Thurs, Nov 21, 2013
The scans for Helen weren’t as good as we had hoped for. She had fractures in her skull and her backbone. She also had a small bleed in her brain. Her doctors said the bleed and skull fracture would probably just heal themselves and the backbone fractures were just in the wing portion of the bone so it isn’t threatening the spinal cord. The doctors said she would need to stay in the hospital for at least 5 days. She was talking and remembered many things, but not the fall itself. So, with this bad news, she will be leaving the tour. Our other driver/guide Rogan is her boyfriend and he will be leaving too. So, with these changes, we were heading back to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia where Helen is in the hospital and Helen and Rogan can eventually get flights out. The owners of Odyssey Overland just finished a trip from Beijing to Istanbul and will be taking over the rest of our tour – 9 days from Georgia to Istanbul.
We drove back to Tbilisi the same way we had come the day before. It was a solemn mood and the truck was more empty than ever since a couple girls had gone to Tbilisi to be with Helen and one of the guys was sitting with Rogan in the cab. We arrived in Tbilisi by early afternoon and checked into a different hotel in a great location – just across the bridge from Old Town and with awesome views. I got put in a triple room since the hotel was very full but the three of us girls ended up with a deluxe room with a twin bedroom + a large sitting room where the sofa folded out to a full bed, and a balcony overlooking the old town.
It was drizzling so we decided to find somewhere warm to get lunch and a pitcher of wine. I had the ground kidney beans in a clay pot again and it was very nice – much soupier than the dish I had the other night. Anna, Barb, and I decided to walk up to Rustavelli street to see if there were any good shows or museums to visit, but we just mostly strolled along. We stopped in a supermarket to see if they had any interesting wine bottles and Anna recognized the tattoos on a huge guy’s arms as being kiwi/New Zealander. It turns out he was from NZ but was in Georgia with the Samoan national Rugby team that was in town to play the Georgian team on Saturday. We had our pictures taken with the huge guys.
We met up with the group to go out for a group dinner since this would be my last night with the group until Istanbul since I will be hopping off the tour tomorrow, and the last night to see Lincoln and Bree since they would be hopping off in two days once they arrive in Turkey. 18 of the group showed up. We headed down to a Caravanserai restaurant, under the street. I had a small fried trout and shared a couple salads. We all drank the 10 Lari (about $6) liters of red wine. There was a singer at the restaurant, but the amplifier was way too loud. We walked to another cellar restaurant and had another pitcher of wine that wasn’t very good.
Fri, Nov 22
Today is the day I hopped off my 12-week tour. They have a couple of really long driving days plus 3 nights in Cappadocia, Turkey. I was just there 2.5 years ago. Also, we didn’t have time to make it to Armenia, one of the 3 Caucasus countries in addition to Georgia and Azerbaijan. It seems the culture and sites are different there so I decided to visit Armenia as opposed to duplicate Turkey. However, my flight still returns from Istanbul so I’ll need to fly there on Nov. 30 and fly home on Dec 1. I walked my big backpack over to the Envoy Hostel in Old Town where I would be checking in later in the day. I returned to the hotel for my last great breakfast of the trip – lots of meats and cheeses. Once I check into the hostel for the last week of the trip, I expect to get alot of bread and jam and not much of anything else.
After saying goodbye to the people from the tour that were up for an early breakfast, I headed to the subway station to go to the stop where the mini-buses (matruskys) depart for various towns in western Georgia. I easily found the matrusky that was headed to Gori, but it was empty and someone said it wasn’t departing for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, a taxi driver was trying to convince me to hire him for the day to take me to Gori as well as a cave city that was near Gori. I had remembered reading about the cave city and was interested but had seen that it was quite difficult to get to unless you hired a taxi. So, after he lowered the price to 60 lari (less than $40), I decided to take the taxi.
He drove me via the freeway to the town of Gori. Gory was the boyhood home of Joseph Stalin and location of the Stalin Museum. First, I looked around the large marble museum, which was built by the Soviets when Georgia was part of the USSR.
Next, you get to go outside where the one room brick house that was rented by Joseph’s parents when he was a boy. All the other houses have been torn down but this one has been preserved and a protective structure has been built around it.
The last stop is the luxury railway carriage that took Stalin to the Yalta Convention. There was even a full bathroom on the car with a huge bathtub and toilet. To think on this trip, I’ve now seen toilets used by both Joseph Stalin and the Dahli Lama!
My last stop in Gori was the crusader statues and hill for a view of Stalin’s Georgian city.
Next, we drove to the cave city of Up. The carved buildings looked like there were out of the Flintstones. At one point, there were 20,000 people in this city first built over 3,000 years ago. There were temples that were originally pagan and later converted to Christianity. This was another city that had been invaded by Genghis Khan. It’s amazing the number of cities we’ve seen on this trip that was in the Mongol invasion. The exit was thru a very long tunnel carved in the sandstone in ancient days.
The taxi returned to Tbilisi via the scenic route. The taxi driver kept on trying to convince me to stop at other monasteries, probably for additional cost, but I was a bit tired and wanted to return to Tbilisi. I looked around the market at the Didube train station and bought a Georgian Snickers (walnuts, grape juice, and flour snack) and bought a bag that I can use as a carry on to carry my souvenirs home. I took the metro subway back to town and walked down Rustaveli street towards old town again. I ran into some more Samoan rugby players and asked there were and when the game and how to get tickets. They said they get some free tickets and would leave one for me at the Radisson tomorrow (we’ll see if they remember). The stores on Rustavelli are starting to put out their Christmas decorations.
I checked into the hostel and found it is overrun by American men – several volunteers in Tbilisi for the weekend and a number of US military. I sat in the common room and talked to a guy who was teaching English in rural Georgia and I drank some of the homemade wine left from the local guide of our tour, ZaZa. Then I went out to check out some bars that had been suggested by the receptionist at the hostel. There was a fun band playing in “Glasgow”, the “Scottish Bar”…playing songs from AC/DC to Coldplay to Michael Jackson to Red Hot Chili Peppers. A bunch of American guys came in and most of them were US military although they couldn’t tell me what they were doing in Georgia. I walked home via the upscale bar street and it was very busy at 1:30 in the morning.