Thursday, 30 July 2015

Fast Forward Kazakhstan

If you have the (mis)fortune to find yourself in Uralsk, make sure you find yourself a room at the Pushkin hotel. Named after a Russian poet, it is the only gig in town worth being at. It felt slightly hedonistic to book a 4star hotel on this trip, but the modernity on offer is in stark contrast to the real world outside it's front door.

To be fair to that little town it does try. . In the end Kazakhstan's end of term report could sound something similar to my own school reports. . . "tries, but could do better"
The main street of Uralsk is a blend of old colonial pre communist soviet buildings, a church from the 16th century, neat parkland, the ever present mighty Ural river, a sense of being closer to Russia than its Kazakh roots, modern art as a memorial to the red army and a hotel that insulates you with modern western influences.

That brief diversion from the way of life I have was very welcome. Not that it's difficult to be as nomadic as I am, it was just nice to find somewhere that was easy to communicate.

Fast forward a few days and I've travelled from Uralsk to Aktobe. An immediately forgettable location. A simple hotel provided a day to prepare for the long ride to Kostanay. A distance of 800km over roads that sometimes were and sometimes weren't. A testing day saw the scenery change from dry vistas that have characterised my journey through Kazakhstan so far to a far greener and consequently wetter area. Grass steppe populated by large numbers of huge birds of prey, that after some investigation appear to include eagles, buzzards and harriers gave way to farm crops as far as the eye could see. The thought of preparing the ground or harvesting those crops boggles my mind! it must be a huge undertaking if your field is the size of an English county! 

I posted a youtube video of the many and varied road conditions. Making progress was sometime a slow and painstaking affair.  

After arriving late on Monday in Kostanay I stayed 2 nights on the outskirts of the modern little  town, before again undertaking what turned out to be a mammoth trek to Astana. The first 100km of this 700km journey was easy enough with good tarmac under the wheels. Northern Kazakhstan is about on the same latitude as northern England and under typically cloudy 12°C skies it was cool enough first to swap to my heavier (warmer) gloves and even to switch the heated grips on for the first time since the Alps.

 As the weather darkened so the roads deteriorated from older tarmac to my personal favourite of deep potholed badly worn out tarmac to tarmac that no longer fitted the description. With rain now falling it was "pot luck" to avoid the deepest holes. As if that wasn't challenging enough the huge expanse of open flat land allowed me to see huge rain cells approaching as the clouds darkened still further. In places it wasn't possible to see the horizon as the curtains of water obliterated the view. 

Taking shelter from a particularly hefty downpour in a fetid bus stop I met a guy who was hitch hiking from Tbilisi to Mongolia, just for the fun of it! - And people think I'm adventurous!

Some 500km into the journey the road arrived in both Kokshetau and the 21st century, with a 3 lane motorway conducting me all the way to Astana through continued downpours whilst keeping a further weather eye on cars stopping at the roadside to purchase fruit goods from vendors, itinerant farm animals and wandering pedestrians. On a 120kph motorway! 

I have an 12th  floor apartment in Astana until the weekend when I will move close to the border prior to rushing into Russia.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Kazakhstan Konundrums

I know I've talked about inner country contrasts before but kazakhstan is the biggest difference I've noticed so far. While Georgia and Turkey showed dramatic differences between rich and poor. Haves and have nots, Kazakhstan has all that and more. Seemingly wealthy and "western" influenced major towns with every modern convenience. In Atyrau  ipod equipped roller bladers, cyclists and joggers share the river side with old fellas chewing the fat while they keep a sharp eye on their fishing line out in the Ural. Yet only an hours ride out of town rough breeze block buildings cower in the midday heat in dusty wind blown steppe. Air conditioning is THE luxury to have. And yet there are still teenagers with their nose buried in a mobile phone where ever you are. It's a universal truth.
The 21st century reaches even the poorest areas when the youth of the world need to access Facebook.

A two night stop over in Atyrau gave me time to rationalise my luggage a little. I haven't used the water container I'm carrying and other non essential items have been given away or left for any potential scavenger. I need to shed some weight and make life easier.
"We carry our fears in our luggage" was a word of wisdom I heard recently and it's true. Carrying everything I think I need is pointless. I either use it or its not worth carrying. The bike is significantly easier to handle as a consequence.

