Georgia – From Tbilisi to Batumi
The West of Georgia was next to come. My son flew back to Germany. And I was alone again on my road trip from Australia to Germany.
I didn’t want to do big offroad experiments in the mountains anymore. I just wanted to get safely to the Black Sea and the border to Turkey with my Landcruiser. Only a short distance compared to the previous countries. 660 kilometers, including a few detours off the direct route.
First to Gori
It took me two hours to leave the traffic jam of Tbilisi. Exiting from the parking took almost 30 minutes. Finally, a parking guard stopped the flowing traffic for a few lari.
I took a short coffee break in Mtskheta. And made some photos of the cathedral and the fortress.
Then I drove onto the newly built highway. Because the route is a main connection.
The rest stops there are quite unusual. In the beginning there was a heated debate about them in the country and internationally. But the government wanted to set architectural highlights here. Because in the transit country of Georgia, the buildings near the highway are the only thing that many travelers passing through see of the country.
I arrived in Gori in the early afternoon. I had booked a room in the guesthouse “Emma” online. But that was locked.
I asked a man in the house next door for the owners. Unfortunately he didn’t speak English. But he willingly led me to other neighbors. One of the women there was an English teacher. She invited me for a coffee and listened to my request.
I learned that “Emma” is Russian and had already left. The season was over. But that was no problem. Because “Emma’s” relatives lived in the village. And she wanted to call them now. I was supposed to wait outside the guesthouse.
In fact, a little later a couple came and opened up the door. I could choose one of the four bedrooms. And they asked me what time I wanted to have breakfast in the morning. Then they gave me the key to the front door. So I was the only guest in the guesthouse “Emma” in Gori. And I was looking forward to see wether it would work out the next morning with breakfast.
A day in Gori
Gori with its 50,000 inhabitants is not exactly considered a tourist highlight among the Georgians. Nevertheless, there is a lot to see on the way through.
First there is the fortress Goris-Tsikhe. By the way, “Tsikhe” means fortress in Georgian. Built in the 7th century. On the remains of a fortress from the 3rd century B.C.
And from above you have a good view of the city and the surrounding area.
Then I went to the war museum. With pictures, found objects, flags and German and Russian badges and uniforms from the Second World War. In memory of the Georgian soldiers who died then.
Since 2008, a part of the exhibition is also dedicated to the Georgian-Russian 5-day war for South Ossetia. Because the city is only 25 km away from South Ossetia. And was also bombed during the conflict. And then occupied by Russia for some time.
Later on, on the way several white Landcruisers came towards me. With EU flag symbols and an EUMM registration number. First I googled what the EUMM is. A civil observer mission of the EU (European Union Monitoring Mission). To monitor compliance with the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia. My Landcruiser would have fitted well into the convoy. However, they had newer cars. With a budget of 38 million Euro for 3 years, this is not surprising though…
Of course I looked at it only from the outside. But I noticed it right away. Because it has a certain similarity to the Reichstag in Berlin. At the end and after the war, it was built by German prisoners of war in Gori.
And because of its characteristic dome it is also called the “Reichstag” there.
The Stalinallee is still alive
Not in Berlin for a long time. There the avenue was renamed Karl-Marx-Allee as early as 1961. But in Gori. The largest street in the city center is still called Stalin Avenue. There is also a Stalin Square there. And a Stalin Park. And in a corner of the Stalin Square is also a Stalin Museum. Why? Because the later Soviet dictator was Georgian. He was born in Gori and lived there for four years.
Fittingly, the museum was built in Soviet style in 1957. And inside, Stalin’s life is shown. In pictures and personal objects. His office is also located here. All of this is ordered chronologically from birth to death. What is completely missing, however, is a critical presentation of the oppression of the people, the political purges, the famines and the forced camps.
In front of the museum there is still Stalin’s birthplace. A mud hut with thatched roof. And next to it a railway wagon from his special train.
The museum was surprisingly busy. With Georgians and tourists from all over the world. From France, UK, Italy, Spain, Japan… I think you can book day trips here at the hotels in Tbilisi.
Uplistsikhe – Almost in the middle of Georgia
The next morning I wanted to continue. And asked for breakfast to be delivered at 7 a.m. On time like the day before the doorbell rang. There was coffee and fried eggs, fresh bread and homemade honey and jam. Yes, “Emma” had her relatives well under control 😉
So I was already on the road again around 8 o’clock. I reached the fortress city just 30 minutes later via country roads and through small farming villages. But unfortunately the entrance was still locked. The opening time was 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Also the food stalls and cafes at the entrance were still closed. So I had no other choice than to wait. And I looked at the route to the next place to stay overnight. And to book an accommodation for the evening there.
Uplistsikhe was a cave town. The houses were carved into the soft rock on a plateau high above the Kura River. As early as the 6th century BC people lived here. And later on Uplistsikhe was a center along the old Silk Road. It was only in the 13th century that the Mongols took it and destroyed it.
But I cannot really imagine the former life there. Above all, I would have been interested in whether there used to be something like walls and doors to protect against cold and wind in front of the entrances to the caves. To be honest, I would not have wanted to live there at that time.
On to Kutaisi
The way further to Kutaisi was partly on the new highway. But partly also on country roads. Probably because the highway here was not finished yet. Small stalls were set up in the villages along the country road. There were either vegetables and fruit to buy. Or also shoes and clothes.
The way in the city to my accommodation was finally complicated. Google Maps believed once again that they had to offer the shortest route. With the result that I drove through narrow cobblestone streets. With turns where I had to maneuver first. But at least it was even the same with the small car in front of me. Very reassuring.
In the evening I got into a conversation with two German girls in a restaurant. They had just arrived and wanted to go hiking later. But for the next day, however, we first agreed to take a trip into the surrounding area.
A trip to the Gelati and Motsameta monasteries
They are very close to Kutaisi. You could probably have stayed here for a whole day. And deal with the buildings, pictures, graves and legends.
One monastery fascinates with its paintings, pictures and mosaics. The other one by its buildings and its location. On a mountain at a deep gorge.
But we made here only a short stop. Especially since the facilities were quite crowded with tourists. Including parking instruction and parking fee.
Besides, I had already seen a number of churches and monasteries in Georgia. And finally we wanted to go on to the Okatse Canoyn.
And to the Okatse Canyon
Georgia has a lot of canyons. The Okatse Canyon is about 50 km northwest of Kutaisi and is not really spectacular itself. But the way along the canyon is. The entrance is right on the road near the small village Zeda Gordi. From there you first have to walk 2 km through a forest uphill and downhill. Until you reach the entrance of an iron bridge. And then you have to go down a few hundred steps to the narrow footbridge.
This leads 80 meters above the canyon along the rock face and is attached to it with steel girders and ropes. There you can walk almost 800 meters to a viewing platform. Before you get to it, however, several more steps are built in as a “harassment”.
So all in all, it’s pretty exhausting. And you shouldn’t be afraid of heights here either. Otherwise you turn around after 50 m.
Nevertheless, the footbridge over the gorge and its viewing platform, which protrudes into the gorge, are the real experience.
You can probably also go down into the canyon itself. But it was already too late for us to do so that afternoon.
Another day in Kutaisi
The two girls set out on their hiking tour the following day. And I looked around in the city a little bit. Unfortunately, the weather had changed overnight. Suddenly it was autumn and it was much cooler. In addition, rain showers and wind alternated. Why the Georgians call Kutaisi the city of roses and city of May was not really clear to me that morning. But it was already mid-September.
At least it was dry in the market hall. And the local offerings of vegetables and fruits looked very delicious, tasty and fresh. There were all kinds of spices, nuts and cheese. All fresh and unpacked.
After the next shower, I made a 30-minutes walk to the Bagrati Cathedral. High above the city on a mountain.
It is over 1000 years old and the landmark of Kutaisi. Well, it is not original anymore.
It has been restored since the 17th century, after it was devastated and blown up by the Ottomans.
If the weather is fine, you will surely have a beautiful view of the city from here.
Back down in the city I needed a hot coffee first. In a restaurant right next to small, ancient cable car. Definitely still from Soviet times.
Of course I drove up with it. Across the Rioni River, up a hill.
To an amusement park which was just as old. Not for 10 dollars like in Central Europe, but only for 3 Lari (1 US dollar).
The carousel operators were waiting for customers. Especially for children with their parents.
