Thursday, 30 August 2012

The journey home and a blitz through Kiev

Going back to Madrid wasn't going to be an easy task. It involved flying from Tbilisi to Kiev, then Kiev to Rome and then Rome to Madrid. It would take over 18 hours from leaving my front door in Tbilisi to crashing on my bed back in Spain.

I had received some bad news the day before leaving Tbilisi - the job I was counting on suddenly changed their minds about hiring me (even though they confirmed in July that I had the job) and I was basically going back to Spain unemployed and broke. Fortunately, I have a better job now that is better paid and with a more reliable company, but at that time I was pretty emotional and distracted.

My flight left Tbilisi at 7.50am and just to be sure I'd be at the airport in time I decided to take a taxi at 5.30am. I should have been sensible and gone to bed early, but I stayed up drinking Georgian wine on the terrace with my friends for my last night in Tbilisi and went to bed at 2 and got about 2 hours sleep.

The art historian I interviewed the other day on the Georgian avant-gardes, and her husband (an excellent artist in his own right), offered to help me get a taxi to the airport. Georgian taxi drivers have the annoying tendency to charge foreigners more, so I figured getting a local to ring up would help barter my price down from 30 lari to less. So at 5.10am I get a call from her saying the taxi is on its way and her husband was coming along. They turned up at 5.30am, her husband helped me load the suitcase into the car, wished me good bye and told me the taxi is paid for. I was in shock and told him that's not necessary and he just smiled, told me not to argue and wished me a safe trip.

I cried when I left Tbilisi. The fortress was still lit up and the place was as beautiful as ever. I was in a limbo, uncertain about what to expect in Madrid (at least I had the appointment with the other academy for Thursday morning).

I fell asleep as soon as I sat in my plane seat, and except with a few nasty turbulence over the Caucasus Mountains I slumbered soundly till I woke up when we touched down in Kiev.

St. Sophia - Kiev

In Kiev things got complicated. In Tbilisi, I only received my boarding pass for Kiev since I was flying there with Aerosvit and then changing to Alitalia. I was told I had to pick up my boarding pass from the transfer desk in Boryspil airport.

The transfer desk was chaos and there was an epic hurdle of people (I wanted to say line, but this wasn't true) trying to get their boarding passes. In my emotional state I nearly burst into tears. After washing my face I went back and saw one woman who had finished with a client who didn't seem to have a swarm around her. I just quickly asked if I could leave the airport and check in again later. She told me to wait a minute and tried to get me my passes.

Of course, the system had a problem so she gave me a "provisional" boarding pass on a paper and said if I went to the check-in transfers desk in the airport I can pick it up that way. She showed me to passport control (they put me on a bus, sent me to another terminal, I then got told I had to go back to the other terminal to go through passport control, but never mind the details).

When asked at passport control my purpose for visiting the Ukraine, I babbled something about a 9 hour stop over and wanting to visit the city. The guard looked at me blankly so I just said "tourism." Then came the satisfactory sound of the stamp hitting my passport.

I was out of the airport and went to the bus station. There was a marshrutka leaving for the city that cost 25UAH (2.5€) to the centre. My friend Kami, whom I met in Armenia, had given me a really detailed itinerary of what to do in the centre for a couple of hours, and really saved me so much stress and time wasting in my few precious hours. She gave detailed directions on how to get to the metro, what to visit and most importantly where to eat. My time in the centre was limited to 2 hours, but I got a lot done thanks to her invaluable advice.

St. Michael's Monastery - Kiev
The metro is crazy in the Ukraine, it's like a cattle herd of people being shoved down into the bowels of the earth, and it makes the London Underground look shallow. The metro in Kiev is also beautifully done up, clean and has that old world feel to it I love in central/Eastern Europe. I've also found the Ukrainians to be incredibly helpful and rather jolly people as well. Not to mention the city is just so cheap.

Kiev, or locally known as Kyiv, is one of the most beautiful cities I've been to. It has the grandeur reminiscent of the Budapest from my childhood which has now been lost. It's clean, stylish and even with the 11ºC temperature and all the clouds, it wasn't depressing.

It's true that two hours is nothing, but I managed to wander around, see the two beautiful gold-domed churches of St. Sophia and St. Michael's Monastery, take a walk on the riverside, walk back to Maidan Square and enjoy a stroll back to the metro via the gorgeous Klovs'kyi Uzviz. I even stopped for a bite to eat at Puzata Chata which is a cheap, canteen-like place that serves amazing Ukrainian food at ridiculously cheap prices.

