Cut From Stone

Georgia | Zugdidi to Kutaisi | day 375

Inhabited since the Paleolithic era, taken over by empire after empire and in a constant battle for independence, Georgians have fought hard to keep their traditions, religion, and culture alive. Russia to the north, Turkey to the south, Black Sea on the west, Azerbijan and Armenia to the east, have all made for interesting neighbors and history. This is our third post soviet country to visit, compared to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Georgia has come a long way. Considering our previous 12 months in Asia, Georgia felt “western.” Only after actually visiting Europe would we understand how unique Georgia really is.


Tbilisi It is one of my favorite cities in the world next to Hanoi. It blends the old world with the new, sporadic modern buildings rise above the old city and ancient sulphur baths are still in use. Adding to the mysterious charm, huge parts of the city are crumbling. Buildings on their last legs are still being occupied and those buildings in total disarray reveal wallpaper and furniture from its’ previous tenants. We went to check out local textile artists at Gallery 27 in an enchanting old building with a beautiful stained glass entryway. We were able to chat with the owner as we followed her around the fabric studio, pointing out stunning silk pieces of shibori to batik. She told us about her visit to America for a women’s business owner and advancement conference. Her gallery sells many local artisans work and made for a very impactful and inspirational afternoon. Tbilisi is magical to explore, wondering away from main streets the city divulges secret passageways as you wind deeper inside. 

"Adding to the mysterious charm, huge parts of the city are crumbling."



Large stone churches with bell towers were a new structure on our horizon. Jesus Christ is back and it was interesting, as a non-religious type, to find myself identifying him as a “familiar face.” After suffering various religious persecution. Georgians practice and hold dear the Georgian Orthodox Church as one of their most trusted and influential institutions. Women in mourning dressed in all black, head coverings and modest dress in churches for women and no hats for men, long black robed priests with hefty crucifixes swinging from their necks were somewhat arresting at first. Grand stone churches with impressively high ceilings made you feel it necessary to speak in a hushed whisper, mainly out of intimidation. Heavy large wooden doors give way to flat cartoon-like medieval paintings framed in giant gold and gemstone inlay, gigantic frescoed covered walls and relics of priests past. Every church felt so lavish compared to our time in Ladakh with the simple Tibetan Buddhist monasteries made of mud with plastic framed pictures of the Dali Lama, crumbling smoked out frescos from indoor fires for centuries, worn plastic flowers and rows of threadbare pillows for the monks to sit on. 

"Large stone churches with bell towers were a new structure on our horizon."



After a few days wondering around Tbilisi and getting our fill of Georgian wine and cheese, we took a train across the country  through the beautiful Svaneti region to Zugdidi, to the start of our ride. We began climbing our way up to Mestia, an old medieval town built in the heart of the southern Caucusus. Svanetian towers are iconic to this region and were built by families as a way to fortify themselves from outsiders and attacks. Being high in the mountains they were on their own; they could easily seal themselves with their goods inside the towers with the height advantage of attacking from above. Climbing higher still to Ushguli and beyond was absolutely gorgeous. Something about traveling through deep green gorges really gets my juices going. Leaving Ushguli we stopped for lunch at the top of the pass, enjoying the last views of snowcapped mountains.

"We began climbing our way up to Mestia, an old medieval town built in the heart of the southern Caucusus."

Around the time we hit Kutaisi, things were really starting to heat up, literally it was getting to 100 degrees by the afternoon. The surmounting heat was making the upcoming month through the rest of Georgia and Turkey even less appealing. South America was not suppose to be part of this trip, but we just couldn’t shake the idea of going there. We had toyed with trying to fit it in after our visa rejection from China, but flight prices and budget didn’t coincide. It was an itch we needed to scratch. 



We were in for an all-nighter racking our brains, running numbers and making up a zillion potential itineraries. “I think this can still work… if we time it right.” We’d be on the cusp of the rainy season in Peru, but if we timed it all and moved swiftly we’d at least be able to squeeze in a month in each: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Patagonia. We gave it 24 hours to incubate, and over a dinner of cheesy khachapuri. It was clear we were much more excited about spending our remaining time in South America rather than trudging through Turkey and Europe for the next six months. Meaning we needed to end our ride in Georgia early, like the next day. We purchase tickets to Amsterdam, reconfigured our shortened route through Europe, and were on the next train back to Tbilisi the next morning. Sorry Turkey, maybe next time. 


 

  

Georgia has some of the earliest evidence of wine and has been practicing the art for over 8,000 years. The wine is put into play vessels and buried, left to ferment. All over town are wine shops and wine was served along side just about every meal during our couple weeks in Georgia. 

  

  


The beauty of long term travel is the realization of having the entire world at your feet. In the beginning we were meticulous about our planning and rigid with our schedule. And it worked, we hit our spots and times and were on schedule. In general, everything more or less went as planned. But as time and circumstances have bent, we learned to become flexible, enjoy the ride, and see the virtue in the unpredictable. One perfectly timed train ride and you’re hundreds of miles, cultures, and languages away from where you ate breakfast that morning. And with this realization came endless opportunity and options. We were almost paralyzed in our freedom, an ironic problem that many could only dream of, this was not lost on us.

"One perfectly timed train ride and you’re hundreds of miles, cultures, and languages away from where you ate breakfast that morning."


Even though we have an abundance of time in comparison to most people with only a week of vacation, we still want to spend our time wisely. Everyone travels and bike tours differently, many love the idea of getting from point A to point B, the purity of crossing a country by bike. We take a different approach.…I mean just look at our map, it’s like a Jackson Pollock painting. We “cherry pick” our routes, hitting all the highlights of beautiful mountain tops and coastlines and not fussing with the in-between spans of highway or desolate stretches of blah. But that’s what works for us, and it requires a ton of research, something Eric loves to do. We want to see the most we can, since we may not make it back to many of these places.



"We “cherry pick” our routes, hitting all the highlights of beautiful mountain tops and coastlines and not fussing with the in-between spans of highway or desolate stretches of blah."

Back in lovely Tbilisi just long enough to pack our bicycles once more before making our way to Europe. It felt like the end of chapter. We had spent an entire year cycling in Asia, in mostly buddhist areas, getting to know the Eastern side of things. Now we would be heading into the real West. Back to something a little more familiar, the places we had learned about in history and where some of our ancestors are from. We reflected on our incredible year over a bottle of Saperavi Georgian wine. Amsterdam here we come! 


 

  

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