From Kutaisi to Batumi
It was time to leave the mountains the next day. And to continue to Batumi on the Black Sea. In the very west of Georgia. At first again on the highway. But 50 kilometers from Batumi, my Google Maps obviously told me that it was over. And guided me along small and very small side roads. I had absolutely no idea anymore where exactly I was. But there was still enough time until the evening.
So I drove on with optimism. And at some point I saw water out of the car window between the bushes on the right. The Black Sea. Another milestone on my road trip from Australia to Germany.
Unfortunately, the weather changed every 10 minutes. And the rest of my trip to Batumi took place under rather grey sky.
Batumi – The port city in the west of Georgia
If I had known on arrival how my journey would develop later, I would certainly have acted differently.
But so I thought, first of all, to take a break for three days, to enjoy Batumi and to say goodbye to Georgia.
Batumi is not only the most important port city of Georgia. But also an major tourist destination. The Russian Miami so to speak.
With lots of tourists, preferably from Russia. Even now, in the off-season. And in the evening the streets, restaurants and bars get really busy.
Probably because I looked at the price when booking, I also found a Russian hotel. Russian-operated, full of tourists from Russia and with Russian cuisine. But not bad!
And this hotel had one big advantage: It was located right on the the Black Sea beach promenade.
The beach promenade in Batumi is 800m long and was just extended to 5 km(!) lenght.
The only thing that bothered me on the beach: It is not a sandy beach but a stone beach.
Well then, I hadn’t come here for swimming either.
The city is focused on tourism
Batumi is surrounded by the foothills of the Lesser Caucasus.
And a cable car goes up to one of these mountains. From the top you have a great view of the city.
Here you can really see how the first 3 rows of houses on the beach promenade have already displaced the old low buildings.
Only high-rise buildings, hotels for thousands of guests. And this is likely to continue towards the city center in the next years.
Almost every modern building is unique. 1000 buildings and 1000 different styles. You can see it a little better in the video below.
Tourists were also taken into account in Batumi when it came to traffic regulations. A speed limit of 30km/h applies on almost all streets in tourist areas of the city.
or one day I made a trip to Gonio. This village is about 15 km south of Batumi in the direction of the Turkish border. Because there is the old roman fort Apsaros. That was part of the border defense of the Roman empire called Roman Limes. And is pretty well preserved here. Of course I wanted to have a look at it.
The wall with its 18 stone towers, the remains of the bath house, water pipes and sewage systems. All this was quite exciting. But the ortress area was also a quiet oasis in contrast to the hustle and bustle in Batumi.
Georgia – Turkey border
I had planned to cross the border the following morning. To continue to Trabzon in Turkey. The clearance on the Georgian side went without any problems. Like the three previous crossings Azerbaijan – Georgia, Georgia – Armenia and Armenia – Georgia.
Only when the customs officer, who checked the Landcruiser, suddenly said to me: “You will be back here in 30 minutes” – I became suspicious. I asked why and he said: Because your passport and the car papers are not from the same country.
And that’s exactly how it was. I already had the Turkish entry stamp in my passport when they asked for the car papers. When I presented it they said: “Either you show an Australian passport in combination with your Australian car papers. Or you show German car papers in combination with your German passport. Of course, both was completely impossible for me. And despite a long, rather unpleasant discussion with the head of the Turkish control station, I could not change the decision.
Finally the entry stamp in my passport was invalidated. And I was sent back to the Georgian side. Additionally I should actually sign another form. But since it was only issued in Turkish and I could not read anything, I refused.
In the end, the friendly Georgian official was right. I drove back to Batumi and first looked for cheap accommodation a bit outside, near the airport. This was the first – and only – time on my trip that I didn’t make any progress at a border as planned.
At the hotel, I first looked at my options on my laptop. I didn’t even want to try the most obvious one. To try my luck at the border again the next day. I assumed that my case was already on record and the plate of the car was stored in the IT there.
The next option would be to drive south via Armenia and Iran. But even then I would come back to a Turkish border later. And the border stations are probably networked with each other.
Another option would be via the north. Through Russia and the Ukraine. But then the visa problem for Russia would arise again. Like in Kazakhstan a couple of weeks ago. And I didn’t really want to have this situation with sending the passport to Germany to get a Russian visa there.
