Paramonas to Pelekas

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View of our hotel from the Kaiser’s Throne

Yesterday, June 16th, we covered the 17+ km from Paramonas to Pelekas.  Joan’s not quite dry hiking shoes did not present a problem in spite of the fact that our journey took us up and down and up again many times.  Of course, the fact that we were in a taxi probably helped quite a bit. So much for “Walking: Day Two.” Guess that blog post will have to wait.

From a place right on the beach we have come to a place on the top of a hill with 360 degree views.  Michael and I are in a room that faces west, so we get the sunset, and Joan is in a room that faces east, so she gets the sun rise.  We all get sea views.  Joan has a balcony that accommodates a small table and two chairs; we have a balcony that will accommodate one of us if our tummy is sucked in.  It’s a lovely older hotel and the staff, with the exception of the fellow at reception, is excellent.

We spent the entire 16th just lazing around the hotel and its grounds.  A great dinner on the terrace while the sun set completed the day.

 

 

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Sunset

Apparently, the west side of Corfu is known for its spectacular sunsets.  Our first night here, the cloud cover on the western horizon was so uniformly heavy that the sunset was nothing to write home about or even mention in a blog post.  Last night, however, was a different story.  We still had cloud cover on the western horizon but it was not uniformly heavy and the illumination of the cloud formations as the sun sank behind them was stunning.

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PS Turns out it was a two gin and tonic evening but even with that I was able to notice some beautiful, long shadows cast by teeny tiny just-slightly-larger-than-grains-of-sand pebbles as we walked up to the hotel.  Hmmmm, maybe that was BEFORE the g&t’s.

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PPS I forgot to mention in previous post that during our walk we heard a loud rustling in the vegetation next to the path.  We stopped, looked, heard more loud rustling and then saw a black snake side-slithering along.  Having read in our notes that there is one poisonous viper of this island (the nose horned viper . . . perhaps a close relative to the ear tailed toad), we explored no further.

PPPS We have decided that this three star hotel on this little, sleepy stretch of the coast is absolutely delightful. The owner, Mr. He-knows-English-“no problem,” has been most accommodating and if the taxi that is supposed to take us to our next hostelry shows up* all will be perfect.

*Happpily, our shoes/boots did dry overnight but, darn it anyway, we had already made arrangements to be transported to Pelekas.

PPPPS Just came back from breakfast; Joan’s walking shoes did NOT dry overnight; so, riding in taxi is a requirement and not a cop out. Hallelujah!

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Done and Dusted: First Walking Day

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M and J: The day begins

Although “done and drenched” would be a better title for today’s post.  More about that later.

First of all, it is SO cool to be in this part of Greece. Michael and I have never made it to any part of Greece and we are feeling extremely happy to be here even if Corfu isn’t the first thing you think about when a person says “Greece.”  Because of a heavy and long Venetian presence on this island, the architecture is much more Italian/European than what one typically thinks of when thinking of the Greek landscape.  But it is beautiful and we are going to thoroughly enjoy our time here.

Second, finally, and foremost:  Our first walking day:

Oh, my gosh!! We made it!!  You will not be impressed with the distances or times or elevation changes but WE ARE and we are the ones who are here!

Overview as described in walking notes:  11.2 km/4.5 hours/ascent and descent 500 meters.  We went out of Paramonas, through the village of Agios Matthews and up to a small monastery (Moni Pantokrator). Our experience (based on Joan’s magical watch device was just about the same although we took longer with several nice rest stops included.  What the statistics don’t reflect, of course, is the terrain or just how beautiful some of the views are.

In Corfu, the olive trees are not pruned and are ancient and enormous.  We walked through many groves of these magnificent trees.  There are bundles of nets under them because at harvest time the nets are spread out to catch the olives.  It looks like it must be very labor intensive work.

We set out around 9:30 under nice skies, some clouds, and a fresh sea breeze. We walked ever upward over roads, tracks, lanes and stony paths.  Walk notes frequently said things like “continue gradually uphill,” “turn right onto a mostly surfaced path (but broken and rough in parts) winding steeply uphill,” “ follow it hair-pinning uphill and continue uphill on a rough stone track,” “ still ascending steeply,” etc..  Do you get the picture”? “Uphill” rapidly became a very dirty word.

Walking note: “At this point you are 1.3 km from the monastery and the path is steep and the going will be slow! But the shade offered by the trees is delightful.”  Next note: “Pass large boulder with red dot on it, and ignore a narrow steep path downhill on left.  Keep straight ahead uphill.”

These two notes were separated by a single blank line but the on-the-ground-reality was that it took forever to find that damned red dotted large boulder.  Shortly after we began our descent, we were warned in very emphatic italics to “be careful as there are very loose stones underfoot.”  Michael slipped and fell.  Then about 200 meters later, he slipped and fell again.  No serious damage thank goodness.

On our way up the hill, we had passed a bakery and had a brief chat with three Canadians who happened to be resting there.  One of them was a Corfu native.  On our way back our path looped back to this bakery and we had a nice break there for nourishment.  Almost the entire day had been punctuated with thunder off somewhere away from us.  Well, during our refreshment break, the weather caught up to us.

We walked the final 3 km. in increasingly heavy rainfall.  Umbrellas up or rain jackets on, it made little difference.  For at least the last 1.5 km. we were slogging through roads that had turned into stream beds and we were drenched, sodden, soaked by the time we squished, squeaked and squelched our way into the hotel lobby.  I would have loved to have taken a photo of the three of us but my camera was floating somewhere in the depths of my day pack.

Our shoes are now stuffed with newspaper, our clothes festooned over every possible draping point in our room and on our terrace but we are happy and dry and proud.  I have to admit, however, that if our shoes aren’t dry by tomorrow morning, none of us is going to want to set out on the 17.3 km/8 hour/885 meter ascent/625 meter descent walk to get to our next lodging in Pelekas.  A taxi ride may be in our immediate future.  But first, I believe the rain has stopped and a refreshing gin and tonic at the seaside restaurant is beckoning.

 

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Welcome to Corfu

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J and M 

It’s 7:20 a.m. and I’m sitting on the terrace of our room in the Hotel Paramonas in a tiny Corfu village and I’m looking out at the Ionian Sea. Big sigh. Our 1:30 a.m. wake up call in Tbilisi in order to catch a 2:30 a.m. taxi to catch our 5:15 a.m. Aegean Air flight to Athens and then onto Corfu Town is almost forgotten.

We arrived at our hotel a bit before noon and met Joan as we were heading to our room.  She had arrived just a short time before. The hotel is modest in comparison to the places in which we have been luxuriating for the past two+ weeks but it has its own charm and is lovely and the views, even from the first floor, are stunning.  We arrived to sun, heat and lush greenery.  The restaurant patio right on the beach is delightful:  Shade, a breeze and the constant coming in of the waves on the shore.

We had a very tasty lunch and, later, a very tasty gin and tonic and, even later, a not entirely successful dinner and another very tasty gin and tonic.  As we left for our rooms after dinner, we had decided to wait to decide about today’s walking loop until breakfast this morning.  Rain was predicted and there are clouds in the sky.  It would be a shame for our first walk to involve mud and rain coats!

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Final Georgia Impressions

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Flag of Georgia

Yesterday, as we were driving back to Tbilisi, Claire posed a question from her position near the rear of the bus:  What would be our most memorable impression of Georgia?  Only one person replied and I don’t remember his answer but it caused me to think about that very thing.  What impressions am I taking away from this journey to Georgia?

First, as always, the people:

The beauty, intelligence and self-effacing charm of Keti.  I will never be able to think of this country without seeing her with her ever present smile and humility.  She has made this trip for me and I learned so much from her about the history, culture and customs of Georgia.  She is a treasure.

The good driving and humor of David.  His English wasn’t great but he had enough that we could communicate and laugh together His dumpling eating prowess was unsurpassed and his driving was such that there was no problem getting a seat in the front of our Mercedes 16-person people mover.  His 10-year old son, Nico, had a karate competition in Batumi the day we arrived there and Nico joined us for the rest of our trip.  It was a great addition.

The people whose names I have forgotten and whose names I never knew who, each in his or her own way, made our trip memorable.  They offered a bus load of strangers kindness and consideration that eased our way over the bumps and hiccups of our trip.

Our traveling companions who were wonderful.  As I have said in previous posts, usually, when you have a group of 15 (plus or minus) people on a trip, there is at least one asshole.  Once again, my theory has been proved false (and I HAVE been assured that I was not the asshole). The ten of us rolled along with nary a quarrel or bruised feeling even during those extraordinarily rare moments when we were all tired and a trifle cranky.

Second: The beauty and diversity of the country.  I had no expectations when I arrived here and have been delighted and surprised by the different landscapes we have seen.  From the verdant mountains to the tiny villages to the cities with their mix (a bit higgledy-piggledy) of traditional, soviet and ultramodern architecture. And, speaking of architecture, one of my lasting impressions has to be the many glass governmental buildings that have sprung up in Tbilisi and in Kutaisi (where the parliament meets).  You cannot avoid these structures; they are huge and largely comprised of glass.  I can’t begin to imagine how they are heated in the winter or cooled in the summer. We were told that they were erected as a tangible manifestation of the need for transparency in government.  We think that the president who ordered them built must have had a large interest in a glass manufacturing plant.

Third:  The many obscure places we visited that were so off the beaten path or such seemingly holes-in-the-wall that a casual visitor would never have found them.  My god, the planning and knowledge that went into making this trip the success it was boggles my mind.  I am just so very happy to have been a part of it!

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Coming Full Circle

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David and Keti with Buster and Andre Segovia

Maybe circle is the wrong term.  Perhaps elipse more accurately describes the shape but it would have to be a very irregular elipse and, I think, that means that it wouldn’t be an elipse at all.  Whatever the correct geometrical term, we arrived back in Tbilisi yesterday afternoon, June 13th.

Our original itinerary would have had us stop for lunch at another winemaker’s on the drive back from Kutaisi.  Fortunately, as it turns out, they couldn’t accommodate us until 3 p.m., which was far too late for one of our couples who had an evening flight to catch.  Instead, we drove straight back to Tbilisi with only two stops:  One for souvenir shopping at a roadside pottery and carved wooden things market; and one for coffee/ice cream/comfort at a highway rest stop. When we pulled off the highway for the comfort break and I saw the name of the place, I thought that we might be in for a good rummage through masses of Georgian junk.  See photo below.

Early arrival back in Tbilisi meant that we were able to check into our rooms and then go to the National Museum for a quick look at a couple of its exhibits.  It would be well worth it to spend more time as the exhibits were interesting and beautifully explained in English as well as Georgian.

After a short rest back at the hotel, we all went to our final dinner at another very nice, small and unassuming restaurant with delicious food.  Apparently, the wine was also very good but I have sworn off the stuff until my lips and mouth return to normal.

It was very sad to say good bye to our driver, David, and our guide, Keti (I finally learned how to spell her name).  They have made our trip easy, educational and fun.

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Batumi to Kutaisi

 

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In Martvili Canyon

September 12, 2018: Up early to begin our two day drive back to Tbilisi.  We will overnight in Kutaisi.  But before any of that began, I looked in the mirror.

YOIKS!!!  I looked like a “don’t do this” advertisement for collagen enhanced lips.  I thought my lips had been replaced with bananas!!  Michael thought it was sexy.  I have been having persistent mouth problems on this trip from about the third day in Macedonia.  Sort of raw feeling on the inside of my mouth and some soreness on the front of my tongue.  I’ve been thinking maybe it was something in the wine that we have been consuming and, once in Georgia, maybe the walnuts (they use a lot of walnuts in Georgia).  I’ve never had reactions to these things before but who knows?  Took some Zertec to see if that would help and the swelling did go down during the day but as I write this early a.m. on Sept. 13th, the swelling is back.  Frustrating.

