It felt like all odds were against me. Though, meeting so many obstacles during my Azerbaijan-Georgia trip did not reflect on my opinion on these two countries, I adored, especially Georgia, but can`t lie that I am disappointed of not seeing many things, I planned in advance, for different reasons that were out of my hands. Here a good advice is that best time to visit this area is during the summer time, as connections are probably better and most of the places are open. I am sure it may spare you the disappointment, I have experienced. So what have I missed? Okatse Canyon in Georgia (was closed as of low season time), mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan (car got stuck in the mud, so we couldn’t reach the area), Armenia (yes, I supposed to go there, but road to Kazbegi, in Northern Georgia, was closed three times due to the heavy snow, so I’ve lost precious time and was simply lacking extra days to visit), fellow travelers (I was always alone in hotels) and that tragicomedy moment when I slipped in the hotel`s bathroom, destroying a toilet seat and hurting my back so much, I could not walk…but hey, at least nobody saw it! But please, don`t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed it, but It was just a first time when I haven’t done all I planned.
Rain, heavy rain. Wet shoes. Three hours of sleep, as of my late arrival to Georgia at three in the morning. Feeling disappointed, as all agencies are closed of a low season time. Finally found a private driver, to book a trip for next day, but Okatse Canyon is closed anyway. Not a very good first day of my trip. Wondering around. Keep looking for a little salvation of my miserable state. Turning, going indoor. Then, boooom. A huge u-turn. From the gray and sad surroundings of Kutaisis, that rainy day, in to the vibrant, colorful market. So full of life, so full of people. Food, from nuts to wine, from cheese to figs. Meat, fruits, vegetables, dairy, clothes, wine, chargers, bulbs… and more. Sellers working, engaging and interacting with each other, with customers. Loud noises. People discussing, god knows what, I don`t speak the language, but probably anything and everything. And what do I do? Thought, hungry, ready to buy food, had to grab my camera first to take some photos of this definitely, for sure my favorite (!), a very buzzing place.
Photos tell stories
The beauty, natural forms, waters and lightening will definitely impress every visitor of the Prometheus Cave. More. It will stun you with a natural wonders of a breathtaking examples of stalactites, stalagmites, petrified waterfalls, cave pearls, underground rivers and lakes. Thought, “Prometheus”, as a given name, got as much to do with the geek mythology as a healthy leaving with McDonalds, it does not matter. I would even call it as a kings cave, paradise cave, darkest heaven cave…you name it. All well deserved to get an attention from anyone visiting west area of Georgia, or even further places, to come and see. The cave can be easily explored from Kutaisi, the second biggest city and former capital of Georgia, as well as from other cities, like Tbilisi. Discovered only in 1984, as a baby, became as one of the most important sights while in Georgia.
To get in: Bus/train from Tbilisi to Kutaisi. Buses (marshrutka) leave from Dibude station every 20 mins and cost 10GEL (less than 1$). In Kutaisi you will arrive at the south (same for the train and marshrutka) from where you can take a bus number 1 to the city center for 1GEL (paid to the driver when getting in or off). From Kutaisi center take a mini bus N 30 from Red Bridge area to Tskaltubo (წყალტუბო). At Tskaltubo bus terminal/market take a taxi to the cave. Taxi from Kutaisi (two ways) will cost around 30-40 GEL (around 15$) and the driver will wait for you. I did it, very affordable!
Ticket costs 20GEL for entrance and 15GEL for boat ride, (for foreigners) with a guide, even if you will go alone, like I did. Guide is available in few languages (Georgian, English, Russian). IMPORTANT! I have read that for safety reason children under 7 are not allowed.
Opening hours: Everyday from 10.00-18.00. Closed on Monday
- Number of Halls – more than 16
- Length of Tourist route in the cave – 1060 m.
- Total length – 15 555 m.
- Maximum height – 21 m.
- Underground Lake – 280 m.
