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Location - Caucasus, Europe; Capital - Tbilisi; Population - 4 million; Currency - Lari MORE GEORGIA

Tbilisi is a good hub for day trips, with many tour companies competing for custom. I booked two tours, one to Vardzia cave city (a very long day) and another to Mt Kazbegi (gorgeous area, recommended). Then to Batumi for some R&R on the Black Sea coast - October 2019.


georgianote2The 10 Lari note










georgia270First stop on the Vardzia tour was Akhaltsikhe, known for the Rabati Castle


georgia259Part of the castle complex is the citadel, centre, what I picture when I think of a castle - Akhaltsikhe


georgia261Climb the citadel tower for brilliant views of the town and surrounding mountains - Akhaltsikhe















georgia263The panorama from Rabati Castle's citadel tower - Akhaltsikhe















georgia268Within the castle grounds is a gold-domed mosque, pictured - Akhaltsikhe


georgia269Rabati Castle is pretty big, like a small town within a town, with mosques and a madrasa, church, jail, pools and ponds. Plus it's now got a museum, cafes, restaurants and even a hotel - Akhaltsikhe


georgia272After quite a few hours since Tbilisi we arrive at the fascinating cave city of Vardzia















georgia283Vardzia was built in the 12th century as a cave monastery which expanded into a full-blown city















georgia285There were more than 400 rooms over several floors, and as far as I can tell most of the city was underground, earthquakes having destroyed sections and exposed some of the chambers. Tell me if I've got that wrong - Vardzia


georgia290Entering the refectory - Vardzia



georgia299Our guide explained that World Heritage status hasn't been given because the original structure has been altered, for example with railings and steps - Vardzia















georgia300An open section inside Vardzia, near the Church of the Assumption


georgia313To explore properly there's several tunnels and small spaces to negotiate, along with some steep sections - Vardzia


georgia309Since the end of Soviet rule it's become a working monastery again - Vardzia
















georgia255On the return trip to Tbilisi we drove through lovely countryside near the spa town of Borjomi


georgia252Driving alongside the Mtkvari River near Borjomi


georgia316It was such a long day that we didn't arrive at Borjomi until after dark
















georgia318This traditional wooden house is the 19th century Blue Palace, or Firuza, a former home of the Iranian consul and now a hotel - Borjomi















georgia317Inside the Mineral Water Park are pavilions where you can fill up with spring water. You can buy Borjomi mineral water all over Georgia; it has a salty taste that made me feel more thirsty, so I avoided it! There's also thermal pools in the resort - Borjomi


georgia322Like the icons! Public toilet signs in Borjomi


georgia320It's a seriously long day-tour from Tbilisi, starting at 08:00 and finishing after 23:00, with much of the time spent on the bus. So if you've got time, spend a night in Akhaltsikhe or Borjomi, and make Vardzia a day trip - Borjomi













georgia326My second day-tour was to Kazbegi, with a first stop at the very picturesque Lake Zhinvali


georgia330Overlooking Lake Zhinvali is Ananuri, a fortress incorporating two 17th century churches
















georgia332You'll probably find that the majority of tourists on these organised tours are Russian, so guides address everyone in Russian and English. This is despite tensions between Georgia and Russia; when I was there flights had been suspended betweeen the countries - Ananuri














georgia335The drive to Kazbegi follows the Georgian Military Highway to the Russian border and the city of Vladikavkaz, while over the mountains behind Ananuri is the Russian occupied region of South Ossetia


georgia336There's boats and canoes for hire on Lake Zhinvali (or Zhinvali Reservoir) - Ananuri


georgia340The bus winds its way up the Georgian Military Highway, gaining altitude, until we reach the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument - Gudauri














georgia343The monument was built in 1983 to celebrate Soviet Russia and Georgia relations, with murals of their history - Gudauri














georgia354Paragliding was very popular in Devil's Valley - Gudauri


georgia364Perched on the edge of the Devil's Valley, beneath the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument - Gudauri


georgia368The mountain and valley views are gorgeous, a great highlight of the tour - Gudauri














georgia367A lone paraglider got into trouble and ended up crashing against the rocks. His wife was crying and everyone rushed to the edge but it was too precarious to climb down. After a few minutes stallholders returned to their work. Hopefully emergency services rescued him - Gudauri













georgia369A few minutes further on, near Jvari, we stopped at some rocks with rising spring water


