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Georgia on my mind

...creatures of our environment.

sunny 28 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

We said our goodbyes to the other people we had met in the hotel and after an extended photo session with the constant stream of locals who just had to have a pic or a selfie with the bikers we headed off in search of the border and our entry into Georgia. More stunning vistas and one more mountain pass we arrived at the border; it was more difficult getting out of Turkey than getting into Georgia. Still a bit of rain hanging around, very humid during the day with short downpours regularly in the afternoon. The last couple of days has seen temperature ranges from 9-28deg all within a matter of hours. Roomie’s bike is still in Istanbul, very broken and this caused some major drama as what you bring in you must take out. The story is that he is flying another of his bikes into Tbilisi and will have the buggered one in Istanbul shipped home. Anyway back to the story, as he wasn’t taking one out then he was going to be subject to import duties and that is a lot of coin! The man has skills with a lifetime of growing up in Africa, excellent business acumen and USD50 later we were all on our way to Georgia.

Never have I experienced something as completely different as the change I encountered on entering Georgia. The landscape, architecture, the people, and the whole demeanour of the place………it’s amazing what a difference religion makes! Orthodox here, no scarves, friendly disposition. lots of smiles and vodka….well it was once part of Russia! A quick 100km later we were at our destination in the ski resort area town of Bakurani. Excellent accommodation in a truly Swiss style chalet hotel; pool & sauna was a great way to unwind from the day. Dinner was provided tonight and with the assistance of a cold local beer I consumed far too many cabbage rolls……………man they were good! After dinner my introduction to the subtleties of Vodka completed the day and very nearly completed me but age and maturity saw the lesson ended and I crawled under a lush doona for a great night’s sleep in the Georgian mountains.

Posted by ScottyJ 02:43 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Newsflash

Landslide in Dariali Gorge

sunny 24 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

The recent landslide in the Dariali Gorge has closed the only Georgian/Russian border crossing indefinitely.......that's the one we were going to use!!
So where does that leave us? Option......to return to Trabzon, Turkey then the ferry to Sochi in Russia..........oh and the latest there have been no ferries running since the Games, bugger! Next option....looking at heading to Azerbaijan then into Russia.....hopefully it's not too long a wait for visas??? Guess we'll be spending some more time in Tbilisi.................there could be worse places :-) Keep you posted.........

Posted by ScottyJ 02:59 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

Taken with Tbilisi

Two nights is not enough!

sunny 24 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

With only 180k’s to Tbilisi today it was a sleep in and a later departure than normal which was very welcome. We stopped off at the town of Gori, the birth place of Stalin where he is celebrated as a Georgian with a museum dedicated to his memory………there is big gaps in their memory, not sure I concur with that?! We lunched in the park by the museum before we headed to Tbilisi and our accommodation at the Marriot right on Federation Square in the middle of this charming city. It wasn’t long before we settled in, changed and headed around the corner to explore the old part of the city, grab a beer and start to soak up the atmosphere of this place. What an incredible city, I won’t even begin to delve into the history of this place other than to say it is fascinating. The local people are so welcoming and accommodating and it is fair to say generally proud to have you as a tourist in their country.
The next morning saw some of us roll up at 9 for the city tour provided in the itinerary. Being the five minute tourist that I am I was happy to find out the tour’s duration was 3-4 hours mostly walking……..well I would have been happy for it to go much longer as I was amazed at the extent of Georgian history and how far back it extends. Managed a visit to the longest running local bakery, approx. 400+ years and a wine tasting at 1030 while the others explored another ancient church. It is an exciting mix of marvellous architecture that runs from present day through Soviet occupation, a variety of earlier conflicts to the earliest periods of the Christian religion……………..they have been making wine for 8000 years, are proud of that heritage as well as being only too happy to spend time sharing a one with you. Georgians really are a very hospitable people and English is widely spoken throughout the city. Dinner the first night was spent with others in the group nothing memorable but the sights and smells of the old city told me more research had to be done. That rectified and with the assistance of a local university lecturer, Tamuna we headed off for some authentic Georgian food. Khinkalli, (local dumplings) Tkemali sauce (sweet and sour sauce made from tart plums & Chkmeruli, fried chicken in a strong garlic based sauce all washed down with a glass of local Saperavi it was pure heaven. There were so many other things to try plus a wine tour, plus a cooking school and just not enough time to do it in as that was the end of our two nights in Tbilisi……………or was it?

Posted by ScottyJ 20:17 Archived in Georgia Comments (1)

Where's Scotty been?

