We are in Georgia now. This country is a pleasant surprise – I did not have any clear expectations. I am not a “Wie is de Mol” watcher (for you non-Dutchies, this is a popular Dutch television show, the last season has been recorded in Georgia) but I caught a few glimpses and saw some beautiful landscapes on TV. But before I tell you more about Georgia, what about Turkey you say? Well, to be honest, there is not much to tell. This visit to Turkey won’t make a lasting impression like my one from 10 years ago. We went to Safranbolu, which was nice, and then to Amasra, which was also nice. Small fishing town, great weather, nice views. We picked a hotel, did some luggage rearranging, strolled around the town and harbour, had some dinner and read a bit. Slowly we are winding down. But the towns are quiet, because of Ramadan (or Ramazan as the Turks call it). Only after 8.15 there is a bit of life on the streets.
After Amasra we went on the D010 which we had been looking forward to, a great stretch of road along the Black Sea coast to Sinop. Curves, twists, hills, great views, no traffic, a perfect road. Until about 50k before Sinop, where we hit asphalt that was so fresh, it sprayed everywhere. We then spent 2 hours cleaning the tar of our bikes, it got in places that I did not even know existed. But it set the tone for the rest of the Black Sea coast. The D010 turned into a dull highway that stretches almost 700 km from Sinop all the way to the border. We wanted to see Sumela Monastery, close to Trabzon but that turned out to be closed. One year of renovation turned into three and the opening date keeps being pushed. So this is as close as we got:
But at least the road up to the monastery was very pretty. One fortunate decision we took was that we skipped the loop we planned to do from Bayburt to Of (the D915). It turned out there had been a landslide and the road was blocked. And I am not sure my off-road skills would be sufficient yet for this kind of road, or track. So what followed was another day of boring D010 until the Georgian border, which we reached at about 17:00.
There we met Rasti again, who we had seen on the highway in Bulgaria. Rasti (short for Rastislav) is a Slovak who is on a trip through Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. We went through the border together (another painless exercise), and I was struck by a completely different atmosphere than in Turkey. People look different, much more “European”, incredibly lively compared to the Ramadan-quietness of Turkey. As our insurance green cards are no longer valid, we need to buy liability (WA) insurance in the country itself. The nice lady at the border gave us a folder and pointed us to an office where we could buy insurance. But at that office they pointed us to another office (oh, it’s just 3 km, opposite the gas station). And there to another one (oh, it’s just 400m on the left). We spent the next hour looking for insurance, while darkness set in. Fortunately Rasti speaks a few words of Russian, which helps a lot. My vocabulary is limited to hi, hello and thank you. And while we were looking for insurance, we got a text message that the place we booked to sleep had no water, which meant we had nowhere to stay. So after we finally bought our insurance we followed Rasti to his hotel in Batumi, where we were able to stay the night. We ended up having some beers with Rasti and had a good time.
Batumi is the second-largest city in Georgia, a seaside resort, and has a nice atmosphere. It it called Las Vegas at the Black Sea – when Mikheil Saakashvili (the one with the Dutch wife) was president he attracted a lot of foreign investors, so there are huge glass and mirror towers of the Hilton, Sheraton, Wyndham, and lots of casino’s.
We spent a day not driving, relaxing, giving my leg some rest and walked through the park, along the beach, looked at the harbour, had a drink, read a book and wondered about the strange alphabet the Georgians have. It reminds me of Greek but I cannot make heads or tails from it. Cyrillic is easy compared to this.
The next morning we left for Vardzia. This is a huge cave monastery complex in the middle of Georgia, with caves created in the early 12th century by Christians and later. We had planned a nice route to there, just 240kms, over the Goderdzi pass, with a peak of 2000m. Well, I am happy to say that our off-road training paid off. After a few km’s the asphalt gave way to more potholes, and at some point it was just gravel and stones. But we actually had no problems, we encountered a bit of mud, sand and a few river crossings. We got though it without issues, and it’s actually fun. Just stand up and let the bike dance over the terrain, nothing to it. The landscape is stunning, it is so pretty here.
On that way met a nice couple from Luxembourg in their Landrover Defender, also on their way to Mongolia though the Pamirs. I’m sure we will bump into each other many times.
When we arrived in Vardzia, we looked at the available hotel selection and decided to test out our camping gear. So we spent the night at a camping at the river.
You see the Vardzia cave city in the background in the rocks.