Catching a late night taxi on Sheik Zayed Road on my way to Dubai International Airport.
And outside Terminal 2, ready to catch my 1:20am Flydubai flight.
This morning's flight was a simple return flight from Dubai to Tbilisi (DXB-TBS)
I hadn't eaten dinner so grabbed some food at the Marhaba lounge.
And boarding on time via the back stairs.
As it was a red-eye flight, I pulled out my earplugs and eyemask to get some sleep on the ~3 hour flight.
As we approached Tbilisi, the pilot announced that there was bad weather on the ground and that we would head up to 22,000 feet and go into a holding pattern and wait it out. It was only ~3 months after Flydubai Flight 981, which only a few hundred miles away in Rostov-on-Don, similarly went into a holding pattern due to early morning bad weather before crashing at high speed due to pilot error after a subsequent aborted attempt at landing. The odds of it happening a second time for our flight were infinitesimal, but I couldn't help but feel a little paranoid.
After ~90 minutes of circling above Tbilisi though, the weather eased abit, and we landed with no issues and along with plenty of applause from all the passengers.
With my visa on arrival.
After immigration I collected my rental car for the next two days, a white Hyundai Elantra.
This morning's plan was to intially head east, take the Tbilisi bypass road, and then drive north on the Georgian Military Road and on to the town of Stepantsminda, ~10 kilometres from the border of Russia.
On the bypass road. Although not perfect, the road was definitely in alot better condition than when I had driven across Armenia.
And on the Georgian Military Road and on to Stepantsminda. The Georgian Military Road heads due north of Tbilisi and runs up to the border of Russia and over to the city of Vladikavkaz. The route has been known since 'antiquity', and was mentioned in the Roman empire era Geographica.
After driving north for ~ 60 kilometres, I stopped to take in the view at Ananuri.
Ananuri is a castle complex, with two churches situated within its walls, the early 17th century older Church of the Virgin, and a larger Church of the Assumption (Ghvtismshobeli), built in 1689.
I also grabbed a cappuccino to help shake off the jetlag.
A bit of a moving roadblock as I continued the journey north.
Looking down at a small village beside the Tetri Aragvi River.
More sheep with snow-capped mountains in the background.
At 2,395 metres elevation in the Jvari Pass.
As I got near Stepantsminda and close to the border with Russia there was a long queue of freight trucks. In 2013 Russia reopened its border with Georgia, and the road provides an important transport route for trucks linking Armenia and Russia.
The town of Kvesheti with the 4,451 metre tall Mount Shani in the distance. The peak of Mount Shani is the border between Russia and Georgia.
As I stopped frequently to take photos on the way, I got to Stepantsminda just before 11am. In the centre of town there was a small army of 4WD's, waiting to take people up to the Gergeti Trinity Church, just visible on the hill on the upper-left.
Although it was only 11am, as I hadn't had any breakfast, I went to Cafe 5047m for my first taste of Georgian cuisine and had the very tasty and very filling Megruli Khachapuri. Khachapuri is traditional Georgian bread, filled with cheese.
I then checked into my room for the night at Anano's Guesthouse. With a shared bathroom but only $25 a night and clean and tidy so was very reasonable.
The view looking east from my window with the beautiful mountains in the background.
And the view from the balcony looking west. Gergeti Trinity Church is just visible in the centre on the hill in the distance. The 5,047 metre tall Mount Kazbek is unfortunately hidden in the clouds however.
After a bit of a rest at the guesthouse, I headed across the Terek River and started the ascent to Gergeti Trinity Church. The elevation of Stepantsminda was 1,740 metres and the Church was at 2,170 metres so ~430 vertical metres to climb up.
The walking route up was more of a goat track and pretty slippery in the rain. The alternative was to walk up the muddy and unsealed road but that was ~ 6 kilometres long and you had to dodge 4WD's ferrying up the people who had opted for a less strenuous trip up to the Church.
And finally at the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church. The rain had begun to fall quite heavily so I went inside for shelter and to see the beautiful interior. Unfortunately no photo's were allowed inside however.
On my way back down the rain had eased up a bit but was still falling steadily. I almost slipped a few times but managed to catch myself. Looking across to the mountains and the town of Stepantsminda in the distance.
