Category Archives: Georgia

On the Road Again

Apr 5 2017 – It’s time for Jim and me to get back to Spain and walk another Camino.  We left home on Wednesday with a flight plan to go through Chicago and London to Madrid.  Unfortunately, our flight from Chicago was canceled after two hours on the tarmac, due to mechanical problems.  We overnighted in a nice hotel courtesy of American Airlines, and rebooked to go to Boston, then Madrid.  When we packed for Spain, we did not foresee being out in the cold and rainy weather of Chicago and Boston.  We were so happy to get to Madrid and warm our bones!  Then we hustled through Customs to our separately booked flight to Sevilla, where we will spend four days seeing the sights and recovering from jet lag before starting our Camino.

We walked our first Camino across northern Spain in 2011, then the Camiñho Portugues in 2014, and part of the Jakobusweg in Germany last summer.  This time, we’re going to try the Via de la Plata, which runs 621 miles (1000 km) from Sevilla to Campostela de Santiago.  Come walk with us!

The guide we are using gives mileage, elevation, and suggests places to stay and eat.

Tbilisi, Georgia to Baku, Azerbaijan

2/9 – What do you do when you have an hour to wait in the station before your train arrives? You get a haircut, of course! I’ve been needing a trim for quite some time, but never had luck finding a women’s hair cutter in Turkey (there are barbers for men on every corner). With zero vocabulary in Georgian, I managed to communicate what I wanted, and my sassy stylist took it from there. Nice Person of Georgia!


Our sleeper train was sort of down-in-the-heels, yet was the most expensive ticket we’ve purchased.


I sure hope an accident does not appear!


We left at 5:30pm, rode for about an hour, then stopped for two hours to clear all the passengers through Customs – once on the Georgian side, then again over the border with Azerbaijan. That left us the rest of the night to make up our bunks and lie around in our little cabin. There was no dining car, and no snacks or anything for purchase. The cabin had no thermostat, and, true to our recent experience, the heat was set on 85F, so we had to keep opening the door to cool off. We drank most of our water, and wished we had more, but fell asleep eventually.

The train arrived in Baku right on time at 9:20 the next morning. Here is our sunrise through the train’s dirty window.


Coming in, the land was flat, featureless and brown.




However, once we arrived in the city, it was a different story. Lots of wealth here, courtesy of the oil industry.





There were designer boutiques everywhere – Dior, Gucci, Armani, and plenty of others.. Cars were bigger, newer and fancier than those we’ve seen in a while. Here is the shopping mall.


And here, believe it or not, is the KFC!


We booked at the Guest House Inn Hotel, and walked up and down the street, but couldn’t find it. A nice young man stopped to help us, called the hotel, got directions (it was on a court behind the street) and walked us there. Nice Person of Azerbaijan!

We walked to the Old City, where we found the Maiden Tower, one of the few remaining medieval buildings in the city.


There are several myths regarding the origins of the tower – it may have been built by sun worshipers (the sun shines directly through the portals on the Equinoxes), as a celestial observatory, a defensive fort, or a gift for a beautiful princess (hence the name). Here are the views from the top.






We planned to spend five days here, trying to book passage on a commercial ferry to Kazakhstan. To our great surprise, we got a call on our very first afternoon, and we’re on the ship by midnight. We didn’t even get to sleep in our lovely room at the Guest House Inn Hotel!

See the next post for details.

A Day in Tbilisi

2/8 – How you know you are in a post-Soviet country:
1. Buy an apple
2. Wash off the apple in the hotel sink
3. Drop the slippery apple into the sink
4. Observe the result

They just don’t make sinks like they used to!

Today we walked down Rustaveli Avenue, the main avenue in our part of town, to see what we could see. image

The streets are wide, and the drivers aggressive, like New Yorkers, leaning on their horns. Pedestrians aren’t permitted to cross the street, but use pedestrian underpasses filled with small shops and panhandlers. There are more old women begging than we’ve seen in a while. The souvenir market is set up daily on the wide steps of one of the ornate but deserted buildings, and includes artisans working on new paintings as they sell their wares.

We hear western music, in English, and see that there is an affinity for American things here.

The buses have seen better days.image

There are staid, old buildings, amid flashy new hotels and casinos. Casinos seem to be a big thing here. We looked into one, but they took my camera, (as well as inspecting my eyeglasses for hidden gadgets!), so no pix.

