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We took the old military road up to Stepansminda which was a wonderful three hour’s drive through beautiful mountain scenery. It was a cold 8degrees when we got there but slightly warmer on top of the mountain which we had to reach by 4WD on a rough track as the asphalt road was being fixed. We used google to communicate with the driver who again only spoke Russian and Georgian.
He only charged us about $60 for the whole day trip and stopped along the way for me to take photos.
We made our way back to Mtkheta for the night before returning to Tbilisi on the 7th October for our last night in Georgia. I took the metro and ventured into the city that afternoon to witness the festival of Tbilisoba in which troops of children from various regions came to perform in Rika park and girls made flower hair garlands for 5lari – about $2.50. There was wine and cheese tasting and many local products and from the regions for sale all over the old town.I got a picture of the glass presidential palace overlooking Tbilisi. Not satisfied with a traditional palace he built a very expensive and vast glass structure. We stayed in the beautiful old district of Marjanishvili and had a typical Georgian meal that night before Nikoloz who insisted on taking us to the airport arrived the next morning. We were sorry to leave this beautiful and interesting country with so many kind people.

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We left for Gori on the 4th October and a trip which normally took 1 1/2hours we managed in less than an hour with
a driver who did his best to try and kill us. I have never been nervous driving in India but he was flying along
in his old car at 140kms and although a good driver at that speed anything could happen. He didn’t really listen
to Maurice’s requests to slow down. We stayed at a guesthouse – Gogi Davashvilis wine cellar – They made only organic wine in special qvevri – clay containers placed under the ground and the wine is without any preservatives or sulphites.
We were joined at the guesthouse by two lovely Polish girls who were on a short holiday from Warsaw and we all had a good time together.
Tengo Gogi’s son showed us the process of making the wine in their wine cellar, just off the dining room.
It was fascinating to see the old methods that were still used and as a 30 year old man he has now dedicated
himself to producing organic wine. His father apart from running the guesthouse keeps bees and 18hives were brought down from the mountains for the winter while we were there.
We took a Maxim taxi the 6kms into Gori town to see the Stalin museum, his train carriage and replica of his house,
all situated in a lovely park. I found a good cafe and we then went to the ethnographic museum.
We had a very lively evening of wine tasting, dinner and more wine and a lot of laughs. At least Maurice could also enjoy some of the pure wine.

The other attraction apart from the Stalin museum was the cave city of Uplitsikhe which the four of us visited with
Tengo however we had a very gusty strong wind while climbing up to the caves which was a bit challenging. It was a
totally different set up to Vardzia but also very interesting with an Orthodox church built at the top of the caves which date from the 7th century.
We were dropped back in town at Cafe 22 and the girls continued to Mtskheta an hour away with Tengo who had recommended a wonderful restaurant to us called ‘Shindagori’ which sounded more Japanese to me but which meant home of Gori and which served delicious Georgian food.
I had wanted to see some Georgian dancing and luckily Tengo who was a Georgian dancer taught at the school which Stalin had attended. In the new sports hall he taught traditional Georgian dancing and it was a privilege to
see these girls and boys who were very enthusiastic about their dancing and some had only just started a few weeks before.
Tango and a girl who had been dancing for 8years gave us a display of a wedding dance. It was nice to see the
traditions of many years being upheld. The lovely boys and girls each shook our hands when they left and a couple
of them introduced themselves in their basic English. We were very touched by it.

One of Tengo’s friends too us on the hour’s trip to Mtskheta from Gori. It was also only about an hour from Tbilisi. We had arranged to meet Nikoloz, one of our previous drivers who was to take us up to Stefansminda to see Mt Kasbeg. We checked into our hotel and the old grandfather who greeted us spoke only Russian and Georgian. Nikoloz rang us and said that he was in Mtskheta and that his car was broken. I took this to mean that it had broken down but it was indeed broken. In the old part of town where we stayed there were many streets blocked off
with bollards and only the residents had the required card to lower them. Unfortunately one lot of these were down when Nikoloz drove in to pick us up and all of a sudden his car was lifted and the bollard had gone through the sump, the oil pump and the pan on the automatic transmission and broke the engine mountings. We were going nowhere with him and he was also going nowhere. We wanted to find him and a very kind local who had been fishing and who spoke excellent English came with us in the taxi to find Nikoloz. We were lucky to find this man later that night and gave him a bottle of wine. Such kindness.
There were no signs to advise of these bollards and a local told him that many cars who were unaware of them had also done a lot of damage to their cars. The dear man was only concerned that we were let down and insisted on finding another driver for us before his friend came and sorted his car out.
Any other time we would have just delayed the trip but it was a beautiful day and we were goingn on to Tbilisi the next day so we left with a substitute driver and kept in touch with Nikoloz while he had his car repaired which he managed over the next day.

