There are worse places than Tbilisi to get stuck, but after 4 days we are glad to be back on the road. Since we lost a few days in a workshop, we had to revise our plans a bit and we decide to skip the Svaneti region in the north. We just don’t have the time and from what we’ve heard, there is still a lot of snow and not all roads are open yet. Oh well, at least we have a reason to come back to Georgia (if ever we needed one…)
So from Tbilisi we decide to head north along the Military Highway to the Russian border to visit Gergeti Trinity Church, especially famous for its stunning location high in the mountains.
Along the way, we have to cross Jvari pass. Going up, we pass the Russia-Georgia Friendship monument, a nicely built concrete lookout with some interesting mosaics overlooking the valley.
We arrive in Stepantsminda around lunchtime and immediately a few guys approach us to ask us if we would be interested in the ride up. Of course we are, but not in their Mitsubishi Delica vans! When we indicate that we have our own preferred means of tranport, we are told that it will not be possible to get up there because the road is in really bad condition! It’s muddy, slippery, bumpy… Just the way we like it actually.
We grab some lunch at the local cafe/restaurant/hotel overlooking the main square and we enjoy watching the Delica’s coming and going for a while. Then it’s up to us! The road up is indeed technical with big bumps, some wet stretches and an average incline of 10% but nothing we can’t handle. It would have been easier if we wouldn’t have been fully loaded but we like a nice challenge from time to time.
When we get at the top, the view is just stunning!
We also get a nice view on Mount Kazbek, one of the highest peaks in Europe. Since we will not be able to go to Mestia to get a look out on Mount Elbrus, this will do just fine.
Going back down feels easier because you get a better view on all the bumps. I even get through the 7 hairpins without any worries. It’s the perfect test to say the least to see if Jo’s rear shock surgery was a success.
When we get down to Stepantsminda, we take another break and see some bad weather slowly coming in. Time to hit the road again. Gergeti is on the road towards the Russian border, so we go back the way we came towards Tbilisi.
Going over Jvari pass, the views are a lot less impressive.
Around 5.30PM we decide to start looking for a hotel. It’s cold and wet and we are again in no mood to put up the tent. 5 minutes after we agree to ride on to the start of the Military Highway near Mtskheta, I spot a few motorbikes parked outside a small hotel. So we turn back to check it out. The 2 motorbikes, a Transalp and Suzuki Freewind, belong to Bartek and his friend, 2 Polish bikers on their way to Kyrgyzstan. The hotel is cheap and looks nearly not as bad as it did from the road. We even can have dinner in the cafe/restaurant next door. Done deal!
After a good night’s sleep, we say goodbye to the Polish guys. They have quite an ambitious plan going to Kyrgyzstan in 6 weeks time.
By the time we get ready to leave, the morning grey skies start to clear out and finally the sun comes through. We fuel up just before Mtskheta and then turn right towards Gori. Jo has marked out a route that takes us away from the highway and we ride through some glorious countryside. Just before noon we arrive at Uplistsikhe. Even from afar it looks impressive. The entrance fee is quite reasonable so off we go!
The site is pretty big and we walk around for more than an hour, exploring all the different caves and enjoying the views. It’s really windy up there, which makes the walk a bit adventurous.
In the small church we light a candle for good luck. Hopefully it will preserve us from further mechanical hickups.
When we get back to the entrance, we meet Saeedreza from Iran. After taking the obligatory pictures, we start talking and when he hears that we are going to Iran, he immediately gives us his contact details. Hopefully we meet him again in Iran!
In the parking lot we run into Sergei and Iulia from Russia.
We continue to Gori, Stalin’s birthplace. Because I miss a turn, we have to do a circle around a nice looking park and we unexpectedly get a brief view on the museum and the house he was born in. Nice!
After Gori we take the highway to Borjomi. Clouds start packing again and we decide to take the better road to Vardzia instead of the shortcut over the pass, which is looking very wet and grey.
Around 6PM we reach the valley in the rain and we stop at the first (and only) hotel. Turns out this is very, very posh and well over our budget. But I manage to get the price down by 40% and we decide to cash out and enjoy. This might very well be the most luxurious stay of the entire trip.
Our room is huge and looks out over the cave city of Vardzia. It’s an impressive sight indeed.