Day 152 – 18.10.2016
Trabzon (Turkey) to Batumi (Georgia)

After crossing the border at Sarpi on the Turkey side, after a long wait in the queue as the computer system was down for more than an hour, we got into the Georgian side of the border where they wanted to check our car. After convincing them that we were not carrying anything they let us go, but the guy at the passport control wasn’t sure if we could enter Georgia with a Schengen visa, so he kept looking at every page of the passport. He was not convinced, he made us move the car to the side and sent our passports to some seniors for confirmation, while he cleared other cars. Even when the passports were brought back he took about half an hour to enter details in the computer. Overall it took us about an hour at the Georgian side.

After driving for about half an hour from the border, we entered Batumi. We then drove towards our apartment “Watching the Sea” booked by us which was in reality facing the Black Sea. The view from the apartment was so beautiful.

After checking in, we walked towards the Boulevard.  The city was very nice and beautiful, lots to see around and very little time.  Anyway decided to make best use of the time.

We observed that  high-rises were making headway into Batumi’s traditionally classical cityscapes while Georgia’s Black Sea coast continued to develop.   It has taken up restoration of classical 19th-century edifices lining its historic Old Town.

Batumi is the second largest city of Georgia, located on the coast of the Black Sea.  Batumi is a bustling seaside resort during warm seasons, but gets entirely covered in snow during winter. Much of Batumi’s economy revolves around tourism and gambling, but the city is also an important sea port and includes industries like shipbuilding, food processing and light manufacturing.

There were a lot of people strolling along the Boulevard, the park strip fronting the main beach, originally laid out in 1884 and now stretching 6km along the coast. With its trees, paths, fountains, cafes, beach bars and a few quirky attractions, it looked like it was the life and soul of Batumi.

Near the northeast tip of the bulvari there was a large Ferris Wheel, the 145m-high Alphabet Tower (a monument to Georgian script and culture), and a 7m-high, ethereally moving metal sculpture by Tamar Kvesitadze that is universally known as Ali & Nino after the lover-protagonists of Kurban Said’s marvellous novel name.

We were very amused to see the way people in Batumi dried their clothes in the sun.

We visited the Sheraton Hotel at Batumi with Novelty architecture in the style of the Great Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt; Alphabetic Tower (145 metres (476 ft) high), celebrating Georgian script and writing, Piazza, a mixed-used development in the form of an Italian piazza and several buildings designed in the style of a lighthouse, the Acropolis, and an upside-down White House.

A bit further south rises Georgia’s tallest building, the 200m-high Batumi Tower, looking a bit like a mini Empire State Building – with a mini Ferris Wheel implanted in its side! Constructed under the Saakashvili government to be a technological university, it was sold off by his successors to be a Le Meridien hotel.

Southward, on what’s known as the New Boulevard, an ornamental lake hosts the Dancing Fountains, an entertaining laser, music and water show.  We really enjoyed it and spent a good time watching the fountain dancing.

Towards the north end of Batumis bulvari was Georgia’s tallest building, the 200m-high Batumi Tower, looking a bit like a mini Empire State Building – with a mini Ferris Wheel implanted in its side.

The coastal line of the boulevard was beautiful with bungalows, café-lounges, restaurants, children’s attractions, benches, sculptures and fountains.

We then walked back to our apartment so we could have a good sleep before we begin our journey to Tbilisi.  We however had a dog as a companion walking along with us. He did not leave our side till we reached our apartment.

Day 153 – 19.10.2016
Batumi to Tbilisi

Today we had around 370 kms to drive from Batumi to Tbilisi.  We started around 9.30 in the morning after a cup of coffee and thought, we will pick up some breakfast on the way. With great difficulty we managed to find a small cafe where we got some coffee on the go and bread baked with cheese (seemed like a speciality around that area). We had it in the car itself while driving.

We then drove for another good two hours before we stopped for a break with coffee.  We finally reached Tbilisi around 4.30 pm and driving through the narrow streets was a challenge with cars parked in either side of the street. Maps.me directed us perfectly to the apartment which we had booked for two days.  The host was waiting for us with the keys, after showing us around he left.  We had the entire apartment for ourselves. After relaxing a bit, we left for a small walk before we could have some dinner.

Tbilisi lies in the centre of eastern Georgia, in the foothills of the Trialeti mountain range. According to Georgian legends, it was founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali.  Although the city has been destroyed and rebuilt some 29 times, the layout of the Old Town is largely intact with narrow alleys and big crooked houses built around courtyards.

Day 154 – 20.10.2016
Tbilisi

After breakfast at a small restaurant just across the street, we walked towards the Freedom Square, the site of the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery.  This square, we understand, has also been the site of various mass demonstrations including those for Georgia’s independence (from the Soviet Union), the Rose Revolution, and others. In 2005 Freedom Square was the location where Georgian-Armenian Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live grenade at President Bush while he was addressing a crowd, in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate him.The location was first named Freedom Square in 1918, during the foundation of the First Georgian Republic following the collapse of the Russian Empire.