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Joni the manager from the guesthouse in Kutaisi picked us up three days later to take us on the four hour
journey to Borjomi a picturesque town divided by a river with a large park of one side complete with orthodox
church and steep mountains on either side. Our guesthouse ‘Four Seasons’ was up a steep flight of stairs again
but the staff were very good carrying our heavy bags. I made friends with a ginger pussycat who was very friendly
and came when he was called. I could have taken him/her home.

The driver who picked us up in the morning to take us the the cave town of Vardzia and the enormous Rabati Fortress
had one of the many Japanese import cars which had their steering wheels on the right hand side so being a crazy
Georgian driver (like most of them) he kept me suitably scared when pulling out to see if he could pass a truck.

Rabati was somewhat of a living Fortress with administration offices, restaurants, a wellness centre complete with
hamam and hotel and cafes. It was spectacular in its diversity with fountains, a mosque, church, recreation rooms
and towers. It had a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. From Rabati we went on another hour to the
cave city of Vardzia which is mostly uninhabited now. There was one roped off area with planted flowers and
grapevines where someone lived. We had a hard climb to get there and we managed another few hundred steps up and down to the bottom again. We had again been lucky with the weather. It was misty in the mornings in the mountains and the leaves had begun to change colour for the autumn. Many people were harvesting walnuts and hazelnuts common to many regions.

We were surprised to learn that in the 12th century there were 16million inhabitants of Georgia but over time and with the wars the land had been divided and now there are only 3.5million people living in Georgia.

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The drive up into the mountains to the north of Kutaisi was very scenic. We were stopped by the police who were looking for inferior grapes which some people would try and smuggle into the town of Ambrolauri and make wine which was then sold as the extremely small amount and expensive wine of that region. The grape grown there was a very rare one and normally cost $100 or more a bottle. Our driver was a bit miffed as he told them that they could see he had three tourists in the car but they made him open the hatch anyway.

Oni was a pictureque town surrounded by forested mountains. Many of the old houses in Oni were deserted and falling apart and most young people had left for the cities but there were a few new houses and a few being restored.

The ‘Gallery guesthouse’ we had chosen was very atmospheric with traditional Georgian furniture and artifacts. There we met Tamara a Georgian and her husband Luca who came from Campobasso the city next to where we used to stay in Roccamandolfi. He couldn’t believe we knew where it was. We had great discussions over the time there and it was very interesting to listen to Tamara’s stories of how she grew up in Soviet times and the difficulties they faced which was something so foreign to us growing up in Australia.

Oni was a small town with the river Rioni flowing past it and surrounded by beautiful mountains and small villages.
We climbed up behind the village one day and through a small village where we saw a woman chopping a load of wood.
She motioned us to wait and came out with an armful of large red apples for us. We were intringued to see a UNHCR refugee tent beside her gate and used as a carport for a Mercedes car!
We were lucky to have chosen this guesthouse which was kept in a typical traditional Georgian style. They also had a large area where they grew tomatoes, gourds and other vegetables and kept rabbits and chickens. Their lovely German Shepherd Bombora was trained to bring in his bowl for food, bring in the wood and open and shut the main door. He was a lovely dog. There were a few dogs who seemed to roam the streets but they all looked well fed.
The family were extremely friendly and were keen for all of us to experience Georgian life so we made bread and sweets the traditional way and in Temori’s grandparents house also on the property we had a dinner at night with music and dancing and toasts. It was more like staying with family. Every meal had such a variety of foods and breads with fresh butter and cheese and unlimited amounts of Chacha (their Schnapps)and red or white wine and good drinking water. We limited ourselves to two meals a day which I don’t think they could understand.

