What happens in Georgia

Doesn’t really have to stay in Georgia. So much so that I am writing this from my hotel bed in Astrakhan. These last few days I’ve been really very tired, exhausted even to write anything. Sometimes I even start downloading the pictures or videos to the computer and fall asleep while it happens. I’ve been tired because of the long rides and the bad roads but my Russian adventures are something I’ll tell later, maybe from Kazakhstan. I just want to put into pixels and truetype fonts things that happened in Georgia because I had such a good time there and I don’t want to forget. There won’t be a lot of details, I hope you understand. So here it is, in no particular order.

  • At the border, I met Neil. As I was getting ready to leave Hopa, I saw a biker zoom past on the main road. White helmet is the only thing I saw. As I arrived to Sarp (the border), I made a point of pulling up right next to the other bike. The other Yamaha Ténéré. Wait, what? Yes, same bike, this has to be Neil. We chatted a bit, had a caffeine soda in a red can and we were off to Batumi. The border was a breeze and buying insurance too. Because none was sold.
Two Teneres
Neil wearing his spare helmet
  • I had planned to go to Svaneti but decided against it while I was on the road. There will be other beautiful mountains on the road and right now I feel like going straight to Tbilisi, I thought. There was other beautiful mountains in Kazbegi but little did I know of the Chinese crisis that was brewing (more to come later, not now). On the road I met this other biker on a 650GS. Victor is a Spanish soldier and he’s been to Afghanistan. He had problems with his bike, presumably a Friday afternoon bike at the BMW factory, so I offered to escort him to Tbilisi just in case his bike would die on the way. It did, 300m away from our hostel. The next day he decided to turn back Europe-side to get it repaired under warranty. Too bad, he was planning to go to Azerbaijan, he even had the visa. He was also very generous with me and when he heard I had no mosquito net, he gave me his. That’s going to be useful sooner or later!
With Victor
Glad to see I’m not the only one wearing black pants around the Caucasus
  • On my way to the homestay after Batumi, I left the main road to take a trail because a sign indicated a historical site, a fortress. Tired of the trail I wanted to stop and pulled the brake at the wrong spot, lost my footing and the bike fell. After struggling to lift it for 3 or 5 minutes, the guy at whose doorstep I had dropped the bike took his car to travel the 20 meters that separated him from the gate, helped me lift the bike, gave me cold water and then invited me to come into the house to have lunch. Wait, what? Yes, as soon as he got in, his wife started putting dishes in front of me: ham, salad, mashed potatoes, watermelon, hachapuri and other Georgian specialties I couldn’t recognize (lubia?). When I had finished eating, he took the car and showed me around the sites of the village: an old Ottoman bridge, a fortress and then went off to get some mineral water from a source nearby and sent me on my way to Khulo.
  • Georgians wave at you when you pass by and if you stop they want to know where you’ve come from. Probably invite you home and give you lunch too.
  • Kazbegi is a beautiful place
Kazbegi
Beautiful road in Kazbegi
  • At the hostel in Tbilisi I met more cyclists (2 Finnish women). I’m very fond of cyclists. They remind me of my cycling trips. These two ladies where going to cycle around Georgia and then back to Finland. One of them suffered coeliac disease and had the guys at the hostel write her a sign in Russian and Georgian saying “I’m highly allergic to all wheat and flour products”. I hope she’s alright, with all the bread Georgians eat she could have a difficult time. There was also Andres, Polish guy working at the hostel. Spoke flawless English, no Polish accent whatsoever and gave me good tips about Russian roads and the border. And Eriko, the Japanese girl who used to work at the hostel, who had travelled through Iran on her own and found Georgian hospitality almost rude compared to Iranian hospitality and who now wants to move somewhere else, possibly Ukraine to improve her (non-existent) Russian. Is everything connected in this part of the world or is it me?
  • While randomly strolling around old Tbilisi I ran into Russian Nina and Swiss Matthieu whom I had met at the Eiffel Tower Hostel 2 days before and spent the rest of the afternoon with them on their free guided tour of the old city. Nice.
Oldest church in Tbilisi
Oldest church in Tbilisi

All these and many other things happened in Georgia but now I have to go to sleep. Tomorrow, the road to Kazakhstan awaits and she is a hard mistress, the road.