I managed to return to the airport in plenty of time, yet trying to figure out how to get my boarding pass was a little complex. Fortunately, the staff were really helpful and in the end I just checked in as normal at the Alitalia desk. I got my boarding pass for my connection to Madrid too, which saved a lot of hassle for changing in Rome - which was a good thing, since I had about an hour to change planes.

My flight arrived on time, I made it through the passport control etc. in Rome Fiumicino Airport to get to my gate before boarding commenced. On both flights I managed to sleep like a baby before take off and then only waking up on landing.

I was lucky in Madrid because my luggage arrived without any problems (it had some mud on it from somewhere, but with two changes I was just relieved to have it) and a friend of mine had come to the airport to give me a lift. All in all, with four airports in four countries, eight hours of flying broken up into three chunks and trying to visit the city in a stop over - the whole trip went smooth as you could have hoped. All flights left and arrived on time and my luggage arrived OK. Not to mention I got lifts to and from the airports.

Tbilisi and Georgia were special, and I hope to return. I will miss these remarkable places, but I feel I returned a new person ready for a new life. I'll probably post a few more posts on this blog looking back on my trip including top ten destinations, food etc.

In the meantime, it's good to be home!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Kazbegi and the Georgian Military Highway

It's my last day in Georgia, so on the weekend I decided to take one more day trip, and this time my destination was Kazbegi in the Caucausus Mountains. I felt it wasn't possible for me to leave Georgia without visiting this picture postcard destination first and since I love the mountain regions so much and with Kazbegi only three hours from Tbilisi it seemed worth the effort.

View of the Gergeti Trinity Church from the top

The day itself was rather uneventful - I went on my own and I took a marshrutka, hiked up to the church and came straight back down to the town and took the marshrutka back to Tbilisi. That's essentially the long and the short of it.

The village of Stepantsminda, known more colloquially by its former name Kazbegi, is located directly north of Tbilisi about 15km from the Russian border. This is the only open border crossing in the country, barring the illegal one in the de facto state of Abkhazia. From here you can make it to Vladikavkaz, if you wish, although the border is only open to Georgians, Russians and CIS members.

View of the church and Mount Kazbek and the church from the town
Kazbegi is incredibly touristy, since it's the only mountain region with easy access from Tbilisi. It is a beautiful area and differs from the other mountain regions, where bald mountainsides dominate the landscape as opposed to the treelined neighbouring Khevsureti and the other regions like Svaneti and Tusheti. It is beautiful in its own right, and I've learned not to judge everything by Khevsureti since my trips to Svaneti and Tusheti.

Driving across the Caucasus

The area isn't under going development - it is developed. The towns don't have that sense of remoteness you'll find in other regions of the Caucasus Mountains, not to mention the roads are pretty good for Georgian standards. Even around the Jvari Pass there was enough room for two cars to pass, and while it was essentially a dirt track, it was nothing compared to the terrifying journeys I experienced elsewhere. It's not like the construction site you'll find in Mestia, but Kazbegi is just like ordinary Georgia - only in the mountains.

The village of Gergeti that you have to cross on your way up to the famous Gergeti Trinity Church is rather primitive, with chickens on the loose and no real road to speak of, and it's about a 15 minute to walk from Stepantsminda. From here you have two ways up - a steep path through the woods as suggested by the Lonely Planet or following the car road. I opted for the latter, seeing as I was on my own and didn't want to exhaust myself too quickly. I took the other route going back down and my advice is if you're not wearing proper footwear - don't do it. It is steep and if it's raining or snowing then definitely take the car path.

The car road is comfortable with no real steep inclines, but it does wind round the side of the little mountain. It took about 2 hours from the bus station to the summit, but I stopped a few time to cool down and catch my breath. There are lots of tourists and cars passing, so at no point do you feel unsafe.

My main concern was running out of water towards the top. Fortunately, I saw a couple of back packers coming back. The road seemed to be going in the wrong direction so I was worried - I asked them if it was the right way. Turned out the road turned a curve and went up the hill and that the church was 10 minutes away - plus there was a holy spring up top so that revved me to keep going.

