A Travellerspoint blog

Ushguli, A Journey Back In Time - A Short Video

Another Way to Enjoy My Magical Day in the Mountains


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I generally do my videos after finishing my blog, but since this one is taking a rather long time, I decided to do a couple now. This will of course delay the finish of my Georgia blog even more.

Here is a video of my trip to Ushguli.

Posted by Bob Brink 12:43 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains georgia mestia ushguli Comments (0)

Ushguli-A Journey Back In Time

A Magical Place in the Mountains


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May 15

This was supposed to be one of the really amazing days of my trip. But I had to wonder if it would even happen. I had just gone through a couple days of heavy rain and fog that had wiped out most of my agenda, and today’s journey required a 4-wheel drive vehicle to travel up a perilous mountain road. I might not even leave Mestia, or maybe we would manage to drive up into the mountains and see nothing but rain and fog.

I woke up, jumped out of bed, and opened the curtains to check the weather. It was not perfect, but the sun was shining, and I could see the mountains.

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I dressed quickly and went downstairs for my breakfast. Just like the evening before, the room was full of Koreans. But this time I could not even find an empty seat. I had discussed my breakfast time when I had checked in and had been surprised that they did not want me there before 8 am. I now understood why. The big group was really taxing the hotel’s capacity. But the breakfast lady sprang into action and carried a small table into the room. I checked out the buffet and came up with some nice little pancakes and yoghurt along with some bananas and kiwi. On my next visit to the buffet, I found even more fruit and the bowl of scrambled eggs was refilled. I told the lady that I could come at a different time the next morning, but she insisted that she would have a place for me.

I was in the province of Svaneti. The local inhabitants, the Svans, are Orthodox Christians with ties to ancient Mesopotamia. They have lived in this mountainous and sparsely populated area in the northwest corner of Georgia since the 1st century BC.

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Svaneti is dominated by mountains separated by deep gorges. The area is subject to heavy snowfall that results in frequent avalanches. With their isolation the Svaneti were relatively safe from the invaders from Turkey, Persia, and Central Asia. But when armies did arrive, they encountered well guarded people in their traditional blockades of Svan towers.

A 4-wheel drive vehicle pulled up to the hotel. Sergio got out and moved to the back next to his wife. I got in next to the driver. We were headed into the mountains. Our destination was at the end of the road, the villages of Ushguli.

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The road had been a bit rough on the way to Mestia, but now things would get a lot more interesting. The road is passable for less than half of the year. This day’s weather remained good, but the big rains of the past few days had left places where the water cascaded across the road. There were many muddy sections with large puddles. Other sections were covered with huge boulders.

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There were small settlements along the way. I asked the driver to stop here.

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After traversing an especially muddy section we arrived in Ushguli, a community of five small villages at the headwaters of the Enguri River (I had visited the Enguri Dam the day before.). Ushguli sits at almost 7,000 feet and is the highest continually inhabited settlement in Europe. We looked up at Mount Shkhara, the third tallest mountain in Europe. Unlike Mestia with its modern hotels and office buildings, Ushguli appeared much like it would have for hundreds of years. Ushguli being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Although there were several guest houses to cater to a minor tourist boom of hikers, they were converted from traditional buildings so they did not change the look of the town.

I asked Sergio if there was anyplace in particular where I should go, and he said to just walk around. I went up a hill. It was absolutely stunning, a photographer's paradise. I had 360 degrees of amazing vistas. I took photographs, first back toward the west, from where we had come and then to the other direction, toward the main part of town and the mountains.

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The Lamaria complex sits on a hilltop in front of the mountains. That became my destination.

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As I got closer, I was passed by several hikers going off to a glacier. I was jealous and wished that I had organized the time to do the hike.

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I talked to some hikers from Australia and asked them to take my photo. A stray dog passed in front of me. Another dog sat on the hillside.
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I entered the Lamaria church from the top side. It is officially the Ushguli Church of the Mother of God, and is a medieval Georgian Orthodox church dated to the 9th or 10th century. The chapel was small, and a relatively few tourists had it filled. After waiting a few minutes for some to leave, I decided to just go in and quickly got out again.

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I had a short chat with a couple from China and began walking to the bottom of the hill where Sergio and the vehicle would be waiting.

