Vardzia is now probably the last place where I was in 2008 and now visited again. Back then there was a great adventure with 2 other travellers, a funny taxi driver and his ancient car. We were there all by ourselves and as far as I remember the small, rusty ticket office was not even occupied. The weather was grimy, the mountains invitingly march-brown.
This time the area was green, there was a full Marshrutka (even very full, full of tomatoes, strawberries and people who had to stand – almost like in India….), the ticket booth was big, but had difficulties with the card payment of one and the place was super visited by crowds of people. It was a long independence weekend and many people took advantage of it for excursions with sightseeing in their own country.
Vardzia is an ancient cave town, built into the rocks in the 12th century. It was supposed to be a fortress against Turks and Persians. The daughter of the builder added a Christian monastery to it. It is said that 50,000 people lived in multi-room dwellings, some of which were even several storeys high. Then there was an earthquake and the number of rooms was decimated to 950. Now only a few monks still live there. You can visit a large part with old stables, “phamracies”, winery, church, bakery and an underground spring. The part where you walk through small corridors far inside is remarkable. What I always find a bit of a pity is that there are no exemplary rooms, I can’t quite imagine what it looked like back then.
Somehow it didn’t quite sweep me off my feet, but Patrick was quite enthusiastic.
From Vardzia we wanted to go to Akhalkalaki – but no Marshrutka goes there. There were a lot of tourists, but no taxis that you could book spontaneously. We were offered only one possibility: a guide would be finished at 19:00 and would then drive us. We accepted because we really wanted to go up a mountain the following day and because the weather was supposed to be good and the next days it was supposed to rain more.
Speaking of rain and weather: it is incredible how many weather forecasts there are here and how they all differ. We were actually quite lucky with the 7pm start. It wasn’t even an hour’s drive, but it was a pretty great one. Started in light rain, lots of cows on the road, then came rays of sunshine and black clouds and the mountain scenery looked brilliant! Unfortunately, the car was driving a bit fast, so I didn’t take enough fine pictures. But I looked at everything enthusiastically!
Akhalkalaki is the most depressing place so far, similar to Poti. Armenians used to live here, but they were expelled and “exterminated” in 1918. Georgian Muslims were settled. Then the Soviets took over and the Muslims emigrated or exchanged themselves for Armenians settled elsewhere. After all, it is only 30 km to the Armenian border here. Over 90% of the people living here are Armenians. However, they may not really like being here. There is no harbour, but a lot of empty houses, ugly post-Sovietism and a street with a truck driver’s ambience where we stay in the Fish Hotel. From there we had to walk quite far through heavy rain towards the “city centre” to buy provisions for the following day. To the left and right, shacks, scrap metal shops, petrol stations, bars with neon lights and pond-sized puddles.
We hoped for the mountain. Would it tear out the Alkhalkalaki ambience?