People often ask me what’s my favourite country I’ve visited, and it’s hard to choose one out of the 55 I’ve been to 😉 But Georgia is definitely near the top of the list, with the sincerity of its people and its unending natural beauty, like this melting glacier flowing into the valley outside of the town of Mestia in the Caucasus Mountains. This little Asian guy felt so foreign and out of place in a land I knew little about, and yet I yearn to go back and experience more of it …
Tag Archives: Caucasus
Haphazard hike to Gergeti Glacier in Kazbegi, Georgia
The town of Kazbegi in the Caucasus Mountains is a 3-hour marshrutka ride north of Tbilisi. Though perhaps a bit uncomfortable in a cramped marshrutka, the drive up to this mountain town was simply spectacular and the passionate traveller in me was only concerned about watching the magnificent views of Georgia while staring out the window. After spending 8 days in Tbilisi (with day trips to Mtskheta and Gori), I really felt like I was going to a special place and that I would finally get to embark on some amazing hiking in the country after hearing about such opportunities at the hostel in Tbilisi the previous week, and from fellow travellers during previous journeys. (I should also mention that this experience was a memorable chapter from my Eurotrip from two years ago in August 2013. I’ve wanted to write about this hike for awhile – better late than never, I guess!)
The picturesque Tsminda Sameba Church (Gergeti Trinity Church) overlooks the town from atop a hill, and I hiked to this point a couple hours after getting into town, taking an “off the beaten path” sort of route. I spent the late afternoon simply admiring the vibrant green fields and the majestic mountains before descending back to town to relax for the evening, knowing that the next day would be a long one.
A shepherd tending to his herd
Confession: When I’m travelling, I can be someone who does things without much thought. I’ll get an idea and simplistically think that it will somehow just happen. My trek to Gergeti Glacier was one of those instances – I read some stories online about the logistics of the hike, went into town and bought some water and freshly made, steaming hot bread made in a tandoori-like oven, and walked and walked and walked, one foot in front of the other, in my hiking boots that took me across Spain and up one of the Alps.
A sense of where I’d be going: from Gergeti Trinity Church to about 2 km southeast of where Gergeti Glacier is pinpointed. Also note the proximity to the Russian border. (credit to Google Maps)
Countdown to Zero: Day 28
I’ve fallen even further behind! I know! I’ve spent the last few days in Brno, Czech Republic visiting a friend I met last year around this time in Armenia and again early this year in Japan. I’m re-evaluating doing a daily post at this time; perhaps it will be easier to do once I’m back home…But for now…
Today’s throwback: Akhaltsikhe, Georgia, August 2013
There’s a fortified castle in this Georgian city, close to the Armenian border, that was almost deserted when I was there in August 2013. It was magical. Earlier in the day, I had avoided a herd of cows as I walked to a nunnery from my guesthouse near the Vardzia cave monastery, then taken a marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe, struggled to find a decently priced place to stay (eventually the hotel across the bus station gave me a discount), hired a taxi to take me to the isolated Sapara Monastery 10 km outside of town in a very old car that had a seatbelt without a belt (complete with an endearing old driver who worked his hardest to go up the sometimes unasphalted mountain roads, then proceeded to give me a tour of the monastery in Russian when we arrived), and returned to town in the midst of a torrential downpour…
The rain subsided and I ventured outside, arriving in the castle just around sunset and pretty much had the place to explore myself, climbing up its towers, walking on its walls, and smiling in amazement at the beauty of the town and surrounding countryside. I’m currently in Prague as I write this, an effortlessly beautiful city but one with countless tourists, and it’s such a contrast to think that I might have been the only foreigner within those walls that day. I really had that sense of discovery which captures the soul of a traveller and makes one appreciate being off the beaten path. What was notable was that I knew almost nothing about this city or its castle before getting here. This day was challenging, memorable, irreplicable, unique, special – one of those travel days that will forever be a highlight in my life 🙂
Here’s a video from the castle:
Countdown to Zero: Day 31
A month from now, I will be flying from Bucharest to Istanbul to Boston to Toronto. It’s a simultaneously frightening and comforting thought that almost a year and a half of travel around the world is coming to an end.
