October 26th to 30th. 399km
We had a really great few days in Tbilisi. What an awesome city, I’d thoroughly recommend it for a visit. It’s a good size to explore on foot, with something interesting to look at around every corner. And, of course, always something delicious to eat. Accordingly, we chilled, we walked, we ate.
The morning we were due to leave, it was raining heavily. We really are not winning with the weather in this part of the world. Luckily our Air BnB owner was really kind and was happy for us to stick around as long as we wanted, so we waited out the morning looking out the window at the grey skies. It didn’t look like the rain would stop, so we decided to set off in the early afternoon, and to only go a short distance that day. We headed out of the city on waterlogged roads, getting soaked by the rain and sprayed by the passing vehicles. We stopped at the Tbilisi Mall on the outskirts for a quick supermarket shop and a locally sourced, artisanal lunch (cough, Burger King). Our target for the day was Mtskheta, an unpronounceable but pretty little town just 27km to the north west. Luckily, before too long we’d arrived and found a guesthouse right next to the cathedral where we were able to dry off. The owner, Anna, couldn’t speak English but we were just about able to communicate using German, mine a very rusty memory from GCSEs many years ago. Later in the evening we walked around the cathedral and old town to get something to eat. It was beautiful and very atmospheric, but yet another place we were saying ‘this would be amazing with good weather.’
The next day the forecast was for snow! Anna said this must be ‘falsch,’ but she did say that this October has been colder than any she could remember. To get to Gori, our next stop, there was the option of the boring motorway, or a slightly shorter and more interesting looking route through some low hills. We crossed the bridge out of town and took the hill road on the southside of the Mtkvari River. The clouds were hanging low and we could see a dusting of snow on the hillsides not far above us. As we climbed, the drizzle turned to sleet, which turned to snow. Quite heavy snow coming down at a rate that I, as a skier, would describe as ‘dumping’. It didn’t settle on the road, but it did soak us through and made the downhill on the far side of the hills very cold indeed.
In a small village we pulled in to a place which looked like it could have been a cafe. The three guys inside welcomed us in and we gestured that we’d love something to eat and some hot chai. They sat us down and started heating up some khinkali (dumplings) for us, then got on the phone to someone, who turned out to be a local woman who spoke English. She arrived a couple of minutes later and chatted to us, clarifying that we wanted to eat lunch and that we were happy to eat whatever they had. She also said she thought that a couple of shots of cha cha would warm us up nicely. We agreed. The khinkali arrived along with a couple of other dishes, plus some tea and cha cha, exactly what we needed. Once we were finished and went to pay and leave, they wouldn’t take our money, lunch was on them. Our hearts were warmed, even if our toes weren’t fully thawed.
The rest of the ride to Gori was down off the hills and next to the river, so a little warmer. The rain/sleet eased off too so the afternoon’s riding was a bit more enjoyable. Gori’s claim to ‘fame’ is as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. The following day, with some decent weather, we went to look at his childhood home, which is preserved in the town square under a big marble monument. There’s also a big fort (unrelated to Stalin) on a hill in the centre of town which, with blue skies, gave us great views of the Caucasus mountains to the north and the countryside around Gori.
After a token bit of sightseeing, we hit the road again, on the motorway heading west. Initially we had a big climb up and over some hills, then a cruisy downhill onto a flat stretch where we were helped by a tailwind to make some good distance through the morning. We passed another cyclist, a Swiss woman travelling solo towards Iran. She’s the first cyclist we’ve seen since leaving Uzbekistan. I think it’s getting pretty late in the year for people to be heading East. We chatted and exchanged intel on the roads ahead before continuing. Soon after, we stopped for lunch at a cafe, where we had more khinkali. Leaning our bikes on the wall outside the cafe, I caught my shorts on a rose bush and ripped a big hole in them. Disaster! My faithful shorts that I’ve worn for pretty much every cycling day since we left Japan! Gutting. It seems like we’re getting to a stage in our trip where things are starting to wear out. A few holes are starting to appear, and almost everything is showing signs of general wear and tear. Also, both our Thermarest matresses are delaminating, which will hopefully be replaced under warranty. Hopefully the rest of our stuff will last, but no doubt a few more replacements will be needed in the coming months.