But enough with boring health report.

The major even of note during our drive to Kutaisi was a stop at the small but exquisite Martvili Canyon National Monument.  We took a short raft drift up a jewel like bit of the canyon; the water so clear it looked like our rafts were floating on the backdrop of a green screen.

Lunched at a tiny, rural winemaker’s very close to the canyon and, although some people thought the wine poor and the food uninteresting, I thought the warmth of the host, a young woman, and the beauty of the surroundings made up for any possible deficiencies of the food.  Of course, I didn’t think the food was at all deficient.  We were given one chicken and polenta dish that we haven’t had before and I admit that the white polenta was bland. However, if you put the walnut sauce on it, which I didn’t because of abovementioned suspicions about walnuts, I think it would have been wonderful.  The wine I can’t speak to because when I took a sip, my entire mouth felt as though it was on fire due to the abovementioned soreness of mouth.  I am having the same experience when I brush my teeth.  Oh, that’s right, I said enough about boring health report.

Our hotel in Kutaisi, the Best Western, is very nice but is located in, to put it kindly, an area that is undergoing some urban renewal.  I took a three block walk and decided we were in the butt hole of Kutaisi.  I can see from our window a lovely church and a river and tree covered hills with interesting buildings, so, I know the town has got more to offer than what I experienced.

Lovely dinner in yet another of the unexpectedly pleasant restaurants we have been discovering.

 

 

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A Day in Batumi

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Black Sea from botanical garden

I can’t believe that I am writing a post on the very day about which I am posting.  I like having free time!

We didn’t rendezvous until 10 a.m. and, so, it was a very leisurely and pleasant morning. I even got in a bit of sketching on the balcony of our first floor (2nd floor in the states) room.  Once we got underway the theme of leisurely and pleasant continued with a relatively short drive to the Batumi Botanical Garden where we meandered ever upward through various ecological environments and plantings.  It was shady with gorgeous plants, lovely scents and spectacular views out to the sea and back to Batumi.

For lunch, we drove back through Batumi and up into the Anjarian mountains.  Once again we were far off the beaten path, following a narrow, dirt track that wended its way upward along a small stream.  We ended up at a rather rustic, outdoor restaurant where we had a splendid meal of fresh trout and other Georgian dishes.  The new dishes this time were a raw mushroom and cheese salad and another cheese dish called something like “gebzhalia.” I can provide no description except to say that it was tasty if not spectacular.

We were entertained by a young worker who took a break from setting river stones in a patio type area and repeatedly dove into the pool of water formed by a dam in the stream.  Great fun.  When he climbed a tree above the pool, everyone feared for his life but he did a masterful cannonball into the pool and emerged unharmed.

Back to the hotel in time for a good, long break before we heading off to dinner, which hasn’t happened yet.  Claire and I managed to find not only postcards but also stamps at a post office and all within a two block walk from the hotel.

Dinner later tonight and then, tomorrow, we head back toward Tbilisi but more about that after it happens.

 

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Borjomi to Batumi

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First course for lunch

June 10th, another long day of driving.  Georgia is not a large country but the state of its highways means that a drive of even a few hundred kms. takes quite a long time. We were headed to Batumi, which is on the Black Sea, and is not, as some had expected, some sleepy fishing village.  Rather, it is one of the three largest cities in Georgia with some large, modern buildings as well as huge, ugly soviet style apartment blocks and older, beautiful art deco style buildings.

Landscape was very different from the day before.  Still working our way down, out of the mountains but not quite as lush.  Until we began our approach into Batumi that is where we began seeing bamboo (it must be an invasive, imported species) and ferns and all sorts of other interesting flora.