So there was only one option left. A ferry directly across the Black Sea to Europe. To the Ukraine, to Moldavia, to Romania or to Bulgaria. So I went to the port the following day to check out these options. This time I walked to the harbour. Because I already knew that it was difficult to park near there. That was 7 km for one way, but I had time enough.
At the port I learned that there is a ferry office nearby. And the customs officer showed me where it is. I went there and was told that there are indeed ferries from Batumi to Burgas in Bulgaria. But not today, after all, it was Saturday. I should come back with my car at 2 p.m. on Monday.
A ticket across the Black Sea
Two days later I was back at the ticket office at 2 pm sharp. My passport and the car papers were copied. And I should leave a phone number. They would call me at 7 pm. In the meantime, I could get cash for the ferry ticket. The crossing for me should cost 165 US dollars and for the Landcruiser 465 US dollars.
So I went to a bank because the amount was too high for an ATM. Furthermore I should pay the ticket in Euro or US-Dollar. And I would have had to exchange the Lari from a machine in a bank anyway. This bank visit lasted two hours. First I had to withdraw the money from the credit card in cash in Lari. And then to exchange the Lari into Euro.
Then I returned to my car at the port. And waited.
When at 7 p.m. nobody called I contacted the shipping company. They told me to be patient. Then at 9 p.m. they called me, I should come now to the ferry office. There I paid and received a paper slip for the port. I drove to the customs area and from there on board of the ship.
In the port of Batumi
The Landcruiser was parked below deck and, unlike in Kazakhstan, was even lashed with ropes. I was assigned a cabin. And that was it for now. It was freezing cold in the cabin. Because the air conditioning was also running at full speed. And it was not possible to turn it warmer or to switch off completely. So I crawled into my bunk under the covers and fell asleep.
At 4 a.m., someone drummed on the cabin door. Get up and come to the saloon. There the exit control took place. And then there was another discussion about my Australian car papers. But I was able to finish it quickly. Somehow, the entry and exit of a country via a port was always more complicated than at a border crossing on land. Here, too, all travelers had to hand in their passports to the paymaster at the end.
Breakfast was at 7 a.m. and I got into conversation with Fred. A German truck driver, who delivered Siemens medical MRT scan devices by order of a forwarding agency. All the way from Germany to Israel, Kazakhstan or just now to Georgia. And again nothing else happened. Fred had heard that it was too stormy for the ship on the Black Sea, too. Like a couple of weeks earlier on the Caspian Sea. And he also had the right wisdom for it: “If the Black Sea turns white, then the ships should stay in port.”
From Georgia to Bulgaria by ferry
At noon the ferry finally started. Still in pretty rough seas. So in the evening already most of the truckers did not come for dinner but stayed in their bunks. Or they hung on deck above the railing.
I didn’t mind the rolling and pitching of the ship much. Because I used to sail a lot. The ferry did not had large stabilizers. It had been built in Italy in 1994. And was sailing before in the Mediterranean Sea in Italy, Greece and Spain.
The ferry now crossed the Black Sea at 14 knots per hour. And with a distance of 630 nautical miles (almost 1,200 km) the trip was about three times as long as the route across the Caspian Sea. Here, too, there were three meals a day on board. But unfortunately no tasty tea in the afternoon.
And there was not much to do either. Only the small deck with the lifeboats in the front third of the ship was open. Unfortunately, the upper deck was locked. I couldn’t look ahead either. In addition, the weather was very changeable and cool. So all I could do was to sleep in the cabin, to eat and to stretch my legs on deck every now and then. So we reached Burgas in Bulgaria almost exactly two days later.
And finally two videos
As always at this point the dashcam video. From the last part of my trip in Georgia and the ferry ride to Bulgaria (4m 1s, 746 MB; Music: Hills Behind – Silent Partner, YouTube Audiolibrary).
This time I tried to leave some more original sounds in the video. Like the information from Google Maps and the music. For this I had by the way connected the cell phone to the car radio.
- Towards Gori
- On to Kutaisi
- And to Batumi
- Border Georgien
- Ferry on the Black Sea
- Arrival in Bulgaria
And finally my YouTube video of this part of my road trip from 2019 (11m 57s).
In my next post you will find out how things continued for me in Bulgaria and Europe.
Cheers, Ruediger 😎