Some statues and wall art:

The golden statue is St. George and the Dragon. He is very popular with the Greek Orthodox.

We stop at a Greek Orthodox Church.

We walked by the museums of modern art, archeology and Georgian history, but don’t go in. I’m not sure I’m up for this exhibit.image

We have lunch at a cafe advertising authentic Georgian food. We figure we better have some, as we will only be here one more day! Beef stew, a warm corn pie (a big hush puppy), cold spinach balls, and cold eggplant, decorated with pomegranate seeds. Very tasty. image

Tomorrow we will return to the train station for an overnight sleeper to Baku, Azerbaijan. From there we will determine if it is possible to book passage on a commercial ferry to Kazakhstan. We’ve read many blogs about the complexities of this leg of the journey, and will remain flexible if it turns out that it can’t be arranged in the 10 days permitted on our Azerbaijan visa. The main focus is to get to China before the end of February. Stay tuned!

Batumi to Tbilisi, Georgia

Well, the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
The Moscow girls make me sing and shout
And Georgia’s always on my my my my my my my my my mind

2/7 – another train ride day. We left our lovely room at My Warm Guest House in Batumi, and took a taxi back to the train station. At 7:30 it was still pitch dark, and the waterfront was lit up prettily. Lots of casinos.

The 8:05 train to Tbilisi was modern and spacious. We sat in first class, as the tickets were only $2.00 more than coach. I was struck to see that the conductor checking tickets was a female – the whole time we were in Türkiye, it was very unusual to see women in any role other than mother or grandmother, shopping or minding children.image

Here’s our sunrise from the train window.image


At one station, we could look right in a barbershop window. I like how the barbers wear white coats like doctors.image

The scenery rolled by.image





The only remarkable feature of the ride was the number of liquor bottles in open use so early in the morning. Here’s a sign that captures the sentiment.image

We arrived in Tbilisi by 2pm. This is a big, spread-out city, and our hotel is several miles from the train station. We asked at the Information desk,and was told that the taxi ride shouldn’t cost more than 5 lari ($2.50). We got into a cab, and the driver said it would be 20 lari. We got back out, and he agreed to 10, but wouldn’t agree to 5. The next cab had no problem with 5. We were at our hotel in 15 minutes. Here is an interesting statue on the corner of our street.image

Tomorrow, we will explore.

Erzurum to Hopa, Türkiye to Batumi, Georgia

2/6 – Got up early this morning to catch a bus – it is 3 degrees F! That’s mighty cold for a southern belle like me… We bought tickets on the 7:30am bus to Hopa, Türkiye, the last town before the Georgian border.

Based on our experience with Turkish buses, we did not wear our long johns despite the cold, as buses usually have the heat cranked up to 80. Just our luck, this bus had no heater! We sat and shivered for the first hour, until the sun started to warm things up. Of greater concern was the driver, who, without a defroster, kept splashing lemon cologne on the windshield and rubbing a little circle to see out of!

Once the windows cleared, we were treated to some great mountain scenery, reminiscent of Nevada or Arizona.





We also got to see some of the strange sandstone formations for which Cappadocia is famous.




We rode for a while along the river.



We arrived in Hopa by 12:30, and took a cab to the border, where Türkiye bade us farewell.


And Georgia welcomed us in!



As we waited to get through passport control, I noticed that these folks don’t adhere to the western concept of orderly queuing – there was a knot of people in front of each border inspector, and they jostled for position, trying to cut in front of others without making eye contact. You know this New Yorker wasn’t having any of that! Today was good practice as we move into Asia.

I was struck with the things people were carrying over the border – big bottles of laundry detergent and all sorts of household goods in plastic bags. Is Türkiye that much more prosperous than Georgia?

A half hour minibus ride got us to Batumi, where the weather is 65 and sunny. Hallelujah! We can put away the long johns for a while! A former Soviet city, Batumi looks like it is gearing up to be a Black Sea beach destination. Lots of new construction on the waterfront.






When we checked our iPads, we discovered we’d lost two hours of time instead of the one we expected when we crossed the border. We are now 9 hours ahead of home. Solution? Go out for supper, instead of lunch!

We had supper in a Ukranian restaurant right across from My Warm Guest House (yes, that’s the name of our hotel!), where the menu was printed in Russian, Georgian and English. Thank goodness, as I don’t expect to get the hang of reading Georgian anytime soon. It all looks like Ms and 3s to me!image