A Travellerspoint blog

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Starting a blog - at my age?

Hi everyone! I've finally decided to start my own travel blog. I figure this will be a lot easier than spamming everyone's e-mail with my carrying on about what I'm seeing and doing in some strange land. Plus, this way I can share some of my photos with you.

Time is a strange thing. I always knew I wanted to travel and see the world but kept putting it off. It wasn't until I was over 40 that I got the appropriate "nudge" from Mike to get out there and do it! NOW!!! So, I plan on making up for lost time and seeing as much as I can in the time I have left. Sometimes I'll be traveling with Mike and sometimes I'll be out there by myself blazing my own trail.

I hope to have plenty of occasions to update this blog and I also hope you'll follow along and share my new experiences. I'll try not to bore you to tears.


Posted by Jengt 17:25 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Last Minute Details

Not quite in a panic...yet

sunny 85 °F

In just over 15 hours I'll be boarding the first of four flights that will eventually get me to Tbilisi, Georgia.

When Mike mentioned that Georgia was on his short list for his summer trip I got very excited. I have been interested in this part of the world for quite a long time. My mother's mother is from Russia and one of my long term goals is to find the village she was from.

This trip allows me the chance to visit a country where the language is similar to Russian but I still have the safety net of having WorldWideMike there with me to help me muddle through. I've traveled to Scotland and Jamaica where they speak English (sort of). I've also been to Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico where they speak Spanish. Like most service industry workers, I have a rudimentary grasp of Spanish out of necessity. It also helps that Spanish is a latin based language so it sounds somewhat familiar. Georgian is COMPLETELY different. I've seen Georgian words with 5 consonants before the first vowel! How am I supposed to pronounce that without sounding like a dithering idiot? We'll have to see.

Tonight has been set aside for final details and packing. Since Mike and I will be moving around a lot (and the 4 flights on two different carriers) I'm just taking my backpack and travel purse. Yes, you can pack for a 10 day trip without taking 3 suitcases. To prove it, here's what I'm taking laid out on my spare bed.


And then, all packed away.


So, now it's off to bed to try to get some sleep before my long 29 hours of travel.

Wish me luck!


Posted by Jengt 20:07 Comments (4)

Bumps in the road

There's always something...

Valley around Telavi

Well, I made it to Georgia without a hitch. There was a slight delay leaving Philly, but luckily I planned for delays in my flight plans. After "only" 28 hours of travel, I made it to Tbilisi at midnight on the dot. Mike was an angel and picked me up at the airport which was an immense help for me. I'm sure I could have gotten to the hotel by myself, but I was very tired and I didn't really want to haggle with a taxi driver if I didn't have to.

We had breakfast and then I got my baptism in the art of mashrutkas. Mashrutkas are shared mini vans that take the place of buses all over the country. They leave at "scheduled" times and are CHEAP! The drawback is that they stop along the way to drop off and pick up people all along the way. We took a taxi from the hotel to the mashrutka station and got there, apparently, right after the mashrutka to Telavi left. So, we got to wait in the hot sun for an hour until the next one left. That's ok. These things happen.

Mike has been telling me about his mashrutka rides the entire time he's been here. You really have to experience it for yourself to fully understand it though. NOBODY is allowed to faster than the driver. Nobody. You know those double yellow "no passing zone" lines on the road in the States? On blind cruves? Those don't have a place here. I finally had to make myself look out the side windows or I would have been a nervous wreck by the time we made it to Telavi.

We made it safely to Telavi and found the hotel that I had booked thorough a travel agency here. Seems the agency didn't bother to check with the hotel to see if there were actually rooms available. Nice. It appears there is a movie company from India that has taken nearly every hotel room in the vicinity...for a month! Needless to say, the woman at the hotel was surprised when we walked up and asked for our room. At first she offered us their Presidential Suite at a discount - only 250 lari for just one night. Down from 300. 250 lari is approximately $175! We were quoted a price of 100 lari per night for 2 nights. We declined that "generous" offer. After much ado, she finally found us a room at a new hotel in town. This place is very new. In fact, they're still finishing the 3rd of 3 floors.

Batonistsikhe castle

After we unpacked some, we decided to check out the town. We noticed when we got to town, there was some construction going on. I didn't realize they were reconstructing nearly the entire town! They have pulled up the several streets and have completely gutted every building on 2 streets. They're giving the place a complete facelift. Facades and all. Of course, with all of the construction in town, the one in-town site we wanted to see is closed. Batonistsikhe castle is a 17th century castle in the center of town. We decided to see what we could anyways. Up we walked to the gate...it was open. In we walked. The construction does have parts closed, but we were able to get a glimpse of some of the buildings inside. None of the construction workers seemed to mind.


From there, we walked around some more getting the lay of the land. It was a hot day. Probably low 90s. Which, of course, isnt as bad as the 100+ temperatures we've had in Columbus recently, but it's still hot when you're out in the sun! After a couple hours, we decided to find a place to sit and have a cold beer. That did the trick! My body clock is still a little off and I was getting hungry around 6pm. It was still early for the locals but Mike humored me and we started looking for a place to eat. The nice lady at the Tourist Information office suggested a couple places to try. We settled on Dzveki Galavani. We each had a cucumber and tomato salad with some scrumptious bread. Think of a thick sort of flatbread. Mike had veal in black wine sauce and I had some of the best kebabs I've ever eaten. Both dinners were extremely tasty! I don't know what kind of seasoning they put on the kebabs but it was perfect! by the way, I'm under orders from my boss, Angela, to include info on the food. So, yes, you will have to endure pictures of food. Sorry.

Yummy kebab!

We've booked a taxi for tomorrow to take us to some of the local sites. There are several monasteries and castles in the surrounding area that I've been looking forward to seeing. The scenery is supposed to be beautiful.

Stay tuned!

Posted by Jengt 09:37 Archived in Georgia Comments (2)

Pious pilgrims

sunny 90 °F

Old (Akhali) Shuamta

My second day in Telavi was spent mainly away from Telavi. Even after the problems at the hotel we thought we had booked, the desk manager was very nice to us. We had mentioned to her, during our "negotiations", that we had some sightseeing to do in the area. She did help us book the taxi for a tour of six historic sites in the area.

The first on the tour is actually 2 different sites. The first of the two we visited is "Old" Shuamta which is actually three different churches in a close cluster. The oldest is 6th century and the newest is 7th century. They are all small, pale stone churches, each with it's own style. The churches are hidden on a wooded hill, well off from the main road.

The next stop was "New" Shumata. Akhali (new) Shumata is a convent built in the 16th century. During Soviet times, it was used as a orphanage but is now back to an orphanage. This was my first time (but not the last) having to conform to traditional dress while visiting churches today. I knew I would probably have to cover my head, so I brought a scarf with me. (I'm not that interested in borrowing a scarf that has been used by MANY women before me.). Even though I wore long pants, I still had to wear a skirt. At the entrance of most of the churches was a rack with wrap-around skirts so women not dressed "properly" could enter. I had to finish dressing while Mike just walked in. Figures. This was also one of those places that doesnt allow photography inside. It pained me to comply, but the stern nun watching our every move convinced me it was a good idea. Inside the church, there are beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceiling. I just stood there with my mouth agape in wonder.

Ikalto Monastery

From here, we hopped back in the taxi and headed to our next destination, the Ikalto monastery. Ikalto is a 6th or 7th century church. Next to the church is the ruins of an academy built in the 12th century. The entire complex was destroyed in the 16th century but the church has been rebuilt. We were able to photograph at will here. And, luckily, no skirt. I noticed other women without headscarves, but I thought the least I could do was be polite and wear that, at least. We wandered the grounds for a while until we'd both seen our fill.

To this point, we'd pretty much had each of the places to ourselves. We were playing leap frog with a group of 3 other people and their tour guide but we kept pretty well separated from each other.

Our 4th stop of the day was Alaverdi cathedral. Alaverdi is a magnificent church inside of a walled fortress. Once again, I had to don the skirt before entering. The big difference between Alaverdi and Shuamta is that they don't even allow photos on the grounds. Both Mike and I pulled our cameras out at the front gate to get an overview photo. We weren't "quite" inside...yet. It seems the most beautiful places are the ones you aren't allow to photograph. Turns out, that was the least of my worries here. While in the cathedral, I was apparently walking too close to a nave when a woman started berating me in Georgian. Pointing at me and shaking her head grabbing candles that someone had put on a railing in front of an icon. I backed off apologetically, not knowing what I had done wrong. She then walked up to the monk who was keeping watch and she laid into him too. I guess she didn't think he was doing his job well enough. I stared at more fantastic frescoes for a few minutes and then decided to see more of what I could outside. A convent had been added in the 17th century and there were several other buildings, but we weren't allowed anywhere near them. Mike and I decided we'd seen all we could and started out. At the gate, we were getting ready to take a few parting photos when I realized that the woman from inside was sitting in the souvenir shop - looking right at us. She suddenly got up and walked away after giving us the evil eye.


The next stop was Gremi. This small walled castle and church sit atop a hill overlooking the valley below. The castle has a tower you can climb to see some beautiful views of the countryside. This citadel was the Capitol of Georgia for over 200 years from the mid 15th to 17th centuries. They are working on reconstructing some of the outlying buildings. This will be a great spot to visit in a few years!

Our driver saved the best for last. Nekresi monastery is set high on a wooded hill. As you approach on the road, you see this church seemingly hanging off the side of the hill. Cars park at the foot of the hill and the monastery is 1.5 kilometers (approximately a mile) almost straight up. Our driver let us out and just pointed up. Mike and I set out walking up. It was very hot and there was very little shade on the road. The incline was, at times, as steep as climbing stairs. About a third of the way there, I asked Mike if this made us "Pious pilgrims" climbing to see the church. We both agreed it did. Shortly after, a mini bus passed us going down the hill. We looked at each other and decided it was a tour company that had paid extra to be able to drive up. Then, after more grueling climbing in the heat, another passed us going uphill. We noticed the group we had been seeing all day were on it. Hmmmmmm. Eventually, drenched in sweat, we made it to the top. YAY. That's when Mike looked at his guidebook a little closer and saw that the bus was offered to anyone for 1 lari round trip. Ok, lesson learned. Read the guidebook more closely next time.

Even with the long, toiling walk uphill, Nekresi was, by far, the hilight of the day. I'd even say it was more than worth every step. The complex of churches and buildings was great. We wandered around for quite a while soaking in all of the history. For the trip back downhill, we decided to hitch a ride on the bus. We would have even paid the full round trip price if needed. Luckily, they figured we paid to get there and didn't ask.

Nekresi Monastery

Over dinner, I reflected that the climb to Nekresi reminded me of part of the Inca trail. Thankfully, we didn't have to deal with the high altitude, just oppressive heat. I'm not sure which is worse.

Tomorrow we leave Telavi and head to the mountains and Mestia. I've been really looking forward to this part for a long time. Hiking in the mountains. Yes!

Posted by Jengt 10:40 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

Into the Mountains

Let the adventure begin.

sunny 75 °F


Every adventure starts with a different adventure. The next location we were off to was Mestia, in the Caucus mountains. This was the part of the trip i'd been most excited about. I LOVE the mountains. Any mountains. (Yes, I live in Columbus, Ohio - flat, flat, flat.). From our hotel in Telavi, we took an hour taxi ride back to the Tibilisi airport. According to the flight board, we were going to be the first flight out and it was on time. Mike & I sat and had a nice breakfast waiting on the flight to be called. Not too much later, we heard an announcement...flight delayed 3 hours. This was not a good sign. The flight to Mestia is known to cancel...often. We started to get our plan B in order when, after "just" 2 hours, they called our flight. YAY!

We got in the bus to be transported to the plane and pulled up next to a de Havilland 6 turboprop plane. I, for one was stoked. I think small planes are cool! We handed our bags to the first officer and climbed onboard. I was the first on, besides the couple mom's with small children, and quickly picked a window seat behind the pilot. In this type of plane, there is no bulletproof door between the pilots and passengers. There is no flight attendant. It's just the pilot, co-pilot and the 17 passengers. We chatted with the pilot as he was getting ready. Where else can you do that? Eventually, we got airborne for our one hour flight. (Much better than an 11 hour marshrutka ride.). As we started to get closer, I was having the time of my life, watching out the front window as the mountains got larger and larger. I laughed with Mike saying there would be NO chance my mom would have stepped on that plane.


Eventually, all good things must come to an end and we landed at the Mestia airport. Home of only one flight a day...maybe. We grabbed a car to take us to our accommodations, Rozza's Guesthouse. Mike and I have decided that we're just too old to do the hostel thing. We were hoping the guesthouse would be a little more B & B than hostel. Not so much. We did meet some fine folks there, but decided after the first night that we should probably find a different place to stay for our last night in Mestia.

We decided to head into town to get a lay of the land and check with the traveler's information office to get additional details on the hikes and other things to do in town. Mestia is a small town in the mountains that is, of course, in the middle of a MAJOR reconstruction. The streets are torn up and they are rebuilding all of the buildings at the town center. It is, however, still a beautiful town with medieval towers EVERYWHERE! We tried to find the Ethnographic museum that out guidebooks had highly touted. It was closed - in the process of being reconstructed. Next to that is the residence of the local monks with a charming chapel. The gate was open, so we decided to try to look. Not. So. Fast. Mike was allowed in, but I was not since I'm a woman who was not "properly" dressed. Again. Mike got his photos and we continued to check the town out.


We headed back into town and found a couple of travelers staying at our guesthouse having a drink at a cafe. We stopped by and talked about our travels and enjoyed a beer to help cut the dust everywhere. We decided to make it an early night because the next day we were heading to Ushguli, the highest populated town in Europe which was supposed to have some amazing views. Over dinner at the guesthouse, we met a couple from Ukraine who offered to share the cost of the car to take us to Ushguli the next day. Win / win.

The 2 1/2 hour ride to Ushguli is a VERY rough ride. There is no actual road. The "road" there is mainly an almost two lane gravel road pitted with huge potholes and streams crossing it. Even so, it was worth the discomfort getting there. We arrived in Ushguli and were in heaven. The town is in three sections, each with towers everywhere. The driver gave us 3 1/2 hours to wander before we had to meet for the ride back. Mike and I immediately shot off, cameras in hand, looking for the best views which is easy. There are great views everywhere you look. We checked out middle and lower but saved upper for last. From upper Ushguli, you have views of Mt. Shkhara, the highest point in Georgia. BEAUTUFUL! Ushguli is one of those places that you can try to describe until you turn blue in the face but the words can never quite do it. The air is so clear and the sky is so blue with mountains surrounding you. In a word, heaven.

I was afraid 3 1/2 hours wouldn't be enough time. It was perfect. We met up with the Ukranians and driver and started back on our bumpy ride to Mestia. We all agreed on the drive that this was going to be one of those days that will remain in our minds forever.


Posted by Jengt 06:18 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains 6 dehavilland Comments (1)

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