georgia374The road keeps climbing through some lovely landscapes - Gudauri to Kazbegi


georgia378A glorious view of Tsminda Sameba Church, high above Kazbegi, with 5,047m Mt Kazbegi as a backdrop















georgia386We swapped into 4x4s for the 15min journey from the town of Kazbegi (now called Stepantsminda) to the church, located at an altitude of 2,200m














georgia389It was a blue sky day, perfect for mountainous scenery. If you're heading for Russia it's only 15km from town, with Vladikavkaz 45km away - Kazbegi


georgia393Here's me looking down at the town of Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) which itself is at 1,750m altitude. It's possible to get here by public transport but I wanted stop offs at Ananuri and Gudauri, which makes a day trip more difficult, so a tour was ideal. Staying overnight is a way around that, then work your way south to Tbilisi. Either way, highly recommended! - Kazbegi


georgia408Trains take less than 6hrs from Tbilisi to the Black Sea resort of Batumi, near the Turkish border















georgia412Batumi has become the main Georgian beach resort since the occupation of Abkhazia further up the coast















georgia404Jellyfish also like it - Batumi



georgia413The 19th century Batumi lighthouse hasn't been in use for a while - Batumi


georgia419On the left is the flag of Georgia, while on the right is the flag of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara - Batumi














georgia516Batumi is the capital of Adjara and this building is the home of the government of Adjara















georgia429Just off Batumi Boulevard's waterfront is Batumi Tower (middle) and the Alphabet Tower (right) - Batumi


georgia432Yes that is some sort of Ferris wheel in the middle of Batumi Tower, though I didn't see it moving - Batumi


georgia448Standing below the 145m Alphabet Tower, honouring Georgian alphabet - Batumi














georgia450 A couple of lifts take you up to the tower's viewing platform - Batumi















georgia441A much larger Ferris wheel stands behind the very slowly moving and rotating Ali & Nino sculpture - Batumi


georgia455Batumi Boulevard stretches several kilometres along the coast - Batumi


georgia459This is the smaller of the dancing fountains in Batumi, just off the boulevard














georgia465Bulvari Park separates the boulevard from the town - Batumi















georgia467Within the park the Sheraton Hotel has its own pool, which everyone can use. For a price, of course - Batumi


georgia468A street mural near the pool - Batumi


georgia475The 6 May Park has a small boating pond - Batumi
















georgia478 Comic book hero Tintin has a display in a hotel, presumably a Belgian-owned one - Batumi















georgia481Street art festivals have made their way to Batumi


georgia482I read somewhere that street art first appeared in Batumi in 2013 and has grown in popularity since then


georgia498I was lucky enough to stay at an excellent cheap hotel on this square, Batumi Piazza - Batumi














georgia488The piazza clocktower is home to a boutique hotel. I didn't stay there but at the Piazza Inn, crossing the square for its buffet breakfast, included in the price - Batumi














georgia497The piazza has bars and restaurants on three sides, and occasionally hosts live music (I'm guessing more often at the height of summer) - Batumi


georgia504The streets of Batumi


georgia509Apparently these buildings on Europe Square are called belle epoque. I have no idea - Batumi














georgia513Batumi is a pleasant town to wander around and has a relaxed feel, with many familes out and about. But I'd hazard a guess it gets very lively in summer..














georgia520Taking the cable car to Anuria Hill - Batumi


georgia523On the left is Batumi Tower (with the mini-Ferris wheel), further right is the spiralling Alphabet Tower, and the main Ferris wheel can be made out on the far right - Batumi


georgia531The sun sets on Anuria Hill - Batumi















georgia528The best time to come is when watching fantastic sunsets, then watching the town light up at night - Batumi














georgia535There's a bar-restaurant at the viewpoint, 250m above Batumi


georgia546The hazy hills at dusk - Batumi


georgia534Spot the Batumi Tower, Alphabet Tower and the Ferris wheel again - Batumi














georgia561Keep walking, walking and walking south along the boulevard to the main dancing fountains (in the summer at least) - Batumi















georgia557From one side the mist cloud is just that, accompanied by music over the loudspeakers - Batumi


georgia564But walk to the opposite side and the cloud comes to life, with a video animation of Singing In The Rain - Batumi


georgia567Playing Funky Funky, lyrics from US3's Cantaloop - Batumi

















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LINKS - Main resource for Central Asia but also has a bit on Georgia - Official Georgian tourism - More on Georgia - Buy Georgian train tickets


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