I passed a guest house. I had not brought any water so was happy to see a cooler full of bottles. I then saw a sign for lattes. I walked into the yard and inquired about a latte. No, they did not have any. I ordered a water and after a minute decided that I should have some soup.

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Sergio had not given me a time to leave. I messaged him that I was having a great time and had just ordered a soup. He replied that they would wait. Of course, they would. They could not leave without me. I finished my soup and continued down through the village.

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I found everyone waiting, and we began our drive back through the mud. I asked the driver to stop so I could get a good shot of the town.

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We stopped at a house with a Svan tower. The driver told us that we could pay a small fee and climb to the top. There were four levels, each accessed by a ladder through a hatch. The ladder seemed quite stable when I went through the first narrow opening, but the next one felt a bit wobbly. I decided that I had gone high enough. I might be okay with hot air balloons, but rickety ladders scare me.

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I was dropped off at my hotel. I saw the breakfast lady and told her that I could come later the next morning, maybe after 8:30. She insisted that I could have my breakfast whenever I wanted.

I left for a walk around Mestia. Google Maps told me that there was a place to get a latte which became my first stop. I admired a cream puff in the display case as my latte was being made. I could not resist. There were four people from the hotel’s Korean tour group. We greeted each other as old friends. The cream puff was wonderful.

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Mestia is an amazing mix of old and new, many Svan towers and then modern buildings in the downtown area. My hiking app told me that I had walked for about 5 km. I had walked almost 4 km in Ushguli, so not a bad day of activity at high altitude for an old guy.

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My hotel was quite nice, but I never spend much time at hotels during the daytime. After a brief rest I was back outside, this time to find a restaurant. Google Maps showed me one that looked good. I walked in and was surprised that there were only five tables. The owner was busy in the back. I was almost ready to leave when I looked up. She was watching me. What could I do? I ordered chicken with walnut, a khachapuri, and a beer.

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I chatted with a couple from Spain while I waited for my food. It arrived promptly. This was another “Oh My God, this is good” meal. I had said that I was going to Georgia for the food and to this point the food had been better than I had remembered, expected, hoped, or even dreamed about. It really was some of the best food I had ever eaten. And having a stew along with the khachapuri left me really stuffed.

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I walked back to my hotel. The sunset was reflected off the clouds that were hanging over the snow-capped mountains. Just like Georgian food, my amazing day in the Svaneti had turned out even better than I had hoped for.

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Back at my hotel I had the mundane duty of doing a bit more laundry. I wanted to take advantage of having two more nights in this hotel. It is always important to have time for things to dry. I talked to my ladies and looked forward to another day in the mountains.

Posted by Bob Brink 18:34 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains georgia mestia ushguli Comments (0)

A Wet Trip to the Caucasus Mountains


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May 14, 2023

I was an early arrival at breakfast where I was pleased to find real coffee and French Toast. It was me and about a dozen Koreans from a tour group. That became a pattern as I would be dining with Koreans for the next few days.

I checked out at 9:25 and was surprised when they asked me to wait while they inspected the room. I knew that the room was fine, which was quickly confirmed. I later asked Sergio about this. He told me that the issue was Middle Eastern tourists who like to cook in their rooms. The hotels need to identify damage before the guests leave. I guess that they had to check everyone rather than singling out the Middle Easterners. It turned out to be only a Batumi thing. It did not happen anywhere else in Georgia.

Sergio had said that he would pick me up at 9:30, but would let me know if he would be delayed. That he did, but he only texted at 9:29 to tell me that he would not arrive until 10:00. I was not impressed.

My city tour had been rained out the day before, so Sergio wanted to show me a few things before we left town. He took me first to the Alphabetic Tower. The rain was falling sideways with the wind. Sergio gave me a disposable rain poncho which I put on over my raincoat.

The tower is designed with a double helix DNA pattern and has an elevator to the top. We discovered that it did not open until 11 am.

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We walked over to a sculpture, Ali and Nino, that is based on a novel of the same name which tells the story of a tragic love story with the Muslim Ali and Christian Nino that took place during the first World War. Sergio told me that the two pieces would move. We waited for a few minutes, but nothing happened.

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I sent the photo to Po during lunch. She loved it, did a quick Google, and informed us that it only happens in the evening. The two pieces move towards each other and become one at 7 pm each night.

