Posts Tagged ‘vardzia’

A Surprising Trip South

With Georgia’s northern mountains, the Caucasus range, barred to me, I decided to check out the Lesser Caucasus, to the south, staying in Borjomi. The Israeli couple I met in Telavi had gone straight through Tbilisi and on to Borjomi and reported via cell phone that they had enjoyed warm sunshine. I had had to stop in Tbilisi to check on my blood test, so was a couple of days behind, and I left  on a cold, wet day, wondering why my luck with weather had been so bad this trip.

The cave city at Vardzia

Fortunately, I realized that my marshrutka was going on to Akhaltsike in time to get off in the middle of Borjomi. Then I took a taxi a few yards to my hotel! (No map in Lonely Planet, and it was raining too hard for me to want to explore.) The gruff older woman and friendlier middle-aged one running the Hotel Borjomi spoke essentially no English, but we managed to communicate. I took the cheaper 70 GEL room upstairs and was able to get a much-needed portable heater, although I was told to turn it off while I slept.

The town would be pleasant enough on a sunnier day, surrounded by forested mountains and built either side of a wide river spanned by several bridges. The T.I. people were helpful, giving me recommendations for dinner and directions to a well-heated Internet Cafe close by. The shashlyk place the T.I. recommended looked after me well: a pretty good jug wine, a nicely presented spread of cucumber, tomato, cheese and bread, and a sizzling dish of meat with onions and pomegranate seeds. But, as so often on this trip, the meat was tough.

My main objective here was a visit to the cave city of Vardzia, and the day was certainly memorable. I had arranged a car and driver (both elderly) through my hotel, and we set off on another rainy morning. About 15 minutes into the trip, passing a boulder-strewn hillside, one of the boulders got wanderlust and rolled down the slope straight for us! The driver swerved and we survived unscathed, but the omens weren’t good.

On the way up to Vardzia

We followed a river through more forested mountains to Akhaltsike, and then turned off to the south-east through moorland on a variable road  – some new, some deteriorating, some more pothole than road. About 90 minutes into a two hour trip, the driver pointed at a car coming towards us and said what sounded like “snake”. A few cars, and “snakes”, later, I realized he was talking about snow. Yes, it was still September, it had been sunny two days earlier, but now I encountered quite heavy snow!  I must say that the mountains looked pretty with their white coating, but I was a bit worried about the trip back if it kept up. Luckily, the snow turned back to rain before we got to Vardzia, and had melted before we returned, but I was very glad of the sweater, cardigan and scarf I had originally brought for my projected night in the desert, and would really have liked a pair of gloves for the metal handrails.

Possibly the cold and wet had something to do with my reaction to Vardzia, but if you’ve seen the caves at Ellora and Ajanta in India, Vardzia will be a big disappointment. Plenty of caves, but not much decoration, and lots of slippery stairs. However, the setting was lovely.

On the way back we had a flat tire.

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