Our next stop in the Caucasus region was Georgia. We hired a taxi that took us right from our apartment in Alaverdi, across the Armenia-Georgia border, and to our apartment in Tbilisi. We stayed just across the river from downtown, on a bustling commercial street. The buildings were beautiful, well-maintained, and we could see why people had said it resembled Europe. We stayed in Tbilisi for 10 days, and that gave us a good amount of time to explore the city.
Tbilisi is a wonderful city, and there were many things to keep us entertained. It was great just to wander around all the different neighbourhoods. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of new modern architecture next to old brick and wooden buildings that look like they have been in use for hundreds of years. Mary was so snap happy with the camera that we now have an exhaustive collection of back alley and dilapidated veranda photos. Some highlights in Tbilisi, besides the old town, included the relatively new St. Trinity cathedral, the outdoor Ethnographic Museum, and the Dry Bridge Flea Market. We even put on our finest (if you can call a wrinkled up button-up shirt and hiking pants fancy) and attended a concert of the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra.
One very interesting experience we had in Tbilisi was at one of the local Georgian baths. There are a number of these baths that are located near the old town. They have been in use for many years, and the local spring water is said to have healing properties. There were numerous options for bathers, including public areas (separate male and female) or private rooms. Considering it was customary to bath totally nude, we opted for the private room, as our boys were not quite ready for bathing with a bunch of naked strangers. After overcoming the slight rotten egg smell, we had a enjoyable time. However, the most interesting part was when Mary and I had our total body scrub down. One of the workers came in, nearly naked himself, and proceeded to scrub us all over with a rough hand scrubber. We must have lost 2 pounds of dead skin! Our skin had never felt so radiant.
Finn celebrated his 12th birthday while we were in Tbilisi. It is hard to buy presents while travelling, because it just means more things to carry. It is already funny watching me get upset at how much stuff we are carrying every time we pack up. We happened to be staying close to an outdoor store, so we took Finn to pick out a new Opinel pocket knife. Playing with knives and whittling sticks has become one of the boys favourite pastimes, so he was happy to have a new tool.
After saying good-bye to Tbilisi, we headed up to Stepasminda, in the Kazbegi area. It is a very quaint town nestled at the base of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, and just on the other side is Russia. We spent a few days here enjoying the fresh mountain air and doing a few great hikes. Most people come here to do the hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church, an ancient monastery perched high on the hills with amazing views all around. It did not disappoint. Another stunning hike we did was in the nearby Juta valley. It offered views of jagged mountain peaks and as such is known as the “Georgian Dolomites”. This area is breathtaking and we would absolutely love to come back someday to further explore the area. The boys even thought it would be the perfect place to open a hostel.
The next stop was the small city of Borjomi. This little town is tucked up in the green hills west of Tbilisi, and it was a nice place to spend a few relaxing days. We stayed next a great park where we could hang out while the kids searched the forest for sticks. They also had a great time going through an obstacle course set up in the trees. Borjomi is most famous for its spring water which is also touted to have healing powers. There is a place to fill up your bottles for free in the park, and many locals were filling up large jugs. We thought we should try it, but it turned out the water was warmish, salty, and with a strong sulphur smell. Not what we were expecting, and not to our liking!
Our last destination in Georgia was the village of Sighnaghi in the Kakheti region. Sighnaghi is a beautiful village that sits on a hilltop overlooking the valley and the Caucasus mountains. It was very relaxed, and it is right in the heart of the wine region. This area produces close to 70% of the wine in Georgia. We visited a couple on wineries, including one that had kilometres of tunnels dug into a mountainside that it used as a cellar.
All in all, we had a great time in Georgia and we were excited to see Azerbaijan, our last stop in the Caucasus region.