We walked back to the tower, where I made the decision that there was no point in waiting another 20 minutes to look at rain and fog from high in the sky. We drove out of Batumi.

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According to my itinerary I was supposed to visit Kolkheti National Park.

We will visit ``Georgian Amazon`` - Paliastomi Lake, the Black Sea east border zone, unique swamps and Colchic forests are especially interesting there. We will have a boat trip including both the lake and Pichori River.

That all sounded great, but it was rather obvious that the boat ride would be cancelled. I told Sergio that we should not waste our time by stopping. He tried to come up with some alternatives. He suggested the Georgia Miniature Park which has scale models of the top attractions in the country. I asked if the models are outside. They are. I said no.

He then suggested that we stop at the Dadiani Palace Museum in Zugdidi. I agreed with that idea.

The palace is set in a big garden.

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I met one of my first stray dogs of Georgia. I would meet many more over the next several days.

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Tours were mandatory for visits, and we had to wait for the English language tour so I walked out to the balcony where I could see a group having photos taken, perhaps for a wedding? One of the photographers came up to admire my camera and shake my hand.

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It was a quick tour for Sergio’s wife and me. Our guide mostly talked about the many items that came from French and Russian royalty. Several items are from Napoleon Bonaparte, including his death mask as well as manuscripts, rare books, and volumes from his private library. My main impression was that the royals stuck together.

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The rain had almost stopped when we left but then started again. Sergio asked what I wanted to do for lunch. Thinking about our long drive to our destination of Mestia, I suggested something fast, but he said that the only fast food was McDonald’s and recommended a restaurant.

We had an eggplant with walnut starter which became one of my favourite Georgian dishes, a boiled meat in a spicy tomato sauce, a Megrelian khachapuri, and a somewhat gummy cheese dish called elarji. The food was at my new standard of "OMG this is good", especially the eggplant. I was most pleased that we had not gone for fast food, not that I would have ever agreed to McDonald’s.

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A quick lesson on khachapuri. There are several varieties, but there are two main ones, Imeretian and Adjarian. I think of the Imeretian (or the similar Megrelian) as a great cheese pizza.

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The Adjarian is boat-shaped with an indentation in the middle which holds melted cheese, butter, and an egg yolk. Diners mix the ingredients and then pull off pieces to dip in the mixture.

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I was feeling quite contented as we left in the rain for our drive into the mountains. To this point I had missed most of my itinerary for the first 24 hours in Georgia. My next scheduled stop was the Enguri Dam. I had been surprised to see the dam as part of my tour, but after a bit of reading became a bit intrigued.

The dam is the world’s second highest concrete arch dam with a height of 271 metres (891 ft). That is interesting. But the history and status are more remarkable. The Enguri Dam was built during the Soviet era. Construction started in 1961 but was not completed until 1987. By 1994, after Georgia became independent it was found to be in “a rare state of dilapidation” by a team of Canadian engineers. Funding was provided to both avert a disaster but also to keep the dam operational as it provides much of Georgia’s electrical needs.

During Soviet time, radio relays powered by small nuclear generators were used to connect the dam with another under construction. These were later abandoned, and some have since been discovered by local people, once with disastrous results. In 2001 three men in search of firewood came across one of the generators and used it for warmth. All were injured and unfortunately one died from the exposure. Two of the relays have never been found, but they would still be emitting their energy, waiting for unsuspecting villagers.

But the most interesting aspect of the dam is its location. The dam structure and most of the reservoir are in Georgian controlled territory. But the power station is located in the contested territory of Abkhazia. Abkhazia was an autonomous area within Soviet Georgia before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There were violent clashes which culminated in a 2008 war between Georgia and the joint forces of Abkhazia and Russia. Abkhazia is recognized by Russia but is considered Russian occupied by most of the world.

Tensions remain high, but there is a jointly recognized need to keep the dam operational. The resulting power output is shared with Abkhazia getting cheap power. That cheap power has led to a proliferation of bitcoin mining operations in Abkhazia that take advantage of the arrangement.

After learning all this during my trip planning, I was looking forward to the visit. And after having had all my other activities cancelled, I was especially keen to see something. The rain had mostly stopped, but much of the dam was obscured in fog. A large and boisterous group arrived at the same time as us.