Tomorrow I head north to Uralsk, still on the Ural river it seems to be a place where maybe I can spend a little time before moving on again. Kazakhstan continues to be a land that opens your mind to new experiences. Wild, wide open spaces. Vast  windswept plains. Dry rivers and lakes baked dry by the sun. Camels, horses showing little interest in passing traffic even when they they stand in the middle of the road trying to stare out an 18 wheeler truck. I give way to a camel every time on my little bike!

Sand blown towns. Oil rich, modern cities. Poor Russian leftovers, new Japanese 4X4's and policemen with big hats. New tarmac. Lots of big road building projects and roads that don't even come close to the adjective. A dirt track would be a compliment. I'm sure there are areas on the moon that are easier to navigate. 

But in the end it is a country struggling to drag itself into the present day and overthrow the image presented by one comedy actor. I like it's spirit. It's people are as hopeful and modern thinking as any other I have passed through.

Thursdays 500km ride north to Uralsk on the first leg of my 1000km diversion was a seemingly unending straight road across flat open scrub land. This north Western side of Kazakhstan makes even Holland seem mountainous!  Huge, vast sweeping vistas to the  horizon and beyond sight populated by Camels, horses and remote low rise towns baked to a dusty crisp. Solitary people waiting for a bus ride literally in the middle of no where. I spent a while trying to figure out where someone like that had come from or was going, to be standing at the side of the road in the midday heat. 

I met two bike riders on the way. The first while I was still in Atyrau. Two up on a Ukraine registered BMW K1300 he was following his built in sat nav and heading direct to Aktobe. I offered him the advice I was given about the road and suggested that if a rider on a KTM adventure had found it difficult he might struggle on his continental cruiser. I don't know if he took my advice or decided to find out for himself. 

The second were again 2 up on a Russian registered BMW F800. I pulled up as they were stopped at the side of the road. All was well, but it seemed the pillion was less than happy. A thumbs down signal with the words kazakhstan said it all. They were running for home and the nearby Russian border. They whizzed past me a little while later with a wave that I  returned when I again passed them when they stopped a short while after. Not enough seat padding I suspect. 

I pre booked a hotel in Uralsk. Simply because it saves spending ages finding somewhere and sorting out prices and such. In this case came up trumps and a 4 star hotel at 3 star prices provides a welcome touch of luxury on the trip. 

From Uralsk I will again start to head east and back "on route" with 11 days to go to the start of my Russian chapter I've got time to take it easy and explore the areas I stop at and that's just fine by me. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Kazakhstan Kruising

Well the border entry was a mess of paperwork, stamps, signatures, officious officials,  young military guys goofing around with a ready smile until the commandant was present. Mongolian faces. Stern faces. Red tape and more rubber stamping on reams of duplicated paper forms that needed counter signatures and recording in a ledger before seemingly being entered into a computer.

You get the picture!

An Australian guy on a bike heading west was going through the same process.
The cyclists managed to get through the technicalities quicker with no vehicle to register and I didn't see them again.

A hotel at 6000 tenge (KZT) is about £20. With shower fittings that aren't, but the water is hot, the bed is comfortable and that's enough.

First impressions of Aktau aren't wonderful, it appear to be rows of post soviet housing. But there are signs of newer modern buildings and like most ports or borders I'm sure it won't be representative of the rest of the country.

A MIG fighter reaches for the sky but is permanently tethered to the ground. As an art statement I'm not sure it's a very positive one.

So plan for day one is to get out of town assuming I can find fuel for the bike and myself on a  Sunday and head inland a way. Maybe that way I can lose the effect of the ships movement that my head still seems to be experiencing.

Sunday, realised I've slipped another hour. .hadn't noticed last night . But then I didn't notice a lot by the time border patrol had fried my patience.

The road to Beyneu was mostly ok a lot of it brand new . . But a big section in the middle was very hard rough track..

I need to rethink some of the routes and distances I can cover in a day. 

2 nights in Beyneu at a comfy little hotel gives me time to check the best routes that my little Kawasaki can deal with and by lucky circumstance avoid a massive thunderstorm with enough rain to fill the deepest of craters in the roads. . That would have been interesting!

So a ride to Atyrau was an easy 400+ km on good roads and relatively cool temperatures. I was expecting 40 degrees in the desert, but early in the day it was a comfortable low 20's.