To commemorate, I would like to share with you each day something from these tales of travels, these trials and tribulations that went on somewhere in the world in that time span (really, just my misadventures). This will be in addition to my daily travel posts and updates. Each day, I would like to reflect on a memorable experience I had during the last year and a half of travel – something I did for the first time, something I learned from, something humbling, something that made me feel accomplished, something that made me feel a way I’ll never forget, something that impacted me and left me with an impassioned inspiration – anything, really, that manages to make me smile when I look back upon it with the filter of time which only manages to facilitate the nostalgia I feel.
Today’s throwback: let’s not begin with anything too profound. Instead, here’s something from my time in Georgia from August/September 2013 – the food and drink! Khinkali, khachapuri, ostri, roasted eggplant topped with a walnut/garlic paste, Khevsuruli beer, homemade wine in used plastic bottles – these were my staples, and though sometimes repetitive, were always filling 🙂 By the way, I absolutely loved my time in Georgia and it’s easily one of my favourite countries I’ve ever visited. This won’t be my only post about Georgia in the next month…
It’s been a wonderful 10 days in Yerevan and Armenia filled with unthinkable surprises, fantastical landscapes, hospitable and curious people, encounters with other travellers that I now call my friends, misadventures on marshrutkas, finding random restaurants/cafes/bars/clubs of which the city has no shortage.
I knew little of Armenia before crossing its borders and still feel that I’ve only scratched the surface (like most places I’ve been to, in fact). I’ve been tempted to stay at least to the full term of my 21-day tourist visa, but ultimately, the travel show must go on…
Yes, it’s been superlatively wonderful; days so full of life I couldn’t have imagined when I started travelling four and a half months ago and certainly not when I was processing paperwork in the office even longer ago!
Now, in what is probably my last full day in Yerevan, I relax at an outdoor cafe (it’s a pleasant 28 degrees Celsius with a light breeze) listening to a beautiful singer covering English and Russian pop songs after going on a city-wide quest to buy new shoes! And now, after thinking about the last 10 days or so, I think about the upcoming week: Yerevan – Tbilisi – Belgrade – Kotor … I’m excited!
Irreplicable moment of the day: I’m in a taxi with two Japanese travellers I met atop an abandoned ruin in Mtskheta (just outside of Tbilisi) in order to split the cost of a cab to an ancient church atop a mountain. Our driver is a big, burly Georgian with tattoos of a dagger piercing through a heart, a scorpion, and Georgian characters on his knuckles. Out of nowhere, we hear “Love you like a love song” by Selena Gomez. It’s not the radio, but the driver’s ring tone! He tries to get the phone out of his pocket while negotiating a blind bend up the mountain. I make the sign of the cross with as much fervour as do the Georgians, and somehow all is well as we got to the top and saw views like these:
And this one (I’ll leave it to you to make your own commentary):
Perhaps I’ll go into more detail about my day trip to Mtskheta, but I just wanted to share this weird moment with you. Never forget to appreciate the random things that come your way! Happy travels!