An old Soviet-era GAZ-21 and a brood of chickens looking for something or someone to peck.
And back to Anano's Guesthouse where I crashed out to recover from the redeye flight, morning drive and big afternoon climb up the hill.
After a decent nap I headed back to the centre of Stepantsminda in search of some dinner at about 7pm. A couple of cows in someone's backyard.
Drinking some Kazbegi lemonade at Restaurant Khevi.
And for my second dose of Georgian cuisine for the day, enjoying some beef Khinkali (dumplings) and the Chakapuli (lamb stew). Very tasty and a great way to finish my first day in Georgia.
The view from my window of the top of Mount Shani with the sun rising just behind on the Russian side of the mountain.
My breakfast at the guesthouse for 10 lari (~$4.30). Quite a spread and I struggled to eat half of it!
I then packed up for the drive back south. The clouds had cleared, with Mount Kazbek, a dormant volcano, now visible.
Today's plan was to head back on the Georgian Military Road and then head west to the city of Gori on the E60 highway before backtracking to Mtskheta and then heading down back to Tbilisi.
Another moving roadblock on the road just out of Stepantsminda. As the horses slowly walked onto the other side of the road, an old Soviet-era car travelling quite fast in the opposite direction slammed on his brakes, with a screeching of tyres accompanied by a small cloud of white smoke. Luckily he stopped in time though and the horses calmly walked around him and continued on their way.
Driving through a mountain-side avalanche gallery.
And driving west on the E60 highway on the way to Gori. It was interesting seeing signs to the city of Sokhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, a separatist region within Georgia whose independence is only recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.
A statue of Stalin at the Joseph Stalin Museum in Gori. Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, and was born in Gori as Joseph Jughashvili in 1878 when Georgia was part of the Russian Empire.
A painting of a young Stalin at age 23. An English language tour was just starting so I tagged along.
A mural of Lenin and Stalin
A display on Stalin's rule during World War II. Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.
The ID card of Yakov Dzhugashvili, the eldest of Joseph Stalin's three children. Dzhugashvili was an artillery officer in the Red Army and was captured by the Germans in July 1941. The Germans later offered to exchange him for a high-ranking officer, but Stalin refused, allegedly saying, "I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant".
A rare, un-retouched photo of Stalin published by an American magazine. Our guide said that whenever his photo was published by the Soviets, his skin would appear smooth and unblemished.
One of the twelve copies of the death mask of Stalin taken shortly after his death.
A reconstruction of the offices of the secret police during Soviet times, when people were arrested and summarily executed for various activities. Historians have estimated that the total number of victims killed under Stalin's regime as ranging from approximately 4 million to nearly 10 million, not including those who died in famines.
A statue of Stalin outside with roses at his feet. A 2013 survey showed that 45% of Georgians had a positive attitude to Stalin.
Stalin's personal armour plated railway carriage he used to travel around in (as he was supposedly afraid of flying). It weighed 83 tons and was used by Stalin to travel to the Yalta Conference and the Tehran Conference.
His personal room inside. The train carriage also featured an early rudimentary air conditioning system.
After a very interesting visit to the museum, I had some pork mtsvadi with bread for lunch at a local restaurant. 11 lari or ~$5 total and very reasonable.
Back on the E60 highway to Mtskheta and Tbilisi.
At the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. Mtskheta was founded in the 5th century BC and was the capital of the Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. The various historical monuments of Mtskheta are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Cathedral was originally built in the 4th century and was invaded at various times by the Arabs, Persians, Timur and the Soviets. The church is surrounded by a defensive wall and the top storey was designed for military purposes and has gun emplacements.
A statue of Jesus Christ on the cross. The robe of Jesus is said to have been buried under a monument inside the church.
After a leisurely walk around the streets of Mtskheta surrounding the Cathedral, I stopped at local café for an afternoon fix of caffeine
And then headed south again for the short drive to Tbilisi. Refuelling up the car in Tbilisi before dropping it off back at the local Hertz agency.
And my room and very pinksheets for the next two nights in Tbilisi at Hotel Sanapiro.
After checking into my hotel, I went for a late afternoon walk through the streets of Tbilisi.
Hat & tie.
For dinner I headed to a Georgian restaurant called Samikitno and had some tasty chicken and potato accompanied by a glass of Georgian white wine.
