International Invasion in the cave city

Or: We TLG’er in Vardzia, the famous cave city in Georgia. It used to be a fully functional cave city with hidden entrances but an earthquake destroyed huge parts of it in the 13th century and made it visible from the outside.
Vardzia is a bit south of Borjomi and happened on the exact same day as our marshutka ride from Zugdidi through basically the whole country to Borjomi. We went there in late afternoon, which provided us with beautiful illumination as beautiful as late afternoon sunshine in mid of November can get!

Beautiful afternoon sun shadows over the valley below the cave city. Also, Max, I LOVE your outfit!

Apart from that (and stopping by a river where we found a HUGE pile of burning trash, that is unfortunately still the common waste disposal here in rural areas), there is not much to say. We had lots of fun climbing the cave city and actually walking through some pitch dark caves with our Nokia 1280 flashlights and having Zurab scaring us to death by making wolf sounds in there. There also was an amazing church in the mountain where we were unfortunately not allowed to take pictures in. You can find one picture on the Wikipedia link above though.

View on the cave city.

As a picture says more then 1000 words and I have 25 pictures in the slideshow on the bottom, I will refrain from writing an essay with more then 25.000 words, describing how nice the atmosphere and landscape was.

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Trip to the hot springs of Borjomi

Another adventure of last semester and – oh boy – there are more and more piling up from this semester too. So this one weekend in mid November we took the trip to Borjomi and Vardzia, centrally located in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Georgia.

Map of Central Georgia. Borjomi (and the National Park) are on the left side. Click to enlarge!

Borjomi is a town and at the same time name of a National Park by the town and also at the same time the Name of Borjomi-Water, a pretty salty mineral water that is a somewhat universial medicine here in Georgia, curing everything from a cold over headache to hangovers.

Borjomi Mineral Water

So one day we rented a private marshutka from and with our beloved driver Zurab (known from the Svaneti trip), got ourselfes some 5 liter bottles of red and white wine for the tour and took the 9 hour (or so) trip to Borjomi. Over there we picked up Raughley who tricked all of us by saying he wasn’t coming for mysterious reasons that were beyond my knowledge so far, but then randomly walked past the marshutka at a bridge in the middle of Borjomi (town). It was an awesome surprise and we all were really happy to have him with us. I don’t know how he felt as he certainly didn’t get any share of the wine we had on that 9 hour (or so) trip but I guess he was happy to be with us too!

In Borjomi we found a cheap hostel that hosted us for 4 Lari (roughly 1,60 €) each. Despite being under construction, not really having enough beds for all of us and no running water, it was a good deal! After that we went to Vardzia which will be topic of the next blog post. The Borjomi National Park (or a really small part of it) actually happened the next day. We climbed a few funny looking trees, saw awesome nature, a statue, a cablecar and nice mosaics. Also, there is an amusement park in this national park which we discovered roaming around. We ended up climbing huge pirate-ship-ish formed playgrounds and tree climbing mounted into using a dragon seesaw! After that, we got original and hot Borjomi Mineral water from the spring. There is not much more to say about it, so enjoy the pictures!

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Zugdidi

Zugdidi is more or less the meeting point of TLG group 2 (the best group by the way), so this post is entirely dedicated to Zugdidi. Hence the kind of not creative title. Zugdidi is where around 30 people (rough estimation) of TLG and European Volunteer Service are stationed. Zugdidi is where TLG and European Monitoring Mission (EUMM) play Volleyball from time to time. Zugdidi is the home of FC Baia Zugdidi, the local “Umaglesi League” (Georgian first football (AmEn: soccer) division) team whose website domain you can buy if you want. Also, Zugdidi is the Paris of Samegrelo! Vibrant metropole of north-east Georgia.

Zugdidi is in the north-west of Georgia. Click to enlarge.

Since I first came to Zugdidi, this clock in the middle of the center constantly has been 20 minutes off.

Dadiani Palace, a museum nowadays besides others hosting one of three deaths masks of Napoleon

Some other building in the same park

Zugdidi, in the language of the region, Mingrelian, means ‘big hill’. It is located by the Abkhaz border. No reason to worry though, the only kind of dangerous thing that happened there was some crazy guy firing 30 AK-74 rounds in the air one Sunday morning, he got detained for that. So it is and feels save in general. Also, Georgia overall actually feels saver then home when it comes down to violence on the streets, especially while being outside in the night. That might be a subjective observation, but people seem less aggressive over here or their inhibition threshold to get violent is higher. Anyway, Zugdidi has around 75.000 inhabitants and besides lack of real night life, has some bars and cafe’s to go to too. I am going there pretty often over the weekend to see group 2 and it only is a convenient 2h Marshutka ride.

One weekend I already came in Thursday night and hence had the whole Friday to explore and take photos in the city. I went to Dadiani’s palace and then down to the river before walking the the train station.

A Svan tower in the middle of Zugdidi!

Svaneti Mountains

Dunno why, but I find this kind of stunning

It's been a long day!

Also, I have seen this hilarious 'Hilarius' marshutka.

This is thrid storey. Labour safety my ass.

After exploring a bit, Tony from Chkaduashi called me up and told me that he organized a German class for me in his school. So I hopped on a taxi and took the 45 minute ride out in the village. When I arrived, the class already gathered and awaited me. We did some chit-chat, they asked me a few questions and I asked them a few things too. It was really nice. Some of them were really good in the language already and students and especially the teacher certainly appreciated me as a native speaker coming over and talking to them while I entirely appreciated that some of the students actually came back from home to have that class with me!

German students in Chkaduashi

They have this amazing view everyday, as Tony has it on his 30 minute walk home.

From left to right: German teacher, Tony, some village kid and me.

More photos as usual in the slideshow below. If you want to have some of them in higher resolution, let me know! Oh and by the way, this was last November, when the weather over here has still been nice. 🙂

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Posted in Georgia, TLG | 2 Comments

TV Stars in Mtikhala National Park

Another story from late October. Again, my host dad asked me to star in a TV report about National Parks in Georgia. So Richard, another volunteer, and me were sat into one of those Lada 4×4 and driven to Mtirala, a National Park close to Batumi.

Mtirala was opened up in 2006 with the support of some Norwegian ministry and is located in the mountains east of Batumi. As far as I know it contains tourist routes, several historic sites and at least one hotel and one camping site, inviting for backpacking tours as soon as the weather is getting better.

The Vehicle we came with from the inside

It’s only going to take an hour they sad. After 45 awesome minutes on bumpy tracks through the wilderness we arrived at where the report was going to be shot. It was stunning, also because of the autumn-like weather.

So we went down to the river, looked at a map, gave some interviews and cracked some walnuts with a stone (first we failed, then we smashed the whole thing with too much strength before actually getting a feeling for it).

When we finished the shooting my host dad noticed that, against all promises that the whole thing is only going to take an hour, it already took us two hours, we were in the middle of no where, the video had to be cut and had to be on the 8 pm news and it was at least an hour to Batumi.

But Georgia wouldnt be Georgia if somebody wouldn’t come up with a solution. We drove high-speed over those bumpy tracks into the valley, crossed the major road going to Batumi and drove up the hill on the other side to a TV tower in which a man apparently lived all his lifes watching 4 channels on 4 screens simultaneously and from which we streamed the footage down to the Batumi TV office. Four hours after departing Batumi we finally were back in the center and a few minutes after that successfully on the 8 o’clock news.

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Bavshvis Birthday

ბავშვი [bavshvi] – noun child

One day late in October has been a special day for my host sister Ekaterine: She turned 7! We gathered at home and Uncles and Aunts also came over to celebrate with us. My host parents got her a nice cake and we also had – as always – more awesome food.

Birthday Cake

So proud.

Irakli

Ekaterina with Irakli - This kid is awesome

As I am part of the family I thought about a present, too. I didn’t know what to get but guessed, that something that trains muscles, coordination and balance but at the same time is still fun would be nice. I roamed through a couple of stores over here in Batumi and finally found a fun toy that I also had in my childhood.

She is getting a Skippy Ball!

What's bigger? Belly or Skippy Ball?

Also Irakli had fun with it...

...loads of fun

Posted in Batumi, Georgia | 1 Comment

What do volunteers do on weekends? II

I know, I know. It’s been a while. Honestely, it’s been too long of a while. There were a few things holding me back from blogging, including loads of travelling in this beautiful country, teaching of street kids in an NGO and some private issues that had to be overcome. Sorry I just let you, fellow reader, down. Won’t happen again. Georgia is just keeping me so busy. 🙂 And I am having the feeling this is gonna be a rusty restart, but I’ll get there. Be patient with me please. In the meantime I collected a couple of photos and stories to be uploaded, so stay tuned for around 10 posts of new footage.

So, what do volunteers again do on weekends? I am just going to continue where that last story ended. The next day Pik Quinn and me went to see more museums when the TV station called and wanted to shoot some clips for their “What do volunteers do on weekends?” report. Bring friends they said.

A few calls and minutes later we all gathered at the centre from where we were transported to this museum PQ and me actually wanted to see anyways. After that we went to that cafe at the beach where the president sometimes resides and is on TV. Over there, we got explained how they traditionally make Turkish coffee on hot sand. After that we went to the Old Boulevard, our “favorite spot” in Batumi. It was pretty nice.

To further satisfy PQ’s historic interest, we took the bus to go to Gonio, which is a 2.500 year old Roman fortress. After getting off the bus too early, a 15 minute walk and talking about German movies we arrived at Gonio. Gonio also is the name of the small village around the fortress south of Batumi, see the map.

Gonio is located south of Batumi. It is a 20 minute bus ride.

You can see photos of Gonio in the slide show below. I took them while we climbed the walls and walked around on the walls. The weather and light wasn’t that nice and I only had my phone, hence the somewhat blurry quality. Sorry for that.

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What Do Volunteers Do On Weekends? I

Yes, what do volunteers do on weekends? Last week’s Thursday was a national holiday, Mtskhroba, and as I don’t have to work on Fridays, I had a long weekend. Not that I do not want to travel, but I was a bit short on money after the trip to Svaneti, so I just stayed in Batumi, happily welcoming Pik Quinn from Malaysia this time. She mainly wanted to come to see Batumi’s museums, but eventually the weekend had way more to offer than that.

So she texted me Thursday that she wanted to come on Friday, stating that she hopes the weather would be as nice as at that particular day. I texted back that I am looking forward too. And that the weather wasn’t exactly as nice as a couple of dozens of kilometers up the coast. Remember, it’s always raining in Batumi.

So we met up in town and walked to the first museum for the day, the archeological museum of Batumi in Chavchadze Str. It was pretty interesting to see, as it – in separate showcases – showed, how mankind’s techniques and tools, in particular on the territory of Georgia, developed over the last 10.000 years. It’s a pitty though, that the museum is not crowded at all. As we were the only visitors at that time, the service lady unlocked the room and made her son switch on the lights for every showcase and when we passed, he switched them off again. When we left, she locked the room again.

Picture at the wall in the museum

After that Pik Quinn figured she would like to see an exhibition of photos she’d seen the other day when she was in Batumi last. Due to our totally limited orienteering skills, this attempt had to fail though and we ended up walking a bit through the city heading to the nearby market as I wanted to buy a giant umbrella and notebooks for school.

Cruiser in Batumi port

Batumi port II

On our way, Pik Quinn got all excited to see that there is a mosque, so we went there and i sneakingly made a picture from the inside of the mosque’s building and of the door. After that, we went to the apparently close to the port market, climbed up a bridge over the train depot and then went back to the market.

Door of the mosque

Inside the mosque

Stunning Beauty, right? I - Train depots!!

Stunning Beauty, right? II - Train depots!!

We arrived at the market just in time as it started raining. Inside we found a HUGE load of vendors selling fresh meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits etc. After we couldn’t resist anymore and bought two fresh Wiener sausages each, I got myself a GIANT umbrella that is badly needed here in Batumi as I got flooded a couple of times already on my way back from school where a small umbrella is nothing more then a marginal safety net.

That Friday night, I read somewhere, was to be the International Animation Film Festival in the Tbilisi State Drama Theatre. Wait, Tbilisi? Yeah, I got confused as well, but it was listed under Batumi Events. Which means it has to be in that Batumi State Drama Theatre where the Art House Film Festival took place already, right? Additionally to our sausages we grabbed a bit sour cream and an incredibly dry bread in a 24/7 store and went to the theatre just in time to have a picnic before the show was to begin.

Picnic at the back of a golden Lion in front of the Theatre. You can also see the giant umbrella there!

When we went inside there was nothing going on except a few service women standing around. So with our limited Georgian we started a dialogue which went basically like this:

Us: Internationaluri Animaturi Filmebi Festivali aq aris? (Is the international Film Festival taking place here?)

Service Women: Internationaluri Animaturi Filmebi Festival? Ara. (No.)

Us: Errrrrrrrrrrrr… Sad aris Festivali? (Where is it then?)

SW: Mometsit chantebi, kolga da bottli. (Give us your backpacks, umbrella and (just purchased) water bottle.)

Us: Err.. Ki Ki. (What? Ok, yeah why not.)

So they sat us down in the theatre hall, where an apparently Georgian play apparently already has been running for a good 30 minutes. Despite our confusion in the first place, we firstly figured it would be a nice opportunity to rest our exhausted legs after walking around the whole day. After a good 20 minutes, the play started to become fun. We didn’t understand a single word in it, but as it seemed to be a comedy and we were handed a booklet about it, which was in Georgian and in English, we got a slight glance on the story. It was great fun to see the partially ridiculously dressed actors playing this comedy, so we pretty much had a good time.

After that we went home just before the rain started to pour in Batumi again and Pik Quinn revealed her nice German skills by talking to me and my host dad in my mother tongue. What a nice surprise.

As this post is already quite long and the next day was pretty adventurous again, I decided to divide the weekends story in two parts again. Stay tuned. Also the posts title will make much more sense after part two.

Posted in Batumi, Georgia | 5 Comments