A Travellerspoint blog

Off On My Trip to Turkey and Georgia

Finally Going Overseas

View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

I left for my first big trip in four years on April 25.

Yes, I had done a train trip around North America in 2022. While that was a lot of fun, and had me moving again, it never was the type of “exotic”, or maybe better to say “different” trip, that I had been doing prior to that thing that hit us in 2020.

My trips over the past few years had included Madagascar, Namibia and Botswana, and the five Stans of Central Asia-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. So, visiting parts, however beautiful, of the country where I grew up and the other where I live, was just not going to have the same pizazz.

My “official” destination for this trip was Georgia, a country that had been on my radar since my visit to Kazakhstan on that 2019 trip. As I wrote about my day in Almaty, Kazakhstan:

“I have discovered a new favorite food. I love the Georgian spicy sauces and wonderful breads. I asked about the country and found out that Begaim had been there. She told me it was a marvelous place. Georgia is another former Soviet Republic. I must know more. Is Georgia a destination for my next trip?“

I was excited when a Georgian restaurant opened in the Toronto neighbourhood, The Beaches, where I stay with friends during my visits to the big city. The first time we did take out. I watched their travel video as I waited for the food. The scenery was as incredible as the food. Yes, I thought, I must visit this place. I was sure that Georgia would be my first place to visit when I could once again venture across the big pond.

In early 2023 I decided that I was going to do a big trip. It was going to be to Georgia. But I would need to get there, and the most direct way would take me through Turkey. I had spent a few days in Istanbul before that Central Asia tour and stayed at a small Istanbul hotel. My host had shown me a book about the various places I could visit in his country. I was impressed. I had added Turkey to my list of places to visit. It made sense to put the two countries together.

After my train trip of 2022, I had resolved that I would always try to include trains in my future travels. My first thought was to do a train trip from somewhere in Europe to Istanbul. But that was making the overall trip just too long. I shelved the European train travel. That would have to wait for another time. But I did decide to tour Turkey by train.

Every time I start planning a trip, I begin with group tours. Their itineraries provide lots of information about the places that I should visit. And I do seriously consider signing up for one of the options. Then I usually end up doing my own private tour with a local agency.

I did the same thing for this one. Any idea of a group tour for Turkey was quickly shelved. I wanted trains, lots of trains, especially the Dagu Express that goes across to the eastern border city of Kars. After playing with the Turkish Railways ticket site, I contacted Amber Travel. They had been mentioned on train sites and in travel vlogs as the agency to help with Turkish train tickets. I saw that they had some recommended train tours. I combined a couple of those to make my own trip and ended up with a trip that was all train and bus (no trains possible at the end) from Istanbul to the Georgian border.

The main things I wanted to see or do in Turkey was to take the Dagu Express, do some hiking and a balloon ride in Cappadocia, and finally see the eastern part of the country with visits to the ancient city of Ani and the mountain monastery at Sumela. And no one should visit the country without seeing the ancient Greek and Roman sites in western Turkey.

I spent less time with my planning for Georgia. I again considered a group tour but, as usual, gravitated to a private one. One agency took my talk of loving the food a bit too seriously as they would have had me doing at least three cooking classes. That sounded like it could be fun, but maybe it was one or two cooking classes too many. Their trip was quite expensive. I ultimately went with another agency.

Unlike Turkey, I had a full-time driver/guide for Georgia. He met me at the border and was with me to almost the very end when his wife substituted to get me to the airport. I went with the agency’s plan which had me making two trips into the Caucasus mountains and a visit to the Vardzia cave city before ending in the capital of Tbilisi. I added a day to the wine region which included the city of Sighnaghi.

Here is the map view of my trip:

I ended up with two very distinct type of tours. For Turkey I was booked on seven trains and two buses to get across the country to the border with Georgia. My transport was booked for me, but I was responsible for getting on and off the trains and buses and in most cases finding my hotels. I had a series of guides who helped me see the various attractions.

Georgia was the opposite. I had the driver/guide who met me at the border and saw that I made it to the airport on my departure day. I went everywhere with him during the daytime.

One thing I did for Turkey was to add a couple of “rest” days when I did layovers in cities rather than immediately connect to my next destinations. I thought they really were just for rest. But they helped in another way. I was totally on my own in both places. I think I can suffer from “guide fatigue” when I just do not want someone telling where to go, no matter how amazing a place might be. I should have done the same for Georgia.