UPDATE:

  • And Georgia is just such a place for travelers that at some corner on a bad road leading to Goderdzi pass where I spent the night (homestay, Gela, Anastasiya and Maxim, remember?) I saw a bike, an Aprilia parked and 4 people and 2 kids around it. You can’t ride an Aprilia 6-up, or any other bike fwiw, unless you are in Vietnam of course. I hadn’t seen it before stopping but there was also a 4WD with a Lithuanian plate on the other side of the road. It turned out that the bike had intercepted the car because the 2 riders were Danish Erik and Lithuanian Marija who just wanted to talk to the Lithuanian drivers, Janka and Dovydas who are going to Bangkok by car and crossing China in August with a different, better tour company than ours. They were all very nice and we had a short chat and exchanged email addresses before getting on the road again. The kids were just Georgian kids interested in the strange meeting.
Road meetings
Met nice people at a random curve on a bad road in Georgia

Into Asia

I heard the muezzin’s call and I knew I was somewhere else. The muezzin was calling for the Maghrib prayer just when I was arriving to María José and Gabriel’s apartment. It was a good sign, I like cities with muezzin calls.

There’s is so much to say about Istanbul and so little words, maybe the stupendous welcome from Gabriel and María José helped me perceive this city as I did (Thank you María José and Gabriel!!!). Maybe the city is just magnificent on its own. For a fan of maps, a city that spans over two continents is already something worthy of attention. You arrive on one side, let’s say Europe and you can leave from the other side into Asia.

The bridge to the other side
Bridge to Asia

The first day I stayed on the European side. No particular reason other than that the most well-known attractions are on that side, in that part of the city that is Istanbul proper. I visited, among other attractions, the blue mosque and Ayasofya. Amazing! In the evening we went to a local restaurant to taste the local specialties and it was very good but the shock was yet to come: we went for a walk after dinner into the crowded Istikal street. On a Thursday! It wasn’t even Friday. On the next day I went on my own only to be confronted with hordes of people walking on the same street. This city has such a vibe, there is parties everywhere, bars everywhere, restaurants, it’s just amazing.

The next day I decided to take the bike because I wanted to buy some Scottoiler oil. After the failure to do so in Bulgaria, I was hoping I had better luck in Istanbul. I did, in a way. The city’s road network is huge and there are urban highways connecting the neighborhoods all around and if you don’t know which to take or where to get out, you can ride for a long time and end up very far from where you intended to be. That’s exactly what happened and it took me at least 45 minutes to do what google says should take 14 minutes at most. I didn’t record it so you won’t see how I got lost and lost and lost all over again. There was also the traffic, manic as Neil accurately describes it on his blog. In the end I found the shop, got the oil, talked to the shop guys about bikes and travel and they sold me one more useful piece of kit. I was sort of looking for a new jacket because the one I have is too hot for this weather and they wanted to show me the cheapest one the had but they also showed me this, an air mattress for the bike seat. For having been already almost three weeks on the bike, I know it’s a much more important piece of kit than a summer jacket.

The third day I went on my own with the bike to the Grand Bazaar and managed to not get lost while getting there and to do get lost after 2 minutes inside. It’s almost a miracle I managed to exit through the same entrance and find the place where I had left the bike. That place is a maze! Whatever landmark you try to remember, you will find it somewhere else and realize it was a useless landmark. On the other hand, the secret to not getting lost while getting there is simple: I didn’t aim for the Grand Bazaar, I aimed for the Grand Bazaar OR Hagia Sophia. That way, when I got to one of them, I could say I didn’t get lost and got to my original destination. One of them at least.

Me and some flags
Me and some flags

This third day was also the extra day, it was July 14th and Gabriel had invited me, as soon as I got to Istanbul to the consulate party for Bastille day and since I am a good citizen, I accepted joyfully. That and the free wine, the free dinner (including pork cold cuts) and the chance to see where my tax money goes. If you are a French taxpayer and wonder where your money goes, now I can tell you: Into big awesome parties!

But I digress, better leave you with the Turkey photo album to see what I’m talking about.