Sergio went to the kiosk and returned with my options. I could walk up on my own to see part of it or take a bus tour. I was not sure what I could see on my own as it seemed like I would just be walking off into a cloud. And I thought it might be fun to go on the tour.

We all piled into the bus. I found out that my group was from Poland. They spoke Russian to our lovely guide, Russian being the lingua franca in the former Soviet world. The bus went roaring up the road before coming to an abrupt halt. The guide handed out hard hats which I later learned were not required for safety but were for photos only. Our guide would spend several minutes with the group and then a couple minutes with me, repeating at least some of the information in English. She seemed quite proud of the dam. At the end my new Polish friends seemed disappointed that I did not take a swig from their bottle of “fruit juice”.
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We left the dam at 4 pm and had a long drive ahead that would take us to Mestia in the Svaneti area of Georgia, deep into the Caucasus Mountains. The drive was wonderful in its own way. We went up and down and around many bends. There were potholes but even worse, no road at all in places. The rain had formed huge puddles forcing Sergio to come to complete stops. Sometimes we plowed through the puddles which sent the water cascading over the car. We passed though several tunnels.

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We passed my first svan tower. They are towers that were built 1,000 years ago for defense by individual families.

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We arrived in Mestia shortly before 8 pm. The town is a cross between an exotic medieval mountain village and a modern resort town. There were many svan towers but the downtown was full of modern buildings and alpine hotels. I checked into my hotel. I had a nice room with a giant bed and a great view of the mountains. The hostess mentioned supper when I checked in. I did a quick walk as I wanted to see the town before it got dark.

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I returned to the hotel and went down to the dining room. It was packed with my latest Korean group tour. They were having a good time. There was lots of wine being poured. The buffet was really picked over. I was told to help myself which I understood was that anything I could find would be free. I managed to get enough to get through the night. It was not a great dining experience.

I returned to my room and talked to Po. The doggie had managed to get into the big container that held her dog kibble (dried food). At least we knew that it would not harm her.

My first hours in Georgia had been mostly a wet mess. I had a big day ahead of me, a drive further into the mountains by 4-wheel drive. I wondered if I would be lucky.

Posted by Bob Brink 11:10 Archived in Georgia Tagged georgia mestia batumi Comments (0)

A Rainy Drive to Georgia

Goodbye to Turkey


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May 13, 2023

My first hotel, the Turkoman in Istanbul, was quite noisy. There was the traffic at night and then multiple mosques with their 5:00 am calls to prayer in the morning. Ever since, my hotels had been quiet, including the Usta Park, although I was woken briefly by the morning call to prayer, but only from the one mosque around the corner. I fell back asleep but then woke up before my phone alarm was set to play my jazz selection. I seem to have an internal clock that has me awake early, especially when I have a plane or train (or even bus) to catch.

I was at breakfast at just after 7 am. After deciding the day before that Usta Park had the best breakfast of my trip, I was not disappointed by this day’s selection which included French toast and fruit cocktail to go along with my yoghurt and lots of brewed coffee.

My early breakfast gave me plenty of time to get to the front desk by 8 am, and as promised, there were taxis outside. I was at the station by 8:15, which was quite early for my 9 am bus. I should have had another of those great coffees at the hotel since there were no coffee shops at the station, although it looked like I could have bought some tires.

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Amber had originally told me that my bus would take me to the border town of Hopi, and from there I would need to get a taxi to the actual border. But once I was in Trabzon, they emailed me that the bus would take me all the way to the border. I showed my ticket at the bus desk and confirmed that this was true, but they did not check that my ticket only went to Hopi.

I was not impressed with the size of my bus. I thought it would be more like the one behind it.

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I noted that the sign in the bus said that it would actually go all the way to Batumi, my destination in Georgia. I gave my suitcase to the attendant and when I mentioned the border, he took me back to the bus counter to pay an additional 60 lira. I was glad that I had asked as I would not have wanted to get into a discussion at the border.

I was tight quarters on the little bus, especially when a man sat next to me. It was like a city bus as we were constantly stopping to pick up passengers. I had my window seat, but the sea was on the other side of the bus, not that it really mattered, since it was pouring rain.

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A nice coach pulled in next to us when we were stopped in Rize. I noted that there were several nice buses there, and I wondered why I was stuck on a little minibus. Amber had planned a great trip for me, but they perhaps did not do as well on this final service. I think that they chose the wrong bus company.

We passed by a van decorated with the president’s photograph and blaring campaign slogans. I was leaving the country a day before the big election. I wondered if I was lucky to be missing the aftermath but was a little nervous since I would pass through Istanbul on my way back, even if only to change planes.

This was my last moments of public transportation. I was being met at the border by my guide, Sergio, who was going to drive me around Georgia. My responsibilities were over, no more catching trains or buses, or finding my hotels. I had thought that I would feel relieved, but instead I was already missing the need to look after myself.

My seatmate moved to a now empty seat in front, which made things a lot more comfortable. For the first time in days, I had put in my ear buds and was listening to music while reading my e-book, Ghost Rider by Neil Peart. Peart was the drummer and primary lyricist for a Canadian rock band, Rush. I was never a fan of the band but chose the book because I was looking for something related to travel. This book chronicles his long journey on his BMW motorcycle in the late 1990’s following the double tragedy of losing his daughter in a car accident and his partner from cancer in less than a year. The book was published in 2002 and had a happy ending in that he overcame his grief and found a new wife in California, but then my knowledge of Canadian rock was enough that I was aware that Peart had died from cancer in 2020. It turned out to be more of a study about grief than travel.

We were almost at the border. It looked like it could have been really beautiful, but all I could see was rain and fog. I reminded myself to remember the wonder of it all, that feeling of this old guy Bob from Pennsylvania, the only foreigner on a little minibus rolling along the Black Sea on his way to Georgia.

We arrived at the border where I passed quickly through Turkish immigration and began the long walk to the Georgian side. It was one big building for which I was grateful, saving us from having to go outside in the rain. I passed many women pulling large bags. I suspected they were moving more than their personal belongings.

There were only a handful of people lined up at Georgian immigration. My bag was x-rayed, the agent looked at my passport, stamped it, and sent me on my way. I was at the actual border for less than five minutes. I had not needed a visa for Georgia.

I had been exchanging messages with my guide, Sergio. He had been having troubles finding a parking place but had just managed as I exited the building. He waved me over and took my bag. A woman got out of the passenger seat and moved to the back.

Sergio introduced his wife. He told me that she had come along for the ride since she had never seen Ushguli, the mountain village we would visit in two days. He asked if I was okay with her coming along and told me that she would stay in a hotel if I was uncomfortable. He also mentioned that this was only the second time he had worked for Sakura.

What was I going to say? I thought it was totally unprofessional and was not pleased that he had put me in this position. I was dependent on Sergio to get me home safely from what was to me a foreign country, far from my home, far even from my Georgian travel agency. I had to accept it or deal with an unhappy guide. I did not see that I had a choice. She was going to come along with us. His wife was with us until we arrived in the capital at the end of the week. She was a nice person, and I never had issues with her personally. But a guide’s attention should really be focussed on their guests, not their partner.

We stopped at the Gonio Fortress a few kilometres from the border. The fortress was a Roman fortification dating from 1st century AD. It is believed that Apostle Matthew is buried inside the complex. It was raining. Unlike my Turkish guides, Sergio said nothing as we walked. We hurried around the site. It was not a great visit in the rain.

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When we returned to the car Sergio took my phone to install a local SIM card. I had been told that Sakura would get me a card but had wondered if they would remember.

We drove on to Batumi, Georgia’s second largest city and the capital of the of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. The city began as an ancient Greek colony and then became a Roman port. It was passed back and forth between the Ottomans and Russians over the years. After Georgia regained its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Adjara remained part of Georgia while other areas, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, broke away with Russian assistance.

Batumi is known as the Las Vegas of the Black Sea with its many casinos that have opened since 2009 and attracts tourists from Turkey and the Middle East. Tourists also come for the beaches. There are many modern high-rise buildings. The city is an important seaport and has shipbuilding and light manufacturing industries.

Sergio took me to my hotel so I could check in and leave my bags. This was the view from my room.

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It was raining even harder as I walked out and looked for Sergio’s car. I had to jump over a giant puddle to get inside. Sergio had bought a pizza which the three of us shared.

He then drove me to the Batumi Botanical Garden. The rain continued, and the wind was blowing hard. Sergio drove into the parking lot, pointed out the entrance and told me that I could walk to the other end of the park if I wanted to. That might have made sense on a nice day. I walked up a hill and saw enough to know that the garden could be quite beautiful and that the views from the hill to the city must be quite spectacular, just not on this day. I took a few photographs. It was not easy in the rain.

