Georgia: Hiking, Wine and Mark Becomes a Wedding Photographer

It’s been a while since the last post. We were on a hiatus of sorts in Europe. Landing in London we had a week in the old city catching up with friends, concerts and cricket. Moving on to Belgium to Rock Werchter, which was a truly amazing festival, then making our way to Switzerland by way of Antwerp and Aachen, where, you guessed it, we caught up with mates. Another 2 weeks in Switzerland, Mark popped to London for the ill fated Cricket World Cup Final, where NZ lost by zero runs, but mercifully for Martina, he couldn’t dwell too long, as we had to turn attention to the next phase of our journey, Georgia and further, into Central Asia.

Georgian lawn mower

We traipsed around a stiflingly hot Milan, with – owing to the Italian organisation at the bag drop – our full packs, but an espresso and gelato later we were on our way to Kutaisi, in central Georgia. It was a long time coming, both of us had learned about Georgia in slightly unflattering ways, via the war with Russia in 2008, which had, oddly, inspired both of us separately to want to visit. That was a long time ago, and while the old antagonist to the north still occupies parts of Georgia, it’s a country whose tourism sector is thriving. Kutaisi didn’t have a lot to note, other than a place to get our bearings, and as it turned out, a fellow traveller in Brendon, a laugh a minute Australian lad. We headed down to Batumi, a curious city with a juxtaposition between quaint old town, and lavish resorts, hotels and casinos. After checking out one bizarre hostel, that had no locks on the door and was pretty much just a guy living with his Mum, we settled on another with a guy we dubbed “Borat-Gollum” at the front desk, also bizarre. One night was enough though given Gollum and his manager were on highly argumentative terms (Gollum kept barging into our room, ostensibly to facilitate a drug deal), so we headed North, to Mestia, it was time to check out the mountains.

Adishi Glacier
Cute little piglets everywhere!

Martina and I had been planning to do the hike before we’d arrived, Brendon however had announced earlier how much he hates hiking, funny then, when we turned around to see him still on the mini bus all the way to Mestia. As we hit the trail head we were all prepared, well, WE were, Brendon’s nice new trainers took a real battering on the muddy paths, sometimes complete with little rivers. The beautiful alpine hike took us up the river valley with spectacular views of the Caucasus mountains that separate Georgia and Russia. We spent our first night with a lovely old lady named Dodo, who’s food was outrageously good. The next day was shorter, but steeper, and seemed to be even hotter than the previous day slugging our way to the next little village through mountain meadows with wild flowers in full bloom and snow capped peaks poking above the greenery.

Typical old Georgian style farm house
Old farm house at under the night sky
Village riding lessons

In this village we met a Kiwi/Danish couple Marcel and Signe. We all got along well and trotted off the next day, starting with a small incident of Marcel getting trotted on by a gormless and unapologetic local on a horse and crossing an ice cold river specifically to defy giving money to the aforementioned gormless unapologetic local on a horse. We scaled the hill side through the trees until a marvelous vista over the Adishi Glacier was revealed. We watched as it creaked and cracked and small pieces fell away, before pushing on uphill until one river valley gave way to the next. That night we had a few wines after the longest day of the hike, Martina spilling a little red at the entrance to an odd little museum at the guest house, leaving the next innocent entrants (coincidentally our 2 new friends), swilling red wine themselves, to field questions as to why there was red wine all over the place. The celebrations seemed all too early as the next day we still had the final day to tackle. We managed in the end, after battling some morning drys to get to Ushguli, where the prized view of the mountain range was obscured, all that sweat for nothing! Well, not quite, we really enjoyed the scenery, blew out the cobwebs a little, and met new friends. Marcel & Signe, as it transpired, needed marriage witnesses for their big day. Not ones to turn down friends in need, a couple of wines and a feed, we happily obliged.

Adishi village
Views to the Caucasus mountains, blocked by clouds and cows
The mountains trying to peak through
An amazing dinner by Dodo

So, after a quick couple of days in the capital Tbilisi where we didn’t achieve much of anything we headed to Georgia’s self proclaimed “City of Love” Sighnaghi, a perfect place to witness a wedding. The nickname itself is something of a misnomer, it’s perhaps romantic if rather than the soothing serenade of a Venetian gondolier you prefer yapping street dogs, and in place of Parisian artisans you’re more partial to locals revving their engines in the main square. Nevertheless, there were some great views to be had, one good vantage point was the abandoned textile factory on the edge of town, which Mark and Brendon took great delight in checking out.

Little bit of Urban Ex in the old textile factory

On to the wedding day, and fresh from a little “Urban Exploration” at the textile factory, we made our way to the town hall for the nuptials, promptly at 4pm. Mark had his first “paid gig” as a photographer (if one can consider wine payment) and went about his business snapping away for the happy couple. After waiting an hour the celebrant finally showed up, only to say that the translations she needed where incorrect, and needed to be done again. To say the woman was humorless would be an understatement, as she made us march across the road to the notary for re-translation. There wasn’t much else to do other than wait, play with street dogs, and drink beers. Finally the requisite documents arrived after several assurances of “just 10 minutes”, reminiscent of the opening scene from Snatch, “You said 10 minutes, 25 minutes ago”. It was on, and celebrant grumpy went about her work, maintaining her icy persona until the end, as Martina & Brendon signed the witness register, while the couple kissed, and as we popped the “champagne”, she never looked back as we waved her away. We had an excellent time, despite Mark’s stomach catching up with him during the night, but the food, drinks and company were amazing. Mark truly hopes the couple are happy with his efforts, and we both wish them all the best going forward, and also to see them again along the way.

If only the celebrant was as attentive as Spot the wedding dog

We headed back to the capital and bid farewell to our travel buddies, which was sad after a 2 and a half weeks with Brendon and around 2 with the others, it certainly helped make the journey what it was to be surrounded by fun people and create friendships along the way.

Yerevan, in the shadow of Mt. Ararat
Armenian Genocide Memorial

After the goodbyes we piled into a minivan and made our way to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. We didn’t know a great deal about the city but had heard it had a good soviet look about it, Mark’s ears pricked up and away we went. What we found was a hip cosmopolitan city, seemingly flush with money, judging by the cars around town, not only that, but great restaurants, cafes and an amazing craft brewery. An easily walk-able city we went to various markets and museums, the most interesting being the Armenian Genocide memorial. Built to commemorate the fallen in the 1915 genocide at the hands of The Young Turks, some estimates put the death toll at 1.5M, others slightly higher. However, while only 29 countries officially recognise it as a genocide, the facts are scarcely in dispute, this was a tragedy in which no one had to answer for, and Turkey still denies, hence a fairly frosty relationship prevails between the 2 neighbours.

Old Tbilisi from the old fort complex

We are now back in Tbilisi and will head to Azerbaijan next. We should probably let you know what our plans are. From Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan we will fly on to Tehran, capital of Iran, we plan to spend a few weeks checking out Iran, a country we have been looking forward for as long as we can remember and which we’ve only heard good things about (on its citizens at least). Hopefully, we can then secure passage through Central Asia aka “the Stans”. So, join us for our journey!

@catchustravelling on Instagram.

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