The dual carriageway had been quite busy, but soon after lunch it narrowed and turned north into the hills. We were winding and climbing for about 15km. It was a comfortable gradient so we weren’t too tired to look around at the autumn colours on the way up. The colder weather is bringing out the reds and oranges in the trees and they were really standing out in the sunshine. A new and well lit tunnel chopped the top off the climb and the final part of the day was cruising downhill. Halfway down, we spotted an area of grass in the bend of a river, hidden from the road by a row of trees. We went over to investigate and found a perfect camp spot for the night.
The good weather continued the next day, as did the beautiful scenery. We were winding through the hills following the river for the whole morning, stopping only for photos or to top up our water bottles from the many water fountains beside the road. More autumn colours and the odd view to snowcapped mountains in the distance. There were a few short climbs, but generally we were heading downhill to the town of Zestafoni, where we stopped for lunch.
From Zestafoni we joined a busier road, heading towards Kutaisi, our next stop. Leaving the town, Clare suddenly pulled over to the side of the road, where she’d spotted a group of tiny puppies. They were running around very close to the passing traffic and it didn’t look like they had a home. We tried to shoo them off the road, but they kept coming back to us and then followed us for a bit once we started riding again. Yet more animals that Clare would’ve loved to have put in a pannier and taken with us! Further on, we were able to get off the busy road and onto two new lanes which were finished but still closed to traffic. We cycled side by side and chatted for a while before turning off for the final stretch to Kutaisi.
I hadn’t realised it, but this meant quite a steep climb. After 80km, we were expecting to roll into town, but first we had a long continuous uphill through a forest and then a very steep final section of zig zags on cobbles to contend with. Slightly later, and more tired than expected we arrived in Kutaisi. We had a look around the town, which was quite interesting with its old buildings and a big cathedral on the hill, then went for some dinner. It was a good one, delicious veal stew and some Georgian sausages, washed down with local wine. Unsurprising really, as every meal so far in Georgia has been good!
The rain returned overnight, very heavily at times. We set off wearing full waterproofs into the drizzle the next morning. It soon eased off though, and we dried off quickly to ride the rest of the day under grey skies. Nothing particularly exciting happened, the road was straight and flat, heading towards the coast. We passed the amusingly named ‘David the Builder International Airport’ and stopped for cheesy khachapuris and a beer for lunch, but other than that, we just rode our bikes. Towards the end of the day, we started looking for somewhere to camp, but we found ourselves in quite a populated area. One village rolled into the next, with no real empty land inbetween. Of course, earlier in the day we’d passed countless potential camp spots, but now we were looking for one, nothing was working for us. Eventually, in the fading light, we saw a path running off into some bushes. Once we were through the bushes we found a decent area to pitch the tent, shared with a few cows, but it was flat and hidden from the road. Just as we had finished cooking some food, the rain started again. Lucky timing, we packed up the stove and retired to the tent to eat and stay dry.
More heavy rain overnight, but it was just about clearing in the morning. The tent was wet as we took it down, but at least we were dry as we hit the road. We weren’t too bothered anyway, as we’d be reaching Batumi later that day and so could dry out there. Another 10km from our camp spot at Supsa and we reached the coast road. We turned left, to head south, and before long caught our first glimpse of the sea. It felt like quite a big moment. The last time we’d seen the sea was back in February, the Gulf of Thailand near Bangkok. Here we were 8 months later, at the Black Sea. I think that means we’ve kind of crossed a continent, or certainly a landmass of some kind. Anyway, we went down to the beach and posed for a photo, similar to one we took in Thailand, albeit wearing more clothing.
This is the ‘Black Sea Riviera’ and although we were dubious, the coastline was quite nice. Most of the hotels and beach resorts were closed up as it’s not exactly sunbathing season, but I imagine in the summer it would be bustling. We followed the coast south, cutting off the main road where we could ride along next to the beach. Just before reaching Batumi, we had two short sharp climbs over a headland, then from the top had a view down to the city. Apparently Batumi has received big investment in the past 5 years, developing new high-rise buildings and renovating the old town area. Again, we weren’t expecting much, but arriving in town we were pleasantly surprised. We’re looking forward to spending a couple of days here. We got into a hostel in the old town, then within minutes of arriving, a torrential downpour started and didn’t really let up for the rest of the day. We were very happy to be inside in the dry.
After Batumi, we’ll be heading to the Turkish border, just 20km down the coast. We’ve done no planning so far for Turkey, so we’ll probably need to spend a bit of time looking at the map to figure out a rough route. It’s a big country and winter is fast approaching! Here’s our route through western Georgia, from Tbilisi to Batumi: