We never planned to come this way. Our route from Turkey was always going to be to Iran; a country that has inspired wanderlust in both of us for years. But since a few months ago, visas for Iran are not available to independently travelling Brits (along with Canadians and Americans). We pleaded with numerous different visa agencies to no avail, “no, you can not have an all important ‘code’ unless you book on one of our really expensive guided tours… no, we don’t know when the rules are going to change again…no, no, no”. The answer was always the same. We even knocked on the door of the Iranian Consulate in Trabzon; reputed to be one of the easiest places to acquire a visa.
The conversation went something like this:
Consulate lady: Where are you from?
Us: United Kingdom.
Consulate lady: Where?
Us: United Kingdom, UK, Great Britain, Britain?
Consulate lady (still looks confused): PASSPORT!
We hand one over…
Consulate lady: Ahhhh England! Do you have a code? (It would appear she didn’t hear the news that Scotland voted NO)
Consulate lady: No code, no visa.
We left feeling despondent that our last faint glimmer of hope had been extinguished, amused at how some of our more patriotic Scottish or Welsh friends and relatives might have reacted to being defined as English, and looking forward to our new unexpected adventures.
What did we know about Georgia? Well, we knew it was in the Caucasus region, which we imagined was rather mountainous (we can now confirm this is correct). We knew it was a predominantly Christian country (hooray, back to eating pork!). We knew it had once been part of the USSR and they are not friends with Russia these days (thankfully all is peaceful currently). We knew they had a crazy-looking alphabet (we’re still none the wiser). We also had been told that it was where wine was first made (we like wine!).
A quick bit of investigation with other cyclists on the internet revealed that 1) Georgians are crazy drivers, and 2) it is entirely possible to be “kidnapped” while cycling along minding your own business and forced to drink wine until it is impossible for you to continue cycling. Oh yes, the Georgians love drinking!
We have now been in the country for over a week. Our first impressions were wet, muddy, grey, concrete buildings, stern looking people. In the beginning we just wanted to turn round and cycle back to Turkey; which had become so familiar over the past seven weeks.
Then gradually things started to change. The sun came out on the day we cycled away from Batumi. We could see the High Caucasus (the natural border with Russia and home of Europe’s highest mountain) on our left and the Lesser Caucasus on our right. The snow-capped peaks looked dazzlingly breath taking in the sunshine.
With the warmth of the sun on our faces, people seemed infinitely friendlier. Our inability to speak any Georgian or Russian has been a huge barrier to communication, especially with older people. But we’ve found that excessive use of “გამარჯობა” (hello) and “მადლობა” (thank you) has led to even the gruffest, burliest looking men breaking into smiles.
We are now in Georgia until after Christmas. We had been planning a side trip to Armenia’s capital Yerevan but given the on-going hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan it is not the best time to be gallivanting away from our primary goal. Having been informed by numerous people that we could be refused entry to Azerbaijan if we had Armenian stamps in our passports the decision to stay put in Georgia was a relatively easy one. There is plenty of fantastic scenery to be viewed, ancient monasteries to be explored, Rugby games to attend (much to Steven’s overwhelming excitement) and tasty wine to be drunk (oh, and a few kilometres to be cycled) so I’m sure we will not be bored!
Even the best laid travel plans and intentions can be thwarted, but it is all about embracing Plan B (and Plan C) and making the most of our time travelling the globe.