It has been brought to our attention that this blog is perhaps presenting a fairly rose-tinted view of our last eight months. Therefore, in the interest of unbiased reporting and to show what lies behind the smiles and the sunsets, we have compiled a series of photos which should illustrate the somewhat less glamorous side of cycling from China to Africa.
Back to basics: bread, water and bikes have been our staples.
Not usually a fussy drinker, but the homemade Tajikistan brew was not to our liking.
The floor is often preferable to the bed.
With a limited wardrobe, all fashion sense was discarded early on.
The reason communism failed: an ex-soviet en suite bathroom.
Uzbekistan was hot! Taking a post-lunch nap under a bus shelter.
There is simply no greater (nor more widely available) refreshment.
Bike rebuild in Istanbul.
Language barriers occasionally require a more hands-on approach.
You know that storage room behind a hotel reception…. our first night in Egypt.
Finding a pesky thorn.
Another unsatisfactory breakfast.
Fire up the bedroom stove, again.
Beans for lunch and beans for dinner. Hope you like beans if you’re heading to Sudan.
Who would have ever thought that camping in a thorn field would result in multiple punctures?
Low key birthday celebrations this year.
‘Hotel’ rooms: there have been some heart-sinking moments.
Pursuit of cash in Africa has been a challenge: queuing for another empty ATM.
Finding a map of Georgia was easy. However, finding a detailed map of Georgia that wouldn’t reasonably be mistaken for a map of Disneyland was a more difficult task. As a result, route selection over the past fortnight has been quite a lottery, with the absence of any contouring and with secondary roads meaning anything from a perfect ribbon of tarmac to an un-rideable gravel track, Georgia certainly threw some obstacles our way. These problems aside, the rolling hills and vineyards of the Caucasus region proved worthy of the trouble.
Leaving Tbilisi behind…
..into the hills.
Our education into Georgian wine started well by meeting George (yes, George from Georgia), who owned an exquisite wine cellar replete with some of the country’s rarest wines. He took great pleasure in educating us on the history and variety of Georgian wine; details of which would be elaborated on here had it not been for the generous samples of said wine. When not peddling his fine produce, George can be found relaxing in the shade listening to jazz music while smoking a cigar. Suffice to say that George is a pretty cool guy. The remainder of our exploration into the viticulture of the country wasn’t quite as successful, mainly due to the home-based nature of the industry simply not quite yet being ready for a tourist looking for a few free tasters.
Georgian wine produced in an underground qvervi
We have met more cyclists in the last fortnight than during any other part of our journey; some on a two-week holiday, some on a three-year cycling odyssey, but all clearly seeing Georgia as a bit of a draw card. And the reason for this is simple: the cycling in this country is superb. After the long desert days of Central Asia the green hills of the Caucasus Mountains offered an aesthetically pleasing, albeit leg-burning, change. Although not as grand in scale as the peaks of Tajikistan, the punchy switchbacks and punishing inclines certainly made us work for what was thankfully some entirely worthwhile descents; most notably for any keen road riders, the 60km from Akhalkalaki to Akhaltsikhe.
Sometimes it’s good to lie down.
A fine 60km descent.
While Tbilisi seemed like a capital city full of Mercedes, espressos and people in a hurry, rural Georgia delivered an abrupt contrast where horse & cart were more common sight and where food bills were calculated using an abacus. It’s an odd dynamic for a country which has clearly undergone some pretty rapid changes since independence from the Soviets in the early ‘90s, but it does seem to have an awful lot of potential and has been added on our ‘return to one day’ list. Probably once the wineries are all up and running.
This is not the Georgia that Ray Charles once sung about but someone should sing about it, because so far it has been nothing but excellent.
The astute followers of this blog will note an Azerbaijan-sized gap in our records, and this is because we were unable to ever make it there. After waiting an additional ten days for a visa which would have allowed our crossing of the Caspian Sea into the port of Baku, the bureaucratic incompetence of those handling our application left us wondering whether we would in fact be celebrating New Year in Kazakhstan. As a result, Plan B was deployed; to make a beeline to Tbilisi in Georgia. We’re not overly concerned with this omission, as by all accounts, Azerbaijan sits comfortably in the company of the likes of Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain, as statements of needless excess and inequality. And as they begin construction of the tallest building in the world (nudging Dubai’s unnecessary efforts into second place), we wish them luck with what will undoubtedly stand forever as a monument to their oil-rich ineptness and short-sightedness. Perhaps we are a little bitter about the whole affair….
Georgia has indeed been in our thoughts during the final throes of the Central Asian leg and the obvious contrast upon arrival into Tbilisi was a welcome relief to the continent we had left behind. One of the immediate observations during our first stroll around the cobbled streets of the city were the frequent and conspicuous presence of EU flags, which is odd for a country not yet part of the European Union. However, there is certainly a European feel to the place, in its architecture, people, cuisine and conveniences. In a clear sign that we had crossed some sort of cultural boundary, as we indulged in the luxuries of coffee, chilled wine and flavoured food, a fellow diner paid a restaurant bill by swiping her i-phone on the credit card machine; the closest to this we had seen in the last few weeks was an i-phone t-shirt. If ever engaged in a debate over where exactly ‘The West’ begins or ends, we can say with some confidence that the answer – at least in 2014 – is the Caspian Sea.
And…..everything is OK in the world again.
Notwithstanding a potentially skewed opinion from our drought of cosmopolitan cities, it would seem that Tbilisi has a lot to offer. If you live in Europe and have yet to make a Ryan Air weekend break here, this is a strong endorsement to do so.