Lagodekhi to a vineyard (posh field)
A new day and a new country; a lovely morning glow cast long shadows and we said goodbye to a friendly German Shepherd dog who was supposed to be guarding the Wine Cellar guesthouse where we had stayed. He seemed more desperate to lick our faces than scare away intruders. Our cycle turned us away from the big Caucasus mountains, across a flat plain and headed up into the Georgian hills.
Rather than the main road, we diverted up to the mountain village of Sighnaghi, an ancient settlement perched atop the hill. The climb was steady – pleasant gradient, nothing too steep. It offered us views across the valley we had just crossed and over to the white peaks of the Caucasus.
There was a beautiful, cobbled street with quaint cafes, where the Knitting Ladies lined the street selling their handmade socks, hats, and scarfs. After a particularly steep section, where I had to get off and push my bike up, we had an awesome view back down over the mountain village, complete with a picturesque town wall and church tower.
After filtering some water at a local water pump, we picked our camp spot. Our field of choice was a little classier than previous fields…now we are in wine country, it was only right to camp in a vineyard!
Vineyard to Tbilisi
Sadly, the sun had disappeared and today was a bit grey and grim. It made going through the industrial outskirts of Tbilisi look even more dreary. This was not to be a reflection of our time in the capital, however, which we found to be an utter delight. There was such an eclectic mix of architecture set along the Kura River from narrow cobblestone streets with old churches and bathhouses, to shiny, boastful modern design not so subtly nestled in among it all. It was also time for a wee break and some wine. And it was good wine: Georgia has over 8000 years of vinification, so they should know what they are doing.
Tbilisi to Gori
The ride out of the capital was easy to navigate (well, I say that, I just followed Will, but he didn’t look at the map very often) and we followed the country roads along the river to Gori. It would have been a simply lovely ride on a quiet road had it not been for the headwind blustering away and demanding all of our attention.
Gori is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, who is seen by the people of Gori as a bit of a folk hero. I read that, while statues were being torn down, a museum was being constructed in his honour in his hometown. Within a big flashy marble temple lies an old cottage, and inside lies a shrine to the dictator and a Stalin museum with no mention of the crimes committed during his rule.
Gori to Zestaponi camp spot
No wind was a lovely surprise this morning, so we hopped on to the highway, and pedalled as fast as we could. As the road became narrower, the true nature of some of the careless driving here came to light, proven also by the sheer number of cars missing bumpers, with big dents, windows smashed or just lying abandoned at the side of the road.
We met a cycle tourist from Azerbaijan cycling in the opposite direction, heading home. He was very friendly and suggested a wonderful guesthouse who would welcome us with open arms and lots of scrumptious Georgian food and wine. Heaven! We pedalled on but realised it was getting later and the light was dimming. We decided to camp, but there were few options closer to a town and had to settle for the romantic hum of an electrical power station, complete with a big electricity pylon, it’s steel lattice tower like our very own Eiffel Tower (!)
Pitching here was eerie to say the least and as the darkness fell, the feeling did not dissipate. With every noise amplified by a million-fold, we were scared awake during the night by the sound of twigs snapping, someone being sick?, and then our tent being shaken. In a petrified reaction, we both shouted out, but there was no answer. Scared stiff, we listened out for something, anything for us to decipher what it was…but there was total silence. No footsteps or rustling to suggest something had run away…did this mean they were they still out there?
Power station to corn field
In the safety of daylight, Will was first to venture out of the tent to declare no danger. We still haven’t a clue what startled us but, for the sake of closure, we decided it must have been an animal: a menacing grape-munching beast with sharp claws and red-stained teeth, who, upon drinking too much Georgian wine, puked and waltzed right into our guy rope and scurried off up the pylon.
Anyway, our cycling took us on a road that meandered up and over hills covered in autumnal trees fluttering red and gold and in the breeze.
We later found a sweet little church hidden in a garden, enclosed by a tall brick wall where we had a little picnic. We considered camping here in the grounds: maybe his holiness would watch over us and protect us tonight? But when the priest and some devotees turned up for prayer we felt slightly awkward and cycled on until we found a more favourable non-sacred spot. Just as we were about to pitch the tent, the grey cloud that had been stalking us all day burst open and we were drenched in seconds.
Corn field to Batumi
The eerie silence the night before contrasted heavily to the drumming rain and the sound of the night trains chugging away down the track across the field. In the morning, neither of us had slept again and we both felt shattered. It was still raining, and continued to rain all day, but on the contrary, we were both in good spirits and it all felt rather enjoyable. We cycled into Batumi – the city of casinos by the sea – and found the Lemon Tree Guesthouse where we could be safe from the weather and the scary tent-shaking wine-beast.
Posted by Lindsay