“Living” in Tbilisi
I have had an incredible August so far. Perhaps unusually, the summer has normally been a time where I have worked. In fact, I’ve worked every summer since I’ve been an adult save for one when I was “studying” in Mexico for five weeks in 2007 (“studying” in quotations because really, I don’t remember much studying and remember too much tequila – but that’s another story). This is the first time in the summer since then that I’ve been travelling – and it’s been wonderful and packed with so much more than what I can put into words…
Since leaving Mostar on 4 August until arriving in Tbilisi on 14 August, I’ve gone hiking in the highlands of Bosnia; found some really great nightlife spots in Belgrade; stayed with family in London and was treated to delicious home-made Filipino food; and met up with friends in London, Dusseldorf, and Brussels, grateful for the opportunity to meet up with wonderful people that I met on previous travels last year. But whenever I’ve gotten comfortable in a place, it was time to leave…
Which brings me to Tbilisi – the capital city of Georgia with a population of almost 1.5 million people. For me, Tbilisi has been an incomparable blend of modern and traditional, shiny and glistening to rotten and crumbling, a place where I’ve been the recipient of indecipherable, unstopping stares to receiving some of the warmest hospitality that I’ve ever experienced, and that which transcends the language barriers that certainly exist. Figuring things out for yourself is an outright challenge, as Georgian has its own written script, one which I know only a handful of characters at best. And the most common second language isn’t English – it’s Russian – a language I don’t speak! There’s much to see and do, although I’m content if I leave the hostel some time in the afternoon and walk somewhere that I haven’t yet seen. I’ve been here for five days and don’t yet know when I’ll be leaving, although I know I’ll be coming back at least twice – Tbilisi is pretty central in Georgia and I know I’ll be going to Kazbegi, Batumi, and Armenia some time in the next month and will have to return to Tbilisi before continuing on to my next destination. I’m in the region until mid-September, and I’ve given myself a month to explore the Caucasus, but I certainly don’t think it’s enough time as it is!
I’m staying at a very interesting, laid-back, “homey” hostel a few minutes walk from the central Freedom Square. It’s comfortable and inviting, though doesn’t boast of any eye-popping facilities. It’s gem, though, undoubtedly lies in its guests. There’s an Australian guy that has been here long-term, and by “long-term”, I’m talking about months in the double-digits. There’s also an Iranian guy who’s been here for about a half-year, and a Lebanese girl who arrived earlier this month who’s staying and working here for a couple of months. There’s also an American couple who I think has been here for a week and will be here for another week more. I feel that I’m falling into this realm of a handful of wonderful, incredible human beings with each additional night that I stay here. I want to leave and explore more of the amazingness that I know Georgia has to offer, but for some reason (fatigue? desire for familiarity?), can’t bring myself to pack up my bags and get on a marshrutka (shared mini-bus) and go!
In any case, I know that I’ll have an amazing time, either just “living” in Tbilisi (breathing, cooking, eating, drinking, interneting, meandering) or exploring more of Georgia…
Looks like I haven’t posted anything in two and a half months! It’s not for lack of anything to write, that’s for sure. Initially, I wanted to take some time out while on the Camino de Santiago, and then I didn’t know where to begin blogging again once I had finished my pilgrimage. And from there, it was just one place after another, with me overwhelmed about doing my experiences justice by putting into words everything that I lived and sensed and immersed myself in. This post is a humble attempt to summarize where I’ve been the past few months and where I’m going the next few.
The past that has passed
My trip through France was leading me from the centre of the country down to the southwest to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the starting point of the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances, Way of St. James). It was a great ten days exploring different cities in a country that I’d wanted to visit for so long, especially learning French throughout school.
The Camino de Santiago was an intense, unrelenting, unforgettable journey of the spirit that took my body from the Pyrenees all across northern Spain, walking on average between 20-30 kilometers a day with a rucksack on my back through rain, shine, and wind over all sorts of terrain. I very much hope to write more about this experience because I believe that it has been the most significant thing that I have done with my life, and these mere words right now cannot possibly explain everything that my body, mind, and soul encountered during this blessed time.
I spent a few days in Santiago de Compostela, afforded with the luxury of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night and walking the same streets daily, even having a cafe that I frequented. After moving around every day for the past month, it was a welcome change! Then, I headed into northern Portugal for six days. Portugal is a country that will always be on my list of places I want to return because of the friendliness and sincerity of the people. Of course, there’s also the food, the port, the cities, the landscape, the Mediterranean way of life…
From Portugal, I flew to Morocco where I spent thirteen days. Morocco is an explosion for the senses where everything hits you unapologetically and makes you feel more alive! Everything from the exquisite food, the calls of the vendors in the souqs and its related hustle and bustle, the oppressive desert heat – it’s overwhelming and intoxicating, but somehow leaves you wanting more…
After Morocco, it was back to Europe where I relaxed for a couple days in Madrid, then a few hours exploring Zurich and a few days in Budapest, Hungary where I did a few things that I hadn’t done during previous visits, like ride a railway line run by kids! The conductor, of course, was an adult, but the selling and validating of the tickets were undertaken by kids 10-14 years old…
From Budapest, I took a train to Vienna where I didn’t do nearly as much as I would’ve liked due to an illness that unfortunately had me staying at hostels more often than seeing the city. After moving on to Salzburg, however, I got my groove back and did plenty of hiking, including a 1400-metre ascent up the Untersberg mountain (part of the Alps), the accomplishment of which highly lifted my spirits!
And now, I write this post on a couch in the common room of a hostel in Bled, Slovenia, where I have spent the past four nights. Bled and the surrounding area is a haven for nature and adventure enthusiasts, and I’ve thorougly enjoyed the past few days strolling around Lakes Bled and Bohinj, taking a dip in pristine waters, appreciating a lazy boat ride, and of course, hiking – to waterfalls, through gorges, through quaint, picturesque towns…
There’s just under three months left of travel for me, and I do have at least a rough idea of where I’m going. I’ll be heading to Ljubljana in a couple days, then southeast to Bosnia and Herzegovina (possibly with a short stop in Croatia), down to Montenegro and the wonderful
Adriatic Sea, then up to Serbia where I’ll catch a flight in Belgrade to London.
I’ll spend a few days in England with family and friends, then fly into Dusseldorf where I’ll meet up with a friend for a couple days before going to Brussels to meet up with another friend. From there, I’ll fly to Tbilisi, Georgia – the beginning of a one month itinerary in the Caucasus which will also include visits to Armenia, and hopefully Azerbaijan, if I can secure a visa.
After this month, I’ll fly back to Belgrade from Tbilisi, and from there, round out the Balkans with forays into Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria before heading into Turkey where I’ll spend my last week or two before heading home!
Anyone care to join me?
A bit of why I’m travelling for six months
I really don’t know exactly how long I’ve wanted to travel for such a long time, but I do know that this feeling has only increased with each voyage I’ve taken the last four years. And quite simply, the urge grew so strong and reached such a ferocity that I could no longer ignore it, no longer delay what has been pending for so long. For me, travel is my greatest passion, and it never fails to inspire and invigorate. Every interaction in a foreign land, every time I touch ground in a place I’ve never been, every encounter with a local or a fellow traveller just gives me so much energy. Through my explorations around the world, I’ve actually found that I’ve discovered countless wealth about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, comforts and anxieties, what I can live with and what I can do without, the person I perceive myself to be, the person I strive to be…
Travelling solo also gives you further insight into what you’re truly capable of – physically, mentally, spiritually… Away from everything and everyone you know and love and everything that you’re familiar with, it’s a constant opportunity to evaluate yourself independent of the preconceptions that you have lived with in your day-to-day life which you have always assumed or accepted as fact. Every day in this beautiful world of ours presents multiple opportunities to challenge yourself and your thinking and not give in or say yes or no to something simply because that’s how you’ve previously reacted. I marvel at the times that I’ve thought “I could never do that” and its dozens of variations, and realized that it was just a perceived limitation on my part, and that all too often the only thing stopping me from doing something is actually myself…
So, that’s a bit of why I travel so much. Join me here to read about my (mis)adventures during the next six months around Europe, with forays into north Africa and the Caucasus too. I’ll admit that I’m not the most disciplined in blogging, but I hope to share my thoughts and impressions here quite often…