Aha, perhaps you’d thought the Kathmandu to
Istanbul expedition had also forgotten to fill in the final gaps in their
journey, not so! Consider this a
We last left you on arrival into Tbilisi,
Georgia’s capital. The city has
apparently been destroyed and rebuilt 29 times yet the layout of the old town
remains largely intact and was a pleasure to wander the narrow streets and even
sometimes explore the crooked houses.
The more modern side of the city boasts attractive avenues, grand
squares with street cafes creating a Parisian feel and some tasteful modern
architecture including the bow-shaped bridge across the Kura River, named The
Bridge of Peace and connecting Old Tbilisi with the new district.
|Tbilisi bath houses in the old town|
|The Peace Bridge|
|Walking tour of the city with Zaza|
|Vicky & Charlie|
|Interesting street name|
Lisa made her way straight up to the TV
antenna park for what has become an obligatory, if there is one, spin on the
ferris wheel overlooking the city.
Everyone joined Zaza for an informative and orientating walking tour of
the city the next morning, leaving the rest of our time there free to do as we
pleased. Some enjoyed an evening of local
entertainment with dinner and dancing.
Being bought a jug of wine by the next-door table they bought them one
back, which then started the wine war.
Both buying each other jugs until they could drink no more, then there
was nothing more to be done than to get on stage and join in the dancing.
|The pretty marionette theatre|
Leaving Tbilisi the first stop was at
Ananuri stone fortress, a site well known for being on the cover of the Lonely
Planet for Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan.
|Sheep hugging the hills enroute to Kazbegi|
|Who doesn't like some fresh puppies?|
|Typical Georgian scene|
|Twisting mountain roads|
|Beautiful mosaic sculpture|
It was after here that events took an
unexpected and unfortunate turn. On
stopping for a group photo at the stunning mosaic sculpture near the ski resort
of Gudauri, we all took our places which included many on the roof of the
truck, somewhere the crew are very familiar with being and are always
careful. This time for some unknown
reason Hels lost her balance and took a tumble off the side. If you are unlucky enough to injure yourself on
the truck make sure you have a quick thinking doctor, three nurses, a great
local guide and fellow crew member on board.
Hels was in an ambulance within 20 minutes and eventually transferred to
a brand new private hospital in Tbilisi with the utmost care and modern
diagnostic equipment. If you’re squeamish skip the next few lines… In
some ways she was fortunate to escape with an undisplaced fracture of the
skull, burst eardrum, small bleed on the brain and seven fractures to the
transverse processes of the vertebrae, meaning her spinal cord was not at risk,
they do say 7 is a lucky number. Once
again the Georgians outdid themselves with their generosity and kindness,
refusing money to pay for Rogs, Tan & Vicky’s accommodation and food, who
took it in turns to stay with Hels, and offering any help they could. We were then reminded of the importance of having
good travel insurance after they were contacted and swung into action,
arranging nothing less than a private Learjet ambulance complete with doctor
and paramedic from Germany to fly Hels with Rogs all the way from Tbilisi to
London via Nurenberg.
To cut a longer story short and set your
minds at ease, Hels is now at home in England after a three-week hospital stay
and is recuperating slowly but surely.
Everything will heal on its own in time but for now she’s enjoying the enforced
rest and cups of tea in bed! She is
vowing to return to Georgia in the not too distant future to thank quite a few
people in person.
|A recent picture of Hels, now up and about and on the mend!|
So here the blog takes a new turn as we
weren’t actually on the trip thereafter so the final few paragraphs will be
gleaned from recent conversations, rumours, plagiarized from the group’s own
blogs and looking at photographs!
Rogs soldiered on with the truck and group
up to Kazbegi for the night, now officially known as Stepantsminda, finding the
accommodation with a bit of sign language.
Limited on time, the group made their way up to the pretty Tsminda
Sameba church in Lada 4x4s. Worth it for
the stunning views of the high Caucasus.
The church sensibly had a roaring gas fire going to keep the local
|Dave, Sue & Dr Bruce arriving first in their lada|
|Tsminda Sameba Church|
Due to the unforeseen events the group then
returned to Tbilisi for a night to await Pete and Kirsten, the Odyssey owners
themselves, who had coincidentally just arrived in Istanbul at the end of their
Beijing to Istanbul expedition and able to fly back to Tbilisi and take over
the final 10 days of the trip meaning Rogs could accompany Hels back to the UK,
or was it that he just wanted a ride in the Learjet?