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It was totally crazy to be outside. I retreated to the parking lot and asked Sergio to drive me to my hotel. I was done with sightseeing for the afternoon.

I did a WhatsApp with Po and Zoe and then decided it was time for supper. In my first post for this trip, I had said that my official destination was Georgia, and a big reason was Georgian food. I was now in Georgia. I told Google Maps to look for some restaurants. There was a Georgian restaurant a short walk away.

I was shown to my table and given a menu. I might have planned a trip around Georgian food, but I had only had four Georgian meals in my lifetime. I had to study the menu carefully and google the various dishes. I finally ordered a stew and a small khachapuri with a glass of red wine.

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The first thing I learned was that Georgians serve their red wine cold. I enjoyed a few sips before my food arrived. I then came up with a new rating scale for restaurants. I added a category for meals that are above and beyond “really good”. I added a top category of “Oh my god, this is good”. I had a few OMG meals in Georgia. I also learned that it was quite difficult for one person to finish both a small khachapuri and a main course-difficult, but not impossible. I was quite full when I left the restaurant. I had not been disappointed.

Afterwards I did a walk around a pond and took some photographs of the big hotels. There were many people walking dogs. I did not know that during my time here in Georgia that I would see many dogs but few with owners.

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I made my way back to the hotel. I made a tea, turned on my Georgian TV, and found the God TV channel. The show is from Texas. I did not watch long enough to be saved.

Posted by Bob Brink 00:52 Archived in Georgia Tagged georgia batumi Comments (0)

Sumela Monastery

My Last Day in Turkey


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

May 12, 2023

I had now spent 16 days travelling from one side of Turkey to the other. I had told everyone that I was going to see some amazing things in Turkey, and that turned out to be very true, as day after day I had visited amazing places, including several World Heritage sites.

Now on my last full day in Turkey, I had one more World Heritage site to visit, albeit only a tentative one, the Sumela Monastery. But I was not sure how much I was actually going to see. The weather did not look promising. There could have been a great view of the harbour on the Black Sea from the breakfast room on the top floor of the Usta Park Hotel. The water was barely visible through the fog.

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I surveyed the buffet and decided that it was going to be one of the best breakfasts of my trip. I was impressed with the brewed coffee and the many warm dishes. I then saw that there was an omelette bar. I changed my rating to the absolute best breakfast of my trip. I guess my shock showed because the manager immediately came to assist me, asking me if everything was okay. Before I could tell him that I was just surprised by the quality of the buffet and the sight of the lady making omelettes, he guided me over to her and said that she would make any kind that I wanted. I had many cups of coffee, my cereal and yoghurt, and a great cheese and mushroom omelette.

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On my way up to breakfast I had been asked by a cleaning lady if I wanted my room cleaned. I had told her no since I was only staying for two nights, plus the room was covered with my wet laundry. When I returned, I found a clean towel, toilet paper, soap, and lotion outside my door. I was impressed.

My ride arrived promptly at 10:00 am for my trip to the monastery. There was a driver and another person I assumed was the guide. But neither spoke English. We drove out of town and up a winding highway through the fog and drizzle to the town of Macka and then up an even steeper and more winding highway to the main parking lot for Sumela Monastery.

The guys told me that there was an admission fee. I would not have delayed things for long, but since all my entrance fees on the tour had been included, I said no. Of course, with them not speaking English, this was not a straightforward conversation. They then phoned the owner of their agency and handed me the phone. He spoke English and explained about the fee but accepted that I would not pay. They would claim from Amber. While this was going on I also did a quick WhatsApp to Amber. Paul said he would pay, so I knew the local agency would not be stuck with the charge.

The Trabzon agent also explained that I would have to take a minibus from the parking lot up to another parking area and then walk the last 500 metres to the monastery. I had read that some visitors do the steep four-kilometre hike to the top and that it might give a better view of the monastery. But it was raining, and everything was covered in fog. I also doubted that my driver and guide were expecting me to be gone that long. I went for the bus.

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I got out of the van and the guide walked me to a booth where I bought my ticket. I did not argue about this payment. I boarded the little bus and found the last seat. A couple jumped on. They decided to stand rather than wait for the bus to return. They might have had second thoughts as the bus lurched back and forth on the hair pin turns to the top.

