First Impressions of Georgia, the Land of Stalin & Wine

Ancient monestaries, post-apocalyptic scenery, weird infrastructure

The first thing that you notice when you cross the Turkish-Georgian border is the difference in the level of security. Turks have five check-points where they check your passport, your registration papers, your visa, your passport, your registration papers. Or something like that — you keep giving them papers and praying that everything is OK. Georgian side: only one border guard, only one check. This suited me fine, but that cannot be said for thousands of trucks waiting to be admitted to Georgia. A little upgrade of border capacity wouldn’t hurt.

The other difference that you notice right away is the level of development. While buildings in Turkey were modern, and roads well kept, the situation in Georgia is completely different. Buildings and roads are crumbling. People are paler and smiling less often. Cars are bigger though and I literally haven’t seen any compact cars — only large cars and pickups — which reminds me of the US.

A typical Georgian building (left) and a typical Turkish building (right)

The final difference is, of course, the level of freedom for women. Suddenly you get to see women in public, women on beaches, women dressed for the warm weather. It’s quite a shock that one kilometer can do so much visible difference.

Georgia is the country that we rarely know or speak about. It has ancient history, it used to be a superpower, it has it’s distinct language, writing and culture. I will tell you more about particular features of Georgia later.

Batumi — back to the 80s

Batumi is the summer destination for Georgians, Ukranians, Russians and everyone without too much money. It reminds me of Croatia in the 80s — traffic jams, cheap accommodation, souvenirs and local produce sold on the streets.

The whole Black Sea Coast gets heavy rains even in summer. Since the forecast for tomorrow was torrential rain, I decided to forget about exploring it and escape hit the road early in the morning (as you can imagine, rain is one of the worst enemies of bikers).

The road to Tbilisi — Georgia from dreams

When you move away from the coast, from the highway, from the people you finally see Georgia that I was looking for. Let me take you through it in a few scenes.

Katashki pillar
This 40m tall limestone rock has a little monestary built on top of it. It has been sitting there for around a thousand years. And a bit more. A few decades ago, a monk decided to revive the tradition and started living up there. He enjoys silence, he says.

Katashki pillar (left). The wrench used to bring supplies (middle). Religious devotion starts from young age in Georgia (right).

Postapocaliptic scenery
Sometimes you feel you are in a Mad Max movie or a Fallout video-game. You cannot help to think that this is how the world would look like after nuclear warfare. Abandoned buildings, abandoned cattle, abandoned roads, all against the backdrop of beautiful fields and clouds.

Who knows what was (or still is) produced here.

Bizarre infrastructure
One of the most bizarre features of the villages are the pipelines. They are above ground, as you can see on the picture below, and are often shaped in crazy ways to allow entrance of truck and cars into the backyards. I tried googling their history without success. They seem like an extreme fire hazard, but maybe I’m just too conservative.

Chiatura: Where funiculars are still running

Chiatura is a small mining town that is now in a state of decay. Mines are closed, people are unemployed, everything is falling apart. Yet funiculars that were used to transport miners to the hills around the city are still running even after 60 years. They are free for everyone brave enough to take them.

After a scary ride under strong wind, I reached the top of the hill where I wanted to take some pictures and head back immediately. But lo and behold, the electricity was gone and the funicular stopped working. I thanked heavens that I was safe on the ground, but I couldn’t stop wondering what would have happened if they stopped running while I was still in the air. Vakho, a guy who rides funicular up and down the whole day (there is nothing better to do), told me that once some tourists were trapped in the funicular for four days. Lucky me, I only had to take a road down for forty minutes.

Vakho, a guy who really likes the funiculars.

Gori — Stalin’s birthplace

And then I decided to go to Gori. A sleepy town and a birthplace of evil. Stalin not only killed millions, I’m pretty sure that he is responsible for a lot of depression that we see in post-communist countries. A very simplistic explanation would be that during communism, communities were purposefully destroyed, neighbours were encouraged to report each other, spies were everywhere: all that removed trust and made people much less happy.

Anyway, this is the fcker’s birthplace:

A small, shity hut on top of which they built a temple. Cute.

Next to his birthplace there is a modern supermarket advertising itself with his image. Karma is a bitch.

How do you like Coca-Cola sold under your name, Joseph?

If you want to read previous stories from the trip to Georgia, you can find them here:
1) Motorbike Diaries: The Trip to Ankara
2) Motorbike diaries: Kingdom of Hazelnuts