventies, when home duties, kitchen duties and duties to husbands and children was still the norm!! After spending time here all I wanted to do was paint! I will re think my travelling, I have been dreaming of taking an easel and materials to the slopes of the mountains in Mestia, Georgia. I will look into this!

I stayed in a lovely backpackers, right in the centre of Gyumri, and although very noisy, I had two excellent nights before travelling on to Yerevan.

Akhalkalaki, my last town in Georgia.

The drive to Akhalkalaki was again stunningly beautiful. The drive was all the way along the river. Green, quiet, and a responsible driver. Made for a lovely change! Although when he started texting while driving, I made it known, in no uncertain terms, that I found that unacceptable! This cracked the driver and all the passengers up! Another crazy tourist with strange ideas on how to drive in Georgia! He did comply however, and put his phone away!

Before I knew it I was at the place I wanted to go. It was only about ninety kilometres, so about a two hours drive. I picked an hotel on maps.me, and I won the jackpot! Albeit expensive for Georgian standards, it is beautiful, comfortable and a very friendly family who run it. Excellent wifi, after the last few days were it was not really available at all. I had an afternoon nap, before exploring the town.

The town is small and compact. Very little traffic. Lots of police cars on the road, and in A very short time I saw a police car stop cars three times! I have not seen this before at all. It is a quiet town, men playing back gammon in the park. Children on the playground. Very few stray dogs, also unusual. However, there could be a  gambling issue here! I saw two casinos in the small centre! Hm! Interesting!

There is a castle, which I gave a miss! Nothing can compete after the last fabulous castle complex I saw. I did visit the little Armenian church. The population here is ninety percent Armenian. This part of Georgia used to belong to Armenia! After the Russian occupation, new borders were drawn on a map. Families who have lived here through the ages, now suddenly find themselves living in Georgia! I looked for a place to eat, and ended up in this fancy place, where the staff was so friendly!

 Interestingly  enough, walking along the streets of this little town are all the pipes! Yellow pipes for gas! An ugly Russian left over, seen in every country I visited, except Iran.  The other is the down pipes, which just stick out above your head on the footpath. I did think of going for a walk in the rain just to see what it would look like with all this water pouring down! I was too lazy! I did enjoy the decorated gutters. Little pieces of art.

It rained all night, which was great, as I was snug in my very comfortable bed! I had planned to get up early, but there was no sunrise to speak of, so after breakfast, I went back to have a snooze! I decided that I didn’t have to do anything at all, and stay a second night. No climbing, no walking, no churches, castles or lakes! Just wander to the markets, buy some fruit for dinner, change some money into Armenian money for tomorrow. Work in my diary, write and update my blogs, watch you tube videos, and sleep! Ah, what a life I lead!

I sat in the park for a while, watched the men play back gammon, which is a national past time by the way! Didn’t take any photos, as I didn’t want to disturb their game! Rested and relaxed I am now ready to move on to the last stage of my travels; Armenia! The count down has started! Flying home from Muscat, Oman, on the 16th of August! As yet, I have no flight booked to Oman, but I will make this priority number one as soon as I arrive in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. All in good time! Ah, life is so good! Good Bye and thank you Georgia! It is hard to leave. I am planning to come back in the near future. I need to explore the east now.

Amazing Akhaltsikhe

Packed and ready to go, waiting at the bus stop for the marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe, I met a lovely young couple from Argentina, going in the same direction. We waited for quite a while, no mini bus! One of the taxi drivers offered us a very cheap price to take us there. He picked up a young couple from Germany as well. Of course the hitch was, yes, this taxi is very cheap, but do you want to go to Vardzia, a famous cave city in the area! This of course drives the price up! There is no competition, no bargaining power, he sets the price, and you either accept or not! I just wanted to be dropped off in the city centre, as I am planning to stay here for a few nights. I found a lovely guest house, where I was immediately offered tea and lunch. A lovely elderly couple from Armenia run it. Just around the corner from the magnificent castle!

Akhaltsikhe actually means ” new castle” in Georgian. The castle dominates the town! It was built in the 12th century. Most tourists go to Vardzia and don’t bother to stop here. After an afternoon mini nap, I walked up the old road and spend over six hours exploring this magnificent place. The Rabati, or old town, is just fabulous. Rare examples of darbazebi( traditional Georgian houses) cluster around the castle.

The castle, which houses amongst other things a mosque from 1752, the ruins of a medrese ( Islamic school) and the marvellous Ivane Javakhishvilli Samtskhe-Javakheti History museum. One of the most impressive museums I have ever seen, and believe me, I see a LOT of them!

It has jewellery, pottery, manuscripts, coins and weaponry. There is one room full of antique carpets as well. Very friendly staff, willing to chat, unable to believe, that I, little old lady, travel all the way by myself. One of the staff members was studying Italian on line and dreamt of going to Italy one day! She was fascinated by Peru, and her eyes lit up when I confirmed her question if I had been there!

I DO realise how fortunate I am, to have the health and money to travel. People in Georgia, unless very rich, don’t have that opportunity, they watch the discovery channel and talk to tourists. The far away dreamy look of this wonderful women, dreaming of far away places she would love to visit one day, will stay with me forever. I am incredibly grateful, to be able to visit all these wonderful places, meet all these gorgeous people, and have a look into the history of other countries.

The Rabati (old town) also has a synagogue, an Armenian church and a Catholic Church! Lit up at night this would have been magically, like fairy land! Just a shame it closes at 9.00pm, which is when it starts getting dark. The next day I planned to see the cave city of Vardzia.

I took a local marshrutka, which took two hours to get there. The drive was just amazing. Stunningly beautiful landscape. Very little is known about Vardzia. It was build in the X th century. The Persians invaded and broke it down in the XV th century. They took all the treasures, including all the old manuscripts, which were destroyed, all but one! This old manuscript was brought back by a Georgian man, who stole it while in Iran. It is now in the state museum in Tbilisi!

Earthquakes also have damaged the outer walls of the cave city. My main interest was the old church, which still has beautiful frescoes. One of Queen Tamar. I must read up about this marvellous Queen.

Queen Tamar brought wealth and prosperity to the country and you will find statues of her every where you go. The old fresco is from Queen Tamar, BEFORE she was married! You can tell by her maiden headdress. I actually missed the church at first, as a group of tourists climbed into the hidden, secret passage ways. I was caught up in the stream, and when I got out at the other end, I realised I didn’t see the church at all! Luckily there was an English -speaking guide, who pointed me in the right direction. So fortunate she did, as it was just amazing. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with the beauty of history. I was in awe!

As I left the church, my name was called out, I was surprised, as nobody knows I am here! It was Filip and Ewalina, from Poland! What a wonderful surprise! They had decided to do a day tour before going on to Tbilisi, and return to Poland! Meeting them for the third time means we are now family, and decisions were made for me to visit Poland, and for them, when they finish their studies, to come to Australia!

Two hours back to Akhaltsikhe , and totally exhausted, but thrilled by all I had seen that day, I went to have a sleep! I wanted to stay another night, which was not possible as the hotel was booked out. I could have looked for another place, but according to the owner, I could visit the monastery complex in the morning, then catch the marshrutka to my next destination. After an hour nap, I decided that I wanted to see the castle lit up at night, and also visit the statue of Queen Tamar in town. After a cold shower, I started again. My legs complaining after all the steps and walking I had done that day! But boy, oh boy, it was so worth it! It was magic, just absolute magic. I had a fabulous night sleep and rose very early the next morning.

It was early when I arrived at Sapara monastery complex, that only the monks where there. No tourists as yet! I sneaked a few photos, again breaking the rule of no photography! I know, discussing habit! Sometimes places are just too beautiful, and I want to record them! If postcards were available I would have bought them for sure, but this is not the case at most places I have visited! A real gap in the market!

Sergei, the owner took me to Sapara, then dropped me off at the bus station. I had ten minutes to organise myself, buy water, toilet etc. up to the last place in Georgia, Akhalkalaki, before crossing into Armenia. What a trip, what an amazing trip! I feel incredibly blessed, grateful and happy. Hope to have a bit of a rest, as the body is complaining bitterly about all the stairs, up hill walking, and cold showers!!

Beautiful Borjomi

After five days of rain and wet weather, the sun was shining when I left Kutaisi for Borjomi. What a shame! I had a backpack full of dirty clothes, which would not have dried in the humidity and wet weather of Kutaisi. I had booked a guesthouse in Borjomi, but when I arrived I was not impressed with the store -room the old lady wanted to put me into. I thanked her, and walked on. Higher onto the hill were more and more guesthouses, although, most catering for two and more people! One person was NOT welcome! I had not encountered this before, so it surprised me.

Then I walked by a lovely house with gladioli in planter boxes, making me think of Dame Edna Average! A sign from above! Temo, the young owner, cleaned out his room, put clean sheets on his bed, and voila, my room was ready! First things first! Washing! Doing domestic chores is un -avoidable, although I do as little of it as possible. I mainly do hand washing on a daily basis, but my travel pants and fleece jacket were long overdue for a proper washing machine wash!

Afterwards I sat on the balcony and met Salome, a young Georgian film maker, who just a week ago opened the first night club in Borjomi. I would have loved to have seen some of her films and visit the night club, but alas, the old body gives up around nine at night! Bummer!
The first explorations were to visit the Romanov Palace, about three kilometres out of town. The weather was pleasant, and the walk easy. Along the river with wonderful views it was not long before I found the Palace! It was not my lucky day! It was closed! I met the first rude person in Georgia, a young guard who was too busy texting, probably his girlfriend, to tell me if it was only closed on Wednesdays or what. Could also be that he spoke no English it was hard to tell as he just grunted ” closed” before going on with his important task.

Next door was a luxury hotel, and I decided, since I walked all this way to have a sticky beak into how the rich people live! It was unbelievably beautiful! I pretended that I was interested in a major overhaul, eg. Facials, massages etc. I received the price list, didn’t choke, kept a poker face and asked if I could see the facilities! The rooms were U$155 per night, this included breakfast and free use of every thing on offer! The Hamman was stunning, the swimming pool amazing, but not warm enough for my liking! The young girl showing me around was very friendly, she left me when I asked to go yo the toilet. Afterwards I wandered around on my own, found a lovely quiet spot and used their excellent wifi to update all my homework and social media. Pleasant, very pleasant!

I took a marshrutka back into town, bought some groceries and visited the local museum. There the young girl spoke excellent English and she was able to explain the the Palace will be closed indefinitely. The very rich owners of the hotel, Arabs I believe, bought the property six years ago, and the palace was on their property! Now they kept it closed to the public. The museum was pleasant, in a hundred year old building, with amazing staircases and ceilings.

The next day I planned to visit the famous mineral baths. Borjomi is famous for its mineral water. I quit like it despite the slightly salty/ sour taste. As my maps.me was not working, for some reason it refuses to tell me where I am, unless I have wifi, I was lost. I asked the young woman at the cafe where to go and she sort of waved her hands in a general direction, indicating that I should go up the mountain. Great! All I needed was another five kilometre walk up a mountain. My legs had not yet recovered from the last ones I visited! But, hey, I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, so what is another five or ten kilometres up a hill!? So I started walking, and walking, it was hot, I was sweating like a pig and just contemplating if I really needed to see these mineral baths, when a car stopped and offered me a lift.

Not one to look a given horse in the mouth, I accepted gracefully. It was a young Azarbijan family, going to Bakuriani. Amin, the husband, was intrigued by the fact that the mineral baths were so closed by and his young family decided to join me. This was marvellous, as the path down had been washed away by the heavy rains of the last week. His wonderful wife Nara, and young Ismail ( five years old) enjoyed the slippery slide down the path.

Ismail and I went into the bath, the water was pleasantly warm, but filthy and overcrowded. I had to sit in the sun to dry out my bathers, and the three of us discussed how we could get back to the car! It was impossible for me to climb up the muddy slopes, when Nara asked an old woman how she got up here, and was shown a broad path that led all the way down to the mineral park! Oops! That was where I was supposed to take! It was agreed that Amin would climb the path back to fetch the car and meet us down at the park entrance. The way down was much easier, but also three times as long!

Borjomi mineral water park occupies a narrow, wooded valley and is a lovely place to go for a stroll. This was where the original mineral water was discovered and named Yekaterinsky Spring after the governor’s daughter who was cured here. The park itself dates from 1850. Warm mineral water flows from taps in the magnificent pavilion. There are many attractions , a funfair attractions, cinema and a cable car to take you up to the Ferris wheel on top of the mountain. Ismail’s eyes couldn’t take it all in, but he was keen to get back and find his father.

We finally arrived and I was invited to come to Bakuriani with them. Bakuriani was about thirty kilometres away and is a winter skiing town. There was very little to do or see, although the drive there was stunning. I was invited to lunch and was not allowed to pay a penny. What a wonderful day this was. I regret not taking a photo of the family. We were so busy chatting away, that it didn’t occur to any of us. Little Ismail was so tired that he slept all the way back. The rains had started again and Amin dropped me off all the way back to my guest house. Lots of promises to visit the next time I come this way, in Baku, Azerbijan, they went back to their hotel. Such a wonderful young family, full of love and laughter, it was great meeting them.

When I arrived back in my room, and collapsed of total exhaustion, I received a message, Filip and Ewa had arrived, would I meet them for a drink and a chat! After a lot of back and forward messaging, I walked to the restaurant, and had a pleasant couple of hours. When you re-meet people while travelling, it is like a meeting of kindred’ souls. It was just wonderful. Tomorrow Akhaltsikhe

Kutaisi, Georgia

The trip to Kutaisi was made special because of the lovely Hungarian family I met. Bogi, who lives and works in Holland, spoke excellent English, and time flew by as we chatted away. Meeting new and interesting people is one of the highlights of travelling. Everybody has a story to tell and this fascinates me. So Hungary was put on my list of countries to visit in the future! We shared a taxi on arrival in Kutaisi. My guesthouse was near the fabulous Bagrati cathedral and I was welcomed with open arms. Giorgi lives in a house that is over a hundred years old. It is fascinating. Very high ceilings, an antique chandelier and a fabulous garden. Giorgi is one of the best hosts I have ever had. On arrival a cup of tea with a piece of home made cake and an invitation to meet the other guests later at night.

Niklas and Gesa, a couple from Germany and Jesper from Denmark were going on a day tour the next day to explore Prometheus cave and the two of the canyons. We all had breakfast together and left on our next adventure. The Prometheus cave was first. Twenty kilometres northwest of Kutaisi this 1.2 km- long cave is more beautiful and impressive than I have ever seen. It was only opened to tourists in 2011. Slippery, colourful and mightily impressive. The four of us stayed away from the main group of Russians and enjoyed the silence and impressive beauty by ourselves.

The next place was the main canyon. ( the name escapes me at this point in time)This has a boardwalk along the top of the cliff. I was fortunately not the only one who was shit scared of heights! Shared fear diminishes! We were thrilled to make it to the platform. Due to the heavy rains the boardwalk was not only very high and scary, to top it of it was incredibly slippery! (My fear of falling seems to have increased since my very nasty fall in Tanzania.) the view from the platform was stunningly beautiful. My legs were killing me, as there were a million steps going up. It was lunch time and a shared khinkali lunch in a local restaurant was delicious.

The next canyon was a bit of a rip off, I thought. As hundreds of boats went on a short boat ride on the canyon, the whole experience took a short time. Although the canyon was stunningly beautiful, the A$15 charged was over the top for what it was. The it was home time. We had an incredibly crazy driver, who attempted at every opportunity to kill us all. Speeding is the norm in every country I have been to so far, but cutting corners, over- taking in corners were you have no sight of the oncoming traffic, while speeding like mad, seems to me foolish indeed. Often the driver would be on the mobile as well! We made it back safely and Giorgi was waiting with supper as was his daily habit.

The next day, when I was supposed to do my washing, I caught up with Bogi. We visited the museum, had lunch and ended up doing “girly” stuff! In the most expensive salon in town! Bogi had hoped to get her hair cut but ended up with just a pedicure! I had my wild and woolly eye brows tamed. Mind you to be honest, I thought the price included a facial! No such luck, so I paid the same price as I would have at home!! This is what happens if English is barely spoken, and my Georgian has not as yet extended past three words!! Not to worry we felt terrific!

Georgians have always chosen beautiful locations for their churches and monasteries. Gelati is no different! Nine kilometres out of Kutaisi, on a hillside full of pine trees this complex was amazing. I was dropped of at the bottom of the hill and the hike up was steep and hard. Of course it was raining as well, but the pine fragrance and the silence made it all worth while. Gelati was founded in 1106 as a centre for Christian culture and Neoplatonist learning. According to written records of medieval times it was a second Jerusalem. Many of the Georgian rulers are buried here, including King David the Builder and Queen Tamar. It was burned down by the Ottoman Turks in 1510. Then restored by Bagrati III of Imereti. The communists closed it down in 1922, but the churches were reconsecrated in 1988 and president Saakashvilli was inaugurated here in 2004.

The interior of the main cathedral of the Virgin is amongst the brightest and most colourful in Georgia. The frescoes were painted between the 12th and 18th century. It has a painting of the emperor Constantine and his wife, Helena. There are many restorations going on, mainly on the roofs. There is a smaller church, the church of St Nicolas. I was conscious of the fact that a marshrutka would be going back to Kutaisi soon, or I would have to walk all the way down the hill again! Walking five to ten kilometres a day seems to be the norm, but when raining, not a pleasant activity! I was fortunate, the marshrutka was waiting, and would go past Motsameta.

Motsameta is a small monastery on a spectacular cliff top promontory above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela river. The river’s name means “red river” which derives from an 8th- century Arab massacre. Among the victims were the brothers David and Konstatin Mkheidze, Dukes of Argveti. Their bodies were thrown into the river, but the story goes that lions brought them up to the church where their bones were kept afterwards. If you crawl three times under the side altar where the bones are kept, your wish will be granted! ( information from the Lonely Planet) as there was a wedding ceremony going on I was unable to try this!

At Gelati, on the marshrutka, I met Filip and Ewaline from Poland. Two lovely young medical students, who were fun to be with! We spend the rest of the day together, visiting the markets, were a woman was chanting her Georgian chant, ” chacha, vodka, vino”! I turned this into a song, and before we knew what was happening we were chatting away to the women at the market, tasting their delicious homemade wine, feeling guilty, I bought a bottle, and so my year of no alcohol ended after six months!! Two new friends were made, and later that evening both young Polish people walked all the way up to the hill, where the Bagrati was lit up displaying all its glory! Filip and Ewa were introduced to my wonderful host, Giorgi, while I went to bed! What a country! What a magnificent country.

Magical Mestia and Unique Ushguli

Mestia, a small village in the Svaneti, is a welcoming place. Ultra friendly people, lovely Cafes every where. Queen Tamar stands proudly in the main square, a statue that is not particularly liked by most locals!

A great art gallery with a
wonderful display of contemporary and historical works of art. Scattered through out the city are the famous Svan towers. These towers were built in ancient times to defend families and live stock against invaders. Food was stored in there as well. The concrete mixture was so strong that invading armies could not break them down. They add an interesting aspect to the already gorgeous little mountain town.

Surrounded by the magnificent Caucuses mountains, whose high tops are still covered in snow in the middle of their hot summer, adds atmosphere and an impressive backdrop for this gorgeous little village. It is ideal for hikers, mountaineers and people who like to take risks in their lives. The famous Ushba mountain peak dominates the landscape. I took the ski lift up, I was incredibly fortunate that Merian decided to come with me as well, I would not have been able to do this on my own! When I reached the top and climbed out on wobbly legs, I found out that I was only half way! I had to go even steeper and higher! Mind you, the view from the top was just absolutely unbelievably beautiful. I was totally in awe. Magical!

Of course what goes up must go down, eventually! I have to be honest, going down was so much worse! So steep, such a wobbly ski lift, here is me breathing in courage, breathing out fear, except I am sure I muddled it up! Half way, Merian took pity on me, told me to wait, and went to fetch his car! I literally felt sick. I have promised myself that I don’t ever have to do this again!

However, I quickly recovered and walked to the Svan tower museum, which was just an empty shell, with very wobbly, wonky bamboo ladders inside. It said it was a museum, but the insides were just empty! I climbed up two and a half ladders, when I remembered promising myself that I don’t have to do this any more! Two German tourists told me that the view was great from the top! I told them I took their word for it, and climbed down!

Ushguli is the hiking end destination of many tourists. People walk for four day to this lovely little mountain village, with stunning Svan towers. The village is much poorer than Mestia, and not at all developed. I had understood, that we would have four hours there, only to find out we had less than two hours before we would have to return. I met some lovely Polish people on the bus, who started their hiking in Ushguli. I also met Reiner, from Germany, with his gorgeous son, Felix. Felix spoke three languages fluently (German,French and English) and was now studying Russian.He was twelve years old, very smart, intelligent lad!

I walked back for a while to get a good look of the first lot of Svan towers. The lighting in the middle of the day was not ideal. I had thought about staying here I. The village, so I could hike, and take late afternoon or early morning photographs. I am so glad I didn’t. After about an hour and a half I sat down in the newly build restaurant, where I bumped in to Reiner and Felix again. We had a pleasant chat, with a magnificent backdrop. I can kick myself that I didn’t take a photograph of them.

It took over two hours to get back to Mestia. At one stage there was a traffic jam, as the road was being fixed, nobody placed a man with a stop sign at the beginning and the end. So all the cars tried to beat each other to get past the road works! This was impossible and cars were forced to reverse. Georgian drivers are completely crazy, every single one is a potential Peter Schumacher, and not one of them wants to give up their first place!! This resulted in complete chaos! It was interesting to watch! Kept us amused! Not enough to take photos of the traffic jam, however the road workers appreciated all the tourists attention and felt like celebrities, while the “paparazzi” were clicking away!!

The Svaneti area is a stunningly beautiful part of Georgia and I am looking forward coming back one day and just painting my life away!

Super Svaneti

Zugdidi was a wash out! It rained for the day and a half that I was there. I visited the Dadiani Museum, the highlight was the bronze death mask of Napoleons Bonaparte ( there are only three in the world!) and the little old church. Not having a scarf and wearing shorts was a problem! So I put my rain coat hat on and had two scarves wrapped around my knees! Apparently knees and hair is really offensive to God! I am not sure WHY, since is is part of being human.

I walked in the rain all the way to the cathedral only to find that it was closed for renovations. The gate was unlocked and I would have gone in, except a police car parked under a tree was watching me! So I declined.
I had a lovely guest house with Nana, who tried to convince me I needed to do tours with her. I couldn’t go to Mestia because of the rains, the roads had washed away. I e -mailed my guest house in Mestia and received a reply that, yes, the rains had done a lot of damage, but NOT on the road to Mestia or Mestia itself.

The bus trip took four hours. A crazy driver, who wanted to be Schumacher! Taking hairpin corners so fast, while on his mobile and drinking with his other hand! Who the hell held the steering wheel? I don’t know! I just looked out at the most amazing landscape. There were five people on board from Mestia, who asked the driver to stop so we could take photos. This was a bonus. On top of the mountain we had lunch. I was ever so glad to arrive, emotionally and physically exhausted. The road was full of huge rocks that had fallen of the mountains, there were so many potholes and then of course the cows. I arrived at Roza’s guest house, showered and slept for over seventeen hours!

Roza’s guest house was an incredibly beautiful place. Rather high on the mountain, out of town, a beautiful view, gorgeous people. It was a shame Roza only had a room for three nights. The first day I walked to the Svaneti museum, where again the view was spectacular, the coffee fabulous and the people ever so friendly. The museum was excellent. Well laid out, English explanations and totally enjoyable. It was suggested I climb onto the roof to see the spectacular view. This is easily done! I can go up! Going down however is a different story! Luckily I met two gorgeous women, who helped me down!

Afterwards I walked to the Mikhail Khergiani museum. Misha, as he is known, was a very famous Georgian Alpinist, who died at the age of thirty seven, in the Dolomites, Italy, when rocks fell down the mountain and killed him. It was a beautiful exhibition. Afterwards I wanted to go to the tower museum, but I met two lovely girls who wanted to practice their English and I missed the turn of to the museum. I was too hot and bothered to walk back. The next day I had planned to go to Ushgeli, but I missed the bus by ten minutes. What to do? The travel agent suggested I go to a waterfall and a glazier. Merian, the guide, offered to take me for a reasonable price, Hm! Okay! Seemed like a good idea.

We managed to speak a little German, English and Russian. When we arrived at this little place, Merian explained that I would have to walk the rest of the way! 17 kilometres to the waterfall and 24kikometers to the glacier! Are you kidding me? Nobody said anything about having to hike for that long! I refused to go on my own, which, by the way I would not have managed! After a lot of hassling, me refusing to go on, Merian decided to come with me, albeit very reluctant. The first three kilometres wasn’t too bad. Not too steep, nor rocky.

We stopped at a natural mineral water well. It looked rather un inviting, but the water was cold and delicious. A tad salty, and you could taste the iron.There was a small cafe where we had a rest and then it went straight up, and I mean up as in very, very steep! Not just steep! Steep and very rocky! Not just very steep and rocky, very steep, rocky and slippery! Crossing over wild flowing waters, on rackety little wooden bridges, slippery as! And to top all of it, horse flies the size of helicopters biting and annoying us all the way!

Now I know, I walked 880 kilometres on the Camino, but not once, and I am telling the truth here, not once did I have to walk like this! After two kilometres straight up, I had had more than enough. No more! Enough! Stuff that waterfall, and certainly stuff that glacier! I don’t mean to brag here, but I have seen Iguacu, in three different countries! I have been soaked by the Victoria Falls. This little waterfall was not going to impress me! Also the glacier, I have stood on Fox Glacier, and the Perrito Moreno glacier, I really didn’t need to do any more of this horrid walking! Enough!

My guide got my drift! Merian was a retired border police man, who rode horses through the mountains, and he had a reason to climb on. He wanted to catch up with his friends and old workmates! He kept saying around the corner we can stop! This corner went on for another three kilometres!
In the mean time we taught each other words in English, Russian and Georgian. Well I taught him the English words, he did all the other languages. Svaneti has it’s own language as well! Great! Do I remember any of the words? Of course not, but it seemed to amuse us, so we kept on going. Finally we arrived at the police post at the border with Russia. His friends were pleased to see him. All I could do was think of the way back! It was horrendous going up, it was even going to be worse going down! I suggested that we steal the police horses to go down with! They all thought that that was very funny! I mean, they were police men!

As I am a very lucky person, this was shown again today by Pedria, Merian’s cousin who showed up with his horse! I was loaded onto it’s back and down we went! I was offered the horse to go and see the waterfall and the glazier, but it was after four o’clock and I was totally exhausted! I wanted to go down! And down we went! If you are thinking, like I did, that being on horseback going down a steep decline with lots of rocks is easier than walking, you are, like I was, very mistaken! I had to hang on with both hands, scared shitless on the very narrow path, with a deep drop just next to me! Several time the horse lost it’s footing and believe me, when I tell you that it was terribly scary!

At one stage I had to cross a small, very fast flowing creek. Pedria jumped onto the back of the horse to get us through it. The water came to my feet, the very strong current swept the horse away, Pedria fell off, the horse panicked, and all I could think of was the my iPad was going to fall in the water and become useless! I already have a broken camera!! These were very silly thoughts as the horse was being dragged to the enormously fast flowing river, which was full of rocks and debris from last weeks storms! Great place to go white water rafting!!

Luck was with us, Pedria never let go of the reins, and the horse in panic, clambered upon the very slippery bank. Pedria was wet up to his waist, Merian had used the very small wooden bridge and was laughing his head off, I was shaken, but not stirred, just wondering how the hell I get myself into these situations without any planning whatsoever! It was all good. After five kilometres we reached the plateau, where I had the photo of me on the horse taken. Sorry people, no photos on the steep decline, neither going up, when all my energy went into walking upwards, nor on the way down, when all my energy was spend holding on to the saddle and my panic!

After two hours we finally reached the car. Pedria had to drag me off the horse as my legs, especially my knees, had gone into frozen mode. Merian had brought a picnic, except that the chacha had turned boiling hot in the car! Even Pedria wouldn’t drink it!! I offered to pay for the horse ride, but money was refused, he is family was the explanation given. Still soaking wet, Pedria jumped upon the horse and rode off into the sunset. We stopped on the way home in the village of Merian’s birth, where he visited his siblings. I was dropped off at Roza’s guest house at eight pm, completely knackered, a very, very hot shower, and in bed by nine o’clock! What an amazing day!

Foodies Fun

Georgian cuisine is the topic of this blog. I seldom write about food. People wonder, what do I eat? It has been hard going as I don’t eat meat, the last countries main staple, I tend to just eat snacks.

Of course I have breakfast which is often included with the room. Since arriving in Georgia, I have indulged in the delicious fruits. Cherries , apricots and wonderful juice peaches are in season. It is grown organically, fresh from the trees, juicy, tasty and so easy to just buy a kilo of cherries for a dollar, or two! Bananas are expensive, well, fifty cents each, I have not been able to find out if they are imported or Georgian grown. So I often buy fruit, for lunch, a snack or to take with me on the bus. However, here in Georgia I have decided to try the national cuisine so I can write about it.

Here in Mestia in the main square is my favourite restaurant, serving traditional Svaneti dishes. Last night I had the dish,Lobito “kotanshi” made with kidney beans and different spices. Served with a slice of hot, corn bread. It was served in a gorgeous terracotta container and absolutely delicious. Needless to say that the beans kept me warm all night. For as we all know ” Beans means F***s”!

When I was having lunch in Batumi, with my friend Ozkan from Turkey, I ordered a Khachapuri Archaruli. This is a boat shaped dish, overflowing with melted cheese and topped with butter and a runny egg. Now I have a thing about runny yoke. Goes right back to my childhood, I can NOT eat that! However, due to the dish being so incredibly hot, the yoke actually cooks while you are eating! You break the delicious bread from the side and scoop up the cheese with it. As the egg cooks and mixes with the cheese, it has a taste I never before experienced! Delicious!

Khachapuri Imeruli are round flat pies with only melted cheese inside. These are my favourite on the run food. They are about fifty cents, very, very filling, and easy to walk around with while eating.
There is the Khachapuri Megruli, Khachapuri Penovani and the Khachapuri Achma. Every city has a slight variation, but all have melted cheeses inside, are fabulous, and my favourite food so far.

The second most common dish is Khinkali, a spicy dumplings, filled with cheese, potatoes or mince meat. I made the mistake in Chakvi of ordering two, one cheese and one potato filled khinkali. I received four! I was so full unbelievable! You are meant to eat them with your hands, but they are so incredibly hot that that is near impossible to do. I loved the cheese filled one. The potato/ mushroom one is also very delicious.

This is why I don’t write about food, what other word can I use for delicious?? Must look in my thesaurus! Today, here in Mestia, I had mashed potatoes and cheese,Tashmjabi. Very starchy, and filling.

On the way to Mestia, the bus driver stopped for lunch, where he ordered the food, and we all ate, free of charge ( well, the trip itself was quite “expensive” for Georgian standards, so I am sure he covered the food quite well!) . Although I just wrote that I don’t eat meat, as I was given this slice of meat filled bread, and all the other passengers looking full of expectations, how I would like their traditional Svaneti dish, I felt the least I could do was try it! It was surprisingly good! Due to the lack of teeth, and the ones that I have left being in a terrible state, I avoid meat at all costs, but this was tender, spices and just melted in my mouth. Peoples smiles told me they all approved! The next slice was filled with cheese, my first preference, I was so full after the two slices that I could refuse the third one with a clear conscience!

Since I have arrived in Georgia, I have tried, unsuccessfully at times, to stay away from the deserts and the enormous slices of cake! What I did try in Mskheta, however, was the sweet churchkhela, a string of walnuts coated in a sort of pinkish caramel made from grape juice. Lots of stalls have them hanging outside, looking like sausages. You would not believe it, it was TOO sweet, for my liking! Yeah, this is me the sweet tooth princess, but it honestly hurt my teeth! I had come across this before in Tbilisi , but thought it was meat at first, so stayed away from it. Often you get offered small pieces, all with different tastes, I don’t mind it in very small doses.

The bread is plentiful and totally crispy and delicious. Hence I stay away from it! Chit is puri is baked from wheat flower, water and salt in a dedicated oven called a tone. No fat or oil is used.these long flat breads are sold every where and are especially delicious with the fresh honey! (The photo has pastry with kidney beans mashed inside, with lots of spices, delicious!)

What I do want to mention, as I am writing about local food, there are beehives every where and local honey is sold, by little old ladies sitting along the highway. On the trip to Mestia, we saw many , many bee boxes. are they still called hives if they are in boxes?) This honey from the mountains tastes completely different then the honey I tried in the cities. It is thicker, clearer and utterly, utterly delicious! Not to forget to mention, dirt and dirt cheap!

The last thing to write about is the incredible hospitality of the Georgian people! Georgia claims to be the birthplace of wine, which is a national passion. A popular spin – off of wine making is chacha, which is a grappa like fire water!  It has about 45 to 55% alcohol content! It is cheap, and the Georgian people start drinking it early in the morning! The idea is that you slam it in one go, and then drink water or eat something. It is considered enormously rude not to accept an offered drink, but refused it I have! I can not start my day that way, although I have accepted it in the afternoon, and only to be polite, take my word for it, it brings tears to your eyes! At some guesthouses, you receive chacha as a welcome gift! A lovely thought!

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Batumi

At first before I start writing, I need to apologise to Batumi! My first reaction was, ah, tourist action town, Surfers Paradise in Georgia! However, when I went in to town to have lunch with my friend Ozkan, from Turkey, I did some sight seeing! Some of the architecture is just absolutely amazing! Let me just put in the photos and write a discription of the best ones! The photo above is taken from the Ferris wheel, which is at my back, looking towards the Alphabetic Tower. It has the 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet. It is a 135- meter- high structure and it resembles a DNA molecule. The old light house is on the left.

Piazza Square, is one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Batumi! Live music is played here daily and the square usually hosts concerts of world famous musicians visiting Batumi. The architecture of Batumi Piazza is distinguished by mosaic and stain glass art. There was only one old man playing when I was there, but he was lovely to listen to! Although in theory, he wasn’t actually in the square!

The Neptune Fountain with the Chavchavadze Batumi State Drame Theatre in the background. The theatre was opened in 1952. The Neptune a Fountain was established in 2010 and is a copy of the Giambologna’s fountain in Bologna, Italy.

Armenian Apostolic Church built in 1885, under the supervision of the Austrian architect Manfred. The church did not function during the Soviet period, it did re -open in 1992.

There are so many more buildings I could write about, but what blew my mind away was the amazing moving sculpture, Ali and Nino.

this 8 meters high sculpture is a symbol of eternal love and understanding amongst the people of different nationalities.

The statue is created by the Georgian sculptor and painter Tamar Kvesitadze and installed in 2010. It moves very, very slowly and then the two become one, only to move slowly away from each other again! It was mesmerising! I regret not taking a video, but it moves so incredibly slow, and I have so little storage on my gadget, that I declined!

I had a lovely lunch with my dear friend Ozkan, and I promise that the next blob will be about Georgian food! I have been eating mainly fruit, as the heat and the high humidity have killed my appetite! Hallelujah! I could be so lucky! I am sure I have lost weight, as I am eating little, drinking lots of water and walking a minimum of five kilometres a day, most of the time, much, much more! Now the rains are here, it is cooler and I relish the starchy food of Georgia! This blob is a tad long, and I could write much, much more! I will save it for another rainy day!

 

 

 

Chuckles in Chakvi

The view of Batumi from my balcony was amazing! It looked like Surfers Paradise! A playground for the foreign tourists. I was going to say the rich and famous, but that is a tad over the top! I had a fabulous night sleep and after a rather ordinary breakfast, quite disappointing for an ” expensive” hotel, I caught the marshrutka to Chavi.

The guesthouse didn’t expect me until tomorrow, but I figured I could wing it for an extra night. I don’t mind the occasional “expensive” hotel, but not on a daily basis. When I say expensive, I mean expensive for here! The average hotel, except Tbilisi, is fifty Lari, about A$25, guest houses on average between A$7,50 and A$10 , so when a hotel says it is 56 and I assume they mean the local currency and after a while I realise they mean American dollars, the look on my face was worthy of a “you tube video”! One of the side effects of long term travel, is paying attention to these things!

As far as hotels go, in my humble experience, more expensive is often NOT better! The sheets might have a higher thread count and there might be a hairdryer in the bathroom, but I often find that the extras in smaller places is better. Often the staff in the fancy hotels are slightly arrogant, while in smaller hotels the staff is friendlier. I see it as a place, where I will dump my bags, I need cleanliness, hot showers and the mattresses not too hard!! Easily pleased.

Anyway, I went to Chakvi. Walked with MAPS.ME to the guest house. Lovely garden, the owner spoke English. Great room. It took a while to realise that this was NOT the guest house I booked! Oops! Same name though! By the way, it didn’t matter, as my booking at the Batumi U Guesthouse was for the next night!

I walked to the Botanical gardens, about two kilometres away. Spend a wonderful afternoon, wandering, looking and enjoying nature. The views were spectacular. I took a little bus to the top, and walked back, through the greenery. The weather is very much Darwin weather. Hot and humid, rains in the late afternoon.

I managed to find a super market and after getting lost several times, (of course my gadget was flat!) I finally found the guest house, just in the nick of time, as all hell broke loose!! The storm went on for most of the night! Seem to me it kept turning around, just to please me! Finally I fell asleep, dreaming of snakes in the garden! I have encountered three small snakes, all dead! They are not poisonous, people laugh when I ask! Mind you, everybody wants to come to Australia, but they all watch the National Geographic channel, and are petrified of all the deadly animals we have!!

The owner’s husband  dropped me off at the next guest house! I am so glad he did! I would have never found it! It is a few kilometres out of Chakvi, high up in the mountains. Lovely room, large guest house.

Walking down the mountain lands you on the highway, cross that and the railway line, and one reaches the beach. It is less than ten minutes walking. The beach, by Australian standards, is terrible. Full of rocks and garbage. ( mind you, the stones are great for building cairns!) The sand is black, but the water is lovely and warm. Nurgaz and his two children took me to the beach, by car! Wica, whose name is Anastasia, is seven years old. The son, Sapa, is eleven and a big Messi fan! I am a Ronaldo fan, but we decided they were both very good players! We watched some of the World Cup after we came back from the beach!

On Sunday the whole family went out and I spend the day on the beach, and in my favourite restaurant, where there is free wifi, great Georgian food and very cheap beer! I found out via Facebook, that my friend Ozkan, from Amasya, Turkey, is in Batumi right now. We are planning to have lunch together and while down there I will look into the train to Zugdidi, my next stop, before going to Mestia, high up in the mountains.

Family from Kazakhstan came to stay as well, lovely, lovely people. I was invited to come and have dinner and taste the home made Georgian wine! It is hard to explain that I don’t eat meat, and that this my alcohol free year! ( okay, except for beer! But it is very hot and humid! And I can never drink more than two glasses!) I had two small glasses which gave me the biggest headache ever, which lasted all the next day! Very unpleasant and not to be repeated!

Georgian people toast for every glass and then in one BIG gulp empty their glass! They all laughed that I sipped my wine! Trust me, it was the best I could do! Georgian’s hospitality is famous in this part of the world.

Although the truth is, it focuses on drinking vodka and/or beer at nine in the morning! So sorry, not for me at all! Shock horror that I don’t drink vodka! (Not without some nice orange juice to go with it, and much , much later in the day! )Some things are just not explainable, being vegetarian is one, travelling on my own is the second one! The whole family is shocked that I don’t have a husband, and are now dedicating their lives to finding me a Georgian Man! How lucky am I?

on my last evening I went and had a lovely dinner with live Georgia music! Hereby a  photo of the lovely staff, and the Georgian band! I was given a present, a bracelet by one of the girls, and after lots of hugs, Instagram exchanges it was time to say good bye to all these wonderful, wonderful people here in Chakvi. Sometimes it is really hard to move on! Zugdidi is next on the list!!

Kutaisi? No, Samtredia!

Dancing away early in the morning, I slammed my toe against the bed! Don’t ask!! I taught the whole neighbourhood how to swear like a real trooper. Boy, did that hurt! I still decided to walk to the bus station, bags and all. Telling myself that once I did this for sixty five days, so get on with it! I had expected a BIG bus, instead it was a marshrutka I told the driver three times, ” Kutaisi, this bus goes to Kutaisi?”Yeah, sure, it did!! Every stop I would ask, are we there yet? We stopped in Kutaisi, but I needed to be dropped off at the bus station, which is where I thought we would be going! Wrong!

I was dropped off on the highway, bags chucked out of the bus, lots of yelling and gestures to cross the road. Okay, something is obviously not right? Hm! Wonder what could be wrong? Duh, I was dropped off in Samtredia. Okay, now what? Three very stoned and drunk men, offering me a joint, when I told them I was totally allergic to the stuff, ( which they didn’t understand, but they got the drift I didn’t want any!) then I was offered a glass of whiskey, I don’t mind the occasional glass, after dinner, preferably with my father, but at eleven in the morning?? No thanks! There I was, sitting on the highway, sweating like a pig. The humidity is so incredibly high here, it was hard to think what to do next.