- Air temperature – 15-17 C
- Water temperature 13-14 C
Around an hour to walk trough an around 10 minutes for a boat ride
Anything, up and running, is acceptable on roads in Georgia. I am not going to write about the economy situation, laws or safety of my latest destination. Though, I might just want to say that I have a new favorite country in Europe. Now here, stunned and surprised by differences compared to the western driving regulations, just wanted to share a few photos of Georgian fast and furious.
Mulled wine, food stands, a personal horseshoe made by a real blacksmith and gifts are only a few examples you can find at Christmas market in one of the Polish cities, Wrocław. December truly transform, though already magnificent, main square in a very mystical place with an extra hint of a magic, in a place not only kids would enjoy. There is no grumpy look at any face. People loves it, enjoy it, taking part in. Great for family, group of friends, tourists, seniors, everyone. There is a different treat for anyone and the same for us all…the magic Christmas spirit.
Food. Many stands offer an amazing and very tasty traditional Polish delicacies as szaszlyk, (pork, beef or chicken knuckle), bigos (finely chopped meat of various kinds stewed with sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage), home made bread, Saint Martin’s croissants, szare kluchy (potato dumplings), potatoes with herring, pierogis (dumplings with all kind of fillings), gołąbki (cabbage rolls with rice and mince meat) and kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup from the highlands…not my fav;).
Apart from Polish food, you can enjoy Hungarian lángos with filling and cold meats: spicy smoked pepper sausages or traditional kolozsvári bacon. Lovely Spanish sweet option as churros. Balkans brought an amazing borek (pastry with different fillings, mmm I loved it when I was in Serbia).
Finishing at Alsatian pancakes known as flammkuchen and Turkish baklava.
For kids. Apart from many stands with all kind of sweets, youngsters can watch some animatronic characters behind glass convey fairy tale plays like The Little Red Riding Hood, The Brave Little Tailor, The Snow White or Pinocchio.
Children can also join one of the workshops to learn how to paint, and then practice it, their own baubles. This activity can be found next to the Christmas Windmill. On another corner, next to the Dwarf House, children can meet Santa at parking space of his sleigh with reindeer.
“Nooooo!” That is the word expected to hear when teacher announces upcoming visit to the museum in a class. Not surprisingly, we all know how difficult is to get an attention of a young mind, the curious mind that needs an extra shot of imagination to hold too, to keep the focus. Proud to admit that my city, Wrocław, managed to achieve that. Hydropolis, in the simplest explanation the museum of water, attracts thousands of visitors from every group of the age, especially youngsters. The light, interactive places and modern computer projections became as a top match in the way the knowledge about the purest, simplest and most important substance on the planet Earth, WATER, can be presented.
Now as a must see attraction while visiting Wrocław, city in Poland, just can not be missed, especially by family. Easy accessible as close to the city center (address: Na Grobli 19, Wroclaw 50-421, Poland) with a very affordable ticket prices: 18 zł (5$) concessionary ticket, 27 zł (7.5$) regular ticket, 72 zł (20$) family ticket (2+2). Please don`t skip it!
Waking up this morning got to remember that Friday, as is today, was a day when I landed in Bucharest, the place from where I start my backpacking trip trough the Balkans, along with my, still strong till today, love for feta cheese and spinach. Yes, this very own and very great Romanian capital got my traveling feelings on straight away. Also taking an opportunity here to point that it is a good city to start from this part of the Europe. Allowing myself only a three days, I can not admit that Bucharest has been fully discovered and experienced by me. Yet, touched, thought slightly, but satisfying, managing to ticked a great night out, good city seeing around the center, finishing at meeting local friends along with other travelers. Clearly, was a good start, promising a good further travel. And indeed, that was the case. Though, sparing to write what to see, what I saw, what I liked and what not so, just sharing few photos from this Easter European city, from where my trip has begun.
