I’m writing this from Baku, where extreme heat and wind have combined to make me rather nervous about the prospect of having to get a boat in the next few days… To distract myself from this impending doom, I’ve decided that Georgia probably deserves more than merely a single blog post which focused almost exclusively on my incompetent near death experience. So here are my happier thoughts on Georgia.
I’ve already written that my main reason for coming to Georgia, was simply that it seemed the only route left to me. Necessity, this time in terms of picking up an Azeri and Kazakh Visas, also dictated that I stayed much longer than I otherwise would have done. And for this I am both glad and annoyed in equal measure. If you are merely transiting the country, then I’m really not convinced there is much to keep you in Georgia for more than a few days. Batumi may have a beach, but its nothing to write home about, and Tbilisi, whilst having an interesting mix of old and new architecture, (which I happen to think meshes quite well, even if UNESCO disagreed and withdrew its status for Tbilisi’s old city as a result) never really grabbed me despite me staying there more than 7 nights.
However if you are coming just to Georgia, then you are in luck. Leave the cities, and head north. Because Georgia’s northern regions are fantastic places to trek and explore. The opportunities to see these two places is why I’m glad I spent so long in Georgia. I visited Mestia in the north-west and Kazbegi in the north-east. Both can be done as short trips, but you will find yourself, as I was, limited to the fact that you can only go so far in anyone day when you need to get back to your starting point by nightfall. As a result I could not get to the more off the beaten track places like Juta near Kazbegi and Ushguli near Mestia. The hikes within a day though are fun enough if the weather holds. In Mestia we hiked up a steep road to what we thought would be a village but turned out to be the bottom of the ski lift. Which was unexpected. After taking it up we continued to hike out past beautiful views and mountain flowers to a high point by a weather station for some spectacular views. (At least I think it was a weather station, could have been radar for all we knew, the important thing was it wasn’t fenced off so didn’t stop us getting to the highest point.)
At Kazbegi we tried several hikes. One along to Sno Valley, which was basically flat, but did involve us getting caught in a very large quantity of rain. (Top tip, when drying out jeans on a room heater, whatch out for that burning smell. Its probably your jeans… Heres’s hoping fire damaged clothes come into fashion!) Its also possible to get up to the bottom of a glacier on the way to Mt Kazbek, but I had to turn back before getting there after my knee decided it was time to play up. With some camping gear and an overnight stop, I believe you can look to then get to the peak the following morning.
Hopefully the photos I took give some justice to the place, it really was great to hike around. The towns of Mestia and Kazbegi (actually called Stepantsminda) are nothing to write home about although I would argue that the claim from one traveller that Mestia is “Disneyfied” is somewhat off the mark given the random livestock wandering around everywhere, with cows blocking off alleys staring at us menacingly, which, after a while, make you start to dread the sound of nearing cowbells…But accommodation in both is cheap enough. Kazbegi is by far the easiest of the two to get to, 2 hours from Tbilisi for 10 Lari. Getting to Mestia is pretty much an all day journey and the price will depend somewhat on if you can find the direct minibus and not get ripped off. Mestia to Tbilisi for us was 30 Lari, which is about £10. You can also get there from Batumi or go as far as Zugdidi and take the day or night train to Tbilisi.
So I might only have ended up in Georgia’s beautiful north thanks to several twists of fate, but next time I’m there it will be deliberate and I will be ready to make the most of it!