So “Romeo” offered me a lift back to Kutaisi. Except he wanted something else in return! I had to laugh, this young man was so stoned /drunk, as if I would even consider to get into a car with him! I did need to make up my mind, and I had to leave this situation as fast as possible. I was getting ill on the fumes! People who know me well, know that I get terribly ill, even on marijuana fumes, I don’t even have to smoke it myself! There was no English spoken, but the sign language is a “world wide” language! Finally I got the owner of the shop, to ring me a taxi. Since the dapper trio was going to Kutaisi, I decided to stay the night in Samtredia and consider what to do next.

According to maps me. there was one hotel in town. I decided to try my luck there. I won the lottery! The hotel was indeed the only on in town, plenty of rooms, hot, hot water, big room and a wonderful new late aircon! All that for twenty bucks. I asked what there was to see and do in Samtredia, not a lot! Since it was much too hot and humid I decided to have a nap and think of what to do next. Late afternoon I found a little church being restored, a mural and a train station. With google translator I managed to get a train ticket for the next evening to Batumi. It left at seven in the evening. Deep sigh, I had seen all the sights in the last half hour, I can do this!

Spend a wonderful cool night and morning in my super room. Updated my diary, started some drawings, worked on my blog, and the wonderful staff let me stay in the room till two in the afternoon. Only a few more hours to go. I found a lovely cool cafe, had a beer and spend the next hour or so playing games on my phone and ipad. Nobody spoke English! I had my first argument in Russian at the chemist. They doubled the price on the item I wanted to buy, indicating that it was an “old” price sticker on the item. Thanks but no thanks, I wasn’t born yesterday! Often prices get doubled for tourists. It wasn’t something I was in dire need for. I wanted to buy a nail file!! Yes, dear friends, a nail file!! Since I had my two teeth removed just before I left, I haven’t been able to bite my nails!! They do keep breaking though!

Anyway back to the hotel, cool lobby, comfy big armchair and wifi! Tourist heaven! The next thing there was this enormous Big Bang! No aircon, no wifi, the Big Bang was followed by many small bangs. The staff was hiding behind the desk, I sat in an overstuffed arm chair and figured that this was as safe as anywhere else! Police sirens! Me not understanding a word, whatsoever! I decided to stay where I was. In the end, an hour or so later, all was back to normal. There were some people working on a car(??) and they blew something up. Everybody was very exited as it was probably the best thing that had happened here in years! At six o clock I packed up my bags and walked to the station. The staff asked me to come back soon, but if the truth be known, I will never set foot in Samtredia again!

The train was punctual, comfortable and there were no problems until they came to check my ticket! It was for the night before!! So much for google translator telling them I wanted to leave the next day! Lucky for me I could buy another ticket on board of the train. The cost? One Lari! Which is not even fifty cents!! I met a lovely young man from South Korea, who spoke fabulous English and the time past very fast, discussing the world up football, travel and drone photography. We arrived in Batumi at ten o’clock in the evening. The lad needed wifi and I had picked a guest house near the station, which no longer existed! A wonderful hotel provided the young man with wifi and me with a gorgeous room for the night! Hello Batumi, can’t wait to explore here! Onto Chakvi soon where I have made a booking for five nights! Hoping for some rest and relaxation near a beach!

Gorgeous Gori

Gori is famous for being the birth place of Stalin! I would like to think that THAT is nothing to be proud of, but then, who am I? Their famous son has a wonderful museum dedicated to him. It doesn’t mention the atrocious crimes against humanity he has committed, that part was not there! ( that I saw!)

I was so fortunes to meet the gorgeous Eleni yesterday. A stunningly beautiful Russian dentist who is married with a Georgian man. She offered me a lift. Eleni has never been to Gori, so she took this opportunity to visit the Stalin museum with me and the cathedral. We laughed so much, she was good fun. Racing car driver material, we arrived much too early and ended up sitting outside a cafe drinking coffee and chatting with the local taxi drivers. Russians are not liked here! This is due to the fact that in 2008 there was a war over South Ossetia, 30 km north of Gori. The Russians bombed Gori, with at least twenty civilians killed, most people fled to Tbilisi.t

The Stalin museum is in a very impressive building from 1957. There is a small wood and mud brick house, in which Stalin’s parents rented a room for the first four years of his life! One room is devoted to Stalin’s eerie death mask. Outside is Stalin’s railway carriage in which he travelled. He didn’t like flying! It was still closed when we arrived, since we were the first visitors!! The cathedral was lovely, I have no idea what it is called!

After Eleni left, I showered and had a nap! It is very, very hot and humid, so during the afternoon napping is the smartest thing to do!

Afterwards I climbed up to the Gori Fortress. This oval citadel stands on top of the hill at the centre of Gori. The views were magnificent! And I ended up meeting a local journalist who interviewed me for the local television station! Ah, the fame follows me every where!! At the bottom of the fortress, stands a circle of mutilated metal warriors, a strange memorial to the people who lost their lives in the 2008 war.

There is also a small war museum, devoted to the Gori’s people involvement of WWII. A small display on the 2008 war as well. Row upon rows of photographs of handsome young men, rather depressing, really. Outside was a large memorial, with a long, long lists of local people who died fighting over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990.

I took a taxi to the Ateni Sioni, an impressive ancient church, in an absolutely fabulous setting, the grape vine strewn Tana valley. All around are high hills and cliffs. Ateni Sioni was built in the 7th century. There were beautiful reliefs of hunting scenes and Knights. Inside are stunningly beautiful frescoes, for which I visited this church! Alas, the church was being restored and locked up for visitors!! My kind taxi driver to me to a near by monastery for nuns. There was a cute little chapel, with surprisingly stunning frescoes. After I took a lot of photos, encouraged by my driver, the nuns told me photography was ” forbidden” ! Oops!

The next stop was Uplistsikhe, a fascinating and enormous cave city! Beautiful views over the Mtkvari valley. Uplistsikhe was the chief political and religious centre of pre Christian Kartli, with temples dedicated to the sun goddess. ( between 6th century BC and 1st century AD )After the Arabs occupied Tbilisi in 645AD, Uplistsikhe became the residence of the Christian Kings of Kartli and a very important trade centre, with a main caravan road from Asia to Europe running through it! At its peak there were over 20,000 people living here. The town was destroyed by the Mongols in 1240.

I was fascinated by the Uplistsikhe Eklesia, from the 10th century. It was built over what was probably the most important pagan temple. I didn’t climb all the way to the top, as it started to rain, and the rocks were difficult enough to climb without he extra difficulty of being slippery as well. It was an amazing place, and I wandered around for a very long time! I liked the idea that the room for the queen was right next door to the wine cellar and the chemist!! So when she got a hangover, the tablets to cure her headache were right next door!! 

The day was overcast, and slightly rainy, which doesn’t make for good photographs. This is a shame, because the landscape, the caves, the church were all absolutely amazing! Tomorrow Kutaisi! My next adventure awaits me! Isn’t life just marvellous? I am so enjoying all of it!

More Magical Mtskheta

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral dates from the 11th century. It was enormous for its time! My hotel is just opposite the cathedral, and it is my view during breakfast! The cathedral has an elongated cross plan and is decorated inside and out with stone carvings. According to the stories, the robe of Christ lies beneath the cathedral, it works many miracles. Vakhtang Gorgasali is buried here as well.

I made an effort to go to Mass on Sunday, and sat for an hour on a hard wooden bench. The Georgian chanting, of which I only understood Hallelujah and Amen, was very impressive. I crossed my legs at one stage and the woman next to me told me off! Apparently, leg crossing in church is not allowed! When the first tourist bus arrived I left! The nice part of Georgian Mass is that you can come and go as you please. I like that idea! Most people stand for the Mass, the only benches are around the edge of the church and are for the elderly, pregnant or disabled people. First time I am happy being ” elderly”!!!


The Samtavro church is also very famous. This is where the first Christian King Miriam and his wife, Queen Nana are buried! Photography is not allowed, although I sneaked one of the royal tombs. The church is part of a nunnery, but once it was part of the palace church of the Lords of Metskheta.

I visited the Jvari monastery , I took a taxi to the top and decided to walk back. According to the lonely planet this could be done! The path was steep and terrible over grown. After five minutes I decided this could not be done safely, so back up I climbed. Walking back to Mtskheta was quite a challenge along the main road. Dodging tourist buses, crazy drivers and bulls was interesting, however not really pleasant! In between I looked at amazing wild flowers on the edge of the road.