Goodbyes are never easy, so handing over
the reigns and saying farewell earlier than expected was of course emotional. Whilst Rogs and Hels (chatting away happily
but rather incoherently on morphine) took to the skies, Pete & Kirsten
continued with the group on to a homestay in Kutaisi. That evening Pete decided the best way to
deal with the somber mood was Georgian wine; jugs of it, whilst insisting it
wouldn’t give you a hangover due to the lack of preservatives. There are some who would have contested this
claim the following day, which was thankfully just a short hop down to the
pretty town of Batumi, a black sea coastal resort popular with the
Russians. Stopping off at the Bagrati
cathedral en route. The cathedral had been reduced to rubble during WWII
and subsequent Russian occupation and was now, post restoration, a mix of old
|Bagrati Cathedral, Kutaisi|
Batumi entertainment on offer was a British
pub showing Georgia beat Samoa at rugby or even the opportunity to have fish
& chips by the sea.
|Sue testing the Black Sea|
|Celestial clock, Batumi|
|Batumi by night|
An even shorter drive the next day to the
border, our final crossing and country of the trip, Turkey. The first stop was a visit to the Greek
Orthodox monastery Sumela. A popular
tourist attraction due to its structure, an incredible feat of engineering,
built on the ledge of a steep cliff.
Most people hiked up the path, Linc decided to run, but Dave & Dr.
Bruce took a taxi, due to the weight of their camera gear of course.
|On the road to Turkey|
|Hiking up to Sumela Monastery|
|Our hotel in Macka|
Leaving the pretty mountain town of Macka it
was time for more goodbyes as Bree & Linc left to return to Australia for a
family wedding. The group gradually shrinking
as Lisa had taken herself off to Armenia for a few days but would rejoin for
the end of trip celebrations in Istanbul and Adrian had also unexpectedly been
called away early on business. The
weather then decided to join in and having had virtually no rain all trip it
chose the final week to make an appearance.
Rather than endure a final bushcamp in plummeting temperatures and
pouring rain Pete & Kirsten took a popular decision to stay in a rather
nice hotel in Sivas instead. Breaking up
the journey, which the next day took them to Goreme in the heart of Cappadocia.
|Bye bye Bree & Linc|
The group enjoyed a full day tour of the
area including the underground city of Kaymakli, carved out of volcanic rock
and some 4,000 years old, then on to a pottery where Mark had a go himself and
proved why it’s best to leave some things to the professionals.
|The fairy chimney landscape around Goreme|
|Rae & Phill|
|Underground in the caves|
|Tan & Vicky|
|Mark having a go at the wheel|
|Not a bad effort|
|Who won Movember? He did!|
The following morning, such an early start
the stars were still out, the weather played ball and a misty atmospheric
morning cleared beautifully for a breathtaking balloon ride over the stunning
landscape, narrowly skimming the fairy chimneys. Toasting the flight with bubbly on landing,
all before breakfast, it was the trip of a lifetime and a welcome highlight as
the end of the trip drew rapidly nigh.
|A lovely morning for a balloon ride|
A second day in Goreme allowed the group
time to explore more of the sites and scenery, go for a Turkish bath or buzz
around on quad bikes. Delightfully quiet
being just out of season, however there was a meeting with another Dragoman overland
group the first evening where we proved to be the much hardier of the groups.
The final push and possibly the longest
drive of the whole trip from Goreme to Istanbul went without a hitch, just slow
progress from as far as 90km outside the heavily populated capital. Istanbul is a stunning city where East really
does meet West and a fitting place to end our journey. With endless mosques to visit and sites to
see, the grand bazaar can help relieve you of your last pennies and the tea
houses serving gooey baklava and sweets ensure belts return to their original
|Sites of Istanbul - the Blue Mosque at sunset|
|Inside the Blue Mosque|
|The Basilica Cisterns|
|The girls at the last supper (oh, plus Mark)|
|Kirsten & Pete at the last supper|
We cannot sign off without saying sincere
thanks to all our contributing photographers. Dr. Bruce & Dave Cairns for their
spectacular pictures as well as Vicky, Tan and Lisa who somewhat bravely let us
scan through their memory cards and take whatever we liked! The blog wouldn’t have been anywhere near
what it was had it not been for all these offerings.
|The lengths the photographers went to to get their snaps|
|Dave breaking the rules for his shot|
It has been an absolute pleasure to run
this expedition for Odyssey Overland and we are incredibly grateful to Pete
& Kirsten for stepping in without hesitation and taking the trip into
Istanbul. We feel honoured to have shared
this 3 month journey with such a great group of travellers, who thankfully
turned out to be a lot less scary than they looked at first glance in their
passport photos. The shared experiences,
adventures and memories have certainly cemented friendships for life.
|Thank you card with caricatures of the group|
|Thank you and over and out from Rogs & Hels|
|And finally, a silly photo that just makes us smile - back in the early days of China, an impromptu lunging competition!|