The small museum was interesting especially as there was an enormous painting of Stalian overlooking the
sea in Armenia. A lot of the artifacts referred to wine making which everyone seems to make in the village
and ripe black grapes hung around most of the houses, deserted or not ready to be picked.
The guesthouse also had bikes for us to use so we made the most of it and cycled around the whole town
and into the next village. A group of fourteen German kyakers arrived for a couple of days to tackle
parts of the Rioni river.

We farewelled our Perth friend who had decided to take a Matrutschka to Ambrolauri and Joni arrived the following day from Kutaisi to take us to Borjomi 4hours away.

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What a difference 12hours made. We left Batumi on the 26th September to pouring rain and very rough seas.
From the central station we could barely see the city which had been so clear the previous days. We were
glad to have our long train trip that day. We discovered by it took so long to Kutaisi when the train stopped
at every station.
The train was an old soviet style one – very wide aisles and seating was quite comfortable (the seats were
realatively new) and when the train drew in there was a rush to sit in the direction of travel.
The conductor was a jolly fellow who gave out instructions along the way in Georgian. Several women came on board at various stations with buckets of snacks and bread for sale but I hardly believed my eyes when two women paraded up and down the carriages with fresh fish complete with a hanging scale. A few people bought them but the fish smell lingered a bit.
The new station in Kutaisi didn’t have a lift and the stairs were very steep. Not great with our amount of luggage. After half an hour of battling with our Maxim app to get a taxi we arrived at Guesthouse Veneto which belonged to Caritas and had been renovated into smaller rooms and bathrooms. It had been a grand old house and we could see what it had been like previously. Sofia who worked there was like a ray of sunshine and spoke good English and Russian and was very helpful taking us to the beauty salon and arranging hair cuts, colour and pedicures. Prices in Georgia were very cheap for most things and we only paid less than $80 for everything. The guesthouses all have washing machines so we managed to catch up with the washing. One day was a bit cool but otherwise we were very blessed with sunny, warm weather overall.
We spent a couple of days around the small city and walked up to Bagrati Orthodox church on the hill overlooking
the city. I also found an Italian coffee machine in a cafe which was not always an easy thing in Azerbaijan or Georgia.
In Azerbaijan they mostly drink tea and in Georgia it was Nescafe but I chose Turkish coffee which was preferable
if I couldn’t get an Italian coffee and reminded me of Kopi Bali – just not swallowing the last mouthful.
Everywhere were persimmon trees laden with fruit as well as apple and pear trees.
We hired a taxi the next day to take us to Motsameta monastery which was nestled in the hills above Kutaisi.

Joni the guesthouse manager spoke Italian thankfully so we could communicate and we arranged for him to take
us in his comfortable BMW 4WD up to Oni in the low Caucasus the following day. We stopped first at Gelati Monastery which was a large complex in the process of being restored. Another Australian who appeared at the guesthouse (only the 3rd person we discovered in our many years of travel from Perth and Ken decided to join us for the 2hour trip into the mountains where we stayed for three days.
Joni told me that Georgians only wanted peace. Four wars over the last 25years had taken their toll on Georgia
and the catch up was very slow. Food and dinners in Georgia were very cheap with several dishes, bread, mineral
water and a couple of glasses of red wine costing about $20-25. The tomatoes in Georgia were exceptional – dense and so very tasty, so I consumed kilos of them. A traditional meal usually consisted of cut tomatoes,
crunchy cucumbers, bread and large slabs of homemade cheese.

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We were collected by our airbnb host Bejani and driven the couple of hours to Tbilisi for the night, staying in the Marjanishvili area of Tbilisi which was very European in design and atmosphere with nice cafes around a large piazza.
When we arrived at the airport in Tbilisi we purchased a sim card for Lari55 which gave us ample phone and internet for a month and was handy for booking taxis using a map to locate where we wanted to go and to contact our driver/guide.
All of the taxi drivers even the young ones didn’t speak a word of anything other than Georgian or Russian.
It was pouring with rain the next morning at 7am when we caught a ‘Maxim’ like ‘Uber’ transport to the train station for the 8am train to Batumi. It was a new German Stadler train which was very comfortable but which only had a dispenser with cold drinks and prepackaged sandwiches and crisps.
There was no tea or coffee or alcohol for sale. The train was full and we discovered many of the passengers were attending the world chess championships in Batumi.
The journey took 5hours and the train wound at first through rugged and then green mountains before arriving in Batumi on the Black sea.

The taxi and apartment hunters at the station were the most persistent we had ever encountered and Maurice threatened to hit a woman with his stock if she didn’t stop tugging at his shirt!
We managed to get away from them and catch our Maxim transport. If the taxi drivers had offered a reasonable sum to take us the few kilometres to the city we would have taken their offer but it was more than triple that of the Maxim driver. We have used them many times and they tell you the type of
car, the driver’s name and how much it will cost and the they tell you when they will arrive.

Batumi is very much a popular seaside town with ferris wheel, unusual new skyscrapers and some lovely European styled architecture.
It is the capital of the Arjuda and Georgia’s second largest city, located on the coast of the Black Sea in the country’s southwest. It is situated in a subtropical zone near the foot of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. Much of Batumi’s economy revolves around tourism and gambling, but the city is also an important sea port and includes industries like shipbuilding, food processing and light manufacturing. Since 2010, Batumi has been transformed by the construction of modern high-rise buildings, as well as the restoration of classical 19th-century edifices lining its historic Old Town.

The city was a mix of well to do areas with tree lined streets and poorer areas with people selling all sorts of bric a brac on roadside stalls. There were many wine shops selling the famous Georgian wine and a small yellow tanker like container on a trailer had beer for sale on a couple of the side streets.

We stayed at the Piazza boutique hotel which boasted clocktower accommodation with only two rooms on each floor. We were on the 5th floor and had two balconies overlooking the town. There was a central piazza with four hotels surrounding it. One afternoon a group of three Jewish men in their black suits and hats arrived in the square with long green plant like objects and skullcaps that they proceeded to put on the male takers and just waved their hands around the women takers. It was all very strange and I don’t know if they received any money for the service.
The weather was perfect with temperatures of 27 degrees and balmy evenings for the time we were there.

There are many Turkish people here in Batumi and the Turkish border is only a few kilometres away.
Marijuana has been decriminalized but we could not smell any of it wandering around the streets during the day or at night only the usual cigarette smoke.

We spent most of the next day at the beautiful botanical gardens. They comprise 10hectares of hilly land overlooking the Black sea and over forty percent is dedicated to Asian plants and trees. The views from the park over the sea and the city were magnificent and although it was a fairly steep
climb it was worth the effort. We lashed out and went to the top of the Radisson hotel for dinner and were rewarded with lovely views of the city and the sunset.

On Tuesday we walked all along the promenade by the sea which took us a few hours. It is about 8kilometres long with plenty of benches on which to rest and many restaurants, bars and cafes on the seaside. We heard a lot of Georgian,Russian and Turkish spoken but heard no English or any other languarge at all. There were apparently 115 nations represented at the 43rd world chess championship but we only saw a group of four from the Philippines who passed by us with that emblazoned on their shirts. We wanted to visit the Roman ruins at Goinia Apsarus so took a Maxim taxi when we could walk no further. The area is being slowly excavated and the fortress is an impressive structure. It was started by the Romans but taken over later by the Byzantines and then the Ottoman empire. It was only four kilometers from the Turkish boarder.

We finished the day off with another good Georgian meal and some good fresh dry red wine in a quaint little restaurant and then visited one of the many casinos to see what they were like. The Golden Palace was not very opulent but the 40lari – about $20 netted me $95 lari. We were only there a short time anyway and the smoking allowed encouraged us to leave very quickly.
It was a lovely balmy evening and we walked back to our hotel to repack and get a good night’s sleep before heading for Kutaisi on the 0825 train the next morning. Strangely we could only buy tickets for the train
an hour before it departed so we made sure we were there in plenty of time. It poured overnight and was drizzling and cool when we left for the station. The sea was very rough and we could barely make out the city from the brand new train station. What a difference 12hours made. We were glad that we had such a day for travelling as we had seen the same scenery on the way into Batumi.

We realized why the train only cost Lari 2 (less than $1) for the 3hour 40min journey when it stopped about every five minutes on the way. It was however a very wide and quite comfortable old Soviet train with plenty of leg room. It chugged along with the smell of burning rubber every time the brakes were applied.
Sellers plied their goods up and down the aisles which included bread and snacks but we had never seen fresh fish being sold on a train before!

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Two negative aspects for us in Azerbaijan and Georgia was the number of smokers and the fumes from the old cars and trucks – a lot of them old Russian ones. After pristine Australia with it’s no smoking laws it was hard to walk around the streets without getting a lung full of smoke (every second person smoked) and many restaurants allowed smoking inside. The cigarettes are very cheap and plentiful. At least there was no smoking on the train which was a godsend as the only windows which could be opened were minute and these were locked before we reached the borders. The engines were turned off while they took their time so it was pretty stuffy and we were of course not allowed off the train even though the military were stationed outside.
The customs and immigration on both the Azerbaijan and Georgian sides on the train took forever.
The Azeri customs declaration asked whether we had over the allowed amount of everything but there was no guide with it to tell us what the allowed amounts were so we just answered no to everything.
We got back to Tbilisi by 11am on the 19th September.
We were only 1/2late coming back into Tbilisi and despite a bit of a derelict looking place from the outside our airbnb in the very centre of Tbilisi near Rustaveli Ave had high ceilings, was very tastefully appointed and everything we needed.
We found a lovely cafe just 20metres away and spent the day relaxing and then going for a couple of walks around that part of the city.
Our driver was there at 10am in the morning to take us across to the east to Telavi and Signaghi, a famous Georgian wine growing area.
We passed countless trucks laden with white and black grapes going to be processed. An abandoned former Russian military post looked like a war zone because when they departed they took every door and window with them leaving shells of building.
Our next stop was what they call a monastery but there were no monks just nuns so really a convent. Beautiful buildings and we were ushered into the quaint small orthodox church as a service was taking place. The handful of
nuns were singing and had the most beautiful voices so we were happy to stand there and hear them. A lot of renovations were taking place outside with many workmen. The nuns dress entirely in black and just have their faces uncovered. They were very sweet and welcomed us.
Our next stop was in Telavi which had the most amazing market selling wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables and everything else! The Georgians proudly told us that they grew everything except bananas and pineapples but we found some imported varieties in the supermarkets.
We bought Maurice some Goat’s cheese and some delicious bread before going to the newly opened King Erekle II museum which was built into the side of a hill and within the old palace walls. The renovated palace which was very simple in it’s design. Much of the objects were not behind glass which made it more accessible to see the items in more detail.
The large plane tree in Telavi was more than 900 years old and it was amazing to see it so vigorous with most of it’s trunk missing.
The Tsinandale palace museum was again a beautiful building without being ostentatious. It belong to a prince by the name of Alex Chavchavadze and was owned by the Romanoffs for 30years.
Our last stop before Signagh was Bodbe Monastery – another convent and large complex with a new church underway and being built on the side of a hill. The nun tending the garden was very friendly and like many people wanted to know from where we came. They had a large fruit and vegetable garden and two other nuns were harvesting apples.
We took all day to get to Signaghi which was only two hours from Tbilisi but it was a very enjoyable day taking in the lovely scenery and visiting so many places on the way.
Signaghi is a lovely small town with something similar to the great wall of China around part of the town. It reminded us of Italy in so many ways also. Interesting architecture and beautiful views down to the Alazani valley with the clouds and high Caucasus mountains in the background. Our Lia’s guesthouse was in a perfect position overlooking the town above and the valley and mountains in front of us. It only took us 5 minutes to walk into town and only 15minutes to walk down to the great wall with it’s round lookout towers. We could walk around the whole town in a couple of hours.
A few tourist buses arrived, one with Russian tourists and one with Chinese tourists but they were gone by late afternoon.
The temperature in the shade was quite cool but lovely and warm in the sun. Nights were quite cool. We left Signaghi the next morning after spending two relaxing days there and headed back to Tbilisi for the night before catching an early train (8am) to Batumi a holiday town on the Black sea.