.......turbulent times in Tbilisi and beyond


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……….after the advice of the border being officially closed a meeting was called by Mick (Tour Leader) to discuss options and advise that we would be staying a further two nights in Tbilisi in order to plan a new itinerary, there weren’t many complaining about that . Unfortunately we would have to move hotel as the Marriot were not able to accommodate the group for a further two nights  so a quick pack and ride saw us take off to a new hotel about 10 k’s from the city where we had a great pool, outdoor area, spa etc. to enjoy the extra days. By that evening we could tell from Mick’s stress levels that things were not going to plan…….we were soon to find out!
Another meeting was called and everything put on the table…….here are the options, the effects and the end result.
• We travel via Abkhazia, an area disputed by Georgia and occupied by Russia since the 2008 war. A visa was required but easily obtainable…….until we found out that you must enter and exit Abkhazia via the same border crossing……pointless exercise really.
• Travel via Azerbaijan however the only options here were to enter via Dagestan, one of the most dangerous areas in Russia, practically lawless, even the Russians don’t go there…….aaah no thanks! Or travel to the Caspian Sea where the ferry services are notoriously unreliable and we would miss a lot of eastern Russia, Moscow, Volgograd etc.
• Ride to Batumi or Poti in Georgia and travel via ferry to Ilyichevsk in the Ukraine, the benefits or not of an Australian passport, Aussies need visas and this would take too long. All ferry services from Georgia or Turkey to Russia have been suspended since the Sochi games…who knows why?
• Check your maps out………the only option left was to go back through Europe, my worst nightmare had become a reality…..bugger, bugger, bugger! Tbilisi & Batumi Georgia, Giresun, Samsun, Istanbul Turkey, Sofia Bulgaria, Belgrade Serbia, Budapest Hungary, Slovakia, Krakow & Warsaw Poland, Vilnius Lithuania, Latvia and then into Russia and onto Moscow….why Latvia…because Aussie’s need visas everywhere else. 5100km’s extra and a rearranged itinerary that would not see us getting back on schedule until Mongolia!!
I was devastated. I could not think of anything worse than spending 12 days riding that itinerary with no time to experience and enjoy any of those countries, freeway riding the entire way!.......but there was no other option? This hit me for a six; I was really quite devastated by this and frustrated that I was not in control of my own destiny in this situation. Add to this Roomie still didn’t have a bike but all was in place to fly his F800 into Tbilisi but the group would have been gone. I made the executive decision that I would not leave him behind and decided to apply for an Express Ukraine visa in Tbilisi. Now with this revised itinerary we would meet the group in Volgograd. But wait……the freight forwarder offloaded his bike and delayed it by another 5 days!! So the next move was to join the group and have the bike sent to Belgrade, Berlin, Luxemburg or London.
Let me digress….now all this freight arrangement was being made by his wife and when Roomie rang to advise the new changes she contacted the freight forwarder who advised that there was no more they could do and the bike was going to Tbilisi……a complete a**ehole! His wife rang and was emotionally wrecked from the experience. So I suggested we look after it. We rang the forwarder in America and once advised that what he was doing was not kosher I got Rommie to draft a new SLI(Shippers Letter of Instruction)….they backed down and became very helpful………where do you want the bike to go sir?? It was really a very stressful situation and when it was all done I bundled Roomie into a cab and took him out to dinner. He also needed some headspace so I gave him the key to my bike and said tomorrow you can ride my bike!
Back to the story…….so with a heavy heart we joined the group for the start of the journey back through Europe. Day one, Tbilisi to Batumi, the Goldie of Georgia, great spot beautifully situated on the Black Sea. Great dinner that evening and met two locals, one Georgian and one Turkish who both live in Batumi, excellent conversation and loads of fun…..gotta make the most of it I guess! Next day was a stinker, hot and humid and the day we started on roads we had already ridden. We arrived mid-afternoon in Giresun, Turkey a fairly non-descript town on the Black Sea coast. A swim was in order and with the hotel right on the coast we welcomed the cooling off after the hot day’s riding.
Once back at the hotel Mick made the announcement that he had been advised that the Russian Georgian border crossing had just reopened. Yes that was music to my ears however I was stunned to learn that most others were happy enough to keep going. It was Mick’s decision but he was welcoming anyone’s opinion so I caught up with him and advised that in my opinion we should go back to the border for a number of reasons; less fuel cost, less tyre wear, back on schedule a lot sooner if we cut Moscow. He then advised I was the only one who thought they should go back to which I replied that if that is the case I would consider leaving the group, do it by myself and meet them in Volgograd at a later date. Mick and the rest of the crew met to discuss all the options and we were to be advised that night. It was a tense time as we all waited for the answer……….against all my expectations he walked in and advised we are going back to Georgia then Russia but missing Moscow to get back on schedule. I was elated and anyway not all that fussed about Moscow!! The negative in all this was that was the final straw for Roomie he had run out of options and faced the reality of either going home of finishing the trip in the support vehicle.
Back to Georgia, Batumi & Tbilisi…..and the opportunity to keep on with sampling the Georgian menu…..Abhazura (spicy meatballs), Chikhirtma(chicken soup thickened with egg), Kharcho(beef soup with herbs & rice), Badrijani(fried slices of eggplant topped with a rich walnut paste), Lobiani(pastry filled with bean paste), Khachapuri(cheers pie in various versions, Georgia’s most popular snack food) & Churchkhela(“Georgian snickers” a string of nuts covered with dry grape juice, buy it everywhere). Yes you could say I was happy to get another crack at Georgia 
Off to Russia tomorrow!