It was only seven kilometres, all down hill, so not too challenging. Just before I reached the highway a taxi stopped and took me the last two kilometres, which I would have been able to make easily, but there was a storm brewing, and people who know me well, know that I am shit scared of electrical storms. I managed to get back just in time, before all hell broke loose. There is not much more to do here except the archeological site on the other side of the river.

I wanted to walk along the river to this archeological site, however this was not possible. Such a shame, but it would have been another ten km along the road, a repeat of the downhill Jvari Monastery experience, I declined. It was hot and humid, and I ended up doing very little, visited a small monastery with amazing frescoes.

Did some washing, worked in my diary, googled flights from Armenia to Oman, and went to booking.com to look for reasonable accommodation in Batoumi, a seaside resort place. I just want to spend some days on a beach before visiting the mountains. All of this is time consuming, not really interesting, but necessary. Sometimes it is just lovely to have these days of relative quiet! Gives the body a change to recover! There are many more churches to see here as well, but one can even get saturated with looking at churches.

Next town, Gori, the birth place of Stalin. Will be interesting to say the least!

Marvellous Mtskheta

Tbilisi was just amazing. I have written about the capital of Georgia in my last blog. I had only planned eight nights there, nine days, it was not enough. I extended by three more nights, still not enough, but as time is slipping away from me, I decided to move on to the next town, Mtskheta. Most people, just go there on a day trip from Tbilisi. I like to spend some time in a town, to wander, dream and explore.

My last day in Tbilisi I treated myself to a sulphur bath after I visited the amazing sculpture by the Tbilisi sea. The sculpture is made by Zurab Tsereteli. I had seen the video of how it was made and put together, in the museum of modern art. I asked the girl where this was, as I really wanted to see it in real life! Awesome, just absolutely awesome. I can’t remember all the details of the sculpture, but I am sure people who are interested can just google the artist.

I had planned an early start to go to Mtskheta, but due to the lack of sleep, this didn’t happen! I itched so badly during the night, even three showers could not take the itch away! I wonder if it was sulphur bath? Or the scrub? May be the massage? I had quite an experience with a vertically challenged Babushka. Did she scrub me! It felt like my skin was coming of! Afterwards a massage, with hands like sledgehammers, beating upon my poor back! At one stage she pulled my head forwards, between her enormous mammary glands, nearly choking me to death! It was not pleasant to say the least! Moments like that I wish I could have a real proper massage , with my friend Jenny! Anyhow, the reason for the sleepless night is totally unimportant, I ended up with a very late start to the day.

I arrived in Mtskheta about one o’ clock. I had been unable to make a booking, so first things first! Coffee!! Next door to the cafe, was a small hotel. I knocked on the door, and yes, there was a room available. I booked three nights! When oh when will I learn to start with one or two and just add to it when needed?

Anyway, it is lovely but about one day too long. Mtskheta was the first capital of Georgia. It is also the spiritual heart of Georgia, since Christianity was established here in about 327. It holds a near mystical significance in Georgian culture. It was the capital of most of Eastern Georgia from about 3rd BC to the 5th century AD, when King Vakhtang Gorgasali switched his base to Tbilisi.

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is still the setting for important ceremonies of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The cathedral dates from the 11th century, early in the golden age of Georgian church architecture. According to tradition, Christ’s robe lies buried beneath the cathedral. It works many miracles, apparently. The word Svetitskhoveli means ” life giving column”. The King Vakhtang Gorgasali is buried here as well.

Terrific Tbilisi

Amidst the most impressive lightening show I arrived in Georgia. The landing, in a lightweight plane, was frightening to say the least! The heavy rain, the enormous thunderstorm, should have prepared me for an intensely, emotional encounter with Tbilisi, Georgia! There is nothing subtle about this place!

Tubilisi is heaven on earth, for artists and creative people alike.The narrow alley ways make for ideal photo opportunities! Every nook and cranny is filled with sculptures, murals or quirky gardens. Garden benches galore! Huge green, leafy trees, intensely green, giving the necessary shade and creating the feeling of secret hideaways, ideal for romantic couples or illegitimate affairs! I have fallen in love with place!

I found my spiritual place in the world! I always felt that way about Florence, but here it is the contemporary artists that make feel like painting, I cried in front of the works of this amazing artist!
At the Zurab Tsereteli Museum of modern art, I saw for the first time in my life, the works of Zurab, and of my most favourite artist of all time, Natela Iankoshvili, a spiritual heir to Pisosmani! This year marks her 100th anniversary of her birth. I cried in front of her work! This only happened twice before! At the Tate gallery, when I saw Munch’s painting of his sick sister, and at van Gogh’s sunflowers! Oh, and at the Jewish bride of Rembrandt! I wasn’t aware that these amazingly bold, strong and powerful paintings were painted by a woman!

I walked around for over three hours, crying, speechless and in total and complete AWE!! I want to be here, live here, and never, ever leave! To imagine, that I am in Georgia by pure “fluke”! I carried a photograph with me, which has no indication where it was taken. I made the assumption that it was in Uzbekistan, where people told me over and over again, no, that is Tbilisi in Georgia! I didn’t hesitate to change my travel plans once again! How glad I am I did! How wonderful is this serendipity in my life! I am here just by pure “fluke” if there is such a thing!

After my wanderings through the gallery, I entered the bookstore and without even hesitating, nor trying to work out HOW much these books were, I bought two books, heavy as, on these two Georgian artists! Google them! Zurab Tsereteli and Natela Iankoshvili! What a talent! How bold and strong they both are! I was fortunate enough to be allowed to take photographs. Although my camera broke yesterday, I have to use the i pad now, but to be allowed to take photos of these wonderful images was such a blessing! I want to paint! This is the same ineke who decided three months ago to give up painting altogether! Okay, so I am allowed to change my mind! It is the privilege of being a woman and an artist, that I can chop and change as pleases me!

Blessed, I feel incredibly blessed, what a country! What a town, what a talent and joy. In case you didn’t realise it as yet! I feel I have come home! I will now have to organise to send some goods home, as these two catalogues weigh a ton! I will also go and look for an art shop! May be I will start painting here! I am seriously considering renting a room, outside a hostel, so I can paint NOW! Here I am, in the coffee shop, drinking a wonderful coffee, looking at my wonderful books, and realising I am in absolute heaven. This is a place for wandering, exploring and being in the here and now. What a town, what a wonderful, wonderful town!

Peaceful Pilgrimage

Sometimes I just get extremely lucky! In the Lonely Planet it was mentioned that one could go on a pilgrimage to Beket-Ata. I had visited a tour company and was quoted U$85 for the day! This is too much, by my standards! One doesn’t get to travel for six months or more, spending this kind of money. The lovely girl, Lyazzat, from the Holiday Inn, who speaks excellent English, was incredibly helpful. I spoke to her, telling her I couldn’t afford that kind of day trip. She made a few phone calls, and the next minute, she asked if I was ready to go the next day? It was with thirteen other Muslim pilgrims and there was one place for me! Fabulous! Yes! Total cost for the day U$18!!! (This included three meals as well as the bus ride!)

Lyazzat was full of concern about the non- English speaking driver and guide. How was I going to cope for the day without English? Beket-Ata is 285 km east from Aktau. So a long, long day, it would be! Talking is like breathing for me, so yes, it would be tough, but I would be able to manage! I was sure! After nearly four hours on the road, I tried to ask the guide, if it was appropriate to take photos, as these places were Holy sites. The young woman behind me answered my question, in beautiful English! Her name was Dana, an English speaking flight attendant of Astana airlines, from Almaty. You have no idea how this pleased me! Meeting Dana was a gift from God!

The first place we visited, Shapak Ata, was an underground mosque plus a huge necropolis, graveyard, from the tenth century. I wasn’t allowed to photograph inside or outside the mosque. This was a shame as it was incredibly interesting. There were three rooms hacked out of the rocks, the floors covered with beautiful patterned carpets. We were all given a scarf, which I put back, as I did not know what to do with it! I was supposed to tie it to a tree! Duh! The cleansing before we entered the mosque was interesting. First you need to go to the toilet, a row of squat toilets with very low doors between them, then you needed to wash your hands, feet and face.  Using the lovely tin watering cans, which I would love to have some for my bathroom!