Tbilisi City Hall is situated on one side of the Square, the other side is the head office building of the former Bank of Georgia and on another side is the Marriott International Tbilisi. The fourth building to be accommodated on the square is the Old Tbilisi local government office, the building works of which are already started. To get around this place one has to use the underpass walkway and you can exit on any side if the square.

The Bridge of Peace – a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge over the Kura River in Tbilisi, provides a unique view of Metekhi Church, Narikala Fortress and statue of city’s founder Vakhtang Gorgasali on one side, and Baratashvili Bridge and Presidential Office on the other. The bridge is nicknamed the “Always Ultra” bridge for its resemblance to a ladies’ maxi-pad.

We then visited the Kashveti Church of St. George, a Georgian Orthodox Church located across the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue.

The Kashveti church was constructed between 1904 and 1910 on the site of a damaged church built of brick.  The name “kashveti” is derived from Georgian words kva for a “stone” and shva “to give birth.” Legend has it that a  prominent 6th century monk David of Gareja of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers was accused by a woman of making her pregnant in Tbilisi.  David prophesied his denial would be proved when she gave birth to a stone. She did, and the place thus received the name of “kashveti.

We also visited the Anchiskhati Basilica of St Mary, the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi, belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church and dates from the sixth century.

Day 155 – 21.10.2016
Tbilisi

After breakfast we took a cab to drive us to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, commonly known as Sameba erected on the Elia Hill, above the left bank of the Kura River (Mtkvari) in the historic neighborhood of Avlabari in Old Tbilisi, is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church located in Tbilisi, constructed between 1995 and 2004.  It is also the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world and one of the largest religious buildings in the world by total area.

The Sameba Cathedral is constructed by using natural materials.  The floor is made of marble tiles and the altar will also be decorated with mosaic. The Sameba complex, the construction of which is already completed, consists of the main cathedral church, a freestanding bell-tower, the residence of the Patriarch, a monastery, a clerical seminary and theological academy, several workshops, places for rest, etc.

Here we met a group of Indian families working in Dubai who had come on a weekend visit to Georgia.

The Presidential Administration of Georgia in a refurbished building of the former Imperial gendarmerie, is located on the left bank of the Kura River, in the Avlabari district

We also visited Nekresi Monastery Complex located high up in the hill offering breathtaking views to surrounding plateau, not to mention that monastery complex is really interesting by itself.  Located close to Kvareli town. The church was recently restored, stone masonry repaired, roof rebuilt, windows put in place.

We took another cab which drove us to the Funicular and after purchasing tickets, we took a ride on it upto the middle station so we could visit the Mtatsminda Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures.  It is a necropolis in Tbilisi, where some of the most prominent writers, artists, scholars, and national heroes of Georgia are buried. It is located in the churchyard around St. David’s Church “Mamadaviti” on the slope of Mount Mtatsminda meaning the Holy Mountain) and was officially established in 1929.

Mini buses are the mode of transport used by people to move around town in Tbilisi.

As we were following Maps.me to guide us around to various sights, it also directed us to a Park built in memory of April 9 tragedy.  On April 9, 1989, an anti-Soviet demonstration was dispersed by the Soviet Army, resulting in 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries. April 9 is now remembered as the Day of National Unity, an annual public holiday.

The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi founded in 1851 is situated on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, Georgia is one of the oldest such establishments in eastern Europe.

We used the gondola lift to cross over between Rike Park and the Narikala fortress. This modern, high capacity gondola lift can carry up to 8 persons in each car was started in 2012. Opened in 2012, this cable car connects Rike Park on the left bank of the Mtkvari river with Narikala Fortress. For only 1 Lari you can kill two birds with one stone – gaze at the fantastic 360-degree views of the city from the large windows of the car and have an easy ride to the top of the hill. The ride only takes a couple of minutes, which was our only complaint, because with such beautiful views to take in, the trip goes far too fast.  The cable car accepts Metro cards.

Once we got across to the Narikala Fortress side, on one side we could see the Narikala an ancient fortress overlooking Tbilisi and the Kura River. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi. On the lower court there is the recently restored St Nicholas church.

The fortress was established in the 4th century as Shuris-tsikhe (i.e., “Invidious Fort”). It was considerably expanded by the Umayyads in the 7th century and later, by king David the Builder (1089–1125). The Mongols renamed it “Narin Qala” (i.e., “Little Fortress”). Most of the fortifications date from the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1827, parts of the fortress were damaged by an earthquake and demolished.

And on the other side was Kartlis Deda – Mother of a Kartli or Mother of a Georgian. The statue, a twenty-metre aluminium figure of a woman in Georgian national dress was erected on the top of Sololaki hill in 1958, the year Tbilisi celebrated its 1500th anniversary.  She symbolizes the Georgian national character: in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies.

On our way back we passed through a nice huge building and understand that it is a Public School Number 1 of Tbilisi, also known as the First Classical Gymnasium.

After spending two lovely days in Tbilisi, it was time for us to leave for our next destination and that was Sheki in Azerbaijan.