From Atyrau I will head north to Uralsk and then south east to Aktobe. Its a very "long way round" but the only option to avoid a difficult road that I think would be too much for the Kawasaki to deal with. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Baku . . Continued

(This blog entry and the ferry crossing entry will be posted after the event . .so be sure to read them in sequence so they make sense)
. . . . .
Well. . Kings pawn to e4 and check mate. . . Snookered behind the black and match point. They win I lose.
My only option on Tuesday has been to leave the bike parked in the customs area at the port because I am not allowed to ride it with the transit permit expired. It will either be ok or it won't.
Make or break point at the minute. If everything goes missing before I get back to it my trip will be changed. I hope the officials are as official as they seem. I'm sure I'm not the first to go through this loop.
In the meantime. I've got a hotel room and a phone number to call for news about the ferry departure.
Just got to sit tight and wait now, making a nuisance of myself to Vika on the phone until she says yes. She's the dame with the game and although I have the entry stake I don't know where the table is or which pack of cards we're playing with.
Good news time though is that the wonderfully efficient south Koreans have allowed me to reserve the ferry from Vladivostock online already. At least I know when that boat sails.
There's no immediate concern now. My personal visa is valid till the end of the month by and once the stars align I'll be gone. Getting to the Russian border by the time my visa starts shouldn't be an issue I hope. And if time and distance proves to be more critical in Russia  there is always the chance of boarding a train for a few miles .
. . .
The next day I get a positive answer from my morning phone call and am directed to get myself to the ticket office ASAP except no one seems able to give me clear directions to where the ticket office is actually located.  After chasing a wild goose all over town, I finally track down the mysterious Vika and I grasp the golden ticket. She says I should go straight to the port.
So just after 2pm i get to Baku port where the customs man tells me the ship is actually departing from Alat. . About 70km south west.
As my bike has been parked (safely as it turns out) in the customs office because the transit permit has expired that might be a problem. .

Or not! . . .  It seems, as the nice customs inspector takes my 72 hour vehicle transit document. . Stamps it . . Signs it . . And writes a few words with tomorrow's date on it. . "Good luck"

Thanks! . . . I think.

With no clear understanding of where I'm going I take the coast road out of Baku figuring the port will be by the sea! Near the town of Alat a sign to Baku international trade port looks right and is. . I think.

A police man says yes when i say kazakhstan?. . . I think.

The one man on duty in the eight possible passport control booths at a newly built gate with multiple lanes marked for trucks cars and vans says wait . . I think.

So I settle in what shade I can find for a while . .10 mins later he calls me to his post marked as exit only. But hey he's got a choice of any of them.
Check documents, waved through. Pointed to customs office where a nice lady . . . I think. . Glances at my passport and shoos me away. .

That's it? . . I think ?

Ride up the empty port road where a train is being shunted aboard. .While I wait, I'm directed to an office where a nice lady. . I think, takes 5 Azerbaijani manat (about £3) for something or other . .And I'm given another  ticket and directed aboard the Karabakh. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Karabakh