There was a fertility rock, shaped like a giant penis. It looked like a pottery piece, which was glazed in amazing colours. Reminded me of the Namibian artist, Jacqui Janssen van Vuuren. Women, who wanted to get pregnant, sit on top of the ” penis head” and pray. This is why the natural stone looks like it is varnished and glazed, constantly being polished! I declined! People tied scarves to the tree, so that people in need could take them with them. Some people tied money into the corners of the scarves, again for people in need, I think.There was a sacred tree, which needed to be circled three times. Then back to the bus to the next magical place.

The road by now was non existent, and rather rocky and rough. My poor back was screaming complains! This body of mine must be getting old, all this bloody complaining it does, when things are slightly tough! Unbelievable! The mind, heart and soul are still eighteen, so get used to it body! Nobody is listening! I had a horizontally challenged woman sitting next to me, who fed her two year old every five minutes. I have no problems with that, but he kicked me while feeding! The seats were designed for rather small people, so the drive down was tough going!

We arrived at Beket-Ata. Nobody had mentioned that the rock hewn mosque was three kilometres away, down the mountain, stairs all the way! The paths and limestone area were very reminiscent of Coober Pedy and the Breakaways. The going down, although hard on my knees was incredibly easy compared to the going back up! The mosque was incredible, again, no photographs allowed. Just take my word for it that it was amazing. A philosopher and Iman, I believe, was buried here. (I am sorry but I have forgotten his name!) I kept thinking, as I was going down, oh, holy cow, I have to get back up these steps on the way back! Trust me, it was exhausting! It took like forever! By now it was extremely hot, dusty, and I was so thirsty, that I finished all my water on the way down! On the way back I had to drink from the underground well, just hoping and wishing, that my stomach would cope with this! Step by step, slowly, ever so slowly I reached the top again. Totally exhausted. It was a hot, windy and extremely dusty day. We had hoped to see some wild desert goats, and at one stage everybody got very exited, however all Dana and I saw were black, unmoving dots!

Then the men all had an afternoon nap, while the women started to cook the meal! It was eaten out of a big dish. A broth, which was made from meat, and smelled very strongly. The a sort of flat pasta, all eaten with five fingers. That is the name of the dish is Beshbarmak, which means five fingers. It is a Kazakh delicacy! I have difficulties eating meat, my body reacting violently if I do so, although I did try one of the pasta pieces. On the way home the rains came, and there was a stunning rainbow, to which everybody agreed was a very positive sign!

Dana and I chatted on the way back, while she translated everything I said for the other pilgrims. Everybody thought that Dana was my private guide! People were amazed that I, a tourist, would under take this pilgrimage, and WHY? ( wanting to get out of Aktau didn’t sound legit enough, so I just thought that!) There were NO other tourists at all! I was a HUGE novelty!

Exhausted, sore and absolutely filthy, I arrived back at my hotel at one in the morning! Showered, slept, woke up, showered and slept. I just wanted to keep on sleeping!! Although the day was extremely long, I am so glad for this opportunity to experience this day, with all the Kazakh people. An experience never to be forgotten! A wonderful way to leave Kazakhstan, leaving me wanting to see more, but time has come to go to Tbilisi, Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Aktau

After ten hours on the train, I was ready for my holiday on the beach! Expectations, expectations, again, here I was, expecting a beach resort, palm trees and a warm Caspian Sea! When will I learn to google? When will I learn to go on trip advisor? ( I DO but only to write reviews on hotels!) it was raining! Booking my flight to Georgia took less than an hour! I met a gorgeous little girl called, Luciya! When I told her I had a friend called Lucia, we became instant friends! I have noticed I don’t like cold nor rain! No fun to walk around in! There is one museum here, which took less than half an hour! So now what? I had booked eleven nights, what possessed me to do so was beyond me for a few days! Until I realised, I had thought it to be a beach resort!

So to the beach I went! What a disappointment that one was! Industrial area on prime real estate! Really, what were they thinking? I was going to apply for a job as a town planner! It took me a few days until I realised there was a gorgeous walkway along the foreshore! It was just in the OTHER direction!

After a couple of days feeling sorry for myself, missing gorgeous Uzbekistan, I pulled my socks up! Enough! You WILL make the best of this! You WILL enjoy yourself! To my defence, I had booked my hotel because the Lonely Planet said people spoke English here! They lied!( well, the book is four years out of date!) so I came across the lovely staff of the Holiday Inn, where English was spoken! They booked me on a real pilgrimage!

Have told you that there are very few English speaking people here? This has become a bit of a problem as google translator does not make for good conversations! So I have a tendency to go back to the places where I can communicate, beyond asking for green tea or black coffee!
After the initial three days of being peeved at the lack of Aktau being a seaside resort, I did find that the foreshore on the other side of the city is just gorgeous. The beaches are nothing to write home about, mind you as we have the best beaches in the world in Oz, I don’t understand why I still have such high expectations of other countries!

There was an interesting museum, small and no English anywhere, so a quick visit. No art galleries! This I find strange as I saw art students painting in the street. Sun baking on the rocks doesn’t appeal to me, so what did I do? The pilgrimage took two days out of me ( read the next blob) .

On Saturday I did go to a necropolis outside Aktau, this is a cemetery, shame I was in too much pain to stay around too long. Yeah, I did it again! Have no idea what is going on! I was dancing like nobody was watching, and promptly put my back out! Belly button under my armpit, pain, agony and totally pissed off. Luckily a good chemist just around the corner of the hotel, lots of drugs, rest and sleep, and nearly back to normal. Does this mean I need to slow down?? Hmmm. Just wondering. I just bought a new bikini to do some sun baking, mind you the weather changed back to being cloudy and overcast! Sigh. Looking forward to flying to Georgia on Monday night. Good bye to Kazakhstan.

“Boring” Beyneu

Beyneu has over 50.000 people, so it is not really a small town! My, very nice, hotel was just five minutes from the station. The taxi driver told me to put my seat belt on! Wow! In Uzbekistan, the drivers take offence if you put the seat belt on, as if you insult their driving skills!
I waited till the next morning to do my exploring.

According to my map, there was a museum near by. First I came across the market, which I love to wander through, explore and enjoy. I was craving fruit, which I haven’t been eating enough, so bought fresh plums, grapes and nectarines. People are much less friendly than in Uzbekistan! I always ask before taking photographs, but here people actually said NO! One woman got terrible upset, thinking that I took photos of her produce, which I never do without asking either! It took a kind young man to look at my ipad to convince her I did not ” illegally” photograph her sweets!

After four weeks in Uzbekistan this is extremely weird! For over three months I have not seen or heard this kind of behaviour! One young woman, spraying her plants, gave permission to take a picture of her plants, then asked if I would take one of her as well! She was Uzbek!

One stall sold some strange looking stuff, which I was not allowed to photograph. One was a black paste and one looked like mouse droppings. This young man showed me how to put the mouse droppings under my tongue, and then what!? I stood there looking stupid, until this foul taste hit me, I had to spit it all out as fast as I could! At least it entertained the local market! Spitting is a favourite past time here, so nobody looks up about that, local people use the same sound effects as in India. I think it was the faces I was pulling, that was entertaining them!

Anyway on to the museum, which was a derelict building, which has obviously been closed for the last two decades! Most houses, like Nukus, were empty! Strange, eerie and very boring to look at! I walked for about an hour. And decided that I wouldn’t stay beyond the two nights I needed to recover from the train trip. So late afternoon, back to the train station, booked and paid for a ticket, all in Russian, with Google translator! Worked on my blob, and drawings in my diary! Totally blissful, as nothing to be done! Hallelujah!

There were NO restaurants or eateries open! Hm! No dinner! Okay, fruit for dinner, and semi fasting, should be good for me right? It is Ramadan, so I can just join in! Woke up extremely hungry, also good, enjoy this empty feeling, there are lots of children in this world who don’t eat daily! Bought cherries and peanuts for the train! I don’t like eating while on the move, the less one has to use the toilet the better it is!

No breakfast on my second morning, okay, I am fine, starting to feel svelte! My brother Tom, called me from The Netherlands, and after a wonderful chat, I got dressed and left for the station.
The first class looks the same as the third class, but I do believe the mattress is slightly thicker! The white crispy sheets are a delight, the free coffee and tea appreciated! The toilet gets cleaned! Although still no paper, though!! Another ten hours of pure bliss! Meditation, catching up with e mails, and cross words! Good rest for my ankle!

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