It`s been already my fifth day in Kathmandu, so after seeing most of the things around, I wanted to spend this day practicing my street photography skills, as I always liked it most. I found a perfect narrow street in the Thamel area, I had visited few times in previous days, where I just loved the scenery of petite and long path of an old buildings, growing from the bricks below, with golden and silver pots, dishes and plates all around to purchase. I thought, with nice sunny weather, it will be a perfect day to capture a few good photos of a daily life in Nepal. Sun reflection on the golden vases looked picturesque with a background build of all dark, mystery and old houses around. As an early bird, leaving hotel shortly after breakfast, I was ready for my little wander around one of my all time favorite capitals. As of hot weather I packed just my wallet, water and camera in to my bag. It was around 27 degrees during the day time, so leaving hotel in just shirt and jeans was expected. However, I wasn’t even expecting that I am going to sleep next two nights outside on the ground with nothing.
After wondering for few hours around delightful Thamel, I reached my destination of a tiny street, I mentioned earlier on, where I began taking photos. Five minutes before 12.00, I saw on the sky something I have never seen before. The whole upper atmosphere was covered with birds of all kinds, almost like a dark cloud, flying in to the one direction….all out of the sudden. It was one of the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. The whole sky was filled with them. Everyone suddenly stopped to look up at this rare happening. Shortly after, few elderly woman started to run around, shouting in Nepalese language sentences I could not understand. I was the only tourist there. I noticed sudden panic around, people trying to hide, shouting for kids around, grabbing their arms. Clearly, they all tried to hide quickly, closing shops, if that was a possible thing to do. It was just 10-20 seconds between noticing flying birds and what happened after, but I remember that loads of things went trough my mind. Basically, those running elderly ladies were pointing the sky, and I saw people running and trying to look for a shelter, so the only explanation, I’ve had created in my head, was that there are some air military force coming. But no, that was not the case.
Seconds after, the earthquake began. The ground started to shake extremely violently. I could only hear the movement of the plates. Even thought buildings were collapsing around me, I could not sound a thing. I am not going to lie, I wasn’t that much scared, as I thought its normal in this part of the world, as of an earth layers that shaped the great Himalayas. I was even just standing, though, trying not to fall, thinking whether is safer to stay out or get in!
I was one of the last people standing on that street, but then suddenly I felt a hand grabbing me and taking to stay in one of the entrances of the house. Maybe he saved me, as bricks were falling everywhere. The ground was shaking so destructively in vertical way, It was very difficult to stay up. I don’t know how long it took, but at this point, I realized its a disaster. As soon as earthquake finished, I knew I had to get out of this small-scaled street with old building around, as during the aftershock more could collapse, like the one I was in. Also, as soon as the ground stopped shaking, I noticed what is really happening around. Woman were crying, few people were injured, everyone was just in shock. However, there was a strong wave coming to strike again and then more after, so I knew I need to find a big enough square with a proper distance from surrounded buildings. I just managed to run around the corner to the temple area, I got to remember from previous days. The maze was small, around 20-30 square meters, but houses weren’t so close. Loads of people, finding it as a closest safest area, gathered there too for upcoming aftershock. I inspected the damage around and noticed that almost every building had cracks and looked like can not survive next shakes. At this point there was nowhere to go anyway. It was too dangerous to try to go trough streets to reach a bigger gardens to stay away from building at this time. I looked around trough the people faces. Shock, fear and sadness was mixed with helplessness and surprise. There was a mother standing next to me with her three young children. I looked at her and saw her tears coming like a river from her eyes, but she was trying to hide it well from her kids. She really was a breaking point at realization about the situation.
After 30-40 minutes after the main earthquake, few birds, sitting around on roofs, flew suddenly away again in same direction as before. At this point, we all knew what is going to happened after 20 seconds. Few people were screaming, but, luckily, buildings around managed to stay as they were. After shakes stopped, I knew I have another half an hour or so before another one, to find a properly big space away from any kind of architecture. Luckily, knowing Kathmandu already, I run to the big open space close to the Durban Square. Not surprisingly, I saw a huge group of people, like myself, trying to get a safer shelter before upcoming aftershock. I’ve met two English guys. One of them was wounded. I asked what happened, and he explained to me that, with his friend, they were the last people to escape from one of the temples before it collapsed with, still, loads of people trapped in. I’ve had a sealed water, so I opened it, and we cleaned his wound. They wanted to go back to hotel, but I told them not to, and to come with me after the second quake, that was going to happened soon. I knew that we are close to the one, big enough, garden. They joined me, and I bet they were very glad they did so, as the area was safe enough. We all three stayed there until the third and fourth aftershock, but we all felt no real danger. The fourth wave was very mild, so after that (three hours after the first one) we finally heard sirens of ambulances and fire brigade trying to rich people in need. All signals and internet was disconnected, so I couldn’t contact anyone to say that I am ok. I actually wasn’t able to do so for the next 30 hours.
The situation was stable enough to start to think what my next move is going to be. I definitely wasn’t going to hotel, as it was far, and way was trough a small streets. I memorized that I was close to the big stadium, so I made a quick decision of going there. I asked these two guys if they will come with me, they agreed. We arrived at our destination, and we noticed that most people from Kathmandu gather there to be in this safe place. I saw a hospital trolleys, with patients on, set on the grass already, but left on its own for hours. I guess stuff was trying to rich people buried under the rumbles. The situation was just drastic, dramatic and very bad. There were not enough people to help and thousands were in need of a first aid. There was nothing on the ground, just grass. I had just water with me and camera, and that was the time when I decided to actually go to my hotel to get some clothes, for cold coming night, and my passport. I said goodbye to my friends and was on the street again, witnessing a disaster, collapsed buildings, wounded people, completely destroyed roads. I was a bit scared going trough the streets towards my accommodation, but had no other option really. Thought, on my way, after another shake, I decided not to. Actually, I wasn’t even sure if my hotel still stands up.
After changing my mind of getting stuff from hotel, I found on the way the garden, called Garden of Dreams, where I saw few people around. It was big enough, so I decided to enter. I’ve met there other travelers, and we stayed together as a team for the next 2 days. We decided to sleep there too, thought earthquakes were going on trough the whole night, the worst for me was cold, almost icy feels, I was getting the whole time. In only my thin shirt on in temperature of 5 degrees, I was laying in darkness on the grass unable to sleep. In the morning, I knew I have to check my accommodation and get my passport and something warm to wear for another sleep out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend another night in this temperature in just what I was wearing. My friends from the group said they will do the same, and that we will all meet here after, in 2-3 hours.
I reached my hotel at 8.00 in the morning. Building was damaged, but was standing. All areas in were abandoned and completely empty, everyone were gone, and all rooms were open. Mine was closed, but had my key, so was able to get in to take my big back with half of the clothes, I`ve had with me in Nepal. I managed to, at least, wash my hands and face, but was still very hungry. I was wondering what happened with owner and all the guests…I could just hope they were all fine!!
I picked all I needed and came back to the garden. I found my friends after, and they told me that not far is a noodle place open today, so we went there to get some food. Thought, queue was for an hour, we managed at least to have a hot meal. It was a warm day, so I was laying on the grass enjoying the sun after all that cold, I felt the whole night before. Around 18.00 my phone line was back on again, so it was finally the first time I could call relatives to say that I am fine.
The second night
The second night was possibly the worst night I have ever experienced in my whole life. Having clothes this time on me, I was even able to make a pillow from my hoodie to lie my head on. Here, I want to add that no help was visible anywhere so far, no Red Cross, nothing! Dressed as an Eskimos, I was prepared to spend the next night on the grass. Extremely tired, being awake for 36 hours now, I thought I may get a little sleep. No, I could not be more wrong! This time was raining heavily all night! I was only able to hide all my electronics under my belly, and that is how I spent next 8 hours, all wet, cold and awake.
