Sunday, November 11, 2018

Snapshots of Georgia

From Gori, we drove up the Georgian Military Road to Stepantsminda near the Russian border, a suitably romantic-sounding name for a road which, to quote Wikipedia, ‘follows the traditional route used by invaders and traders through the ages’. Its full length is 212 kilometres, running from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz, just across the border. Its highest point, the Jvari pass, is at an altitude of 2379 meters (7815 feet). It skirts the disputed/occupied territory of South Ossetia for much of the time, although there was no sign of conflict from the road. (We did drive past a large camp for internally displaced persons on the main Tbilisi-Batumi highway, however). 

Many trucks ply the route through Georgia from Russia to Armenia, so there was often overtaking to do, but other than that it wasn’t a particularly tricky route to drive (as a passenger, haha) and offers some beautiful scenery as it winds through the Caucasus mountains. Most of the photos below are from our return journey, starting in the north, since I was sitting on the better side of the car for photos on the way back.

An otherworldly landscape on the side of the road near Stepantsminda with... cow?

I actually like the whatever that wooden thing is in the foreground, sort of gives a scale to the majesty of the mountains and river valley

The Russia-Georgian friendship monument (ironic), near the highest part of the road

We happened upon a large flock of what I think are turkeys (?) on a very rough back road on the way to the Kakheti wine region

A lonely outpost in the mountains

I like how this little gangster looks like he’s wearing a donkey disguise

Ananuri Fortress. I wished we would have stopped here, but we thought we wouldn’t have time to fit it in along with our visit to Alaverdi Monastery later in the afternoon. It turns out Alaverdi took hardly any time to see, so we could have done both, or just Ananuri, which has a beautiful location on the Aragvi River. Next time, I suppose.

The Zhinvali Reservoir, a beautiful man-made lake. I was surprised there wasn’t any sign of developments for camping around here. I suppose the beach on the left of the photo is pretty inaccessible.

When the Georgian roads weren’t busy being beautiful or gravelly pits, they had another key feature, which is the abundance of roadside stalls selling all manner of goods. The interesting part was that different villages or regions along the side of the road seemed to specialise each in their own product. You’d have a couple of km of watermelons, then further down a stretch of pottery, followed by bread. A lot of these goods (like pottery, bread or hammocks) don’t seem to be obviously region-dependent, so I’m not quite sure what kind of economic explanation lies behind these. They were pretty popular, too. We didn’t stop at any, but it was quite common for a car in front to suddenly veer off or on to the road from one of these stalls, usually without signalling.

Most of the next photos are from the Tbilisi-Batumi highway.

Stop here for woolly hats

“There’s hammock hut, that’s on third. There’s Hammocks R Us, that’s on third too. You got Put Your Butt There. That’s on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact, they’re all in the same complex, it’s the hammock complex on third.” “Oh, the hammock district!”

Seriously, there were a lot of hammocks for sale. Not going to lie, I kind of wanted one.

One town was full of these “5+1” bread offers (I think it’s bread, at any rate). We never stopped, because what would we do with 6 loaves of bread. Along with the 5+1s, there was the occasional 6+1, which was surely an attempt at tomfoolery

A Georgian coffee shop that is definitely not infringing on any trademarks