(This blog entry and the earlier Baku continued entry will be posted after the event . .so be sure to read them in sequence so they make sense - even though they are published the wrong way round I think)
. . . .
A passengers log of the journey across the caspian sea. . .
Wednesday 15th 16:00
On board the Azerbaijan registered Karabakh. . Taken onto the bridge I meet the captain. And crew. . A happy go lucky bunch it seems.
4 cyclists also come on board. 2 English, John and Jen heading for musical enlightenment in Indonesia and Marco (Italian) and Tifan (French) heading for adventure on the Pamir highway. By chance, the latter two I had asked if they knew where the ticket office was when our paths crossed earlier in the day as we all played the game of find Vika and her mobile ticket office. They too had been given the "opportunity" to travel to the port of Alat to catch the boat, but their journey necessitated a taxi ride with bicycles in the vehicle.
Late in the evening. . I'm now sharing my less than luxurious cabin with an Azerbaijani lorry driver.
We departed somewhere after 23:30. Hard to say when exactly, as the days efforts caught up with me and I woke in the night with the engines throbbing through the ship. Even with ear plugs in it would be impossible not to feel them, but my internal motion sensors told me we appeared to be stationary.
Thursday 16th 07:30
I woke on Thursday morning to find I was partly mistaken.  We were indeed stationary, but far out to sea. Strangely the Karabakh seems to shrug off the movement of the waves sitting motionless at anchor, the wind and water unable to disturb it's bulk. With the trains on board it seems there is enough weight to steady it's movement.
The Azerbaijani driver was up and gone before I woke and I saw him at breakfast where he welcomed me with a smile, a "Salam" and the offer of seat at the table. We broke our fast sat with the 4 cyclists and a shared pot of coffee. 
We appear to not be in any rush to make progress today. So sitting in the "lounge" listening to the unfamiliar daily routine of a working ship I pass the time with a book and some music. There's only so much sea you can look at. One wave is not much different from any other after a while. A steady wind keeps the air fresh and it's time to relax as much as possible and wait.
Food it seems is available on this vessel and the jolly cook is more than happy to oblige with vegetable soup and pasta dishes. A small table for we few passengers  and regular meal times provides a time to chat and share in the experience of the journey.
Thursday 16th 16:00
We had been stationary since I woke. The crew spent the day hosing the ship down and in the process giving my bike a wash under the runoff from the deck. I hope a salt water shower doesn't cause it any problems as by the time I realised, it was already as wet as it was going to get.
I can only guess we will make further headway later today and presume we will stop in Baku perhaps to pick up further cargo. I don't understand any other reason we might be waiting off shore except for a berth to come available. Hard to judge distance but land is on the port side horizon and in seven hours I doubt we got much further than the 70km back to Baku.
Thursday 16th 18:30
The engines have been run up to speed, their huge torque making the ship shudder as the levitation awakes. Maybe we will progress again today?
Or not. . At 19:00 all is quiet again. Engine trouble? Or just the Azerbaijani way?
After an evening meal of vegetable soup and a strangely tasty mushroom and meat dish there is time to watch the sunset over the caspian, which sounds much more romantic than it actually is over this dirty bit of salt water. There is not much more to do but retire to my cabin and read some more.
Thursday 16th 22:30
It seems we have spent the day sheltering in the lea of a spit of land east of Baku from a strong northerly wind. It remains to be seen when we actually make a run for it across to Aktau.
Friday 17th 07:40
Woken to the rumble of diesel engines and the anchor chain clanking the lump of metal at its end up from the seabed. Looks like we will be underway today. A cooler cloudy morning. I was awake a few times in the night and a single pesky mosquito buzzed around my ear for a while. . It won't be feeding on anyone's blood again.
The luxury toilet is blocked and the less than pleasant bathroom is even less appealing this morning. My lorry driver shipmate seems to be sleeping in his truck which is probably more comfortable.. So its time to face the day and watch the waves pass by as we cruise north east.
Friday 17th 10:00
Well under way.  Under cloudy skies with a little rain and a brisk wind. The green Caspian making a valiant attempt to look more like the north sea than the exotic eastern waters of travellers imaginations. The Karabakh still failing to be troubled by the rolling waves as it ploughs it's course.
I missed breakfast this morning by choice. A glug of fruit juice and a chocolate croissant from my own supplies was enough to start the day. With no physical exertion on my part my appetite has lessened. There will be food later in the day if I'm hungry.
Friday 17th 13:00
Lunch was a thin soup with barley and vegetables followed by chicken wings with potato and peppers.
I must be getting bored! I'm reporting on the menu!  The Caspian has turned to a deeper blue and the ship now has more of a battle at its prow to part the rolling swell as we cross the widest part of the voyage to Aktau. The Karabakh seems to have come to some agreement with physics that a ship should at least ride the waves and appears to have begrudgingly admitted some leeway to nature.
Friday 17th 18:30
I passed the afternoon chatting with Marco as he explained his understanding of quantum physics, we lightheartedly discussed the belief in cosmic ordering and the expanded conscience enriched with the benefit of travel.
After which I returned to my less substantial reading.
Having walked both decks available several times there is nothing much more to do other than return to my book. Listen to a little music and dress for dinner. . Or maybe just turn up in the same jeans and Tshirt again. Evening entertainment, a cabaret, a cocktail bar, the on board shopping. All of these are not available on board the good ship Karabakh. But as she toils across the now grey waters we are heading to my next destination.
I think we should be there by Saturday and hopefully there will be little delay in getting into port. If that works out I still have just over two weeks to cross Kazakhstan to get to the Russian border. . But here I go thinking too far ahead again.
Saturday 18th 07:30
Woke after a good nights sleep to calm waters. The Karabakh it seems won it's battle with the waves. Checking the gps on my phone, we appear to be just off the coast of kazakhstan. I guess we'll arrive in Aktau later this morning, assuming there is a berth available
Saturday 18th 13:00
We have been anchored off the coast of kazakhstan for just over an hour now.  Aktau is off the starboard side, tantalisingly close and yet so far. . We are waiting for the port authority to give clearance to enter. I read a lot of accounts of travellers waiting for days for that to happen. I hope I don't have to report something similar!
Saturday 18th 16:00
In port . . Confined to cabin please
Customs, immigration and military on board. Passport returned.
But still not been allowed to disembark
20:00 please board bus to passport control. . Didn't you just come on board to do that? . . Long story abbreviated got across the border at 22:00 ride to Aktau. . First hotel . .Thanks. . 6000tenge don't care. . Thanks .  .need a shower
Dry land . . Kazakhstan . Will update on next entry . . Too much today. . Badly badly badly badly need a shower . . And a sleep

Monday, 13 July 2015

Baku blogging - quick situation report

[read in an dour gravelly American private detective voice]

Baku . .The windy city.