In the morning I changed my shoes, and I put dry blouse. I told my friends that I can’t stay here longer, and I am off…somewhere. I took my backpack, and I left. At this point, I didn’t even know where I was going to go. All hotels were closed, and it wasn’t safe to stay indoor, as still was too dangerous as of damaged buildings. Luckily, I noticed few buses on the street across. I asked the driver where are they going, and found that one of them was heading to Pokhara, a city 8 hours ride away from Kathmandu. I had no better option than just to take that bus.
Most scary moment in that whole situation
Driving trough Kathmandu, I was able to see the real scale of what happened in past two days! Third of the capital got destroyed. Roads were damaged too, but buses were running on them anyway. I was just happy to leave, to seek for a bed to lie down and just sleep. The road to Pokhara was trough Himalayas, a very tiny one with no rails on the edge. So on one side you had high mountains, and on another, steep rocky block high on 50 meter ended with wild river down below. I read that these roads are the most dangerous in the world, and, I guess, still present aftershocks contributed to higher the danger level too. However, I felt still good to be gone from Kathmandu.To be on the way, moving. Suddenly the bus stopped, and I saw a long line of cars in front of us. I got out of the bus, I could feel earthquake, but this time there was nowhere to hide. I got in to bus again, and I asked one of the Nepalese, sitting next to me, why are we stopping, as I could not understand the bus driver. He told me that we had to as because of the land slide that was happening not far from us. At this point I was really scared, being trapped in tiny Himalayan road. We continue to wait 2 h, and, luckily, the bus went off again.
Arriving to Pokhara
I can’t even describe how relieved I was when I arrived to Pokhara, that got hardy damaged. I checked in to one of the hotels and, happy to have a bad, I slept for twelve hours! There was another mild earthquake at night, but I didn’t even left the bed this time! The next days shower felt like a rear pleasure and close by Italian restaurant like a heaven!
Return to Kathmandu
I returned to Kathmandu after seven days. Situation was even worst. I have been told that the water is contaminated, as of bodies around. Buildings were still as I saw them leaving with bricks all around. I still wasn’t able to see much of international aid, I read about online in Pokhara. Luckily for me, few hotels were open, so I checked in to one. Actually, one of the best, as was reassured it’s a strong construction, and I am safe there. In the morning I was having a breakfast with French fire brigade, that came as an aid. They were eating for 3 hours..not even going to comment on that. I’ve heard also some Polish volunteers, that came to help, but I saw them just taking private photos of collapsed buildings. I did not see any international aid, only Nepalese working very hard, helping each others. I might be wrong, I am sorry, I know many people were in remote villages, helping. But having a breakfast for 3 hours wasn’t so cheering, and changed my view how people act in such a crisis, when it’s not really their backyard.
Visiting Shkoder, town in the northern part of Albania, definitely rewarded my time in Tirana, the capital that did not impressed me even a bit. Thought, I’ve met loads of great people there, I sampled a traditional and very tasty food, the architecture left a sour taste in my mouth. Luckily, delight was waiting for me in my next location, in a cute little city called Shkoder, the most historic town in Albania with the oldest wall of the castle that dates back to the 1st millennium bce.
When it comes to the geological side of the area, we can find this beautiful place surrounded by North Albanian Alps. It is lying at the southeast end of Lake Skadar, at a point where the Buenë (Serbian and Croatian: Bojana) River, one of Albania’s two navigable streams, flows out of the lake toward the Adriatic Sea. This is definitely a must see place. The city gives you the opportunity to sample traditional food in one of many restaurants around, to visit mosques or to just have a great night out. On another hand, the outskirt and surrounded landscape creates a perfect bike trials you can enjoy alone, with friends or family. Here is my other blog about cycling paths there. So clearly this place offers a lot, and it just can’t be missed. It’s also a perfect stop once traveling between Albania and Montenegro.