The top of the mountain opens up to a green pasture with the church set at the end. People are sitting round enjoying picnics and the people hover around the church. The holy spring was the most beautiful site I had seen in my thirst (I took a full bottle up, but heat and a two hour climb helped it to disappear).

The spring
The church is interesting, and women are expected dress properly. There are skirts available to wear, but do make sure you take a headscarf. The actual construction itself is more or less the same as many other Georgian churches, but it's the location that makes it particularly stunning. It is also a surprisingly large structure for such a remote location.

In the backdrop looms Mount Kazbek, and is one of the largest mountains in the Caucasus on Georgian soil. It's actually a volcano. It is also potentially active, but there are no signs or history of any recent eruption.

What is interesting about Mount Kazbek is its role in mythology. According to Georgian myth, Prometheus was chained and punished on Mount Kazbek. While Amirani in the Georgian legend may not bear the same name as his classical counterpart - their stories are the same. Amirani stole the fire from the gods and gave it to the humans - his punishment was to be chained to the mountainside and have his liver pecked at and eaten by an eagle, while it would regenerate over night.

Mount Kazbek
Kazbegi is located along the Georgian Military Highway, an old road that connects Tbilisi in Georgia to Vladikavkaz in Russia. The road is supposedly ancient, and was touched upon by Pliny as well as Strabo in his Geographica, but the road, as it's known now, was constructed by Tsar Alexander I in the very beginning of the 19th century when Georgia became a part of the Russian Empire. It played a vital role in the development of the Transcaucasia region - since it connected Russia to the South Caucasus.

There are many interesting places along the Highway, which alas I didn't have time to stop and see. First port of call from Tbilisi is the ancient city of Mtskheta, which I've visited separately from Tbilisi. Later the Zhinvali Reservoir offers a clear blue waters, which when set against the backdrop of the green hills surrounding it is strikingly beautiful. The old 13th century castle at Ananuri can be seen, and I've heard is a remarkable site and worth a visit, but alas I only saw it from the road in passing.

The Zhinvali Reservoir

Ananuri in passing

 Before Kazbegi the road crosses the Jvari Pass before it descends into the valley and continues on towards Russia.

Crossing the Jvari Pass
Kazbegi is an excellent destination for those who don't have time to visit the other mountain regions. A trip to Georgia is incomplete without visiting the Caucasus Mountains and Kazbegi makes it doable in a day from Tbilisi. It's better to stay the night if you want to explore the region more, but after having just been in Tusheti last week, I just did the hike to the church and back.

I feel bittersweet about leaving Georgia. It's a remarkable country with so much to offer, but with a flooded kitchen and another power outage last night, I'm ready to go back to Spain... although before Madrid I have 9 hours in Kiev to enjoy so tomorrow I'll spend the day in the Ukrainian capital before flying onto Rome and then to Madrid. It'll be a long journey back.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Tbilisi's secret interiors

When you make a superficial visit to a city, you might get around and see all the key sites and tick the boxes in your guide books - but it's the hidden treasures that get left out.

Tbilisi is more than just old churches, elaborate galleried houses and Sulphur Baths - but sometimes the real beauties are hidden and possibly require some minor breaking and entering.

Georgians are very trusting people, and with their low crime rate that's understandable. This means that you'll find many front doors open and various hallways to explore. Sometimes these are not really interesting to look at but other times you'll come across some gem of faded grandeur from frescoes to decadent interiors you wouldn't know they were there unless you're either a) lucky or b) in the know.

I've been researching Tbilisi's art nouveau heritage, known from the Russian Stil Modern, and after collaborating with an art and architectural historian in Tbilisi, I was lent a photographic guidebook to all the buildings in the city. This also included photographs of interiors.

I went on a mission to find these places, and alas most of them were either closed or had been destroyed by "restoration." But some could still be found behind creaking doors in old houses that people still live in - despite looking like they're on the verge of falling down. Others were shown to me by my friend who lives in Tbilisi part time.

17 Machabeli Street
The neighbourhood of Mtatsminda is perhaps an interesting place to start. Here buildings with clear European influence line the streets decorated with elaborate motifs and flaking façades.

One building that looks like a construction site, has an open door and will take you into a turn of the century townhouse with an orientalist feel. The details in the house are art nouveau - such as the staircase. The house was built by an Armenian architect, G. Sarkisian and its beauty is in severe disrepair.

Despite the cracks and crumbling plaster, this place is still lived in, and the Georgian family wave us in to look around. In any Western country this would be considered unfit to live in - whereas in Tbilisi, it's the standard.

Further along, up on Chonkadze Street is an abandoned building that comprises part of the Academy of Arts. It's being renovated, but it seems anyone can walk into the derelict building. You're greeted with a mural of what can be best described as Soviet Surrealism (yes, I did just make that term up) - a painted collage of art and artists.

The main hall, what looks like a ballroom sports a chandelier of wires that sparkles above the dusty floorboards.

Nearby is the main building for the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. It's a beautiful 19th century building that's literally falling apart. With all the extensive restoration works going on, the place is a mess - but it's supposed to be home to some beautiful interiors. We got stopped at security and got told we couldn't enter. However, since we're art journalists and we got our press passes out, we managed to arrange a meeting with the head of the academy for the respective articles we're writing (I'm covering Georgian art history in general, while my friend is covering contemporary Georgian art). We not only learned a lot about the Georgian art scene, but got a guided tour to the closed off parts of the academy.

The place is incredibly beautiful, with mirrored walls and Persian influences decorating the entire first floor. There academy has historical links with Iran, and is one of the only three buildings in the Caucasus region with this kind of decor - the other being the former Iranian embassy on Chonkadze Street, and the "Pirusa" building in Borjomi.

Various features inside the academy were restored and enhanced by the students themselves, leading to a building that's unique and beautiful - but in desperate need of repair.

Interior for the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts

Towards the river lie some other hidden gems. Just close to the Dry Bridge is a private apartment with frescoes and a grand staircase. There was a Georgian couple sitting on the stairs who looked like they were having a serious discussion, but didn't comment as we snapped some pics of the interior.

Across the river on Aghmashenebeli Avenue you can find a range of art nouveau houses. Number 36 is interesting example of early Georgian art nouveau. Its interior isn't easy to get into, but the vintage clothes shop next to it has a door that leads into the hallway. The staff didn't seem to care I slipped through to grab a few photos.

36 Aghmashenebeli Street

Tbilisi is a city that never stops giving, and I'm rather sad to be leaving on Wednesday. However, perhaps this is an incentive to get to know Madrid's secrets a little better.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Surviving Tusheti

The night before we left Tusheti there was a huge thunderstorm. At the time we were drunk on chacha so didn't care about the weather as long as it didn't leak into the log cabin that looked like it was about to fall down, also known as our guest house.

The thunder and lighting came quite close to us - I made a count to 3 from the flash to hearing the rumble. Fortunately it filtered off into the distance, but I don't think any of us realised the extent of the storm at the time. 

Around 5am I woke up to use to facilities, which were located outdoors, and saw a stunning view of the valley shrouded in mist. I took my camera and snapped a few shots amazed at the beauty of it all...

Morning mist in Shenako at 5am

... but I didn't think about what it would be like to drive back in this. In all fairness, it wasn't too misty when we left Shenako at 10am. It was raining quite a bit and we asked our young driver if it would be ok. He sucked at his cigarette while muttering something in Russian that it'll be fine. 

Now, going back wasn't too bad at first even though I missed our older, more experienced driver. This guy was half his age, but I'm sure he's driven the mountain road between Telavi and Omalo many times. What I didn't have confidence in was his jeep. 

First, we had to stop because his tire was getting low on air. He stopped a passing truck to help him with this and we got a chance to stretch our legs. One other annoying thing about this driver was that he stopped to chat to every damned car that passed us on the way. Maybe he was just popular? At least the place to pump the tire was a dramatic gorge with wonderful rocks. 

View from our unexpected stop
 With the tires filled, we continued to the mountain pass. This was already getting scary as we could see the looming fog hovering over the summit of where we were supposed to drive. The mountain pass is quite a scary road on a good day, with lots of bends and potential drops. On the way it was fine, but we had OK roads, visibility, a good driver and a sturdy jeep. Now, we had a younger driver, a thick fog to contend with, a jeep which the driver had to keep checking and not to mention the heavy storm had damaged the road quite some bit. 

And it happened again. The car stopped half way up the mountain pass because of a flat tyre. We had a spare one with us, and it took less time to change it than the marshrutka from Khevsureti, but looking up the mountain at the ever thickening fog - I started to freak out inside. 

Looking up at our impending doom
My friend was so scared of the fog, she said she'd walk up to the summit and meet us there while the tyre was being changed. I was so freaked I even asked the Czech guy we were with for a cigarette and I don't even smoke! I just needed something to calm the nerves. We had to go into this dragon's breath, but whether we emerged was not something I didn't want to think about. 

The car was fixed and we continued into the mist. We found my friend a kilometer or so further up the pass and picked her up. The fog got worse and worse, but our driver seemed to know the road well. He was taking it slowly, and at least the fog masked the big drops this time, but this was perhaps the most terrifying experience of my whole life.  

We crossed the summit, but the mist didn't get any better. To make matters worse, the road got worse too. The storm had apparently caused parts of the mountain to fall down, and some of the road didn't exist - just mounds of shale with tire prints on them. One or two cars passed us, so we thought the road wasn't so bad low down. 


While the small shale mounds plus deathly drops and fog were bad enough, we came to a part where it looked like most of the mountain had collapsed onto the road, where you had a vertical incline of rocks and a ravine to contend with - oh yes, and zero visibility. At least for this point we were told to get out of the car while the driver would attempt to cross this mound. My friend again decided to walk part of the way down.

Yes, the car had to drive over that...

View of the "road" from the other side

There were quite a few jeeps around and a couple of military guys, not to mention tons of tourists and passengers standing around waiting for their jeep to make the dangerous crossing. Our driver's turn was terrifying, at one point were were sure he was going to fall, but on the second attempt he made it over. The drivers who had come up hill said the road was OK lower down, it's only the higher parts of the mountains that were bad. The less experienced drivers decided to turn back, the crazy or braver ones plodded on. Ours had no choice and was crazy enough to do it. We were no where near the car when he drove over though.

The way down wasn't so bad. Even though we had to stop once more to refill the tires, the fog cleared up and we descended into the valley. The valley on the way back is even more beautiful than the Tusheti side, full of trees, rocks, waterfalls and rivers. Alas, I was in the middle seat so I couldn't photograph this, but it was really magical. It came alive after the rain especially.

We eventually reached Telavi and took a taxi back to Tbilisi. As we drove through the lush Kakhetian landscape, which in parts looked like East Sussex, the exhaustion from the adrenaline kicked in and I could finally doze off. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Tusheti: Omalo

The day spent hiking to and from Omalo makes me want to retract the "Wild West" comment I made about Tusheti in my initial impression. This day was a day of many firsts and experiences, all immersed in the beauty of the Tush countryside.

My friend from Tbilisi wanted to rent horses for the day and ride up to Omalo that way. I was a little apprehensive about doing this, but the horses here are really tame, I was told. We reserved them the night before, and in the morning there was no sign of these alleged horses. After getting a Ukrainian girl at the guesthouse to translate for us - the horses had apparently broken out in the middle of the night and they didn't know where they were. I didn't like the sound of this, but we decided to wait. After an hour or so the guide at the hostel pointed up to the opposing hill to some wild looking horses being driven down into the village. I was freaking out inside and wasn't sure if this was a good idea or not. We then got told the horses were too wild to ride, which was fine by me, I didn't want to ride the two horses I saw up there.

Some hikers from the guesthouse, a mixed group of Italians and Czechs, were going to Omalo by foot, and the guide had offered to show them a "short cut" that by-passed the winding main road. We were going to go with them, then we got told the horses were ready. Apparently they were tame now (and one was being ridden by a child). I felt uneasy about the fact these were supposed to be the same horses who broke out in the night, but tried to hide my fear and not look like a complete coward. That failed. Getting up on the horse it was clear I was terrified. The guide just laughed at me and helped me warm up to using the horse. They were very tame horses - but also incredibly slow. No amount of tapping could get these fillies to go faster. The hikers were going faster than us on horseback!

When we reached the "short cut" the horses wouldn't budge. The guide tried to drag the horses with them but they still wouldn't move. I was of the philosophy that if the horse didn't want to go down there then it was probably for a good reason. Later I would discover that taking a horse down there would have been a suicide mission, and I have no idea what the guide was thinking!!!

In the end, we'd took the horses on the main road, while the others went the shorter way. So following the main road was easy, but at the steep incline where the mountain road began - the horses stopped. There was no way of getting them down there, so in the end we decided to give up and take them back to the guest house.

Then plans changed. Our other friend was interested in riding the horse, so I was happy to give mine to her and go on by foot. However, they were about to eat, and it would take a long time before we'd set off again, so with my failure with the horse combined with a need to be alone out of embarrassment and a desire to set off already - I agreed with the others I'd go off on foot and they'd catch up with me.

Half way down the mountain road I realised what a dumb idea that was. It took me an hour to go down, and I was not looking forward to going up - and then having to walk back again. But I couldn't really go back to the village either at this point. As I was going down, I heard a car, so I turned and looked round. The jeep had a family in it - a husband and wife, and their little girls. They stopped and asked if I wanted a lift to Omalo. This is something I'd never do, but I did it. I heard from the guide and other hikers that people hitchhike in this region all the time and it's perfectly safe - plus this was a whole family, not a guy on his own, so I got in and they took me to Omalo.

Lower Omalo isn't interesting, but Upper Omalo has a fortress from the 12/13th centuries that looked appealing to visit. I had to do more climbing to reach Upper Omalo, and took a stupid foot path up there that seemed to go nowhere until I saw the fortress and the village up ahead.

The fortress of Kesalo - Upper Omalo

Kesalo fortress - Upper Omalo

Upper Omalo

Out of breath, I sat down on the verge of tears - I was stupid to go off alone. The others were on their way, but it would probably take hours till they turned up. I ambled into the village towards the fortress, and then noticed someone waving to me from one of the towers. It was one of the Italian guys from the group of hikers from our guest house. I ran up the fortress till I reached them, and after waiting for 5 minutes to get my breath back I explained how I came to be there on my own and without the horses. They told me that if I wanted I could go with them. I figured this made more sense than waiting at the fortress for hours for my friends.

We took a long walk down to the visitors centre, where we had the chance to see a little exhibition on Tush life, sat down at a picnic bench to regain strength and studied hiking maps. In the end, we decided it would make more sense to hike back to Shenako. The Czech girl showed me photos from the route down, and it looked stunning. They said it was an hour and a half - two hour trek, but looked more scenic than the way I came down. It was supposed to be tough, since it went down and up a mountain more or less directly, but there was a route marked out and they'd already done it. So, I decided to go that way with them.

Our route back took us across beautiful fields laced with wild flowers. We saw the view of Omalo, with the fortress lingering in the background like a distant memory. It was hard to believe I had been there and back already.

Fields around Omalo

Omalo in the distance
The hike down the mountain wasn't physically hard, but rather you had to take care even with the path to keep yourself steady. The views were amazing with sharp cliffs straight across the valley, abandoned castles hidden between the branches and trees with golden leaves. In some parts, these golden trees would line the path, where their fallen leaves carpeted the ground. I would have taken a photo, but I was concentrating hard on not slipping.

Dramatic rocks

Can you spot the tower?

Golden trees

 When we reached the bottom of the valley, we had to cross an intense, white water river, Pirikiti-Alazani, that eventually flows into Dagestan a few kilometers later. It was all so beautiful, but the Indiana Jones bridge made my already fast heart rate accelerate even more. It was a wooden structure that looked like it would break any second, but on closer inspection appeared quite sturdy. We took our time crossing it - taking pictures and enjoying a much needed break. This was necessary for climbing the mountain back up to Shenako.

The river Pirikiti-Alazani

The Shenako Footbridge

The river Pirikiti-Alazani
 The route back up was hard. The others were really fit, but I'm not. I had to stop for breath every 10 minutes, however they were really good about making sure I had the endurance to make it to the top of the mountain. Nearing the top was perhaps the most painful experience I've ever put my body through, but in a good way. Getting to the top I collapsed for 5 minutes before taking the smooth walk across the fields to Shenako. I felt good again and proud for having made it up and down a mountain. This made up for my fail in Mestia (when I gave up a quarter of the way up to The Cross).

My friends eventually made it back - turns out the horses were incredibly slow and took them 3 hours each way. Once they were back, we enjoyed a meal and then all of us in the guesthouse got together in a bit of Georgian style toasting, first with chacha, then with Armenian wine the Italians had brought with them and finally some homemade wine from Telavi the Czechs had got. Considering there isn't much to do in the evenings in Shenako but drink, this seemed like a good plan.

This might not have been the best idea considering the horrible journey back to Telavi the next day in a jeep with fog and landslides...