Where a guy can get lost in his thought of escape over the shining sea. .

The trick in this situation is there is no trick, no matter what the movies tell you. No rules, no secret mantra, no road map. It's not  about how smart you are or how good you were, it is chaos and luck and anyone who thinks different is a fool. All you can do is hang on madly as long and hard as you can. . . . .

Then you might just get that ticket for the ferry. . (With a nod to numerous film noir characters)

. . . . .

But it does feel a bit like a game. .
One official saying one thing another ticket office directing me to another location that I never found.  An (expensive) phone call that explains there was a boat today but it has no space for a motorcycle. But there will be tomorrow. . We'll see!

Now I ring back tomorrow and revisit the ticket office.

All the while my vehicle permit expires in the morning. . The local advice seems to be to park it at the port effectively in no man's land. And leave it there. . Not sure I'm overly happy with that. . Next game move please.

Don't know how to get around the permit situation right now. I read there's a customs office in town but haven't been able to find anyone who knows.

Apart from the technical issues I like the people here. In a cafe the proprietor fills my glass with a cool soft drink and when I'm not paying attention he returns to refill the half empty glass from the bottle he left on the table.

Air conditioned shopping malls with high profile brand names and a Lamborghini parked in the foyer has everything except it seems many customers? Bentley, Ferrari, Maserati, Prada, Versace, Gucci. . You name it they are here. New oil money I guess will filter down to the less well healed in time.

But time isn't on my side right now. Just need to find a boat and buy a one way ticket outta dodge.(plenty of those around too)

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Action stations Azerbaijan

Before getting there I have one final word about Georgia. . I stayed for the last night in a little "hotel" in Lagodekhi. . The bio yard is a collection of small wooden "huts" in a tranquil shaded spot right at entrance to the national park in the caucuses mountains. . . Amazingly friendly English speaking hosts and it's a cheap as chips. .

If you're travelling from Georgia to Azerbaijan it really is perfect. Only 3km away from the border.

The border itself was mildly amusing with a sign in Georgia that says "Azerbaijan border ahead. . Good luck" . A smile from the Georgian policeman and I crossed to the dark side. . .

With numerous police, army and customs officials buzzing around, my passport and international driving licence, my registration document and visa where all scrutinised and taken into the office while I was asked to unpack everything. .

Some time later. . .

When I had undone one panniers after much messing around, a quick shuffle through my medical kit and the customs guy got bored. . 

The police man asked if I had and religious books, had I been to Armenia and did I have a knife.

Resisting the huge temptation to be my usual humorous self I simple replied in the negative to all. .

Another round of mildly bored investigations into my collapsible spade and photos of me and the bikes Registration plate . . The little matter of $30 in the nice policeman's pocket for the documents I needed and a limited date for the bike to stay in the country and I was set free to engulf my senses in the wonders of northern Azerbaijan.

And therein lays the conundrum. .

Despite all the horror stories, bad news and  warnings, it was actually a very nice place to be. . The road from the border isn't the nicest bit of tarmac I've ever ridden on but the scenery went from lush green wooded hills to flat open baking farm land with huge water melons for sale by the van load. . How many melons can you sell in a day? Ask an Azerbaijani farmer!

With over 400km to Baku it wasn't all pleasant travel, but as the road winds it's way along the foot of the hills heading East , it passes through some wonderful places with wooded areas awash with shaded eateries advertising their wood grilled meat by letting the smokey aroma waft into the road to entice the weary traveller. .
Later on more fruit than you could throw a water melon at and nuts by the carrier bag full are offered to passing traffic by over enthusiastic youngsters. .

The last 100km of the journey traverses an arid desert of rocky rolling hills bisected by a new ribbon of bright blue/Black tarmac in the otherwise sandy scene. .
But with a high 30° temperature and a strong gusty side wind blowing for the duration, I spent all my concentration on simply staying on said tarmac rather than on the unfinished sides.