Freedom Square Underpass.
Rustaveli Avenue. The central avenue in Tbilisi and named after the Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli.
After a relaxing stroll through the city I headed back to the hotel after the end of a long day.
After a morning run along the Mtkvari River I had some breakfast at the hotel.
My guidebook had a walking tour through Tbilisi so I walked up Rustaveli Avenue to the Shota Rustaveli monument for the starting point.
Looking across to the Georgian National Academy of Sciences.
I continued my walk down Rustaveli Avenue. A Lada whizzing past the Georgian National Opera Theater.
The Old Georgian Parliament building. In 2012 the government had moved to a new parliament building in the city of Kutaisi, 231 kilometres west of Tbilisi.
Freedom Square. In the middle is the Freedom Monument with a golden statue of St. George slaying a dragon on top.
I then deviated from the walking tour and walked up to the funicular station for a ride up to the Mtatsminda plateau that overlooks the city.
And looking down on Tbilisi from the amazing view from the top.
Top left is the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, in the middle is the Presidential Palace and the Bridge of Peace, and on the bottom-right is the golden statue of St. George in Freedom Square.
Looking up at the 274.5 metre tall Tbilisi TV Broadcasting Tower.
I then caught the funicular back down and walked down into Old Tbilisi.
Lots of people taking photo's of the leaning clock tower in the Old Town.
At the vegan Kiwi Café in the Old Town which was recently attacked by sausage-wielding extremists!!!
I was too early to try their first fresh batch of hummus for the day so settled for an expresso and a vegan chocolate brownie.
The Bridge of Peace, a pedestrian-only bridge over the Mtkvari River.
According to the Guardian newspaper, due to the bridges unusual shape, it is also referred to as the 'Always Ultra'.
I then walked over to Rike Park and caught the cable car over the Mtkvari River and Old Town up to Narikala Fortress. The view of the Bridge Of Peace on the way.
The view up by the fortress of the city below.
The St Nicholas church within Narikala, built in 1997 after fire destroyed the original 13th-century church.
A statue of the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, in a park in the Old Town named after him.
After all the walking I then retreated inside a local restaurant for a cool local beer and some very filling Khinkali for a late afternoon lunch.
Heading underground to catch the metro.
The metro was similar to other ex-Soviet cities I had visited (Kiev, Yerevan, Tashkent, Minsk etc.).
The metro first opened in 1966 and consists of just two lines.
After getting off at Freedom Square Station, I walked the short distance to the Museum of Soviet Occupation. Some Red Army uniforms and weapons on display.
Flags of the Democratic Republic of Georgia during the brief period between 1918 when Georgia declared independence from the Russian Empire and 1921 when the Russian Red Army invaded and Georgia became part of the U.S.S.R.
The museum opened in 2006, a time of strained relations between Russia and Georgia due to NATO agreeing to hold talks on closer relations with Georgia and only 2 years before the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time pointed out that many of the leading Soviet leaders, such as Stalin, came from Georgia. The sardonic response from the Georgian President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, was supposedly to offer funds to Russia to open a Museum of the Georgian Occupation in Moscow.
A photograph of Georgian rebels who were slaughtered during the 1921 invasion by the Russian Red Army.
A still from a video showing a soldier holding the flag of Abkhazia when the Russians invaded again during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.
I then walked down to the Saturday Dry Bridge Flea Market.
Old Russian film cameras for sale.
There were some more modern cameras for sale too, such as this Leica M8.
Quite an interesting mix of items for sale.
Hip flask, medals, sunglasses and Stalin.
And a golden bust in slightly used condition.
After resting up at the hotel for a bit, I headed out to dinner to Burger House. They had a couple of rows of meat grinders on the wall, quite a contrast from the vegan Kiwi Café I had visited earlier in the day!
I settled on the pork kimchi burger with fries and a coke. Very tasty!
I then went for a last evening stroll through Tbilisi before heading back to my hotel to pack for my early morning departure.
After getting up at an uncivil hour, I caught a taxi for the ~20 minute ride to Tbilisi International Airport.
After picking up my boarding pass and going air-side, I spent my last few lari on some Georgian chocolate to take home.
And about to board the Flydubai 737 after a great three days in Georgia!