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The bus stopped, and we all began the walk up to the monastery. I saw a pathway to the side. I had read about a place that offered the only view of the monastery on the walk and wondered if this was it. I veered off. Most people walked on past. That move saved my day.

It was the path to Aya Varvara chapel, and this was the place with the only view that shows the monastery in its precarious position on the mountain side. Even though everything seemed to be covered in fog, I was quite overjoyed to see the monastery
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I left the chapel path and walked with other tourists to the top. The pathway was slippery. The fog and rain added an eerie feeling. One could imagine that the monks had lived a good part of their lives in the clouds.

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Sumela Monastery was a Greek Orthodox monastery that was founded in the fourth century. It was built into a steep cliff at a height of about 1,200 metres (3,900 ft). It gained great prominence during the 13th century, the time of the Trebizond empire. It was protected during the Ottoman Empire and was popular destination for monks and other travellers. From the 17th century it was home to a Greek educational institute.

It was restored various times over the centuries and was in use up until 1923. That was the year of the horrible population exchange between Greece and Turkey which I had mentioned in earlier posts.

I had to wait for everyone to get their photos before I could walk up the steep stairs to get to the inside.

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It was quite foggy inside the complex. There were many tourists, but I think that we foreign tourists were in the minority.

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There were a few rooms open to visitors.

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There were many beautiful frescos.

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I had a brief chat with a Dutch couple. For some reason they thought that I was from Belgium. I was not sure if that was a compliment or not.

The weather began to clear a little. I took a few more photos, including some that I had taken in the fog.
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The monastery was closed for four years, from 2015 to 2019, due to the danger from the rocks falling from the cliffs. There are big nets to keep the rocks from falling on visitors.

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I then walked back up the inside stairs.
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I took some photos from the terrace.

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The washroom attendant called me over. I thought it was strange that he seemed to be promoting his business, but he wanted to show me the nice reflection in the window of the men's room. He then insisted that I pose. He took a photo with his phone, so I had to hand him mine and posed as he instructed. I was not sure if he expected anything, but I did pay 5 liras to go inside. This is my reflection in the window.

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I walked back down the pathway. I thought that I might get some more photos of the monastery from the chapel, but it was totally covered in fog. I was lucky that I had taken my photos on the way up.

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I concluded that I would not put the monastery on a “must see” list for Turkey. Most stories about the Sumela Monastery include photographs that were taken from the air or perhaps from the long hiking trail. The photos from the chapel are not as spectacular. There were a lot of tourists in a small space. But I was happy that I had seen it.

I took the bus back down the road to the main parking lot where I found the van waiting. We went back down to Trabzon.

I wanted my afternoon latte. There were many great looking coffee shops in the area, but they seemed quite full of smokers, so I retreated to my hotel. There I was the only customer. I ordered my latte and as I sat down, I looked across at the freezer. I added a gelato to the order.

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I called Po as I sipped my latte. Was it my imagination or did Zoe actually respond to me?

Over the past two days I had seen emails between Sakura, my Georgian travel agency, and Amber regarding my arrival in Georgia. I was happy that they were thinking about me. This afternoon I received a WhatsApp message from my Georgian guide with his photo. He would meet me the next day at the border.

I wanted to get down to the Black Sea waterfront. I followed Google Maps down the hill and towards the sea, but I had to find a way past a large, elevated roadway. I finally found a pedestrian walkway that seemed to go only to a restaurant. I was happy to find that I could walk past it to the water.

I could see that Trabzon could be quite beautiful, but just like my Newfoundland home, that beauty can often be covered by fog and rain.

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I needed to find a good restaurant for my last supper in Turkey. There were dozens of restaurants in the area, but I did not want to pick the wrong one like I had the night before. I walked around the plaza, checking out the various menus and finally picked a place. I chose well. I had a salad, lamb stew, and a glass of wine. I was given a complementary tea and baklava at the end.

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It was a short walk to my hotel. My journey in Turkey was over. I could have been sad that I was leaving, but instead, I had Georgia on my mind. Sorry about that. I will try not to do it again. But I was excited that I had a great visit to Georgia coming up.

Posted by Bob Brink 23:44 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey trabzon sumela_monastery Comments (1)

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