As some of you may remember, I'm the anon who asked about Georgia, and specifically Tbilisi, which was the second leg of my Russia-Georgia trip, in which I attempted to climb two mountains: Elbrus (5642m) and Kazbek (5033m).
Anyway, as some of you expressed interest in a travel report, I'll dump pictures and tell how both expeditions went.
For starters, here's the first glimpse we caught of Elbrus, after two hours driving from Kislovodsk.
As you can tell, the scenery was fucking gorgeous, as was the weather. Initially. 25°C or so, upon arrival.
Our flight to Mineralnye Vody almost went wrong though: our initial plane was delayed almost an hour, and with another hour spent waiting at customs before our transfer in Moscow, we very nearly missed our corresponding flight. Miss Irina the check-in lady wasn't really inclined to let us on the plane because we were rather late - and was very rude to boot - but luckily her boss, Yuriy, was a very nice fellow. Thank you very much, Yuriy.
Also, AMA obviously.
Also, the place is full of flowers. Like, really full. The campsite - we were climbing the rather remote north face of the Elbrus, as opposed to the very touristic south face - was located in the valley along the small stream you see here.
This, incidentially, was the best toilet we'd see during the whole week. Just standing there, in the middle of nowhere.
We arrived at Base Camp and went for a 'short' - a least that's what our guide Vladimir said - hike around the area. A bunch of spectacular waterfalls were nearby. No idea how big this one was, but it was at least moderately huge. Saw white-throated dipper, wallcreeper, golden eagle, yellowhammer and more neat birds that day.
The short hike eventually lasted six hours.
The area was also crawling with Caucasian mountain ground squirrel, cute little bastards.
While mildly suggestive, this waterfall was definitely spectacular. And huge.
Third and last waterfall of the day. And me, cursing my injured feet. Re-injuring damaged ligaments during competition two weeks before several weeks of mountain hiking was definitely a Very Bad Idea.
The campsite - still pretty basic. The blue tent was basically the dining room. They were building more permanent infrastructure as we were there though.
Bonus pic, right after we crossed a small bridge, which was actually no more than a bunch of planks latched to a mess of very wobbly steel wires. Was actually fun to cross.
That concludes the first day we spent at Elbrus.Taking a break now.
Elbrus, which was an organized expedition, was €2100 for 10 days, flights and almost everything else everything included. Kazbek/Georgia was self-organized with a few friends and was about €500-600 for 10 days, everything included. The difference in price is most likely caused by guides and - to a lesser extent - porters we had for Elbrus. Georgia's just a tad cheaper too, I think.
Pic is day 2, where we did an acclimatisation hike to Mushroom Rocks, going from 2500m to 3150m, give or take.
I'll let you in on a little secret: most ethnic Caucasians are either ridiculously waxy pale or brown as dirt. Russians don't count, because they basically invaded, genocided and deported much of the Caucasus and surrounding areas since 1763.
For those interested in this bit of history, I suggest your read 'Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus' by Oliver Bullough. Found it in my hostel in Tbilisi, quite the read. The scale at which the Russians razed the Caucasus for nearly 200 years is staggering.
Pic is the German Airfield, where the Germans had - you'll never guess - and airfield during WWII.
Say thank you to my Olympus E-PL3 camera and the awesome scenery. Oddly, I was often struck by the fact that it would be more suitable LotR scenery than the actual LotR scenery, especially in the light of my NZ trip earlier this year.
Mushroom Rocks in picture. Very much as the name implies, it's a collection of large boulders - up to 6 or 7m tall - shaped like mushrooms. Pretty neat, but rather misty when we arrived there.
Coming back down from Mushroom Rocks. We passed through a small circque there which "is an amphitheatre-like valley head, formed at the head of a valley glacier by erosion." Thank you wikipedia. Really nice.
Highly localized ice rain of sorts - it took only minutes to form. We got a nice melting snow-hail-rainshower a bit later as well.
Back at Base Camp however, the weather improved significantly for the first time that day, and Elbrus decided it'd pose for us in the setting sun.
This rather peculiar cloud rose from the summit a little under an hour later. I'm going to guess it formed due some interaction of condensation and a temperature drop. Looked pretty cool.
End of day 2 on the mountain, almost sleepy time for me now. Will return tomorrow.
Day 3 saw us hiking back across the German Airfield, going up the same slope toward Mushroom Rocks, but this time staying on the ride, higher up to Camp 1.
Run of the mill stunning view on our way up. This were we started to cross patches of snow. The weather was still acceptable at this point, if a bit windy. Still, it was pretty tough going, as we were all hauling 15kg from 2500m all the way up to 3750m. My shoulders were killing me.
As this was only an acclimatisation/dump stuff at Camp 1 hike, we headed back down to BC. This is the bit where I started to hate my feet again, for being injuries pieces of unreliable junk.
Anyway, time to run some errands. Acquiring food and avoiding starvation and such.
I get doping tests every now and then, making drugs a definite no-no. I don't feel like being on the receiving end of a €2000 fine and a 2 year complete suspension, which would even prohibit me from doing anything but recreational running or cycling. Theoretically, I'd risk being dragged to court for being, say, in a swimming pool doing laps if I got caught and convicted.
On a different note, I also peed someone's name in the snow.
There's some basalt there, but like most of the mountain, I think it's granite/gneiss.
For day 4, we hiked back up to Camp 1 with our now considerably lighter packs. Actually nice weather for a change, we'd been getting a good deal of rain and snow the previous two days.
Camp 1 consists of a collection of small buildings amid a small rocky outcrop in the snow, but I unfortunately failed to take a pic of the camp. Some rubbish left and right, but on the whole it isn't too bad - nothing nasty.
After reaching Camp 1, I figured it was time I got a taste of walking with crampons, as I hadn't ever done that before. Three of us went up to 3900m or so, but as we ended up in a whiteout we figured we'd better turn back. Visibility was reduced to 5-10m or so. Took this pic coming back down a few minutes later, when the mist was clearing up.
The weather changes pretty fast up there: this was taken minutes after the previous picture. In extreme cases, we'd be able to see easily 50-60km one minute, and 20m a minute later.
The hut we slept in. Basically looked like a metal-clad yurt. Warm, cozy, and rather smelly after sheltering up to 14 unwashed men for days on end.
Alas, no, but we did have one very lovely cooking lady.
Random evening shot.
Sadly, yes. Then again, it was only for an hour or so, to get a feel for it. After that, I only used them when conditions really required them.
Definitely worth it.
Anyway, the next day we went up to Lenz Rock at 4600m or so, for an acclimatisation hike. Excellent weather, only had to wear two layers.
Lots of sunscreen was applied. Also, we were repeatedly overtaken by butterflies. I shit you not. Painted Ladies will laugh at you, as they merrily speed past at 4000m.
Mildly overexposed shot of the first part of Lenz Rock.
Apparently 8 people died there a few years ago, when they tried to camp and ended up in a storm which destroyed their tents. One guy made it back down, the others froze to death, if I'm correct.
It wasn't too bad all in all - didn't get any serious sunburn - except my shoulders, but that required hours to develop - nor did most people. My skin actually suffered more from the cold eventually.
Also, one of my hobbies is posing as Jesus, ever since some people started called me Jesus about 12 years ago.
Also, in the light of the 8 victims that fell several years prior, we decided that it would be wise to see for ourselves how bad camping at Lenz Rock actually was, because not camping at Lenz Rock means you have to cover almost 2000 altitude meters, which is mildly bashit insane.
This was our private swimming pool right next to the campsite.
Ill try to get to the Georgia pics by Sunday, don't have a whole lot of time today or tomorrow.
Sooooo, the day after the acclimatisation hike, we went back up to Lenz Rock to camp. The weather was still fine - not as good as the day before, but still pretty good - as we arrived there and started to pitch our tents.
Buuut that didn't quite last - just as we had pitched our tents, and started to cover them with snow and build wind shelters with rocks, the wind started to pick up. This was how I looked after working outside for 20 minutes or so. Mind you, there was no snowfall or any other kind of precipitation. Sheer cold made my breath and swept-up snow freeze into my beard.
Still, it wasn't too bad at that point - the wind was 80kp/h max at that point.
Buuuuut that didn't last either. As we went to sleep, 80kph soon became 100kph - which is when one of the storm lines of our tent snapped during a storm. Willem and Andy went out to fix it:
As for how strong the storm was: Willem was blown off his feet when the bent over to inspect the storm line, and didn't even realize I was filming. That, and our tent was the only one out of three to survive with only minor damage - the other two tents were ruined, as the storm was still gaining in strength at this point. Wind speeds up to 180-200kph were recorded at the summit that night, I'm guessing we endured wind speed up to 130-140 at Lenz Rock.
I hereby take the liberty to recommend Hilleberg expeditions tents. Time for training now, will be back tomorrow I hope. Up next: things not to do in a snowstorm.
Random pic of our guides Vladimir and Roman.
>Sadly, yes. Then again, it was only for an hour or so, to get a feel for it. After that, I only used them when conditions really required them.
Well, thankfully that's not steep at all but fixing crampons in conditions like that can be dangerous. They're intended for very hard snow or ice. Clumpy wet snow has a tendency to bunch up beneath them, making them ineffective and causing falls. It's always a pain to lug the things up and not use them, though. That's great you got the experience.
Cheers for the pics. I mountaineer a lot at home, very much enjoying these.
How long did it take from base to summit?
No plans in that direction. It's mostly the pose to boot.
Aha, we zijn hier goed vertegenwoordigd precies!
Switching to English for the sake of other readers. I've done Mt Kilimanjaro before, which made me the least experienced climber of our group of 8. The others all had been mountaineering for at least a decade, and had done a bunch of peaks around the world, and most of them have completed several of the Seven Summits.
I was aware of that, but I just wanted to avoid having to use them for the first time on steep terrain in poor weather conditions, even if the snow was somewhat squishy. So I settled for using them in on easy terrain in nice weather. Had to use them several times afterwards.
Will elaborate further in a few hours, time for training again.
Why not start making plans now?
Pic is what happens to an egg if you take it along to Lenz Rock to brave a snow storm. Frozen solid, and it never left the backpack or tent. Still ate it, because that's how I roll.
As promised: here's a list of things do's and don't when you're stuck in a tent during a snowstorm that may very well blow it apart, making freezing to death an uncomfortably palpable possibility.
>don't leave your shoes in the front compartiment, unless you really like them frozen solid and full of snow - I deeply regret that decision
>don't sleep without all your clothes on, just in case your tents decided to go airbourne - that, and I'd probably have been somewhat cold as I had taken the wrong sleeping bag with me, one that is suitable for 10°C as opposed to -10°C
>don't even begin to think even a tent as solid and strong as a Hillemark keeps out all the drifting snow, unless you enjoy being disappointed - we all found ourselves covered with a thin layer of the stuff pretty quickly
>don't eat or drink too much, unless you like having snowblasted genitals - it really really hurts
>don't put on a cap without securing it with a healthy dose of glue, duct tape and rope or whatever when you do have to go out to take a leak - Andy lost his because the wind blew it clean off the second he left the tent
>do feel free to go out barefoot when you have to take a leak and your boots are too stiff and frozen to put on - that's exactly what I did, but I'm some sort of human stove
>actually, don't do that, and just piss into a bag like Andy did afterwards, it'll freeze quickly anyway
>don't use Red Fox tents unless you enjoy sitting in slowly disintegrating structures
>don't neglect properly securing your climbing harness due to time constraints - this exponentially increases the chances of losing a glove because you have to take it off because it hampers your ability to properly secure your harness. RIP left glove. So glad I was still wearing liners gloves with so I could put both on one hand and tuck it under my coat, would've lost fingers otherwise.
>last, but definitely the most important one: don't go up, even we weren't mad enough to try
Tl;dr: after about 14 hours of being holed up in our tents, we'd figure heading down was the better idea. The storm raged for well over 48 hours total, which nipped any further summit attempts in the bud. Too bad, because some of us - me included - still wanted to try. No summit for us, but a nice bit of adventure, and still a wonderful trip. Dumping a few more pictures taken on the way back down, then on to the Georgia part of the trip.
Dirk, the expedition leader. 50 years old, two busted knees with torn ligaments, really slow descending, absolute rocket uphill if he wants. He only did that once, and basically left us standing - including Andy, who is an avid long distance trailrunner, and me, a martial arts nut that trains at least 8 times a week. Recently ran up the Mont Ventoux - 26km, 7% incline - in 3h30 for shit and giggles. Awesome fellow.
Obviously, the weather suddenly got very agreeable again as we descended.
Descending, we took a longer yet less steep route that led us back along Mushroom Rocks. They're visible in the previous pic too, if barely.
Totally unrelated, I handled spicy peppers three hours ago and currently wish I hadn't rubbed my eyes a minute ago. Holy shit, this stings.
As usual, the landscape never failed to impress, even if we had passed along this stretch five times before.
Average Caucasus landscape on the way back to Kislovodsk.
Main boulevard in Kislovodsk. Spent a fun night out there, even if most Russians are somewhat gruff.
Pretty warm there, closing in on 30°C. I got more of a sunburn here than on the mountain.
Oh, almost forgot:
>don't leave a single inch of your skin uncovered when walking against the wind - I left the tip of my nose uncovered, and had this crusty frostburn on my nose for about two weeks
Also more Kislovodsk.
Because the storm had forced us to leave the mountain a day earlier, Vladimir took us along on another small hike through a beautiful canyon right outside Kislovodsk.
Cows are every in Russia, even though they aren't quite as abundant as in Georgia, so I would soon learn.
Grass snake, bottom middle of the pic. Couldn't get a good shot because grass snakes don't like posing.
We had a bit of trouble getting out of the canyon - no way to get up on the left side were we were, so we had to cross the river in the middle, and make our way up the still pretty steep right side to a traversée. Came across a family on a day out climbing, there's tons of excellent routes there.
Then, we came across this beauty.
That sort of concludes it for Russia. Honourable mention to our UAZ minibus. It looks rather lame, but once offroad, it made the Toyota Landcruiser - which was carrying a far lighter load to boot - look silly. Our mind were collectively blown by the things this thing could pull off seemingly without effort.
And a single teaser shot from Georgia before I'm off to bed. Tsminda Sameba aka Gergeti Trinity Church above Stepantsminda aka Kazbegi.
In a twist of Supreme Irony, while Kislovodsk lies exactly 280km from Kazbegi, I was forced to take the plane back to Belgium, from where I took a plane to Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, from which it still was a 150km drive.
If you wonder why: Russian authorities are very strict about the departure date of your visa. In itself, that wouldn't have been a problem at all (would've cost me a pretty penny if it had though), I could've easily taken a bus to Vladikavkaz, from which there's a bus to Kazbegi. Mother Nature, however, disagreed with that, and decided June was an excellent month to block the only road with a massive landslide just across the Georgian border. 15 people died and the road was blocked for weeks, which left me with no choice but to fly.
Also, apologies for the crappy writing, but I've been sleeping about 4 hours a night on average this week, and while I'm still functional, it's clearly undermining my ability to form gramatically sound sentences.
Bonus pic from Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand earlier this year.
Ur spelling also sux hahaha.
Just teasing ya, looks like you had an awesome trip. Thanks for telling us about it.
>and leaving us all depressed at being trapped in unfulfilling office jobs that drain our souls
>Ur spelling also sux hahaha.
Probably, but it's still miles better than my proprioception and hand-eye coordination. I keep doing stupid shit while bumping into everything like there's no tomorrow. But hey, I slept 6 hours, so I'm not complaining.
So, after all the hassle of getting to Georgia, it was time to try Mt Kazbek together with two friends named Brecht and Brecht.
Tsminda Sameba again, on our way up to the pass above it. We started in Kazbegi late in the morning and made our way to the former Russian Meteo Station now named Betlemi Hut, above Gergeti glacier. From ~1700m to 3653m in a single day, carring close to 20kg, with the sun burning. Turns out Georgia is quite a bit warmer than Kabardino-Balkaria.
Looking back down to the pass. It's located on the small flat section of the ridge of the green mountain on the right.
As opposed to Elbrus, which is lying relatively close, the rock here tend to crumble en masse.
Walking across the glacier, ever on the lookout for some interesting birds. Brecht has a bachelor in Slavic languages (pretty handy in this part of the world) and biology, the other has a Ph.D. in biology. They're both working in Georgia for Birdlife Georgia, as the "Batumi (on the Black Sea coast) bottleneck in the Caucasus is one of the heaviest migratory funnels on earth. Avoiding flying over the Black Sea surface and across high mountains, hundreds of thousands of soaring birds funnel through an area around the city of Batumi, Georgia." - courtesy of Wikipedia.
Pretty cool job, they get to drive across most of Georgia - and Armenia on occasion - to do baseline studies, mapping which species live where.
The cloud cover decided to partially break above this rock formation as we arrived at Betlemi hut, which made for a nice picture.
Betlemi hut itself. The Russians were pretty crazy to haul all the building materials up there, for their sake I hope they had snow trucks, because cars can only get to around 2300m, donkeys get up to 3200 or so, while the final 400m across the glacier have to be covered on foot.
The hut isn't too luxurious - planks with thin foam mattresses for bed in the best case. A small kitchen area full of dirty pots, and the filthiest squat toilet I've ever seen - luckily located 30m from the hut. Still stinks up the place occasionally, depending on the wind. All in all, however, it's okay apart from the toilet.
Upon arrival Brecht, who was mad enough to haul 4L of beer the whole way up, almost immediately set out on a mission to make friends with the resident management/rescue team. This was a great success, as he set about this task in the company of half his beer stash; a gesture very much appreciated in Georgia. In short, we sat there all evening being fed shots of chacha (Georgian brandy). Good times. Good thing that I was already used to the altitude, alcohol hits hard at high altitude. Brecht, on the other hand, woke up with a nice hangover. The other Brecht didn't join us, as the altitude had taken its toll on him.
The weather was moderately acceptable the next day - really windy, but mostly clear, so we hiked up to 4200m to acclimatize further. This particular rock is basically a near-continuous avalanche site, crumbling all day long as soon as the sun shines on it.
Highest point we reached that day. Whiteout conditions ahead made us decide to turn back.
As we turned back, the sky obviously miraculously cleared again. Somehow, that always happens.
First somewhat decent view we got from the summit, it mostly hid in its personal fast-moving yet ever present cloud cover.
BJJ, occasionally judo, rarely powerlifting. I'm not much of a climber, and, at best, can climb a 5B or 5C as I only climb a few times a year. Maybe a 6 if I get lucky.
Random pic of the summit playing hide and seek. Off to bed, work in 5 hours.
Brilliant thread, totally reinforcing my interest in a similar adventure. It looks like an amazing landscape.
And OP sounds like a total dude - interesting travels, lifts, BJJ and judo - if you lived in my city I'd take you for a pint and pick your brain on the sort of prep needed for a trip like this
>It looks like an amazing landscape.
Damn right it was. Was in NZ earlier this year, which is known for being generally stunning landscapewise. NZ is definitely more diverse, but the Caucasus easily takes the cake when it comes to sheer grandeur. It's amazing.
As for preparation, as long as you're fit and have basic knowledge of rescue techniques and mountains/altitude in general, you're good to go with the right gear. Unfortunately the right gear is rather expensive, I think I've got around €1500 worth of gear as it is, and I'd ideally need more. You can get by with less, and borrow stuff left and right, but most people who head for the mountains regularly own far more gear than I do. And don't go alone, crevasses are bad things to fall down.
That said, Kazbek is recommendable, requires no technical climbing skills, as well as cheap. With enough experience, it can be climbed solo.
Cool stray piece of glacier in the pic.
The day after the acclimatisation hike, the sky was as clear as can be. The wind, however, was strong enough to simply lean against without falling over. No summit attempts were made that day, just like the day before. We hiked down a bit to do some birdwatching.
Hardly any birds in sight, but lovely view all over the place.
That, and lots of waterfalls and small avalanches. Nice day that was.
Views, that is. Still haven't managed to sleep properly. Early shifts are brilliant because I still have a large portion of the day left, but they eat all of my sleep.
That said, we had one day left to try and reach the summit. Just like the nights before, the wind was howling, meaning trying to reach the summit would be mildly suicidal. Having carefully considered that, we started making our way up. We're a bunch of stubborn idiots after all.
Obviously, while we made good progress and the weather slowly cleared as we rose, we eventually ended up in a whiteout with wind speeds around 100kph, and no clear path to guide us through the aforementioned whiteout. As expected, we were forced to turn back around 4300m. Two mountains, two summit attempts ended by storm. Tough luck. Would still do it again without hesitation. In fact, I suspect I will do it again in the years to come. Can't leave business unfinished.
Pic is an avalanche we saw that day.
And for your amusement, here's me a picture of me doing a headstand with my head buried in the snow while coming back down from our summit attempt.
Back down it was, as we had to be back in the village before the Belgium-Russia football game. The game itself was frightfully boring, but there was lots of beer and good company - and young Austrian couple, and a middle-aged American couple. Well over 3L of beer per person later, we decided it was time for a well overdue nap in an actual bed.
The Caucasus is basically full of flowers in June by the way.
Last shot of the awesome canyon before crossing the pass again. This is where an old knee injury - my iliotibial band - started acting up again. Badly. Always does when there's too much going downhill involved. I still made it back down to Tsminda Sameba again, but we decided to call Brecht - who had left an hour before us - because I was more or less unable to walk downhill at that point.
Also, the real reason we could stay another night was because we forgot to withdraw cash at the last ATM in Gudauri, 30km away from Stepantsminda/Kazbegi, so we couldn't afford to stay another night, and the only exchange office in town was still more than a full day walking down and back up.
View across the pass. Got some cool mist on the way down, felt amazing. Wonderfully cool and refreshing.
And that concludes it for Mt Kazbek. The next day, we played disaster tourist to go and see the landslide mentioned here >>871876. Was pretty huge, the debris covered and area of at the very least 5000m2, up to laying easily 5m thick - and a good part had already been removed. Some mangled trucks left and right too.
Cause of the landslide - if what I was told is correct - was a jökulhlaup from Devdoraki glacier. Must've made its way down from 7 kilometers further. Some scary shit if you ask me.
Also saw bearded vulture, cinereous vulture and several griffon vultures there, all at once.
After that, we headed to Truso gorge. Picked up a hitchhiker along the way. Turns out he was heading for Yerevan, Armenia, 450km further. Best part? He started in Moscow. I reckon he made it to Yerevan that day, meaning he covered ~2250km in three days. For free. Not too bad, I think.
Random pic taken in Kobi. Horse in the house, half of the buildings abandoned and granny doing the laundry outside near the tap. Three very Georgian things.
Didn't see that coming, did you?
Reaching Truso gorge requires following a small mountain track, possibly blocked by sheep. Luckily, unlike we initially thought, this wasn't the track we had to follow.
And then, boom, you're looking out over Truso gorge. Those are all some sort of calcic deposits, formed by highly calcic water springs. Pretty cool stuff.
These things look awesome when you get close. Water was continuously rippling over them, will post a video tomorrow.
Also came across similar formations in Wai-o-Tapu near Rotorua, NZ.
Sometimes, I try to take artsy picture. I don't know what this was, but it stank to high heavens.
Mostly abandoned village - only inhabited during summer to boot - and trademark fortress tower. Those towers are all over the place, especially in Truso gorge. I hear Svaneti has even more packed with them.
Thanks, was on a trip to Germany. I'll finish the thread in the next few days.
More Truso gorge, there was a bunch of guys busy restoring one of the towers. Lots more abandoned ones in the background.
A Georgian border post (look for the flag), containing two border guards that started yelling and wildly gesticulating when we were somewhere between the rivers. No illegal entry into Russia for us, sadly.
More Truso. Would like to post more, but I really have no time left these days, it seems. Hopefully tomorrow.
I'll finish with a bit of a cliffhanger. This is the situation we got ourselves in while crossing the very last muddy patch in Truso gorge.
Some Georgian dude driving a Delica was the first one to try and help us. We had several straps, all of which snapped. The man correctly summed up the situation with the words "You're in deep shit."
Next a bunch of Israeli's in Land Cruisers tried to get us out to no avail, even if their strap helped.
Luckily, we had also found a bunch of road workers who had come with an awesome KamaZ Soviet truck. Here's some footage:
It's safe to say I've developed a general fondness for Soviet offroad vehicles during my stay in Russian and Georgia.
Average Georgian road traffic.
There a 50% chance that any bridge in Georgia is occupied by cows while you attempt to cross it. They also love to sleep in unlit tunnels, and won't move an inch as you speed by at 80km/h, missing them by less than a meter. Tl;dr: they don't give a fuck.
And that's when I made my way back to Tbilisi. Not that much to tell anymore, but I'll dump some more pictures of Tbilisi and the subsequent trip to Javakheti.
OP, are you white? I'm asking because I'm a massive Russiaboo, and I want to visit, but I'd maybe like to go to a town/village, and not just Moscow or St. Petersburg, but I don't want to get stabbed and shit.
I'm Latino, but I guess they'd have no clue due to lack of contact, and would assume I'm middle eastern or something.
I'm a Belgian native, which makes me pretty white. It might depend on where in Russia you are, but the Caucasus for example, has lots of dark skinned people that look like they're from the Middle East - which might historically be the case.
Tl;dr: probably okay if you go to ethnically diverse places more to the south/east, but I reckon racism is a possible issue in large and predominantly white cities.
Tsminda Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi.
Thanks, you're welcome. Ever since my trip, I totally get where you're coming from.
Nariqala fortress, Tbilisi. Partially demolished when the ammunition depot blew up in 1827, along with the (now restored) Church of St Nicholas. Free, and lovely view over the city from there. Might be the only place in town where people might hassle you for being a tourist, but even then it's very, very limited. Accidentially heard one of the female 'tourist guides' sing when she had noone to latch on to, she had the most amazing voice. Just stood there and listened.
I just had to take a picture of the Ultra Bimbo shop.
Nariqala dates back from the 4th century by the way, while Tsminda Sameba was only consecrated in 2004. Tbilisi is basically full of churches, with a small number of synagogues and mosques thrown in. Everyone gets along just fine.
Georgian also really love wine and chacha - brandy made from wine production leftovers. Had my share of both, which I very much enjoyed.
After two somewhat drunk nights in Tbilisi - Georgians are REALLY hospitable and genuinely love to get to know you - we headed off to Samtskhe-Javakheti. The latter mostly, in our case. It's a highland region near the Armenian border, where most of the population is ethnically Armenian.
Also, If you ever go out drinking in Tbilisi, I hereby suggest you pay Canudos Ethnic Bar - Canudos for short - a visit. Small yet nice interior, nice terrace young-ish crowd which houses a mix of - mostly - Georgians and some travellers. Met this really friendly slightly 'the only gay in the village' type guy and spent a good portion of the evening talking to him in French, as he had lived in Brussels for years, where I have studied myself. Thanks for the company and congratulations with the masters degree, Jay!
We also got some really strange looks when we asked the bouncer of the strip club next door if they were broadcasting the FIFA world cup. His facial expressions was priceless. All in all, good times in Tbilisi.
The brown things you see are basically shit bricks. You'll regularly come across cow herd consisting of hundreds of animals, so the required resources are plentiful.
All of those goodies are made with the machine attached to the tractor, zoom in a little and you'll see several of them still lying on it.
Also, look carefully between the white van and the smaller blue tractor to its right: what initially looks like a patch of grass turns out to be a roof. This type of one-level houses with grass on the rood is common in Javakheti.
*roof. I really should get some sleep in, only had four hours in the past two nights, and I have a festival scheduled for tomorrow. I'm so going to die.
Motor with sidespan. Pretty cool.
I can barely see them in this picture, but I've heard Truso Gorge has some amazing ruins and towers all over the place.
Any truth to it? What exatly are the ruins? I can't find anything about them online at all.
Same fortress, different angle. Didn't go any closer, but you can basically walk up to it in a few minutes and go see it up close for yourself, nobody's there to stop you.
How would I get here? It looks amazing, but I don't think I'm fit enough to go trekking and mountain climbing for days like you did.
I googled Truso Gorge, where you said these are, and I found only results for the Truso Hotel. Would it be possible to rent a car in Tbilisi and just drive here? It would be awesome if I could find a tour that just brought people out to the gorge for a day, it looks amazing.
Even the border patrol looks cool, do many people speak English? Would the guards allow you to talk to them? Are they there to guard against you crossing, or would it be possible to go across with the right paperwork?
The water springs are very cool, these look like tufa deposits.
Truso is rather easy to reach. You follow the military highway all the way to - I believe - Kobi, where you turn left into the valley. If you're on foot, you follow the river - never cross it, not even in Kobi (see >>873216). On car, you do the same but take the mountain track on the right, follow it up, and then boom, you see >>873219.
It's easy to hitchhike from Tbilisi to Kobi, and probably possible to get to Truso in the same way from Kobi. Or you could do it on foot, if you make it a day trip - mostly flat if you follow the river. You can do it with your own car if you have a 4x4 vehicle. Don't do it without 4x4, you'll regret it. If you want a day tour, it's definitely possible from Stepantsminda/Kazbegi village, just ask around and you should find someone who can take you there rather quickly. Haggle.
English is not commonly spoken, even if many people know a tiny bit. Russian is widely spoken, but, ironically, it's often the younger folk in and around Tbilisi who are completely monolingual - even if English is more widely spoken in those circles.
You could go and talk to the guards - if you speak Russian - but they'll probably prohibit any border crossings by anyone who doesn't live there, I seem to recall the only legal point to cross into Russia according to Georgian law is here >>873163. There's another one in de facto independant Abchazia which can be used to leave Georgia, but if you enter there and then continue into Georgia proper, it's considered an illegal entry into Georgia because of the disputed status of Abchazia. You'll need a valid Russian visa though, which isn't easy to get in most countries.
Horse and cart in Ninotsminda following right behind the motorcycle with sidespan not related.
That's awesome, the last couple pictures sort of look like they were taken on an island for some reason.
>If you're on foot, you follow the river - never cross it, not even in Kobi.
Is that because it's the border? I'm curious actually to see the border with South Ossetia -- of course not to cross in, but to see the flags flying and the guards guarding.
> You can do it with your own car if you have a 4x4 vehicle. Don't do it without 4x4, you'll regret it. If you want a day tour, it's definitely possible from Stepantsminda/Kazbegi village.
Okay, but I don't speak any Georgian, Russian, or anything. Would I get by with speaking English, to find the tour operators? I'm just a little scared about this, I haven't traveled too much and I'd be worried about being out of luck because nobody understands me. I'd rather not hike or hitch.
You really think they'd have day tours to the towers, they're beautiful.
>Is that because it's the border? I'm curious actually to see the border with South Ossetia -- of course not to cross in, but to see the flags flying and the guards guarding.
Nope, but you'll end up on the wrong side of the valley, without road. Well, it won't matter too much when you're on foot, but you may have to cross the river on foot. Definitely doable in summer - at least, further up in Truso itself. Impossible to cross in the pass leading up to Truso. They were building a bridge there (the guys with the KamaZ who pulled us out of the mud were taking care of that) but I have no idea how that progressed since. So, just to be on the safe side, I wouldn't cross the river. Nobody does.
>Okay, but I don't speak any Georgian, Russian, or anything. Would I get by with speaking English, to find the tour operators? I'm just a little scared about this, I haven't traveled too much and I'd be worried about being out of luck because nobody understands me. I'd rather not hike or hitch.
>You really think they'd have day tours to the towers, they're beautiful.
While people don't speak a lot of English, many will understand as much as 'day trip to Truso'. It'll take a bit of getting by, but it should work out rather sooner than later. You could always ask other tourists, there's plenty of those in Stepantsminda/Kazbegi, some of them might know. ONLY CASH in Stepantsminda/Kazbegi, the last ATM is in Gudauri, 30km earlier.
(to be continued - pic is view of Mt Didi Abuli behind Lake Khanchali)
You'll have to agree with your guide to bring you to >>875608 or >>878028, most turn back well before them. Can't visit >>878026, it's across the river.
Come to think of it, if you want to see/visit towers and fortresses, Sno valley - between Stepantsminda/Kazbegi and Truso, is home to what probably is the most famous fortress ruins in the area, Sno fortress. Shatili is another great option somewhat nearby - half a day away? Not sure. The Tusheti and - especially - Svaneti regions are home to even more towers. Mestia, in Svaneti, can also be reached by plane. Look for pics of Mestia and Ushguli. Visit during summer, roads are often blocked during winter.
As for South Ossetia, border guards will turn you back before you get to see anything of it. I don't think it can be accessed from Georgia, only through Russia, via Vladikavkaz. You'll need a Russian multiple entry visa (fuck getting those, total hassle for most westerners), and local authorities will require some beaurocracy too. Visiting the Thorn Tree forums from Lonely Planet might yield more information than I can possibly give.
Quite positive on the alcohol - can't imagine a Georgian bar of any kind that wouldn't serve it - but we didn't enter, we only wanted too see the bouncer's face. But hey, it's located near to what supposedly is the seedier nightlife section of Tbilisi, you should find something there - it was quiet when I was there during the week, but I suppose it'll be busier during the weekend.
Pic is Gladiolus sp. near Lake Khanchali.
So it would be rent a car with GPS to from the airport in Tbilisi to Stepantsminda/Kazbegi village, ask around for tours, and from there take a day tour to Truso?
Are these tourism companies in the village, or should I just ask random people? I'd be sort of bummed out if I got to the village and it was just a village and I couldn't find anyone to ask.
Let me know if I'm asking too many questions, thanks for all the info!
Basically, if you have a 4x4 vehicle and are slightly capable of driving with it, you won't even need a GPS, because it's that easy to find. It might come in handy in Tbilisi, but once you're on the Georgian Military Highway, it's straight ahead, with a left turn in Kobi if you're coming from Tbilisi, then take the first mountain track on the left and follow it to Truso gorge. That's it. During summer, you'll have to cross a few small rivers in the gorge, nothing bad as long as you avoid the larger boggy potholes. It's totally feasible.
But if you don't feel like doing that, this'll work too:
>So it would be rent a car with GPS to from the airport in Tbilisi to Stepantsminda/Kazbegi village, ask around for tours, and from there take a day tour to Truso?
Just ask your driver to take you far enough into the valley. No real tourism companies in the village, just ask locals or tourists. Homestays are a good starting point (some bureaus probably do them from Tbilisi - but not sure if they'll take you far enough for the fortresses).
No worries, ask away. I still have enough pics to dump too. Pic is the Mtkvari River in Tbilisi. The river makes it hard to get really lost, as it divided the city in a left and right bank, and a higher and a lower part upstream and downstream. Combine that with a few unmistakable landmarks, and you're not getting lost anytime soon.
I could probably make it there. I'd want a GPS just in case, but I've never really rented a car before. How would I go about renting a 4X4 where they wouldn't mind me driving in Truso?
If I ever go, I might just ask a taxi driver to take me far enough into the valley. I'll still be able to see a few pillars like that, right? And I can just call the taxi company to come pick me up again there? They mostly speak English, right?
(You can tell I haven't traveled before really, but Georgia looks beautiful and it's on my bucket list now.)
If you're renting a 4x4, they probably know what sort of trip you'll be using it for, and they should be fine with that as long as you don't completely fuck up the car. A taxi might work too, as long as it's a 4x4 vehile. Truth be told, a tour from Stepantsminda/Kazbegi is basically a taxi ride in the first place. You'll see a few of the towers pretty soon. As for the ride back, it's best to arrange that with your driver, most drivers operate by themselves. Just tell the driver to either
>drive you there as far as you both agree
>drop you off and pick you up again half a day later
Shouldn't be obscenely expensive from Stepantsminda/Kazbegi. Also, snoop around here for more info:
http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Georgia/blog-1169.html (mind you, it's gotten A LOT calmer, no choppers anywhere in sight)
Also, a picture. Saw this in Tbilisi. It's a Kazbegi beer distribution place thingy - I doubt there's a word in the English language that properly describes it. You bring your own bottles or any other contain, get them filled at the pay box as you watch, pay, and that's it. Would've had my bottle filled if it weren't across this murderously busy road, I was really thirsty at the time.
And now for something completely different. The black BMW in the back apparently decided it was a fine day for ramming a light post. Or he just came from the Kazbegi beer thing. Don't think anyone was seriously injured, the damage was mostly cosmetic.
Whoops, mean to post this picture.
You're most welcome! Pretty much reached the end of my pictures by now, but I can dump more.
>>879960 was obviously directed to >>879948.
Lake Khanchali. Lots of storks in Ninotsminda and the surrounding villages - one village had well over nests. Counted the hatchlings for science. Like, really, because my friends work for Birdlife Georgia, and some German institution was funding a study on them storks.
More Javakheti lakes.
I haven't really mentioned this before I think, but Truso gorge and the lakes around Ninotsminda are prime grounds for birdwatching. Definitely made me a happy panda. Sadly, I don't own a proper lens for that kind of photography.
Statue of Queen Tamar the Great, who led the Georgian kingdom to the apex of its golden age. Not really flattering if you ask me, but she's one of the key figures in Georgian history.
>but she's one of the key figures in Georgian history.
Implying Daisy Duke isn't the key figure in Georgia's history
>implying Tamar doesn't dwarf Daisy
I mean, she's 20 fucking metres tall, Daisy hardly reaches her ankles.
Another Truso gorge pic.