Tskaltubo – in its heyday luxurious spa town, currently, city dotted with abandoned sanatoriums and bathhouses. Although it’s around 10km from Kutaisi in which, yet again we appeared, till the last moment not knowing if we will find time to check it. Oh, how much we would miss out if we would not hitchhike there!
It was our curiosity that led us to the right way to find the Hotel Metalurgi. We had spent the whole day walking around Tskaltubo experiencing its abandoned sanatoriums. Our legs were tired, but hunger to see more was strong. Finally, we spotted the facade of the hotel hiding in the dense forest and its impressive look was tempting us to go further.
A few weeks ago we travelled to the beautiful republic of Abkhazia, which is located on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Its far and recent history was very interesting for us – the fact that we were entering unrecognised internationally country which is area of frozen confilct between Georgia and Russia was both fascinating and a little bit scary. At the border we met our dear friends from Krasnya Polyana (town near Sochi), and thanks to them, we had a chance to see all the places that were on our planned travel map and many more!
Some places are must-see, attracting masses of tourists every year, they are like that for a reason. The magical Ushguli is Europe’s highest continuously inhabited community of four villages (2060-2200m). As the tourist season had not begun we were lucky to explore the authentic beauty of Ushgulis villages alone. We couldn’t get our eyes off of the settlement, with its old stone-wooden buildings and ancient Svan towers (part of the UNESCO Heritage). We looked at the details of the walls, the yellow binding material for the rocks is a mixture of egg yolk and wheat. It was amazing how the famous towers, nowadays bending and crumbling, could survive not only invasions of endless list of armies, but also avalanches – by cutting them through. Here and there, narrow streets were occupied by pigs and cows, we had to squeeze through them to get further!
Ani – once called “City of a thousand and 1 churches” and “city of forty gates”, at its height was one of the biggest cities in the world with a population well over 100,000. Nowadays all what’s left is a highland meadow with sparsely located ruins of grand buildings and a double wall.
The area that was conquered in history for hundreds of times by many till this day is caught between the conflict of two modern nations of Armenia and Turkey. It was founded by Armenian Kamsarakan dynasty in the 5th century AD and a few centuries later became thriving capital of The Bagratuni Kingdom of Armenia. Today, after the 1921 Treaty of Kars, it’s incorporated in Turkey and lies on the eastern border of the republic. From Ruins of Ani, across the natural border – beautiful canyon of the Akhurian river, one can see a military post with big Armenian flag vawing in the never-stopping wind of the highland.
Marek wanted to get to this place since as a teenager he saw photos of it online. Unfortunately the location of Ruins of Ani makes it quite a trip. Turkey – Armenia border is obviously closed so we decided to make a “small” round tour to there from Georgia.
Maybe one day we will write a post about the charming beauty of the roads and amazing people’s hospitality of the North-Eastern corner of Turkey, but for now, believe us that the whole trip was well worth doing, not only because of Ani.
Though mainly because of it! For us, it’s hard to express how true wonder of the World Ani is. It’s this amazing feeling accompanying us since the moment we entered one of many wall gates of the ruined city. Feeling that everything, fields, chirping birds, lonely last building’s walls standing, they all speak to us silently their wonderful history. We took our time there to listen, look, and try to imagine it all that passed – golden years, ruling kings, bloody massacres, travelers from the far lands, all the trade and finally gradual decline and abandonment.
At all we spent there 6 hours, though we still think that it can easily take more. It’s good to be prepared for quite a long walk, also depending on how much you want to see, not hard climbing here and there. During our visit weather changed instantly, from clean to fully clouded skies and rain showers. For the most time it felt like we have the whole place to ourselves, sometimes we met some Turkish tourists taking selfies.
Now, we don’t own detailed information about highly recommended to us tours to Ani, but from what we’ve learned it’s hard for us to recommend it. First of all, it takes 3 hours at the destination – it is not enough to admire the place in the whole. Second of all, of course, it’s not for free, after all it’s transport from Kars to Ruins and guided tour. There are though problems with both of these things.
Getting there is easily done by hitchhiking. On the way from Kars there are villages scattered around so we were lucky to be ((picked up)) by farmers. On the way back it got even better, senior turkish tourists not only transported us back to Kars but also offered us dinner at the restaurant. Once you’re in Kars do not miss out on trying Manti – traditional turkish dumplings, they’re addictive.
When it comest to guided tour… maybe it’s unfair to write about it as we did not take it, but we do have our reasons to doubt its quality anyway. Since Ani is a subject of nationalistic argument between Turkey and Armenia and both of the nation claim its history as their own. Reading few information boards inside the area of Ani once can find a lot of biased information or historical disortions in the content, something that we found both very sad and interesting. We have no reason to believe that turkish guide would share with listeners theories and many speculations from both sides of the conflict.
Visiting Ani was so far a highligh of our travel. Walking in silence inside and around the ruins is a spiritual experience. All the abandoned buildings, from ancient Fire Temple to the Cathedral, emit some kind of mysterious force that gave us deeper understanding of our history and of what we are, as a humans.
It was time for us to explore the Vardzia cave monastery in southern Georgia. To get there we travelled a road starting from Khertvisi. The road follows Mtkvari River passes through narrow canyons and rocky hillsides. The views are amazing and we were like little kids whispering each others ear: “Wow look at those rocks.. look, loooook!!”
In Vardzia our enthusiasm continued when we walked through its magic hallways, caves and secret tunnels, trying to imagine how people were living there in its glorious days. For us it was amazing to explore such a place full of interesting history.
Hearing the storm and the howling wind outside, we could feel that the village we’re sleeping in is at altitude of 2047 metres. We mentioned to each other how lucky we were to avoid setting up a tent that night and went to back to sleep.
It was a dark room with one table and a few chairs where the only light came from a tiny table lamp. The border patrol stared at us seriously checking carefully our visa applications and asked a purpose for our visit. We tried to stay calm knowing there might be some more tricky questions ahead of us. The Republic of Artsakh (known previously as Nagorno-Karabakh), on which border we were, is a frozen war zone where the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains very far from settled. The country is open for tourists, but because of its precarious situation, the border is controlled more accurately…