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It took about four hours the next day to drive from Sheki to Naftalan and our lovely 5star Garabag resort for
a couple of days as a prelude for Maurice’s birthday. We had both come down with a stomach bug so were not able to
enjoy the place as much as we would have liked but it was nice to be sick in luxury. We managed a trip to Helenendorf as it was called or Goygol as it’s known today. It was a German settlement in the middle of the country from the early 1800’s until Stalin shot or deported them all to Siberia or Kazakstan where most perished.
It was sad reading all the plaques on the very German like buildings where the families had lived. They produced mainly wine and some beer while they lived in the areea.

We had never seen so many radar cameras, police check points and traffic police on the road ready to nab any driver for any reason. Vugar kept very much to the speed limits which changed constantly. It was an extremely safe country with virtually no crime. As Vugar said the only criminals were the politians and the police.
Someone flashed their lights at us so Vugar pulled up thinking something was wrong with a tyre but this man must
have seen foreigners in the car. He came and gave us a diatribe about a plaque on deer skin that he was trying to sell but he finally believed us that we couldn’t take animal skin into Australia. It was a first for Vugar and a first for us.
On our way back to Baku we passed many old cars loaded to the hilt with produce for the markets in Baku. I photographed one when we stopped at a service station and the man kindly gave the service station attendant an orange melon to give to us.
We found everyone that we approached very friendly and helpful especially the younger people.

There was a lot of lamb on every menu and I think the general population thought it strange that we were vegetarians. I had to hunt in Baku for a coffee machine but there were plenty of tea houses. There are no tea bags in sight only fresh tea, black or green brewed in pots.

Vugar drove us back to Baku and our lovely apartment in the old town. We went for a walk to clear the cobwebs and
ended up at the Bulvar Mall where we could have been anywhere in the world with all the branded shops.
We went to a roof terrace restaurant overlooking the Maiden tower virtually next door to where we were staying
after we made the three flights of stairs to the place to celebrate Maurice’s birthday.

Our airbnb hostess allowed us to stay in the apartment the next day as we were not leaving on the overnight train
back to Tbilisi until 950pm that night. We had a walk around the old town visiting the miniature book museum. One
lady had collect the largest number of miniature books in the world and some were the side of a pinhead.
We met Vugar that evening at ‘Vapiano’ an innovative Italian restaurant chain where fresh pasta was made every day.
The food was fresh and excellent and I could enjoy an Aperol Spritz to boot.

We caught the metro back to the central station and said our goodbyes to Vugar who had been an excellent driver and
guide. Azerbaijani customs and passport control boarded the train at 7am and we got into Tbilisi at 1030am that morning.

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We had to cover large distances 4-5hours driving to see various interesting areas. One being Quba region and the hill villages to the far north east of Azerbaijan. Again we went out of the city and through the desert to hills with some green and then into the mountains with lush forests. There were many areas in which to picnic and have food cooked and all over Azerbaijan were small stalls, cafes and restaurants even in the desert areas to service the locals and the many Russian tourists all over the country. We only heard a couple of German accents as we visited tourist areas otherwise they seemed to be Azeris or Russians.
We stopped at a local restaurant with small huts perched precariously over the fast flowing river below so we opted for the one next to the kitchen which was on firmer ground.

The following day the three of us set out for Kungut (pronounced Kunjut) Village near the city of Sheki in the
far north of the country towards the Caucasus mountains. Vugar stopped and bought us local bread and cheese.
The locals eat bread and many varieties of cheese for breakfast and nearly every meals starts with a basket of bread, a selection of cheeses and plates of tomatoes, fresh herbs and cucumber.
We went up to the mountain village of Lahic on the way with it’s lovely old architecture and where they
sold every kind of herb and spice, most of which I couldn’t identify and a lot of sheepskin products.