Both companies gave me full Itineraries, basically their boiler plates with a few small changes based on my comments. Both included some daily lists of activities that were impossible to achieve, considering the amount of necessary driving and the time needed at various sites. In the case of Georgia, some places were inaccessible due to washed out roads. I take some responsibility for not doing enough research, but I had no way of knowing if certain roads required 4-wheel drive or were closed since the winter. You will hear more in my daily posts.

The final part of my planning was booking flights to Istanbul and then home from Tbilisi, Georgia. I have complained often in this blog about our lack of an overseas flight out of Newfoundland. We must travel backwards to Toronto or Montreal before turning around and flying the “correct” direction. What had once been a six-hour flight became two flights and a layover. Instead of leaving at 10:30 pm for an overnight flight I have to leave at 4 or 5 pm.

I had no choice. I had to go west in order to go east. But I did have an option of one long flight from Toronto or two shorter ones. I decided against the direct flight from Toronto to Istanbul which would have taken ten hours. Instead, I booked through London to connect on to Istanbul, with the return from Georgia going back the same way. I booked a rest night in London in both directions.

All my bookings were done by the end of February. I bought a few things for the trip such as new shoes and a raincoat. But I was mainly concerned with getting into good walking shape so that I could enjoy climbing the various ruins, walking tours of the cities, and a few hikes. My excitement level kept building over the weeks as I got closer to April 25.

I had started packing my little carry-on bag a couple of days before my departure. Our weather had not been great as we were enduring what is known around here as RDF weather-rain, drizzle, and fog, but I did not think too much about it. I certainly did not think that it would have any effect on my travels. I was wrong. On Sunday I decided to check on how my various flights were performing and found out that my flight out of St. John’s was not performing at all. All of the flights on the weekend between Toronto and St. John’s had been cancelled. The only planes getting in and out of our airport were the small prop planes that did not go any further than Halifax.

I was surprised that there was nothing in the news about all the cancellations. It was obvious that the problem was the fog. But how could this happen with all the upgrades in the navigation system that the airport had purchased over the past few years?

The forecast looked better for Tuesday. On Monday I was checking FlightAware every fifteen minutes, and most of the flights did arrive. I was feeling quite relieved, but that changed just before I went to bed. The no news had by then become a news story which said that the weather system that was causing the problem was not going away for days or perhaps even weeks. The fact that the flights were okay on Monday did not mean they were going to be okay for Tuesday. And if not, they might not be good for several days.

Almost panic set in. I did not sleep well. I lay awake reviewing my not very good options. I live on an island. To get out of here without a plane would require a road trip of at least nine hours (if you have your own car) and a ferry ride of seven hours, followed by another road trip of over four hours. In other words, it was not really a viable option, and I should not have occupied my poor brain with such thoughts. The only thing I could consider was switching to a smaller plane to Halifax and then fly on from there. But I had no time to do that.

April 25

I woke up at 5 am, anxious to check the status at the airport. I saw that I had just received an email from Air Canada. They were allowing changes at no charge. Change to what? I had no idea. I decided I could only stay with my current booking and hope that things worked out. I just assumed that my flight would go as scheduled.

I always go on a walk with my ladies on the day of my departure. This time we did something a bit different and drove out to Cape St. Francis to see an iceberg that had been highlighted on Facebook over the past days. We were too late for the big tower shots that had been posted. It had fallen over and was now in two pieces. But at least it gave me a brief respite from checking the arrivals at St. John’s International Airport.


As I got ready to head off to the airport, I was encouraged to see that flights were landing. My plane was in the air. Since I was doing my now routine carry-on only, I went straight into security. I had known that two friends were going to be on the same flight to Toronto. They were connecting to a flight to Portugal. We sat together in the lounge as the fog seemed to get worse. I had never watched an incoming flight so closely. It was in the air, but it could always turn around. I was never happier to see a plane land.


I was so relieved to be on the plane after two stressful days, that I did not think much about the many hours of flying that I had ahead of me over the next two days. Our plane had to be de-iced before we took off. But we did take off. The flight was as pleasant as a packed plane could allow. I was on the way!

It was sunny in Toronto. I had not seen the sun for days.


I walked with my friends to international departures. We wanted to get something to eat. This is when I remembered about the odd food options at Pearson. In the airport’s domestic departure lounge you can sit in a restaurant. In the international lounge there is only the strange combination of gates and eating establishments that consisted of electronic terminals for ordering food and drink. Most gates have no regular seats.

I knew that we were not going to find anything, but my friends did not. I went along with them as they looked for a regular restaurant. We finally gave up and sat at in an area that offered Indian food. I ordered mine. They struggled a bit but finally managed to order. Our food came within moments. It was edible.

After finishing our mediocre meals, we walked towards our gates. Theirs looked “normal” with just seats. I waited there for awhile before saying goodbye and wandering to my nearby gate. It was chaotic. They kept asking for volunteers to check their carry-ons. I finally volunteered and hoped that I would not regret it the next day when I arrived at Heathrow.

As expected, (and announced again and again as they looked for carry-ons to check), the plane was full. I had an aisle seat on the side with a middle seat between myself and the window. In previous days I could have hoped that the seat would stay empty. But in 2023 it was not going to happen. I was left with my secondary wish as to what type of person would occupy that seat. My hopes for my seat mate go from a small woman, then to any woman, and finally, please make it a small man. I ended up with a big guy.

They offered us supper after we took off. It was about 2 am according to my body. I had eaten my Indian meal. I declined.

Once everyone settled in for the night, I lost about a third of my limited space to the big guy next to me. I did not blame him. He was asleep. I can not sleep on planes. This time it was really impossible while sharing my space with my large seat mate.

You can wish me a safe flight, but do not even think about wishing me a “good” flight.

April 26

We did not land until almost noon London time. I had thought that we would get a hot breakfast. Instead, we got a bag with a stale croissant and a yoghurt. I found the meal logic backwards. They gave a full hot meal after midnight eastern time and then hardly anything in the morning. The yoghurt was okay.

I had always dreaded the immigration at Heathrow. In the past I had always spent at least an hour or two in line. But this time it was quick. There is an automated system that reads your passport and takes your photo, and now with post-Brexit, Canadians are included with the UK citizens. Before we were outsiders, lumped in with the entire non-EU world.

I did not do the camera and scan thing right. Was it my hat? My glasses? Or just putting my passport in upside down? I had to see the man in the booth. But it only took a minute.

The luggage did not take long. My bag came out with the first ones, so the checking thing worked out okay.

I had planned that my hotel would be easily accessible by subway. I found my way down to the station below the terminal. I knew that I should buy an Oyster card from the machine. I then had a short wait of four minutes for my train headed to Cockfosters. I had made a note about that one. I was at Earls Court station in 30 minutes.

My hotel was not far from the station, but I had forgotten to download or print a map, so I was a bit lost. All I had to have done was download the area on Google Maps. It would have worked with no data. Since I had no UK data with my cheap Canadian phone plan, I had nothing. I decided to get a latte and croissant and use the café’s Wi-Fi. After ordering I asked about Wi-Fi and found that they just use a free service. So, I did not need to have purchased anything, but I did enjoy my treats.

The free one got me the map. It took me five minutes to get to my hotel. After a shower, a chat with Po and an attempt at a nap, I decided to walk towards the restaurant in Kensington where I was meeting my friend, Sarah, her husband, and a friend.

I had met Sarah through Travellerspoint back in 2018. Sarah is an avid photographer and blogger. I seem to be the travelling star to many of my friends and family, but Sarah and her husband have travelled to many more places than me.

I arrived early, so I continued walking around the block. There were many restaurants and bakeries, including a Georgian restaurant. By the time I got back to the restaurant, my London hosts were waiting. We shared several great Lebanese dishes. I had some Turkish wine. Their friend does film work and told us about working with some trans-ocean rowers. It was their treat. Thank you so much, Sarah and Chris.


I was quite happy that I had requested that our restaurant should be within walking distance of my hotel. I was able to stroll back to my spartan room.


I had a mid-morning flight the next day, so was not concerned about getting to the airport early. Then my trip was really getting started.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:56 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged trains turkey georgia

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


It must have been quite worrying not knowing if your flight would materialise on that departure day! It was good to see you while passing through London :) I'm looking forward to reading more about how your trip went from that point.

by ToonSarah

Thank you for the great meal, Sarah. The food was great, but it was especially nice to meet you again.

by Bob Brink

Comment with:

Comments left using a name and email address are moderated by the blog owner before showing.

Not published. Required
Leave this field empty

Characters remaining: