After collecting the bikes from the cargo terminal (a lovely three hour affair), and spending a hectic night assembling them in the gloom of our Airbnb, we were finally ready to set off.
It’s probably worth mentioning the lovely lady in the cargo terminal who helped us out. For a while, it appeared that we’d have to pay an extra £300 to import the bikes into Georgia, which was based on their usual rate + 18% of the value of the bikes. We caused a small stir in the office as we didn’t want to pay that amount – the ‘value’ of the bikes we’d given were the amounts we’d bought them for, not their current value.
It seemed like a losing battle, as the lady boss came over and said we’d have to pay. Then as we were at the cashier, she came over again to ask how long we were staying in Georgia. As we’re only taking a short trip, we could list the bikes as a ‘temporary import’ – and thus pay nothing. What a mega babe! She is now my new favourite Georgian of all time.
The plan was to bike around 26km to Mtskheta – the centre of the Georgian Orthodox Religion, a former capital, and close enough that I wouldn’t cause a ruckus biking there.
However we hadn’t counted on the raging Tbilisi traffic, which choked up a lot of time trying to find a suitable route outta there. Just like childbirth though, the pain is now a distant dream, and as Sean agreed to having a local Georgian lunch on the road, I was happy.
All in all the cycle took about five hours, which sounds pretty ridiculous but I can’t overstate the traffic! If another cycle tourist is reading this in preparation for a Tbilisi cycle, I’d recommend staying way out of the city centre and taking a bus or the metro into town.
Mtskheta contains three main points of interest that ensure it’s historical and religious significance, and saw it become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in ‘94. On some websites I’ve seen it listed as a ‘town museum’, which I don’t think I’ve come across before.
The guesthouse we were staying in actually faced one of them – Svetitskhoveli Cathedral – which Wikipedia lists as a ‘masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages’ (oh er!).
There is also the Jvari Monastery – which unfortunately we didn’t have time to witness up close and personal.
Early Georgians must have had some serious time and energy on their hands, as at the summit of every big hill there’s a church, a monastery or a fort. It seems they can’t look at the top of one without banging something up there!
Also just as a side note, the above is quite puzzling, as the modern-day men of Georgia don’t give off that vibe… I’d loosely state that Georgian men fall into one of three camps – they are either policemen, staring taxi men, or drifters who just stand around the streets looking ominous. If anyone has any insights into this phenomenon, please let us know what is going on!
The third building of note Samtavro Monastry, which again we didn’t get up close and personal with, as it wasn’t open.
I’d recommend viewing this place, but probably as a day trip from Tbilisi for non-cycle tourists. It’s lovely but 90% of restaurants are closed at night, though this may actually be because we’re out of the summer tourist season.
Onwards to Gori
The next day, we set off nice and early to Gori, where the claim to ‘fame’ is being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.
This was quite a hard ride for me – 68km through fairly strenuous hills. And that’s with barely any luggage, whilst Sean the packhorse takes the strain with about 70% of the weight! He still keeps a smile on his face though.
Gori itself is very interesting. We arrived around 4pm and headed straight to the Stalin Museum, which contains the house he was born and grew up in.
A drawback of the museum is the lack of information available in English, which I hope doesn’t sound either arrogant or lazy. I think English information would help a lot of visitors from around the world.
I’ve read the ‘Young Stalin’ autobiography so had a vague idea what was going on in the first section, but struggled with everything between then, and WWII.
However there was an image I could understand after watching The Death of Stalin which was quite funny!
After this we headed to the Gori Fortress, a medieval citadel placed on – you guessed it! – the top of a hill. I guess that is quite standard for fortresses however.
Incidently researching why the Georgian flag hosts the St George’s Cross taught me that St George is not British, as I’d always assumed, but Roman/Greek/Palestinian. And we just took him on cause we liked the dragon story or something. Did everyone else know this?