I didn’t know when I booked our accommodation above Kungut village that the last 10minutes was on a rocky road
which lead up into the mountainside. It was however a beautiful location and we were given a suite which overlooked the countryside below. In the early mornings we could hear the jackals answering the Iman’s prayers
which created a bit of a din for a while.

We ventured into Sheki the next day and Vugar stopped at a clinic to be checked over – he wasn’t feeling well
so we agreed we would just wait and see how long he would be. They gave him a script for some injections and he
asked me if I could give him the injections every day! Like in Italy it seems anyone can give you an injection.
I politely said no. The pharmacy manager spoke to us and also wanted to practise his English.
He wanted to know what it was like in Prague where he was going to move. He only earned about $200 a month in Sheki and could make $2000 a month in Prague. His wife was a nurse at the clinic and he introduced her to us.
They had two children but he was going to go on his own for a start and his wife was going to learn English in the meantime. He kindly said if we needed anything to let him know.

There were large areas of apple orchards everywhere and some apples that we tried were very tasty.
Towards evening there were many cows walking along the road or in the middle of the road towards their homes. We felt like we were in India again! There was also a lot of local honey produced and for sale along the
roads as well as sides of lamb and corn to be roasted.

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We awoke on the 10th September to desert, desert and more desert for the last few hours before Baku. On the train there was no food or drink except for a large urn with boiling water to make tea. We had eaten the night before and had taken a couple of bananas and as we were 2hours late and didn’t get in until 11am we ate those. The two ‘Ludmillas’ in our carriage had lightened up overnight and were our best friends by the time we departed.

We couldn’t imagine the city arising from the wasteland but suddenly we were in a very European type of
environment with beautiful architecture and a huge promenade and park along the Caspian sea. The city
was spotless with many people cleaning the roads ad emptying rubbish bins.
As a 90percent muslim country I expected it to be much more conservative than we found it.
There were very few headscarves and most people dressed in a western way.
When I asked our driver Vugar if I had to dress more modestly in the outer regions he said not at all and such was the case. Like Georgia it seemed to be a very secular and tolerant society. The older peopole however spoke little English like in Georgia but a lot of young people either spoke English or wanted to practise their English.

We had not heard much or anything really about Azerbaijan except for what we read online so we decided to
spend just ten days there otherwise if we were there for longer we would have to report to a police station
which wouldn’t have been a problem as they were everywhere. No one liked the President whose picture
was on large posters all over the country or the police who were corrupt and liked to stop cars willy nilly
to fulfil their budget. There was especially a heavy police and military presence before the 15th September,
Baku’s independence day when they were practising for the big parade. Maurice and I were lucky to witness it
with aircraft and helicopter flyovers, infantry and cavalry along the Bulvar promenade.

Unfortunately there was no ATM at the train station even though it was new and a state of the art facility.
I parked Maurice with the luggage and walked 5minutes to the 28 Mall down the road to an ATM. I then organised
a taxi (a dreadful driver as we found out) and managed to change my money into smaller denominations back at the
station and got our return tickets printed all within 1/2 hour so it was a good start.
Our lovely airbnb apartment was in the smallest street in the old town and in a very quiet location. A man in
from the carpet shop kindly helped us with our luggage.
There was a little boutique hotel opposite where I could get a good coffee in the morning and we had a parting
coffee there the day we left on Maurice’s birthday and they wouldn’t let us pay for it. The little Russian
receptionist was a fountain of information and even though we weren’t staying at the hotel he helped us with
the bags as we had a flight of stairs to the apartment.

The day we arrived in Baku we did another free walking tour, this time with Gani and it was excellent. There were only four of us on the tour – another Australian and a local who wanted to learn more about his city of just over
2.5million people.

We met our driver/guide Vugar the next day (who I had found on Indy Guides) and we did a day’s trip to Qobustan
about 70kms away to see the many Petroglyphs and interesting rock formations there before heading back to the
peninsula to see Atsegah a former Zoroastrian town. Yanadag was our last stop for the day where a continuous
fire burns on the hillside from the underground gas in the region.

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