Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tbilisi to the Russian border

Despite having enjoyed our stay in Georgia very much, we were also keen to leave... Russia was waiting after all! But... we had to sort out a few things in Georgia's capital Tbilisi first. The Russian visas had to be picked up, which could only be done after 18.00 hrs, we needed new brake pads again (more on which below) and we had a serious backlog on the blog to work through and thus needed power and wifi. Our question on Facebook on where to stay in Tbilisi had not given us an option, while the request to Horizon's Unlimited contact in Tbilisi had not even resulted in a reply... So, we went to Tbilisi without an address to stay and as it turned out the address given for the bikeshop was totally wrong... good start!

First of all, again, a word of caution about Georgian driving. Yes I know that I've 'touched' this subject before but it is so bad that I want to mention it again for people who haven't read my earlier posts. If you don't want to read it, skip to the next paragraph. Let me start by saying this country is beautiful and well worth visiting. We seriously wouldn't mind spending quite a bit more time here actually. People are open, friendly and very helpful. We've seen amazing things and had beautiful moments here. Moments we will cherish. We have been fortunate enough to be able to record most of them on our photo and video camera too. Yet at the same time the anti-social driving here is the main topic with visitors. It really is seriously bad! Not just poor standards, as you can adapt to that, but more importantly the total disrespect for someone else's life... Georgians have no patience whatsoever as soon as they get in their cars. Honking the horn is done continuously, even if the 'problem' is miles away. The Police does nothing and, if anything, drives just as bad. I surely don't envy the task of the people responsible for changing that, because without drastic changes visitors will not come back... or at all!

The spare brake pads we had with us, and replaced just 1,000 km ago, were almost worn out...! SBS and Brembo had been good (although one set of Brembo linings had come loose from the backing plate for some reason). I couldn't find SBS or Brembo this time though and had settled for Ferodo. When on the road you can't be picky but anyway Ferodo is a brand which has been around for a while so I hadn't foreseen any problems. How wrong I was. They not only had marginal braking performance, they were wearing like crazy too and even did quite a bit of damage to the rear disc. I can't say if this applies to all the Ferodo brake pads or just this batch, but this set was absolute rubbish! What I can add is that we fitted new pads to the Triumph of the same brand and they are only marginally better. So we were looking for new pads and found as far as we know the only bike shop in Tbilisi: Pitstop Moto. They didn't have a website I could find but are on Facebook. I send them a message to which they replied positively. All we had to do is go there and pick them up.

That wasn't so easy though as the map on their Facebook site is wrong and Google maps has some issues finding addresses there. In short we ended up at the wrong side of town in a maze of steep cobblestone streets... and as it turned out later, we weren't the only ones looking for it at the wrong side of town. We remembered a McDonalds on the main road and went there for wifi to contact Pitstop Moto. As I'm sure most of us do, we wanted to be able to keep the bikes in sight and thus parked in front of the McDonalds, just like the cars had done next to it. The McDonalds manager wasn't having any of it though. We explained why, were not in the way at all but he just couldn't care... so we didn't either and left for another McDonalds, bugger him! We found one a little further were you can park your bike in direct view and the people operating it were much friendlier too... So if you want to go to a friendly McDonalds with good wifi then head for N41.70964° E44.79686°

Pitstop Moto turned out to be at almost walking distance at N41.73068° E44.78089° They had the brake pads for the XT in stock but the Triumph caused somewhat confusion. Not hard to understand when I checked in their computer, which is linked to Louis.de and which doesn't show any brake pads for the rear of any Triumph...! The owner didn't give up though and sourced a set for me and made sure they were there within an hour! Is that service or what? Will keep you informed on how the Saito brand brake pads perform but at the time of writing we have covered just over 5,000 km on them and they seem fine!

What did we just buy???
While we were there our other problem, where to stay in Tbilisi, sorted itself out too. We met Patrik from Switzerland who had some issues with the clutch of this Tiger 800. He mentioned a brand new hostel which had just opened up in Tbilisi, where he was the first guest: Hostel Sofia (not to be confused with Hotel Sofia). The rates were reasonable at 40 Georgian Lari for a 2 person room and bike parking was reasonably secure too. Reasonably means they were not in a lockup garage but the hostel is situated at a small square, so they were not parked along the street. It's basically a converted apartment and quite nicely done. When we arrived it wasn't fully finished yet and we were in fact the second guests staying there. In order to update our blog we decided to stay an extra day... and subsequently decided to stay a third day too so that we could edit and upload all our video material as well. (All the money we spend so that you can read and see it all... come on press that button and make a donation to our blog :-) Just below the hostel is a supermarket, several banks with ATM are around the corner, entrance to the subway is nearby. As we couldn't find a good place to stay in Tbilisi at first and then found this, we gladly share this for others. Hostel Sofia can be found at: N41.72137 E44.77322 and booked through booking.com

From Tbilisi we headed north to the Russian border. Quite a nice ride once we had left the city behind and positively stunning as soon as we entered the Caucasus mountains. Beautiful views and impressive vistas had us gazing in amazement. We knew this part of the world was going to be beautiful, but we didn't know it was going to be this beautiful. We were also told to expect a lot of rain here. In fact we had to count ourselves lucky if it didn't, or so we were told. Which is probably why we had sunshine, as no matter where in the world we go we always find unusual weather :-)

Shortly before the border we took a narrow dirt road into the mountains to the Gergeti Trinity Church, which is planted on the top of a mountain in the most spectacular landscape. Built in the 14th century it is now a popular area for mountaineers. We had planned to camp somewhere near the top but with the state my shock absorbers were in (i.e. held together with zip ties while we had another 1,000 km to do in Russia before we could fit replacements) I decided to turn around. Mike continued though and was rewarded with the spectacular sight of this famous little church. The road up there is hard going, especially on a fully loaded up bike. One of the guides working in the area congratulated Mike with making it up there! He came back gleaming and with some great photos! Also have look at the video above!

The part of Georgia you see here is only about 175 km long, basically just between Tbilisi and the Russian border and right next to South
Ossetia, which at the time of writing is a conflict area. Just look at the photos, this place is truly amazing! We slowly continued north towards the border, hoping to find another place to camp but ended up at the Russian border instead.... more on which in the next post!