Along the way, we stopped in the little town of Surami where our guide bought two sweet breads that she called donuts, which are a specialty of the area.  Their Georgian name is something like “nazuki.” They are large, half moon shaped breads and were warm and eggy and raisiny and delicious.  We were particularly happy that we made this five minute stop because not five minutes down the road we came across a huge truck on its side blocking the other lane.  The accident must have just happened to judge from all the goings on.

Five and a half hours after we set off, we arrived at the eastern edge of Batumi where we had a lovely, simple lunch in the Adjarian style.  It began with yet another version of the khachapuri, this one a boat shaped loaf with the cheese in the middle of the boat and an egg floating on top of the cheese.  After a quick transfer of egg yolk to Michael’s “boat,” it was a very yummy, very large first course.

Hooray!!  We had three hours of free time after we got to the hotel.  Michael and I went out to walk but it was far too hot and we retreated to our hotel room after only half an hour.

A walk up to the shore at 7 p.m. followed by dinner at Batumi’s HofBrau house* restaurant.  No German food, however, but new Georgian treats in the form of dumplings, khinkali, kind of like large Chinese steamed dumplings.  They were delicious.  Our driver, David, must have eaten fifteen!

*Yes, THAT HofBrau house.

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Tbilisi to Borjomi via Vardzia

 

 

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Along the road

Saturday, June 9th, was moving day.  We packed up our scattered belongings at the Shota boutique hotel and headed off to Borjomi.  This was the most spectacular day so far as far as scenery goes:  Green, green rocky pastures rich with wildflowers, lush mountains (2,000 meters), very poor villages many with lots of abandoned and derelict houses, Azerbaijani herders camped in fields tending their herds of cattle, more hugely pot-holed roads, magnificent cloud formations, cows on the highway, huge trucks playing canyon chicken on the narrow road with one very close call for us and the unbelievable hospitality of the Georgian people.

Our first stop was a potty break.  We had driven FOREVER, or so it had seemed, and still had quite a way to go before our lunch stop.  Our driver stopped in one tiny village and our guide asked two young men if we could use a restroom.  They said yes and those of us in particular need were invited into their home to use the facilities.  I just wonder what sort of reception a van full of Georgians would get in the USA under similar circumstances.

Lunch was at a nuns’ monastery in Phoka.  We have been constantly surprised by what we discover over the hills and down the lanes and through the doors in Georgia.  This monastery is in an almost nonexistent village; think mud, walls of cow dung patties drying for use of fuel, and very poor-looking homes.  We enter into a nice stone building after a visit to the church and walk into a dining room that could be featured in any fine living magazine.  Beautiful table linens, elegantly displayed hand crafted ceramics and exquisite food.  As our main course, we each had a whole lake trout, perfectly cooked and completely deboned.  Chocolate made by the nuns was the first sweet finish to a meal that we have had in Georgia. Much to my dismay, dessert is not a Georgian tradition.

Off to another, but very different, cave city.  This one is called Vardzia and was man made.  It was begun in the 12th century by King Georgi and finished by his daughter, King (yes, king) Tamar in the 13th century. Originally, the city had 13 levels of caves but earthquakes and other disasters have greatly reduced its size.  It is still impressive. Claire and I were the only ones in our group to go up to the cave monastery/church where our guide, Katya, told us all about the frescoes there. (She is a beautiful young woman who just happens to be doing her PhD work on early Christian art).

We had dinner around 7:30 at a humble but welcoming guest house on the way to Borjomi.  Small disaster, when it was time to leave, we discovered that we had a flat tire.  Nine p.m., Saturday night somewhere in the mountains of Georgia.  The guesthouse hosts we so gracious.  Grandfather helped our driver with the tire problems; grandmother built a little fire for us in the main room and we waited until almost eleven before all was repaired, replaced, restored and ready to go.  During our wait, Katya surprised us with an impromptu concert (Chopin and a Georgian composer) on the upright piano.

A very cranky group arrived at the Borjomi Rixos Hotel very late.  Much confusion at check in but eventually we all had rooms.

 

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