Two other points highlighted this little trip, I spoke to a few locals en route and all were smiling and friendly  asking where I was from and where I was going. Lots of drivers waving and tooting appreciation as they passed. The second was that despite other reported experiences I managed to slip under the police radar. . There is a lot of them but none took any interest in me and my little Kawasaki.

So Baku. 

A modern busy city with a plethora of high end motors rumbling through the sea side streets. Tall glass buildings and expensive hotels on the sea front. An obviously wealthy town that contrasts with the countryside farmers ladas and one horsepower carts.

It remains to be seen if the ferry lives up to the legend.

The Caspian awaits . . . . 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Decision made - staying in Georgia...

... for a while. 

No point crossing the border into Azerbaijan at the moment. I've read and been told of numerous issues in Azerbaijan and while I'm not one to worry too much about other peoples experiences, recent reports have suggested its not an easy place to be.

With my Kazakhstan visa not valid until the 13th July I would effectively be stuck in Baku for a week. My mistake in getting the visa dates, but hey I didn't know better at the time - Travel is an education amongst other things. Also I understand the authorities only give 72 hour vehicle permits on entry whatever the entry visa says, so it all makes sense to sit tight for a while and travel to Azerbaijan once I have an exit strategy. 

In the meantime living is cheap in Tbilisi. Its a bit of a pain living in a city as a country boy at heart I miss the open space, but it is what it is and I'll move on Monday to a place close to the old town where I can relax and set myself up for the next stage. 

Walking around I have found lots of interesting places and investigated a bit of the heritage of the place. Sharp contrasts between rich and poor from new Mercedes to beggars on the street. 

"Spare a penny for an iPhone Mr?"..

Crossing the road is like playing "frogger", but waiting for the traffic to stop even with a green crossing light isnt going to happen. Just go for it and dodge the cars/vans/buses/trucks across a 6 lane road.... easy!

So. not much more to tell at the moment. I've looked around and seen the sights. Its a case of sitting it out, checking out the local cafes and browsing the shops. I've hardly spent any money in the last week and don't see that changing much. I need to do a little bit of maintenance on the bike, but will sort that out next week. 

One other decision is that I will take the more northern border crossing. It sounds far more interesting than the motorway/main road option further south. I've pore booked a small hotel in Baku for next weekend until Tuesday, when hopefully I can sort out the ferry across the Caspian. (again more horror stories about that trip) - but I'll let you know how my experience went after I've done it. 

Hanging around in Tbilisi is a bit of a pain to be honest. If I was sat on a campsite in the country I would be happy to stay put for as long as it takes, but a hotel room in the city isn't my idea of fun. .. Moving on Monday will put me close to the prettier centre of Tbilisi so at least I can wander to a cafe/bar and sit in the afternoon shade. 


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Stationary in Tbilisi

Well after realising my Azerbaijan visa is not valid until monday the 6th I have a chance to explore Tbilisi a bit more. I have been glad for the opportunity because I'm sure I would have left here thinking there was nothing to see.

While large parts of this city are made up of wide fast flowing  chaotic roads populated by everything from new Mercedes to lowered and loud Japanese racers to clapped out Russian jalopies all in a daily wacky race, there is much more.

It's freedom square where a golden statue of St George celebrates Georgian independence and the older part of town with tree lined cobbled shady streets occupied with a plethora of small shops selling everything from wines and silver to local food products and tourist souvenirs. Cafes provide local food and a place to sit away from the days heat.

There is also a very modern out of town shopping centre that would not look out of place anywhere in affluent Europe with cars on display in the main foyer.

The recent flood appears to have closed a few roads which may to some extent explain my experience of the busy roads but a lot of clean up work is in progress.

Georgia has had a troubled past while only a few years ago Russia threatened invasion again. But modern Georgian people seem incredibly friendly and there is a sense of good times.

Out in the countryside I passed through there seems to be lots of people stood by the roadside. . I don't know how long they've been waiting for that bus, but some of them have grown old waiting.

My next destination may provide more of the culture shock as I move from Georgia's mostly European feel to a country with a  well publicised corruption problem. But I hope like most places I have passed through that the fear of getting there is worse that the actual experience of being there.
We shall see

I'm the meantime I'm going to indulge my curiosity and spend the weekend enjoying Tbilisi old town still trying to not giggle when I say thank you in Georgian which is pronounced "mad lover" . . .  little things! 

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