Kezbegi Mountains

Kezbegi Mountains

The Georgian border was a formality in comparison to the Russian exit. I waited in a queue for 15 minutes, handed over my visa, told them where I was going and that was it. Welcome to Georgia they said and I was in. I had a simple check by customs which was basic to say the least. I changed some cash and was getting ready to go when the customs official asked if I would take 2 border guards to Kazbegi with me. I said sure, they jumped in and we hit the road. The drive to Kazbegi was only 10kms but it took over 2 hours as everybody was stuck for 1.5hrs at road works just outside of Kazbegi. I took the opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery and do some checks on Boris. Oil was still leaking around gearbox and transmission area. Finally we were on our way around 1pm. The drive through the valley was beautiful. Then it was up and over the Kezbeg mountain range. The road disappeared and it became an off road race. Boris was fine but there we’re many other basic street cars bouncing along a rock, mud, dirt, water and ice track. Many came flying past us. I hate to think what there cars thought of it all.

Snow covered Mount Kezbeg

Snow covered Mount Kezbeg

Mount Kezbeg provided wonderful views for miles. It was a spectacular drive. Beautiful scenery and a wonderful introduction to Georgia. However if I though the way up was good the journey down the valley was even better. Spring had arrived in its full glory as I wound my way down the valley following the river. Without a doubt it was the most beautiful scenery of the trip so far. I stopped for a break at Ananuri, an enchanting fortress complex that sits above a huge reservoir.

Freedom Square, Tbilisi

Freedom Square, Tbilisi

I cruised into Tbilisi along the river, into the Old Town and straight to the Nest Hostel that has been recommended to me by Gareth and Lisa. It was pretty easy to find using google maps on my phone (tech tip: save your intended location in google favourites. This caches on your phone ( iPhone 4s for me) and you can use the mobile network to track your position on the map). My first impressions were of a modern city with a European feel. It has a combination old town beauty and new modern sharpness. I’m was looking forward to having a look around. I spent the evening in the hostel chatting to the other travellers from around he world. It’s always fun to share travel stories and learn a bit more about the world. There is an Aussie here called Ben who has recently been through Northern Iraq. It was great to hear that is possible as I’d love to pop into the Kurdistan part on the way home if possible. After a long period of being on the move the next day was a day of rest and admin. Very quiet with a short walk around the old town.

Fantastic views from Niki lala Fortress over the city

Fantastic views from Narikala Fortress over the city

The following morning though was a day for sightseeing and I was out around 10am. I went down to the river through the Old Town. Strolled along the river before catching the cable car up to Narikala Fortress. This provide great views over the city. As it was getting pretty hot in midday sun I head back to the old town for lunch from one of the many bakeries and back to hostel to avoid the heat of the midday sun.

Great vies from Mtatsminda Pantheon

Great views from Mtatsminda Pantheon

Around 6pm in the cool evening shade I headed off to funicular to check out Mtatsminda Pantheon. I took my camera to do some filming of Tbilisi in the evening. I just happened to be there on the launch night Kolga Tbilisi Photo competition. As it so happens it was the one night if the year they had a ban on filming because of the competition. An official guy came up to me asking to stop. He didn’t speak any English so he signalled another guy who turned out to be the Food and Beverage manager for the park. We chatted with David for a while he told me what was happening. David then introduced me to Beso who was running the competition. We chatted, he told me about the growth of the competition and also how Tbilisi had changed over time. I told him about my travel plans and that I was filming the journey. Beso gave me a copy of his 2012 calendar. He wanted me to come to his office the next day to get the 2013 calendar which was better. They invited me to stay for the opening at 9pm so I said yes. The competition (Kolga.ge) showcases amateur photography from around the world. The pictures were fascinating and very evocative. For the first time in the competition’s history they were showing the pictures digitally on screens. 4 sets of 9 screens.

Kolga Tbilisi Photo Competition opening night

Kolga Tbilisi Photo Competition opening night

All of this was happening in a nightclub, underneath a Ferris wheel, in an amusement park, on top of the highest point in Tbilisi. Everybody was busy preparing around me while I just watched. There was mood music and the lights were turned down. It was a very serene venue as the sun went down and the lights came on across Tbilisi. Outside the numbers of visitors grew as the opening time approached. Other photographers were wandering around with their big cameras shooting to build up. I wonder if they will ask who was that person? One of the perks of carrying film equipment around I guess. Atmosphere on opening was buzzing. The pictures were riveting. Then the band started at 10pm. It was fantastic experience to come across by accident. At 10.30 I headed off and found a taxi to take me home. A super day out. Tbilisi to Baku I was up early the next morning to preparing for the drive to Baku. Most of the hostel were still asleep. Around 9am I said my farewells and headed for the border. It was only a one hour drive, if that. Exiting Georgia was even easier than arriving. 5 minutes and I was through to join the queue for Azerbaijan. Georgia Summary Beautiful city in places. Hidden from view though is a lot of old decrepit buildings in need of demolition or restoration. The city has a European continental feel with both old and new prevalent. However it is still struggling to keep pace. Change is slow and removing the shackles of Soviet influence is taking time. They are well on the way and making progress. I could have easily stayed here for a week getting to know the place and the people. p.s Apologies for the delaying blogging. I’ve been facing some challenging local restrictions on social media. However I think I’ve found the solution.

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