|We arrived cold, dirty and damp into Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia (population 1.5 million). This city is also famous for being on part of the roman and greek trade networks to the east and along the silk road.
The first thing that most people did was to have a hot shower. It was still pouring with rain but as we had loads of laundry Shaun and I set off in to town to find a launderette. We searched for ages but it appeared that the guide book we had was a bit out of date so we ended up just getting lost very wet and grumpy so we just caught a cab back to the hotel.
That evening after more than a few bottles of wine most of us headed off to the only Thai restaurant in town which made a nice change from the food we've been eating of late. Even more wine was consumed over dinner (we have become something of experts on Georgian wine now!) and we all ended up back at Margerite's, Jennifer's and Jenni's room for a bit of a party. There must have been something in the air that night as the first truck romances starting occurring – one of which (Ed) had only just joined in Tbilisi and ended up spending the night with Margerite (Good work!) and then later we found Ray and Hannah having a sneaky snog on the stairwell! (that puts pay to your opinion Markus).
Needless to say most people woke up with hangovers in the morning for our 2 fried egg break fast (the hotels specialty we were staying in!). Luckily the rain had cleared up overnight so it was a sunny day for Shaun's walking tour – after most people had done their laundry in the bath. The walking tour (as set out in the lonely planet guide book ) basically ended up being a church tour – there are so many of them here. The churches are all quite plain inside however they are adorned with pictures of various saints which the locals pray in front of. One of the other things we have noticed is that every single church we have gone into has always been full with locals at any time of the day. The churches we saw were as follows:
Kashveti temple – where a funeral was taking place so we didn't stick around for very long
Metekhi church – overlooking the Mtkvari river
Jvris Mama – this was quite old and was being renovated at the time so we couldn't go in but there has been a church here since the 5th Century.
Sameba Cathedral – this was extremely impressive being the biggest cathedral in the whole of the Caucasus and has only just been finished. Its building was very controversial being built on a former Armenian graveyard and having the main funds come from a unknown source. Pretty nice as churches go though.
Wandering around the old part of town with great old run down buildings was probably the best bit (although we did realise that on our trip into town the previous day we had already walked around a lot of the old town when we were lost). We also went into the money museum which funny as it may sound, was really quite interesting. There was a huge collection of money including old coins used during Alexander the Greats reign and other old silk road coins. Wandering around in the old town we also had views up to the Narikala Fortress and the giant aluminium statue of Mother Georgia which dominates the skyline.
By this stage a number of people were flagging so we managed to chance upon Chinatown (about 2 chinese restaurants!) and found a great little Georgian restaurant slightly below street level.There were three locals in there watching a terrible soap which in the space of 30 mins had a rape, a murder, a suicide and two affairs! Anyway the khinkali were pretty good especially when mixed with the Georgian green sauce (zkemali).
That evening we all set off after a few wines to a Georgian restaurant down the road but there were to many of us so we ended up at a Japanese place where it took over two hours for some people to get there food (there were also a few temper tantrums over this which Shaun and I apologised to the restaurant for after everyone had left).
Next day we had a trip organised to see Davit Gareja to the south east of Tbilisi. It took us about two hours to get there but it was so nice to actually get to see some countryside for a change (the truck has very un-clear plastic windows that we cannot see out of). With snowy peaks in the background we travelled over huge big green valleys that have no fencing on them at all – apparently it is common land. The shepherds here are actually real shepherds in that they herd their sheep and goats over the grass.
Davit Gareja is a monastery founded by Davit (a Syrian Father from the 6th Century). The monasteries were all set in caves and at one stage up to 6000 people lived in them. However the Mongols and Russians came in and decimated most of them. The remaining ones we managed to visit (some of which involved a precarious climb over a narrow plank of wood) and some of them have some amazing frescos. It also meant we got to cross the border into Azerbaijan on foot with no border control.
That evening Shaun and I went out for dinner to a Georgian restaurant with Ed the new bloke. He is a yank and has just returned from Iraq where he was a medic in the army.