Posted by ScottyJ 19:36 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Rushin’ to Russia

……not if the border guards have anything to do with it!!

sunny 25 °C
View Road of Bones 2014 on ScottyJ's travel map.

Checked and double checked that we all had the documents right for entry into Russia and then set off for the 195km ride through the Caucuses along the old Georgian military road. This road is one of the oldest continuously used roads in the world with a rich history as well as being one of the most scenic I have ridden. A slow 195km’s with frequent stops to enjoy the vistas and then the descent into the Dariali gorge and the border. Stunning views and I understood very quickly how even the smallest landslide would close this road. The landslide was huge and it was just a little disturbing to see the wreckage of the trucks where seven truckies lost their lives. Now this border has apparently only been opened to nationalities other than Russian or Georgian for about 18 months so a little wait was to be expected…………Arrived at the border at 4pm and finally made it into Russia at 11pm.....7 hours and welcome to Russia.
The Georgian side of the border was as usual quite efficient but then it was a downhill spiral on the Russian side. There was a line-up of vehicles being sternly controlled by an over officious rotund little man with a big hat. This is where it all started to go wrong; for some reason he ordered all of the bikes to wait on the other side of the road basically pulling us out of the line. Our interpreter enquired to what was happening and for some obscure reason he had decided we would have to wait but for a small fee we could all be put back in the line and for a little bit more we could move to the front! This was not going to happen and our interpreter made a few calls possibly to people further up the tree and we were given our spot back in the line….2 hour wait! Next to immigration, that wasn’t too bad but we had still had Customs………..3.5 hours and insurance, 1.5 hours. Now the insurance would have been quicker if it was computerised but no four pieces of paper to complete in Russian for each bike. The same cannot be said about Customs………fill out the form, they had English ones so that helped but if it wasn’t deadly accurate with no amendments, our friendly (not) Customs officer just stood there, tore it up and threw it in the bin! First impression, rude, arrogant with a general sense of apathy in everything they were doing however that was soon to change. Our interpreter had the vice president of the local Rotary club in tow and they had been waiting for us for 12 hours to clear the border. She had arranged a welcome dinner at our hotel in Vladikavkaz and the staff were still all waiting. Yes we sat down to a three course dinner at midnight. Everyone was very hospitable but by 1.30am we just had to hit the sack as tomorrow was a 580km day……..this was not the best plan but it had to be done!
After breakfast the local television station turned up at 9am to do an interview for that evening’s news. The Russian’s just shake their heads when you tell them you are going to Magadan. It conjures up images of prisons, gulags and criminals and they find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would go there!
The local Rotarians had included a number of different visits around the area but due to the extremely long border crossing and a 580k day we were unable to fit it all in. However we did agree to visit the memorial for the victims of the Beslan school massacre by Chechen terrorists on 03Sep 2004. It was very confronting but I am glad that I was able to pay my respects to the victims and their families.
It was then stands up and the long haul to Elista. Well we have left the mountains behind us…..the landscape gradually flattened out as we entered the Russian grain belt. Big country, huge open landscapes for as far as the eye can see. I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced when we arrived in Elista at 9pm. I thought I was in Asia, everyone was of Asian extraction but they all spoke Russian. It was difficult to spot a white Russian! We befriended a local university student on our search for dinner who was amused at our wonder of the ethnic diversity of the area. Russia is indeed diverse and I am sure we’ll experience more of this diversity as we travel east. I for one will be looking forward to that :-)

Posted by ScottyJ 07:13 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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